Twist Short Story Competition 2022 - Winner

Anne WIlkins

Twist Short Story Competition 2022


Anne Wilkins lives in New Zealand with her husband, two teenage daughters and three cats. She is a primary school teacher, but was previously a lawyer specialising in family law. Anne has written a children’s novel (currently unpublished) and many short stories, some of which are published in various anthologies. She enjoys writing stories with a twist, and so this seemed the perfect competition for her to enter. Her love of writing is fuelled by coffee, reading and hope.

Marjorie By Anne WIlkins

“Hurry up Jess.”
“We’ve all done it.”
“It’s your turn.”
My turn. They were patient before, but now they’re getting angry with me. My friends.
“Told you she’s gone weird.”
The others mumble in agreement, but they’re still waiting.
“Truth or dare Jess - which one?”
“Truth,” I mumble.
The three of them fall back now to consult with each other on what truth I shall lay bare. I overhear some of their suggestions: How about, has she ever kissed a human boy? No. What about, has she ever seen a naked human? No...When they turn back to me, they move as one, their minds decided.
“What are you scared of?”
And they smile. Stupidly. Because they don’t know. None of them know. Not yet.
“I-I don’t want to do that one,” I say, shaking my head.
“You have to. What are you scared of?” What am I scared of? I don’t want to answer. I don’t want to say her name. I take a step backwards. But they surround me.
“What are you scared of?!” they repeat in unison, this time with anger.
“Marjorie,” I blurt out. “I’m scared of... Marjorie.”
And I tell them....

I was two when Marjorie was born and she replaced me in every way.
She had a voracious appetite for love, and our parents fed her with so much love that they had nothing left for me. Their love was reserved first and foremost for their special child, if there were any scraps left over they would be fed to me as an afterthought. After Marjorie.
Gradually my photos were replaced with those of Marjorie. My artwork was never shown, only Marjorie’s. My stories were never talked about, only Marjorie’s. My parents would laugh at Marjorie’s little endearing qualities, but turn a blind eye to my achievements. I was a shadow in our home, a shadow to Marjorie who was like a little sun burning so brightly that no-one could see me anymore.
I tried to love her, like they told me to. “She’s your sister now,” my parents would say. “You must love her, like we do.” But when I looked at her heart-shaped face, her blonde curls, her goofy smile, I felt only resentment. She was an intruder – in my home. Taking too much, consuming too much love, while I slowly starved.
I was six when my parents told me who I was. Why I was different. Where I came from. They told me they’d never thought they could have children and that’s why they’d bought me. I was a solution to their childlessness. Something to replace the emptiness of their barren nest.
They’d never expected to have Marjorie, they’d given up all hopes of having a real child, but then she was their little miracle. They told me I had to understand that, and accept that. She was their special child. And I? I was not. I was seven when I realised I had the capacity to hate. I hadn’t really known that emotion before. But it had been building up in me from the time that Marjorie had arrived. I didn’t eat with my family now. I was an embarrassment. A hasty purchase best forgotten. Marjorie was the real child. When visitors came my parents told me to go to my room, be quiet. When Marjorie had friends over I was told to stay away, out of sight, leave Marjorie to play with her real friends. When my parents talked to people they didn’t mention their other child, the one they hid away, the one they regretted.
There was only Marjorie.
I still attended school like Marjorie. It’s compulsory that all Animoids receive an education; it is important for us to mix with other children. But however well I did, however hard I tried to fit in, I was never one of them. I was always an Animoid.
I would sit with the other Animoids on the school bus, in class and at playtime and we would look at the human children and try to mimic their games, and always we would wonder what made them so different, so special. I was eight when I heard them talking about me in hushed whispers at the breakfast table. I hid behind the door and listened. Marjorie in her sweet, wheedling voice: “She’s just odd... and she just doesn’t do anything.”
My father, always the pragmatic one: “She’s costing us a bit. Every year it’s more and more with the updates.” And my Mother, who had once called me her little one, who had long ago told me that she’d love me to the moon and back, and who used to kiss me goodnight: “Perhaps it’s best we terminate her. She’s outlived her usefulness.”
Animoids are designed to be an imitation of a human child. We lack some things, the ability to cry, the ability to feel physical pain. But I felt pain that day. Pain inside myself. Pain I’ve never felt before. And although my eyes couldn’t cry, I felt something inside me corrode away. It had been rusting for a long time I suppose, a disused part of me that needed to be kept alive with love seemed to disintegrate.
Termination of an Animoid is not a simple thing. Contact must first be made with the Head Office, followed by interviews with a clinical psychologist and robotician. The process can take up to six months. By the time of my ninth birthday, my parents were up to stage two of the process of my termination. They’d completed a questionnaire about the reasons why they wanted to terminate their Animoid and had been asked whether they would consider a reboot instead. I heard my parents talking to each other late at night: “We just don’t need her anymore.” “We have Marjorie now.” “Marjorie gives us all that we need.”
My birthday that year was a sad affair. No party. I was going to be terminated soon so there would be no point, my father had said, and besides a party was costly. I was given a present though, a pocket knife. It was strange because I’d never asked for that. But I’d heard Marjorie asking for one. I suppose it would be passed down to her when I was gone. Probably my Father’s idea, he was always very cost-efficient.
She’d asked to play with my pocket knife that day and I’d handed it to her. Then she’d pulled the little knife part out. “You’re going to go soon Jess. And then it’ll be just me,” and she’d smiled her little smile. My parents had said nothing, just basked in the glow of their little Sun.
Animoids shouldn’t be capable of violence. We’re programmed to love our programmed parents, no matter what they do. They could beat us senseless but we are still programmed to love them beyond all else. No harm must come to them. But I was never programmed to love Marjorie and as I saw the little knife in her hand that day, I felt my shadow grow larger and fall across her Sun.
I’d never wanted that little pocket knife, but it proved useful. I used it for many things over the following weeks: to scratch my name into the bark of a tree, to chop fruit, and to make little cuts into the branches of a tree that Marjorie liked to climb.
One day Marjorie climbed almost to the top of that favourite tree.
“Mum! Dad!” she yelled out, her little arms waving about as she sat on one of the branches that my pocket knife had been working away at.
“Look at me! Look at me,” she called, just before the branch snapped and the little Sun fell to the ground.
It was my turn to smile then.
My parents had rushed to her aid as she lay screaming. A tangled mess. A branch sticking through her body at a strange angle.
As an Animoid I was programmed with first aid knowledge so that I can save the lives of my parents. But no one had programmed me for Marjorie.
“Stay with her Jess!” they yelled at me. And my Mother ran to call an ambulance, and my Father ran to the house for a first aid kit. And it was just me, left alone with my sister. My little fake sister.
Marjorie was moaning. A soft sound. Tears were falling from her little blue eyes and I could see the tree branch had gone right through her. It should have punctured her lungs. There should be blood. But there was only... wires and white liquid latex. Like me.
“You... you’re an Animoid?” I asked in confusion.
And she shook her little head vehemently as if it was a foul word.
“No...” she gurgled, “I... am... better,” and she smiled her sweet smile. Her almost-Human smile. Better. Better than me. A better model. One that eats like a human, cries like a human, feels pain like a human.
“I-I know it was you J-Jess,” she said in little, halting sounds. “Cuts in-in the b-branch. I-I know...”
But her accusation died away as her circuitry shorted out.

I finish my story and look at my fellow Animoids. They’re looking at me in disbelief.
“Marjorie?” one says. “She was... so human?”
“She can cry? Feel pain?”
“Better than us?” questions another.
And I can only nod in answer.
Our game is over. We see it in each other’s faces. It’s the end of our existence. The end of the Animoids. It scares not only me, it scares us all.
Marjorie is the new model. The better model. The one that parents can believe is real. They walk away as they try to process what I have told them. And I’m left alone with the truth.
She’s in for repair. My parents tell me it will be one more week before she’ll be fully functional again. They don’t know about the tree, about the cuts, but Marjorie does…
And when she comes back my brief time as the Sun will be crudely cut short.
To be eclipsed forever by Marjorie.

Judges Comments

The twist at the end of Anne Wilkins' Marjorie, the winner in WM's Twist competition, is so well executed that it's worth reading the short story twice – the first time as a reader, and the second time as a writer – to understand how and why Anne has achieved such an excellent and effective twist ending in a story that provides more than one twist within the narrative.

It's probably necessary to give a spoiler alert here, but these comments are about the construction of a story and it's fair to assume that the reader has read it before turning to its judging comments. Marjorie is an ingenious take on the theme of sibling rivalry. The narrator feels supplanted in their parents' affections by the new child: one who is more engaging and appealing. A superior model - literally as well as figuratively, it turns out, because the initial twist in Marjorie is that the narrator is not a human child, but an Animoid – an AI robot. The reader assimilates this piece of information, but with the implicit understanding that the narrator is an Animoid and Marjorie is a human child.

What a clever use of foregrounding. As the story progresses, the revelation of Marjorie's true nature and the fact that she can be repaired is a breathtaking twist. Advances in technology mean that the narrator – and their counterparts, who are also revealed to be Animoids – have been rendered obsolete.

There are many other touches which contribute to this story of controlled, effected reveals - the 'humanity' of the Animoid narrator being one of them. We care about them and their distress in a way that you'd care about a living creature – because Anne's skill as a writer has made readers empathise with a narrator who blurs the boundaries between human and AI. This makes the ending even more shocking, because the twist in this story isn't just about plot, but character too.


The runner-up in WM’s Twist Short Story Competition is Helen Parker, Liverpool, whose story is published on
Also shortlisted were: Lynda Green, Camborne, Cornwall; Damien McKeating, Newcastle-under-Lyme, Staffordshire; Alexandra Watts, Edgewater, Australia; Maria Dean, Cote Farm, Thackley; Michael Callaghan, Glasgow; Claire Buckle, Southend-on-Sea, Essex; Dominic Bell, Hull.