Mystery Women Short Story Competition
Posted on July 22, 2011 in Blog
I was delighted to learn that my short story ‘A Helping Hand’ has been placed second in the Mystery Women national short story competition. The judges described it as ‘A macabre tale with a clever twist’.
Every entry had to start with the line ‘Poor Hal. I knew him well – like a brother’ and be no more than 1000 words.
Read my entry here:
Poor Hal. I knew him well – like a brother. That’s why it didn’t feel so bad at the end. I knew I’d done it for the right reasons, no matter what you or anyone else might think.
Hal had lived in the care home almost six years longer than I had. We were both in our late seventies but he’d let his body go completely to seed like all the others. It didn’t have to happen that way. I was living proof of that.
A County swimmer in my youth, I’d spent thirty-five years in the army as a PT trainer. That stuff doesn’t just leave you because you get old. Muscles don’t forget. If you keep reminding them, that is.
Take this morning. I get out of bed at five am as usual. Shunt my bed over to the wall, heave the little table and set of drawers out of the way and start my regime. Press-ups, squats, lunges – fifty of each – every single morning and night. Then stomach work and stretches. Core strength and stability, that’s what keeps me fit and agile as a forty-year-old.
No-one knows about my regime here at the home. That’s the way I like it for reasons that we’ll get to later.There is a knock at my door.
“Be back for you in ten, Jimbo. Move it.”
That new, young attendant. Full of himself, yet wouldn’t last two minutes in the army. The sort that thinks old age will never come to him.
I start to get dressed for breakfast while I think about what happened.
It’s important you understand I didn’t dislike Hal. Far from it. Hal was one of the good guys, he reminded me of my own brother who was killed in his early twenties by a foreign bullet.
Jack didn’t die out there on the field. He was pieced together by the medics and the empty shell of him flown home. The man that loved to run in the hills with the wind streaming through his hair spent his days in a wheelchair by the front window, looking out on to a dirty, grey street. He couldn’t breathe without assistance from a pipe in the hole in his throat. He couldn’t speak or even wipe his own backside.
That didn’t matter to me. Through his eyes I could see straight into his soul. And his soul said, ‘get me out of this hell hole.’ It said it every single day.
So I did.
Jack was my first.
It sounds crazy but once I realised how easy it was, I started to see opportunities everywhere. Opportunities for helping people who wanted to escape from their own, personal prisons.
I don’t expect anyone to understand or condone what I’ve done. I don’t need them to. My actions came from a very strong sense of what was right. I felt it deep inside my bones.
If I were a betting man, I’d say there might be a wry smile playing around your lips at this very moment. Perhaps you’ve already labelled me as a common murderer. But let me ask you this. Who became the expert on what’s right and wrong?
Take a mother who steals from a supermarket to feed her own children. Why does that somehow make her better than a bored youth doing the same thing?
I’ll tell you why.
It’s because someone decided that morality matters.
Poor Hal was suffering so bad. His whole body was riddled with arthiritis, he even had it in his toes. We used to play cards and dominoes together to alleviate the boredom but he’d not been able to do that for over a year.
More importantly, Hal was messed up in his head. He couldn’t sleep without tablets because of his son and daughter.
There had been a serious family rift some twenty years earlier when Hal had a fling with a younger woman. His wife took it upon herself to take a few too many prescription painkillers to dull the ache in her heart. They wouldn’t even let him go to the funeral.
For the last ten years Hal had written a letter a month to them both, begging their forgiveness. It did no good at all and he only succeeded in torturing himself to the point of insanity.
“Forget them,” I said. “It’s never going to happen Hal. You have to come to terms with that.”
When the arthiritis got so bad he couldn’t do the simplest things, Hal finally gave up.
“Every night I pray I won’t wake up,” he announced in the community lounge.
I walked three doors down to Hal’s room just before dawn yesterday morning. They don’t lock our bedroom doors here. We might do something stupid like decide to have a stroke or a heart attack in the middle of the night. We can’t be trusted because we are old.
I opened his door a little and saw he was laid on his back, his head lolled to one side with his mouth gaping slightly open.
I walked over and held my pillow over his face. At that moment he stirred and opened his eyes. For a moment, his terror flared bright. I forced the pillow down on him with my full weight behind it, laying on top of his bucking body.
He didn’t want to live but he still struggled. They all do.
It wasn’t long before I felt that moment of sweet surrender that marks their acceptance that finally, it’s over.
There is a brief tap on the door and the young orderly walks in. I slump into my old-man posture and shuffle towards the door, feigning difficulty.
“Shame about your mate down the corridor,” he says. “Bailed out at just the wrong time.”
I stop and look at him.
“His daughter’s been on the phone this morning. Her and her brother asking to come to visit their old dad.” He laughs. “Now that’s what you call bad timing.”
The words exploded like firecrackers in my skull.
Now he’d spoiled everything.
The surprise on his face when I stood up and smashed my stick repeatedly into his head was worth every day I’d spend behind bars. Muscles don’t forget.