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Saturday, 8 February 2014

Saturday Story - 'Quest'

In February, 1974, the results of the previous November’s competition were announced for The Writer magazine. The entrants were asked to write a 250-word short story incorporating a clock, a lemon and a candle. The judge wrote that there was a bumper crop, several hundred, in fact. Old folk with candles, pancakes, and even jackdaws figured, all ‘distinctly individual’. Darkness provided the setting for countless ill-doings, murders and thefts, ‘and even the burying of a dressmaker’s dummy whose owner had lost weight,’

I was pleased to see my wife Jennifer received a mention: ‘Jennifer Nicholson-Morton’s Spanish scene, with lemon groves and romantic candle-lit dinners, was unusual in this wealth of Nordic gloom.’

I used to enjoy these 250-word competitions, not least because the judge went to great pains to provide a commentary on several runners-up.

This time, he concludes, ‘To select a winner from among this immensely varied entry was an almost impossible task, but here are the first three. First is Platen Syder [my penname at the time] with a grim Beowulfian story.’ The runners up were Patricia Elworthy and John C. Kemp.


Terragod’s battle-axe chopped repeatedly at the sturdy beams blocking the tower’s archer’s loophole, almost toppling himself from the scaling rope. One final surge – and the wood splintered asunder!

It took five painful minutes to squeeze his broad frame through, tattered and torn, bloody, bruised. He was in!

The crone had been right. Seeking out the Celestial Candle was a redoubtable task.

Crossing the Sea of Chronos where every forward motion resulted in two backward had severely taxed him. It hadn’t made sense to row backwards against the prevailing current in order to go forward with it, but the ruse worked. A lesser man would have perished exhausted.

Further on, whilst negotiating a canyon’s floor, a gigantic lemon leapt out of the blackness, releasing an eldritch squeal. Terragod’s battle-axe sliced and hacked but the creature kept right on, threatening to crush him. Suddenly, a gout of the behemoth’s acid splashed out, searing his forearm.
Terragod battling the citrus creature
Fearing blindness, Terragod sped on, outdistancing the citrus creature. Then he gouged a channel in the sandstone rock. Just in time!

The encroaching lemon toppled over the edge, jammed in the crevice. Its plaintive wails touched a chord, but he hurried on, to the tower…

At the roofless summit, bathed in moonglow, he finally confronted the Celestial Candle, atop an altar.

Eyeing the ancient clock alongside, powered by arcane electricity, Terragod had only moments to spare before Darkness permanently held sway.

He withdrew the crone’s tinder-box, fired it: ‘Let there be light!’

And there was light.

[Yes, even in 249 words, there’s a little overwriting, perhaps in the prevailing fantasy style of the time. I enjoyed it so much that I wrote a long short story about Terragod, ‘Quest of the Survivor’ and even drew a picture; the spider-web in the sky is significant to the story, which is still gathering dust.]

'Quest' - copyright Nik Morton, 1974, 2014

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