‘The judges were blown away by the quality of the submissions.’ Yeah, yeah. I have read quite a few summings-up by judges of short story competitions over the years, and invariably they go on about how they were astounded by the brilliance of the entries, how so many of the stories could have made the shortlist on a different day, how basically everyone deserved to win and coming up with the winner was an exquisite agony, darling.
Well not this time.
Your stories were all sadly very mediocre, and the only vaguely decent one basically picked itself in a matter of minutes.
The bar was embarrassingly low. Within a few minutes I’d managed to get rid of about 95% of your entries with a quick glance.
Not that I was quixotic or rash in my choices. I began, logically enough, by throwing out all the stories formatted in Ariel, Calibri or Garamond, which are all currently on my typeface shitlist (they know why). Next went stories formatted in less than 24 point. Despite the beat carnivalesque experimentalism of my own prose I’m not as young as I was, and forcing your judge to squint is just bad manners.
Stories with names in title case got whacked next because I mean, who are you, Samuel Pepys!? Then I remembered that I’d recently switched allegiance to title casing from sentence casing myself (it’s an age thing) but the story pile was going down nicely and I wasn’t going to go back and try and retrieve all those printouts from the roadside now. (I was driving overnight to a secret ayahuasca ceremony in Aldershot, so they could have gone anywhere.)
The next thing I did was to go though and identify the story by my ex-wife. It was a story about a bloke with a boil on his forehead who belched a lot, and ignored her dog, and stayed in bed half the weekend eating plain nachos, and wore the same red cardigan for weeks running till it stank. He had a birthmark on his left calf roughly the shape of Cyprus, and ended up (she claimed) in an old folks’ home taking pot shots from his balcony with an air rifle. It was called ‘Yes, Yes, This Story’s About You, You Stupid Sad Bastard’, or something like that.
So that one had to go, which was a shame in its way. I really liked that red cardigan.
Next I got rid of any story with animals in it. It is well known that the cats and their heathen brethren have already taken over the entire internet; these days, I can’t move on my timeline without coming across a video of an otter cosying up with an armadillo, or a pair of excited alpacas doing some moves that look oddly Latin. (Do. Not. Say. Llamabada.) Enough is enough, people! Animals suck. They steal our time and energy, when we could use that vital lifeforce to be out agitating for real political change – campaigning for free mouthwash, demanding an end to cordless dressing gowns, petitioning the powers-that-be for proper research into the mysteries of lucid snoring and all the rest.
I didn’t like any stories that referenced the weather either. It’s just a cliché. Ditto the sea. Ditto stories that began with the ‘The’ or ‘I’. It’s just too late in world history for that kind of shit, man. Read your Pope. Or get elected pope, I really don’t care. Your stories are still out.
I looked for a story by my other ex-wife though she’s not really much of a writer. There was one called ‘Cutting The Toxins Out Of My Life’, which did give me pause.
I also cut out all the stories with stupid or fancy language in. Words like albatross and flummox and frisson. Ditto plinth, helium and Albuquerque. Ditto ditto.
I also removed any stories that didn’t end in death because, really, what’s the point?
After all this critical winnowing and expert filtering, the only story left that was any good was one by this bloke called Donny Pretzel and it was about a man who arms himself with a 23” Sub-Automatic Pump Action Super Soaker Assault Water Pistol, which he fills with a base of tomato ketchup and garlic puree, laced after much experimentation with one part chilli spray to three parts Thai ginger paste, and he goes out and messes up every person who’s ever done him wrong. He gets to shoot them and they get to be covered in red stuff, but when he gets taken to court, the jury find him not guilty because he obviously has moral right on his side and he’s basically just such a charmer. And it was beautiful, it was like the Wild West but he didn’t kill anyone, maybe just got a bit of spice in a few eyes.
Donny, whoever you are, you’re an amazing writer and I know you’ll go far. Reading your story, I felt like I knew you already and you were writing just for me. You’re clearly a very sensitive guy whose been through so much but come out the other side with your talent and significant portions of body hair intact.
It’d be my honour to present this prize to you in person, Donny. So in the meantime I’ll hold on to the cash until you can make it over this way. Try and get here for a Thursday lunchtime if you can. It’s two for one at Pasta Lodge, and we can maybe go for a game of crazy golf afterwards and make an afternoon of it?
I think maybe we could be friends. I think maybe we could start one of those famous literary friendships that people make films about. I think I’d like that. I think maybe you could use a friend. I think I probably could.
Bring your piece if you’ve got one. I googled it in the library and feral pigeons are legal game, but it’s probably best not to try and cook one this time. Also we have to make sure the pellets don’t drop onto the petrol station forecourt next door as there have been a few complaints.
Image via Pixabay