This short story by Hannah Davison of Culvenden won third place in the William Taylor Memorial Heartland Short Story competition for 2017.
The judge commented: There’s a real element of mystique and magic in this beautifully told tale. The language is rich, poetic, musical even. It’s an enigmatic story full of symbolism and metaphor, very like a parable, fable or myth passed on through generations. I don’t get all of it, I don’t think you need to, that is part of the mystical quality of the prose. What is important is that the reader is transported into this mythical world, a world where a magnificent cloak is the centre of the universe, and the girl who wears it is part goddess, part innocent child, part heroine, part scapegoat. A wonderful piece of writing.
My Magnificent Cloak
I stood on the hilltop, as I had been asked. My mother and father draped my magnificent cloak about my shoulders and spread it out far behind me. They faced me away from the people, so they had a good view of the finery streaming from my shoulders. Pride swelled in my stomach.
My parents made that cloak for me. The fabric was coloured deep indigo. Decorated with diamonds, embroidered with golden thread. I wore my hair bundled high for I had a fine fur collar. It was more magnificent than the whole night sky.
When I was a girl I found a little green ribbon. It felt cool to my touch when it ran between finger and thumb. I was so pleased with my treasure I begged my parents for it to be part of my cloak, though they had already decided the design. They let me use my ribbon to fasten the cloak across my chest.
‘Stay on the hilltop,’ they said, ‘and the people will admire you for your magnificent cloak.’
Clouds covered the sky and thunder rolled around inside them. My parents went away to take shelter. But I would be safe and warm in my cloak and I stayed where I had been asked.
Then the rains came. And came. And came. Cold water seeped through my cloak. Indigo dye bled from the fabric. The colour stained my skin. The thread was poor and began to rot. My diamonds melted. They were only crystals of salt, not gems after all. In their place, many holes were left.
The golden embroidery was eaten by rust. Flakes fell around my feet.
The holes in my cloak grew. The bigger they grew, the barer I became. The people crept closer to stare at me. The nights felt as cold as stone.
When there was almost nothing left I decided to leave the hilltop. But the people were angry that I had tricked them. They stood on the ends of my cloak so I couldn’t go.
I tried to run, but the ribbon held tightly across my neck. I thought I might choke. The people jeered, wiping their feet on the tatters of my cloak and plucking at the fraying stitches.
So, I started to move very slowly. Thread by thread the fabric gave way. I leant forward against the rags of my cloak and waited until I fell free.
The people kept looking at my cloak, treading it into the mud. They didn’t even notice when I walked away.
My first sunrise was on a beach. I washed in the waves, rubbing my skin with handfuls of sand. Driftwood lay along the shoreline, clean and smooth from its journey on the water. I built a shelter there.
In the mornings, I walked with the rising sun, finding treasures as I went. Seaweed, shells, flax and feathers. I began to weave a cloak.
Only the fur collar remained, and from it, my new cloak grew. Made of things I’d gathered at the dawn of each day. It fit snugly on my shoulders, fixed over my heart, the ends bound together with a little green ribbon.