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Editors’ Choice For November: Knell by Nathaniel

Published on Friday, January 3, 2014 by

Each month we select the best 15-minute Writers’ Dash submission made through our blog comment system or through our submission page. This a timed challenge and is more demanding than it appears. The writer has to organise thoughts, ideas and words into a presentable package in a mere 15 minutes. There is rarely time to edit.

The winner for November is Nathaniel for his short work of fiction, entitled Knell.

The hall was filled with that special kind of almost silence caused by a couple of hundred people concentrating hard. A gentle background sound of pens scribbling, paper being rustled and brains being racked, punctuated here and there by the occasional soft cough or snuffle, and the distant sound of traffic in the streets outside. Overlaying the almost-silence was a palpable air of tension, expectation and the occasional pool of mind-numbing fear.

One such pool surrounded a desk about halfway down one of the long, serried rows. Jane stretched her neck, scratched her head, flexed her fingers and stared, almost sightlessly at the printed paper in front of her. Answer both questions in Section A and any three from Section B, the rubric said. The first two she had done, and two from the second part, but now, the remaining choice of questions mocked her indecision as to what to do next.

She looked around the hall, seeking inspiration in the high, painted ceiling, the marble pillars and the tall graceful windows through which she could see the familiar stone walls of the castle on the other side of the road. Staring down at the paper, she screwed up her face in concentration, a sickly grimace as she realised that there was little to choose between the remaining options. With a quiet sigh, she crossed one out and began work on the other, her heart quickening as she could see the large clock at the end of the hall, the big hand seeming almost to laugh at her as it passed the six and was well on the way to the seven.

“Come on, Jane, you can do this.” She said to herself, silently, forcing her mind to concentrate on the question. It was not her favourite topic, but it would have to do. This was the last chance, the last exam, and her final grade could well depend on it. Words dribbled hesitantly from her pen as she struggled to recall what she knew of this particular subject. She concentrated, squeezing out little bits of information that she knew were buried somewhere in her mind.

Now unseen, a hundred feet in front of her, the large hand of the clock crept ever closer towards the vertical, as she scribbled frantically, desperate for those last 20 marks that could make all the difference. Outside, the traffic rumbled on, the peacocks in the castle grounds honked, uncaring of her predicament. And, high above the hall, in its domed tower, the old, yet reliable mechanism of the city hall clock turned another fraction of a turn, levers clicked over, weights and springs began to exert their forces, and slowly, ponderously, the large bell began to chime the hour. That was the death knell, as somewhere below, a couple of hundred faces looked up, sighing in relief, or panic, as the dread words were spoken from the front of the hall…

“Stop writing!”

© 2013 Nathaniel

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