The Deadline (Grazia Writing Competition)

Kate Mosse started the story (below in italics) and the task was to finish it  …  My effort is below 🙂  C-C xx

She stood looking up at the house. At the blank grey walls, the shuttered windows with empty boxes on the concrete sills, the stern front door. The house said nothing about what it was or what took place inside, it was unassuming and nondescript and uninviting.  She’d come here several times before, but never got the courage to go in.  Now, there was no choice. The deadline was today, no last chance of a reprieve or change of heart. If she was going to do it, it had to be now.  She shivered, chill from the sudden drop in temperature now the light was fading, or from excitement or from fear, she didn’t know.  Also, the sense of possibility that, by pressing this suburban doorbell, her life could – would – alter for good. But still she lingered on the unwashed step, picking at a thread of wool come loose from her glove, caught between the girl she was and the woman she might be. A deadline she never thought she would face…

It was nine am.  Which meant she had just fifteen hours.  Fifteen hours to convince a man, who all the world thought was dead, to return to the living.

She gritted her teeth, reminding herself for the hundredth time, that this wasn’t her deadline.  It was his.  She had nothing to lose from the situation and everything to gain.  As if to acknowledge the fact, she yanked at the errant thread, ripping it clean off the glove, but leaving a gaping hole in the wool.  She frowned down at her palm and without further thought stabbed angrily at the doorbell.  Taken aback by her own decisiveness, she held her breath and waited for the sound of footsteps behind the front door.  She checked her watch again, all too aware that every moment mattered.  Why hadn’t she done this sooner?  Why had she started down the garden path so many times, but never made it all the way to the front door before?

She knew the answer.  Because knocking on the door was to speak the unspoken.  To shatter the glass of the snow-globe, in which they had been so happily living all this time.

The house was silent.  Aware she’d been holding her breath too long she inhaled sharply, so that when the door swung open all of a sudden, she happened to be gasping.

‘Evangeline?’

Henry’s eyes were wide with surprise.  Flawless sapphires twinkling out from the dark fuzz of unkempt facial hair, which he wore so well.  He was right to sound startled.  In almost two years, their cosy relationship had never once strayed beyond the acceptable confines of barmaid and patron.  And here she was turning up on his doorstep unannounced.  A doorstep, which she shouldn’t even know belonged to him!

Speechless, and desperately wanting something to focus on away from those eyes,  Evie rummaged through the contents of  her handbag.  Hands trembling, she gestured for him to take the old newspaper.

Henry frowned but freed her from his gaze as he turned the paper silently over in his hands.  The photograph on the front page was unmistakeable.  H.R.H. Prince Theodore.  Younger, clean-shaven, and far more naïve than the man stood before Evie.  But there was no doubting that they were one and the same.

‘It’s you …’ Evie croaked finally.

Henry frown dissolved into an expression which Evie didn’t understand.

‘I guess you’d better come in,’ he sighed.

As he led her through the empty hall and into the living room, Evie couldn’t help wondering where everything was.  Henry had lived in Pembroke for two years, and yet the house looked as if it hadn’t been occupied for more than two days.

He still hadn’t turned to acknowledge her and so Evie shifted awkwardly, trying to take in as much of her surroundings as possible without making it obvious that she was looking.  The living room contained just one piece of furniture.  A threadbare red sofa, with a simple sleeping bag rolled up at one end.  Hardly a bed fit for a future king!

In one corner of the room lay an upturned backpack; the universal emblem of the traveller.  Surely he hadn’t been living out of it the entire time?  Or was it his way of ensuring he could flee at any time?  A ready-made escape route…

Finally Henry turned, though his ambiguous expression remained unchanged.

‘Nice place!’  Evie offered weakly.

Out of nowhere Henry chuckled.  Evie squinted across at him in disbelief.  Was he really laughing?  His laughter grew louder and louder, echoing through the empty house.  Evie shifted her weight from one foot to the other until finally Henry stopped laughing.  He fixed her with his bright blue gaze, and once he had her locked there, he raised his delicate hands in surrender.  ‘You caught me!’ He grinned weakly before shaking his head.  ‘I knew I’d stayed here too long ….’  He muttered to himself.

She eyed him curiously.  It was only now that her suspicions had been confirmed that she allowed herself to properly piece together the things she’d read about Prince Theodore over the years, with what she knew about Henry, her friend.

Prince Theodore had been missing for seven years.  Or rather six years, three hundred and sixty-four days, and nine hours.  And Henry had lived in her village for just two of those years.  Where else had he been?  How often had he moved?

She eyed the backpack again … How many homes had it seen in those seven years?  And why, if he’d really remained on the run all the time, had Henry chosen Pembroke as his home for twenty-four long months?  What was it keeping him here all this time?

‘Hen?’ she said weakly, the uncertainty in her voice not just because she no longer knew what to call him.

Despite her uncertain futility, it was evident that Evie had picked the right thing to say.  Henry’s face quickly softened, and he finally remembered social propriety.

‘Oh dear, please excuse my manners, Evangeline.  You took me rather by surprise.  Here, please do take a seat.’  He gestured to the sofa, noticing the sleeping bag at the last moment and sweeping it onto the floor.  ‘May I offer you a drink?’

Evie automatically followed his request and sank down onto the sofa, and yet she couldn’t help grinning up at Henry and his ingrained civility.  Her Henry.  The man she had known for years.  The man who without fail ordered some combination of ale, cider and black, pork scratching, and steak, egg and chips whenever he came into The Bird in Hand.

She shook her head in disbelief.  ‘Oh Henry!’ she exclaimed, unable to hide the emotion in her voice.  ‘Hen … you’re a prince! And you die in fifteen hours time!’

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2 Comments

Filed under C-C Lester, Writing

2 responses to “The Deadline (Grazia Writing Competition)

  1. Pingback: The Publishing Trap! | elementarycircle

  2. You can’t do that to me! He dies in 15 hours time!?! You and that imagination of yours :).

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