Winner – ‘Thursday Nights’ by Tom Gimlette
Luminous, radioactive effervescence. This might help. Probably won’t. His eyes stung. It hurt to be awake. His grey tongue probed the copper tasting cut on the inside of his lip. Despite scouring himself in a scorching shower he could still smell the drugs and the alcohol on him, as if every pore on his skin had dilated to purge last night’s excess.
The tube carriage darted along, swerving through tunnels in an unnecessarily nauseating manner. He didn’t give up his seat for anyone.
He had wanted to be punched last night. Maybe even needed it. Having already worked fifty five hours this week, Thursday nights tended to end this way. After hour upon hour of silently screaming at his desk, he was rarely able to avoid getting a head start on the weekend. Sundays not even really the weekend, he rationalised. It’s hardly even a day; more a length of time sitting in a darkened room gradually feeling the rising panic and bile as Monday inched closer.
He walked past the receptionist, eyes cast down, and entered the lift. The halcyon lights seemed even more blinding than usual, and as he shuffled to his desk the hum of the copier and click clacking of hardened finger tips on a keyboard sounded deafening to him.
A colleague relentlessly rattled off the course of action for the end of the week. He would be finishing late tonight, maybe even back in again this weekend. Impatiently, he checked his wrist watch, noticing for the first time that there were two deep cracks on its face. It was a gift. A gift from someone who he could no longer talk to. Someone who’s heart would ache for what he had become. He excused himself, and left for the bathroom, where he cried a little.
Runner-up – ‘It’s 3a.m’ by Laurence Gardiner
They call it the witching hour; I bought a book on it. They say it’s the time when the veil separating the living and the dead is thinnest. The time when spectres rise and cross the spiritual plane to haunt the living. The time when you come to visit.
Passing my test was one of those moments that marked a transition from childhood to adulthood. With a car comes independence, agency, freedom. You were as excited as I was, your parents didn’t have the money to get you lessons but we did everything together. As far as you were concerned, we had both passed our test. We were both free.
We spent weeks planning that trip. We had borrowed camping gear from your uncle and listened as he droned on about proper pitching of a tent. We filled the car with crates of lager and disposable barbecues and left early the next morning for the Lake District. It was me, you and a couple of the other lads from school. You know, I can’t even remember their names now, haven’t seen them in thirty years. You’re the only one I still see. Every night. At 3 a.m.
Building our own fires, gambling on undercooked sausages and day drinking. It was all we hoped for. We found a lake we could swim in on the second night. You shouted ‘We’re invincible’ as you bombed into the water.
But we weren’t. We aren’t.
I didn’t see it until it was too late. I swerved too hard. The firemen had to cut us out of the wreckage. When I woke up you weren’t there. Just my parents standing over me, tears in their eyes.
But now it’s 3 a.m. I’m in a cold sweat and you’re sitting at the end of my bed.