Monthy Short Story Writing Challenge

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Monthy Short Story Writing Challenge
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This is a monthly short-story writing competition, open to all. The winner of the competition will receive the applause of the rest of Townhouse community and have the honour of setting the next month’s competition, its length, items to be included and its theme.

Since it is new, I will set the theme for JUNE competition and have written a sample short below. The theme is DESTINY and the story must be between 500 – 800 words; it must also include a dog. 

Please join in, you can write anything you like, but it must be posted before the end of June to be eligible. Any bad language to be flagged up at the start of the piece. So, good luck to you all!

I will announce the winner at the beginning of JULY.

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Apologies.  I failed to add that the challenge of the story is to make it 100 words exactly.  No more, no less.  That's not including the title.  Closing date is the 31st.  Have fun 

Thanks very much, Poggle, and well done to all.  I'm not sure how to own a group but I'm happy to set the next task.  I haven't logged in for a while, and what with it being almost mid-month maybe flash-fiction might be a good idea for this month.  I'm thinking 100 words with no particular theme, but must have the words 'tear' and 'deiberate'.  Good luck. Ready, steady, go.  

THE WINNER FOR JUNE IS - Charlie Brown 'No More Counting'

Charlie, you now own the group and can set the theme and word count for the July competition. Or, if you think that July has already been eaten into, you can set up one for August, it's up to you.  :-)  I'll transfer ownship over to you as soon as I can find out how to do it. Urhghhg!

Hellow Dave Lee,

The idea was for the winner to have group ownership transferred to them and for them to set the next competition. However, I can't get any answers as to how to go about this.  Maybe one of you in the group can tell me? 

When is the next challenge?

I don't know if this is viable - it's so difficult to post entries and just as bad trying to find them afterwards, Thanks to everyone who gave it a go.

And the winner is - well, I liked them all really. I'll have to ponder a bit more. And find out how to transfer ownership of the group to the winner, because that's how it's supposed to work. Paws crossed. xx


Hello! I love the idea of a monthly challenge! Here's my effort, 'Destiny Wears Green', 798 words.



Clunk, rivette, clunk, went the gear stick as Jayne tried to select fourth. She’d been hoping this morning had been a temporary blip and it would be fine now. Obviously not, she thought to herself as she glanced down, searching for visual clues. 

Distracted, Jayne didn’t see the shape darting in front of her. The sickening thump caught her by surprise and she slammed the breaks in panic, jolting her hard. Oh dear God, she thought, fear creeping down her spine, I’ve hit something - or someone…

It had already been a trying day. Jayne had slept badly and got up early. Thinking she was in good time she’d spent twenty minutes straightening her auburn hair, and only then realised that the cat had slept on her work shirt, and her skirt had a hole by the zip. By the time she had fixed them both she was running late, and just to add insult to injury the heavens had opened as she’d walked to her car, so the straightening had turned out to be a waste of twenty minutes of her life. Then the car had started with its clunk rivette clunk.

“Busy today Jayne”, Mr Clarke, her boss with the wide lips and bulging eyes of a frog, had said as she’d arrived bedraggled into the office, “I’m going to need you on the phones.” 

Jayne had nodded, but inside she was thinking I hate today, as she sat at her desk, where she usually worked as the call centre administrator, and unenthusiastically turned the call button to available. In fact I hate my whole life…..

It had been that way ever since she and Hugh had split. They’d been together since university, and Jayne had thought they always would be. Until that awful day almost a year ago when she’d left work early, arriving home to find Hugh enthusiastically humping away at her best friend Maria on the navy velvet sofa that it had taken Jayne almost a year to save for. That had been it for Hugh, but it wasn’t just the relationship; Jayne had lost her best friend into the bargain, and she’d loved Hugh’s family too. She wasn’t close to her own family, but Hugh’s had always made her feel so welcome.

At lunchtime, Jayne had tried not to think about Hugh’s Mum’s legendary roast dinners as she’d munched through a particularly unenticing packet sandwich in the break room.

 “Oi oi, why so glum?” James from the sales department had said as he’d bounded through the door.

Jayne had shrugged her slim shoulders in reply, her mouth full of packet sandwich.

“How about I tell you what’s going to happen to you today to cheer you up?” he’d said, unfurling his paper and turning to the horoscope page.

Jayne had rolled her eyes, but he was already reading.

“Apparently it’s a good day for planning your finances….. Ooo and it says here that destiny will be wearing green. You’d better get on Tinder, swipe right on anyone in green!”

“I don’t think so,” Jayne had replied, shuddering at the memory of her last Tinder disaster date. “I think I can safely say I’m destiny-free these days. Thanks anyway though.”

The afternoon hadn’t been any better. More phones, more rain, more clunk rivette, clunk from the gear box, and now that awful thud…..

Oh God, Jayne thought again as she got out of the car, please, please don’t let it be a child…. 

There was a moment of relief when she first saw the small tan and white dog, with huge saucer eyes, lying prostrate in front of the car - then she noticed his bloodied, twisted paw. 

“Oh no,” she wailed, bending to comfort the shaking creature. She looked desperately around, but there was no one in sight; the dog wore no collar and she had no idea where it had come from. Gently, she scooped it up and drove quickly to nearest vets.

“Please help”, she said, flustered as she carried the dog in. 

Luckily the vet was free. As she explained what had happened she looked at the vet; about her age, dark floppy hair, perfect teeth and kind blue eyes …. She felt her heart flutter. It was only as he carried the dog off that she noticed his green uniform; destiny wears green….

“He’ll be a bit sore for a while”, the vet said much later, “but he should make a full recovery. You can pick him up tomorrow.” He looked at Jayne slowly, a look that made it clear he was registering interest and left Jayne distinctly breathless. 

“Thank you”, Jayne replied, giving him a similar look.

“Great. By the way, what’s his name?”

Jayne gave the vet a wide smile. “Destiny,” she replied. “His name’s Destiny.”

Of all the writing habits I have, one of the worst – the worst from good financial sense point of view – is that I like writing LONG books.

My first novel was a spine-breaking 180,000 words. Not one of my novels has ever been less than 110,000 words. The first “short story” I wrote was 8,000 words, which is to say miles too long to be an actual short story. Heck, even this email is likely to be far longer than any other email you get in your inbox today.

Ah well. There are some things you can’t fight, and my addiction to length is one of them.

But that also means that when it comes to short-form copy, I’m at a loss.

I’m not especially good at book blurbs, which want to be about 100-120 words (depending a bit on layouts and where you’re expecting them to appear.) Since titles need to be short and punchy, I’m not especially good at those either.

In a word: I’m pretty damn rubbish when it comes to coming up with titles … and this email is going to tell you how to write them.

Which means if you want to ignore the entire contents of what follows, on the basis that I obviously, obviously, obviously don’t know what I’m talking about, then I have to say that the evidence is very much in your favour.

That said, I think it’s clear enough what a title needs to do. It wants to:

  1. Be highly consistent with your genre
  2. Offer some intrigue – for example, launch a question in the mind of the reader
  3. Ideally, it’ll encapsulate “the promise of the premise” in a few very short words, distilling the essence of your idea down to its very purest form.

The genre-consistency is the most essential, and the easiest to achieve. It matters a lot now that so many books are being bought on Amazon, because book covers – at the title selection stage – are no more than thumbnails. A bit bigger than a phone icon, but really not much. So yes, the cover has to work hard and successfully in thumbnail form, but the title has more work to do now than it did before.

Genre consistency is therefore key. Your title has to say to your target readers, “this is the sort of book that readers like you like”. It has to invite the click through to your book page itself. That’s its task.

The intrigue is harder to do, but also kinda obvious. “Gone Girl” works because of the Go Girl / Gone Girl pun, and those double Gs, and the brevity. But it also works because it launches a question in the mind of the reader: Who is this girl and why has she gone? By contrast, “The Girl on the Train” feels a little flat to me. There are lots of women on lots of trains. There’s nothing particularly evocative or intriguing in the image. I don’t as it happens think that book was much good, but I don’t think the title stood out either. (I think the book sold well because of some pale resemblances between the excellent Gone Girl and its lacklustre sister. The trade, desperate for a follow-up hit to Gone Girl, pounced on whatever it had.)

The third element in a successful title – the “promise of the premise” one – is really hard to do. I’ve not often managed it, and I’ve probably had a slightly less successful career as a result.

So what works? Well, here are some examples of titles that do absolutely nail it:

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Brilliant! That title didn’t translate the rather dour and serious Swedish original (Man Som Hatar Kvinnor / Men Who Hate Women). Rather it took the brilliance of the central character and captured her in six words. She was a girl (vulnerable), and she had a tattoo (tough and subversive), and the tattoo was of a dragon (exotic and dangerous). That mixture of terms put the promise of the book’s premise right onto the front cover and propelled the book’s explosive success.

Incidentally, you’ll notice that the title also completely excludes mention of Mikael Blomkvist, who is as central to that first book as Salander is. But no one bought the book for Blomkvist and no one remembers the book for Blomkvist either. So the title cut him out, and did the right thing in doing so.

The Da Vinci Code

Brilliant. Dan Brown is fairly limited as a writer, but it was a stroke of genius to glue together the idea of ancient cultural artefacts with some kind of secret code. Stir those two things up with a bit of Holy Grail myth-making and the result (for his audience) was commercial dynamite.

And – boom! – that dynamite was right there in the title too. The Da Vinci part namechecks the world’s most famous artist. The Code part promises that there are secret codes to be unravelled.

Four words delivering the promise of the premise in full.

I let You Go

This was Clare Mackintosh’s breakout hit, about a mother whose young son was killed in a hit-and-run car accident. The promise of the premise is right there in four very short words … and given a first person twist, which just adds a extra bite to the hook in question. A brilliant bit of title-making.

___

So that’s what a title wants to do. A few last comments to finish off.

One, I think it’s fair to say that it’s quite rare a title alone does much to propel sale success.

Because there are a lot of books out there, and because everyone’s trying to do the same thing, there’s not much chance to be genuinely distinctive. My fifth Fiona Griffiths novel was called The Dead House, but there are at least three other books on Amazon with that title, or something very like it. That didn’t make my title bad, in fact – it did the promise of the premise thing just fine – but I certainly couldn’t say my title was so distinctive it did anything much for sales.

Two, if you’re going for trad publishing, it’s worth remembering that absolutely any title you have in mind at the moment is effectively provisional. If your publishers don’t like it, they’ll ask you to change it. And if they don’t like your title #2, they’ll ask you to come up with some others. In short, if, like me, you’re bad at titles, you just don’t need to worry too much (if you’re going the trad publishing route, that is.) There’s be plenty of opportunity to hone your choice well prior to publication.

Three, you don’t want to think about title in isolation. There should, ideally, be a kind of reverberation between your title and the cover. That reverberation should be oblique rather than direct. Clare Mackintosh’s I Let You Go had for its cover image a butterfly trapped against a window – a metaphorical reference to the anguish of the book’s premise. If instead it had shown a mother obviously distraught as a car struck her son, the cover – and title – would have seemed painfully clunky and ridiculous.

If you get a great cover image that doesn’t work with your chosen title, then change the title. If you have a superb title and your cover designer’s image is too directly an illustration of it, then change the image. That title/cover pairing is crucial to your sales success, so you can afford no half-measures in getting it right.

That’s all from me.

My kids are making elderflower cordial and singing as they do so. They are also wearing helmets for no reason that I can possibly understand.

Till soon

Harry

PS: Want to know what I think of your title? Then I’ll tell you. Just pop your title (plus short description of your book) in the comments below. I’ll tell you what I think.

Usually, on Thursday afternoon or so, I start pondering what I’m going to write about on Friday.

This week: no pondering. There’s only one thing I could possibly write about.

The biggest book-related newsflash this week – or this year – is that Barnes and Noble is changing ownership. The ins and outs are a little complex (and everything is not quite settled), but if all goes according to plan:

  • An investment firm, Elliott Advisers, is to buy Barnes and Noble, in a deal which values that business (including its debts) at about $700 million.
  • That sounds like a lot of money, but given that B&N’s sales are $3.6 billion, the pricing actually feels pretty cheap – reflecting the dismal state of B&N.
  • Elliott is also the 100% owner of Waterstones, the British equivalent of B&N. Both those chains are proper bookshops, appealing to proper book lovers. In that sense, the chains are distinct from the supermarkets, who just sell a lot of books but don’t care about them, or the British High Street & travel operator, WH Smith, which is as much a stationer and a newsagent as an actual book store.
  • Waterstones was rescued from impending financial disaster by CEO James Daunt. It was Daunt who negotiated the sale of the firm to Elliott.
  • Daunt will now act as CEO to both firms – B&N and Waterstones – and will divide his time between London and New York.

As it happens, Daunt also owns and runs his own mini-chain of high-end London bookstores. It was his experience at those stores which won him the position at Waterstones.

So, assuming that all goes according to plan, James Daunt will be the book world’s second most powerful human, after Jeff Bezos.

So what does that mean – for readers? For writers? For publishers? For anyone?

Well.

It’s a big and important move. James Daunt has a huge reputation in the UK and it’s probably deserved. His secret sauce for success? Quite simply this:

There is no secret sauce.

In the UK, Daunt simply took everything back to basics.

He turned bookselling into a proper career. (Albeit, inevitably, a badly paid one.) He retained staff who cared passionately about books and waved good-bye to the rest, perhaps a third of them. He cut costs. He made his stores prettier.

And, in a move so radical that it shook British publishing to its core, he let each store manager select their own inventory. So, yes of course, every store was expected to stock major bestsellers of the moment. But beyond that, what stores sold was guided by local passion and local knowledge. From a reader’s point of view, stores got better. There was more energy, more passion, more commitment.

But publishers, for a while, didn’t know what to do. In the past, publishing worked like this:

  1. Publishers paid Waterstones a big chunk of cash to get into a 3-for-2 front-of-store promotion. So Waterstones was actually retailing its shelf-space. It wasn’t really curating its own retail offering.
  2. Some of those 3-for-2s did really well, and became huge bestsellers.
  3. Others didn’t, and the volume of returns was enormous (often 20% of total stock.)
  4. Publishers pulped those returns, ditched those authors and just made money from their mega-successes

That was check-book publishing and check-book retail.

Daunt killed that, and terrified publishers. How could they market books if the key step wasn’t just throwing bundles of money at retailers? [and if you want a reminder of the different publishing options, you can get that here.]

Well, they solved that problem … kinda. But all they really did was turn their attentions (even more than before) to the supermarkets and other mass retailers. Waterstones’ local stores are great and feel like real bookshops … but they can’t build a bestseller as they did in the old days, because each store chooses its stock according to its own tastes.

Daunt’s path in the US is likely to follow the exact same route.

He’s commented that one of the issues he feels on entering a typical B&N store is quite simply “too many books.” Too much stock. Too little curation and guidance. Not enough knowledge from the booksellers. An atmosphere so flat, you could swap it for cigarette paper.

He’ll cut stock. Reduce staff, but retain the best and most passionate members. Eliminate central promotions. Get better terms from publishers. Sharply reduce stock returns.

Do the basics, but do them right.

The impacts, positive and negative?

The positive:

Elliott’s cash plus Daunt’s knowhow should save specialist physical book retail in the US. That’s massive. It’s the difference between a US publishing industry that operates much as it does now and one that would be almost wholly slave to Amazon. That also means that trad publishing is likely to survive in roughly its current shape and size, rather than being sidelined by the growth of digital-first publishers (notably self-pubbers and Amazon itself.)

The negative:

US publishers will have to learn the lessons already absorbed by the Brits. If B&N no longer operates national promotion systems as in the past, publishers can’t make a bestseller just by buying space. Yes, they’ll go on seeing what they can do on social media and all that stuff. But, as in the UK, they’ll be even more dependent on supermarkets. The make-or-break of a book will be not “Is this wonderful writing?” but “did we get enough retail space in enough supermarkets at a sufficiently attractive price?”

I know any number of authors where Book A did incredibly well, Book B did poorly … and Book B was better than Book A. The difference, in every case, was that the supermarkets backed A and not B, and there’s damn all a trad publisher can do once the supermarkets have said no.

Oh yes, and supermarkets don’t really give a damn about the quality of writing. They don’t know about the quality of the writing. They just buy on the basis of past sales (if you’re John Grisham) or a pretty cover (if you’re a debut.)

Of course, they’d say their selection is a damn sight more careful than that, and it probably is. But that’s still “careful by the standards of people who mostly sell tinned beans and dog food for a living.” That’s not the same thing as actually being careful.

That sounds like a fairly downbeat conclusion, but the Elliott-saves-B&N news is still a real big plus for anyone who loves traditional stores, print books and traditional publishing. It’s the single biggest win I can remember over the past few years.

What that win won’t do, however, is weaken the hold of supermarkets and Amazon over book retail. Those two forces are still huge. They’re still central.

And of course, talking about print books has its slightly quaint side. Me, I prefer print. I hardly ever read ebooks. I just spend enough time on screens as it is.

But print books constitute less than 30% of all adult fiction sales, and online print sales accounts for a big chunk of that 30%.

In other words, all those B&N stores up and down the US are still only attacking 23% or so of the total adult fiction market. However well Daunt does, that 23% figure isn’t about to change radically. (Or not in the direction he wants, anyway.)

But, just for now, to hell with realism. Let’s remember the magic of a beautiful bookstore.

Daunt does. Here are some comments of his from 2017:

“[there is a sense that] a book bought from a bookshop is a better book.... When a book comes through a letter box or when a book is bought in a supermarket, it's not vested with the authority and the excitement that comes from buying it in a bookshop. …Price is irrelevant if the customer likes the shop. The book is never an expensive item, [particularly for the many customers who] we know are quite happy to go into a café and spend dramatically more on a cup of coffee."

Quite right, buddy. Now go sell some books. The readers need you.

Till soon

Harry

I’ve been reading a terrific guest post on our blog by our Craig Taylor. (And actually, “guest post” doesn’t feel like quite the right term, if I’m honest. Craig’s a buddy, not a guest.)

The post is on how to write a scene and, in it, Craig asks:

If the theme of your work, say, is unrequited love, does your scene angle in to that theme? Does it demonstrate a circumstance or a feeling which is associated with unrequited love? Or does it demonstrate a circumstance or a feeling about requited love, so as to throw into relief the experience that one of your characters will have about unrequited love?”

And those are interesting questions, aren’t they?

I, for one, don’t write a book thinking that every scene I write has to “angle in” to my major theme. But what if that’s wrong? What if, in a well-constructed book, pretty much everything angles in to the one same issue? (Or, rather, cluster of issues, because a book that is rich thematically can never be too neatly categorised.)

And here’s another thought:

What if you don’t especially think about these things as you build your story? What if you do concentrate on good writing (nice prose, strong characters, a well-knitted plot), but don’t overthink the thematic stuff?

What happens then? Is the result strong? Or will it never reach the kind of thematic depth and congruence that Craig is hinting at?

Hey, ho. Interesting questions. So I thought I’d take a look at my own work and see what’s actually happened there.

So my last book, The Deepest Grave, has a cluster of themes that include:

  • Ancient history, specifically post-Roman Britain and the shade of Arthur
  • Treasure and fakery
  • Death (because this is a murder mystery, but it is also a book about Fiona Griffiths, whose attitudes to life and death are deep and complicated.)

But then, I only have to write those themes down on the page here – something I’ve never done before; I don’t plan my thematic stuff – and I realise this: that those themes absolutely and necessarily contain their opposites. So a book that is about fakery and death is also, essentially, a book about:

  • Authenticity
  • Life – or, more specifically in Fiona’s case, the whole knotty business of how to be a human; how to establish and maintain an identity in the face of her overawareness of death.

OK. So those, broadly, are my themes. Let’s now look at whether my various scenes tend to hammer away at those things, or not. Are themes something that appear via a few strong, bold story strokes? Or are they there, fractal-like, in every detail too?

And, just to repeat, those aren’t questions I consciously think about much as I write. Yes, a bit, sometimes, but I certainly don’t go through the disciplined thought process that Craig mentions in his post.

And blow me down, but what I find is that, yes, those themes infest the book. The book never long pulls away from them at all.

So, aside from a place and date stamp at the top of chapter 1, the first words in the book are these:

“Jon Breakell has just completed his chef d’oeuvre, his masterpiece. The Mona Lisa of office art. The masterpiece in question is a dinosaur made of bulldog clips, twisted biro innards and a line of erasers that Jon has carved into spikes.”

That’s a nod towards ancient history. It’s a nod towards authenticity (the Mona Lisa) and fakery (a dinosaur that is definitely not a real dinosaur.) It’s also, perhaps, a little nod towards death, because in a way the most famous thing about dinosaurs is that they’re extinct.

It goes on. The mini-scene that opens the book concludes with Fiona demolishing her friend’s dinosaur and the two of them bending down to clear up the mess. Fiona says, “that’s how we are—me, Jon, the bones of the fallen—when Dennis Jackson comes in.”

That phrase, the bones of the fallen, puts death explicitly on the page and in a way which alludes forward to the whole Arthurian battle theme that will emerge later.

That’s one example and – I swear, vow & promise – I didn’t plan those links out in my head prior to writing. I just wrote what felt natural for the book that was to come.

But the themes keep on coming. To use Craig’s word, all of the most glittering scenes and moments and images in the book keep on angling in to my little collection of themes.

There’s a big mid-book art heist and hostage drama. Is there a whiff of something ancient there? Something faked and something real? Of course. The heist is fake and real, both at the same time.

The crime that sits at the heart of the book has fakery at its core. But then Fiona start doubling up on the fakery – she’s faking a fake, in effect – but in the process, it turns out, she has created something authentic. And the authenticity of that thing plays a key role in the book’s final denouement.

Another example. Fiona’s father plays an important role in this book. He’s not a complicated or introspective man. He doesn’t battle, the way his daughter does, for a sense of identity.

But what happens in the book? This big, modern, uncomplicated man morphs, somehow, into something like a modern Arthur. That identity shift again plays a critical role in the final, decisive dramas. But it echoes around the book too. Here’s one example:

“Dad drives a silver Range Rover, the car Arthur would have chosen.

It hums as it drives, transfiguring the tarmac beneath its wheels into something finer, silvered, noble.

A wash of rain. Sunlight on a hill. Our slow paced Welsh roads.”

That’s playful, of course, and I had originally intended just to quote that first line, about the Range Rover. But when I opened up the text, I found the sentences that followed. That one about “transfiguring the tarmac” is about that process of transformation from something ordinary to something more like treasure, something noble.

And then even the bits that follow that – the wash of rain, the sunlight on the hill – don’t those things somehow attach to the “finer, silvered, noble” phrase we’ve just left? It’s as though the authenticity of the man driving the Range Rover transforms these ordinary things into something treasured. Something with the whisper of anciency and value.

I could go on, obviously, but this email would turn into a very, very long one if I did.

And look:

Yet again, I’ve got to the end of a long piece on writing without a real “how to” lesson to close it off.

Craig’s blog post says, among many other good things, that you should ask whether or not your scene angles in to your themes. But I don’t do that. Not consciously, not consistently. And – damn my eyes and boil my boots – I discover that the themes get in there anyway. Yoo-hoo, here we are.

Uninvited, but always welcome.

So the moral of all this is - ?

Well, I don’t know. I think that, yes, if you’re stuck with a scene, or if it’s just feeling a little awkward or wrong, then working through Craig’s list of scene-checks will sort you out 99% of the time. A conscious, almost mechanical, attention to those things will eliminate problems.

But if you’re not the conscious mechanic sort, then having a floaty awareness of the issues touched on in this email will probably work as well. If you maintain that rather unfocused awareness of your themes, you’ll find yourself naturally gravitating towards phrases and scenes and metaphors and moments that reliably support the structure you’re building.

And that works, I think. The final construction will have both coherence and a kind of unforced naturalness.

And for me, it’s one of the biggest pleasures of being an author. That looking back at a text and finding stuff in it that you never consciously put there.

Damn my eyes and boil my boots.

Till soon

Harry

Here's Mine.  Had a nightmare trying to attach it as a word document, so pasted it onto here, not liking the format.  Exactly 800 words with title.  Tight eh?  



No More Counting

I had no idea why they wanted me; why they wanted any of us.  They appeared to want to look after us.  Well, most of them did.  I didn’t trust the young one with the long face.  His smile wasn’t nice.  It wasn’t real, except for when he did something when the others weren’t looking.  He made Saffie cry.  Poor Saffie.  All she wanted was someone to love her.  I didn’t know what I wanted.  I didn’t know what I was supposed to do.  I hadn’t long started worrying about it.  Before, I loved the freedom outside, on my own – except for when the humans in the white thing would chase me.  I went where I wanted whenever I wanted.  I enjoyed sleeping in the sun and running along the sand with the wind in my face.  The friendly singing man at the food place fed me every day.  He had the best food.  The humans must’ve loved it as well because his home was always full of them, eating, laughing.  The lady who lived free like me also fed me when she could.  She understood.  She would talk and talk to me.  I didn’t know what she was saying but I loved her voice, and her face.  She looked like she knew everything.  Only, sadness hid in her eyes.    

Everything changed when my friend Buddy died.  He was old.  He told me to do something better with my life.  He said he couldn’t figure his destiny out so plodded along with life.  I thought that was what we all did.  I didn’t know what he meant at the time, but I soon began to realise.  I worked out why the free lady was sad and began to feel it when the humans kept away from me like they did her.  Even the dogs they kept tied wouldn’t talk to me.  I couldn’t work out why they wanted to be tied like that.  None of that  bothered me before old Buddy died, but I started to question the point of my life, and counted each passing moon.  I thought that maybe, just maybe there was more.  Hopefully something good.  That was when they got me.  The people in the white thing.  They took me to the cages for humans to look at.  Some went away with them.  Hope went.  She didn’t want to.  Frankie as well.  He knew what was happening.  I was scared at first there.  The noise was too much.  Some of the others were angry.  Really angry.  Some were sad, and others scared like me.  Alfie was crazy.  I loved Alfie.  Always happy.  Always chatting and laughing.  The humans liked him as well.  Adonis hated him.  Thought he was annoying.  Saying that, Adonis hated all of us, and the humans.  Especially long face.  Funny name, Adonis, for one so small.    

Humans didn’t want me.  Maybe because of my messy fur, or because I didn’t show interest.  I must admit, I was curious.  I wanted to know what they were doing and where they were going.  Anything to get out of that little cage.  I was just scared.  Also, a part of me hoped that I could be free again.    

Everything became clear one day.  Two big humans arrived with a small one.  They called her Destiny.   Something about Destiny made me jump up to watch her.  She didn’t speak at all.  Not even to my friends, and surprisingly, not when spoken to.  She didn’t smile either.  Like me, I don’t think she liked the noise much.  All she did was count everything.  She counted the humans; us; the bars on our cages.  Everything.  When she got to my cage she stopped counting.  We both stood still, staring at each other.  I had the strangest feeling.  I felt like only the two of us were there.  All the noise around us went to a far away place.  I suddenly felt like I needed to help her, to make her stop counting and be happy, to make her smile.  She looked to her humans.  They smiled.  I’ll never forget those smiles.  Real ones.  Not like long face’s.  Even then, when he smiled with them I didn’t believe him.   

I still haven’t decided if I’m more free now or back when I lived outside.  I always thought that all the  rushing around of the others with their busy lives stopped them doing what they wanted to do.  What I do know is that I’m no longer lost.  I love being here, and Destiny loves me.  She doesn’t scream and shout as much now.  She counts a lot less.  She also knows how to smile.  This makes me happy.  I now know that Buddy was right.  There is more.  I know that Destiny was always my...well, my destiny.