We asked you to write a story based around the photo published here and you didn’t disappoint. The standard was excellent and as always, we found it difficult to choose the winning submissions. We are however, delighted to announce the winners.
1st Prize: £500.00 Andrew Hughes
2nd Prize: £300.00 Molly Smith
3rd Prize: £200.00 Dan King
The Man in the Hat
by Andrew Hughes
It was freezing cold and dark. I pulled my collar up and my hat down lower over my forehead and watched the house from the shadows. She was home. I could see movement. Shivering, I thought about the large payment lining my bank account and tried to ignore the fact that my balls were freezing off. Not much longer, I told myself.
I took my place under the designated street lamp and gazed up at the top windows of the dramatic Victorian townhouse, large, sprawling and in a class of its own, it oozed wealth. The outer walls had been painted in white, a stark contrast to the dark, muted tones of the neighbouring houses. The black front door took central stage at the top of five impressive steps. This house revelled in its own importance. At the top of the house, lights pierced the darkness, I raised my camera, lens poking directly at and into the room, waiting for the shot. When it came, I clicked madly, catching a series of semi-naked poses and powder white skin. Then, for a split second, our eyes seem to meet as she stood in front of the window and hurriedly drew the curtains to block my prying eyes.
I sauntered nonchalantly from one florist to the next noticing news headlines. It seemed I was front page news. My photo had been published. I saw her milky white skin and a glimpse of a perky breast. She looked stunning. She had been interviewed immediately. I noticed I was called ‘the man with the hat stalker’. I shrugged, smiling to myself.
No-one took any notice of me. My brown hair looked blonder in the winter sun and with sunglasses, and some serious stubble, much of my face was hidden. There was nothing to tie me to the newspaper story. I was nobody. Just another bloke wandering aimlessly through haphazardly placed market stalls and sniffing the aroma of freshly baked bread and cockles. But, in my bag, I now had 12 red roses, all purchased individually. Back at the hotel, I carefully wrapped the roses into one bouquet and tied them together with a dark red ribbon and added my calling card. A silhouette figure dressed in my usual garb and the words The Man in the Hat printed in the middle.
It was a little OTT, but, I was being paid to be dramatic. I did as I was told. The trip to the town house didn’t take long by tube and keeping to the shadows, I stealthily climbed the steps, hat, coat and scarf in place, I jangled the old-fashioned bell, placing the roses by the door. I knew I didn’t have much time and scurried back to my vantage point across the road, raising my camera, I snapped away as she opened the door, looking delighted at the roses, and then, I saw fear. Blue eyes opened wide, rosy red lips parted, then she disappeared from sight.
The Man in the Hat Strikes Again – that was the headline that greeted me as I made my way out into the darkness. I was famous I thought with some glee. It was an easy task today. My instructions were to walk along the river at midnight and cut the mooring ropes to the Lady Bee barge. It seemed a bit odd but, It wasn’t up to me to question. Silently making my way along the row of boats moored up, I cut the thick rope holding her steady and then, watched, standing back as the barge drifted out and along the steady flowing river. The woman emerged from the barge alerted by the gentle movements and I heard her scream loudly. I waved to her, as instructed. A sinister shadowy-figure with evil intent and the flash of the camera lens.
I was back in the news today but they still had no clue to my identity. My pictures were doing well though. I was glad however it was my final day. My instructions were to climb up to her hotel balcony and take another photo. They said a naked shot would be good. If I could manage this, another fat payment would make its way into my account. Camera slung over my shoulder, in the darkness, I tested my weight on the climbing shrub, grabbing hold of the trellis work underneath. Cursing, I carefully climbed up and hoisted myself over the balcony ledge. Camera ready, I paused, trying to glimpse inside. I wasn’t prepared for the French doors to open and for a heavy-duty bouncer to lunge at me. Panicking, I fell backwards over the balcony, landing hard on the pavement below.
When I opened my eyes, I was in hospital. Shadowy figures leered at me. One wrist was cuffed to the side of the bed. They didn’t understand. It was just a job. What the hell was going on? My head hurt like hell. I tried to speak but my tongue couldn’t form the words.
I heard the words, “You…. sick bastard.”
Then, I was alone, frightened but, drifted gratefully into unconscious oblivion.
A woman’s voice penetrated the gloom.
“Thank you.” She whispered in my ear and I instinctively knew this was the woman I had been asked to follow. Her perfume was strong, heady, overpowering. She kissed my cheek.
“You did well. You follow orders and you could be so useful but, that is impossible now. Still, thanks to you my film, The Assassin is going to be a huge box-office hit. Real life mirrors fiction and all that.” She giggled theatrically but I saw the coldness in those blue eyes. “You will be famous..although, quite, quite dead.”
I watched in horror, unable to move as she emptied a syringe into my arm and felt my world fade away. Job done.
Note: As always, we reserve the right to publish only the winning submission which enables 2nd and 3rd place submissions to be published elsewhere.