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Tall Tales, Short Stories writing competition – Highly Commended: Holly White

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Holly completed Kate Clanchy’s short story ‘The Not-Dead and the Saved

She scans the ward, “Stop talking like that-someone’ll here you. You’d never be talking like that on your deathbed.”

The Son scoffs, only just able to conceal his disapproval, but he is quickly interrupted by the oncologist, “Lucas Owen?”

The Mother nods in return, though the doctor is watching the computer screen instead. Somehow, the uneven typing on the keyboard lulls the Son; he takes comfort in its unpredictable nature, a rarity in his timetabled, cotton wool life. But then his records fill the screen and the doctor swallows. Lucas doesn’t need to be there. He knows what is about to be said. They’re going to tell him exactly what he wants, and then he’ll be expected to cry, and then they can go home.

“We’ve received some results, Lucas, that your tumour has been there all along. That means it’s spread, too much for removal. I’m very-“

“But you’re contacting some of those people at that New York centre, right? We could fly out there, I’m sure they’d be something to try,” insists the mother, sceptical of the doctor’s abilities.

“I’m very sorry.”

Her lips quiver as the Son reaches for a pen on the doctor’s desk, adding to his graffitied jeans. Was he even listening?she wonders, or does he just not care? Though he didn’t seem to register anything the oncologist told them, his mouth is cracked at the corners as though he’s smiling. He’s been told that he’s a ticking time bomb and he’s smiling.

Suddenly bored of sketching, he tosses the pen back onto the desk and gets up, stretching as he ambles towards the door, “I’m gonna go grab something to eat.”

Despite the effluvium of bleach in the corridors, the Son saunters aimlessly towards the vending machine, admiring the empty walls. The light bounces off the crisp packets, trying to make them look more appealing amongst their bleak surroundings. A few effortless taps, a brief whirr and his coins drop down to join others, the crisps exiled from the machine with a crunch.

“I really don’t recommend that you eat those,” advises a nurse behind him, “Have you checked the expiry?”

The Son turns over the packet, eyeing the date printed at the bottom. Two months ago. He wouldn’t normally care, being out-of-date himself, but etiquette prevails and he throws them away. The nurse is still in uniform, though a handbag is slung over her shoulder.

“I could show you to the shop downstairs? That is, assuming you don’t need to get back to anyone.”

She thinks I’m a visitor, he realises. She seems sweet, offering to help, and she’s pretty, too, especially with her not-so-subtle flirting. But he’s fed up of people like her toying with life and death.

“I’m sorry, I need to be going,” he answers, ambling back to his Mother. As he walks, the Not-Dead’s eyes follow him desperately.

“I’m so sorry. Their world just really isn’t worth being Saved for.”