Tall Tales, Short Stories writing competition – Highly Commended: Hazel Morpurgo
Hazel completed Emily Ruth Ford‘s short story ‘Please Be Good To Me‘
Her words hovered searchingly in the air. They were examining Sami’s face for a response. The old woman’s intense gaze; all those drifting features seemed now tightened into the stare of the indignant stranger. This countenance unsettles. Sami, in an attempt to grab some sort of sense out of the old woman’s expression, asked what seemed to be, at the time, an urgent question. “Why are you wearing a raincoat” She reached out and felt the jacket, slipping the fabric between her fingers “Aren’t you hot?” The old woman leant in close so that her black holdall bumped Sami on the knee – “I’m sleeping out tonight.” Her features pinched together in an ecstatic beam. Sami’s hand slid down the frail arm, and closed around her wrist as if to draw the old woman away from all this. Little splatters of old age circled her knuckles, delving deep into fissures running around her backhand and into her palm. She gave Sami a look of outrage, wrenched her arm from her grip and shuffled furiously away, using her umbrella to propel herself beyond the slow pace she could manage.
Their brief conversation had interrupted the flow of commuters and the stream had redirected itself around the couple. Now the current closed in again, trapping Sami in murmurs of brusque “excuse-mes” and sharp briefcase corners. She craned her neck over the mass movement to watch the dotted rain-jacket, hunched over bony shoulders, hobble towards a wary group of tourists. With an urgent twist she searched in the other direction, deliberating whether she could catch the 141 – “Wait!”
The tourists were shaking their heads now, articulating their apologies in unsteady English as they moved away. Sami launched herself across the stream, calling out for the old woman in an attempt for her to turn around. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to offend you. I just didn’t think you should be… I can take you home. Where do you live? I can take you there.” The old woman stood still, holding her head up, but did not turn around. Swept along by the crowd, Sami took a complicated route to reach the old woman, and stood in front of her, desperate for a response. But she was fixated, staring down at a brightly coloured leaflet, marked with skulls and small green hourglasses. Big black print exclaimed “Rebel for Life.”
“They’re called Extinction Rebellion,” the old woman muttered, “a young girl was handing them out in the street yesterday. They’re protesting in Gatwick.” The old woman looked up. “My grandchildren have never seen salmon leap, never heard a nightjar, they don’t even hear yellowhammers anymore. I’m forgiven, because I’m old, because nobody knew any better back then – but I don’t want to let it just slide to hell. I need to say I’m sorry for stealing their future – for taking yours – for taking your children’s.” The old woman’s delicate frame began to tremble. “And nobody can even give me directions.”
Highly Commended: Hazel Morpurgo, aged 14
Tall Tales, Short Stories celebrates 20 years of the V.S. Pritchett Prize, the great range of the short story form, and what is possible when we use other writers as inspiration. Our anthology contains the first 500 words of winning entries to the Prize and of stories from judges over the past 20 years. Our Tall Tales, Short Stories competition asked those aged 14-18 to finish one of the stories with a new ending of their own.