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GKBC International Short Story Competition – The Winner’s Story

 

It took many weeks of hardship and toil, but we were able to whittle down over 200 entries to the GKBC International Short Story Competition to 20 of the best, which we then sent to our guest judge, the Sunday Times Bestselling author Tim Weaver. Among that list was Andrew Campbell-Kearsey’s story You Should Have Been There, a truly chilling tale with an extremely worthwhile ending, which Tim deemed the winner. Here it is in all glory below. Well done Andrew!

You Should Have Been There
by Andrew Campbell-Kearsey

And then I woke up to find it was all a dream. Deep down I knew it couldn’t really have been true. It’s just that the woman had been so convincing. I don’t know exactly what her role was exactly. I’d emerged from the anaesthetic and once the grogginess had disappeared she spoke with such certainty and clarity. She had her hair tied back. Her age was hard to guess. But she looked good. She obviously looked after her skin. She’d handed me the clipboard to sign the contract. I didn’t need a lawyer to go over the paperwork on my behalf. I knew I could trust this woman. She didn’t smile broadly at me, but she instilled me with confidence. ‘Congratulations, you have the job as Jordan’s body double.’ As she spoke these magical words, my private hospital room became filled with multicoloured balloons. I knew my future was assured. It was like being rained down on by giant helium filled smarties.

This talented style icon of our age could not possibly keep up with all the personal appearances that her tremendous fame necessitated. I would now be sharing the workload. The woman with the clipboard shook my hand and the music started. Abba had decided to re-form and chosen my bedside for their first performance. Agnetha and Frida were dueting just for me. You should have been there. I can’t actually recall how many rainbows I could spy outside my window, but there were several. I never knew that the plumage of a phoenix was so colourful. There was one sitting at the bottom of my bed. There was a unicorn grazing in the corner. They weren’t fazed at all by the Swedish harmonising. They were a little pitchy in places but good manners dictated that I didn’t bring this up. I just thanked the Scandinavian duo at the end of their extensive set. I hoped that the opportunity could breathe some life into their flagging careers.

My room had original Pollocks and Rothkos as well as assorted works by the Grand Masters. The Sunflowers were more to my taste and ideally suited my sunny mood. It was kind of Damien Hirst to send a floral tribute. But I found the sheep’s head arrangement made entirely of gypsophila a little tacky and open to claims of self-promotion. The operation had been a huge success and the news was broadcast around the globe. One of my assistants, I can’t remember which one, handed me a print-out of the interviews I was due to record that afternoon. It was a shame to turn David Frost down, but in the business we call “show”, I had to learn to be tough.

And you were there after all. I think that’s what tipped me off about it being a dream. Your presence just didn’t seem to fit. You were sitting expectantly by my bed and frequently rearranged my pillows to ensure that I was comfortable. The giveaway was that you were smiling. You hadn’t done that in years, not to me anyway.

*****

I’ve never delved too deeply before into dream research. Since I woke up this morning I’ve been looking at a few websites. I found the bit about becoming Jordan’s body double pretty disturbing. I like to think of myself as a pretty tolerant guy and appreciate that human sexuality and gender identity is quite a broad church. However, my name is Nigel and I place myself firmly at the heterosexual male end of that particular spectrum. I’ve never thought about gender reassignment. I’ve seen a few sex change documentaries on television but the operation part always makes me squeamish and I have to look away.

Over breakfast I’d listened to one of my new iTunes playlists. It was called Wristslashers #41. It started with ‘I can’t get used to losing you’ and went downhill emotionally from there. The first therapist had suggested that I stopped making these. He said it was wrong to dwell on the past and that listening to sad songs would increase the pain. He said it was the aural equivalent of picking a scab. I stopped going to him.

I haven’t seen you for a few months. Well, four months and sixteen days, but who’s counting? Me, obviously with the help of a tally-chart in the kitchen. I fantasise about you rushing into the flat and ripping up the chart, reassuring me that I will never know again what it is like to spend a day without you. But I know that’ll never happen. I find it impossible to visualise you in this flat. It was never our home. I moved in here reluctantly when you told me of your need for more space. I thought our semi was roomy enough. Evidently not.

We are due to meet this afternoon. The appointment has been in my diary for quite a while now. It’s all part of the council’s mediation service for couples experiencing difficulties. At least we never had children to fight over. Custody battles get so ugly so quickly. It’s an impossible situation for a parent to remain even-handed in front of offspring when dealing with a warring spouse. Thank goodness that we are spared that indignity.

I’ve received a few emails of support. My sister urged me to “hang on in there” on facebook. A couple of internet friends ‘liked’ it. I’d prefer it if they simply picked up the phone. I suppose it’s kind of them to remember the date but I didn’t leave any regular reader of my blog in any doubt as to the date and purpose of today’s meeting. The breakup of our relationship is the thread of misery that runs through my daily instalments.

I shave and evaluate my appearance as the blade removes the foam from my face. I have become jowls personified. You tried to encourage a healthy diet but on my own, pizza has become my closest friend. I can’t get enough of them. The cans of lager haven’t helped either. Since I lost my job, drinking midweek is no longer out of the question. Three used to be enough to bring on the comforting beer buzz. Now I need more.

Parts of the dream came back to me. Were the rainbow references pointers to latent homosexuality? I’m going to have to write these down for when I next see Philippa. She’s the new therapist. I never feel I’m wasting time when I’m with her. She doesn’t hurry me along. I can go at my own pace and she writes a lot down. It’s crazy but you’re the one I should be saying this all to. At the end, you always pretended that you weren’t listening or that you didn’t care. But I knew you did.

I dress casually. Anything else would have required putting up the ironing board and that was never going to happen. At least my tee-shirt has no stains, not unless anyone looks really closely and I’ll wear a cardigan over it anyway.

It’s funny about the art references in my dream. You used to have to drag me round galleries when we were together. You called me a Philistine. I could wind you up easily by saying I knew what I liked and that I wouldn’t give house room to most of the stuff on display. When we moved in together you insisted I chuck out my prints from Athena. You said that woman tennis player picture was tacky and had to go.

I should have showered today, especially since I’m going out and meeting somebody from the court for the first time. I do want to make a first impression; but just not enough to have a shower. I’ll spray extra Lynx instead.

Finding matching socks was a sartorial and logistical coup. I’d pat myself on the back if I could. I need cheering up, especially today of all days. My one good pair of shoes has seen better days but I couldn’t turn up in trainers.

I’m almost ready to leave. It’s not too far to walk, plus I don’t have the bus fare. I look into the mirror in the hallway and practise a few facial expressions. Here’s the one for when they tell me after a twenty minute wait that you haven’t turned up. I’ll ask whether you’d left any messages, just to make it sound authentic. I reckon I look pretty convincing. Then one day the police will call round to tell me that following my estranged wife’s disappearance, their search has led them to discover possible human remains in the back garden under the composting bin. I think a stunned uncomprehending look would be better than to scream out ‘Oh my God!’ and start sobbing.

Our last meeting was unplanned. I’d only popped round to pick up the rest of my clothes. You’d changed the locks and I’d had to ring my own front door bell. Your frosty silence got to me while I stuffed my belongings into a holdall. It’s when I went to pick up the men’s shirt from the back of the bedroom door that made me snap.

‘That’s not yours.’ I could have sworn you’d smiled as you said it. I’d never considered myself to be a violent man.

That’s the bit I wish was all a dream. You should be here now.

 

We are still accepting entries for the second phase of the competition if you would like to enter. The theme is CRIME and the Short Story Competition page is here. 

Featured Image: Walker.Carpenter