The Escuela Oficial de Idiomas (official language school) gives its students of English extra optional homework once a year: to enter its annual short story competition. While organised from the Malaga school, the contest is open to students of English at EOIs across Andalucía.
Every year the school's own judges select their three top entries and the SUR in English editorial team then have the honour and privilege of choosing the winner. Of all the tasks facing the newsroom, this is one of the most enjoyable.
To be able to move readers when writing in a foreign language is a skill that few can claim to dominate. We hope you enjoy this year's three winning stories as much as we did.
Among Wheat Fields
2nd runner-up: Anna Garashchuk
David was one of my high school mates. You know, one of those bloody charismatic blokes that all girls always fall in love with. I wouldn't say he was handsome, not even ruggedly handsome, with his enormous hooked nose, medium-sized pitch-black shifty eyes and thin, bloodless lips. Actually there was something devilish in his sophisticated gaze and cunning smile. Rumor had it that he was secretly in love with me.
However, a friendship developed between us, at first an uneasy one, then more and more solid - at times looking more like rivalry. We always competed to see who got better marks or who was the most amusing and popular in our crew while still seizing every chance to mock each other.
Well, long story short, let me tell you about something extraordinary that happened to us on 31 October. That evening the plan was to go together to our friend's ancient country house to celebrate Halloween. So, David asked me to pick him up from the gas station where he was moonlighting as an attendant. That year I decided to dress up as an angel, don't ask me why.
As it was a peak hour in that direction down the main road, I decided to do what I had already adopted as the best strategy, that is to drive around the traffic jam by using the narrow unpaved country road among wheat fields that only local farmers knew about.
So, I was driving alone singing just released local hits without a care in the world. Suddenly a nun with big sunglasses stepped out of the bushes and stuck out her thumb. I stopped. The first thing I could think of was that on the eve of Halloween someone had decided to play a hilarious joke on me. Although I must say that in spite of her eyes being concealed because of the darkened glasses, she looked so damned authentic in her nun's robes that I was about to exclaim "Nice gear, mate!" but a higher power buttoned my lips.
"Where are you going?" - I asked her hesitantly.
"It's near, my daughter, just over the gas station" - replied the nun in a polite but strangely static voice, almost as monotonous as the fields behind her.
She got in the backseat. Again I reminded myself that it was Halloween. Best not to say too much and just let the prank play itself out. However, the more I kept checking her pale, almost transparent and emotionless face in my rear view mirror the more I was convinced she was a real nun. I started feeling uncomfortable in my ridiculous 'angel' outfit. Maybe it offended her? "I need to pick up my friend at the gas station" - I apologized. She only nodded at me in the rear view mirror.
At the station I saw David all dressed up. "My God," I gasped, "not THAT!" - It was an authentic devil in the flesh! He could not have done a better job! Nun, devil and angel in the same car, can you imagine?! But who would have thought I would meet a nun on 31 October among wheat fields while on my way to collect the Devil himself! Knowing David, I was praying he would refrain from inappropriate jokes.
However, he greeted me without fanfare and got in the front seat as if oblivious to the nun sitting in the back.
"I have to give my passenger a lift, just behave yourself!" I implored him. He seemed confused but did not say a word. Odd. But I ignored it, worrying about our ridiculous costumes instead.
I had no choice but to drive on. Thankfully, it wasn't long before the nun said abruptly "Here".
"But there is nothing around here besides wheat fields!" I exclaimed. "We can bring you to the exact place, no problem!"
She did not hesitate in her reply. "There is a path toward God here, but not everyone can find it. Just leave me right here".
I shrugged and stopped my car.
"Thank you my dear, you are an angel indeed. And don't soil yourself with a man like this devil. He is not your destiny. Angels and demons don't belong together." She slid out of the car.
I smiled at her. However, as I glanced back, I couldn't spot her. Apparently, she had vanished into the wheat fields.
I stopped my car again.
"Where is she?" I asked David .
"My passenger, who else?"
"What the hell you are talking about? Why did we stop again? I thought you were taking the mickey out of me because of Halloween, talking to yourself like that. Stop having me on! Let's go!"
The short conversation with David made my blood run cold. Despite being scared stiff I tried to conceal it and continued driving. We were quiet the entire rest of the trip.
During the celebration David became his usual self, but I kept thinking about that nun from the wheat fields. Nevertheless, in a few hours David started getting nervous, asking everyone if they had seen his friend Mary.
The doorbell rang. Everybody began whispering and giggling. When Mary appeared in her nun's robes and sunglasses, David and our crew collapsed in laughter. Never had I felt so foolish and deluded.
"Well done Mary! Great job! Impeccable! I almost believed you!" David was glorifying her while dying with laughter.
However, Mary remained silent and seemed a little surprised.
"Come on! Stop playing!" he exclaimed.
"I don't know what you are talking about. I fell asleep and woke up just two hours ago, too late for your prank. I'm so sorry about that."
An abrupt silence fell where laughter was supposed to erupt. With a snide grin that I had no control over, I stared at David. He immediately looked away, and despite all that paint smeared over his face I noticed him growing pale as death.
1st runner-up: Alicia Ramírez Crespo
Anne was on her way home after a long and stressful day. Her life had become a meaningless daily grind. She worked, ate and slept, and started over again every day, as in an infinite loop. She had worked so hard to achieve her professional goals that she had forgotten about her personal life. Or maybe that was her goal: to forget. Every day, when she came back home, she promised herself to change, to look at herself in the mirror without glasses. Nevertheless, the next day she would do the same: work and more work. It’s so easy to fall into a routine, to find reasons not to do something, not to come out of your shell. However, unexpected life events happen, everything can change in an instant, and that day would be the day that the flutter of a butterfly’s wings would change everything.
When she got to her apartment, she found an old red suitcase in front of the door. She thought it might belong to her neighbour, Jane. She was a pilot and her best friend in town, so she decided to keep the suitcase until her return. As soon as she took it into her living room, Leona, the cat, came over to sniff it. Its smell was a complete story to her. We, humans, use our eyes to read stories; cats use their nose to smell them. Leona climbed onto the suitcase, causing it to fall and open. Music came out of the suitcase. Music she had heard a thousand times, music which transported her in time and in space. The music was coming from an old wooden music box. The lid had a drawing of a four-pointed star. She opened it and she saw a butterfly breaking out of its chrysalis, twirling as the music played. It was a Blue Morpho, one of the most beautiful butterflies ever, which gets its name from the Greek epithet for Aphrodite. She saw herself as a child, in her grandma’s house, listening to the same music, hidden in the basement. Inside the red suitcase there was a letter and a flight ticket beside the music box. The letter had her name written in large curved handwriting: “To Anne.” She opened the envelope. As she held up the letter, her heart started to beat very fast, she knew this handwriting. She had received many letters from the same person a long time ago. The person to whom she had given her first kiss, in her grandma’s basement, while she was listening to the same music that she was listening to now.
I could tell you that I’m tired of pretending, I could tell you that I’m braver than ever, I could tell you that I finally understood who I really am, and I wouldn’t be lying. But, I wouldn’t be honest either. The truth is simpler than that. I’m dying. All of us are dying in some way from the moment we’re born. But now, I’m aware that my life is really short, as that of a butterfly. And, like a butterfly, I have broken out of my chrysalis. I don’t want to be the great pretender anymore. I want my last kiss to be with the same person I kissed for the first time, with no need to hide in the basement anymore. Fly with me, wherever the wind may take us.
Waiting for you, Olivia”
A tear rolled down her cheek. She didn’t know if she felt sadness or happiness, or both. She opened the music box again and thought, while looking at the twirling butterfly, that this would be the easiest decision she would ever make.
Winner: Carmen Pérez Martín
When the magician pulled that dead pigeon out of the top hat, the audience fell silent. Then he held a revolver and pointed at them one by one. A skeptical chill spread through the room. The disturbing makeup of the artist reflected an icy image, as if the tricks with which he had entertained the crowd until then were only artifices used to lure them into that macabre trap.
While the illusionist was aiming at them silently, his look hardened. The uncertainty about the tenor that the show was taking had left everybody paralyzed. Taking advantage of the surprise, the magician lowered the weapon, opened it and extracted all the bullets. He showed them moving his hand from side to side so that the audience could count them carefully. Eight. Then, very slowly, allowing everyone to see all his movements, he took one, loaded it, closed the gun and spun the cylinder: they were going to play Russian roulette.
The public remained expectant, not knowing what to think. Their eccentric host had invited them to a party in his house, as on other occasions. Anyone would say that he enjoyed surprising his guests, testing their limits and observing their reactions, but this time he was not in the room.
The magician now moved with stealth on the small stage located almost at eye level with the viewers, like a poacher stalking his prey. He stood next to a fat man in the front row who, pale and sweaty, looked at him, terrified. He aimed at his forehead and fired.
The sound of the hammer hitting the firing pin resounded in the room. The man, unable to react, opened a pair of frightened eyes. Then, he snorted and slipped down the chair, holding his chest with his hand. The magician smiled at him as if it had been fate and not him who wanted to spare his life.
Then, he walked away slowly and went to the other side, selecting a new victim.
The host’s wife made a nervous gesture and turned around looking for her husband once more. She scanned the room anxiously, but couldn’t spot him in the semi-darkness.
She could barely control her agitation. She did not want to disturb the rest of the audience even more, but she found the whole situation too strange. She reached for her cell phone in the bag that was hanging on the back of her chair without success. Then she heard a few steps coming towards her. She turned her head and saw the pistol inches away from her head. She jumped up, stepped back and gave the magician the challenging look of a cornered beast in her last moments. He fixed his unhinged eyes on her, tensed his arm and shot. Nothing happened.
Before anyone could react, the artist returned to the centre of the stage laughing with irony. He looked at the observers mockingly, placed the barrel on his temple with a theatrical gesture, paused and pulled the trigger.
The sound of the shot caused a tremor that expanded throughout the room. The man collapsed heavily on the ground with his eyes open and a stupid expression of surprise. His black cape flew and covered him completely as blood trickled from beneath. At the end of the room someone fainted. The buzz of death rose to the ceiling.
From the first row, almost in shock, a boy sprang to his feet, approached the corpse and lifted the cloth cautiously. There was no one underneath.
At that moment the host entered the room clapping and laughing, shouting “bravo”. His wife swung to him furiously. This time he had gone too far.