Kickback New Writers Competition - the winner!
The Project FX competition WM ran with Kickback Media was to to find a new writer to work on a magical children's novel
The competition involved writing 2,000 words in response to a brief that asked writers to create a scenario that took a child character into a fantastical world. The winner is Jennifer Brooks with Mischief. Scroll down to read her entry.
In addition to a cash prize of £250, Jennifer has the opportunity to discuss collaborating on Project FX, which Kickback Media will be taking to the 2018 London Book Fair in April.
‘We were extremely impressed with the quality of the entries and by how much character and story can be created and communicated within 2,000 words,’ said the judges. ‘It is fair to say that picking an overall winner was not an easy task. However we felt that Jennifer Brooks’s winning entry – Mischief – was an accomplished piece of writing that created an instant connection between the reader and the central character, economically provided teasing glimpses into her wider life while at the same time offering some wonderfully evocative descriptive writing.’
The judges would also like to commend the following writers: Elizabeth Aksoy ,The Music Box; Zed Jacey aka Zoe Cookson, Untitled; Caitlin Kinsella, Untitled; Jacqueline Koay, The Maasai Boats; Andrea Parr, Demon Eye; Victoria Richards, Earnest Magnitude’s Infinite Sadness; Neil Taylor, Untitled; Dawn Treacher, Untitled; Andrea Webster, Huldra’s Song.
A giant in a crisp, olive uniform slammed the ambulance door shut. He paused when he saw Emily and frowned at her pyjamas. “Bit cold to be out at this time of night, isn’t it?” The crease between the paramedic’s eyes looked like a dip between two mountain crags. “Are you his neighbour? Where’re your parents?”
Emily shivered and hopped from foot to foot. “Mum’s asleep. What’s wrong with Mr Wulf?” Her voice wobbled as she added, “Is he going to die?”
The paramedic tucked a watch into his pocket and crouched beside to her. “What’s your name?”
“Emily. Is Mr Wulf going to be okay?”
“And how old are you Emily?” The red and blue lights spun in the paramedic’s eyes.
“Ten. But I’ll be eleven soon.”
In fact, she wouldn’t be eleven for another six months, but he didn’t need to know that. Perhaps if he thought she was older, he might stop dodging her questions.
The paramedic bowed his head. He looked at his watch. “Do you know what a cardiac arrest is, Emily?”
Emily stared at him. She nodded slowly. Aunty Jean’s husband had died from one of those. A heart attack.
“Well, Mr Wulf is a fair bit ill. It’s likely he’ll be in hospital for a while. I can tell you’re a good neighbour though. He’s got cats, hasn’t he? Can you make sure to tell your mum that they’ll needing looking after whilst he’s gone?”
Emily nodded mutely. The paramedic patted her on the shoulder, as if he thought she needed it, then returned to the ambulance and slammed the door. Emily watched as the red and blue lights squealed away, her eyes burning.
It never crossed her mind that there was somebody else watching too.
Emily didn’t tell her mum about the cats in the end. In the morning she sloped past the living room, her eyes puffy from a bad night’s sleep. Her mum was wrapped cosily on the sofa, dunking into a bowl of cereal.
“Morning,” her mum called. Emily spied her school shirts lying in a pile next to the washing machine and decided to ignore her. They still hadn’t been washed. Honestly, what was the point of having a mum, if she couldn’t even do ‘mum’ things? She picked up one of the shirts, shook it out and sighed. Ten minutes later, she slammed the front door behind her without saying goodbye.
Emily stared up at Mr Wulf’s house as she walked past, wondering which hospital the ambulance had taken him to and if he was alright. One of his cats sat on the low wall outside, its luminous eyes following her. She stopped for a moment to stroke its head.
“Missing him already?” she whispered, scratching behind the cat’s ears. “Bet he takes better care of you than my mum does of me. Look.” She showed the cat her crumpled shirt. “I’m going to smell all day.” Then she laughed. “Why am I telling you? You don’t care.”
But the cat blinked as if it understood.
“I’ll be in after school to feed you,” she promised. “No point mum doing it. She’d
forget.” Her fingers slipped over the cat’s collar. “Mischief,” she read aloud. Then she
spied something else attached to the collar. It was a tiny, ornamental compass. The compass felt heavy between her fingers and her first thought was that it must be made of gold, simply because of the way it gleamed in the winter sun. The next moment she dismissed that notion. Why would Mr Wulf attach something so precious to the collar of his pet? She shook her head and bid the cat goodbye. It watched her to the end of the street, then jumped off the wall and disappeared into the estate.
True to her word, Emily returned later that afternoon. By the time she got home from school it had gone four o’clock and the sky was splashed indigo-blue. Her mum was just where Emily had left her; squashed into a corner of the sofa, buried in blankets and watching the telly. It looked as if she’d hardly moved all day. Emily gulped down a quick sandwich before popping over to Mr Wulf’s. The spare key was kept under a gnome in the front garden.
Carefully, she pushed open the front door. There was an uneasy sense of being in somebody else’s house; Emily didn’t want to break anything, so she manoeuvred carefully through the hallway and into the kitchen. Ornaments lay everywhere – little compasses, just like the one on Mischief’s collar, as well as pictures of tattered maps and several boats trapped in glass bottles. Unlike Emily’s house, however, every surface was clean and free from dust. The carpet looked almost new and next to the radiator was a small airer with a row of neatly hanging shirts.
The cat food was easy enough to locate. It was kept in the cupboard by the washing machine. Emily refilled the bowls and put out some more water. She supposed she ought to look around for the cats, just to check they were still alive.
“Mischief,” she called. Her voice sounded muffled in this house, as if it wasn’t really there. “Mischief! Din-dins.” She couldn’t remember the name of the other cat, so she settled just for shouting, “Cat!”
She caught movement by the window. Mischief was hiding in the unkempt garden, watching her from a low branch. His fur gleamed black and his eyes didn’t waver from her face. For some reason a thrill ran suddenly through her. In the silence of the kitchen, she could feel her heart beginning to thud.
But, just as quickly, the moment passed.
Giving herself a little shake, Emily let herself out into the garden and called him again.
But Mischief had vanished. He was no longer in the tree. She swerved and ducked under the branches, searching for him. Eventually she spotted a long, dark tail that flicked out of sight. Crossing the stubbly grass, she went after him once more; finally spotting him on the other side of the fence where there was a copse of dead trees that Emily had never noticed before. He looked at her as if he had been waiting for her to catch up.
“Come along, you,” Emily told him sternly. “It’s dinner time. I’m under strict instructions to make sure you get fed.”
The cat glared. He raised his tail and turned away, padding into the undergrowth with his bottom facing her. Scowling, Emily hoisted herself over the fence. Splinters cut into her palms and she bit back a multicoloured swearword.
“I’m only doing this for you, Mr Wulf,” she growled as she examined her hands. Dodging past the stinging nettles, she went deeper between the trees, on the hunt for the swishing tail. Every so often she snatched a glimpse of it, always tantalisingly ahead. If she dawdled then the tail would disappear again, teasing her forward. Soon, she started to wonder if the cat wasn’t running away. It was almost as if Mischief wanted her to follow him.
After a few minutes of this, Emily stopped dead. She realised that she had come so far that she no longer knew where she was, or how to get back. She was no longer in the copse but a sort of woods, the sun blocked out by rows and rows of overhanging limbs A little way ahead she spied a stone wall and beyond this she saw an odd lump of stone that was covered in moss. She moved closer, her eyes narrowed. It was a gravestone. She must have reached St Genevieve’s Church – where Mr Wulf worked as a caretaker! How peculiar that there was this secret route there. Perhaps she and the cat were the only ones to have found it.
“You’ll need to use the gate.”
A voice crashed through the stillness. Emily turned slowly, her shoes crunching over the fallen leaves and twigs that carpeted the ground. The voice came from a nearby maple tree. She saw Mischief sitting on one of the wilting branches, his eyes fixed unblinkingly on hers.
“If you want to enter the graveyard, you’ll need to use the gate,” he said, again, and as he spoke, the compass dangling from his collar swung from side to side.
Emily screamed. Emily screamed until her throat was raw. She screamed until she thought her vocal chords had burst. She screamed until her ears hummed and crackled with the noise, but Mischief simply watched, his expression unperturbed.
“You can talk,” Emily croaked.
“But – how?”
Mischief smoothly leapt onto the stone wall. “Did you think I was just an ordinary pet?” He laughed throatily. “I’m a guardian of this graveyard. I employ Mr Wulf.”
“You employ...?” Emily trailed off. She followed him to a gap in the wall where, indeed, there was a ramshackle wooden gate. She looked at him questioningly.
“This is the gate that the guardians and their helpers use,” Mischief explained, nodding towards it. “If you step through this gate, you will see the graveyard – not as it is now – but as it truly is.”
“As it...truly is?” Emily repeated. She placed a hand on the gate, no longer aware of the splinters in her palms. I must be dreaming, she thought. I’m imagining that a cat is talking to me. They’ll lock me in an asylum and throw away the key.
She closed her eyes. When she opened them again, Mischief was still there, still watching. The dappled light made his eyes glint.
“Go on,” he said.
Emily did not want to take instructions from a talking cat – much less a cat that she wasn’t sure truly existed – but out of sheer curiosity for what would happen next, she pushed open the gate and stepped through.
The shell of her world shattered. A thousand shards of monochrome and grey whizzed through her vision, to be replaced by bleeding colour – vibrant and furious, blossoming in every corner. It was as if someone had cracked a magical egg over the graveyard, drowning it in hues of swirling crimson and lush greens; pomegranates and juicy corals. The dead were not asleep in their graves as they ought to have been; they traipsed and gambolled amongst the headstones, their faces as bright and pale as the moon.
Emily stepped forwards, noticing that the grass was no longer sparse beneath her feet. It was wild and shaggy and bursting with snowdrops. This was a world in reverse; a land where the dead could come back to life. She looked to the sky and swallowed in the rich, plum colour of it. Her skin tingled beneath its sumptuousness and she touched her cheek carefully, as if to confirm that she was in fact feeling this; that this was, in fact, real.
“Who are all these people?” Emily whispered, jumping as an elderly man in a top hat whistled past.
Mischief flowed over to the statue of a cherub and settled himself gracefully upon it. “They are the dead,” he said. “Every soul that has been buried here for the past two hundred years.”