We are pleased to announce the winners of the Summer Ghost Competition.
1st Prize: £3oo Denise Scott
2nd Prize: £200 Philip Horton
3rd Prize: £100 Carol Simpson
4th Prize: £50 Ruth Coles
5th Prize: Critique of story of choice. Maddy Weston
6th Prize: Premier 1 Membership (3 months) providing unlimited entry into any Creative Competitor writing competition and the free Write to be Published newsletter. Angeleen Rankmore
The Market Trader
by Denise Scott
It didn’t really matter what the doctor had said to her. She was slowly going mad and that was that. There wasn’t even a reason as to why she was hallucinating. She wasn’t on any strange medication that could make her mind play tricks on her. Trisha would have welcomed an exact reason, a eureka moment when she could throw her head back and laugh loudly at her stupidity, the moment when she could look at her partner Charles and see her relief mirrored in his eyes
It was so frustrating. She couldn’t actually fathom a reason as to why she saw the same hallucination over and over again. A cheeky little rosy-cheeked market trader with a spotted bow-tie that twirled when he pressed a button. In the last six months, she had seen him most weeks welcoming people to his stall and waving. He had been a little hazy at first but of late, he was as clear as day and she knew that somehow, she had given her hallucination the ability to grow stronger.
She wondered what Freud would have thought. Perhaps he would have said that her hallucinations were borne out of a stunted childhood and she was reverting back to a time when her impressions were being formed? Trish knew that this would be wrong. Her childhood was brimming over with happy memories; in fact she couldn’t remember feeling unhappy ever.
Trish had almost started dreading going to the market place, yet it pulled her like a magnet. She had always loved the hustle and bustle and the rich smells of sweets, breads and the heady scents of flowers that permeated the air. She even loved the throngs of people and always determined to walk through the smallest of gaps and to check out each stall so as to embrace every moment. There were even some resident fairground rides for the younger children which brought back instant memories of years gone by. But now the market place was tainted by something sinister, the market-trader who always looked her way and waved, she would see him out of the corner of her eye and when she turned to focus, he would disappear. Sometimes it would be when she blinked, and at other times, in a grey swirling mist.
Sometimes she would deliberately search for him, push through the crowds determined to confront him, to get witnesses for her strange apparition to prove she was not mad, but as fast as she would approach, he would disappear.
Sighing, Trish began to automatically prepare for her usual trip to the market. A little bit of make-up to hide the dark shadows under her eyes and she brushed back her luxurious red hair into a long pony tail. She looked deathly pale and her eyes large. Trish knew that fear was mocking her.
“Maybe you should give the marketplace a wide berth today?” Charles spoke softly from the doorway, where his lithe frame took up most of the space. “The Doctor did say you should rest”.
Trish turned, focussing on the fear in his eyes. “I know but I can’t, I feel like the answer for this madness is there too… You don’t have to come with me, you look tired too”
“A throbbing headache and a little bit of indigestion, I knew I shouldn’t have eaten that big meal last night, stopped me from sleeping properly” He rubbed his chest as he spoke and then curled up on the bed, his long limbs wrapped in a foetal position, he looked exhausted. Trish bent over the unmade bed and kissed him on the forehead. “Rest for a few hours, catch up on your sleep if you can. I will be back soon”
He was fast asleep before she had even wrapped her light jacket around her shoulders and as she walked down the creaky staircase towards the front door, she could hear his muffled groans and laboured breathing as he succumbed to sleep.
He was taking on too much she realised. At work as well as trying to deal with her problems. Maybe this was something that she should keep to herself, at least until she had got to the bottom of the situation. Once she had ascertained why it kept happening, she could return triumphant and he would feel so relieved.
Walking down the street, dark clouds scurried across the sky, dampening the sun’s enthusiasm. Trish shivered. She hoped it wasn’t a bad omen and she did feel terribly cold. She wasn’t far from the market place, and could hear the hum of activity and raised voices as the traders out-shouted each other. Her heart skipped a beat as she wondered whether she would see him again today but knew that it was inevitable somehow.
Trish took a deep breath to steady her nerves. She had to stop this and instead work out why it was happening. ‘Think Trish’ she told herself sternly. Pushing her fears to one side she thought back to all of the times where she had seen him. At first, hazy memories but as she concentrated the memories grew stronger and flashed by her in a blur. Initially, it had just been the market trader talking to people who seemed void of colour or details. They were real but she couldn’t quite focus on them. Then only a month ago, she could have sworn that she had seen him talking to her mother but that had been crazy, her mother had died many years before and her father from cancer only recently. When she had tried to tell her father as he lay bedridden that she had seen someone who looked just like her mother, he had smiled with contentment, his face hollow against the white plumpness of the pillows,
His death had hit her hard. Not sudden like her mother’s but tragic all the same and it had made her feel so alone. Thank god for Charles.
Then only last week, she was sure that she had seen her parents together at the stall. Her mother had worn a camel coloured coat far too warm for the time of year, and her hair was up in a tightly wrapped chignon. As she had approached them, they had disappeared into the crowd and the stall had vanished too. She had closed her eyes and re-opened them, hoping to catch sight of the stall but it really wasn’t there anymore. Her childhood friends had wandered by too, not close enough to talk to and not at the stall but in the crowds and she had wanted to tell them that they should turn away in case they saw him too. Only recently she had found out that one of those friends had died suddenly the night before in a terrible car accident, so once again, Trish had to accept that she couldn’t possibly have seen him and that the imaginings came from within her.
Then in glorious multi-colour, she saw him. The realisation that she was so close took her breath away. This time his cheeky face smiled straight at her but his eyes were sad. He wants me she breathed, feeling a coldness sweep over her body, chilling her to the bones, but as if reading her mind, he shook his head and looked over her shoulder. As she turned, to follow his gaze, Charles emerged from the crowd, his face sallow and grey. He didn’t even see her, there was no recognition, no life but walked straight to the market trader, fixated, focussed, shaking him by the hand.
Suddenly, Trish knew the truth and with a horrified sense of dread, she lunged towards the market trader and Charles, desperate to try to stop the inevitable but as she reached the space, it became empty and she fell on the hard concrete, tears streaming down her face, and with skinned knees and a broken heart, she lay on the concrete and sobbed.
Minutes passed, concerned faces, hot sweet tea, a sugary snack, all designed to ward off shock. But how could she tell them that she had witnessed her partner crossing the void from this life to the next helped by the gatekeeper. That cheery faced trader who opened a portal and ushered her loved ones through. Trish didn’t want to think but reality beckoned, and she knew that when she returned home, Charles’s body would be cold in their bed, his life having ebbed away. Worse, she had left him to die alone.
She wasn’t mad after all. She couldn’t completely understand everything yet but she knew that she had encountered the gatekeeper, a master of disguise, her own grim reaper. And all that Trish knew was that she didn’t want to be left behind, alone with this aching pain that threatened to rip her apart. But next week, she would return and she would find him.