Winning Story: A Tragic Contrast, By Jim Finn

sscThe Prescot Festival proudly presents the winning entry in the 2013 Short Story Competition.

Entrants – more than two dozen – were asked to write around the theme of war and peace. Winner Jim Finn receives £100, and “A Tragic Contrast” has been published in the August 2013 edition of the Prescot Parish Church Magazine.

Congratulations must also go to Ianthe Pickles (“Dying to Get Out”) and Carole Browne (“Over the Top”), who received £25 each for their stories, which the judges felt deserved “honourable mention.”

By Jim Finn

The long winter had gone and springtime arrived. The vivid blue sky, gently relieved by fluffy white cloud and the soft golden rays of the sun, created a picture of warmth, of peace and of kindly, good cheer.

Carol busied herself in the kitchen preparing a couple of sandwiches and some home made cake. It was a fine day to take her only child, David, for a walk in the park, to feed the ducks and play on the swings. As she pulled on her coat, her gaze settled on the photograph on the mantel piece of her husband, John, with David, who was a baby then, on his knee. John was now a soldier and had gone off to Europe to fight in the war.

‘I hope it’s all over soon,’ Carol whispered to herself, her thoughts lost in memories of happier times, ‘and then we can all be back together again.’ She swept away a tear of sadness that trickled down her cheek before young David could see.

Carol and David called to the home of one of their neighbours only a few doors away and Carol tapped quietly on the window. ‘Who is it?’ came a voice from the other side of the door.

‘It’s only me, Mrs Barnes – Carol. I’ve called to see if you want anything from the shops. I’m taking David to the park and will be passing the shops on my way back.’

‘I won’t open the door, Carol, I’m up to my wrists in flour. I’m alright, love, I don’t need anything. I got a ham shank Monday and I’ve still some left. Give me a knock on your way back and I’ll have some fresh scones ready for you.’

‘Oh, Mrs Barnes, thank you. I’ll do that. I’ll see you later.’

‘Tara for now, love – and you, David.’

Beyond the two round brick pillars, standing like sentinels on the opposite sides of the entrance to the park, there opened out a vast panoramic view of springtime beauty; lush, green fields covered in parts by carpets of buttery yellow daffodils; trees in full leaf, stout oak, beech and elm, forming avenues of natural splendour; the shimmering stretch of water that served as a boating lake; the winding pathways ribboning through the landscape of limestone rocks and cultivated shrubbery; the birds singing in sweet refrain heralding, in full chorus, the beginning of a new mown spring. The peace, the serenity, the calm, the tranquillity, that only God, in his beneficence, can truly bestow.

Carol was gently pushing back and forth the swing in which little Davis sat whilst also engaging polite conversation with a young mum whose new baby slept soundly in her pram. An elderly gentleman, on the grass beside, played ball with Toby the dog expanding an energy that belied his advancing years. The park policeman passing by gave a friendly wave then clasped his hands, out of habit, behind his back and carried on twiddling his thumbs.

The morning air was clear and crisp, the dew had all but gone. The prospect of brighter days ahead was very much to the fore of people’s minds.

But then, way in the distance, could be heard a muffled rumbling sound which got louder as each second ticked slowly by. No way, it could not be thunder, not on a day like this. The worrying sound developed into an increasingly threatening roar. It was getting closer. The birds, in terror, flew out of the trees in all directions screeching and squawking in extreme distress. The ground began to tremble and the sirens started to wail. Fear and dread grabbed the stomachs of all those in the park. The constable, urgently, came running back to the area by the swings, sweat running down his face.

The looming, dark shape was fast becoming discernible. The pleasant dreams of only a few minutes before were rapidly turning to a horrible nightmare. The noise was deafening. The horror was numbing. The engine power was causing a howling, ferocious uproar, an atmosphere surreal. Then four black, cigar shaped objects fell out from under the enemy aircraft and hurtled, one after the other, towards the ground. And all hell let loose!

The scene was one of complete and utter destruction. A huge, burning crater slap in the middle of the park; the smoke blackened grass smouldering from the effect of fire; trees uprooted and snapped in two as if made of straw; jagged wreckage strewn everywhere; a broken baby’s pram entangled in the branches of a still standing tree; a tiny leaf fluttering slowly down to the blood spattered earth. The sound of the bells of the emergency vehicles racing to the scene seemed bare of any point.

War. The horror of war. The futility of war. The defilement of peace. But why is the price of peace so inextricably bound up with the cost of war? All because of man’s inhumanity to man!

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