Love, death, and science fiction: Our 2021 Hearsay creative writing awards

Our three favourite contributions to our creative writing and literature-themed edition, as judged by the editors

Hearsay photography by Ellie Cheesman.

1st: “love in a blink” by Grace Atta

Credit: Ellie Cheesman.

2nd: “Sfumato” by Beck Rowse

His cheek blended into a clump of moss. Red down to yellow down to orange down to green. Blue veins framed his face around the eyebrows and under the mouth. They throbbed. Milking blood into a creek coloured by algae.

Winter rain had kept him alive so far. It caused water to rush down the creek, clapping clusters of rocks on the way. Frothing up to his mouth unlatched by a broken jaw. His throat then convulsing every so often and swallowing. Rock mineral, moss spores, and the taste of a hemorrhage.

His eyesight faded away over time. It came in the form of an ever increasing fog; giving the impression of great distance in the landscape. Arrowhead trees blurring forever. An endless row of pikes piercing out of creek dirt. The sun impaling it’s head onto every one of them. Bleeding it’s colour over the fog.

The man laughed as though he was being tickled. August wind feathered the soles of his feet and tornadoed up to his stomach. There it folded rain water into a sugary syrup. The process shot oxygen out of his nostrils.

Laughter and the sweetness of the syrup both helped to bandaid his pain. In particular, a triangle that was torn out of the centre of his torso, coming to a sharp point between his ribcage. It seemed to be infected by memories. Bamboo pillows, pima cotton, and the touch of muscle under skin all made it burn. Enough days at the creek, and it would scab over.

Spring came soon enough, and with it a sense of growth. Out from underneath the soil caught in his fingernails, bean shoots sprouted. Ivy germinated from his gums and flossed the gaps between his teeth. Where his neck had snapped, a white Peace Lily grew, and beaconed like a lighthouse.

Seasons blended into each other. Spring green down to Summer yellow down to Autumn orange down to Winter blue. The creek rose but rain visited less and less. Now without running water to make sugar from, he starved. His stomach gurgled and tried to summon a hurricane from inside itself. But it was no use. The sun cooked the creek, burning brown the plant life that framed his body. And in the heat, the wound in his chest blistered and reopened. An air conditioned car, endless cacti in red dirt, and the knuckles of a lover’s hand on a gear stick. He stayed in these memories and forgot about the creek.

Memory soon hardened. Thoughts turned to pebbles. Senses ran with the water. Skin leathered. He sank into the creek. Six feet under mud and algae. The Earth’s core replaced the sun. Under pressure and heat, the man fossilised, and everything blended to the colour of coal.

Credit: Ellie Cheesman.

3rd: “On Call” by Raphail Spartalis

The hospital juts out of the ground like a rock, splitting the stark desert landscape in two. Sun-kissed and sand-battered, nature ravages it like a storm. A wall of dark red, burning dirt surrounds it on all sides. It’s being consumed; encircled. Eaten, slowly, by the earth. But it resists. It is defiant. Intimidating. It’s monolithic.

Inside the hospital it is damp and cold. Its walls are washed in off-white. The nurse glides down the hall, pausing at regular intervals to peek into the various rooms dotted along the corridor. It stops outside one, hesitates, then enters. This is what the nurse sees:

The room is old and filled with death. A skeleton lies on the bed. Its milky bones have long since faded to a dusty grey. Undisturbed for years, a thick layer of grime covers its lifeless frame like icing sugar on a cake. (The nurse does not think this part about the icing sugar and the cake.) There is stillness in the air. Against the far wall, a window used to let light into this room. Once, it would have framed the outside like a picture: roses, tulips, lush green fields. Now it is dark crimson, almost black. A canvas of nothing. Layer by layer, the earth has built up around this building, this window; packed itself tight. Pressure cracks divide the glass into uneven thirds.

The nurse leaves this room and continues on down the corridor, past room 314, 315, 316…

It arrives at the lobby, pauses, surveys the area. Then it calls out to the room in the same way it has every day for the past ninety-eight years. It asks if it can be of service to anyone. Then announces that the canteen is offering a two-for-one deal on muffins for the next hour. It pauses momentarily before requesting that Janine come with it, that the doctor will see her now.

Janine, reduced now to a pile of bones scattered clumsily across the tiled waiting room floor, does not reply. Perhaps she’s busy. Or just a tad shy? Oh well, she will have her chance again tomorrow. The nurse, ever dependable, leaves to fill its next post.

Mrs Magnusson from room 721 still hasn’t given birth. This labour is taking longer than expected (and recommended). The nurse makes a note to check on her again tomorrow. It files this under Magnusson’s profile: 1 of 36,049 (flagged as urgent).

As its shift draws to a close, the nurse reviews the day, ensures nothing was missed. Affirmative. Yes. Hallelujah. Every room has been checked; every patient assessed. The job has been done. Flawless. Precise. Timely as always. If practice makes perfect, what does repetition make?

Content, the nurse returns to the basement. This is the warmest room in the hospital. Seeking out the bright, familiar glow of the reactor, it plugs itself in, dutifully. Despite the web of hairline fractures splitting the glass core of the generator like a mosaic, it has refused to give out. For the last hundred years it’s kept things going here– kept the lights on, so to speak. So reliable is the reactor, so magnanimous, that it was even willing to share its radiance with the rest of the hospital, in the end.

The nurse powers down. Outside, sand still batters the walls of the hospital. As the sky begins to fade — cool amber into deep red into dull, dusty grey — the remnants of the Moon rise to take their place in the darkening heavens. They shimmer dimly in shades of white and silver. Save for them, the sky is empty. Even the stars, once glistening beacons of light and life, are no longer visible: hidden behind a void of hazy darkness.

Back inside the hospital, all is still. The rooms are dark; their occupants silent. And far down in the basement, the reactor glows a deep ocean green.

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