Here in south-west Scotland, there are all manner of wonderful places to visit.  One that has a particular appeal for me is Wigtown.  I love Wigtown, because it is Scotland’s national book town and, well, you know me and books, enough said.

There are some fantastic bookshops there, all of them delightful and capable of keeping me entertained for hours, wandering around the shelves, looking for this and that and even occasionally finding it.  One of the biggest of the lot is known quite clearly and simply as “The Bookshop“.  Last week, Shaun at The Bookshop came up with the inspiring idea of running a little short story competition.  Nothing major, but a wonderful exercise since the brief was very simple: subject “Free will”, length exactly 500 words and 48 hours in which to write it.

Well, contrary to the evidence here on this seldom-updated bit of the wibbly-wobbly web, I do style myself as an author of sorts and this was just the kind of thing I needed to kick me into gear and get me scribbling.  So I did.  I then took the resulting story, edited it down to the appopriate 500 words (which was a good exercise in its own right) and submitted it.

Today, I have just found out that I won.  Yes, I did, really, I’m not making it up.

So, for your delight and delectation, I give you this very short story (exactly 500 words according to MS Word’s word-count feature) titled:

Free will, right?

On the glaring salt flats, a Dying Man moves slowly. He has been here for two days, walking and then crawling. Soon he’ll stop.

Maybe it’s exhaustion, but he hears…voices?

“So Michael? Another wager?”

“This is becoming tedious.”

“Don’t be a sore loser. ‘You-Know-Who’ wouldn’t approve. Anyway, you might be lucky.”

“Let’s just save him and get out of here. Paris is nice.”

“No direct interventions remember? He has to choose. Free will, right?”

“Alright, let’s get it over with…”

A cool shadow falls over the Dying Man. He looks up from the salt around his hands. Two figures stand before him. One wears a black suit but his skin is red. Not sunburn red but truly red with an oily sheen. His hair is neat but his yellow eyes are strange, inhuman. The other man is tall, blonde and blue-eyed. He’s dressed in brilliant white armour and carries a shining broadsword. The cool shade comes from the huge white wings on his back.

Faintly, the Dying Man speaks.

“What?”

“Well, it’s like this.” says the red-skinned man. “We’re here to help you, but you have to choose – me or him.”

“Why? Just help me!”

“Yes, we will. I can get you anything – you name it. Choose me and the world is yours.”

The Dying Man looks at the white soldier.

“And you?”

“I’m not the worldly type. I can get you out of here, but that’s it.”

“Easy choice then?”

“That’s the point I guess.”

The Dying Man turns back to the red-skinned man.

“Anything?”

“Yes!”

“OK, food, water, transport. And I want money. Lots of money. Billions.”

“Done.”

“And I want his sword.”

“I’m not sure I can do that!”

“Anything, right?!”

The red-skinned man turns to the white soldier and raises an eyebrow.

“Michael?”

“We’ll discuss it.”

At that, the Dying Man sees a distant haze. Soon it’s a vehicle, speeding across the salt. Ten minutes later, a Range Rover is parked a few metres away. A smartly dressed chauffeur climbs out, walks to the Dying Man and gives him a bottle of water.

“For you sir. Glad we found you. There’s food in the car.”

He nods to the others.

“Thank you.”

As the Dying Man climbs to his feet, he peers at the red-skinned man and the white soldier.

“OK, now the sword.”

“Er…it’s not really mine to give…”

“No sword, no deal.”

The red-skinned man looks at the soldier again.

“Any chance?”

The soldier closes his eyes. Then he hands his sword to the Dying Man.

The red-skinned man smiles.

“Thank you. Very noble of you.”

“Yeah, right…”

As he begins to walk to the car, the Dying Man turns to the red-skinned man.

“Oh, by the way…”

The sword moves so fast that it’s a shining blur. For a few seconds, the red-skinned man looks surprised before the severed halves of his body fall apart, crumbling to dust.

The Dying Man winks as he hands the sword back.

“Free will, right?”