The First Page Challenge 2023—2nd place
Congrats to Donna Tracy for winning second place in the First Page Challenge 2023! Here's what our judge (Michelle Barker) had to say:
"Willoughby's haunting atmosphere of menace made it a close second. The author created several small mysteries that promise to produce full blown crises over the course of the novel. I loved the subtlety of the writing and the gap that was created between what's happening and why."
Before we head off for Archie’s swimming lesson that evening, we visit the chemist. I buy a tube of arnica cream, despite the pharmacist’s insistence that it isn’t really necessary, and apply a generous amount to Archie’s arm as soon as we get outside.
He watches me, my fingers sinking into his plump forearm as I rub it in. “It’s all right, Mummy,” he says. “It’s better now.”
I try to smile at him. It doesn’t look as red as it did; maybe it might not bruise too badly after all.
We leave early, because there are roadworks all over the city, and major ones on the ring road, as usual. I have to detour way out into the countryside to bypass them all. Silent, silvery fields and dark clutches of tightly packed trees whip past the windows as I drive; the long branches of ancient oaks hang in the space above the road, obscuring the darkening sky. I shiver. I’d hate to break down out here.
I don’t really know the area, so I have to concentrate hard. We sweep along a narrow lane, banks of dirt piled up on either side of us now, as though the road has only recently been carved out, and the car glides down into a dip. As we emerge from it, a set of temporary traffic lights looms up ahead. I swear under my breath and put my foot down. We make it through on the green light, and I do a little inward air punch.
“Mummy,” Archie calls from the back seat. “This is where me and Willoughby lived.”
I frown. “Who’s Willoughby?”
“At the Hall,” he says. “Up there.”
I glance at him in the rear-view mirror as he points out of the window. “Did you see this on TV?”
He shakes his head, and we drive on in silence. Willoughby? Where on earth would he have heard that? Some of the kids in his class do have strange names—Mimosa, Serenity, Argus. Maybe Willoughby’s one he just hasn’t mentioned before.
Donna Tracy lives in Norwich, England. Her short stories have been published in Mslexia, Litro, Ellipsis Zine, After Dinner Conversation, Literally Stories and Dear Damsels, and her story ‘Dear Puss’ was nominated for a Pushcart Prize by Liars’ League, London. She is currently working on a historical novel about a poison pen letter writer, set in the fog of Victorian London.