Tall Tales, Short Stories – Highly Commended, Ben Woodward

Ben Woodward, aged 15

Ben completed Irenosen Okojie’s short story ‘Synsepalum‘:

It seemed to distort in his brain, engulfing his mind like the patterns he would sew, like the costumes he would design. His eye was drawn to mysteries like that; pretty, intriguing shapes in the distance that would swirl and spiral like a kaleidoscope, begging him to memorise and recreate them for the sake of fashion.

He checked the machines were safe and moved across the street, his feet nearly catching on the kerb, and stood transfixed under the mystic glass. The glow seemed more entrancing the closer you got as if it was magic itself emanating from the building and catching it in its stream. The museum’s artefacts had long entranced him, inspired him, made his designs what they were. For the objects of the past give way to inspiration of the future.

He pushed the door. It was open. The staff still needed to work, but why they would be there now? Manu watched the door swing open and the light hit him like a vulture diving at its prey, dancing from around the corner. He had been mesmerised from the moment he had seen it and now it was just beyond its reach so, like a spider crawling across a web towards its beckoning food, he crept towards it. A chance for inspiration?

A figure swept past his vision, walking swiftly along the corridor and he reminded himself that he wasn’t alone. Creeping along the sweeping entrance hall, he reached the corner leading to the room where that light was flowing from. His eyes peered around the wall and they rolled up in his head, the ideas seeming to run into his eyes and commanding his hand to start sketching.

The source of the glow was more than just a light, it glowed like a firefly – a dancing, living creature whose warmth could be felt in a full mile radius. It was in a full glass case, its glow bouncing and reflecting off the very glass itself, outshining every other object in the world. Manu had had an eye for beauty but never before had anything absorbed his eyes like this glow, the other items seemed little in comparison. It was like an angel had swept into the room and was radiating a golden aura.

His hands touched the glass, it was hot but that didn’t stop him. The source of the light was a rock, but like nothing he had seen before, a brilliant mass of smoking Phosphorous. There was a small keyhole at the side of the glass, and he unlocked it with the hairpin in his hair. He would have thought there would be better security, but perhaps it would be moved to the storage area?

He wanted it. No, needed it. And so he opened the cabinet, took off his jacket to wrap around it, and snuck it out. The light dimmed as he left, the glow in the window whimpered and died, and his inspiration flourished. But at the hands of theft.


Tall Tales, Short Stories celebrates 20 years of the V.S. Pritchett Prize, the great range of the short story form, and what is possible when we use other writers as inspiration. Our anthology contains the first 500 words of winning entries to the Prize and of stories from judges over the past 20 years. Our Tall Tales, Short Stories competition asked those aged 14-18 to finish one of the stories with a new ending of their own.

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Irenosen Okojie 2018