Thriller competition - Winner

Helen Beckett

I Met Myself Coming Back
Thriller competition


Helen Beckett lives in Cardiff and likes to include Welsh folklore and the Welsh language in her flash fiction and short stories, a number of  which have been shortlisted for competitions. She has been published in several flash fiction anthologies. Helen enjoys writing because it gives her the freedom to assume different characters, be it a child, a ghost, an animal or, as in this story, one of the boys.

I Met Myself Coming Back By Helen Beckett

To be honest, I’d been scared shitless. Not that I’d ever admit it to this bunch of losers. I was sure they were pranking me, that they had seen him too but had said they hadn’t just to wind me up. The bastards. I drained my pint glass.
‘Slow down, mate,’ Reg said. ‘But if you are getting them in, I’ll have the same.’
 Marky and Dan held up their glasses too.
At the bar, I knocked back a double while waiting for the pints to be poured. The smoky warmth spread through me and, gradually, my heartbeat slowed.
Just as well. When I got back to the table, they were still telling bloody ghost stories. Dan was mid-flow.
‘Nan’s neighbour told her afterwards that she’d nearly died of fright when she’d looked out of her back door and saw the woman standing there in the churchyard, in the pouring rain, staring straight at her.’
It was my own sodding fault. I’d thought it would be fun to scare the crap out of them as we’d walked to the pub having made a quick exit from that bloody school reunion but it had backfired big time. I’d started telling them my story as we walked along the path that led from my childhood home to town, a shortcut I’d taken all the time as a boy, well until the event that I was telling them about had happened, that is. I wished I’d never mentioned it now but walking down that path had caused a memory, long suppressed, to re-surface.
It was twilight as we’d made our raucous way down the narrow, hedge-lined path. Marky tripped up, over a stone or more likely his own feet, but Reg had grabbed him and pulled him upright.
I remembered the exact point on the path where I’d first seen him, the relatively straight section where the hedges that had been way taller than me as a boy and which, even now, I had to stand on tiptoes to see over bordered, on one side, the cliff’s steep descent to the sea and, on the other, the cemetery.
‘It happened just here,’ I’d announced.
‘What did?’ They’d all stopped, waiting to hear what they obviously thought was going to be a brag of a sexual encounter.
‘I was about twelve…’
‘You’re kidding me? Twelve?’ Marky was incredulous.
‘’Shut up, Marky,’ Reg said.
I carried on. ‘I was walking into town to see you, Dan. We were going to see the Blues play. It was a beautiful day, like today. Not a cloud in the sky, no sea mist. You could see for miles.’
‘Bloody hell, Wordsworth. Get on with it.’
‘Okay. Just setting the scene. I was walking along this exact bit of the path when, for no reason that I can remember, I felt the need to look behind me.’ I paused for effect.
‘What? What was it? What was there?’ they clamoured to know.
‘A man,’ I said. I slowly and theatrically looked over my shoulder, then froze.
‘Bloody hell, Ross. What are you telling us?’
I continued to stare behind me. The look of fright on my face wasn’t faked.
‘Ross, what happened? What did the man do to you?’
To my horror, the man was there again, closer if anything this time. He looked exactly the same and, as before, he was standing in the centre of the path, staring right at me.
‘Ross, what is it? What’s the matter?’ Reg put his face right in front of mine, temporarily blocking my view.
‘Can’t you see him?’ I pointed down the path to where the man still stood.
‘Stop pissing about now, mate.’ Dan pushed me backwards. ‘There’s nobody there.’
‘What?’ I said, turning to each of them. ‘Can’t any of you see him?’
‘Enough already,’ Marky pulled me around to face him. ‘But seriously mate, what happened? Did the man do anything to you?’
I shook my head. ‘No. I walked, well ran for a bit but when I looked behind me again, he’d vanished.’ As I said this, I glanced over my shoulder and, as all those years earlier, the man was no longer there.
‘He probably just walked back the other way.’ Dan yawned, clearly bored.
‘No, you dickhead, he couldn’t have done or I would have seen him in the distance. And he couldn’t have climbed over the hedges either,’ I protested. ‘They’re way too thick and tall. He just disappeared.’
‘Come on.’ Reg put an arm around my shoulder and pushed me forwards. ‘I think you need a pint, mate. You’ve gone as white as a sheet.’
I was well into my fifth pint by now. Dan was wrapping up his story. ‘It had been a Lledrith all along.’
‘A what?’
‘A Lledrith. The ghost of a living person. They’re supposed to bring bad luck. It’s even said that if you see your own, you’re a goner.’
‘You’re talking crap, mate.’ Marky laughed.
‘Well, crap or not, my Nan’s neighbour’s body was found in the exact same spot where she’d said she’d seen the woman in the churchyard. And my Nan swears that story’s true’
‘Oh, fuck off.’ Reg punched Dan hard on the shoulder. ‘You’ll be telling us you believe in fairies next.’
‘Talking of fairies, did you see that oddball, Vince, there tonight?’
‘You know, Vince the Little Prince. You should remember him, Ross. You used to make his life a misery.’
‘Oh, him. That ginger loser?’
‘Yeah. He hasn’t changed much. Still skulking around on the edges. He was hardly the life and soul of the party considering that he was one of the organisers.’
‘Yeah, funny that. You’d have thought the last thing he’d want would be to bump into us all again.’
‘No wonder it was so bad if he organised it,’ I rolled my eyes. I’d known it would be crap. I’d only gone because the lads had thought it would be a laugh.
‘And who knows,’ Reg had posted on the group, ‘maybe Sara Subbiani will still be up for going behind the bike shed.’
She hadn’t been. I took a long drink of my pint.
‘Do you remember the time you made him eat dog shit?’
‘Who?’ My memory is always the first thing to go when I’ve had too much.
‘Vince. We’d cornered him down by the old gas works and you said you’d beat him to a pulp unless he ate the dog turd that you’d nearly stepped on.’
‘Yeah, I remember.’ I grinned at the memory.
‘I’ll never forget the way he looked at you as he ate it,’ Dan said. ‘I’ve never seen so much hatred on anyone’s face then or since. If it hadn’t been Vince the Little Prince, I would have been worried for you.’
‘No need, mate.’ I stood up, unfolding my full 6 foot 4 inches. I’d started playing rugby at school, putting in a shift as a forward, and I was still ripped. I flexed my muscles, conscious, as always, of more than one admiring glance in my direction. But as I caught a glimpse of my reflection on the mirrored wall behind the bar, I realised something, something that I hadn’t registered before and something, having listened to Dan’s story, that had shaken me to my very core. Desperate to maintain my bravado, I forced a laugh. ‘I can look after myself, thanks.’ But it was an empty boast. I knew I had no option but to go back, to face it. I drained my pint, said my goodbyes and staggered out of the pub.
‘Watch out for strange men on the way home.’ The banter was flying as I’d left. Bastards. Well, I wasn’t afraid. I’d show them. Buoyed up by alcohol and desperate to regain my ‘Jack the lad’ swagger, I started to walk down the shortcut. I was strong and athletic and, although I was a bit the worse for wear, I knew how to handle myself.
I walked at a good pace, considering. It was night-time but there was enough light from the moon to illuminate the way. I paused as a blackness of bats swarmed over my head searching for insects, then carried on, my resolve faltering only as I passed the silent cemetery. I stopped and stared down the path ahead of me. And there he was. Closer than before and this time I noticed how familiar he was: the black hair, the tall, muscular physique, the aggressive stance.
I remembered what Dan had said earlier about Lledrith, the ghosts of living people. Surely this was my Lledrith?
 As I stared, the man ghost raised his arms and started waving them in the air, gesticulating for me to…? What? To turn around? To go back?
Too late. As I swung around, I glimpsed out of the corner of my eye a flash of red hair and the glint of a blade.  

Judges Comments

Thriller fiction can come from any genre, as I Met Myself Coming Back, the winning entry in WM's Thriller Short Story Competition proves. Helen Beckett's story very effectively blends elements of revenge tale, suspense story and ghost story and in the process shows how porous are the so-called boundaries between different genres of fiction.

Helen has incorporated Welsh ghostly mythology in the use of the Lledrith – a word that variously translates from Welsh to English as 'ghost', 'illusion' and 'delusion' – and plays with it very satisfyingly. The narrator, for all his Jack-the-lad posturing and bravado, is spooked by his own fear of the unknown and the irrational. In the best traditional of ghastly tales, there's ambiguity in the way we don't know if what he's seeing is real or imaginary, but his fear and apprehension are very real and his attempts to cover it up with laddish banter very well conveyed.

The plotting of this story is tight and well-executed, from the intriguing title and the opening premise that the narrator is scared shitless - neatly establishing character and voice in one colloquial phrase. The story arc, contrasting the laddish night out with the mounting fears of the spooked narrator, builds through the banter that reveals his past as a bully to the poetic justice of the denouement. Helen Beckett proves herself a worthy winner in the way she puts all the necessary elements of her well-crafted thriller carefully in place and then leaves the atmospherics she's so skillfully conjured to do their own work.


Runner-up and shortlisted
Runner-up in the thriller competition was Laura Jane Siddiky, Liverpool, whose story is published on
Also shortlisted were: Terry Baldock, Evesham, Worcestershire; Michael Callaghan, Glasgow; Christine Griffin, Hucclecote, Gloucestershire; Roy Hewetson, Bristol; Damien McKeating, Newcastle-under-Lyme, Staffordshire; Nicola Warren, Haywards Heath, West Sussex.