We’re very happy to announce that Aaron Hughes is the winner of our short story competition with his entry The Garden of Eden. We loved this atmospheric, short-but-tight tale – it really stood out among nearly 100 entries, so congratulations Aaron! You can read his winning entry here:
With my own two eyes boys, I promise you that he was just standing across the grey. Just stood there. Didn’t even look my way. Pushing a wooden cart in front of him. Nothing but a white rag to make him modest.
I was just outside Barnstaple in Devon at the time; the sea air clears the ash away a little you see. I was fishing off Croyde beach, wading up to my chest in the water with bait of a rotted deer we hunted a few days ago. I just happened to turn and there he was. Up on the hill just off the coast. I thought I may have gone crazy, had to do a double-take just to be sure. I’ve seen men go mad in the grey you see. Dragged back mumbling or screaming, if they got it bad.
I wasn’t mad thats for sure. He was so skinny, looked like a husk of a man. Beard grown wild and bristle-like. Hair much the same only tied back in a ponytail. He had no mask or goggles to protect himself from the ash storms. Just a cart full of what looked like rice or wheat; not that wheat grew anymore. Every few steps he would crouch down and start fiddling with something on the ground. He disturbed the ash, so all I could see was a little grey puff of smoke. He kept on doing this until he was completely out of view.
At this point I ran back to the group in the town; held up in an old pub we were. Huddled in the cellar. I told the lads what I saw, but they didn’t care for it. Too hungry they only cared about the fish I’d left in the sea. Told me they grey had got to me, seeing shit that ain’t there.
Must have been about five months later, I’d moved on to an abandoned emergency shelter in Bristol.
Now the city folk there had travelled from the north, round abouts near Liverpool. Now these fellas knew what I was talking about. They’d seen him as far up as Shrewsbury, with an eight man scavenger party. Exactly the same thing, nothing but a rag and pushing his wooden cart along. They got a little closer than I did and they told me he was digging with his hands, past the ash layer and popping some kind of seed into the soil.
Now here is where they lose me. One of them lads in the group, Michael they tell me, goes up to this man and offers him a bit of grub and some clothes. He comes back to the scouting party with his jaw on the floor. In utter disbelief He says this man is blind. Eyes as white as snow he says. I could barely believe it myself.
Now I’m not a religious man, except when the ash first settled of course, everyone in my village was hold up in the church. Some folks would pray, and the rest sort of joined in. Kept morale up and stopped people turning on each other, like many did at the start. But as I was saying: I ain’t really a religious man. But I’m telling you, this guy has something holy about him.
Think about it for a second, the world ended for this country about 5 years ago now. Grey Britain they call it. Now burning an entire country and covering it with 3 inches of ash. Let me tell you: that is biblical. Apocalyptic, four horsemen, wrath of the almighty, all that shit. Now… if we are being punished for our sins, then we have paid the price. Rotten lungs, starvation, thieves, murders and adulterers. We paid the price ten times over.
Now maybe God has forgiven us. He has sent a saviour to make Britain green again. I doubt you boys remember what green looks like do you? I remember clear as day. Not just green either. Colours of all kinds. Flowers you see. Whole fields full of flowers covering the floor like a rainbow. In the summer the sky would be blue, not grey but the brightest damn blue you could imagine.
My old mum passed away in the great fires, God rest her soul. She was a gardener before she got old. Her job was to get these colours and stick them round the back of your house. Gorgeous they were you take a seat and listen to the birds singing and breath in the crystal clear air. She knew every flower. I’d push her in the park with her wheelchair and she’d point them out by name. When the fires took her flowers from her she wept right up until the smoke finished her off. That’s the world we live in now.
But maybe this new gardener has come to bring us the colours back. He’s made a believer of me as silly as that sounds. You take the beauty and the life out of the world, and replace it with nothing but grey, I’ll believe in anyone that brings that life and beauty back to me. A few more years boys; I promise you this country will shine with colours you couldn’t even dream of. We just got to go a little further, and faith will put it right again