Showcasing creative writing by university students around the world.

Illustration by Katie Smith

Published Thursday, January 30th, 2014

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I set up my table in the back room. A blank piece of paper and a failing pen. And then all I can do is wait. It is quite possible that no one will come, that the posters went unnoticed or were, worse, ripped down. It is quite possible that this room is just too difficult to find. God, even the building is out on a limb.

I set up my table in the back room. A blank piece of paper and a failing pen. And then all I can do is wait. It is quite possible that no one will come, that the posters went unnoticed or were, worse, ripped down. It is quite possible that this room is just too difficult to find. God, even the building is out on a limb.

I sit. I wait. Teeth chew pen, feet tap floor. Then – knock, knock, knock.



“Is this where the auditions are?”

I nod and the voice becomes a figure, standing in the doorway.

“So, you want to be in this story?”

“That is, indeed, true.”


The tone is measured and clipped, sartorial. In fact, the whole character seems to be tailored. I cock my head and listen. What will he say next?


“My name is Freddie Taylor.”


Predictable. Freddie is beginning to go down in my estimations.


“So…Freddie, give me a bit of backstory.”


“Um…I don’t really…” Freddie tails off.

I didn’t think so. Feeble really. What good i s a guy who’s all concept, no context? No one wants to read about a walking suit. I try to look him in the eye and catch the coat stand’s instead – an infinitely better character. Freddie coughs. An impressive feat for a man with no face.




“I’m sorry but I don’t feel very…” The suit man crumples with the paper I throw at him. One minute down, the clock says. Tick. It’s going to be a long day. And so I keep waiting, doing nothing but thinking and remembering. And all I can think about is waiting.


It was 5am, then. Every time I looked. Turning on the lamp scared away the sunless light. And it was 5am. Again. The sound of not-typing was growing louder and louder, almost drowning out the click of the light switch. On off on off. Work sleep. The blankness was infuriating and, I decided, worse in the light. Click. A dark room like a dark mind would give the ideas more space. I could trick them into appearing before my eyes rather than behind them, or that was what I thought. It was 5am logic. And it was always 5am and – knock, knock, knock.


“Come in.”






It was 5am when I first met Bennett. Probably. A different 5am. He is an escapee from the first and only four chapters of an adolescent novel. I do not know how he got here.


“I’m here for the auditions. Obviously.” He is smirking above his silly little goatee.


“Go away.” Bennett does not move. He has not moved for five years.


“You just left me you know. Bleeding. In a dress.”


I should explain. Bennett was a member of an all-male

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Shakespearean acting troupe. He was suave, sharp and a chain smoker. We had actually got on quite well. That was until I switched the swords during a production of Romeo and Juliet. Juliet only lost her foot. It could have been worse really. If only I’d continued writing long enough to let it heal.


“You’ve got blood all over my audition room.”


“Oh I’m terribly sorry, I’ll stop bleeding immediately.” Sarcastic bugger. Bennett sits down on a chair at the side of the room and takes a packet of cigarettes out of his faux cleavage.


“I believe you were telling a story.” How he knows this is a mystery, as is the regrowth of his goatee. Juliet had shaved.


It was 5am – I won’t say it again – and on that night I most definitely wasn’t telling a story. That hour is a lonely one and, yes, I was alone. Completely. The world was dead with the mass murmurs of sleep, the cars all parked and the doors all locked. This was not the worst of it. I could do without the talking and the traffic. The worst of it was the hole on the page where my character should be. That was the – knock, knock, knock.




“I have a name, you know.”


I know, of course I know. I gave it to her.


“Lydia-” another ghost from a story unfinished. She is dead, although as a character she was, quite obviously, never alive. I had thought.


“No, not dead,” She says. “You left me dying. Remember.” So here I go, remembering again. Lydia was written to be a victim. That’s how it goes, in literature at least. The genre was mystery and someone needed killing. There should have been no “why me?” about it, in literature at least. There should have been no “me”. That’s not to say I hadn’t grown attached. I’d fleshed her out quite well. Too well.


“It was painful for me too,” I say. Lydia snorts. I think Lydia snorts. Gunshot to the head. I wish she’d go away.


“You switched scenes and never came back. You wrote me a family and a life when you knew all along. You didn’t need to. It could have been painless for both of us. Remember!”


I cannot look her in the eye and I don’t want to. I look at the floor. She stands surrounded by Bennett’s bloody footsteps. He blows me a stream of interrogatory smoke. I feel sick. I do not know why I held these auditions.


“Remember!” She says the word again. She screams it. I remember.


You know the hour, the place, the room. You know the problem. B-l-o-c-k. Block locked the words. The cursor blinking. Blank. I thought it might be getting light outside, as if that would change anything. Anything – that’s all I needed. I’d take a single setting, phrase or character. Just one character. They’d bring the rest. A car growled past: the last of the night or first of the morning. It didn’t stop. It isn’t that easy. Looking back to the lack on that impatient page, I tried to – knock, knock, knock.


“No. Go away. I’m sorry but the auditions are over.” The door opens anyway. Someone runs at me and, yelping, I crumple under the desk. There is laughter and the click of a cigarette lighter from Bennett. Lydia is dead silent. I consider staying under this desk forever.


“I can think of much better things for you to do forever.” I recognise the voice although I have never heard it out loud. You can’t kill a character without characterising a killer.


“Natalie.” I sit up again. I don’t want to. I do. “You shouldn’t be here. I mean, you were fine. I didn’t do anything to you. You’re the killer. I saved you. The story didn’t finish and you were fine.”


“Don’t lie to them. How did you leave me?” I do not want to tell you. Everything was piercing – cold, knife, screams. That was how I had begun it. Then it kept beginning. I kept turning away, to other characters, to other days. Then back again to the knife. Cut to the cut. The murder had happened before the novel, in that pre-fictional time. The murder kept happening. I kept turning back. Return to the scene of the crime. Again and again. Oh-so-slowly cut to the quick. That victim was not a character. Natalie was. Everything escalated in those incremental steps until it was all cut to pieces and I could write no more. I lost my nerve as the plot became clearer and the flashbacks more vivid. Sick of the sight of blood, I turned away forever. There are worse things to do forever.


“You looked away. I could never look away. I am always there, even now, killing him.” I do not understand. She is not in that story. She is here. She is in motion again.


“Well look who it is. Victim number two! A bullet to the brain was quick for both of us at least. So considerate. No nasty flashbacks.” Lydia backs away as Natalie stalks towards her. “We never got to chat, though, did we?” Lydia cries out with a fear that shouldn’t exist – the murdered facing the murderer. And then there’s me, unable to face either.


“What a reunion!” Bennett smirks. “Certainly not awkward. I’d call these auditions a success, wouldn’t you?” He leans against the table, head bent towards mine, menacingly genial, and with an actor’s skill he directs my gaze towards the unfolding scene. Lydia cowers in the corner now, as she did then. She buries her head in her arms, but they won’t stop a bullet. Besides, she has already been shot. I remember. I wrote it. Natalie’s face is unreadable. A flaw I should have fixed. She lifts her arm and – bang, bang, bang. The two pointed fingers of a make-believe gun. I think I see it smoking. It is Bennett’s cigarette.


“You could do something, you know.”


“What?” My eyes snap back to his.


“You could stop this.”


“Stop what?”


“All of this. I mean, it’s your fault, isn’t it? You could end it. You could damn well finish it!” His look is accusatory like Natalie’s pointed finger gun, now pointing towards me. I have an audience and I fear I have not been written sympathetically.


Back in the blank and the 5am an idea had finally formed. Why not hold auditions? A writing exercise to find my feet. To find a character.


“Thing is, you’ve got plenty, haven’t you?” Bennett stands up, surveying the room. “We’re not going away, and…” he looks from his bleeding foot to Lydia’s face with eyebrows raised and shoulders shrugged, “ …I don’t think anyone else is coming while we’re still here.”


“But what do I write?”


“You finish what you’ve started,” Lydia says.


“You write us an ending.”


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