The Master

Judge’s Comments – Runner-up

I love the vivid description of how the master looks in this story, and also the description of separated families trying to get a glimpse of each other, which is very emotive. The stark details of the inmates’ daily privations are deftly written and nicely contrasted against the narrator’s period of daydreaming while at the harsh job of unpicking the rope.

The Master

By Abigail Harknett

Creak. The rotting wooden door swings forward on its rusty hinges to reveal the large silhouette of the master. He stands in front of the dirt-encrusted window, allowing the dim sunlight to fall on his red, blotchy, bloated face as he bellows at us to get moving. Still half asleep, the hundreds of other girls and I, who have all been rammed in to one cramped dormitory, swap our discoloured, threadbare nightgowns for equally filthy aprons and thin dresses that hang off of our skeletal bodies before being herded outside. Here, my fellow inmates become more alert as they desperately try to catch a glimpse of their beloved relatives on the other side of the partition. Again, the pump is frozen solid, meaning we are lead back inside to the huge hall where we can collect a meagre serving of gruel. The hungriest and most desperate of us try different ways to make the tiny portions more filling, whether that’s by swallowing it as quickly as possible or by taking tiny sips. However if you try that way you could to leave the hall blue and purple, as the master has a nasty temper when he gets impatient. Some have died because of it, but the deaths are always recorded as a fall or the flu.

By 5am, we’re working. On the table there’s miles of rope, which we’re ordered to unpick for the threads to be resold. I glance down at my scarred, scarlet hands mournfully. They didn’t always look like this did they? After all this time here, my hands are numb to the sharp pain that used to feel like a million tiny whips with every strand. Unpicking is such a mind numbing task that my thoughts start to wonder to thoughts of my life before I came here. I’m scared to find that I can barely remember any details and even the faces of my father and brother are hazy and I feel a sharp knot in my stomach as I think, will I ever see them again? Tears prick my eyes and I concentrate on the rope and the wind and sound of the eerie, bare trees warning people away.

Its 8pm by the time we’re allowed to go up to the table to get more gruel. Each day our bowls seem emptier and the masters more full. I’m so tired that my eyes are barely open and my head feels like it’s about to implode. The dorms shrouded in darkness and I have to make sure I don’t tread on any of the rats as they bite. I pull my nightgown over my head and collapse on my bed, wishing to be anywhere else.

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