I wrote the following short story a few months ago and since then have swayed back and forth whether to send it into competitions. Following my recent post on The Cost of Competitions and the informed and lively discussion afterwards I have decided to share Sofia here instead.
So, when you have a few minutes to spare I hope you have a chance to read the story -perhaps snuggled up in your favourite corner, a coffee / tea to hand plus the odd biscuit or chocolate too!
The first half of the story appears below – to read it all including the final half please click here.
With two chipped mugs balanced precariously on a tray Inspector Nunn kicked the door closed and placed the drinks in front of Jane. She hardly noticed the tea sloshing onto the plate of scattered rich tea biscuits.
“Sorry about that Mrs Terence. Please continue,” said Inspector Nunn, as he reached for a soggy biscuit and dunked it in his tea.
“I noticed the man’s voice, that second time I saw him. He was restrained and quite embarrassed to start with, calling out for his daughter.
“He didn’t seem too worried and then there was a sudden, almost hysterical urgency in his call.
“By now he was much more frantic and as he ran past me I saw his long brown hair unfurled from his ponytail. Ragged and knotted. He took a few steps along the path, and then his head swiveled round, as he scanned his surroundings. Helpless. Searching, with that haunted look. Perhaps that’s why nobody helped. Not at first anyway.
“He shouted her name again and again; the last syllable stressed and short.” “Mrs Terence…” interrupted Inspector Nunn.
“Jane. When was the first time you saw him?”
“Sorry. We saw him only a couple of hours earlier. Ellie – that’s my daughter – and I bumped right into him. Into him and his little girl. Sofia, I assume. The two girls started talking, in that peculiar fashion of four-year olds. There was silence, followed by a couple of words, then some pointing. Ellie mentioned the sloth we’d just visited. That’s why we hadn’t seen them; we were blinded by the sunlight as we stepped out of the dark corridor. Ellie hadn’t been too impressed by the sloth, if I’m honest. It did rather resemble a slab of fur…”
“Jane, what about Sofia? How did she seem?”
“She was happy, excited even. I guess it was her first time at the zoo. She was buzzing after their encounter with the golden tamarins; she danced around us, her light red hair floating behind her, the locks bouncing on her back. Beautiful. A tamarin had snatched the bottle of drink from the man’s rucksack, but luckily the staff had retrieved it quickly. That explained why Sofia was clutching the bottle in one hand and in the other a sheep. I remember that. In a zoo full of exotic animals she carried around a cuddly sheep. Pretty boring, I thought.”
“Did you try to help? Did you try to stop him? To talk to him?”
“He was too fast, you see. He didn’t stop. Didn’t even really say anything else. Perhaps I should have done something, anything. Yes, I was a bit afraid. After all I was on my own here, with little Ellie. I should have forced him to stop, tried to help him. He was just so large – a body building type with a tight black T-shirt with weird silver writing on it. Look at me. At five foot six, I felt tiny next to him. Vulnerable even. I did have to think of Ellie.”
“Thank you for waiting Mr..?”
“Elwood. Martin Elwood. I don’t know how I can help you. I didn’t see anything.”
“Anything you can tell us will help. Trust me. When did you arrive today?” asked Inspector Nunn, as he munched away on the final sodden biscuit, his tea long since finished.
“I got here first thing this morning, just as the zoo was opening. In the summer we bought one of those Gold Cards, giving us free admission for a year. It’s great value for money. Have you got any children, Officer?”
“Inspector. Yes, I have two. Carry on.”
“Shh…Don’t talk too loud, they’re fast asleep, they’ve just had their bottles. It was my first time here with the twins on my own.”
“The man, Mr Elwood. When did you notice him?”
“That was right away, in the car park. He was with the little girl in the van as I pulled up. It was a white van with the name of a builder on it. His own business I assumed, although I did wonder why he wasn’t working. In this recession didn’t think anyone could afford take time off willy-nilly?”
“How about you? Why were you here on a Tuesday?”
“I’m a pilot and work erratic hours – crazy working life – I bet yours is a bit like that, Officer?”
“Again, it’s Inspector. Do continue but less about my life please,” replied Inspector Nunn. “How did they seem?”
“Fine I suppose,” replied Martin. “The girl was talking non-stop, playing with a little sheep. I saw her singing “Baa Baa Black Sheep” and that made me smile.”
“Well, because it was a white sheep of course. The whole time the guy seemed distracted, stared ahead, ignoring his sweet daughter. That was pretty cold of him, if you ask me. I couldn’t do that.”
“Didn’t he talk to her at all?”
“Oh, well, I suppose now you ask, he did look at her a couple of times, stroked her hair even, but with sadness. I mean, why come to a zoo if you’re gong to be a miserable sod?
“At the entrance till we stood behind him. He was one of those who obviously don’t feel the cold. This morning there was still a slight frost, early for mid-October, but a definite chill and even I got my coat on. He seemed one of those macho types, wearing just a T-shirt advertising a heavy metal band or such. What a contrast to the girl! What was her name? Sophie you said earlier?”
“Sorry, Sofia. She wore a pretty red dress with lots of layers, a red cardigan with white lace and matching white plimsolls. Dressed for a party I thought. The zoo does hold them you know but it did seem odd, as no one turned up to greet them and there were no other children in party clothes.”
“When did you see them next?”
“Quite a bit later, by the giraffes. The man was a bit more engaged then, you could say. The girl was on his shoulders, and she reached out with her free hand to stroke the giraffe. It lowered its head and then suddenly stuck out its tongue. A thick wedge of black flesh licked her hand, she squealed in shock, startling us all. Her dad took a step backwards and stumbled over the pushchair. It nearly tipped over and with a scream my boys woke up. Great, they’d only been asleep for a few minutes! Yes, I suppose that is selfish but I – they – needed their rest. The man did say sorry but his accent was so heavy I barely understood him.”
“He wasn’t her father.”
“That’s strange, who was he then?” “Her uncle.”
“Good Afternoon Miss..?”
“Beaumont. My first name is Bethany. I just heard the witness muttering as he left. Something about the guy not being Sofia’s dad. Are you sure? They seemed so close.”
“Please Bethany, tell me first what were you doing here today? And why were you so sure that they were father and daughter? What makes you such an expert?”
“I never said I was an expert. I just see a lot. I’ve been working here for two years; came straight from school. I pride myself on working out the visitors relationship to each other, kills time at the ice-cream kiosk I tell you.
“He acted with the love of a father. Sure, he looked different, but I’m not your normal twenty-year old either with all my piercings.
“My Mum despairs, especially when I had my tongue done last monh. Sofia liked it though; she touched the stud and all. Her dad…uncle…didn’t seem to mind at all.
“She’d just come from the African area and the giraffes. There was a bit of a scare I heard. The ice cream was to comfort her. The Calippo lolly was clasped in both her hands, they must have been freezing. A sheep? No, I didn’t see her holding anything, just the ice-lolly. The man wasn’t holding anything either. He bought a 99 Flake and we had a long chat about that. Yes, he did seem foreign but his English was fine. What did we talk about? Oh you know, the usual, in this case the ice cream. Why didn’t it cost 99p instead of the two pounds? Inflation, that’s what I said. Of course it didn’t help that he had all the trimmings, including a flake, sprinkles and sauce. They seemed like any normal visitors – no, I take that back. They were different, friendlier, not too many stop for a chat with me.”
Copyright ©Annika Perry
To read the rest of the story please press here and read on from page 6.
42 thoughts on “SOFIA!”
A sad tale, but well told. It’s a pity, but tragedy rarely plays well these days. Nobody seems to have the appetite for it that the ancient Greeks or even the Elizabethans had. So it’s good to read one. If there are never any sad stories, the happy endings seem…too easy.
Thanks for inspiring me. Maybe I’ll write a sad story, too. 🙂
Thank you, Cathleen. I must admit to liking sad stories as well as happy ones…particularly ones that build up to the final moments. That would be great if this has inspired you to write a sad story. Will you post it on your blog? I would love to read it.
Annika, I’d read the first part of this a few days ago, but today I sat down and read it in its entirety. I really like your writing. It’s quite a feat to write short story and this one did keep me wondering what happened to Sofia, but then wondering well what happened to Tarik? Great job, I think.
Thank you so much, Kathy. For long stories like this I will always flag them to read later at leisure and so glad you like it. Tarik is my favourite character from the story and I almost feel his story deserves telling separately!
I agree. Maybe his thoughts as he was dying
Thank you! I like this idea…in flashbacks but not directly linear…I’m musing now!
Annika, safe travel mercies, friend! ❤ It sounds like a very cold journey but must be part of your heritage to enjoy and be part of the place.
I felt that interviewing different eye witnesses was a valid and realistic way of slowly unraveling the story. It did reveal how biases and perceptions (preconceptions) come into play when seeing same persons (Sofia and her "father") through different lenses. Elegant style with formality of an Inspector Nunn, rather than an officer or detective, conducting the interviews.
First, wow, thank you so much for your wonderful incisive and considered comment, Robin. 😀 I’m beaming here – you really get what I was trying to do with the story. At one stage I was worried Inspector Nunn was becoming too stereotyped but think not. It was such a fun and interesting story to write.
As for the cold I’ve not often experienced the minus 20 – it is quite shocking and you do feel at mercy of nature. We had in the low celsius but all places inside are cosy and warm and outside we just wear the right winter gear!
I am excited that I was able to describe how I felt the writing depicted a current style of detective work. It was realistic and showed the human side, too. So happy my comment brought a beaming face to you, my friend. It is good to allow creative juices to flow out and still have fun! 🙂
Hoping you continue to have rather mild weather and staying warm and cosy, no matter what, Annika.
Interesting, Annika. I think I must have my woolly head on because I had it in my head that Sofia was a baby elephant, so I was disappointed with the outcome. You’ll have to excuse me 😦 Imaginative, though 🙂
Wonderful, although like the other commenters here I was saddened by the ending. I really like this short story and am SO HAPPY you decided to share it with us, Annika 🙂
Thank you so much, Christy! 😀😀 My first idea for the ending was much sadder indeed but decided that didn’t work. I’ve loved sharing it and such wonderful considered feedback is a real boon.
I hope you’ll continue to share with us xx
Oh, absolutely…there is one other story I have in mind for beginning of next year! Thank you!
Masterfully done, Annika. I love all of the foregoing comments and don’t know what else I can add. This is a suspenseful page-turner. Revealing the same events filtered through different perspectives was such a fascinating approach for storytelling. And even though I suspected the end would not be as happy as I always hope when I read mysteries, the true character of a hero was revealed for a man many superficially judged rather harshly. I’m grateful that you made the decision to share it here.
Carol, thank you so much for your lovely comment, your words mean a lot to me. 😀 The story started as an exercise I set myself to see if I could reveal a story through various characters whilst also bringing out their personalities and prejudices. I’m so glad you feel it works well and your were hooked by the suspense. It has been a joy to share the story here and I’m so happy I decided to do do this in the end.
I like the story, Annika! I immediately wanted to know who Sofia was and what happened to her. I also enjoyed how the story unfolded with the interviewees. I was sad that he met such a terrible end with the Rhino, but I also liked the twist and the resolution which is a lot like life itself, sometimes good, sometimes not. I would say you should definitely submit your work. Every now and then, you can submit to a “free” market and now you know who to read to find one 😀 The one thing you might be careful of that I have found out….most literary markets, magazines, etc., will consider anything that you publish on your blog to be previously “published” and will not accept it. I don’t know how it is in the UK, but the majority of U.S. based markets are like that. I do separate work for what I put on my blog, and what I may try to publish one day.
Lana, thank you so much and I’m so happy you liked the story! 😀 The ending came after reading about such an event – not in a zoo though but rather in Africa whilst out on safari. So glad you like the twist and were hooked to find out more about Sofia.
Yes, the rules are the same as in the States and this is one reason I took a while deciding whether to set it aside for competitions or whether to post it here. Until last year many competitions allowed a short story / poem to have been published on a private blog / website and still be valid for competitions. This seems to have changed across the board and it is definitely something for everyone to keep in mind if they think they might want to enter their work in competitions. Thank you so much for pointing out this very important rule – which can be lost amongst the small print. Personally I decided, particularly following the discussions on my last post, that I really wanted to share it here – it just felt right.
I think it is good to share sometimes to get feedback. I think it is quite unfair that they will not accept blog published material. I would think someone would have to have hundreds of thousands of followers for that to even matter which wouldn’t apply to most WordPress writers.
A sad little mystery of sorts. I really enjoyed how you kept this reader guessings, Annika. Well-done! 🙂
Bette, I never thought of it as a mystery but I do enjoy these type of books and have been influenced no doubt! It was fun trying to reveal a little with each witness to build the overall picture. Thank you so much for your lovely comment.😀
You should definitely submit it.
Thank you so much for saying so, Cynthia! 😀 The vote of confidence means a lot – unfortunately this story is not allowed in many competitions now but I am so happy to have shared it here. If I see something with different rules I’ll definitely submit it.
I had to read the whole thing at once, Annika. I like how the story was gradually revealed through the course of the interviews and how you led the reader off on little tangents. Each witness brought their own perspectives that weren’t necessarily correct. Well done. I’m glad you shared it!
Diana, thank you so much! 😀 Whilst also slowly unravelling the story and providing some misguidance I also wanted to reveal a little about each witness and how preconceived notions affect otherwise rational thinking. I’m so glad you liked it and it was a joy to share it.
That came across perfectly, Annika. It was a really interesting aspect of the story as all our narrators, though telling the truth, became unreliable. 🙂
a safari of real characters
such that i could barely
steady my tea biscuit 🙂
David, thank you so much for your wonderful comment – ‘a safari of real characters’! Just love that phrase.
Wonderful Annika, I enjoyed the suspense and how the characters interacted. I read it twice so I could get the full effect. Also like that, it takes place at the zoo. You should enter it in a competition… jc
Thank you so much, JC and thank you for reading it twice!!😃😀 I wanted a normally safe innocuous place for the story and having visited zoos on many occasions when my son was young (and when we lost him once for 15 minutes!! – another story in itself!) this location came to mind. Alas it is now ruled out of many competitions but I was aware of that beforehand but I really don’t mind. It’s a joy sharing it here on my blog…and who knows it might appear in an anthology of my short stories one day!
Wonderful story, Annika! I agree with others, this is a worthy competition piece, if you can find a good contest for it. Love the various witness accounts, and so sad at the end. Well done!
Thank you so much for your lovely comment, Julie. 😀 I wanted to try out this technique in a short story – letting the questioning slowly relate the story whilst bringing up the notion of prejudices as well. There were a few competitions that it would have suited but in the end I found I wanted to share it here on my blog instead!
Strong and touching story Annika. Every witness and of course inspector Dunn are masterfully painted with short, strong strokes. Sensitivity running through the whole.
The suspense builds up and the ‘suspicious’ charachter of the uncle is totally turned as he gives all to save his beloved niece.
You kept the suspense to the end. Wonderful.
Mirja, wow, thank you so much for your great comment. I love the idea of painting with ‘short, sharp strokes’, blimey, that’s poetic in itself! This was such a fun piece to write, to slowly eek out the story, building up the suspense until the final tragedy.
Great story, Annika. I really think you should enter it into some contests…if you’re able to find the right fit. Thanks for sharing!
Thank you, Jill and so glad you enjoyed the story.😃 I probably won’t be able to enter it for any contests now as it’s been ‘printed’ on my blog but I am just very happy to share it. Recently a few writers have brought out anthologies of their short stories and I have a this as a possibility for the future – I’ll see!
Very well written, full of mystery and confusion to keep the reader scratching her head. Go for the submission.
Bernadette, thank you so much and it was that sense of confusion I wanted to continue as a thread throughout – so often people jump on preconceived ideas. By posting the story I knew I had already invalidated for most competitions in the UK but I was so keen to share it here with readers but thank you so much for your vote of confidence! 😃
Wow. I think it would have been a winner. All the red herrings Tarik is a bad man, perhaps he has kidnapped Sofia. Or perhaps Sofia has been kidnapped by someone else. Sofia is never found, or perhaps… nearing the end, she gets into the enclosure. Then the final truth, held back until the last few sentences. Masterful.
Thank you very much, Peter. 😀 I wanted the reader guessing until the final moments and to build up the tension as much as possible – so glad you felt it worked.
Great story Annika. It leads you in at the start and gets you drawing conclusions which are ovérturned by a neat (but rather sad) twist at the end. It’s a mystery to me though why you didn’t submit this to a competition unless you couldn’t find a suitable one to enter.
Thank you so much, Mike and glad you liked the twist at the end.😀 There were a few competitions I had considered entering it in but at the same time I wanted to share it here. I held back until I’d made my decision and the last post’s discussion really helped clear my mind as to what I wanted to do. The problem is that once the story is posted on my blog it is immediately invalidated for many competitions.