Short Story prize winner Year 12&13
Name: Mary (Molly) Bayliss
School Year: Year 13
I watch her through the one-way glass, watch how her fingertips tug at the damp, dirty tissue, how loose strands of her muddy blonde hair escape from the limp plait and stick to the tear tracks that stain her cheeks.
It’s a curious sight really, a sight that has me oddly longing to reach out to the girl, to place a comforting hand on her shoulder and tell her that it’s all going to be ok. But I cant, not only because it goes against protocol, but because it would be a lie, and I can’t bring myself to lie to the girl who’s pale face is dotted with freckles, tears and worry.
The name, her name, is written in block capitals – smudged slightly and underlined twice to signify its importance – on a bright yellow slip of paper clipped to the front of the thin brown folder.
My fingers momentarily itch to open the file, to flick through the glossy photos one last time, an act that should spur me on to get this resolved, to figure things out. Though as I stand there and think about it I come to realise that I don’t need to look at them, the images themselves are permanently etched into my mind burned into my eyelids and no matter how hard I want to try, I won’t ever be able to forget about them.
I take a deep breath to steady myself before I walk into the oddly soothingly sterile room. Setting myself down before her I start up the tape, a low whir filling the air as I go, and introduce myself, giving a brief outline as to what’s about to happen.
I offer her a smile that I hope appears to be calming and reassuring, though she barely looks up at me, instead choosing to keep her eyes trained on the metal tabletop and the ragged tissue.
For a moment I’m struck by how young she looks with the smattering of awkward childhood acne at her temples and chipped pink nail polish. She’s twelve, the slip of yellow paper tells me that much alongside her name, not even a teenager yet. I don’t allow myself to dwell on it too much as the small voice in the back of my mind tells me to remain professional, to not let my emotions cloud my judgement.
I ask her if she wants someone to sit beside her as we talk, someone familiar and comforting, but she simply shakes her head and offers me a watery smile that wouldn’t convince even the most gullible of people into thinking that she’s ok. I try to insist, asking her who we can call but she just stays silent, bites her lip and looks up at me with large brown doe eyes rimmed with red, and I have no option but to launch into it.
Then I ask her about it, about the body in the woods.
I sit there and listen to her story, my head instinctively tilting to the side in sympathy as she recounts the horrors of what she found.
She describes the scene to me, describes the way the body lay crooked with sallow grey skin and dirt covering their bloody clothes. She describes the smell, the sense of decay that hung in the air, the way the light breeze carried the stench throughout the forest, picking up the damp scent of the earth along with it.
She goes into detail, at times almost sounding gleeful before she seems to catch herself and shed a glossy tear. I continue to listen, offering the odd word of encouragement when needed and motioning for her to continue on as she pauses in the midst of her sentences.
Eventually her words slowly trail off into a steady silence only filled by the occasional sniffle and sound of her tapping the toes of her muddy blue trainers against the coffee stained plastic floor, and it’s then that I open the file and slide it across the smooth table, forcing her to come face to face with the hideously graphic images.
I force her to see what she’s done.
They say the camera never lies, that a picture is worth a thousand words and so forth, but in this case, I want the camera to lie and these pictures leave me stunned, shocked to my very core and at a loss for words.
I tell her to drop the act, that we know what she’s done and there’s no escaping it now. I tell her of the witness, of the evidence and everything else that we managed to find.
Her expression immediately drops, the self-pitying simper morphing into nothing but placid boredom as she now turns to look up at me, blinking slowly with eyes that once seemed so soulful and bright, but now sit blank and empty.
I can’t do it any more, I can’t sit here and have my heart and mind pulled in every which way. I stand up to go, not daring to say any more to her as I sweep the file up in my hands. My fingertips just brush against the cold steel of the door handle when I hear her small voice echoing through the stark room, bouncing off the plain walls and back into my ears.
“You’re not leaving already are you? Please stay, please. I’ll even tell you where the others are!”
“Of course. You didn’t think that I’d stop at just one, did you?”
Molly’s comments on winning the competition -
I’m thrilled to have had the chance to enter and win the Short Story Prize 2020. I have always loved to write and after studying aspects of suspense and dystopian literature I surely found my footing amongst the genres and I hope to expand this short story into a novel one day. A huge thank you to The Connell Guides Team and to William Boyd for the opportunity.