Note: all identification was stripped from the manuscripts to ensure fair judging.
And now without further ado and amid much procrastination (he really did have a tough time judging, you know), here are the comments from HIM Mr Shakes:
'In 4th place is The Infernal Clock - I am Twitter friends with Jennifer Handorf who produced 'The Borderlands' - the movie reminiscent of the end of this dark tale. The personfication of the ride, its horrific, organic nature is what swung it. I liked the amibiguity coupled with the sense of urgency. My good friend Dom D thought it could be the most atmospheric of the submissions. We both liked the claustrophobia that builds - and the tight narrative. Well done.'
And the name of our Fourth Place and the author of the Infernal Clock is
... Mark Morris. Congratulations.
Enjoy his story ...
The dark-mannered child took his hand, leading him forward. A series of steps appeared, painted gaily and fashioned from wood. Each of the risers was emblazoned with a word written in a thick black copperplate. ‘Fun!’ proclaimed the first. ‘Enjoy!’ exclaimed the second. The third and the fourth ones were obscured by gloom but Dean knew already they’d be labelled in the same elaborate script.
His companion urged him on, his bare feet shuffling on the first step. His face turned upward. ‘Come,’ he mouthed, the word a silent cloud that hung between them. “Come.” The boy’s hand was icy-cold as it closed onto his own, immediately tugging at it, the child insistent that they move.
The steps soon began to narrow. They’d only climbed a half a dozen more before the walls drew in closer, the wine-dark canvas cold and damp against their shoulders. The child had surged up and ahead, towing him now, his hand gripping onto his more tightly, his back and shoulders pale and now in line with Dean’s face. His other hand snaked further forward into the dark, gripping onto the spiral of the handrail, its knuckles white as he towed them upward. Dean hesitated, stumbling for a moment, his toe catching against the overhanging lip of one of the treads. The boy looked quickly back, his face a dim white oval.
“Come,” he urged once more. “Come. We must hurry.”
Dean’s feet stuttered as he recovered his balance, his other hand weighted by the slide-sack he was carrying. They were moving at speed now, his toes alternatively scuffling and skipping over the edges of the steps as they raced toward the top. The walls began to quiver, now an infernal ox-blood red, both sides dragging across their bodies as they slid between them. He turned his head about to see back the way they’d been but there was nothing; no steps, no light, just a slick mahogany darkness and a low ululating moan. Their pace increased yet further and he snapped his head back to face the boy, his form now glowing a pale gem-like turquoise.
“No,” Dean said, trying to hook his feet between the steps. “Enough now.”
The child looked back, shaking his head, his clasp becoming vice-like, his small fingerbones grinding sharply against Dean’s. “No,” he replied, looking severe. “There can be no ‘no’. Only forward.”
Then the walls closed in on them and everything went black.
Mark Morris is a mature born-again writer who discovered his Muse the second time around. In previous incarnations, he's been a star student, a minor athlete and an obsessive hobbyist but he's lately begun to find a modicum of writing ability and now specialises in writing flash fiction. He's currently working on a handful of novels but is striving to limit this to no more than two or three at once. One of these is a Noir-styled dieselpunk thriller which he hopes will be snapped up by a literary agent next year and then immediately become a worldwide genre bestseller.
Check back next week to discover our Third Place winner.