Christine Bryant - Winner

Competition: Paranormal short story competition

Christine Bryant lives in West Sussex and has had short stories and poems published in magazines and newspapers and success in online poetry competitions. She has been shortlisted in various WM short story and poetry competitions, was runner-up in the Fairy Story and Crime Story, but is ‘absolutely delighted’ with this, her first win.

Christine Bryant

A Gift

It started with Nan falling over. We don’t know why she fell over, but she suddenly did and it wouldn’t stop bleeding. Mum said perhaps her knee had given way again, and did Grandad think we should take Nan to hospital, but Nan said No and Grandad said she was too stubborn for her own good.
So we stayed a bit longer till the bleeding slowed down. Mum says Nan’s skin is getting thin because of the drugs she’s on. She’s always been on medicines. Mum says it’s the medicines that make her dream, but Nan says it isn’t.
Nan sees stuff, odd stuff that doesn’t make any sense. She reads cards as well, and tea leaves. And your palm. Sometimes, she knows what things mean and sometimes she doesn’t. Like with Rubble.
He was my hamster, and one day Nan said I should give him an extra special cuddle because he was leaving soon, and in the morning he’d died and we buried him in the garden next to Ripjaw and Tinkerbell.
Nan said it was meant to happen. If something’s meant to happen, she says, we can’t change it, but we can change some stuff. She says it’s all written down in a big sort of book somewhere and we can’t read it because no one knows where it is. If I knew where it was, I could’ve looked at Saturday and then I would’ve known about the accident and the lorry.
By the time we left Nan and Grandad’s, we were a bit later than usual. It was raining, big, blobby drops that sounded like someone was playing drums on Dad’s windscreen. I didn’t want to leave Nan because she gave me a different cuddle when we were saying goodbye. Grandad cuddled me and patted my shoulder and said, ‘Bye bye, my old love. See you again soon,’ just like he always does.
Then Nan cuddled me, but this time it was different. Her eyes looked different and when she cuddled me, she squeezed me so hard I thought I would pop. And she held on for ages, like she didn’t want to let me go. Then she cuddled Mum a lot and she even cuddled Dad, which she never does normally, and I could see Dad was surprised, but he didn’t say anything.
As we were driving home, Dad said, ‘Think your Mum’s a little bit under the weather.’
Mum gave him a funny look. ‘Dad’s going to take her to the hospital if she’s no better.’
Dad said that was a good idea, but I couldn’t hear any more because the rain got heavier and Dad had to put the wipers on fast.
We were driving for ages, but I didn’t fall asleep. Mum did, but somehow, I didn’t feel sleepy, so I looked at Dad in the mirror and he grinned at me.
The rain was tumbling down the windows and I couldn’t see much, so when the lorry roared past us in the outside lane, it really made me jump. The lorry’s engine made a terrible rumbling sound like thunder as it rushed past and water shot up and crashed against the windows.
As it galloped past us like a huge monster, I got a funny feeling again, like the feeling I had before when I was at school. I didn’t tell anybody about the time it happened at school, because I thought it might be my fault.
It was when I went to the toilet. I walked back into the classroom and when I looked at Charlie, he was glowing like an angel. I told the teacher he was glowing, but she told me not to be silly and sit down.
Then next day he went on holiday with his mum and dad and there was a big accident and Charlie didn’t come back to school ever again, and we all said special prayers and planted a tree. I wish now I’d told him he was glowing.
Next time I saw Nan she asked me what the matter was. She always knows when something’s the matter. So I told her about Charlie and she said it wasn’t my fault and that it was supposed to happen, but I still wish I’d told him.
And now I had a funny feeling about the lorry as it overtook us.
And I knew. I don’t know how I knew, but I did. Before I could stop myself, I shouted, ‘It’s going to crash!’
Dad looked at me in the mirror. ‘What?’
‘The lorry!’ I cried. ‘It’s going to crash!’
Mum shot up in her seat. ‘For goodness sake! You made me jump!’
‘Don’t be silly,’ Dad said. ‘You probably had a dream.’
‘But I wasn’t asleep! That lorry is going to crash, I know it is.’
Dad and Mum gave each other funny looks.
‘Slow down, Dad,’ I said. ‘Slow down, or we’ll be in the crash. Slow down!’
‘Gracie, you’re being silly,’ he said.
But I wasn’t. I knew I wasn’t. We were getting nearer. Any minute now, something was going to happen to that lorry and we were getting nearer and it might be too late. So I said I felt sick.
‘You sure, pet? We can’t stop here,’ Dad said.
‘Think about something else,’ said Mum.
We drove on for a bit longer and then a sign appeared out of the darkness. ‘There’s a service station,’ Dad said. ‘Come on, perhaps a breath of air and something to eat will help.’
He pulled onto the slip road and off into the service station, where we had hot drinks and bacon sandwiches. I was still hungry, so Dad said I could have a bit of chocolate cake as well.
‘It’ll be your fault if she’s sick,’ Mum said.
A man walked up to Dad, then. He said, ‘Hello, Bill! Thought that was you! How you doing?’
Dad got up and shook the man’s hand. ‘My God! Joe! Haven’t seen you in ages. How’s tricks?’
‘Yeah… all right. You know.’
He glanced at Mum and me.
‘You remember Jane?’ said Dad.
‘Of course. Hello again, Jane.’
‘Hello, Joe,’ said Mum.
‘And this is Gracie,’ said Dad, waving a hand at me.
‘No-o,’ said Joe, laughing. ‘This is little Gracie…last time I saw you, you were this big…’
He held out a hand. I don’t think I was ever that tiny, but Mum and Dad laughed.
Joe looked at me. He said, ‘Here…’
He bent down to whisper. His breath smelled really odd. ‘D’you know anyone that likes footie?’
‘She does,’ said Dad, laughing. ‘Loves her football.’
Joe looked around a bit, then pulled out lots of packets. ‘Want some of these cards? Got some albums n’all in the car if you want. I’ll fetch them in for you.’
I looked down at the packets. They were Premier League cards! Loads of them!
‘Yes please!’ I said.
Joe went outside and brought me in three albums. ‘Thank you very much,’ I said. I knew Mum and Dad would like that.
‘Thank you, Joe,’ Dad smiled.
‘My pleasure,’ he said. They chatted for a bit longer, and then shook hands again and we watched him leave.
‘Nice chap,’ said Dad, as we were going. ‘Used to work with him at Bakers…’
‘Oh!’ said Mum. ‘That Joe. I hardly recognised him.’
When we got outside, the rain had stopped. We drove on steadily, singing along with the radio, then after a few minutes, we saw a diversion sign and lots of flashing lights in the distance.
‘Hello,’ said Dad. ‘Looks like there’s been an accident.’
He followed the diversion and we drove off in another direction, but I knew. It was the lorry. As we got further away, I looked over to where all the lights were and there were all these glowing figures just floating about in the air.
‘How dreadful,’ I heard Mum say. Dad sighed and said it was dreadfully sad.
‘Thank goodness we stopped in for something to eat,’ Mum murmured. Dad and Mum gave each other another funny look.
We were just pulling into our driveway when the phone rang. It was Grandad. He said they’d seen the accident on the telly, and he was phoning to check we was all right. And Nan’s leg had stopped bleeding as soon as we left, and he wouldn’t be taking the old girl in for an MOT just yet.
I didn’t hear any more because I went to bed then, but I still couldn’t sleep. I kept wondering about the glowing people and I thought, why don’t they put up a big net to catch them? Perhaps nobody else has thought of it. I’m definitely going to ask Nan about it when we go again.
I’ve got lots of things to ask Nan next time, so I’m making a list. Mum says it’s good to make lists. She’s got a big list on the fridge, and she added a bit about flowers to it yesterday, when Dad got the phone call to say that Joe had died.
‘Just dropped dead,’ Dad said. ‘Poor chap. There’s no rhyme or reason to it.’
I felt quite sad when Dad told me. I liked Joe, he was nice.
I wish now I’d told him he was glowing.  

Judges Comments

The contrast between ordinary and extraordinary gives Christine Bryant's A Gift an atmosphere of unease that made it stand out as the winner in our Paranormal Short Story competition.

Gracie, Christine's narrator, is a child, and the things that she sees – things that the text implies are a premontition of death – are part of her everyday experience. Her peculiar ability to see a glow around doomed people and the 'funny feeling' she had when she saw the lorry that later crashes are recounted with clarity and immediacy. But cleverly, Christine undermines the trope of the 'spooky child' by making Gracie the oppostite of odd: she's a cheerful, likeable kid who loves football and her (now deceased!) pets and matter-of-factly accepts that she and her Nan see things that no-one else does.

The sense of something strange and inexplicable in A Gift is heightened by Christine's use of a convincing, matter-of-fact, first-person narrative voice. But whilst everything Gracie experiences is made clear through her voice, the rest of the narrative is cleverly left to the reader's imagination. Is Grace's Nan passing on her gift? Are the things Gracie sees genuine, or part of a child's over-active imagination? Christine knows what she's doing when she threads her narrative with implications that create an atmosphere of foreboding, and allows the reader's imagination to fill in the gaps.

The best strange tales work by allowing the reader, or viewer, to read between the lines, and A Gift does this wonderfully well, carefully planting ideas and images but never spelling things out. We don't need bangs and whistles to create an unsettling tale – it's much more effective to generate a sense of unease. There are some creepy notions floating around in A Gift, an the questions this story raises about Gracie and her uncanny abilities have a haunting effect long after the last, well-paced line has been read.

 

 

 

Runner-up in the Paranormal Short Story Competition, whose story is published on www.writers-online.co.uk, was Patricia McBride, Cambridge. Also shortlisted were: M Francis Baigent, Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire; Stephen Bartington, Frating, Essex; Sue Hoffman, Wirral, Merseyside; Damien McKeating, Penkridge, Staffordshire; Cheryl Morgan, Branksome, Dorset; Sue Pacey, Wingerworth, Derbyshire; Kathy Schilbach, Loudun, France; Jackie Watts, Southwell, Nottinghamshire; Joan Wilson, Kendal, Cumbria; Barbara Young, Otterburn, Northumberland.

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