Holiday Short Story Competition - Winner

Charlie Baudry

Taylor's Notebook
Holiday Short Story Competition


Charlie Baudry is passionate about writing for children and adults. Her work has been published in magazines and shortlisted for a couple of competitions. Originally from the UK, Charlie has spent most of her life travelling. She is currently in South America as she works on a Middle-Grade novel as well as more short stories.

Taylor's Notebook By Charlie Baudry

Had Taylor sat here, or over there? I glance round the café. Mats on the floor, low tables, bamboo walls. Succulents flow from hanging baskets, swaying in the warm breeze from the open terrace. The air is thick with rice, fried oil and the sweet butterfly pea tea that has just arrived beside me.
Her notebook sits on my lap. Taylor’s. It’s scuffed at the edges. The vibrant silver pattern swirled on its cover has faded to a dull grey from being repeatedly stuffed into a rucksack, I imagine.
It’s been here every day since I arrived. I was nervous at first, not wanting to pry. Wouldn’t it be like opening her heart and reading everything that was etched on it? Everything she didn’t want anyone else to see?
I flicked through the pages, trying to look like they didn’t really hold any interest, nervous that Taylor could return at any moment to claim it. Those early days I only noticed the notes scribbled on the cover and down the margins.
‘BHK 16.45pm flight BK370’
Thomas –rm 29
Drinks with Shell @7
The Grey Bar
Turn left on Mum Mueang soi3
None of them linked, scrawled wherever the pen landed.
She liked to draw. Sketches of jewelry, gemstones, and constellations dotted the pages.
When I began reading I started at the back. I like knowing the outcome.
‘Things to pack:
Plug adapter
Bug spray
Pepper spray’
Pepper Spray. My stomach churned. I’d been travelling for years and had never packed any.
I closed the book straight away, not wanting to know. None of it was my business.
The next day, I came back for my tea. The notebook still in its place, discarded on the rickety old book shelf alongside out of date travel guides and tatty paperbacks by Paul Theroux and Agatha Christie.
I didn’t want to read it, but it niggled my mind, relentlessly.
With a steadying breath I started at the beginning, where the handwriting was neater.
She landed on the KhaoSan Road on February 22nd.
‘I can’t describe it. I thought I could, but I don’t have the words. KSR is bigger than me, brighter than me, MORE than I’ve ever known. Home did NOT prepare me for this. Liz, I met her in the dorm, day 1. She’s 24-ish, an Aussie and has travelled everywhere. She showed me her tattoo, done by Cambodian monks. She held my hand all the way as we walked, I gripped tighter than I thought possible, so tight I swear my knuckles turned white. She didn’t say anything. She pushed through the crowds, taking us to this little spring roll stall, not one on the main strip, but down an alley. We sat on small plastic chairs. It doesn’t feel real that I’m here, doing this, now. Years of planning, of nearly backing out and staying put. Not wanting to leave Dylan. And now I’m here, eating spring rolls with a tattooed Australian.’
In the early pages Taylor mentions food, a lot; mango sticky rice, coconut water. She can’t get enough of papaya salad and prefers Khao Soi to Pad Thai. She suffers two days of stomach upset. She thought she would die. Liz brought her water, hydrating pills, mopped her brow, things like that.
She misses more days which makes my heart skip, but she always returns. Usually she’s been busy, meeting people, drinking. Once, she disappeared for three days, I held my breath for her return.
‘Liz is going to Laos. I’m not ready for her to leave me, but I’m not ready to leave Thailand. I haven’t even seen the islands yet. Can I visit Thailand and not go to the islands? I’ve made Liz promise to stay in touch.’
I want to tell Taylor that I’ve lived in Thailand and haven’t been to the islands either, it’s okay not to. Travel isn’t about the sights, is it? Why stay for an island when you could follow Liz?
‘She left. I hid my trembling hands as she said goodbye. Her skin smelt of Pawpaw Ointment. It lingered on my lips after I kissed her cheek. I’m scared of her going. She says we’ll probably meet up in some small Malaysian mountain town—that’s the way with Asia—she laughed. I hope she’s right as she refuses to give me any way to get in touch with her. She must have an email, mustn’t she? Even though she says she doesn’t. I didn’t notice at first, but she doesn’t have a phone or camera or anything. Does she want to stay in touch with me as much as I do her? This isn’t like Anna. Liz is different. I can feel it when she looks at me. It’s like she’s calling me, but with her heart.”
Taylor scribbled out and rewrote those last lines. Was she looking for the right words? Maybe she didn’t want to write them at all. The pain of all the hurt and joy that words can’t possibly describe. Perhaps her own thoughts frightened her. I think of Liz, someone who draws you in but leaves you battered and alone. More like a nightmare.
‘Liz has been gone for three days and Bangkok has lost the glitter I thought it had. I see through the flashy lights to the scaffolding holding the place up and the sweat and stench of all the people as they squash together. I want to escape, to breathe once again. Liz has taken the air with her. Axel says there’s room in the van, I can leave tomorrow. Last night I went back for spring rolls. I thought I saw her there. Sitting on the same stool, her back to me. Her top hung loose on her bare back. I’m sure I saw her tattoo, just at the nape. It couldn’t be. She’s gone. It was too dark. It can’t have been her. I went straight back to the room and packed. Axel was in his usual place at the bar. I gave him a thumbs up. Leaving tomorrow.’
I drink my tea. A gecko scurries past my stretched out legs, heading for the safety of the darkest corners. I skim the next few entries. She’s travelling. She’s seeing sights. The White Temple in Chiang Rai, she describes as ‘all the B’s’ —I can only guess—Bizarre? Beautiful? Bonkers? Brash? Boring? What words would a young woman use? Probably not bonkers and we’re loathe to describe anything as boring. Boredom is unmentionable—no one dare say that travel can be boring.
She’s meeting people, pages full of names, hostels, dates. But Liz isn’t there.
Taylor’s been in Pai, sleeping in a cabin by the river. My heart aches at the sadness I know she’s feeling. Every time she arrives in a new town, turns a corner, walks into a bar, she’ll have a whisper of hope. She’ll ignore it, but it’s there, and everything else will be dimmed by it. Liz took the light and left everything else in shadows.
‘Back in BK, leaving Thailand. I didn’t get to the islands, not once. Does that make me a failure? Everyone says, ‘oh you must go to Koa Phangan’ but I’m going to Cambodia. The flight’s booked. I wanted to go to Laos. But I didn’t. Why not? Did I think Liz would be there waiting for me? Is it that easy?’
I wish I could answer her that, yes. It could be that easy.
There are more flights scribbled, hotels, bus timetables. I turn the book upside down, on its side. Life isn’t linear and neither is the way Taylor writes in her notebook.
‘Last few days in Thailand. Went to the shopping mall. Hardly exotic, is it? I should be climbing mountains, visiting temples, photographing monkeys swinging from the banyans. The mall is much better than the one back home. There’s chocolate waffles in the food court. It’s a long way from the spring roll stall on KSR, though. I’m in a different Thailand here. Not the one in the guide books.
Matt gave me directions to get the Sak Yant. There’s rituals to it, it isn’t just a tattoo, it’s more than that. I don’t know, it looked good on Liz. Is that why I want it? I’ve got to stay up all night, check in at 2.30am. Matt said he’ll come with me. Liz said we’d meet in some Malaysian town, serendipity, is that the word? What about Siem Reap? She could be there, couldn’t she?’
I imagine them walking around Angkor Watt, an accidental meeting on temple steps. Perhaps sheltering from the rain in a Bia Hoi, down a narrow street in old Hanoi. Small, plastic stools and icy beer.
I turn the last pages, no thoughts, no yearnings clutter the final words, just a list and a flight to catch.
I glance up as the door swings open and my heart skips, could it be Taylor, finally returning for her book? I feel foolish as a group of young people enter, a swarm of elephant pants and beaded wrists. They gather around a low table, ordering watermelon smoothies.
 She left a long time ago, but the notebook stayed. Perhaps she was too sleepy as she left in a rush. Final drinks with Matt, that last potent Chang beer and a forgotten book. Maybe she needed to leave all trace of Liz behind.
We sat in the same space. Breathed the same tang of Thai air. Was she back in the small town she’d grown up in or was she still roaming?
A moto honks, dust flies up, as two helmeted girls drive past. The one at the back, her arms wrapped round the driver’s waist.
I glance down at the book, leaving it behind as I step into the bustling street, full of people, travels, stories and dreams. Content that there is no finish, no happy ending, just endless possibilities.

Judges Comments

Taylor's Notebook, Charlie Baudry's winning entry in WM's Holiday Short Story Competition, does a wonderful job of evoking the life of an itinerant backpacker, with its chance encounters, fleeting acquaintances and the traces – like the notebook – left by other people travelling a similar path.

There's a real authenticity to the way Charlie conveys the details of life on the road in South East Asia - such as the backpacker cafés with the shelf of books left by passing travellers. In both the journal entries and the narrator's account, you can almost feel the langorous heat; the sensory overload; as well as the casual curiousity about the lives of other people that leads the narrator to pick up a stranger's discarded notebook – and return to it on subsequent visits.

The ambience of living in the moment, whiling away time, is well captured in this dual narrative: part first person, part epistolary. The narrator is playing detective, and so is the reader – sort of invested in finding out about what has happened to Taylor; kind of vicariously curious about the life of another traveller on a similar path, retreating into someone else's abandoned life as a distraction in their own downtime. The reader becomes as invested as the narrator in someone else's unfolding story - there's second-hand heartbreak as Taylor longs for Liz - but in the end all the possible endings are left unknown. In the drifting world of endless possibility Charlie conjures, someone else's life is reduced to a way of passing time until it's time for the narrator to pick up their own travels and rejoin the hustle and bustle of the clamouring world beyong the café door.



Runner up and shortlisted:
Runner up: Rosy Adams, Trefechan, Aberystwyth. Read the story at
Also shortlisted in WM’s Holiday short story competition were: Phil Gilvin, Swindon; Linda Jenner, Beverley, East Yorks; Deborah Hugill, Northallerton, North Yorks; Lindsay Hurst, Perthshire; Linda Sainty, Bristol; Michael Callaghan, Glasgow; Catherine Proctor, Kendal; Veronica Swinburne, Bolton; Dominic Bell, Hull; Tracy Turner-Jones, London.