Runners up in the 18+ Category
Echo Chamber by Lyndsey Croal
Eleanor awoke with light swimming above her eyes. Spikey grass was digging into her back. The sound of trees rustled around her and distant birdsong carried on the wind.
She’d been dreaming of drowning. It had felt so real this time. Her muscles still felt tense from when she had let herself go to the waves.
Yesterday seemed like a distant memory. She couldn’t recall where she’d fallen asleep; or when. Not even the date was clear in her mind. Everything was fuzzy. Maybe she’d hit her head.
Sitting up, she tried to gather her bearings. She was in a clearing but there was woodland all around. Pine trees towering like the ones from up north; the ones from her childhood.
It was warm but not too warm. It must be spring. Her fingers clutched at the grass in reflex and pulled up a chunk of roots from the earth. A spider crawled out of the broken patch and on to her leg. She watched it climb up her leg before brushing it off. It scurried away towards a patch of dandelions—their seeds had yet to disperse, waiting for a child’s wish. The air was still all around; perfect seed floating weather. Not that she believed in such things. Her wishes never came true.
She reached into her jeans pocket to feel for her phone in its usual place, but it wasn’t there. She searched her jacket for keys, tissues, anything; but there was nothing. Just empty space.
She stood up and began walking—north, south, west or east, she didn’t know. Her feet felt light on the ground, barely making an imprint. Hours must have passed when she came across a stream twisting its way in front of her path. Her legs didn’t feel tired nor did she feel thirsty, but she stopped out of habit, scooped up some water, took a gulp, and splashed the rest over her face. The cold stung into her cheeks and a memory jumped into her mind without warning.
Swimming in a loch. The one she and her friends used to go to after school, just before the summer holidays. Her best friend Maree didn’t want to jump off the rocks and into the water, she just wanted to stay watching like she always did. But the surface was so still—unfrightening—that Maree’s cowardice annoyed Eleanor. So, she pushed her in. Just a bit of fun. She needed the extra help.
Maree couldn’t swim. The image of her struggling face was so vivid. So was the memory of Eleanor’s own laughter. It was strange; she hadn’t really thought about that for a long time, but here it was presented in such detail.
She shook herself and trudged on again into the endless forest until she lost track of time.
It was cold when she awoke again. She was lying, her arms sprawled out like an angel in the snow as the blue winter sky dazzled above her. She pulled herself to her knees and looked around. Something about the surrounding scenery was familiar. There was a clearing again but this time little log cabins were dotted around while mountains towered over her like silent guardians. It was eerily quiet.
She searched the area for any sign of human activity but there was no one there. Not that she really minded it that way; she enjoyed her own company. Maybe it was off season.
A cabin to her right was drawing her gaze. She realised she’d been here before: with her boyfriend Stefan one summer between her third and fourth year of university. He was a German exchange student and the connection between them had been instant. He was smart, handsome; safe. She had thought he was the one.
Her feet left behind a trail of footprints in the snow as she walked over to the cabin. She knocked on the door but only an echo returned. It creaked open with the lightest push to reveal a room exactly as it had been when she was last there.
Her ears rang as the image flashed before her eyes in perfect clarity. Stefan was in front of her, his shoulders hunched. She was shouting at him, crying, she wanted to throw things. He tried to calm her down, apologise, tell her that it wasn’t her fault. He’d fallen for someone else; he didn’t love her any more. It was too hard to bear.
The next day, after she calmed down, she told him she wanted to understand why. That she didn’t want to be angry at him. All she needed was some fresh air to figure things out. Later, they walked out into a mountain trail, followed the path until their legs ached and the sun had passed its peak. Stefan didn’t complain. He barely said a word. When they reached the viewpoint, she told him she wanted to get one last picture together, to remember him by. She balanced the camera on some rocks and beckoned him over to stand with her on a ledge. Endless forests of evergreen stretched out below them. It was picturesque; calm. The rocks were icy. He slipped.
The photo was never taken.
The interior of the lodge returned to her vision. She smiled and stepped into the room, brushing her hand along the dusty furniture, trying to remember every detail of that weekend. She found the two wine glasses by the fireplace, her lipstick marks still on one of them, the other smashed into pieces after she’d thrown it to the ground. Her breath returned in a mist like will-o'-the-wisps and her shoulders quivered. Then she stepped out the door, retraced her footprints in the snow, and walked towards the mountains. A solitary eagle’s cry pierced the silence as darkness fell.
She heard water: the sound of waves lapping against hollow wood. A smell of salt and seaweed hung in the air. Her body was rocking beneath her: a rowing boat, its oars already in her hands. She looked around but only saw the distant imprint of land on the far horizon.
She began to row, aiming for land, but no matter how long she swung the oars back and forth in perfect rhythm, it never drew closer. She stopped and took a deep breath of the sea air, letting the oxygen seep into her tired lungs. A gull screeched overhead and landed beside the boat. Releasing the oars, she leaned over the side, and watched the bird bob up and down. As it flew away, she was left staring at the swirling turquoise water.
A reflection of Naomi’s face stared back at her: her flatmate, the one who Stefan had loved; the one who was better than she was. They’d taken this rowing boat out the summer after the winter that Stefan went missing. Eleanor had told Naomi it was a way to say goodbye, a way to get over the pain.
She waited until they were out far enough, until they could see no other boats on the horizon. Until it was just them, the wind, and the lapping waves. They watched as birds circled around them, blocking out the sun occasionally with the shadow of their extended wingspan. She let go of the oars eventually then peered over the boat, to the watery abyss. A single tear fell to join the endless swell. Then she turned to her best friend. It was time.
Naomi realised what was happening too late. She panicked, yelled at Eleanor to stop. She tried to grab the oars, but Eleanor pulled them away, threw them far from the boat until they drifted out of reach. Then Eleanor tipped the craft over, allowed the cold to engulf her body. Until she was just floating away for eternity.
She awoke with light swimming above her eyes. Spikey grass was digging into her back. The sound of trees rustled around her and distant birdsong carried on the wind.
She’d been dreaming of drowning. It had felt so real this time. Her muscles still felt tense from when she had let herself go to the waves.
Yesterday seemed like a distant memory.
The Weavers by S.A.M. Rundell
The heat's made people fucking fruity. It's not supposed to be this hot. Not this late at night. Not in Paisley.
Fucking global warming shite.
It's late now and the heat's worn off a bit, but not its effects on the Fruit N' Nut bars of Causeyside street. Me and Wully slow up a bit as we come down the hill by the Town Hall. This is partly because Wully's getting on and hills are a bastard for him, and partly because the polis are up ahead corralling a group of youths in shorts, distinct now in two opposing groups, drunk on sun and White lightning. Montagues and Capulets they are not.
An older man ahead of us, bearded and sunburnt, shakes his head as he crosses the road.
'Paisley!' he shouts, raising his arms to the straight-backed officers, the gesticulating youths, and curious onlookers, 'city of fucking culture!'
I look at Wully and he hitches up his eyebrows, gestures with his stick.
We take up the Threads, drawing in the yellow light, and the heat, the clack of tottering high-heels and the brash confidence of a skinny youth with his top off. I pull on a Thread gently. It buzzes electric as I twine it with the bits of pride at our bid for City of Culture; bits of hope disguised as sullen, eye-rolling apathy, and some fine delicate strands of quiet ambition. It makes for a nice wee weave, that. Sort of sweet and sour.
Wully nods again and we move on.
We stop at the traffic lights. Karaoke music's coming from the pub ahead. Wully leans against the railings for a moment and we wait for the green man, even though there's no cars coming. His breathing is heavy and part of me wants to weave this Thread. This moment, here: a dying man on a balmy Paisley night, shaking his head at the off-key catterwalling coming form the pub. I have a keen sense for these things; we all do. I know the moments that need to be part of the Tapestry. But this moment is not mine to weave.
The green man blinks on and we cross the road.
The City of Culture banners don't make it this far up Neilston Road. No hashtag TeamPaisley up this neck of the woods. This is Rab's patch. He weaves here between his trips to the multiple chemists and drug dealers on the street. Dave takes over up by Glenburn and Craw Road, posh nob that he is. Wully's battle ground was the town centre, keeping the mills and the cobbles, the Abbey, the Coats, the statues in check. It would be my patch soon.
'Wully, I can call us a taxi, you know,' I say, as he slows again.
'I know, son. But I want a pint.'
I hesitate and he reads my silence and chuckles wheezily. 'I'm no gonnie fall down deid, lad. Come on, buy me a pint with that fancy non-contact thingamy.'
He grumbles and steers the way into the bar that is crowded and noisy and smells of sweat. I order our drinks while Wully finds us a seat, or rather while Wully hangs around looking lost until someone takes pity on him and offers him their table.
I weave a little while I wait at the bar. There's laughter and excitement; the heady enjoyment of a Saturday night in the warm. 'Aye, hotter than Spain. Look!' says one red-faced man, brandishing a cracked iPhone at his pal. 'Hotter that Spain!'. I take bits and pieces and twine it with some old memories of a fug of cigarette smoke, rainy days of sleet and smur.
'Bit on the nose,' comments Wully after I join him again.
'I was just doodling,' I said. 'Besides, I let the weave go. This is Rab's patch.'
'Doesn't mean you cannie work here, lad.'
'Aye, but it's manners, in't it.'
He smirks and takes a sip of his drink. He takes off his thick glasses and polishes them on the edge of his t-shirt. 'If you think something's worth recording, there's no harm in it. Anyhow, do you really think Rab would mind?'
It was true. Rab may have been an addict but he's also the kindest man I know. Jas on the other hand...she would mind. Fucking princess.
'You're responsible for them now, Malcolm,' says Wully, watching me closely. 'And they'll respect you, son. You've got...what's the word...gravitas.'
I laugh loudly. 'You're a funny bastard, Wully. But nah,' I took a swig of beer, 'They'll no respect me the same as they do you.'
'That's cus I'm an old fucker,' said Wully. 'Age does that tae ye; just you wait.'
I laugh again and sigh deeply.
'Now, there's something you might want tae look at,' he says nodding surreptitiously. There's a middle-aged couple sitting in a corner. They're both drunk but they can't take their eyes off each other. They're holding hands under the table and giggling like teenagers. I smile a little and roll my eyes at Wully. 'Dirty bastard,' I say, but pull a Thread all the same, wrapping their giddy romance with the heat of summer; childhoods spent up the Braes or fishing in the Cart.
'Aye, I'm no fucking amateur,' I say smiling, 'Got to fill your old-man shoes, don't I?'
We finish our drinks and move on. The sky is inky and the air is close. There's excitement here, like an orchestra tuning up or the title cards of a classic film. We walk slowly behind two men staggering bravely across the road. Some kids run round a corner, up past their bedtime, heading for Brodie Park to smoke, drink, giggle till their sides hurt and drag long and hard on the indestructible fag-end of youth. I consider pulling the Threads they leave behind but I realise I couldn't do it justice. I don't feel indestructible. The night, pregnant with possibilities, to me just seems like the end of something.
I glance over at Wully who deftly pulls up the Threads and knits them together, simple and tight. There's no sadness...Jesus fuck, there's not even old age. It's impossible to Weave objectively, but the old bastard's captured it with the pure memory of youth. I feel old and inadequate.
'Show off,' I mutter.
I can smell barbecue smoke coming from somewhere. It's incongruous and somehow necessary.
'So, if I take over the Town Centre,' I say, 'and train up Wee Katie....where do you want her to work when she's ready?'
'That'll be up to you, son,' said Wully, 'and up to her.'
'Aye, I thought you'd say that,' I say with a sigh. 'I suppose we'll know when we know, eh?'
I glance up and notice the windows thrown wide open; I can see a silhouette at one of them, cigarette smoke drifting out against the darkening sky.
We meet in Eileen's house. Her kids are at their dad's tonight and she's tidied up special. The others are already here.
'Kettle's on, boys,' Eileen says as Wully and I sit in the drooping but clean sofa. 'Malcolm, gonnie give out they coasters,' she says to me.
'Coasters? Very posh, Eileen,' says Dave.
'Bit rich coming from you,' I said, 'you big PACE wanker.'
Dave smacks my head with a coaster but Yasmin gets in the way before I can retaliate, taking Dave's vacated seat. 'Is this gonnie take long? I'm opening the shop tomorrow.'
'Come on, Yas. You could do that in your sleep,' said Dave, frizbying a coaster at Wee Katie who tries to catch it, misses, blushes a pure beamer and goes to help Eileen in the kitchen.
'Take that as a compliment, hen,' said Wully, shifting to get comfy on the sofa, 'You work hard in that shop, A seen ye at it.'
'Thanks Wully,' she ways with a pointed glare at Dave.
'So here, how's Wee Katie?' I mutter to Wully. 'She ready?'
'She's nervous, aye. But she'll do fine,'
'She's a nice wee lassie,' says Yasmin, flicking her hair over a shoulder. 'Dead polite.'
'Course she is, she's ma granddaughter,' said Wully, smiling only a little sadly.
Eileen comes back in carrying a tray of mugs and a plate of caramel wafers. Wee Katie trailing in her wake perches on the arm of the sofa.
'No sign of Rab yet?' says Eileen, checking her watch.
'He'll be here,' I say and just as I do there's a knock on the door and Eileen goes to open it, leaving only the faintest trace of the chippy where she works. It's Rab, who shuffles in, his tracky evidently not bothering him in the heat of the night. He's carrying a blue carrier bag from which he produces some rich tea biscuits that he gives to Eileen. 'Just a wee mindin',' he says. He fishes in the bag again and pulls out a battered paperback which he gives to Wee Katie, 'Wully says you like reading so A brought you that. Huvnea read it mind, but ma next door neighbour says it's dead good.'
'Thank you,' said Wee Katie, taking the book, 'You didnea huv to.'
'Special day fur ye, hen,' he says. I glance at Dave who gives me a guilty shrug. None of us had brought a gift or a minding.
'Such a nice boy you are, Rab,' says Eileen, 'you have a wee seat and a cuppa.'
Once the tea is finished and the plate is littered with scrunched-up foil wrappers we fall silent. No one has given any indication that we should; we've all decided that the moment has arrived. Wee Katie looks at the floor, twisting fingers in her lap.
Eileen pulls herself forward in her chair. 'Right, no offence, yous lot, but A'v got work in the morning.'
'Aye,' agrees Dave, 'If...if that's ok with you, Wully.'
Wully huffs and I nudge him gently in the ribs. 'Aye, Davie boy,' he says, 'That's fine.'
'Right then,' says Eileen. I think she looks a bit weepy. 'Wully. It's been an honour working with you,' she says. She's about as used to making speeches as we are. Her knuckles tap gently on the arm of the chair. 'You've taught all ae us here and...well, you'll be missed.'
'Well that's bloody good to know,' says Wully and we breath out a laugh that is full of tension and sadness.
'Aye, well...' Eileen continues, 'We're glad it's your wee Katie that's stepping up. You'll make a great addition to the team, hen,' she says and Katie smiles.
'I hope so,' she says, with a glance at her Grampa.
Wully gives her a pat on the arm and a wee grin. 'You'll do fine, darlin''.
Silently, we share our weaves: thousands of knitted Threads full of lives and voices; stone and rain; music and traffic. The layers run deep, thick with history: mills, and looms and floating fibres.
I breathe in, enjoying the feeling of everyone's Weaves out in the open. Wully's is fine and intricate, heavy with years of Paisley life. He pulls the weave towards Wee Katie who's sitting cross-legged on the floor; she's concentrating, her face screwed up. I watch as she pulls a Thread. It's a nice thing, simple and innocent but full of expectation. It's got us all in it, this wee sitting room, the tea, the caramel wafers, Rab's paperback. It's got her Grampa and the lesson he's taught her and the lessons I'll be teaching her soon. Sweat beads on her brow now, as she takes the Thread and ties it to Wully's Weave.
Wully smiles and casts off the last Thread, twining it with Katie's new one. It makes a lovely counterpoint for a second and then Wully's Weave becomes hers and she pulls it around her, wrapped momentarily in her future and her long distant past.
The winning story, A Letter South by Beth Nuttall, can be read in Shoreline of Infinity Issue 15. Copies are available here
Both Cymera Festival and Shoreline of Infinity offer our congratulations to the winners, a big thank you to our judges, and a massive round of applause to all our entrants. We’d like to say a big thank you to everyone who submitted a story to our competition - we really enjoyed the great variety of stories we received, and we hope you will keep writing!