When I entered my short story Arms of Angels in our local newspaper The Sentinel's Too Write competition in May I never expected to hear anymore. I was delighted therefore when Jenny Amphlett, their Senior Journalist emailed me to say it had been shortlisted and invited me to the awards ceremony at Trentham Gardens Awards Village where Staffordshire University hold their graduation ceremonies. I asked my friend Connie (Carmel for anyone who's read my memoir Better or Dead) if she'd be my guest and I was very pleased when she agreed.
Martin Tideswell, the Editor in Chief of The Sentinel announced the winners and said that no-one would leave empty handed. I thought, 'Oh, we must all get a certificate or something then. How nice.' He said that there had been 900 entries for the 3 categories: poetry for children, a short story for 11-18 year olds and a short story for adults. There was a winner and two runners up in each category. I was absolutely thrilled to be a runner up and be presented with a most beautiful award of a framed extract of my story.
Afterwards there were photographs and I'd also taken my own camera and asked Connie if she'd take one of me with my award.
"Oh yes," said she, "but I usually cut heads off."
"I'll take one for you duck," said a voice beside me, "if you tell me what to do," and I looked to see Martin, the editor of The Sentinel, so I was honoured indeed!
Connie and I had a fabulous afternoon and we met some lovely people. The rain lashed it down outside but it didn't matter, we were undercover, and ponchos were provided to get to our transport, as Connie models so beautifully! Below is my runner up entry if anyone would like to read it. It and some other stories and poems can be found in my collection Just A Moment available in ebook from Amazon and paperback from feedaread.com
Into the Arms of Angels
There are bright, white lights all around me and a strong, sterile smell. I don’t want to be here, in this alien environment. I was warm, secure, cradled in a crimson world. The sounds of my mother’s heartbeat, the gurgling of her stomach, the functioning of her body all soothing me, comforting me. I could move, stretch my tiny, newly developed limbs in my translucent bubble; I was happy, safe but then everything changed. The stability of my world began to shift. I felt myself pulled, torn away from my anchor, sucked out into a passage, ripped out and thrust into this white light. My tiny body is now discarded, dropped into a stainless steel tray. I am forgotten, like the bright, pretty paper concealing a gift. All attention is on my mother. She is the gift.
A woman is bending over her as she lies on the bed.
“That’s it Becky, all over.”
She means me when she says ‘all over.’ I’m something to be got rid of. I want to cry from the trauma but my lungs aren’t functioning. Inside me my soul is screaming. I have been brutally wrenched from my pulsing cocoon and out into this cold, cold light. I am not welcomed by anyone and as my mother is cared for, the life slips out of my twenty week old earthly form.
My spirit rises from what is left in that tray. Up, up so that I am looking down upon the woman who was responsible for my creation, and now ultimately my destruction. She is pale, her dark hair falling onto the pillow. Her face looks drawn, shows signs of pain. It is not an unkind face but she has done this terrible thing to me. Why? Why has she chosen to terminate my life before I had a chance to live it? In four more weeks I’d have been termed as viable, too old to be aborted. I know this because although my body was too young to be born, my mind too young to think, my soul is old, it has existed for millennia.
I don’t know the circumstances of my conception, how I came to be. I couldn’t have been planned or I wouldn’t be here now, floating, free of the lifeless form in the tray starved of the nourishment it needed to sustain it.
What do I do? Where do I go?
I watch as my mother is helped from the bed and shown into another room.
“Take all the time you need,” the woman is saying to her.
I drift through the wall and see other women. They are all here for the same reason as my mother, to terminate the life of their unborn child. I feel a flare of anger aimed at my mother. For a moment I hate her for depriving me of an earthly life. What would it have been like? What might I have done?
I have never known love. Did she ever love me? What was her reaction to learning of my being, and what of my father? Is he around? Are they a couple? If they are why has he allowed her to do this? Maybe he has left her – or maybe he hasn’t and I just came along at the wrong time. Perhaps I got in the way of her career, or perhaps she was just too young. My soul has all of these questions and no-one can give it the answers it desires.
I suddenly want to be away from her. For whatever reason, she didn’t want me and I have no wish to linger where I am not wanted. I drift through the building and out through its exterior wall. I am not alone; there is a boy. He is like me. Although we do not have a body – that is now lifeless in the stainless steel tray – we take on its shape in our diaphanous form. It is a grey, overcast day with a light drizzle falling but we do not feel the rain. Our souls gravitate towards each other and he takes my hand.
We do not speak, we communicate by thought. He feels angry too, just like me. He is two weeks older than me, only two weeks away from that day of safety, the twenty four week milestone when he would have been allowed to continue his earthly life. He knows how he came to be. His mother was raped by an older man, a friend of her father’s. The boy had felt his soul being drawn towards the cluster of cells which were to become his earthly body. From that point he’d known he’d never be loved or wanted. He hadn’t wanted his soul to be trapped in that unloved body only to be rejected. His anger has never been directed towards his mother but to the higher force that assigned him that conception.
I don’t know how he knows about his conception when I don’t know about mine. I wonder whether I really want to know. Would it benefit my soul’s ease to know? The end result would be the same but maybe if I knew I wouldn’t feel this anger towards my mother.
The boy gently pulls my hand. I don’t know where we are going but I become aware that we are not alone. The atmosphere is filled with souls: the souls of old people, young people, male and female, all unseen by the mortals walking the earth below. We are borne upwards by an invisible force. I sense we are being guided somewhere; somewhere permanent, somewhere from where we won’t be able to return to this atmosphere. I’m not ready to go there yet. I want to explore this realm that I am never to be a part of before I leave it completely but I want the boy to come with me; I feel a connection to him.
I pull on his hand and we thread our way, wispy as mist, through the souls rising upwards. We are still being guided to that higher place but I feel I must make this deviation, just one look around the earth that I must leave behind before I’ve ever come to know it.
We float westward, away from the buildings in the city. There is a park on the outskirts. The rain has eased and the sun has come out, bestowing its warmth on every living creature, every growing plant. We see mothers pushing buggies, mothers who love their babies and for a moment we feel bereft. I feel his pain and he feels mine. If our souls had been drawn towards one of those small bodies whose hands and feet waved around from within their carriages we’d have known earthly love, but we know it won’t do to dwell on such notions. Someone far greater than us has decided our fate.
We leave the park and travel on, all the time rising higher in the atmosphere, the world below us getting smaller and farther away. We move over hills and fields dotted with cows and sheep; we see birds fly and we rise ever upward.
We leave the earth’s atmosphere and drift up through the cosmos, up through the stars in their constellations. All the time we feel lighter, happier. Now we are glad we are where we are. There is a sudden urgency to reach our destination, our new realm. A voice is calling to us but we cannot see a face.
We know that the disembodied sound means us. I am Serafina, the boy is Gabriel. Had we had earthly lives other names would have been chosen for us but these are the names of our souls.
We are drawn towards the voice on a current of air. We see light and we are pulled ever closer to it as if by an invisible thread. As we draw nearer there is the outline of an ethereal being clad all in white and we hear a single beat of strong, white wings. Comfort and serenity fill our souls and we feel ourselves enveloped by a benevolent force. We’ve reached our journey’s end and are welcomed into the arms of angels.