Extract from the title story...
James very carefully opened the window. The parrot hopped onto the back of his hand and gave it a sharp peck that drew blood. With the bird still balanced on his bleeding hand, he lowered himself gently onto the edge of his bed.
‘My, you’re a handsome fellow. What’s your name?’
‘What’s your name! What’syourname! Bukowski! Bukowski! The boy stood on the burning deck – Asshole! . . . Could murder a goddam drink! . . . Bukowski’s a fucking
‘Well, Bukowski, pleased to meet you. I’m James. I’ll get you something to drink.’
James shut the window, made sure his bedroom door was properly closed, and, so as not to disturb Bobby, his flatmate, who was watching morning television, tiptoed through the hall to the kitchen. He got a saucer from the pile of unwashed crockery in the sink, gave it a wipe on his t-shirt, poured in some water and carried it through to the desk in the corner of his bedroom. ‘There you go Bukowski.’ James sat on his bed sucking his parrot wound, watching Bukowski’s head bobbing up and down as he drank.
The parrot finished the water.
‘Flames rolled on, he would not go – Cocksucker! . . . Horse’s ass! Horse’s ass! Could eat a goddam horse’s
James tiptoed back to the kitchen...
...‘Still no sign of Bukowski?’ Julie asked, shuddering slightly: the mere thought of feathered things flying anywhere near her, particularly indoors, was enough to make her flesh creep.
‘Nope. Been three days now. Nuthin. Christ, Julie, I really miss that bird. What with the weather and all he’s probably stone dead by now’ – Loretta put on a silly English voice –
‘deceased . . . an ex-parrot . . . gone to join the bleedin’ choir invisible . . . Shit! It’s not funny. Oh Julie!’ Loretta put her head on Julie’s shoulder and bawled.
‘C’mon, Loretta,’ she said putting a comforting arm around her and patting her back. ‘You never know, maybe someone’s taken him in.’ Julie fished a crumpled handkerchief out of her skirt pocket and stuffed it in Loretta’s hand.
Loretta wiped her eyes and blew her nose loudly.
A bemused customer, who had been standing at the counter for quite sometime, staring at his shoes, eventually plucked up the courage to speak. ‘Excuse me ladies, sorry to interrupt, but do you happen to have a copy of Mockingbird Wish Me Luck, by Charles Bukowski? Can’t see it on the shelf.’
Loretta fled to the toilet.
© Ronnie Nixon 2008
Extracts from other shortlisted
by Peter Caunt
In the morning he learnt to stalk his prey. Moving silently through the undergrowth, keeping always downwind. After a couple of hours, his father stopped and pointed. He saw the stag in the clearing. They both stood still, then his father motioned him down onto one knee and indicated that he should fire. He held the rifle to his shoulder. He breathed steadily and took careful aim as he had done so often in practice.
'Stand firm and just squeeze the trigger gently. Don’t pull
He felt the kick on his shoulder and momentarily lost sight of his prey. Refocusing, he saw the stag still waiting in the clearing. Then, as he watched, it collapsed on the ground. He felt his father’s hand on his back.
'Bloody good shot. Well done.'
He looked at the crumpled heap of the creature that had so recently stood proud and tall in the woods. He felt the weight of the rifle in his hand, and he felt the surge of power through his body. That adrenaline rush was something that he had never lost; it had become an addiction.
© Peter Caunt 2008
A Gangster Smile
by Chris Callard
‘Haven’t seen you at collecting time before,’ I say.
‘No, I’m usually working,’ Archie replies, moving from one foot to the other. I can only describe this as a swagger.
‘I’m here most days,’ I say. ‘My girlfriend and I, we kind of share the childcare.’
Why am I talking like this?
Archie continues to grin at me, and says nothing. I silently curse myself.
‘Why are you so bothered about him?’ asks Andrea, when Lily is in bed. She is almost laughing, but making a show of listening so as not to annoy me. I reiterate my distaste for City boys, for suits, for men and women who ‘poison society for their selfish career advancement’. My well-worn rant bores even myself, and I trail off into silence. I cannot help being like this. The world doesn’t work properly and we all think we know whose fault it is.
‘I don’t think he works in the City,’ says Andrea when I’ve finished. I can sense a certain satisfaction at this deflation of my argument, as compensation for having to listen to my diatribe again. ‘I’m almost sure of it. Talia talks about him often being at home in the day.’
‘Works from home, then. Dealing in third world currencies on the internet or something.’
‘Or maybe not.’
‘Well what does he do then?’ I sulk, quietly.
‘Talia won’t say,’ Andrea says, turning from the table to clear her plate...
Extracts from other shortlisted
by Sarah Evans
'So as Julia’s
partner…' Rebecca starts.
'Friend,' he corrects. She must have known he would say this.
'Okay. As Julia’s friend…'
She proceeds to ask the routine questions. The answers are ones he’s given before. She’s less assured than the professional journalists he’s dealt with, she twiddles with the ends of her hair, glances anxiously at the tape recorder.
'Well,' she says eventually. 'Thanks for your
'No problem. What will you do with the
'It’s for the web-site. We highlight a hostage a
month.' She grimaces, as if realising it sounds like a supermarket promotion.
'I should be going.'
His heart thuds uncomfortably; the intention and voicing it present themselves simultaneously....
...In Starbucks she orders a Strawberry Frappuccino. They always look sickly to him, but he likes the way she chooses something without hesitation, immediately knowing what she wants. The fact she doesn’t insist on paying for hers is somehow reassuring.
'So,' she leans over the table towards him.
'Tell me off the record. What does this stuff about only a friend mean?'
The directness takes him aback. But it’s good she asked.
'I knew Julia for about a year. She’s been gone for two. That’s not a great ratio. Of course I care about her. But I can’t think of myself as her partner any
The term never fitted anyway. He doesn’t want to remember back, to the stop-start of knowing her, the weeks when she’d be off on one of her trips – the danger never felt quite real,
'I have a charmed life,' she’d say – the times she’d return, when she’d want to pack everything in: friends, art, theatre; hot, dense intimacy. He doesn’t want to bring back the early days of missing her, the sleepless nights, when every muscle ached her loss.
'It would be more interesting to talk about
It feels like the first day skiing when he hasn’t done it for a year. It takes him a while to find his rhythm, to ease into his balance. His social skills have rusted; he’s spent too long hanging out with Julia’s sister, Julia’s friends. Too long doing nothing but think of Julia. Sitting here is pleasant, seeking to be entertaining, responding to Rebecca’s lively account of herself. He takes her in more fully. She isn’t beautiful – not like Julia – but her features are growing on him as they become more familiar...
© Sarah Evans 2008
by Elizabeth Weir
...‘You’re different.’ She says, her eyes squinting, her head held sideways.
‘You’re more …real. Not like you are in college.’ I’m lost actually. I lift my shoulders. ‘I can’t do that’ she says.
‘Wear different faces. Be a different person in different situations.
‘It’s called working. You’ll find out soon enough.’
‘I’m never going to work like that.’
‘No. I’m going to be a painter.’
Later, she tells me she knew that I’d been watching her; that my desire for her was like a force-field, pulling her in – she would die and I would die if we did not close the distance. If it was wrong, then it was the world was wrong, not us. We become accomplices in love.
Slowly my world contracts to a mini universe where Alison and I are the only inhabitants. I avoid all outside contact. I turn down invitations for dinner. I ignore messages left on my phone. I’m impatient to get away from my students. It’s not that I don’t like these people any more; it’s just that the moment always comes when I look at them and think: but you’re not Alison. And I have to go to her, to reassure myself that she is real – that she is not someone I’ve dreamed up, because a part of me is always uncertain round Alison. I tell her that I love her and she says, ‘Why do you love me, Peter?’
‘Because you’re you.’
‘And who is that?’
‘You – Alison Aherne!’
‘Never heard of her.’ And then she laughs, and lets me kiss her....
© Elizabeth Weir 2008
The Big, Bad Wolf
'Once upon a time there lived a pretty, little village girl who always wore a red cloak with a hood and so the villagers called her Little Red Riding Hood.'
This is one of Karen's favourite stories. Her mother reads to her every night before she goes to sleep. Karen has been brought up on a mixture of Western and Oriental fairytales. The first Christmas after they had moved to England, Karen's father bought her a colourful picture book of Japanese fairytales that contained a particularly good story about a wise monkey. Really it had been bought as an indirect gesture to her mother, who smiled in tender amusement at her husband's efforts to find the nearest thing he could to her own culture. He confessed he had been unable to find a book of Vietnamese fairytales, or even Chinese fairytales come to that because surely they would have come close to the mark?