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Winner of Echo story comp: week 5

Mandy Nolan

When we thought of having a regular short story competition we didn’t even dream that there would be so many budding writers sending in offerings each week. To be honest I expected about three stories a week, if that! Each week we are receiving stories in the double figures – so many of them worthy of winning. It’s always hard to judge something when the style and the tone is completely different, and equally well executed as the story before.

This week I read about sexuality and non binary dolphins, the karma of a predatory man and a fabulous full moon party in Main Arm. The story that stood out most for me though was by Henrietta Davidson. She has submitted a story most weeks – she has a strong bent towards fiction. This week her piece Dancing Queen felt like 1940’s French resistance nostalgia – but with a twist, it was from the point of view of gamers. This contemporary/1940’s narrative was intriguing as she took you into the relationship between gamers on Fortnite through their perceived reality. So congratulations Henrietta and thank you to all the other wonderful contributors! Keep ’em coming for the final week of the competition.

The main rule is the story has nothing to do with COVID-19. It can be no more than 800 words in length and there will be a $50 cash prize so if you haven’t got your story in yet make sure you submit for the last week

Email your entries to[email protected] by 11.59pm every Tuesday for inclusion. Please include your full name, address, and phone number.

Image by Tripwire Interactive.

This week’s winning story – Dancing Queen

By Henrietta Davidson

I first saw her through a sniper’s scope. We were in a ruined part of Stalingrad. It was 1943. Except none of that was true, because it was a game.

This was way before Fortnite, in the early days of first-person shooters, and pretty much all you could do in this game was shoot. Dancing Queen wasn’t interested in that though.

Wind whistled through the ruined house as I watched her from the shadows, from way across the city square. She was wearing the uniform of a female French resistance fighter, but not carrying a weapon.

Like a ballerina looking for a spotlight, she found a spot where a shaft of light lit up a living room with its front wall blown away. There was a painting of a dacha on the wall. She looked around, as if composing herself, and began to twirl.

That’s impossible, I thought. Then someone blew her away with a bazooka.

Dancing Queen is dead, said the graphic. But not for long. Somewhere in virtual Stalingrad, she’d already re-spawned.

Moments later I was dead too, killed in a deafening blast of machine gun fire by someone called Ikillz89.

For some reason worthy of a doctoral thesis, the best players in this game all liked dressing up as Nazis. Not that it mattered what uniform you wore, or which army you belonged to. It was everyone for themselves.

What mattered was the speed of your internet connection. If you were on dial-up in a melee fight with someone on a cable modem across the world, you were toast. That’s why I stuck to the sniper rifle.

A week later I was sneaking up a stairway, trying to be quiet, when I saw someone. The soldier was standing at the top of the stairs, just feet away. I fired instinctively. Even before the impact of the bullet threw her back, I knew it was her. But it was too late. I stood over Dancing Queen’s body, feeling strangely guilty. Her sightless eyes looked up at the mouldy ceiling.

A text message from Dancing Queen appeared at the side of the screen. ‘You shouldn’t have done that,’ it said.

I typed a single word back. ‘Sorry’.

Two days later, I was chasing a German officer with my scope as he ran for cover across the courtyard. I fired and missed, giving away my position. He found safety in a house, then ducked down behind a window ledge to reload.

Run or hide? My scope panned past a lopsided picture of comrade Stalin as I sweated. An old radio in the next room was playing male voice choirs and propaganda broadcasts.

I couldn’t see the German officer. Which didn’t mean he couldn’t see me. I swung the scope to the next room of the house where he was hiding.

Suddenly Dancing Queen woman appeared there, as her character respawned. She immediately threw her gun away, as though it was dirty.

‘How did you do that?’ I typed.

‘Easy,’ she texted back.

Her character started stretching and warming up.

Suddenly the officer in black was coming through the door at her, raising his gun at her. I fired slightly ahead of him and he collapsed – a perfect head shot.

Dancing Queen stepped around the blood, then turned to look straight at me, as though she could see my hiding place. Her steady gaze was unnerving.

‘Why?’ she texted.

I didn’t know what to say.

Someone switched off the propaganda broadcast. It was another soldier, creeping closer to my position.

‘He was going to kill you,’ I wrote.

‘I can’t die,’ she responded. ‘Throw away your gun.’

‘How?’

The force of an exploding grenade threw me across the room and over the balcony to the courtyard below. Through my character’s dying eyes I saw Dancing Queen pirouette away in the distance.

Six weeks later, I thought she’d left the game forever when I caught sight of her on the shingled roof of a building. Again I was the voyeur with the sniper’s scope.

Dancing Queen bowed to the left, and right, and began to dance to music only she could hear. The moves looked impossible; animated contortions of combat transformed into graceful art by hacking, or genius.

She leapt through a hole in the roof and landed on her feet in a shadowy ruined ballroom.

She did a cartwheel into a shaft of sunlight, and then froze, looking at me.

‘That was amazing,’ I typed. ‘How do you do that?’

‘Come down here and I’ll show you,’ she said.

I wondered what to do.

Suddenly the German officer was beside her. He threw away his machine gun, and bowed to Dancing Queen. She curtsied back, then took his hand.

Impossibly, they began to dance together.



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2 responses to “Winner of Echo story comp: week 5”

  1. Robin Harrison says:

    Beautiful, thank you.

  2. David says:

    Brilliant as usual. The winners are so good it might be worth finding a space so we can read the runners up as well.

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