Winning Story – “Pockets” by Harper Hull

The 5 finalists for NOTLP’s Flash Horror Contest:

Bottom Up Rot by Jody Sollazzo

The Projectionist Dreams by Shenoa Carroll-Bradd

Pockets by Harper Hull

Severance by Marshall Edwards

Taste by Ben Sharp

And now, the winning story:

POCKETS by Harper Hull

Tilly stood on the highest of the wet, green hills and looked out across the lake, her mouth down-turned and her brow furrowed. He was supposed to be here by now. He usually was. As she scanned the still waters Tilly stuck out her bottom lip and blew the hair off her face but it just fell back across her eyes, making her even more grumpy-faced. She hoped beyond hope that the familiar yellow glow of da’s helmet lamp would suddenly appear way down in the lake and get brighter and brighter as he approached the surface; there was nothing. He wouldn’t be waving to her tonight, flashing his smile and beckoning her to come on in. It seemed to Tilly that everyone hated her this evening.

It was her ma who had finally convinced her that she needed to be with her da.

“Tilly, you little idiot, get to your room and stay there!” her mother had shouted at her earlier that day after an incident involving a spilled milk bottle.

Tilly had cried and yelled back that she wished she was with her father instead, that he would be nice to her, as she stormed up the stairs and slammed her bedroom door. Her mother had wept a little as she mopped up the mess on the floor, also wishing that Tilly’s father was still around.

As the sun began to set and dusk quickly unfurled across the peaks and valleys of North Wales the little girl stared into the lake and, as usual, let the shapes and lines of the buildings beneath the water form slowly, knitting together corner by corner, shingle and cobble, until she could visualize the drowned village in its entirety. She could see the dark rise of the church tower, the slanted roof of the pub on the corner where her da had apparently spent so much time, the little school-house that her own ma had attended when she was just a child. Off to the north end of the lake loomed the dam, high and white against the speckled, out of focus twilight sky.

Tilly tried to imagine the village as it was before the flooding, before the dam, when it was still alive and loud and full of people. It had been before her time; she’d lived all of her seven years in the new coalmining town.

No-one lived in the old village anymore, except for her da.

He was down there, whistling a tune as he wandered the wet, empty streets in his big brown boots and shiny lamp helmet, black dust covering his face and making his teeth look extra white when he smiled up through the water at her. He wanted her to join him, she knew; he’d look after her properly, not like her ma who was always angry or sad or both. Always going on about the ‘black lung’ and ‘no compensation’ she was or, worse recently, talking about moving away, into England. Away from da! Tilly wouldn’t let that happen.

She’d made her decision that afternoon, after the milk accident, and had stuffed her little backpack with everything she thought she’d need. Her favourite book – the story of a Princess who was rescued from an island of dragons by a handsome Prince – was at the very bottom. Clean socks, her purple toothbrush, a photograph of herself as a baby with both ma and da that she’d sneaked from the sideboard and some chocolate as she imagined there was no chocolate where she was going and her da would have missed it. She’d also rummaged in her ma’s knicker drawer as she knew that was where she kept a lot of da’s old things. His stiff, black leather wallet had been in there and she’d found a small piece of paper folded up and pushed deep inside one of the pocketed creases. Two lines had been handwritten on it with a name printed underneath – Dylan Thomas – and she’d taken that too as it had felt like something that meant a lot to her father. Tilly was good at reading and although the words hadn’t made sense – ‘raging against night and not going gently’ – she had sensed something in them none the less. Da would appreciate having it back.

Now, impatient, wearing her bright yellow Wellington boots and with her orange raincoat buttoned up tight, she pulled the oily hood up over her head and tied the cords taut before she walked down the hill.

At the edge of the lake she had a brilliant idea and, kneeling down, started to push the biggest pieces of stone she could find into her pockets, filling them all up until she struggled to stand upright again. Tilly thought this was a wonderful plan; since it didn’t seem that her da would be waiting for her in the water to lead her down to her new home she’d just have to improvise. She imagined how surprised and proud he’d be when she dropped down into the sunken village and surprised him with a hug and a kiss.

Moving slowly because of the new weight Tilly sloshed forwards into the cold water, gasped at the icy shock, yet continued to move out into the lake towards the deepest part, despite her stiffening legs and arms, where she could float down to the old village and live happily, whistling and skipping and laughing with her da holding her hand beside her and never shouting at her for dropping bottles of milk by accident. The chill water filled her open mouth and made her teeth sparkle.

As night hid the flooded valley under its black weight not even a small, white, sightless fish swam amongst the ruins.