Let this round-up state first that it was in no way delayed by Episode 14 occuring on anyone’s birthday, or any such birthday person drunkenly misplacing their notes. No. That did not happen.
ANYWAY: what an absolute, all-round, genuine corker of a night July’s Speakeasy was. Three truly wondrous authors gifted us with readings: Elizabeth Aaron with LOW EXPECTATIONS (buy it here, do it now). Emma Healey with ELIZABETH IS MISSING (get it by clicking right here, right here). Jessie Burton with THE MINIATURIST (get it here, you must you must).
And as if that wasn’t enough fun for one night, there was of course the all-important Short Story Challenge. We asked our audience for a theme. They suggested: ‘Dangerous Haribo’. ‘Naked Birthday’. ‘Sandpit Dreams.’ We asked the extremely brilliant bartenders of Drink Shop Do which they liked best, and they chose ‘Sandpit Dreams’.
We divided our authors into teams according to the halves of the show – so in Team Ellard were Elizabeth Aaron and Emma Healey. But as lovely Jessie Burton was on her own in the second half, her editor, the wonderful Francesca Main, agreed to join Team Cloke and even things up. No, it is not cheating to have an author and their editor on the same team. IT IS NOT.
There was a twenty minute interval in which our teams had to create their Sandpit Dreams masterpiece. And at the end of the show, we read our efforts out, and asked the audience to vote on a winner. Here are those efforts. Prepare yourselves.
Team 1 (Burton, Main, Cloke)
He can see for miles, and all he can see are dunes. His mouth is dry and he can feel grit in his molars. He knows he has to keep walking, because to stop would be to die. The sand is so hot you could fry an egg on it. All he can think of is a bottle of cola, refreshing on his tongue.
He can see it on the horizon – a long, green mass, the sun sinking behind it. If he can make it there, he’s sure he’ll be safe.
He keeps trudging; to his left, crumbling ruins – a broken turret, half a wall, no doors. His sight is going; when he closes his eyes against the sun, all he can see is red: cherries and hearts. Still he pushes on.
But as he approaches the green mass, it seems to solidify – not into leaves, but into bars, into the tines of a fork. And the fork lifts up and out of the sand and away from him, and then there is water. There is a deluge of it, from head to toe, and he thinks that it must be a dream.
‘Yes, that’s it, wash all the sand off – there’s a good boy.’
Chuck looks at the little jelly man in the middle of his fat starfish hand, and then he looks up at his mother and shovels the sweet, grit and all, into the gaping cave of his mouth.
‘Okay,’ his mother says. ‘Time to go home. Out of the sandpit now.’
Team 2 (Aaron, Healey, Ellard)
‘Stop!’ said Tom.
‘It’s not voice activated,’ said Fernando. ‘Unfortunately.’
‘Oh, for heaven’s sake,’ said Tom, who was a construction worker.
‘It’s warmer in here,’ said Fernando, also a builder, or “construction worker”.
‘I feel sick,’ said Tom.
The cement mixer continued ineluctably to turn; two hours now. And all the Haribo was gone. Their naked birthday buttocks pressed against the cold cement surface, mashing their delicate parts together uncomfortably. Despite the obvious romance of the mise-en-scene, their sugar crashes came on unabated, ruining the sexual tension irretrievably.
‘Imagine,’ said Tom, ‘how much comfortabler we’d be, in that sandpit.’
‘You’re off your tits,’ said Fernando, ‘on Tangfastics! There is no sandpit!’
‘What’s that, then,’ said Tom, gesturing with his spiralling nose.
‘My nude friend,’ said Fernando, on his birthday. ‘That’s just a sandpit dream.’
And so they spun, forever, together.
Despite creating what is perhaps the most random, disturbing piece of fiction the Short Story Challenge has ever seen (and that’s saying something), when it came to the vote, Team Ellard lost out to the futile plight of Team Cloke’s Haribo soldier, taking the series score to 7-5 to Team Cloke. Let the record show that this victory was in no way related to emotional blackmail or to it being anyone’s birthday.
Join us again, Challenge Fans, on 12th August. Drink Shop Do, free, from 7pm.