A Coin’s Desire

by Khushi Shelat, Brisbane  State High School, South Brisbane


Greed.

It’s stuck to every inch of the human’s skin.
Held selfishly within the prison-like fist of the human, the coin could feel the greed.

It couldn’t be seen, or touched, or smelt, or heard, or tasted.
Nevertheless, it was present, ominous and inescapable, malicious and inexplicable…
Evil.

Without uttering a whisper, without lifting a finger, it can hardwire humans to forget about others and do only for themselves, it causes them to do terrible, terrible things.
The scary thing is: it’s always there, hanging silently in the darkness, invisible and unnoticed.

Greed controls humans.
Every single one.

The golden surface of the coin was pressed tightly against the human’s hand, which was, though calloused in immeasurable amounts of greed, well-soaped and therefore soft to touch.
Long, curled fingers serves as prison bars, trapping the coin in, without giving it the power to get out.

Until now.

Suddenly, the fist, slowly, hesitantly, begins to straighten and unfurl into a palm, although the fingers remain slightly upturned –the human was unwilling to give up his small, golden fortune. Carefully, the hand flips over, twisting at the wrist, then places the large coin in the centre of another palm, which hastily closes over it once again.

This second hand had skin that was bathed in greed every day and every night. But it almost felt different; a different kind of greed.
Perhaps it was the desperation.
Desperation had been non-existent with the previous human, only voluminous amount of pure pride.

Desperation is stronger, that is certain.

The coin was lowered by the second human, just as hurriedly as the coin had been grasped.

One last feeling of the unexplainably pungent mix of greed and desperation, a split-second contact with the old, weathered denim of the second human’s pocket and then … a strange sensation of free-falling through the musty, unclean air of an ancient-looking antique shop.

The second human’s fingers had gone too hastily.

The coin had slipped away…

A victorious ring is emitted from the collision as the coin slams bodily into the weary-looking concrete flor of the tiny store, lined heavily with scar-like cracks and wrinkles. The coin rolled towards the door of the shop, which had been left wide open in the hope to welcome more customers inside the building and perhaps gain enough to pay off the building’s rent.  Under the false impression that he would now be able to afford that and much, much more with the small, profitable contents in his pocket, the old shopkeeper had not yet noticed to coin’s disappearance.

He realised only when a glint of reflected light caught his eye. The man saw the coin rolling out onto the night-drowned street outside, leaving his pocket now empty. Anger started flames in his mind, anger at the shear unfairness of it all. Desperate, the shopkeeper sprinted towards the open door. Maybe it was fate – perhaps simply luck – that a gust of wind blew the weak door closed that night.
The man screamed in frustration.
The man forced the door open.

The tired old door groaned almost audibly as it felt that ice-cold palm press against the skin on its back, which was cruelly tattooed in strange, painfully carved patterns. Its arthritic joints cringed in the prospect of opening once more, only to fall back closed again.
However, the human persisted stubbornly and eventually pushed the door open, slamming it carelessly into the poor, withered wall of the tiny store.

The atmosphere was almost foreboding…threatening, even. Rickety buildings towered haphazardly on either side of the back street. They seems to almost bend over the road like huge, endless archways, enclosing the gloomy street within. The ominous tunnel-like setting was one that could cause claustrophobia to claw at the minds of travellers, awakening fear within them and making their hearts beat a million miles per hour.
But the coin felt no such fear.
It was free.
Free from the frugal fists of humans that were moulded by greed, but carved with the hands of pure selfishness.
Free from all that the coin had once wanted gone.

Now it’s finally gone.

The coin had discovered freedom, it wasn’t ready to let it go just yet.

But a coin – any coin – doesn’t have a choice.
Coins are very much as controlled by greed as humans are.

Coins are victims of greed.
Humans are followers of greed.

The sudden taste of joyous freedom that the coin had experienced was dampened as the golden object felt yet another pair of greed filled eyes set on its glinting surface.

All hope of freedom was lost immediately.
The coin was lost in a swirling mix of undecipherable emotions: Anger. Hate. Sadness. Despair.

Uneven footsteps rang behind the coin, chasing it.
Grimly, the coin continued, even with full knowledge on who would be victorious in this desperate chase.

The footsteps grew louder, closer.

The coin twisted another turn.

The footsteps sounded from a metre behind.

The coin got no further.

A brown, wrinkled hand reached for the coin.
The small object braced itself, waiting.
But the fingers didn’t curl over it.

The palm didn’t become a fist.

This human’s skin felt light and papery. It was almost stretched over his arthritic bones. He held the coin gingerly on the flat of his palm.

Greed?

A tinge, a tiny sparkle of greed.
There was no desperation, simply want.
There was no pride, the hand was a humble one.
There was a hint of something though, something that the coin had never found in a previous human hand.
Hope.
Unimaginable, immeasurable, unthinkable volumes of hope.

His face was lined and deeply tanned from rigorous work in the sun. His lips were cracked and grey, hardly a hint of moisture remaining within them. The old man – for there was no doubt that he was old – had roughly cut salt-and-pepper hair. Streaks of hair, wet with sweat, fell over his forehead and touched his crinkled eyelashes.
Small brown eyes looked down at the coin, seemingly intrigued by its obvious weight and golden shine.

Slowly though, his eyes widened in surprise and triumph as he realised the coin’s value.

Greed, once hardly noticeable in his wrinkled hands, now was buzzing within his very veins.
Then, his hands closed into a fist.

Despair filled the coin.
It had thought it was free!

But a coin is never free, never really.

Always, tiny episodic tastes of freedom will come … but never would they evolve into the divine plateful that every coin has a yearning for.
A businessman, a shopkeeper, a homeless person, a dog, a child, a mother, a doctor …

The coin was held by all these hands.
Every palm closed eventually into a fist.
Every fist opened momentarily into a fleeting taste of freedom.

In every hand greed was present.

In some hands less than others.

1160 words

 

Judge's Report

Debbie Peden
 

GENERAL COMMENTS:


Each year the contributions – both qualitatively and quantitatively – increase. The 2014 entries have been no exception. The fantasy genre was by far the most popular form of short story writing and while there were a number of engaging stories in this genre, it is nevertheless one that is quite demanding, requiring the writer to create credible, original and distinctive characters and plot lines. The dramatic genre was more successfully responded to, with writers very effectively pitting characters against others, themselves or circumstances. What captivated me with the place getters was their ability to engage the reader from the opening lines and to maintain that relationship: a decisive or appealing narrative hook is essential for good short story writing. I also recognized in these winning entries, effective use of economy wherein the writer is able to convey a sense of place, character and conflict within the word limit and sometimes most powerfully with just a single word.


PLACE WINNERS:

First Place: A Coin’s Desire
Greed is the major theme within this short story with a single gold coin the conduit for greed’s expression through a range of different characters. These characters acquire or happen upon the coin as it makes its way from one clenched hand to another. Greed is described as something evil: “it is present, ominous… malicious and inexplicable”. The coin itself takes on the qualities of a ‘thing’ that is possessed then lost: it witnesses and experiences weak-souled individuals and their downfalls when acquiring the golden coin. What I particularly liked about this story was the writer’s ability to use language and storyline very provocatively creating tension and anticipation for the reader. This is a well written piece and I encourage the writer to continue their craft: they have a good writing future ahead of them.

Second Place: A Dream or a Nightmare?
While the title may sound a little clichéd, the storyline itself is very captivating. I was impressed not only with the figurative language that expressed so beautifully the time and place, but also the compact nature of the story (it is only 515 words) and the writer’s ability to convey their story within this word limit. Personification is used very effectively throughout: it opens with a golden sunrise that moves “slowly over a cobalt blue sky illuminating the soft mist that casts its gentle fingers over the valley”, and later the female character, Isobel, is caught in a storm with “lightning flashes [piercing a] bruised purple sky [and] thunder rumbles menacingly in the distance”. Finally it is up to the reader to determine whether Isobel has succumbed to the dark underworld forces. A beautifully crafted story which I very much enjoyed reading.

Third Place: 51 Minutes
It was the title that first drew me to this story, suggesting that the plot and character would be put under some form of time constraint. What emerged however was a character with an obsessive anxiety disorder, encountered in this instance in a library. Hunter Bartholomew Brown has his rigid 36 minute book reading time frame and book selection process, thrown into chaos by someone sitting in his chair. What unfolds is an engaging encounter with the mysterious savant Ruby Sparks. 51 minutes later he has partly read and enjoyed Ruby’s book selection. Great dialogue and character construction with an intriguing conclusion, and one that leaves the reader wanting more.


HIGHLY COMMENDED


The Awakening:
We are transported to the year 2175 in this captivating fantasy. Ryah has been cryogenically frozen for two hundred years and awakes to discover the reason for her preservation: she belongs to a rare and ancient race with telekinetic powers. It is a fantastical story, and one in which the writer has been able to convey their creative imagination plausibly and with distinctive characterization.

The Decision:
This story reflects shades of the British-American film “Sliding Doors” in which the central character must choose to catch a train (or not) to determine their fate. The central character in The Decision must choose between her best friend and a potentially fame-filled career: she chooses her friend. With the benefit of a wise sage, Kirra is given a glimpse of the future should she have chosen differently. The writer has an easy writing style, providing a new twist in the fantasy.

Valedictorian
Valedictorian is a lively story about a graduate named Kyle, written from Kyle’s point of view as he awaits his award. What unfolds is a choice between friendship and being the best. Lots of good tension and internal dialogue with an unexpected outcome in the denouement. Well written and engaging.
 

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