More than 100 Boundless members entered our first-ever short-story competition. It was a fantastic response and, even better, we were bowled over by the consistently high quality of the stories. Our three judges – best-selling author, Freya North, Boundless editor, Jeremy Whittle, and Reading Room co-ordinator, Clair McMahon – had a tough time making a decision but eventually chose one winner and two runners-up. But many thanks to all those who entered – it was a terrific effort!
First prize A residential writing course with Arvon, an extract in Boundless and full publication at boundless.co.uk
Two Runners-up £50 Amazon vouchers, an extract in boundless.co.uk. All three win a signed copy of The Turning Point by Freya North.
Noelle Bryant has been writing for several years with the help of a few courses and fellow writers in a local club. A retired IT tutor, her nose is seldom out of a book.
Read 'At the bottom of the garden' here
Penny Dakin Kiley has been a member since 2003 and lives in Oxfordshire, working as a freelance web editor. In her spare time, she is a member of a Facebook group for ageing punks.
Read 'Do Anything' here
Other shortlisted stories
In alphabetical order
Breakaway by Jan Godfrey
Dignity by Paul Warnes
Growing Up by Colin Tierney
Home by Katherine McComiskey
In Transit by Adrian R. Paul
Photograph by Nicola Murphy
The Pursuit of Happiness by Sarah Thorogood
A life's work
It was lucky the text message came at that moment. It meant that Diane pulled into the lay-by before the truck appeared. If she had met it head on things might have got tricky. There wouldn't have been room to pass on that lane, and reversing had never really been an option. You had to know where the controls were for a start. Michael had always driven it, you see, before he died. Always. You see?
You do see, of course. Poor Diane. Reliant on him. Lost without him. Facing widowhood, not really coping. Except, you don't see.
I see. I see everything. I have seen everything from Diane's first breaths. And here, in her 85th year, as she trickles west in the motor home, I can tell you she is not lost. OK, she doesn't know where reverse is, but who wants to go backwards? She has prided herself, despite everything, in never going backwards. Besides, it was important, when Michael was around, that she didn't drive the motor home. It was important that she was looking out of the windows.
I saw that. She just knew that she preferred to look out of the window. Fortunately, it seemed important to Michael that he took charge of the vehicle - ha! I love this in humans, take charge, such big ideas. I sometimes wonder if it is cruel to allow them.
Family had been important to Michael. It had not been so obvious to Diane, her head filled with visions, but she had not objected. There had been five children in total. A handful at the best of times, but each one an education, each one a reservoir of visions. Even the lost one. Especially that one.
And now, it confounded Diane that one minute she was holding a tiny new life, and seemingly the next she was almost crowded out of the room by children and grandchildren, even a great grandchild. All those people. All different, all the same.
She could see herself in that little one. The bonny curls and the watching eyes. It made her ache inside. Funny that, how the patterns in families can bring such comfort, yet sometimes such pain. Michael's patterns brought pain. It wasn't easy for Diane to watch, but sometimes it was all she could do.
She watched now, as her fingers typed the password, to see the message. Amazing stuff, technology. It felt so close to magic; to converse with a disembodied voice. And there was always that moment of possibility, before the name popped up, when the message could be from anybody, could be profound, a message from God.....If only it were that simple, Diane.
It's her daughter, the first miracle, the one she now confuses with her mother. It's understandable. Perhaps we overdo the patterns, but it's the nature of things.
'Where are you?'
What a question. Sometimes I wonder how you ever understand each other.
'I know that. Am at your house. Where is motor home?'
'Mum, who else is with you? Who is driving?'
'No-one. I driving.'
'Pull in! Will call you.'
She picks it up on the first ring. "I am in a lay-by Shona. I'm not stupid enough to read texts while I'm driving."
"But Mum, where the hell are you? You've never driven the motor home. What are you doing?"
"I am learning to drive it and I'm going on holiday."
"Holiday? But, Mum...the doctor said...Mum....wouldn't it be nicer to go with someone else?"
"Like who? Who is there for me to go on holiday with?"
"Um, well, we could contact one of your friends."
"My friends are dead, Shona."
"Not all of them....surely?.....Well, if you could just wait for the school holidays, Mum. May be Richard and I could sort something, with us."
"I need to go now, Shona. I need to be by the sea. I have to....I just need to be there."
Listen to her, Shona.
"No, Shona. No."
"But, Mum, for God's sake. The doctor said...you know. Your memory. You need someone with you. Look, let me come. Give me half an hour to call Richard and pack. You're on the road to the coast, right? Just stay there. Just stay there."
"I need to see the sea, Shona..."
You can hear it, can't you Diane? At last. You can hear the sea in your ears, in your brain, in your veins. You are remembering, you are remembering the sea. The sea in you is remembering, all those things you have seen.
"Please, Mum. The doctor...."
"I don't want the doctor, Shona. The doctor just wants to preserve me. The doctor just wants me to keep still while he props up the bits that are hanging off. It's pointless, Shona."
"Just wait there."
But she didn't. She turned the phone off, released the handbrake. She was so close to the beach.
When Shona arrived, it was done. It hadn't taken as long as Diane had feared. All that time in the preparation, but the execution was almost efficient. It was the place perhaps. So perfect. After all that looking. And now it was done.
Shona could not speak at first. I could see it in her mind, the absence of words. Like happens to Diane. There were tears too. More salt water. How it rages within you.
But it was perfect. The light, the movement, a lifetime of watching, every aching brush stroke was perfect. How do you do that? How do you fragile, frightened bundles of sea water and star dust make such things?
"Oh Mum," whispered Shona, staring at the canvas.
Diane looked at a far point on the waves, "I'm not dead yet, Shona. Do you see now? I have work to do."
At the bottom of the garden
It might sound odd, but there's a cemetery at the bottom of the garden. No, not a public one, just our own private one. All the creatures that have died in the house are buried there. Marmaduke was the first. He was old when we first moved in and didn't like the change. He hated all the other cats in the neighbourhood and the feeling was reciprocated wholeheartedly. It led to a lot of noisy night-time confrontations. A final big bust-up with the bulky tom from number 17 left the vet no choice but to put Marmaduke down. Phillip and I buried him with little ceremony in the corner away from the roots of the willow tree. That was long before we had the children. Barty landed there next. It had felt odd without an animal in the house. The terrier, deaf and with a wonky back leg, had been abandoned. Paula at the store in the village had looked after him temporarily but we found ourselves taking him in to fill the void in our home. He was quite affectionate in a smelly wet slipper sort of way and soon settled in. Unfortunately he was run over by the baker's van one hot and sunny afternoon. He shouldn't have been snoozing in the driveway since he couldn't hear anything coming.
Things were quiet for a few years then. Salt and Pepper grew like kittens should. They survived the onslaughts of two small girls intent on giving them love and occasional ballerina outfits. That good will extended to Possum the hamster, Shoobert the white rat and Eeny, Meeny and Miny the guinea pigs. Unfortunately, they didn't have the same lifespans as Salt and Pepper, so one by one they took their rest at the bottom of the garden too.
Ceremonies slowly became more elaborate. Each time a shoe box was involved and a carefully chosen piece of material from the rag bag as the winding sheet. A solemn goodbye was said and spare tiles from the bathroom were laboriously inscribed with the name and date of death before being placed as headstones. Even though Marmaduke and Barty had long turned to dust, their passing was also recorded.
Now and then others would be added: Billy, the hedgehog found on the lawn who'd been badly mangled by something. He didn't last long enough to get to the vet. The children were very upset there was no name to put on the tile, so he was quickly christened before burial.
The next was Sammy, the squirrel who buried his nuts under the bird-table: knocked down by the front gate. I'd thought he was still alive when I saw his tail waving, but it was just the breeze. You could pick Sammy up by one paw and he was straight as an arrow. We didn't have a spare shoebox for him, so he was buried in a piece of blue velvet I'd been going to use for a cushion cover.
Eventually, Salt and Pepper joined them all, two years apart. The girls had left home by then but they came back for the weekend each time to say their goodbyes. Oddly enough, it felt rather the same when Phillip passed eight years later in a car crash and we stood by his grave at St. Alfred's.
I lived on my own then, which was probably why Burglar decided to come and visit. He popped in now and again but never stayed very long. It got me rather annoyed and no matter who I asked, no-one seemed to take much interest in his visits. So I took to waiting up late and the next time he came I whacked him with the 5 iron. I've always enjoyed a round of golf, even though I'm not very good at it. It was a pretty good shot, catching him right on the temple when he was bending down to get the silver plate out of the sideboard. He probably thought he was on to a good thing, pinching stuff from a little grey-haired eighty-three year old. He was slight in stature, probably an asset in his ignoble profession. I rolled him onto the tarpaulin I usually put out to catch the clippings when the hedge man came. He slipped easily down the hall and into the kitchen. I flinched a little as his head bumped down the back steps then loaded him onto the the wheelbarrow to get him to the end of the garden.
The digging took a while but I added him to the end of the row. Obviously he was too big for a shoebox and I just left his clothes on. Since it was all so well dug, I took the opportunity to move the rhubarb next to him and it's cropped really well ever since. The children remarked at the new tile the next time they were home. I just said it was the fox that had been getting into Mrs Amesbury's chickens and they seemed satisfied. There are only two spare bathroom tiles left now. I don't really want to use either of them, but you never know.
I'm in a small, dark club, listening to punk rock. People are drinking cans of Jamaican lager and having intense conversations. I'm trying not to feel shy.
The DJ is playing my favourite records: The Passenger by Iggy Pop, Police and Thieves by the Clash, Another Girl Another Planet by the Only Ones. When he puts on the Dead Kennedys, the dance floor is packed.
I'm wearing black drainpipe jeans, a black T-shirt and a satchel with my name on it in blackmail lettering, like on the Sex Pistols album.
I'm 56 years old.
I've never been to a reunion before. No school reunions, no college reunions. When I finally end up going to a reunion it's for a punk club. It's all Facebook's fault.
I recognise a lot of people, who look just as I remember. I fail to recognise others. I talk to people I used to know. I talk to people I've only met online.
And as I join in the handclaps on Do Anything You Wanna Do, I can't help wondering: how many of us did?
One of my favourite television programmes of the last three decades is an Arena documentary about My Way. The most memorable scene is Sid Vicious singing the song, his way. "Regrets, I've had a few, but then again, too few to mention".
I've never agreed with that song. There are lots of things that I regret. Mostly, the things I didn't do.
These are some of the things I've never done in my life. Thrown a television out of a hotel window. Thrown a television out of any window. Played in a band. Had sex with anyone in a band. Made a record.
These are some of the things I have done in my life. Thrown things: beer glasses, mostly. Drunk a lot of wine, then talked about forming a band. Pined for a punk. Been to a karaoke bar and failed to sing. Written the first two lines of a song that doesn't exist.
Last year, at the office Christmas party, they asked us to write down our "Desert island discs". The game was to guess which list belonged to who. I felt a bit offended when someone guessed mine as the one with Coldplay at the top. Mine had T Rex, Mott the Hoople and the Clash.
But, after all, no-one knows I used to write for a punk fanzine, even though I probably wouldn't be here without it. It led to a career that ended up here in the communications department. I like my colleagues but I know that to them I'm just another middle-aged middle manager.
I laugh to myself sometimes when I look at the young ones, knowing that they'll never be as hip as I was at their age. And they'll never know that about me.
We travel 200 miles to get to the reunion. Sitting on the crowded train, I'm excited. David's not. We met at work, in the mid-80s, and the club was closed by then. He didn't even like punk. I didn't hold that against him, because by the time I found out I was in love.
Another way we're different is that he has no digital footprint. I love to chat to people online but he's not even on Facebook. So he hasn't been part of the conversation that led up to this event.
I try to introduce him to people when we get there, but it's noisy and I have to shout. He gets a pint and chats to the people he knows, the only old friends we've stayed in touch with.
I try to circulate. I've never been much good at working a room, even at networking events, but over the years I've learned to pretend. That isn't working so well now: my corporate identity doesn't fit into this environment and I'm suddenly not sure who I am. I remember now that when I was 18 I was shy. It's all coming back.
Someone says my name. I respond the way I've been doing all night: a smile, a hug and then remembering who they are. This time it's easy, even though I hadn't expected him to be here.
Jimmy looks different but I've always remembered him. I yearned for him throughout the club years, and I never knew if he knew. When there was no-one else around, we could talk for ever. When there were other people there, he would notice me for ten seconds, then rush off being important somewhere else.
I never told him how I felt. He had too many admirers already. There was something about him that drew people in: an enthusiasm about music, about life, about what he was going to do next. He never did quite do what we expected; joined the ranks of "what if" and "whatever happened to".
He's fatter now and his hair is thinner but his eyes are still shining and he's still talking fast and I'm still drawn in. And he's not rushing off somewhere else. We're sitting in a quiet corner and we could talk for ever.
Then David's here saying "I thought I'd lost you", and we're saying goodbye to people and ordering taxis and not knowing how long we'll have to wait because it's Saturday night. This used to be my life, every Saturday night. These days, we go home before the crowds start.
I'm tired when we get back to the hotel. We've done a lot of travelling, and a lot of talking, and stayed up later than usual. When I wake in the morning, I don't know what year it is at first. Then I remember the 21st century. I remember Facebook. And I remember Do Anything You Wanna Do.