Story competition 6

Submission deadline: September 4, 2011

Voting deadline: September 12, 2011

Write a story using the following words and phrases: salve, half-wit, casket, "Even rabbits insult a dead lion", soap suds, "To love oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance", exile, staff, great-grandmother, cobweb, exodus

 

Contest winner:

Return of the Exile

By Sonya Lano

 

Two weeks after Sanctorium’s most capable lawmen had abandoned it to make the great and foolish exodus to the gold fields, the exile returned.
He came at dawn, limping into town, leaning heavily on a makeshift staff, and dragging a casket behind him. The heavy coffin dug furrows in the parched, gritty ground and marked the exile’s progress in the land like a scar.
The blacksmith stared, the leather worker stared; even a drunk lazing outside the saloon stared, but no one lifted a hand to stop him. Each man stood (or slouched) helpless as a babe, slack-jawed as a half-wit and incredulous as a heathen.
He should never have survived the wilderness, not banished as he had been to the inhospitable desert rife with renegade Injuns, starving wolves and rattlesnakes.
And yet here he was, dragging a casket straight through the center of Sanctorium, battered, bloody, and limping, but unarguably alive.
He heaved the pine box behind him up the steps of the famous Dog’s-Ear Saloon and shoved the swinging doors aside to limp unevenly into the room, not realizing the floor was covered in soap suds until his feet went flying out from under him.
He dropped the staff, let go of the coffin and landed with an undignified “Oof!” under the laughing eyes of the saloon keeper’s only daughter, Sybilla, who was standing near the doorway with a mop in her hands and a water bucket at her feet.
Closing his eyes against the pain, he grunted, “Go ahead and laugh while you can. Even rabbits insult a dead lion. And I’m in no shape to retaliate.”
Sybilla laughed again – probably the only person who dared do so, because despite her father’s disapproval, she had been Caleb’s friend for years. “I was wondering when you’d come back. Let me get some salve for those wounds,” she said soothingly. “And let’s hope it’ll calm that temper of yours.” Propping the mop against the wall, she crossed the room with the ease of a woman used to walking on wet floors, and disappeared into the back chamber.
Thudding footsteps pounded into the room. “What are you doing back?” roared Garth, the saloon keeper.
Caleb, his eyes still closed in a brief respite, permitted himself a small smile. “I see no sheriff or deputy to keep me out. Deserted you, haven’t they? For the sweet, intangible scent of gold.”
“I don’t need them,” Garth snarled and advanced threateningly. “I can throw your raggedy carcass out of town myself.”
Without opening his eyes, Caleb lifted his hand and cocked his pistol, his aim sure even without seeing his target. “Rethink, paps.”
Garth froze, his ruddy face and bullish neck purpling with rage. “I ain’t your paps. Never will be.”
The corner of Caleb’s mouth lifted. “And I was so hoping to have some real filial affection for you after I marry Sybilla.”
“Over my dead body!” Garth took another step forward before a bullet whizzing right past his ear halted him in his tracks.
“Don’t be too sure it won’t come to that, paps,” Caleb promised with a lethal edge, then, sensing that Sybilla had come back into the room, gentled his tone. “Open the casket, Sybilla.”
“What trick is this, now?” growled Garth, but Caleb noted grimly that he didn’t move.
Sybilla knelt next to the casket and Caleb finally opened his eyes and pushed himself up, every bone in his body aching and every muscle protesting. He had gone through hell to get to this moment and he sure as heck wasn’t going to miss it because a few soap suds had bruised his butt.
Sybilla’s hand hovered indecisively over the casket lid and she was looking at him expectantly. At his slight nod, she shoved it open.
He watched her lips part in amazement and smiled to himself. He knew what she was seeing.
Brushing aside a cobweb, she reached inside the casket and dug out a handful of gold.
“What trickery is this?” cried Garth angrily, taking another step forward until Caleb trained the pistol on him again.
“You can’t say I’m without prospects now, paps. Got me a coffin full of gold here. You have to let me marry her.”
“Over my dead—”
“Not this again,” muttered Caleb and shot the towel out of the annoying old man’s hand. The cloth went fluttering to the ground, a hole the breadth of a finger marring its center.
“Caleb,” Sybilla said quietly, accusingly, but not because he’d shot at her father – she knew he would never harm Garth, no matter what the provocation. Her eyes were riveted on the casket. “Where did you get this?”
Caleb grinned proudly. “My great-grandmother was the greatest mail coach robber ever known – or rather, not known. Never caught, never even suspected. She took her fortune with her to the grave, had it buried right next to her. I figured it was time to dig up the family legacy and put it to some good use.”
“Not all the gold in the world can bribe me for my daughter’s hand in marriage!” Garth vowed defiantly.
Caleb laughed carelessly. “It’s not for you, paps. It’s for us to start the school Sybilla’s been wanting to open so bad.”
He knew then by the tears shining in her eyes that he’d won. She was coming with him – would follow him to the ends of the earth if he so asked.
“You’d best let her go,” Caleb calmly advised the fuming saloon keeper. “I’ve heard that to love oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance – maybe you should take that to heart and you won’t be so lonely.”
“Be nice,” Sybilla admonished him, but happiness was welling up inside her, and her words carried no sting.
Caleb climbed unsteadily to his feet, pulling her up beside him. What the hell, he thought. The victor could always afford to be merciful. He extended a hand toward Garth. “What say you, old man? We build the school here and I get to call you paps.”

Story competition 6 contributions

She's Coming Home

Damien 07/09/2011
"To love oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance".

I read this and knew instantly that this was not the kind of book I was interested in reading. Far too soppy and girly for my tastes. No, I needed something more manly and rugged for the flight I was about to take.

I was at the airport, just about to board a flight to South Africa where my great-grandmother had been living in exile for the last 60 years or so, ever since she protested a little too vehemently about the way the then King tended to behave behind closed doors.

Prior to that she had been a member of said staff, and had been charged with cleaning Buckingham Palace from top to bottom every week. Normally this wouldn't present too big a problem, as she at least didn't have to do it all on her own, and anyway the place was cleaned so often that a cobweb here or there would barely have time to form before it was wiped away.

But occasionally the King would hold special 'parties', and the stains that were left behind after these get togethers were not the kind of marks that could be disposed of with soap-suds alone.

So she had complained, initially privately, as that was the way these things were done, and then publicly when nobody did anything to rectify the situation. This caused a huge uproar as you can probably imagine, a common char woman accusing the King of doing unnatural things with animals like that, and she was fired from her job.

That turned out to be the least of her worries though, as the Royal Family hit back at her complaints with a smear campaign the likes of which had never before been seen, and within months, a broken woman, she was forced to leave the country.

Of course, at that time there was a huge exodus of people leaving, mainly to Australia in search of a better life. But she didn't want to go to Australia as they had the same King we did, and instead opted for South Africa. I had asked her once why she felt the Royal Family went out of their ways to make things so difficult for her, and it took me years to work out what her answer really meant.

"Even rabbits insult a dead lion," she had said at the time, and it was only much later that I worked out that this was her way of saying that mud sticks, and so by her going public with what the King had been doing, she had ruined his reputation regardless of whether people really believed what she had said.

And as reputation was so important back then, especially to those people in power, they had responded the only way they knew how, which was to drive her away.

Back in the good old days of course they would have just thrown her in the Tower of London and then chopped her head off just before the FA Cup Final to entertain the masses, but they weren't really allowed to do that anymore, so South Africa it was.

But my great-gran was a resiliant woman, and she went to the other side of the world and promptly found a good man to marry her. Whatever regrets she may have had were soon assuaged anyway when the King was proclaimed a half-wit by the people in the Great Revolution of 1950 and was forced to abdicate his throne in favour of a goat he had been caught in a compromising position with.

She told me once that him being unmasked for the kind of man he really was had been a great salve to her frustrations at not being able to go back to the land she loved.

Now I was making the final journey to South Africa to bring her home. She had died a few days earlier and was waiting for me to collect her. The UK Government, finally recognising the injustice that had been served all those years ago had given her a full pardon just before she died and were paying for the funeral. The casket was the highest quality on the market, and the press were drumming up support for a proper state funeral.

I was bringing her home, and she fully deserved the welcome she was going to get when we got back.

Return of the Exile

Sonya Lano 02/09/2011
Two weeks after Sanctorium’s most capable lawmen had abandoned it to make the great and foolish exodus to the gold fields, the exile returned.
He came at dawn, limping into town, leaning heavily on a makeshift staff, and dragging a casket behind him. The heavy coffin dug furrows in the parched, gritty ground and marked the exile’s progress in the land like a scar.
The blacksmith stared, the leather worker stared; even a drunk lazing outside the saloon stared, but no one lifted a hand to stop him. Each man stood (or slouched) helpless as a babe, slack-jawed as a half-wit and incredulous as a heathen.
He should never have survived the wilderness, not banished as he had been to the inhospitable desert rife with renegade Injuns, starving wolves and rattlesnakes.
And yet here he was, dragging a casket straight through the center of Sanctorium, battered, bloody, and limping, but unarguably alive.
He heaved the pine box behind him up the steps of the famous Dog’s-Ear Saloon and shoved the swinging doors aside to limp unevenly into the room, not realizing the floor was covered in soap suds until his feet went flying out from under him.
He dropped the staff, let go of the coffin and landed with an undignified “Oof!” under the laughing eyes of the saloon keeper’s only daughter, Sybilla, who was standing near the doorway with a mop in her hands and a water bucket at her feet.
Closing his eyes against the pain, he grunted, “Go ahead and laugh while you can. Even rabbits insult a dead lion. And I’m in no shape to retaliate.”
Sybilla laughed again – probably the only person who dared do so, because despite her father’s disapproval, she had been Caleb’s friend for years. “I was wondering when you’d come back. Let me get some salve for those wounds,” she said soothingly. “And let’s hope it’ll calm that temper of yours.” Propping the mop against the wall, she crossed the room with the ease of a woman used to walking on wet floors, and disappeared into the back chamber.
Thudding footsteps pounded into the room. “What are you doing back?” roared Garth, the saloon keeper.
Caleb, his eyes still closed in a brief respite, permitted himself a small smile. “I see no sheriff or deputy to keep me out. Deserted you, haven’t they? For the sweet, intangible scent of gold.”
“I don’t need them,” Garth snarled and advanced threateningly. “I can throw your raggedy carcass out of town myself.”
Without opening his eyes, Caleb lifted his hand and cocked his pistol, his aim sure even without seeing his target. “Rethink, paps.”
Garth froze, his ruddy face and bullish neck purpling with rage. “I ain’t your paps. Never will be.”
The corner of Caleb’s mouth lifted. “And I was so hoping to have some real filial affection for you after I marry Sybilla.”
“Over my dead body!” Garth took another step forward before a bullet whizzing right past his ear halted him in his tracks.
“Don’t be too sure it won’t come to that, paps,” Caleb promised with a lethal edge, then, sensing that Sybilla had come back into the room, gentled his tone. “Open the casket, Sybilla.”
“What trick is this, now?” growled Garth, but Caleb noted grimly that he didn’t move.
Sybilla knelt next to the casket and Caleb finally opened his eyes and pushed himself up, every bone in his body aching and every muscle protesting. He had gone through hell to get to this moment and he sure as heck wasn’t going to miss it because a few soap suds had bruised his butt.
Sybilla’s hand hovered indecisively over the casket lid and she was looking at him expectantly. At his slight nod, she shoved it open.
He watched her lips part in amazement and smiled to himself. He knew what she was seeing.
Brushing aside a cobweb, she reached inside the casket and dug out a handful of gold.
“What trickery is this?” cried Garth angrily, taking another step forward until Caleb trained the pistol on him again.
“You can’t say I’m without prospects now, paps. Got me a coffin full of gold here. You have to let me marry her.”
“Over my dead—”
“Not this again,” muttered Caleb and shot the towel out of the annoying old man’s hand. The cloth went fluttering to the ground, a hole the breadth of a finger marring its center.
“Caleb,” Sybilla said quietly, accusingly, but not because he’d shot at her father – she knew he would never harm Garth, no matter what the provocation. Her eyes were riveted on the casket. “Where did you get this?”
Caleb grinned proudly. “My great-grandmother was the greatest mail coach robber ever known – or rather, not known. Never caught, never even suspected. She took her fortune with her to the grave, had it buried right next to her. I figured it was time to dig up the family legacy and put it to some good use.”
“Not all the gold in the world can bribe me for my daughter’s hand in marriage!” Garth vowed defiantly.
Caleb laughed carelessly. “It’s not for you, paps. It’s for us to start the school Sybilla’s been wanting to open so bad.”
He knew then by the tears shining in her eyes that he’d won. She was coming with him – would follow him to the ends of the earth if he so asked.
“You’d best let her go,” Caleb calmly advised the fuming saloon keeper. “I’ve heard that to love oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance – maybe you should take that to heart and you won’t be so lonely.”
“Be nice,” Sybilla admonished him, but happiness was welling up inside her, and her words carried no sting.
Caleb climbed unsteadily to his feet, pulling her up beside him. What the hell, he thought. The victor could always afford to be merciful. He extended a hand toward Garth. “What say you, old man? We build the school here and I get to call you paps.”

Re: Return of the Exile

nick clarke 02/09/2011
i liked this alot....good little tale!

Re: Re: Return of the Exile

Sonya Lano 02/09/2011
Thanks, Nick! I'm just glad it didn't grow to phenomenal proportions like my stories in the previous competitions sometimes did!

Re: Re: Re: Return of the Exile

nick clarke 07/09/2011
i vote for this...nice, and the style if I may add is good too. I think this stands out for me amongst your other stories, because it is written in a simpler way, less metaphors and similes. that's not a criticism just my preference.

Re: Return of the Exile - Vote

Damien 10/09/2011
I vote for this for three reasons;

1 - I'm not allowed to vote for myself

2 - It was the only story actually submitted before the deadline so should automatically win

3 - It's actually a much better story than mine, with a good pace, nice imagery, and an interesting tale. It also incorporates all of the various words and phrases seemlessly, and nothing seems weird or out of place. It is, for want of a better word, believable, and the fact it is much shorter and much less soppy than usual are also things that encourage me to vote for it :-)

Re: Re: Return of the Exile - Vote

nick clarke 10/09/2011
a gentleman

Re: Re: Return of the Exile - Vote

Sonya Lano 14/09/2011
Thanks, Damien and Nick! The style is simpler than other stuff I write because it suits the story. It actually seemed to write itself - I only had an image in my mind of the exile returning to town dragging a coffin and had no idea how it was going to continue - I thought it was going to be bleak and bloody, but I guess I just wasn't in the mood for that after Saving Lorelei! I'm just happy that it's short!

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