Damien Mckeating - Winner

Competition: 1,000 word short story competition 2017

Damien Mckeating was born and soon after that he developed a love of fantasy and horror. He has written short stories for various anthologies and has been known to write for comics, radio and peculiar folk bands. He writes daily and is currently the oldest he has ever been. Sometimes he remembers to write about writing at http://skeletonbutler.wordpress.com

Damien Mckeating

Pockets of Time

There’s this trick that I can do. Anything I’ve ever put into my pockets I can take out again, just by thinking about it. I focus, put my hand into my pocket, and there it is.
Money; keys; medicine; unexpected things; even my old mobile phone.
It rings as I reach into my pocket and I answer it.
‘Mum, where are you?’ Emily’s voice comes over the phone.
‘Just ten minutes,’ I say.
‘I’ll start walking. I’ll meet you on the way.’
She’s gone before I can answer. Teenagers; so impatient.
But this trick that I can do: I’m going to use it to kill a woman.
* * * * *
She’s called Gemma White and she doesn’t recognise me. That makes it easier. I bump into her in a café and send her handbag tumbling. I act embarrassed, apologise too much, help her to collect her things and, just before I hand them back, slip her house keys in and out of my pocket.
Now they’re mine whenever I want them.
Her house is more than I could have ever afforded. It stands in a long street of detached buildings, all with pretty little fences and trimmed lawns. I pause for a moment, just out of reach of a streetlamp, and stare at the house. There’s a warm glow behind the curtains; hanging baskets by the front door; and ornate paving up the empty driveway. There’s no car, but she’s home. Gemma doesn’t drive anymore.
I use the key and let myself in. I’m as quiet as I can be. The house is silent and it takes a moment before I hear the scrape of cutlery against a plate.
I follow the sounds and find Gemma in the kitchen. She sits at a table, her back to me, one hand holding a fork while the other leafs through a magazine resting next to her plate.
I reach into my pocket and draw out the syringe. When I’m not murdering I work as a nurse; it was the work of a moment to pocket a sedative.
The needle slips into Gemma’s neck and I plunge the liquid into her bloodstream. She has the briefest moment to twist in my grasp, to shout her surprise, but then the sedative has her in its grip and she’s under.
With only a small struggle I keep her dead weight on the chair. It’s not easy but I manage to get a set of handcuffs from my pocket. I told you; anything I’ve ever put in there. Even if it barely fits.
With Gemma’s hands twisted through the back of the chair and cuffed together she’s trapped there until she wakes up.
I sit opposite her and wait.
My mobile rings. I take it out and look, even though I know who’s calling.
This time I leave it. Not now. I can’t talk to her now. Not until this is done.
It’s not long before Gemma comes around. I’m a good nurse; I know my dosages.
‘What?’ Gemma blinks, her words slurring, her eyes trying to focus. ‘Who are you?’ she manages. ‘What do you want?’
‘Don’t you remember me?’ I watch her start to panic, to realise that she’s trapped. She pulls against the handcuffs but gives up when they cut into her wrists.
‘Please. I don’t, I don’t know you.’
‘How about my daughter?’
She stops then, looks at me again, looks at me properly, and I can’t help but think of a cartoon when a lightbulb appears over someone’s head. She’s starting to get it.
‘Emily,’ I say.
* * * * *
‘Mum, where are you?’ Emily’s voice comes over the phone.
‘Just ten minutes,’ I say.
‘I’ll start walking. I’ll meet you on the way.’
She steps out into the road, still on her phone, not looking where she’s going.
She’s gone before I can tell her to wait.
* * * * *
‘Please. Please, God, that was an accident,’ Gemma starts to cry.
‘Everyone said it was an accident,’ I fight against the tightness in my throat. She can cry but I’m not going to. I’ve cried enough. There have been enough tears: I want blood.
‘I don’t drive anymore. Don’t even drink anymore. Please. I didn’t have time. She just walked out. She just…’ Her words disappear into sobs. Tears and snot trace paths down her face.
‘You killed my little girl,’ I say. I’ve said this to her so many times. ‘You killed my little girl.’ There was more, in my head. I wanted to tell her how Emily was dying every day. How every morning my little girl died over again when I remembered. How she died again when I forgot.
I push my hand into my pocket, fighting against the uncooperative material. Stupid jeans. Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.
Now I am crying and hate myself for it. But Gemma has her head down and can’t see; doesn’t see what I take from my pocket.
It’s only a small gun. But it’s enough.
I fire.
I fire.
I fire.
Three round holes flare on Emma’s chest. I hear the wooden slats of the chair at her back shatter and blood flares against the table and across the floor.
Emma slumps forward, only the handcuffs holding her in place.
She’s dead.
I let the gun drop and put my head in my hands.
It’s done.
I reach into my pocket.
My old mobile rings and I answer it.
‘Mum, where are you?’ Emily’s voice comes over the phone.
‘Just ten minutes,’ I say.
‘I’ll start walking. I’ll meet you on the way.’
‘No, don’t. Just wait. Baby, just wait.’
She was gone before I answered.
There’s this trick that I can do… But it doesn’t change anything.

Judges Comments

Within the 1,000-word limit of this competition, Damien Mckeating has taken his reader from whimsical conceit to devastating tragedy. His winning story, Pockets of Time, is a tour-de-force of powerful, economical storyelling.

Within the first 19 lines of the story, all the necessary ingredients are in place for the set-up: the trick; the element of fantasy, the name of the narrator's teenage daughter, the fact that the trick is to be used for murderous purpose. We are in a place where fantasy is taken for granted, but we are also firmly in the territory of crime story or a psychological thriller. And because Damien has laid it out so convincingly, using a mixture of first-person voice and dialogue, it all feels natural and believable – we're hooked.

Damien has a very good line in setting out his narrative without explanation. His storytelling voice is confident, so we accept the element of fantasy and settle into the world he's created. He shows us the events as they unfold, and they're convincing, then leaves us to piece together the story as it unfolds.

In doing so, Damien demonstrates how a very short story can be the ideal vehicle for fiction with vast themes: Pockets of Time encompasses the usefulness and futility of magic, a revenge tragedy, a meditation on loss and grief. It's a crime story and a tale that plays with concepts of time. There's even humour in the narrator's voice: When I'm not murdering I work as a nurse.

Every element in Pocket of Time is perfectly placed and adds to a narrative which is complex, blending elements of genre fiction, yet clear and convincing – a highly original, and immensely effective, piece of writing that was a clear winner in this competition.


Runners-up: Daren Carpmail, Smethwick, West Midlands; Christopher Dyson, Saffron Walden, Essex; Katherine Edwards, Stirchley, Telford; Caroline Goldsworthy, Kesgrave, Suffolk; Mark Granger, Wigston, Leicestershire; Guy Hinton, Dudley, West Midlands; Andrew Hutchcraft, Peterborough, Cambridgeshire; Jennifer Moore, Ivybridge, Devon; Jay Moussa-Mann, Middlesbrough; Hazel Prior, Luxborough, Somerset; Timothy Jay Smith, Nice, France.

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