We asked you to create a story in 1000 words or less inspired by the photo. We received some wonderful submission but felt Penny Bailey’s entry was just outstanding. Congratulations to all of the winners.
1st Prize: £195.00 Penny Bailey
2nd Prize: £150.00 Charles Blackwood
3rd Prize: £100.00 Terry Clark
Here’s the winning entry:
When Darkness Falls
by Penny Bailey
It’s just an ordinary park bench now adorned with autumnal leaves and still slightly damp from the recent rain shower, but, there’s nothing special about it and nothing to mark the devastation that took place here. I counted the years since I’d first walked into this park, 14 now and its beauty was unrivalled. The same gardener lovingly tended the flowerbeds, each display a masterpiece of colour and vibrancy. It was the flowers that had drawn me to the place initially, as I’d only been able to afford a small apartment with no outside space, so the park became my garden and this, I trailed a hand along the damp edges, became my special seat. A place to watch the world go by and a place to relax.
Five years ago that had all changed.
Brushing the leaves from the bench, I sit down for the first time since it had happened. I expect to feel different somehow, as if my presence here would open up those old wounds, but there’s nothing extra, the sadness remains powerful, but encased within. I figure that I relive the scene daily in my dreams and each time that I notice the space in the bed next to me. Why should it be any different here? Tragedy happens all the time, usually to others, but when it becomes personal, it’s hard to bear. It seems especially poignant here, a place that I loved, marred forever by the brutality of a moment in time.
The scene around me is beautiful. Here, protected by the noise of the city, I feel as if I am in my own bubble of beauty, it’s tranquil from the moment the sun comes up to the time when the sun goes down. Funny how the place becomes sinister the moment the moonlight shines over the same scene. It shouldn’t make any difference and yet it does.
I remember the fateful night when my daughter Emily left the new house without our being aware, I remembered the fear that we’d experienced, wondering if just maybe she would try to find her way back to the apartment on the other side of the park. I remember clearly the chill that invaded my core, terrified that our six year old daughter would walk alone into the park, the shadows looming up around her, threatening.
Martin had dashed out into the dark night, the air damp with trepidation and my fears escalating by the second. He was faster than me and left me trailing behind as my eyes adjusted to the eerie gloom of the park. My worst fears materialized, my breath trapped in my lungs I could barely breathe when I heard Emily scream and then, a gunshot, the sound ricocheting around distorting the direction. My fear for Emily drove me forward into the bushes where I found them both. Emily crying and curled up by Martin, tears running down her face as she tried to shake life back into her father.
I grab a tissue from the pocket quickly and dab my eyes. I can’t cry, I’m meeting my precious daughter in a minute, now 11 years old; she’s the image of her father, she has his eyes. I never found out what happened that night all those years ago, because the tragedy stole Emily’s memories, shock they said, and the night stole my wonderful husband who I miss more and more each day. Although I yearn to know who killed Martin and what this evil person was trying to do to our precious girl, I am so thankful that she doesn’t remember, that fate has been kind to her. If she remembers just once that Martin was out looking for her and that he died trying to protect her, I fear for her…more than anything.
This may be just a bench but from here I stand proud. I don’t hide from my memories, or the murder, I protect all that I hold dear. As I watch my gorgeous girl walking through the park towards me, I imagine Martin walking alongside her, ready to take her hand and protect from the evil that exists in even this beautiful place.