SHORTLIST PART 1: Your 99-word stories featured

Recently in our weekly newsletter, we asked readers to write us a story of no more than 99 words (not including optional title). Each story had to begin with the words “It hasn't always been blue” and contain three other words: “clock”, “crisp” and “cuff”. Beyond this brief, it was up to the imagination and skill of the writer.

We received hundreds of stories – wonderful! And interestingly, so many shared similarities (clock on a mantle, blue cuff on a crisp shirt etc). So those who were extra creative with the prompts certainly stood out. We looked for original stories that were different in some way – be it the story or style of delivery.

Even if you didn’t write one yourself, reading the submissions is a fantastic learning exercise – comparing the various approaches from different writers. So, we invite you to read part 1 of our “shortlist” – presented in no particular order and naturally subjective (as all creative things are). We’ll feature part 2 next week on the blog.


Rick Kernick:
It hadn't always been blue, his skin. He used to be just like everyone else.

Then the discolouration appeared. Starting at his fingertips it quickly spread across his hands, beyond his shirt cuff and up his arms until it covered his whole body.

Six months later the only job he could get was in a circus freak show. He'd had a home, a family. He'd been an accountant! He checked the clock again. Almost time.

Then, three crisp knocks on the door followed by a voice. “Two minutes till show time. That means you Papa Smurf.”

Such is life.

Jess Lilley:
Day at the Beach

It hadn't always been blue for me and you. Remember that crisp autumn morning we tumbled out of bed, down the stairs and hopped a train to Brighton Beach? We were giddy at the sight of the station's clock: ten whole hours together.

On the pier, you slung your arm over my shoulder and I fell into step with you, training my body to match your low, slow rhythm. Your cuff brushed my lip and I revelled at leaving my crimson mark.

Had I known then how damaging that mark would become, might I have been more careful?

Matthew Schmalkuche:
It hadn't always been blue, my mother's voice. It had had a crimson force that sorted right from wrong and a crisp cadence through which some off-the-cuff phrase would reduce a bully to their physical form, cutting away their nightmarish qualities. “I remember your watercolours”, she had once said to my father after he remarked on my childish poetry. He left before their ninth anniversary.

Now I catch her staring at her reflection in clock-faces. If she speaks her voice is a pale blue, nearly white.

Kaoko Miyazaki:
It hadn't always been blue, not to me. I'd never seen them before but I had always imagined them burgundy.

“What are you looking at?” he asked, fixing his left cuff.

“The blue,” I answered.

He raised his eyebrow and darted a look at the clock.

“Maybe in your next life it'll be burgundy,” he replied, nodding to me.

“Where I'm going, I don't think colour matters,” I say, secretly surprised.

He placed a plastic mask over my mouth and a reassured smile on his.

I breathed in crisp, cold air, likely my last, and hoped for burgundy bellflowers.

Cam Grivas:
It hadn't always been blue. It was a rich purple, then a pale green, before becoming blue. Still, Michael bandaged it and pulled his cuff down so it wasn't visible. The crisp morning sunlight appeared. Michael looked at his clock. Late. He fled out the door, his coat flying behind, as if it was the cape to the superhero that Michael so desperately wanted to be. Michael didn't mind the bruises. He didn't mind that his body was an abstract artwork of purples and reds. He lived for the fight, and that day, Michael would die for the fight.

Marysia Picyk:
Ours and Mine

It hadn't always been blue. Our bedroom feature wall was a ‘putrid puce' when we moved in. I'd made that off-the-cuff remark during the inspection. He replied: ‘I'll paint it a crisp aquamarine. A cheerful blue.

When he left me I got the blues. And that feature wall seemed to mock my misery. In time, I banished both.

I decided that the new feature of my bedroom would now be a large clock with roman numeral figures. In the years that followed, it allowed me to measure my new found happiness in seconds, minutes and hours.

Mark Wilson:
It hadn't always been blue. The Easter Bunny was at first mangy black with a bad attitude and a rather nasty penchant for stealing eggs from inattentive children, because its eleven fluffy white siblings, who spent far too much time admiring their reflections in the tinkling brook would regularly cuff it about the ears for being so ugly. The sympathetic brook, possessing more magic than common sense, turned it bright blue one crisp morning, and gave it the ability to rewind the clock, which power the Easter Bunny abused to make good the stolen eggs with low grade chocolate.

Vino Vivek:
It hadn't always been blue. When my mother was born, it was pink. The pink ribbon tied so quickly around her bald head. Her mother, the same. Nurses in crisp white uniforms worked around the clock fastening badges of colour. Pink for girls. Blue for boys. Identities were so deftly decided.

Alice and I had fought hard. Wiping off the pink lipstick; rolling up the cuff; wearing pants instead of a skirt. Now I looked down at Joy in her blue jumpsuit. Wrapped in her yellow blanket. Her identity yet to be discovered. Her future open, and full of colour.

Russell Burden:
“It hadn't always been blue,” Quentin mused indicating the clock face. “See the original colour here, adjacent the maker’s mark?”

“Yes, yes,” she said with glee.

“This filigree is redolent of the period, as are the other characteristics which undeniably suggest.”

“It was my Aunt’s,” she said.

With an oily grin, Quentin pulled his cuff, ready for the reveal. “Would you like to know its worth? As in how many crisp 100 pound notes you may receive for it?”

“Yes! Yes!”

“Nothing! It's a piece of junk!” Quentin laughed hysterically.

He was not asked to re-appear on Antiques Roadshow.

Jenny Peters:
It hadn't always been blue heaven milkshakes that made her feel young but today it was like sipping on pure nostalgia. As she straightened her hospital gown and fussed with the cuff of her dressing gown she escaped reality. The clock zoomed forward and her mind drifted back to the 50s with each creamy mouthful. Hot summer days, rock and roll dances and stolen teenage kisses played in her mind as the nurses turned down the crisp white sheets. She felt life slipping away and indulged in the fantasy of this last delicious drink.

Simone Brown:
It hadn't always been blue, surely. It would've been pink, before. Pink and perfect. How didn't I know something was wrong with it? It. It was still an ‘it'.

My body ached. Pulled from their corners, my sheets were a crumpled, soiled mess – not the crisp, clean promise I had first lain in. The cuff around my ankle chafed, anchoring me to my splintering reality.

The doctor removed her face mask. Her eyes were sorrowful, yet detached. They flicked to the wall clock. My heart surged.

“Time of death, 12:08am.”

I slipped away, just like ‘it'.

Steven Bridges:
“It hadn't always been Blue”, Red said in her friend's defence. “Blondie used to take stuff too”.

Blondie gave the slender girl a back-handed cuff off the side of her head. “Shut your face, stupid! Copper's got no mercy for the likes of us.”

The Officer sighed, the crisp morning air doing little to alleviate the itchy weariness in his head. Behind the young girls, the clock tower had landed on the only coffee house in town. Both cruel and ironic, he thought.

“Settle down, ladies”, Officer Copper said. “Now where did your friend take the bulldozer?”

Penny Gibson:
Elementary, My Dear Higgins

“It hadn't always been blue, Sergeant Higgins. In fact, I think he was painting it to hide what was underneath.”

“Is that a clue, Sir?”

“Look, blue paint on his shirt cuff. And all over the tablecloth. I think he was having his lunch, Higgins.”

“Salad sandwich I think, Sir.”

“There's a meat cleaver sticking out of his back. Write that down, Sergeant Higgins. He hasn't been dead long.”

“Well spotted Sir. Is that because the hands on the clock are stuck on 12.48pm?”

“No, Higgins. It's because the lettuce is still crisp and the bread isn't soggy yet!”

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