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Writer's Corner - December


Jolly
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White Christmas, Freezeeasy Peak, Cocaine...

This months seasonal special is SNOW

Rules:

1. One thousand words or less. More barely any.

2. The deadline for posting your stories and poems is the end of the year.

3. The deadline for your votes is the end of the fifth of January.

4. Criticisms are welcome, but please keep it in the nature of the corner.

5. Have a go;you don't have to use the word; it's just a guideline, and we all like eye food.

6. Good luck!

A-lick-yer-boom-boom-down!

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Not a full story this time; rather, a fragment of one.

They chased her to the edge of the winter world, and then they chased her beyond that. Always baying, always calling, always yelping and shrieking and always, always only a few hurried steps behind her. By fang and foot they came, by wing and snarl, until all the sky turned black with their disease and famine, and the ground was rotted to putrid mush by their darkened magicks. They blotted the moon from a moon-filled night, and swept a cloak of lightlessness across the snowy tundra, dimming the gleam of ice crystals, quieting the snap and call of the freshly frosted crust that fell beneath her feet to a moan, tugged endlessly outward into the scurrying winds like the last cry of a lost and dying animal.

Still she ran onward, her feet fair and sure, carrying her those important few steps beyond the demons’ grasp and moving her forward towards the great barrier that lay at the ice realm’s edge. Should she fall now they would be upon her. Should her faithful feet slip and bring her down she would surely be swallowed by the great tide of evil that followed in her wake and pursued her. Should she fall now then all would be lost.

A blizzard swept up around her, millions upon millions of snowflakes vying to scratch at her eyes, to freeze her eyelashes and carve her into a winter snow statue to be broken at spring’s first thaw. But there was to be no spring in this place, and no summer to follow it, for this was the place in which cold dwells and snaps at unwary travellers, chilling their blood to a still, slowing warm hearts to a single pulse and then to beat no more. This was a land in which survival came at a price, in which inhabitants gave up a fragment of their soul forever in order to survive the chill breezes that came to carry their breath away. Into this realm came a pouring of goblins and demons, enough to snuff the life from any onlookers that might dwell in the snow and be watching the girl fleeing for her life. The strength of their descent caused the very ground to crack asunder, the sky to wail in consternation, the blizzard to spin and whirl and clutch the girl as she hurried onward, fighting the elements every step of the way as she fled.

And so this trailing race, this glowing comet and her dreadful tail came to the cliff at the world’s edge, where the ice land met the stagnant sea and the girl had nowhere left to hide. She came to a stop mere millimetres from the clifftop’s edge, her scuffling feet causing a flurry of snow to topple over into the clashing waves below. Grey wavetop met grey wavetop as the sea slid upon itself in viscous rolls that held some allure, that seemed to beckon to the girl to drop and fall and drown deep beneath them.

The darkened hunting pack behind her sensed that she had stopped and slowed to a crawl now, their ranks quivering and pulsating blackly, shreds of demonic smoke escaping from their flanks and winding tethers through the snowstorm. At the crest of the crowd grew a man, escaping from the amorphous mass of goblins, his flesh turning from midnight black to a white so bright he blended in with the blizzard even as he pulled himself from the rest of the pursuers. His eyes and face were holes in the snowy whiteness through which sparkling silver galaxies swirled and danced. His clothes were lacquered black, and shone in what little light remained. His boots carved twin circles in the snow. Cold, dry steam radiated from him and curled in the night.

“My child,” he said, and his voice was a faraway whisper, a promise of decaying secrets and corrupting lies.

But the girl did not respond. She pushed herself back further on the clifftop, edging ever closer to the drop behind her where the waves rolled in slow, mecurial motion and waited to swallow her to their depths.

The man stepped forward and as he did the entire dark symphony of goblins moved with him. The air was filled with a scraping, slouching sound as they stepped. Only the howling of the wind pierced the noise, sounding like a tortured scream through a keyhole.

The girl turned on her heel, turning her back on the man and his ghoulish brigade. The blizzard tore at her, pulling her white-blonde hair from its restraints and making it fly free, whipping at her face. She closed her eyes and stood, totally at the mercy of the mob behind her.

With a deep breath she stepped forward into nothingness.

She keeled over the edge, and as she did the man leapt for her, leaping too late to save her from falling to the waves below. They crashed and sucked at her body and she sank in and through them, vanishing without a trace. The man screamed and his voice became entwined with the wind, howling around the shore, echoing out to sea as the demons took up the cry. As one they screamed and howled, but the girl heard nothing. She fell though the waves and slowly, as though lulled by the ocean’s currents, she fell into a deep, deep sleep.

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Let it snow! Let it Snow! Let it Snow!

"A word in your ear please Philip."

Philip startled awake and tried clicking the window he had open before doing anything else. He fumbled, flipped the wrong window closed and displayed a forum picture of a Mclaren F1 with animated smileys to his boss. He sighed, tried to regain his composure and hit the shortcut key to drop to the desktop while spinning slightly in his chair to face Mazad; his boss.

“If you want to surf the internet” said Mazad, leaning forward slightly on his knuckles, Philip though he heard a slight crack as either the desk bent under his weight or bubbles between his knuckles popped. “Then you have your lunch hour. I think I have been quite clear on this point.”

Mazad was very softly spoken but that didn’t mean he couldn’t hand down a rollocking if he felt one was needed.

“No sir. Sorry sir.” Philip caught sight of Barnet sniggering and pointing and tried not to grin.

“Wanker!” Philip punched Barnet lightly on the arm as they walked swiftly through the park.

“Ow! What?”

“Fucking pointing at me when Mazzy was doing his serious shit.”

“What! Oh!” Barnet laughed, leaned forward with low knuckles and – as they continued to cross the crisp green field – did a reasonable impression of Mazad.

“A word in you ear….”

They both laughed, then walked on in silence for several seconds while they caught their breath. It was cold but it was nice, fresh not icey; with not a cloud to speak of in the sky. They crossed the park and the road and slipped into the crowded Crown.

Ian was at the bar, he caught their eye, pointed to an empty table and then nodded at the pumps. Barnet gave him a thumbs up and they sat down.

“Still, could have been worse, you didn’t get an official warning or anything” Barnet had produced a sandwich from somewhere within his jacket and started munching. He continued to talk, dripping spits of crumbs on the table which he absent-mindedly flicked to the floor with his hand. “Noff life be.” He smiled.

“Yeah well” Philip said, as Ian arrived carrying three pints in the traditional triangle and three packs of crisps in his mouth “reading a few posts on a forum is not quite as bad as levelling up yer warcraft character!”

The three men chatted and drank then walked quickly back across the park. Philip opened the door to the office first and the others filed past. He looked up just before entering; he could see clouds gathering between two buildings, the rest of the sky was still clear though.

“Dragging.” Ian smiled at Barnet and Philip as they wandered into the little kitchenette. They both smiled back, Barnet leaned near the window while Philip washed out his mug.

“Blood hell, look at those clouds!” Philip stopped cleaning and they all looked out the small window that looked out from the north-east corner of the building. If you leaned your head to look northward you could just see the edge of the park they cut across earlier. But there was no mistaking the thick fluffy clouds that had stolen up on them.

“Looks like snow” said Ian.

“No way, we never get snow round here” said Philip.

“With clouds like that!” Barnet smiled “I reckon we might be in for some”

“It’s too cold for snow anyway” said Philip. Ian and Barnet exchanged glances, then burst into laughter.

“Fucking too cold for snow!” laughed Ian “Tell that to the fucking Eskimos!”

It was at that exact point …fucking Eskimos, that Mazad walked into the kitchenette. An awkward silence descended. Mazad wasn’t a bad guy but he was the boss. He smiled at them and after they’d left one after the other, nodding his way, he sighed remembering his earlier days, when he had been one of the guys.

“It’s snowing” said Keira in his ear. She’d rung up to tell him that it was snowing over their house. Philip grinned.

“None here yet.” He said.

“Don’t worry I’ll put some in the freezer for you!”

“Love you lots”

“Bye!”

“It’s snowing over our way” said Philip to Barnet who just grunted in response. Barnet was online, he had some colourful looking puzzle game up. “What’s that?”

“Fucking annoyingly addictive” said Barnet, at which point he let go of his mouse and wiggled his fingers. “I’ll send you the link.”

Before long three of the ten person team were playing the game, within ten minutes half the team were. They set up a mini-league and were laughing and gloating as they moved up places. Nobody noticed Mazad leaning around the door.

“Fuck!” said Ian suddenly.

“What?” Philip noticed a worried tone to his voice. He lowered his voice “Wassup? What is it?”

“Have you seen who’s top of the board?” said Ian. Philip ended his game so he could see, Barnet made a snorting laugh.

They looked at each other, not too sure what to think. So he had obviously seen them playing… and then…

“Hey, who invited him?” asked Barnet. A general mutter of dunno went around the office. They all wondered what to do next. Carry on playing? Stop… get on with work; what little there was this time of year.

Suddenly Mazad appeared at the door to the office “Hey guys! It’s snowing look!”

They all piled out of the office to have a look. Sure enough, a flurry of snow had started twinkling from the December sky, lighting the ground with a clean crisp layer. The difference was stark, the greyness disappearing the light brightening. They all smiled and looked at each other. A moment of casual sharing.

“Come on” said Mazad, motioning back to the office door “time you got back to it.”

They all shuffled back into the office, smiling and chatty. Philip looked at Mazad, who was still looking at the snow.

“But back to what?” he enquired and they both smiled.

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Something a bit different from me this month...

Up until this point, I never really grasped the real life importance of the phrase “shitting yourself”. I’ve been scared before, very scared. I have even described these times as points at which I was shitting myself. But they are nothing compared to now. This is a whole different level of shitting yourself. This is shitting yourself, where you’re worried you might actually shit yourself. Real shit. My shit.

On me.

“Simon, who have we got next?!”

“He’s a young man from Essex, with a fantastic voice and his very own distinctive style… This…is his last chance. Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you Spike!”

The video starts rolling, some Westlife shit in the background and me sat in a big comfy chair telling the audience a sequence of T.V talent contest clichés including, but not limited to, how I’ve been singing since a child, how I’ve always loved performing and how much I want “it”. Which in itself is bizarre, as from where I’m stood, and taken out of context, it seems like I’m telling fifteen million people that I really want to have sex.

But what do I know. This little speech took me fifteen takes to get right, and they still had to keep a cue card under the camera for me to read from.

Onwards to a sequence about my band, coupled with a delightful montage of old, and apparently, embarrassing pictures where I look fucking excellent in my opinion, but not in the opinion of Spike the singing contest finalist. I shudder as my mouth spews out some bollocks about how awful it was when we only made it to number thirty five back in 2000 with a song that I wrote with love and passion. Fortunately, this lot are here to give me a chance of what I really want. To be famous.

I mean, to sing.

Yeah. To sing.

The prospect of my new career flashes before my eyes. A massive Christmas number one with a James Blunt cover. Then, if I tow the line, maybe an album or two producing my own special brew of ear sludge. Maybe a few years off the radar, struggling to find my own sound somewhere between power ballad and hip-hop lite. Then, to complete the cycle, I come back in a celebrity version of a similar show completely showing up the pointlessness of the entire saga by being a not famous guy made famous appearing in a show for famous people that aren’t famous.

It’s beautiful really.

“Spike! Spike!”

I turn and see the runner furiously pointing towards the stage, the video has finished canvassing my votes and all that is left is to sing.

The stage is ludicrous. Snowmen, Christmas trees and a snow machine pumping out gallons of the stuff all over the place. I’m covered before I’ve even got to the centre of the stage. The crowd roaring, the camera’s poised, the country waiting.

The first few bars of “Let it Snow” begin.

I open my mouth.

Nothing comes out.

They play the bars again, cueing me up a second time. Get it right this time and no one notices.

I open my mouth.

Nothing comes out.

This is silly. I can hear the words in my head; “Well, the weather outside is frightful,”. But something between my mouth and my brain is not making the connection. The crowd is somewhere between still cheering and nervous murmuring. I look down towards the judges, all wide eyed, one of them motioning upwards to try and give me some motivation.

The snow is still falling.

The stage is quiet.

The bars start again.

I open my mouth.

Fortunately, something comes out. Unfortunately, it’s vomit which I spit and dribble pathetically onto the floor, before standing up too early and getting half of it on my tux. Snow sticks to the side of my mouth as I look over my new empire. My idolising fans look on with disgust. My sensei’s look on in horror. The nation is…

Well, the nation is probably pissing themselves. I know I would be.

The fight or flight reflex. I’ve heard of this too, and much like “shitting myself” I’ve thought that I’ve been in a situation where this phrase has applied. And much like “shitting myself” I’ve now found myself in a position where it takes on a whole new level.

My brain makes a million and one tiny calculations. It judges the likelihood of me coming out the other side of this unscathed, the likelihood of my career still surviving after this, the likelihood the media will go easy on me.

Fuck it.

Lets fight.

I kick off one of my shoes haphazardly and it skids uselessly across the floor. Unsatisfied with this I grab the other with my hand and throw it towards the judges; fantastically it knocks over at least two glasses of water on the bastards. Then, freed of footwear, I pull my trousers down, stand legs apart, stick my middle fingers up proudly on two outstretched arms and roar.

“Merry Christmas Motherfuckerrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrs!”

The silence is fantastic.

Satisfied that I’ve fucked it totally rather than half-heartedly, I turn and waddle off stage, trousers still around my ankles. As the first members of the crowd start to regain control of their brains, and begin booing with all their worth, I’m passed by Never Too Much, the band that were voted off first and are back for some final get together. They fight their way onto the stage pull down their trousers and roar too.

“Merry Christmas Motherfuckerrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrs!”

I must admit, even when swearing, their harmonies are excellent.

Suddenly, they’re all on there. The other runners up, the other finalists, the shit ones that have been brought back for one final giggle. All screaming. All proudly displaying their underwear.

I spit a bit of fake snow out of my mouth and look back on the carnage that has no doubt long stopped being broadcast. I feel a tug on my arm, and notice the runner stood next to me.

“You do know what you’ve done don’t you?”

“No,” I reply.

She smiles. “You’ve saved the Christmas number one!”.

She leans inwards and kisses me on the cheek, skilfully missing the vomit, before running on stage to join the rest of the crew in trying to subdue the contestants.

I feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

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Something shorter this month due to time constraints.

She checks her watch and begins to walk, crucially maintaining a straight line. To have any chance of success, she must keep straight.

The deep snow turns simple walking into a trudge – another factor for her calculations. Even with this consideration, she’s still only confirming how slim the chances of survival are, the curvature of the landscape clearly visible to the naked eye, delicate and deadly.

It’s freezing, and despite her knowledge otherwise, she never truly expected as such. Her only benchmark is the old-fashioned Christmas cards people used to send, the images always radiating warmth and comfort, despite the wintry scenes depicted. Never did you feel the chill stroking your chin, the crunchiness underfoot, the sound being sucked from existence.

She continues her walk, pushed on by the new sensation of cold, noting the few distinguishable features she passes. The snowfall has reset the landscape, covering the present with its own image. She pictures a small cottage nestled in the hillside below, smoke from the chimney, lights in the window. The memory of comfort and hope keeps her warm. It helps her forget how alone she thinks she is.

A few hours pass. She wonders if the snow might be melting – hence her journey shortened. God knows what would happen if the snow started again. Her theory would never be proven, that’s for sure. The novelty of the cold is now long past, she can’t remember not being numb, or not feeling ill prepared. Another hour passes with the same identical landscapes, and still no sign of anyone or anything. She wonders how nice it would be to hear an unidentifiable sound.

Another hour of walking and she finally spots footprints on the horizon. She quickens her pace, her calculations all but forgotten. It turns out she hasn’t kept entirely straight, so she adjusts by veering slightly to the right. For a split second the footprints look like someone else’s, but she steps into them with a perfect fit, completing her journey, confirming the worst.

It’s only taken half a day. She thinks about a ninety-degree turn and trying again, but deep down she senses the isolation, and the knowledge she’s craved once again proves useless. She is alone, with no resource or brave new world to continue exploring.

Even with proof she smiles. Her now shortened life has still been worth something. She’s the first human being in a long time to experience the mood and beauty of real snow. The first time is always something special, even when you know it’s your last.

She looks in all four directions, each time feeling her own breath on the back of her neck. She rubs her arms, and makes a sound she doesn’t quite identify. Why not? She thinks. She has all the time in this small world.

Collecting a handful of snow, she rolls it along the curved surface, and begins to make the body.

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Old Dogs Kill Curious Cats.

Crashing down the slope through the high thickets he fled in panic as frosted spurs scuffed roughly across his bitten flesh and hell flailed all around him. Frantic noises stuttered in his throat as he stumbled through the snow that crowded stubbornly around his shins. His escape was slow but John had run and now that was the only option left. He was being pursued.

The escape was poorly timed. Amidst the thrashing chaos he felt the toll of two days without sleep; stabbing pains in his dried eyes, the unresponsive weight in his calves, the shortness of his foul breath, the clammy distant sensation in his eardrums and face. Fighting as he was with his stiff fingers through the blinding greenness he became suddenly strongly aware of his own fatigue. Too tired, and his mind began to race to meet a new impending panic that accelerated in feverish pulsations. Thoughts tumbled- he should have waited for some snatched fragments of food and sleep before he'd attempted to run - what was one more night in what was thought to be an endless hell that he'd endured for three months – and how he'd survived– and why not others? The promise of freedom had once again taunted him into rash decisions, and familiar regret lay thick on the moment.

He cursed inwardly, fighting overwhelming frustration at his vulnerability. He begged to his fanciful side that all could be reversed and decisions could be remade, plans could be reconsidered, events could be refolded then unfolded in better ways. Desperation coursed as he snapped his head to and fro to escape his blurring vision – , nay, to escape everything. If only, if only he could hear beyond the tumult of his own getaway. If only he could see more than two feet ahead of him, if only he dared to stop for a moment and shake off the paranoia of accusing hands grasping through the branches. They could be a mile further up the slope by now. They could be a meter behind. He couldn't stop to find out. If only.

Three months prior to this John had had a chance to stop. He'd forced himself to take a new direction in life; one of those periods where the normality of the rut a man is in seizes him and shakes him until something either snaps or dies to make room for acceptance. In John's case something snapped. He quit his job. He got the expensive hairstyle cut short. He flogged the unusable junk he had hoarded so preciously, he left a parting letter to his girlfriend and shed his skin over and over again in the space of a week. He was anew, he'd taken control - he was damn proud. Finally free, energised, feeling like all the potential of the world had fallen into his lap where so little had lain before.

On the first day of his glorious new freedom he'd seen the advert for The Brothers Bound and been intrigued. On the second day he was amongst their ranks – by the third, he was in trouble far away from home, wanting solely to get back.

The world which he belonged to, the world he understood. The world that had told him that an old dog can't learn new tricks. That curiosity killed the cat.

In the last few moments of the pursuit he recognised that he wouldn't ever disprove either.

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This is my first time posting in the writers corner. I've had to cut this story down a fair bit, I always have a habbit of writing to much, and hence lost some of my favourite aspects of the story. (still a little to long but hoping you guys are of a forgiven nature. Promise my next story will be shorter.) Here it goes.

Once, a little more that a hundred years ago the snow fell on Byford every year, a beautiful sight especially against the backdrop of a winter dusk. The people rejoiced in their fortune and marvelled in it’s beauty. People would actually come to Byford from hundreds of miles to admire the towns beauty under six inches of snow. There was a festival every year and though the town had no other remarkable talent it’s beauty under snow was enough to sustain it’s simple needs all year round. Five years to be exact.

As mentioned, people came from hundreds of miles for the snow festival. From cities of industry and hamlets of agriculture. However, not one visitor came from Halliburgh, Byfords closest neighbour came. Never. No one in Halliburgh understood the snow festival, they didn’t understand the appeal of snow and they failed to understand their good Byford neighbours. They say it’s because it never snows in Halliburgh. Just one of those things. The people of Halliburgh didn’t mind. They had their own sort of festival. Well, not festival as such more like a celebration of their sturdy work ethic, the idea that a little backbone can overcome the most difficult circumstances.

This all changed one year when a single snow flake, by all accounts a beautiful specimen slowly drifted onto the main street of Halliburgh. It was followed by another, then another and before long the street was practically impassable. It did not stop their, pretty much all of the town was covered in snow and the good people of Halliburgh were unable to work.

Similarly the people of Byford were unable to play. People travelled from all over the country to see the snow fall and participate in the great snow festival but the snow did not arrive. Some waited days, others weeks and one fine gentleman waited until April before returning home. Yes it snowed in other places, in many places where the travellers come from but it doesn’t snow like it did in Byford.

For five years the snow fell in Halliburgh but not Byford. Five years people came to enjoy festivities that did not occur, five years the people of Halliburgh could not work for two weeks of the year. All that productivity wasted.

Any other towns would have given up, bowed out of the tourist trade for one town and accepted a two week annual holiday for the other. But the people of Halliburgh and Byford, separated by river, woods and miles of rough terrain had one thing in common. They were made of sterner stuff.

A boy started it, for such ideas can only be a childs design, braving the rough terrain that bridged the two towns with a flask in his pocket. He made a promise to his four year old sister that he would bring her snow. She cared neither way truth be told but a promise was a promise and Kyle set out on a journey to fill it.

He dressed in his warmest clothes, donned his old wolly hat his grandmother once nitted him and wore his finest boots. Alone, flask in hand the eleven year old boy left Byford to find some snow.

He travelled down the path, then off it through the woods. He had played in the woods many times but this is the first time he had been there in the winter, when all the leaves were dead. The first time he had a purpose in Byford woods. Though brave he didn’t complete the journey without fear. There was a growl in the woods, echoed by the dead trees. Movement in the corner of his eyes that he could not place. Footsteps that echoed his own.

The stream was closer to Hallibugh than his home and a smile found its way on his face when he saw it. Almost there he wondered if he should cross the frozen lake or find a bridge to walk upon. Brave, or a little bit naïve the young boy crossed the frozen water.

The ice cracked on his first step on to the lake, but not enough so he would notice. The cracks grew and deepened with each step and by the time he realised Kyle was almost on the other side and almost too late.

The ice gave way, a foot fell through and Kyle lost his balance. The boy took stock of his plight. He was still on the ice, flat on his face. He feared one move on the fractured surface and he would fall through. Time passed, Kyle got colder but he did not move, remembering all the warnings his father had told him regarding standing on Ice.

The way Kyle told the story was that he was not scared but assessing his options, and would have come up with a plan if a girl had not thrown him the end of a branch and pulled him to safety. But Lilly did come, see the distressed boy and, as she tells it, saved his life.

Together they continued to the town as Kyle explained why he was there and how the town had been without snowfall for five years. She laughed and told him they had lots of snow but did not want it.

Lilly took the visitor to her parents and he told the family of his journey to show his infant sister some snow. Kyle explained their towns love for snow and how beautiful the town once looked under it. He asked if was alright to take some from the town. The father laughed. ‘You can take it all if you want.’

Kyle was unable to take all of it obviously but filled his flask as much as he could and went on his way. Lilly insisted on coming with him. They entered the woods, crossed the river at a bridge and went on their way.

They talked. The spoke about fun about work about family and about friends. Their conversation stopped when Lilly thought she saw something. They looked. A Growl. Something, someone was hungry. The two quickened their pace, not far from Byford. Another glimpse of movement. Closer. They panicked. Lilly’s pace was more like a run, her breathing heavy and it was then when the beast pounced.

Lilly fell, the creature upon them and with quick thinking on Kyle’s part, he grabbed the flask and hit the animal in the head with it with all his might. The animal ran, they were safe, but the flask had cracked and the snow melt. Lilly returned to Halliburgh, Kyle to Byford with no snow left in his flask. He had travelled all that way with no result.

The next day a stranger came to the town of Byford. He asked to see Kyle and showed him a new flask full of snow. Soon after, another came and another, including Lilly’s mum and dad, each bearing containers of snow. Some even had wheelbarrows full of it and they began distributing it in the town square. Byford people came back with them and brought more and more snow. Soon the street was covered in snow and within days, both towns working together snow began to blanket the town of Byford once more.

Now even after a hundred years, people come all over the country for the snow festival. But it is not what it was. The transferring of snow from Halliburgh to Byford is repeated every year, one town able to host, the other happy to work. The snow festival, now different had returned.

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Think it'd have to be Bastion for me. Really liked the description, conveyed the images really well. Liked the fact that the first line was referenced in the final one too, a nice touch that brought the story full circle and to a close. Some pretty good stories overall though, might have a crack myself next month.

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Strong month this one.

Really enjoyed entries by Campfire and Danster. The imagery Campfire created was fantastic, with some really creative use of language. Lovely stuff. And Danster summed up the feelings of a workplace perfectly.

But after lots of thought, my vote goes to Concrete Donkey, purely on the strength of the story.

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