Byron Writers Festival is thrilled to announce the winner and runner up for the Susie Warwick Young Writers Award Writing Prize.
In memory of Susie Warrick, this award celebrates the art of the short story and supports emerging young writers in furthering their career.
Entrants were asked to write an original short story up to 1000 words on any theme.
Here is the winner of the year 7-9 category:
Murky Waters by Ben Delaney
“THE DEVILS IS WHAT I SAW!” the man grumbled in response, the drink in his hand sloshed out and stained his already dirty sailor uniform. I looked at him through my foggy spectacles, his face was bright red compared to his dog brown beard. Though I couldn’t tell if this was from the fireplace that resided to our left, or if it was from the many empty tankards that surrounded him.
“The devils?” I asked unconvinced.
“That’s what they were, I can remember it as if it was yesterday!” he grumbled, taking another gulp from his drink. I rubbed my forehead, slightly ticked off at him.
“Mr Gabby, I came here because of my newspaper, ‘Carrier Pigeon news’. Do you know them?” I asked, he nodded glumly.
“They sent me here because they heard tell of a fishing ship that disappeared, and a man found floating in the ocean. Now I brought you to this pub and bought you your drinks, in agreement that if I did I would be told what happened to that ship. But if you are just gonna play me for a fool, and give me some mythical mush. Then I might as well leave.” I began to rise up from my stool, but as I did his crooked hand shot out to grab my arm. He held me with a steel like grip, his face suddenly seemed to lose all colour.
“This aint no, MYTH, boy” he said, I swallowed the fear in my throat and sat back down. I immediately pulled out my leather notebook and pencil.
“Well then why don’t you tell me what it is” I replied, while trying to see if it was just the alcohol talking.
“I’ve been fishing here in Flinders for over thirty years, and never have I ever seen things like what I did. It was a tuesday arvo, like any other late fishing trip. Just me, Mr Delaney and Mr Droop. We were pretty far out of the cove, and the sun had just set” he stopped and waited for me to finish writing, his eyes suddenly changed from the bright drunk ones I had just seen. To a strange dark greyness, akin to that of a soldier from war.
“Mr Droop was at the wheel, while me and Delaney were pulling the net up. We hadn’t had a very good day, the whole fishing season was a mess. With barely any fish being caught for months, the water and sky constantly stuck in dark blueness. I’ve seen my fair share of bad seasons, but this one was cursed. And that trip had been like every other one, with an empty net. We decided to head back, but as we turned around” he suddenly swung his hand up and smashed it back down into the table, the sudden motion shocked both me as well as the other patrons in the small pub.
“BANG! The engine popped, and black, thick smoke was thrown onto the deck. I ran over to it and yelled at Droop, he turned it off at the helm. I opened up the engine and looked inside, I could tell something wasn’t right. Everything seemed fine, except for one thing” his voice dropped off, and once again he let me catch up with my writing. I looked back up to him, too, to see that he was now staring directly forward. I followed his gaze and saw he was looking out at the bay, the sun was just starting to set over the pitch black water.
“There was a fish’s head in the engine, I don’t know how it got there. But it was there, a small silver Trevally. Its black eyes stared at me, it almost looked like it was alive. But the rest of the body was gone, nothing but a bloody stump. That’s when I heard it, it sounded like water moving rapidly. I looked up from the engine and back to see Droop, he was standing still. His back was turned to me, but I could see what he was looking at. Out from the murky dark water, something was rising” he stopped again, his hand was now gripping the cuff of his jacket tightly.
“The devils?” I asked, and he turned to me.
“The devils” he looked back out the window.
“They rose up out of the water, three massive bodies. They stood in a triangle around our ship, their massive heads gazed down at us”
“What did they look like?” I asked, he stared blankly while I waited.
“Like men, twisted, dark unnatural men. Their faces were constantly moving, with only the eyes staying in the same spot. The rest moved and bubbled like oil, and bodies, oh god the bodies. Their bodies shifted and moved around us, unlike anything I’ve seen” he stopped talking, his eyes swelled with fear and terror. I watched as he slowly regained control of himself, with his hands shaking.
“How did you survive?” I asked.
“They moved in, their darkness pushed up against the ship’s hull. The wooden boards snapped and broke, I could only watch in terror as Droop was pulled down into the ship’s floor. Then I looked up and saw Delaney run down from the helm, he was running to me. But he didn’t make it” he stopped, a single tear rolled down his weathered cheek.
“The blackness burst up from below, I heard his last words. Just as it got him, want to know what they were?” he asked, his red eyes turning to me. I nodded.
“‘Help me’, that was it” he answered, his voice cold and empty. I finished writing it all down, and stood up.
“Thank you for your time Mr Gabby, I just have one last question. How did you survive while they disappeared?” He looked up from the window to face me.
“Because I’m the one that made the deal, now that they got their blood payment, I can finally get some fish”
Below is the runner up:
It’s You and I Now by Elise Nikkinen
Forty-two more tears, and I could sail away from here, but forty two more tears and I could drown. I will not cry anymore, I do not want to drown.
Instead I walk, the world around me painted in gloomy shades. Everywhere feels empty, because she is gone. Why must people stay longer in my mind than they do in my life? Why can I not just erase her from my memory as easily as I discard the insignificant facts I learn at school? If I could forget her completely, then perhaps I would not be so burdened by such sadness and anger. I am still angry. Or perhaps I am not, I can no longer discern my emotions. Every feeling weighs the same in my chest—heavy and cold.
I turn around and retrace my steps, heading back to the house before I reach her grave. I turn around not because I am scared, but because it has begun to rain and I do not want to drown, not like her.
After she left, I started talking to you properly. I had never truly noticed you before, but now that I feel this alone, you are a presence that captures all of my attention.
“Why are you sad?” you ask, and I tell you everything. You listen, without interruption or judgement. You become the solace no one else can offer. I like that you do not hug me or wipe away my tears. You do not whisper false reassurances, for you would not deceive me. Instead, you show me a world still ablaze with colours, colours I have not seen since she left. I realise quickly that when I am with you, I forget about her, and that is nice.
The adults do not like you. I can sense their anger and disapproval whenever they see us together. They claim you are toxic, that you’re just going to make me feel worse. I lack the energy to explain that it’s you who actually makes me feel better. They would not understand.
Despite their warnings not to share anything with you, I defy their cautionary tales and share everything. Their judgement fades into insignificance as I tell you all that is in my heart, knowing that you will hold my secrets with unwavering loyalty. Their doubts may persist, but I choose to trust my own intuition. I know you would never hurt me, you are better than any of them, right?
When I’m with you, it’s just the two of us, and everyone else fades into a dull blur in the background. It is only you and I who remain vibrant.
In your presence, I find a level of attention I have longed for since my mother died. You do not tire of me, embracing my tears, laughter, and smiles with equal devotion. It’s as if you possess an ability to decipher the unspoken desires of my heart, effortlessly attuning yourself to the depths of my being. It is like we are one. That is nice too.
But sometimes, you disappear and leave me alone for hours on end, usually when it storms. When the rain pours relentlessly, snuffing out the lights. But I do not blame you for leaving me then, I do not like the rain either.
In your absence, memories flood my mind once again, inflicting their pain. I weep for what I have lost, and then I weep because I am weeping—tears scare me, water scares me. The memories won’t stop until you return, guiding me back to forgetfulness. You are my source of healing.
“Are you better, or are you just distracted?” the adults ask me when I tell them how you make me feel. They do not understand that distraction is the closest I can get to happiness now. No one can divert my thoughts as effectively as you, my dear friend.
From now on, it’s just you and me, and no one else. She is gone—something I cannot fix. She is gone, but you are not, and you never will be. Occasionally, you may leave me, but you always come back. She will never come back.
It’s you and I, forever entwined. A motherless child and a bodiless mind.
A kid and the internet.
“These writers should feel hugely proud of their stories. Storytelling is in safe hands,” said Sarah Armstrong, one of the student writing prize judges.
A huge congratulations to you both.
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