17 2012

Marco Alessi James Ballantyne Alex Coburn Davis

Tomos Davies Oliver Deasy Tyler Elden Angus Imrie Lewis Lloyd Harry Millen

Harry Newnham Will Northwood Percy Preston Patrick Sarsfield Antonio Shinebourne Joshua Vallance Benji Walters Michael Yiapanis dulwich college writing volume 3 summer 2012


The third volume of 17 is dedicated to the British writer, P. G. Wodehouse, OA (1881-1975). Wodehouse edited the school magazine,The Alleynian, in his final year as a pupil, and the main library at Dulwich College is named after him.

What glory is there in a common good, That hangs for every peasant to achieve? That like I best that flies beyond my reach. Christopher Marlowe

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17 contents



Imogen Marco Alessi

11 17 21 25 31 35 41 47 53 57 61 67 71 77 83 87 93 97

Until The Sun Sets James Ballantyne Forewarning Alex Coburn Davis The Boy And His Dog Tomos Davies Magicians And Wizards Oliver Deasy The Train Service Tyler Elden Fine,Thanks Angus Imrie The Long Walk Home Lewis Lloyd Waiting For Brian Harry Millen Der Angriff Harry Newnham

Chiaroscuro Will Northwood Inundation Percy Preston

The Person I Admire The Most Patrick Sarsfield The Reader Wants Drama, Please Antonio Shinebourne

The Country Mouse Joshua Vallance

Stockwell Benji Walters

Back In Time For Christmas Michael Yiapanis Critical Commentary I Tomos Davies Critical Commentary II Antonio Shinebourne

103 109 115

Further Reading The College Archive

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‘The short story... lives not by explication but, like a moment in a stranger’s life glimpsed through an open door, by implication and suggestion, as full of questions as it is of answers.’ James Bradley, Australian Literary Review, October 2008

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17 volume 3 summer 2012

Dulwich College is a selective independent boys’ school in South London. Founder’s Day is celebrated at the end of the Summer Term to commemorate the signing of the letters patent by James I on 21 June 1619 authorising Edward Alleyn to establish a college in Dulwich to be called the ‘College of God’s Gift’.

17 is published for Founder’s Day by the English Department. Dulwich College, Dulwich Common, London SE21 7LD. Tel: 020 8693 3601 | Fax: 020 8693 6319 | www.dulwich.org.uk Registered Charity Number: 312755 ISSN 2041-2770 Editors: Richard Sutton | suttonrf@dulwich.org.uk Rory Bryant | bryantrj@dulwich.org.uk Westrow Cooper | Marianne Bradnock

Design: Photography:

Maggie Jarman | Will Reid | Marco Alessi | Dulwich College Archive

The publisher would wish to extend thanks regarding the image of the letter from Evelyn Waugh to P.G. Wodehouse, reprinted with permission of the Evelyn Waugh Estate. Copyright ©2012,The Estate of Laura Waugh, and James Bradley for permission to use copyright material. The editors also thank the Keeper of the Archive, Calista Lucy, the staff of the Wodehouse Library, and colleagues in Information Services and in the English Department, all of whom offered encouragement and advice. Westrow Cooper for his assistance and work on the design. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publisher. A catalogue record for this periodical is available from the British Library. Copyright © Dulwich College, 2012 Printed in Great Britain by Cambrian Printers

17 introduction

new stories

inspired by








Cheever McEwan

Carver Nabokov


the curtain falls on a would-be lover’s obsession the spectre of death in the sky focuses a mind hope fades for an urgent driver a young man’s animal instincts struggle to find release a halloween prank ends in fearful revelation a young couple hesitate on the journey to their future bridge reveals a chasm the congregation’s newcomer foretells disaster an isolated figure waits in a desolate cityscape paranoia and violence infect a berlin apartment block derby day unlocks animal instincts a man battles the elements and his own self a child’s silent plea falls on deaf ears the mysteries of romance are revealed in a classroom a family’s serenity is shattered by an unexpected invasion a shooting ricochets into the domestic realm a prisoner contemplates his future through his past

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She was a perfect example of the feminine form.

Inspired by James Joyce’s ‘Araby’, I chose to write a short story with an unreliable narrator resulting in multiple possible interpretations, and culminating in a problematic epiphany. The story begins in medias re s leaving readers to formulate their own opinion of the characters. The extent to which the narrator is infatuated with Imogen is made clear through the intricate and sexualised nature of her first-person description. Murakami makes social comments through his fictional worlds, and in similar fashion I aimed to challenge the zeitgeist that society is increasingly indifferent to racial or sexual variation, since we all have undeniable preconceptions.


I enjoyed looking at my Imogen. She was a perfect example of the feminine form - a modern-day Helen of Troy, slender and so graceful that, whenever she was nearby, attention could fall nowhere else. Her grey eyes were large and glassy; even as the house lights dimmed and the curtain rose, they glistened in the dark. Left only with her silhouette, I followed the smooth line from her high cheekbones down to the slight curve where jaw- line became neck, teasingly leading me to her sharp clavicle, fragile and arresting. I vaguely heard the play begin - something about households, dignity and Verona - but most of it was lost to me. The heavily powdered figure standing centre-stage was shouting her lines and she seemed to be making little sense anyway. Imogen was engrossed in the actress’s every word, and the corners of her red lips turned downwards into a melancholy smile of appreciation. I comfortingly brushed my elbow against hers, placing it firmly on the velvet armrest. She glanced down and placed her arm on her lap. I first met Imogen a couple of months ago under Manhattan Bridge when she was walking Monty, her bounding labrador, down Furman Street. Following the riverside path at six in the morning often meant the two of them were alone and able to peacefully appreciate the unparalleled views of the concrete jungle growing on the opposite side of the East River. On the few occasions she didn’t wrap up warm enough, she would visibly shiver as the salty caress of the air sprinkled a fine mist collected from the water flowing in from Long Island Bay. I frequently walked the same path and would see them together, stopping every now and then when Monty wanted to mark his territory. Whenever they encountered a half-jogging individual desperate

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to lose ten pounds, or a homeless man snoring on one of the wrought-iron memorial benches,Monty would delight in making their acquaintance by jumping next to them and waking them up, or blocking their path and slobbering all over their shoes. One morning I was the victim of Monty’s excitement: my heart pounded as he rushed towards me, salivating tongue flapping out between two sharp yellow teeth and, after a near collision and a thorough drool, an apologetic Imogen grabbed at his collar and pulled him away. I remember she caught my eye and smiled her beautiful smile. I guess I’m grateful that Monty brought us together like that but I stopped walking there in the morning; I’m not very fond of dogs. On the day of the theatre, we had walked around Brooklyn, awkwardly browsing in furniture stores where I spent most of the time avoiding shop assistants overly keen to assist me in some way. After having feigned interest in a number of couches and tacky coffee tables, I left Imogen to it. I peered into the front window every so often and kept busy by looking at the property brochures in the front window of an estate agent across the street. In the reflection of the glass I saw her step out of the store, and, dodging the traffic to catch up, we continued on down the street towards our regular afternoon hangout, the Roebling Tea Room. Comfortably nestled in a pillowed corner I ordered a pot of tea, and Imogen an iced coffee, before falling into the regular routine of reading until any remaining tea was cold and the last cube of ice floating in the coffee had melted. When this time arrived, Imogen snapped shut her yellowing copy of Nineteen Eighty-Four and prepared to leave. I discreetly searched my pockets, fumbling for the correct change for my tea, and paid the check that had been sitting on the table for over forty minutes. The heavy oak door that was normally invitingly propped open was closed to keep out the cold winter air, and on the back of it, often unnoticed, were a number of adverts for local gigs and events. Imogen lingered behind it, reading, before pulling it ajar and allowing a wall of

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cold to sweep across the room. ‘The Heights Players invite you to their latest production, Romeo and Juliet.’ As the curtains were drawn for the first of two promised intervals, my opinion remained unchanged. The plot seemed endless and the cast fairly weak, only held together by the female lead, who remained stunning in spite of the harsh stage lights that had reduced her colleagues to squinting sheens of sweat. The safety curtain fell at the front of the stage and on it a chubby-faced cloud was blowing a powerful gust of wind through pursed lips. Six beautiful muses protected themselves from this breeze by clutching their golden ringlets over their full breasts and round hips. Drawing my gaze away I saw Imogen making her way towards the exit, so I followed her out to the front of the theatre. Sitting on the icy marble steps, she pulled her coat more tightly around herself and cupped her face in an attempt to light up.After a few unsuccessful attempts, I put my hand above hers to provide better shelter from the wind; the end of her cigarette glowed and she smiled at me in thanks. She took a heavy drag, let a plume of thick smoke roll from her mouth, and looked at me, still staring. ‘Sorry, would you like one?’ ‘I don’t smoke; thank you though.’ ‘Lucky you. I’ve tried to stop, but it just isn’t happening. I’m Imogen.’ ‘Melissa. How are you finding the play?’ ‘Can’t stand the girl playing Juliet. She looks like a bit of a dyke, don’t you think?’ ‘Excuse me?’

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‘I think it’s starting again. Nice talking.’ Imogen stubbed her cigarette with her smoke-stained fingers. As she heaved herself up I noticed her hips were a little too wide and that the air around me stank of stale smoke. I got up and walked away down the street. I didn’t care too much about missing the rest of the play.

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In this vast, swallowing expanse, how can I already be halfway into my journey?

‘Until The Sun Sets’ explores the idea of a journey in an intentionally ambiguous format, in this case by air, mirroring the inexorable passage of life and altering perceptions of an ageing narrator. The narrative takes the form of an interior monologue, an idea which was inspired by two key short stories by Murakami and Joyce. This form allows the protagonist to profess ideas and judgements which he would otherwise have been unable to voice for fear of being socially ostracized. Ominously, as he views the impenetrable blackness, the buried sun foreshadows his impending fate as the journey comes to a placid close.


I hear the scream of engines dimly through my throbbing, naked ears; I see the sun exploding into life, glazing the vulnerable fuselage in a tender coat of vital white; I feel the reverberations pulse through my body like intricate, sharp static shocks.As I soar into the scentless, innocent air I begin to take in my surroundings; a yellow cabin with carefully-painted feminine faces prancing up and down the pristine aisle. In my close vicinity sit clean-shaven suits alongside handsome females equipped with exuberant children. As I climb higher, transient wisps jolt my progress, sending shivers of tension and embarrassing worry through my spangling, awkward nerves. The higher I climb, the better I can distinguish my plane’s interior: the ‘First Class’ neon sign glitters in glamorous gold, passing a feeling of bashful wonderment through my naïve skin. It does look the part: creamy, leather seats accompanied with an innovative swivel ‘tableau’, and enough space surrounding each seat to allow the user to nonchalantly stretch out his arms and casually pour his drink - even the readily available, potent whisky - onto the creamy plastic floor, without affecting anyone (of importance). The gentleness of the climb calms my taut skin and I finally procure the confidence to gaze towards the sleek woman sitting alongside me, whose legs, during the turbulence, carbonate me, lifting inexorable bubbles through my tickling nerves. Through her half-empty bottle of wine I follow the carefully-rising sun which ruptures the azure sky, with its golden arrows adding to my now bubbling insides as it silhouettes her in a golden haze. Our conversation moves as fluidly as her cigarette smoke, now mixed with the fumes of the ubiquitous alcohol, creating the scent of a traffic jam, and causing me and Jess to throw mincing glances at those clustered behind the cheap, damp ‘Third Class’

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banner – the majority of which has become invisible behind stains of smoke. As the sun hits its transcendent peak in the sky, I hear the monotonous loudspeaker announce that I have reached halfway; in this vast, swallowing expanse, how can I already be halfway into my journey? I turn to Jess. She is smiling benignly out of the window. I turn behind me: a couple with dancing, swimming eyes are laughing hysterically – pausing only to gasp on this dense, claustrophobic air. I shoot a longing glance towards the cream chairs and voluptuous drinks in the ‘First Class’ cabin. Swivelling, I see a painful grimace in my face, offering me overpriced cocktails, but I’d prefer wine; it always does to appear sophisticated. Expecting to see approval on Jess’s face, I turn only to see her deep, swimming, bewildered eyes. That is when the screaming starts. The screams are like erupting daggers. Each cabin is pierced with a pervading terror, and I feel my body lurch for protection. Another human, another mind; the rasping loudspeaker, incomprehensible; Jess’ eyes still swimming – instinctively I stand up; now at least I can see over the seats. I’m falling faster now, and painted grimaces disappear. Suddenly all my eyes can take in is the malevolent, dancing light consuming the left wing. Death seems inexorable. I walk jerkily forward, a final lurch towards my goal. As I come closer, the more clearly I can see the naked, fractured neon sign - and all of a sudden the glazed icing with which I have surrounded this cabin recedes, as ominous flames melt through the assumptive lust which has caked my eyes shut. I see how pathetic these bloated, gasping gentlemen are; their lives’ ambitions to become sources of admiration leaves them like glutinous buzzards – proud, unhealthy, disliked. I picture their partners lounging in an overly-elaborate living room, awaiting the inevitable freedom of divorce. Turning around, I search out Jess’ face through the choking haze which envelops the plane’s interior; all the eyes I can make out are swimming, drowning.

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Finally I see her, the fast descending sun coating her hair in a glowing grey. I continue to look further, into a vulgar, smoky gloom discoverable only behind the tattered banner – all I can see are restless silhouettes and desperate eyes, but their suffocating, noisy chatter is distinctly audible. As I listen to their nonsensical hysterics I become aware of a rich, joyous quality to their idiocy: in spite of their cheapness, their lack of class, they are carefree; the severity and callousness of existence, of impending death, is incomprehensible to them and thus they are - and always will be - happily bewildered. Fortune saved my flight. Just as the sun was beginning to diminish, empathic droplets of opals and diamonds and rubies and emeralds exploded, like an electric shock, from the beaming sky. The downpour was brief, but effective; my pilot could turn on the backup engines and continue tentatively on through the dimly-lit sky. Before, I had dreaded the approach of my inevitable destination, yet as the light dwindled further, I felt a serene relief in the prospect. The rasping speaker warned us it was time to descend, and, despite the aching, it was relatively comfortable. Jess had long ago become too benign to be of any conversational interest, her face clouded in a ghostly grey. Thus I sat carefully, gazing contemptuously ahead through strained, bleak eyes whose pupils had turned grey in the smoke.The neon had become stained, whilst the banner was drowning in a dazed, unsurprised manner. As the impenetrable blackness of my destination appeared I gazed at Jess, close beside me, slumped and pale against a tightly shut window, and I thanked the newly-buried sun that my journey went on.

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I didn’t really know why I was even driving anymore.

In a short story it is impossible to describe whole days or extensive scenes, therefore I employed the techniques of ellipsis and time shift, and set the story within the limiting confines of a car, interrupted by snapshots of the post-apocalyptic world beyond its windows. In ‘A Lonely Coast’, Annie Proulx uses the faux-naïf style, a technique that makes the alarming seem matter of fact; this device seemed appropriate for the context of my story where in a world that has been devastated, roadside corpses would seem almost mundane. The use of delayed revelation is a further technique designed to unsettle the reader.


I jerked awake as the car swerved across the empty five-lane carriageway. Sleeping wasn’t an option any more. Sleep meant death and I wasn’t ready for that yet. I had started driving four days before, when there had been others – not many, but others nonetheless - driving towards Central America. Many couldn’t access a place where it would be safe; I was one of the lucky ones. I smiled as that idea crossed my mind. Lucky? No-one was lucky any more, and with every day that passed I felt that perhaps those who had already lost their lives were really the lucky ones. * When the world was let in on what was happening, I had taken my late father’s Series 1700 Chevrolet convertible and set off down the freeway. The car was more than fifty years old, but I felt more secure here than anywhere else in the world. It had been my father’s pride and joy, stationed at the family ranch in Musselshell,Montana – the place that had been my home for my whole life; yet leaving had been easier than expected. I hadn’t had time to realise that I would never return to the place where boy had turned to man. Even so, tears began to roll silently down my cheeks. Nostalgia would be a man’s downfall, my father used to say; memories were for the forgotten man. As I drove I passed a small motel: one of those run-down, middle-of-nowhere places. I didn’t stop. Stopping would be lethal. A young woman, however, hadn’t been able to take the long-distance driving any more. I assumed that the decreasing oxygen had strained her lungs and made her delirious - it seemed most likely to me, so many others having fallen for that same

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reason. Outside the motel, just feet from her car, her dying body lay almost still, twitching slightly in a seizure as her oxygen- deprived brain shut down. I had never seen a corpse until three days previously: thinking of them as ‘corpses’ was easier to stomach than ‘dead bodies’. Since then I had seen hundreds - many of them strewn, discarded like she was, their brief pause from the wheel the greatest mistake of their lives. The hardest sights were the children, their young faces contorted with pain and confusion as their lungs failed. No one had believed the headlines at first. It seemed utterly ridiculous - the work of an adventurous Hollywood director trying to get his movie noticed. It took five days for the initial reports to become widely accepted, and that was long enough to leave more than half the world’s population too far from help.The news stories had charted our demise with unerring efficiency: first to be affected were the airplanes and long distance ships, the shifting magnetic field created by the slowing of the Earth’s rotation causing GPS navigation systems to fail. The world’s normal rotational speed is one thousand one hundred miles per hour, but since the news companies had picked up on the story it had been decreasing by twenty miles per hour every day. That meant that in just over forty-five days the world would stop turning completely; as a result, the shift of the magnetic field was causing the atmosphere to swing away from the Earth’s poles as they orientated towards its centre. Simply put, in around ten days only the areas near the equator would be left with enough oxygen to sustain human life. My eyes were becoming more and more clouded; the lids were starting to feel weighted. I hoped that this was because it had been three days since I had last slept, rather than the result of a sudden drop in oxygen levels. The first week of my journey was easy; I had been able to stop and sleep after the long days of

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driving. Some people – astronauts, maybe - are trained to cope with sleep deprivation, and I envied those people who could stay awake for weeks without suffering too much. I was no astronaut – but I had no choice. I had to go on. The radio was still on in the background; the white noise had become rather soothing. At first there had been a few radio broadcasts, but recently radio stations were simply churning out white noise, or intermittent, pre-recorded government messages advising the public to evacuate if possible.There was a faint hope in my mind that, in my search across desolate wavebands, I’d come across a radio station broadcasting something that could give me hope - but this faith was weakening by the day: I didn’t really know why I was even driving any more. The road in front of me started to fade again. I looked at my hands, my knuckles white with the tightness of my grip on the steering wheel. I knew what was happening: the oxygen level in my brain had finally taken its toll, and my body convulsed as my hyperventilating lungs launched a last-ditch attempt to stabilise my oxygen levels. Euphoria spread through me as they triggered the release of endorphins, and I felt a numbness, too, as my brain start to shut down pain impulses in my failing body. * A car ground to a halt on the tarmac of Route 281 a few metres before a government-erected sign, which read “Heroica Matamoras 20 Miles – Safe City.”

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Start clipping. Keep clipping.

In ‘The Boy And His Dog’, I chose to focus on three issues, firstly Freud’s concept of the Id: the irrational part of the mind that represents our innate desires. The second, heavily intertwined, concerns how a materialistic, consumerist lifestyle leads to these desires being repressed, in turn leading to transgression. The third is the profound condition whereby humanity attempts unsuccessfully to bury its animal drives and urges within itself. Contextually, the piece is set in two locations, one pastoral and remote, the other urban and densely populated. With these different environments come different psychologies: spiritual fulfilment contrasting with dystopian nightmare.

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The boy and his dog set foot from the grim pebble-dashed bungalow and out onto the sparse grass; the boy’s leaden feet begin to tread the familiar route whilst his dog’s sombre behaviour indicates a weariness with the world that is all too similar to his. They run past the butcher’s, the pub and the newsagent’s. Empty, twisted cider cans are swept into rusty, corrugated corners. They pass a tyre yard.Thick swathes of vulcanised rubber lie worn and tired. Amongst them comes a small bitch with its hair tangled and matted. As it comes to the looming gate it whimpers and its soft, limpid eyes stare out at the dog. The dog strains on the chain, his thick neck gripped by the links; the boy snatches at the lead and they continue on the road. Tall, hearty oaks swelling with leaves sway in the soft wind. Delicate-looking doves roost in the lower canopies, their black collars swaying too.The boy and his dog pass beneath them, faster now, and are observed with curiosity. The wet tarmac begins to rise on a steady incline, past discarded gloves and crumpled crisp packets, towards the moor.The dog’s moist nose rises to the wind, elated at the prospect of the bristly heather. A wintry gust blows down the road rustling the hedges; it spurs the boy and his dog on to pick up their pace. It is not long before they reach the upper path and the boy and his dog see slight shimmers of sunlight falling upon the peak. A translucent Coke bottle lies prostrate on the table; the Bose speakers stand arrogant and sharp, leaking music from their webbed exteriors. A mangled pack of cigarettes lies limp on the corner of the table and I am typing. Heavy, viscous rhythms invade me. My head is a pressure oven, blistering and

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full; my mind races and I can take no more. I limp into the icy kitchen and reach for the creamy, bone-painted cupboards. I reach upwards, ever upwards into the yellow, chipped basket. Depress and turn. Open and swallow. I limp once again but this time upstairs into the sickly, lukewarm bath; from here a decrepit window pattered by rain reveals the monotony of the urban landscape, brick followed by brick. The nauseous, chilling water barely covers my waist and laps at the enamel as I reach for the grey soap. I wash my shoulders, my chest, and my arms. Now my skin is tinged with a faded blue. A thick purple scar, crescent moon in shape, runs across my abdomen, rippled and jagged.Goosebumps rise slowly over my tired neck. Sirens wail as my fingers run across my taut scalp. They now leap from the road and over the wooden stile onto the flinty track leading alongside the rippling, trickling stream. The air is cool and serene. The boy stops with his dog sitting neatly at his side; he reaches down and pulls the chain from his companion’s head.The dog leaps from his seat and tears through the dense blooming thicket. The boy slings his leather lead over his shoulder and continues to follow the path, his hard shoes crunching ever faster. He carries his head high, drawing in deep draughts of mountain air, and his carriage is fluid.The dog races across the land, his fervent, moist nose low, seeking the scent of the elusive quarry and, upon finding it, stops abruptly. My cheek, lying on damp concrete speckled with stains of grey gum, is cold. Metallic, sterile handcuffs grasp my wrists solidly.Awave of blue light spans across the pavement, picking at pools of muddy, soiled water; illuminating them for a brief second, this wave reaches its crest and breaks on the deep- treaded, dark tyre. It then continues until gloved hands grasp my tensioned elbows and lift me from this stony mattress. I am detached, and the next mattress is six foot by three, overlaid with a thin rubber sheet.The brickwork is grey and scratched

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with various insignia.My chipped and sordid nails skim across my scalp. Sleep comes easily. The dog is transfixed. He is poised and ready as he prepares the slow stalk upon his unwary prey. He creeps as close as possible. Paw by paw, foot by foot, he gets closer.The young grouse begins to run along the heather, its woolly feet falling underneath it as it flaps its small drooping wings and begins to rise through the cool air. The dog is close; his rich, brown coat ripples with athletic muscle. His pace quickens, his legs cycling underneath his powerful frame, and then, with one almighty effort, it is grasped. His robust jaws crush the dumpy bird’s soft chest. The bird flutters faintly as the last wisps of life drip and trickle from him. The boy sprints over and picks up the bleeding bird from the dog’s mouth.They are now at the top of the moor, bathed in rich, warm sunlight. The boy and his dog now run down into the town. There is no longer a frosty breeze. The clouds have broken and the sun is spilling its warm bounty down upon the land.The dog is calm.The boy’s skin glows and he stands tall. After passing the newsagents, the pub and the butcher they return home; here the boy takes his knife to the loose, warm bird. He takes a rusted pan and heats the bird slowly, occasionally and precariously stabbing at it with a fork. When he feels the meat slide easily from the bone the carcass is given to the eager dog.The boy hears the fervent slaps of the dog’s long tongue on the metal. Afterwards the dog retires to his bed, calm and contented. The skeleton of the door stands before me. Arteries of light crawl underneath it, inwards and upwards.The windows fog up fast, steamhisses from the head and hot, lucid water penetrates my scalp. It is very dark. Rhythms resonate in my head but outside this cerebral fortress all that resonates is the incessant splatter of hot water on cool slate. I stop the shower. Now

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it is silent. I step out, naked. I tread the seventeen carpeted steps to the bathroom. I enter, toothbrush nestled between my dripping fingers. I brush. I leave. I enter my bedroom and there lies the limp, pink, faded scrap of a bra. Involuntarily I leap for it.Tear it apart. Shred by shred. Fibre by fibre. Ripping until I am spent and fatigued. Clutch desperately on the floor for underwear. Hoist them on. Pick up the shiny, metallic nail clippers. Start clipping. Keep clipping.

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We yearned for the unanswered door.

The source of inspiration for my short story, ‘Magicians And Wizards’, was ‘The Enormous Radio’ by John Cheever, published at the time of the Red Scare in America, and the genre of domestic gothic. Cheever’s key themes are the duality of human nature and inner corruption from which I drew, setting my piece within a dormant suburb where the breakdown of family life and failings of morality are all the more poignant. The smoke which “spiralled into the night sky” is representative of the empty lives of the children; in the same vein, the “bike chain” of the opening is symbolic in its circularity, suggesting entrapment.


Dad always loved giving advice. Despite the fact that he often struggled to do the simplest of things, he still considered himself an oracle, like the times when the chain of my bike would come off. He couldn’t repair it and his resulting temper ruined those Sunday afternoons.That was years ago, mind, before he went off with the woman from round the corner. I hardly ever speak to him now, but I know he lives alone with his dog. Mum won’t let me see him: bad example, apparently. Last time I saw him was at the community centre, dressed up as Father Christmas for the Christmas party. I don’t know why he was chosen. I imagine it was because he had such a friendly red face that resembled Saint Nicholas’s, not to mention a beer belly that made his belt look tight as an elastic band. The smiles and friendliness were all put on though - and they had to do a job to conceal all his dark hair. * The park was the usual meeting place. Nobody went there much. Even the vandals who regularly set to work on the children’s playground had nothing to do. They found the miscreants; Jack the butcher’s son had engraved his name into the see-saw but the council refused to “waste any more money on the place”. Neglected, the solitary swing hung from its frame by a single chain, dragging its heels in the dust and revolving in the wind. The combination of painted faces and masks congregated here; it was no surprise that Frankenstein appeared deep in conversation with Dracula whilst a pair of witches cackled at a joke seemingly told by a ghost. I can’t say they looked particularly convincing, draped in old bed sheets and polyester capes - but, then again, I suppose I was in no position to question the authenticity of their guises. Nobody wanted to face accusations of being over-eager by being dressed in a more elaborate outfit.

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We shortly embarked on our annual pilgrimage through the neighbourhood, and our garrulous, excited group navigated the suburban wilderness. The sneering faces adorned by pumpkins always failed to instil the fear they intended. If anything they buoyed us as we approached the lit houses with our usual proposal of “trick or treat”.We were greeted with mixed receptions. Some were happy to comply with our demands, particularly the sad parents who would dress up themselves with disconcerting enthusiasm, remarking on our costumes in the most patronising fashion whilst feigning curiosity. The majority were more resentful; they tended to be older, more cynical about the occasion. Of course, the quality of offerings varied greatly: whilst some presented a bowl from which we would snatch handfuls of sweets, others would be less generous. We gorged ourselves on the spoils, tearing off wrappers before sinking our teeth into the decadent delights. Jawbreakers were devoured and toffee apples tossed into gutters, bushes and flowerbeds. We were content at that point, but we soon met the senior boys on the edge of the green.They wore their sparse facial hair with pride: it served to help them get the cigarettes they coughed and choked over. Their clouds of smoke spiralled into the night sky before fading into the dark nothingness. They joined us, but, as the night descended, so did our intentions. We followed the tunnel of light provided by the street lamps, past the garage - which carried its usual scent of oil - and the chippy, where rats dispersed from their feast of chicken bones. No longer content with the sweets that had already sated our hunger, we yearned for the unanswered door. We took turns inflicting escalating crimes upon properties, emptying bins and racing away from resonating doorbells - until my turn finally came. We approached number 17 Caerwent Road with caution; I was reluctant from the outset. The others ignored my plea and cajoled me relentlessly. Dracula handed me a pair of eggs, indicating towards the black saloon that sat behind the gate. His makeup was starting to wear thin

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due to the perspiration running down his forehead; the resulting concoction reeked, but nobody dared tell him so.With difficulty, I hauled myself over, balancing on the cool iron railings before falling to the floor. I crept over to the vehicle, all the while looking up at the windows, checking and rechecking, hoping not to stir any life within the deserted house. Giggles of anticipation could be heard from behind me, spurring me on to impress, whilst faceless shadows glided over the gravel. I cracked open the first egg above the windscreen and traced the path of the yolk, watching it engulf my reflection, as the hanging face of the monster melted into the greasy substance. The drumming of my heart accelerated, imitating the beat of a tribal dance and distracting me from the task in hand. From inside the house I heard a dog barking and the sound of footsteps.The final egg felt heavy in my clammy palm but again I cracked the shell open and let the contents slide down the windscreen and under the bonnet. The blinding darkness writhed before me, far more terrifying than any costume; the unknown stared me in the face. I felt a cold hand grab me by the collar.

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Don’t you think I should have a say in this?

My story concerns the train journey of a young couple heading towards a city.The key issue raised is one of parenthood, and the decision-making over an unwanted pregnancy. James Joyce was used as a point of reference as he deals with issues of adolescence, and the psychosexual revelations that come with it, in his story ‘Araby’; I also considered Raymond Carver’s short story ‘So Much Water So Close To Home’ given its focus on the emotional turmoil of an older, married couple. The choice of the train’s destination is also relevant to the narrative: the city represents the unknown and chaotic, a place where happiness is said to be found.


The 08:16 train service to London Victoria was delayed. The delay might be tolerated, or even expected in regards to other train services; however this particular train was renowned by its usual passengers for its punctuality, and had never missed its time slot once in its entire four years of service. But late it was, this morning, by precisely three and a half minutes. “Damn,” whispered a girl on the platform.The girl - for she was barely past adolescence - chewed anxiously on puckered, pink lips and clutched desperately to the hand of the boy next to her: two solemn grey figures, rigid and stiff against the morning skyline. The boy noticed his other half ’s agitation and, with a subtle grin on his face, squeezed her hand more tightly and breathed into her ear. “Calm down. It’s fine; the train’s coming.”The headlights of the front carriage could already be seen making their way to the station. “It’s fine.” The girl released one deep, unsettled breath which she had unknowingly been holding in, as the unscheduled train made its stop. Stepping over the weathered yellow line in the centre of the concrete, she made her way towards the carriage. She passed silently in between the parting yellow doors of the pale compartment and proceeded to seat herself halfway down the aisle, next to the window, overlooking the playground which clung desperately to the deserted park. Barely any of the other passengers took notice of the flustered would-be schoolgirl with the bundle of shopping cradled lightly in her arms, or the dull- eyed boy trailing behind her.

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The girl suddenly noticed the growing pain in her belly and glanced downwards towards the overflowing bag of shopping resting in between her legs. Rummaging around the inside, she soon found the source of her irritation: a twenty-pack of Menthol Superking cigarettes. She gazed absent-mindedly at the small brilliantly green box in her hand, and then, so swiftly it almost seemed to have not happened, felt the sudden urge to rip off the plastic coating that encased the box, pull a cigarette out and light up right there and then. But she soon returned to her senses, and reminded herself of other people’s expectations.What would everyone else on the train think of her smoking? No, it wouldn’t do to have people staring at her. Instead, she ignored her craving and placed one arm over the swollen surface of her belly. It was at that moment that the boy in the seat next to her cleared his throat and nodded towards the railway map on the wall above their heads. “I think we should get off at the next stop,” he said, as he plucked a single cigarette out of the packet in the girl’s hands. He then pulled out a lighter and singed the end of the small white tube. He had no such fear of the judgement of others. His suggestion seemed logical enough; if the train they were on now was delayed, then others at Victoria could be too, and who would want to go through all that bother? An agreement almost escaped from the girl’s lips, prevented only by the suddenly obvious tinge of demand in the boy’s suggestion. The boy took a drag of the cigarette and offered one to the girl. She, however, declined and produced a pale and bruised apple from the laden shopping bag instead. “This train was late,” she answered meekly. “The rest of the day doesn’t have to be ruined. I’ll stay on even if you won’t.”

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By now, the resonating chime of the closing doors had ceased, and as they shut, the train began to move.The boy flashed another charismatic grin and aimed it in the direction of the girl. “Denmark Hill is the next stop; we could be in Camberwell within five minutes.” His voice quivered slightly on the last few syllables of his sentence, and his usual air of confidence briefly faded. He then leaned towards the girl and stared at her. “Don’t you think I should have a say in this?” The boy’s open palm found its way to his girlfriend’s warm thigh. Her only sign of acknowledgement of the boy’s touch was to turn slightly to the left and gaze out of the window at the blurred scenery. The girl’s already flushed cheeks turned an even darker shade of red as a strange, alien sensation came crashing over her. A single, undesired, glistening tear gathered at the corner of her eye. “No,” she answered. A more forceful enunciation had been hoped for but that small quiet syllable was all she could muster. “No, this has nothing to do with you.” The boy’s hand recoiled, excluded and hurt, the half burnt-down cigarette balanced delicately in between his middle- and fore- fingers.The girl’s knees clamped together, defiantly opposing the swelling tear forming at the corner of her eye. The oncoming station was announced proudly to the passengers, but the controller’s voice fell on deaf ears as, by now, the girl had become so absorbed in the uneaten apple in her hands and the gentle rocking of the carriage that hardly anything could distract her from the motion. By then, the chiming of the doors had resumed, this time signalling their opening. The boy fell to the sodden floor of the

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train on one knee and gently turned the face of the girl towards him. Smiling tenderly, he said, “We can go to London another day.” Through the noise of fluttering eyelids and soft hum of trembling lips, the girl slowly nodded her head in agreement. “You’re right,” she admitted, that one stray tear long forgotten on the filthy floor of the carriage. “Come on, quickly.” The girl rose to her feet, cigarette in hand, barely even noticing the fallen apple beneath her, and dashed through the closing doors, her boyfriend following in her wake towards the streets.

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Mrs Horsewill did as she was told; she knew the drill..

In the opening sentences of ‘Fine,Thanks’, I strived to achieve a specific lyricism in the description, using imagery and personification as a means of accomplishing this. I have a habit of recording overheard conversations I find amusing or memorably interesting as a study of how people converse. In an attempt to form a strong sense of realism in my piece, all the dialogue consists of verbatim extracts from these conversations. Although the story is written in the third person, there are instances in which the thoughts of a character are expressed in order to expose their will or temperament: a form of free indirect discourse.


Gorse Lane weaves its way steeply upward, the crevasses of its shedding tarmac revealing its toil in reaching the higher ground. It expires with a sharp curve, at which point it cowers at the feet of Palace Road, which takes over the route. Brockett Mansions was precariously poised on the slope of Gorse Hill.The platform on which the block of flats stood did not provide sufficient stability and so the estate did not retain its balance with ease. In order to prevent unsteadiness, the root of the building was sliced diagonally, so as to remain parallel to flat ground. The houses of Palace Road were quaint and simple and possessed a smugness of character that could not be concealed. The street had a queer lack of solidarity, with each house, despite being joined to its neighbours, secluded from them. Mr and Mrs Horsewill lived at number six. The house’s pleasant sky blue colour and abundance of pretty flowers crawling up its front wall visibly indicated the ‘amiability of the lives within’, as Mr Horsewill’s wife assured him. She acknowledged that if civil relations with neighbours were to be maintained, it was of the utmost importance to illustrate their cordiality externally. ‘What was the name of that doctor that used to touch women up?’ enquired Mr Horsewill of his wife on Tuesday morning,

lowering his paper into his lap. ‘Maudsley, dear,’ she responded. ‘Ah yes.’ There was a pause.

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‘Did I tell you that I saw Simon yesterday?’ Mr Horsewill asked. ‘Did you?’ ‘Yes, in the high street. He started telling me about how his daughter is now at university, and after she had the...’ Mrs Horsewill stopped listening. Mr and Mrs Horsewill were about a hundred and twenty years old between them and were roughly the same age. They looked startlingly similar and, without conferring, their attire was often coherent. They had been lucky enough to earn enough money during their working careers to facilitate taking an early retirement six months previously. Mr Horsewill had hoped to write poetry during the time he now had spare, although he hadn’t found much inspiration of late. He knew that he wanted to write about the interference of the wind on a tree, and the way it affects its leaves. He had a vague idea about a message being passed along from one leaf to another, but other than that, nothing. Mrs Horsewill, sensing from the altered tone of her husband’s murmurings that a question was approaching, resumed listening. ‘…and then he asked me if I’d used the razor he bought me yet. Did I ever tell you about that? His wife indicated that he hadn’t. ‘Ah well, he got me this lovely razor for my birthday, similar to the one my father used to have, Wilkinson Sword…very good. He says it’s one of those ones that when you use it, you can really see the strip it makes across your face. So yes, I mean I absolutely have every intention of using it one day.’

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His diction could not be faulted; the words appeared to stream from his lips with such ease and grace. Perhaps he knew it too well. Mr Jenkins was an ex-work colleague of Mr Horsewill and of a similar age. He still worked for the same firm. Mr Jenkins was not as fortunate as Mr and Mrs Horsewill; he hadn’t managed to acquire enough funds to enable him and his wife to take an early retirement. Mr Jenkins lived in Brockett Mansions. Every Monday evening, Mr Jenkins took the 19:06 train, from his local station, and travelled one stop to his bridge club. Mrs Horsewill had taken up bridge in her recent retirement, and she had joined the same club.Mrs Horsewill took the 19:06 train, from her local station, and travelled one stop to her bridge club. Two days previously, Mrs Jenkins had been waiting on Platform Two of her local station at 19:07. ‘I’m sorry to announce that the 19:06 First Capital Connect Service to Torringdon is delayed by approximately two minutes.’ Mr Jenkins shuffled round the corner and onto Platform Two. Mr Jenkins had suffered from polio as a young boy and so one leg was entirely crippled. As a result, he did not retain his balance with ease and required a walking stick in order to assist his stability. ‘Oh, there you are hahaha! Oh dear, isn’t that funny? Here I was, thinking you wouldn’t make it. I was thinking to myself, oh dear, its 19:07 now, and he’s normally here by 19:02 at the very latest. But here you are! Oh well, well done for making it,’ Mrs Horsewill breathlessly explained to Mr Jenkins. Mrs Horsewill gazed up at him. Her chest puffed out towards him as she watched his every move with glazed eyes and quivering fingertips. His gloriously sympathetic face glowed in the fading

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orange sunlight as he beamed down at her with a smile that appeared to encapsulate all the love, hope and kindness in the world. ‘Oh, am I late? I hadn’t noticed. Well, why isn’t the train here? What the fuck is it delayed for? I get so cross with these train people. All it takes is the press of a little button by a driver’s thumb to operate these machines; why is it so difficult?’ Mr Jenkins replied. There was a pause. ‘And, now I think of it, whilst no one’s about, open your blouse,’ Mr Jenkins demanded blankly, not looking at Mrs Horsewill. Mrs Horsewill did as she was told; she knew the drill.Mr Jenkins cheated at bridge, and seeing as she was his partner and, since her femininity was a useful device to use in order to achieve false success, she didn’t see why she shouldn’t co-operate. When bridge was over, they went back home together, on the 21:23 train. Mrs Horsewill asked him if he’d like to go for a drink with her. Mr Jenkins declined; he ‘had to get up early in the morning.’ Mrs Horsewill watched him go into Brockett Mansions. ‘This time next week,’ she thought to herself. Mrs Horsewill turned and went into her home at number six, Palace Road. ‘Hello dear, how was bridge?’ asked a croaky voice from upstairs. ‘Fine thanks,’ replied Mrs Horsewill, chucking down her keys. Mrs Horsewill went upstairs and climbed into bed. Facing away from him, she informed her husband, ‘I think we’ll have porridge for breakfast tomorrow.’

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‘That’s fine,’ he said. Mrs Jenkins found it difficult getting to sleep that night.

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That particular week, however, the final visitor was unexpected.

‘The Long Walk Home’ is about the loss of childhood innocence. Set in the late 1960s, it is written retrospec- tively from a first-person viewpoint, with a grown man recounting an event he experienced as a child. My pres- entation of childhood is influenced by Joyce and Greene, and their focus on the element of freedom: the desire and need to explore the world around them that all children share. Contextually, I wanted the environment to be fairly enclosed: the claustrophobic atmosphere of a small, suffocating chapel and the railway station beside it, to demonstrate the restricted, over-protected nature of my narrator’s early life.


The chapel was hidden on the west side of the station. Even as a child it had seemed far from large, just a single storey shrouded in the light morning rain. The potent rumble of a passing train would make it tremble, the tiles on its roof jumping up and down with a CLICKETY-CLACK . Inside, it was a bleak space. The sole rear window threw shadows across the bare walls. It smelt stale. Hymnals piled expectantly inside the front door were long- untouched, like food forgotten at the back of the fridge. That day, as with every other Sunday as far back as I could remember, I led my parents between the aisles to our brittle bench.The sixth on the left, I always knew it by its rounded edge and the gash below the adjoining armrest. My shoes scuffed the flagstones and I sat down. I sat at an angle, my head turned slightly to watch the space fill around me. Familiar faces drifted among the benches, stopping now and then to take prearranged seats. I was always glad that my parents and I were among the first to chapel, giving me the opportunity to watch this weekly ritual. I think it always reassured me, in some sense, that all was still well in the world. We were usually followed closely by the smiling couple, hand-in- hand, still without child; then the frowning man, his face creased like balled, crumpled paper and framed by wispy white hair.The Stanleys, a name I did know, wouldn’t be too far behind him. A form above me at school, their son Jim would acknowledge me without emotion from the middle of the pack. Other nameless faces would waft past, with the widowed Mrs Drake and her tottering, chattering daughter at the tail end. That particular week, however, the final visitor was unexpected.

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