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Richard Godwin

Our judge for the 4th Creative Writers’ challenge of this year, was born in London and obtained a BA and MA in English and American Literature from King’s College London, where he also lectured. He is also a published poet and a produced playwright. His stories have been published in over 29 anthologies, among them his anthology of stories, Piquant: Tales Of The Mustard Man. You can find out more about him at his website www.richardgodwin.net, where you can also read his Chin Wags At The Slaughterhouse, his highly popular and unusual interviews with other authors.

Richard is the author of critically acclaimed novels Apostle Rising, Mr. Glamour and One Lost Summer.

One Lost Summer is a Noir story of fractured identity and ruined nostalgia. It is a psychological portrait of a man who blackmails his beautiful next door neighbour into playing a deadly game of identity, and is available at all good retailers and online here.

Apostle Rising is a dark work of fiction exploring the blurred line between law and lawlessness and the motivations that lead men to kill. It digs into the scarred soul of a cop in the hunt for a killer who has stepped straight from a nightmare into the waking world. It is available here

Mr. Glamour is about a world of wealthy, beautiful people who can buy anything, except safety from the killer in their midst. It is about two scarred cops who are driven to acts of darkness by the investigation. As DCI Jackson Flare and DI Mandy Steele try to catch the killer they find themselves up against a wall of secrecy. And the killer is watching everyone. It is available here.

His fourth novel, Noir City, will be published next year in English and Italian by Atlantis. In it a Gigolo seduces the wife of a Mafia boss and is hunted across Europe.

Thank you Richard for that background information and a new addition to our manner of posting our monthly challenges.

The prompt for our October Challenge was:

While preparing your garden at the beginning of spring, you find the blueprints for your house buried in the earth. When you pull it out and examine it, you find that there is a room in the blueprint that doesn’t exist in your house. Both disturbed and intrigued, you set off to find the missing room. Write what happens next?

There was a slight change if someone wanted to base the story in Bahrain and that was that the blueprints could be found in some location other than ‘buried in the earth’ such as at the back of a shelf, in a box anywhere. The rest was left up to their imaginations. The word count was for 2000 words and all our entrants stayed well within the specified limit. Congratulations to our winners.

The following were selected as our winners:

In 1st Place we have Rebecca Young

Congratulations, Rebecca you’ve won first place for the third time!

THE MASTER PLAN

They had seen a dozen villas that day, but when the realtor showed Kate and Matt the Paradise Palms development, they were sold. It was a huge, new development, still under construction. It aimed to be the premier housing destination for young, hip families in the Kingdom of Bahrain.

Paradise Palms had everything on their wish list. It was huge, a labyrinth of quiet streets- all named for exotic flowers. Sidewalks lined every street, perfect for morning jogs, weekend bike rides and nightly strolls with Ella, who was almost 2.

At the front and center was the heart of the development, the clubhouse. The clubhouse included a playroom, a mini-theater, a conference room, a spacious workout room and a party space. Outside was a huge pool, chilled in the summer, heated in the winter, a nice lawn area with two picnic gazebos, a large playground and some tennis courts.

“I love all this! Just think, we’ll be able to entertain here. You’ll be able to play doubles, maybe there will be a playgroup for Ella. It will be perfect,” said Kate. The villa they decided to lease was several curved streets away from these amenities, on Hibiscus Lane, tucked away in a quiet corner of one of the first phases. Kate loved it because it had a larger yard and there would be less traffic.

“It will still be a while before Ella’s riding her bike around,” remarked Matt. “But it will be perfect when she is older.”

The development was brand new and over half of it was under construction. The empty streets with shells of houses in various stages of construction were a little eerie, another reason they chose their villa, on a street farther along the path to completion. A large empty space was kitty-corner from their villa.

“I’m sure it will be built up soon now that the economy is picking up,” assured the realtor.

So the couple signed the lease and in less than a week, they moved from their hotel into the villa. Their house was five bedrooms, which had seemed a little excessive for the three of them. Just more spaces to furnish. But one could serve as an office for Matt and the other could be a playroom for Ella, even though her room really was large enough for all her toys.

Given a generous furniture allowance from Matt’s company, Kate enjoyed outfitting the house. Their shipment came less than a month later. It was providential; Ella had become bored with the small selection of toys they had brought in the carry-ons. And Kate was feeling so homesick for her family pictures, their throws and pillows, her owl-shaped kitchen timer; homesick for all those touches that transform a house into a home. Once they were unpacked and carefully placed, Kate finally felt settled in. Just like that, Villa 264 was home.

“I love living here,” remarked Matt, coming home sweaty from some early morning doubles.

“It is paradise,” said Kate.

The only fly in the ointment was the fact that the development seemed to screech to a standstill. Partially completed villas remained unfinished and no new ground was broken. The empty parcels of dusty earth drove Kate crazy. Especially the lot kitty corner across the street, because all that empty expanse of dirt blew across the street and into her house, sneaking in through the gaps and windows. A fine layer of sand coated everything, her counters, the floor, the fruit in the fruit bowl.

They had lived in Paradise Palms for nine months when Kate had to go to the development’s main office to register their new car for a security sticker. She had walked there, with Ella in tow, asleep in her stroller.

“Hello? Anyone here?” Kate asked as she pushed her stroller through the door. She walked over to the desk, where the secretary, Jeanie, had left a note that read: “Out to lunch, back at 2 p.m.”

Since it was a quarter till two and Ella was still asleep, Kate decided to just wait in the office. She sat down and picked up one of the complementary magazines. She quickly discovered she had already read this issue of Bahrain Confidential. Bored, she looked around the office.

Across the room, one wall was covered in a huge poster, an artists rendering of the aerial view of Paradise Palms. It was a little difficult to decipher at first, but Kate oriented herself and was able to see just how large and ambitious the development was.

While looking at the rendering, Kate spotted several features in the master plan that were not yet built. There was supposed to be a small mosque and cold store in the southeast corner, by Gate Two. Over off of what appeared to be Magnolia, there was supposed to be a play structure in an empty lot. And there, on Hibiscus Lane, just kiddie-corner from their place, was another park. The artist had chosen to illustrate this with swings, a play structure with a good-size slide and some monkey bars.

“This will be fantastic for Ella!” Kate said to herself. “I hope they get to it sooner than later.”

Just then Jeanie walked in, back from lunch and started cooing over Ella, who woke up when the door banged open. She secured the car tag and dreamed the whole walk back of their own playground, just across the street.

“Guess what?” she asked Matt that night. “There is going to be a park across the street from our house in that empty lot!”

“If they ever get around to it,” was his pessimistic reply.

Month after month Kate watched the lot, dreaming of the fabulous play space Ella would have, just a stone’s throw away from the house. They could go there every day, not worrying about bringing along water bottles and snacks and worrying about bathroom timing, because they could just dash home and dash back. As Ella got older, she might be able to play there herself while Kate watched her from her front porch or while puttering around in their garden. It would be perfect.

They had gone to Dubai for a long holiday weekend and when they returned late at night, Kate noticed some construction vehicles had arrived while they were away.

“Oh look, they are going to work on the park,” she remarked to Matt as they were hauling the suitcases inside.

But shortly after midnight, stadium lights flooded their bedroom and the deafening sound of idling semis filled their house, punctuated here and there by back-up beeps, revving engines and bang-clanks.

“What on earth?” said Matt, going to the window to investigate. “I don’t think they are building a park, babe.”

“You think?” she quipped, crossly. Just then Ella woke up and came to sleep with them. They passed an awful night, trying to block out the sound and light. Finally at 6 a.m., the noise knocked off, just in time for Matt to wake up and get ready for work. Kate tried to stay in bed with a restless Ella, but figured going back to bed for maybe another hour until Ella woke up just wasn’t worth it.

“What do you suppose they were doing?” she asked Matt. “Drilling an oil well. Only thing it can be. I’ll ask Bob, he might know,” he answered. “But I doubt they’re finished. We better brace ourselves for another night.” Matt’s words turned out to be prophetic. It wasn’t just another night, it was two and a half weeks of drilling. Kate put up blackout curtains on top of their shades and ran fans at night to try to block out some of the noise, but they were still on edge and exhausted by the end. The drilling always started late and night and finished just after the first call to prayer.

“Why, oh why, does it have to be at night?”

“Something about the gases and it being cooler. And Bob said if we ever hear an alarm, that means they hit this poisonous, odorless gas they run into some time. He said we need to go to the roof right away until it dissipates.”

“So there is a chance they could hit a gas that could kill us and they didn’t think to warn us?” Kate was incredulous.

“Hey, it is paying for our lifestyle and we drive a car. We have no room to complain about a little oil well,” said David. Kate stuck her tongue out at him, which she knew was childish but it made her feel better.

Kate stewed over the oil well the whole time. Ella was crabby due to the lack of sleep, then got sick, so they were housebound. From her room, Kate could see the cranes parked, the equipment at the ready for another night of drilling. She kept thinking about how that was supposed to be her park! Ella’s park. Were they going to still fit a park in front of the well? That was the main selling point of Paradise Palms after all: the green spaces and the parks, not dirt lots, construction noise and oil wells. Finally one day, all fired up, Kate decided to walk over to the development’s main office and get to the bottom of things. Thankfully, Ella crashed out in the stroller the minute they turned the corner.

Jeanie greeted her, “How can I help you today?”

“Hi. I want to know why they are drilling an oil well across the street from my house?” asked Kate.

“You must live off of Hibiscus. We have been getting some complaints, but they are approaching the end of the construction, right on track, within the 20 day estimate.”

“Yes, but why is there an oil well there?” asked Kate.

“Because there is oil there?” said Jeanie, puzzled.

“Obviously, but I thought it was supposed to be a park!”

“Oh no. Oil well. Not a park. But we have a lovely park just off of Orchid and of course there is the one right out here.

“But on the master plan, it shows one right across the street from us,” said Kate, trying to be patient.

“Oh, that thing?” said Jeanie, looking at the wall. “That was before we got government approval for our plans. That was the sales pitch to investors. Not a real master plan.”

“But why do you have it up then, if it isn’t what the development is actually like?”

Jeanie shrugged. “It looks nice. And it would have been nice if we could have done all that. See how much bigger the clubhouse and park are on there? And see the third gate there? And this extra bit of walking trail? You have to dream big, then scale back. It is still a nice development. Just a pity about the oil well. But it should be done and dusted soon enough.”

“Yes, a pity,” said Kate, feeling foolish. The differences were glaringly obvious now that Jeanie pointed them out. “Well, thank you.”

She took the sleeping Ella back home. When she got to her villa, she turned to the lot, where the oil pump stood, partially installed.

“Khalas,” she sighed. “Not a park.” Kate was grateful Ella didn’t realize she’d been cheated out of slides, swings and a jungle gym. She thought about some of the other wells she had seen. Once in a while, they would paint them like giraffes, zebras or birds. “Hmmm… I wonder what it would take to get them to paint it?”

And with that, she went inside, put Ella down for a nap and got online to look for play structures for their back yard.

In 2nd Place we have Simi Kamboj

Congratulations, Simi once again you’re a winner!

THE ROOM OF BEGINNINGS

We are withholding Simi’s story at her request as she is developing it further.

In 3rd Place we have Kelli Horner

Congratulations, Kelli! This was your first challenge and we look forward to more stories in the future.

THE BLUEPRINTS

“I’m not your gardener!” I moaned as my mom handed me the gloves and a shovel.  It was the first day of summer and I’d just finished my freshman year of college.  I needed a couple of days to de-stress before my summer job as a camp counsellor started.

But mom had other ideas.  Apparently, she missed the free manual labour I provided, pre-college.  She decided that it was time to say goodbye to the old apple tree in the backyard, the one that had been slowly dying since I was in diapers.

She smiled a sweet smile, kissed my head and gently shoved me out the door.

“I’ll bring you some sweet tea in a bit, dear!” she promised, shutting the door.  I knew she planned to spend the day in her sewing room, working on a hand-made wedding dress she had been hired to make.  She was going to make $10,000 for this one job, which was why I had to be the one to uproot the apple tree- she couldn’t risk hurting her hands.

Grumbling, I marched towards the tree.  As far as I remembered, it had never produced a single apple in the twenty years we’d lived in the house, though mom told me that the previous owners had used it as one of the main selling points- fresh apples whenever you wanted.  It had supposedly been planted eighty years ago, when the house was first built.

I started digging, hoping to get the whole project over and done with as soon as possible.  It was already hot and extremely humid- summer in Savannah always was.  I had been digging for about thirty minutes when my shovel struck something harder than the dry Georgia earth.  I hit it again and it made a hollow, wooden thud.  With a renewed energy, I quickly dug up a wooden box.  It was about the size of a breadbox and it had been nailed shut.  It looked hand-made and it definitely appeared to have been there a while.

Dropping the shovel, I hurried to the tool shed to grab some of my dad’s long-neglected tools.  I sat on the edge of the patio and worked at opening the mysterious box.  When I finally cracked the lid, I discovered it had been lined with tin to protect another smaller box, this one an old, expensive looking lock box.  Someone had gone to great extremes to protect whatever was inside.

I felt like a detective, working to open this new box, not knowing what I would find inside.  I hammered, banged, poked and kicked until finally, the lock fell away, winking at me in the morning sunlight.

I was disappointed to say the least- it was nothing but some old blueprints and a key that I distractedly stuck in my pocket.  Still, it was better than digging up a tree. Maybe they’d be of interest to someone- dad perhaps.  Looking more closely, I noticed that they appeared to be the original blueprints to our house, back before the garage had been added on and the kitchen expanded.

Smiling, I walked my fingers over the blueprints, taking my home-from-school-route from the front door to the kitchen to my bedroom when I noticed something strange.  Between the dining room and the stairway, there seemed to be an extra room.

No one had ever mentioned this room to me.

Scooping up the blueprints, I headed inside.  I could hear mom’s sewing machine humming and I knew better than to disturb her when she was in sewing-mode.  She could be a scary dragon lady when she was working.

Feeling like a detective, I went into the dining room and knocked on the wall that ran alongside the stairs.  But it didn’t really do me any good, since I didn’t know what I was listening for.  So I went around to the stairwell. Trying to make as little noise as possible, so mom wouldn’t catch me inside instead of outside, I started to move things out of the closet. It took me thirty quiet minutes to make enough space to be able to fit into the closet.  The closet had a sloping ceiling that ended in a point at the base of the stairs.  When I was little, I used to pretend it was a secret fort.  But if there was a room on the other side of the wall, it would stand to reason that there would need to be a door, and in all the time I spent in this space as a child, I had never noticed a door.

I started knocking on the wall again, not sure what I was listening for, hoping it would be a movie moment and I’d know it when I heard it.  And sure enough, I did.  As I squeezed myself down into a squat position near the back of the closet, I knocked and it sounded different.  It sounded hollow.  Could there really be a door behind this wall?  How did I not know about this?  I poked my head out of the closet and heard my mom’s sewing machine still whining.  I was probably safe for a little longer.

I ran outside and got the hammer and brought it in the closet.  I tap-tap-tapped along the wall until I found the spot where the sound changed.  Knowing I was probably going to get in so much trouble, I hit the wall with the hammer and felt the satisfying give of the dry wall.  I pulled down the rest with my fingers and found that there was, indeed, a door behind the dry wall.  Someone had put a wall over the existing wall specifically to cover this door, it seemed.  The door was small- if I was going in, I was going on my hands and knees.  There wasn’t a handle, only a keyhole.  The key from the lock box!  I pulled it out of my pocket and put it in the hole- it fit, of course.  I turned the lock and slowly pushed the door open.

At first it was too dark to see.  I felt along the wall but couldn’t find a light switch.  I almost had a heart attack when something brushed up against my face, then I realized it was the pull string for a light.  I pulled it and it took my eyes a second to readjust.

When they did, I was confused and then horrified.  The room, which was long and so narrow that I could touch both walls with my elbows when my hands were on my hips, was covered with newspaper clippings and articles about murders.  The newspaper articles dated back more than twenty-five years and were from big cities all over the US- Houston, Washington D.C., Portland, and San Francisco.  And Savannah.  Cities where my parents had lived.

Young girls had been murdered in every city.  Their heads had been cut off and placed on their stomachs with their hands propped up and holding the head in place, like a gruesome Jack-o-Lantern.  The killer had left their eyes open.  Their lips had been sewn shut.

“Oh my God,” I whispered.  The girls were all sixteen to nineteen years old.  They had all been good girls from good families.  They had all gone missing from their high schools or colleges.

The sudden realization sickened me.  My dad was a college professor.  He had taught at all the colleges that the girls had attended.  He sometimes guest lectured at local high schools.  He was kind of weird, a real introvert.  I remember him asking my mom to teach him to sew, so he could fix seams or rips when he was traveling.  He was terrible at it.

Panicking, I knew I had to get my mom out of the house- we had to leave before he got home from work.  Whirling around, I gasped as I ran straight into my mother who had somehow managed to crawl into the small room without me hearing.  My heart was pounding.

“Mom, we have to leave!  Dad might be a serial killer!  Look at this…”  I trailed off when I noticed that she was calmly blocking the doorway, holding up a needle and thread in one hand and a dress in the other.  The look in her eyes, though, was maniacal- like nothing I’d ever seen.   “What are you doing?  What is this… all this about?  Mommy?” I whispered.

She started at the word mommy and for a second, I saw the mother I knew- the one who baked cookies and was president of the PTA; the mom who had driven me to gymnastics and Girl Scouts.  My mom, who insisted on family Christmas pictures in matching sweaters and who woke me up every year on my birthday at 4:26am with a cupcake.

“It shouldn’t really be you,” she started, talking to herself more than me.   “I’ve been so good for so long, only a few girls here and there.  You were such a good distraction.  But you left.  I’ve been bored,” she trailed off.

“Mom?” I whispered again, terrified.

“I’ve been working on this dress for you,” she said, holding an old-fashioned, high-collared dress up.    “It’s going to fit so nicely,” she smiled, seemingly lost in thought.  “This room is sound-proofed, you know?  The people who built the house had a crazy mother-in-law who liked to scream and sometimes she would wander out of the house at night.  This was the only place she couldn’t be heard, couldn’t escape from.  It’s a perfect space, really.”

I whimpered.

“It was never supposed to be you,” she muttered.  “I should’ve buried the box somewhere else.  Then we could’ve had apples… Then everything would have been okay.”

She moved around me, dropping the dress to the floor.  She ran her hands lovingly over the newspaper articles taped to the wall and started reading one of the articles.

“ ‘The clothes they wore were not their own- families and friends were able to say this conclusively.  They were hand-made and fit each victim perfectly, as if they had been made specifically for them.’  They were, you know?  Made specifically for them.  I saw them and could judge their sizes perfectly, even from across the campus.  They never really appreciated the hard work that went into making those beautiful clothes.”

Without warning, she spun around and took my face in her hands and started to squeeze.  She forced me to my knees.  I looked into her eyes and saw that my mom was gone, replaced by this other, insane woman.  She held up the needle again.

“No one appreciates quality anymore. Your father won’t be home for hours.  It’s time I gave you a sewing lesson,” she said, closing the door behind her.

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