One of my recent Open University assignments was to write the opening of a short story from a selection of prompts. My tutor kindly confirmed that I would be allowed to publish it here. This is the submitted version, and it received a really good grade, but I do plan on tweaking it a little bit based on the feedback I received.

Sam wakes at six. There are ripples on the ceiling, bright slices of sea. Can you call it a ceiling when you’re on a boat?

Through the open porthole, a gentle sea breeze, briny and fresh, wafts in; bringing with it the promise of a warm day. Sam smiles to herself, yawns, and does a full body stretch, muscles expanding and contracting. She settles into the soft mattress, languid, relaxed.

A gentle tapping at the door. “Who is it?” she mumbles.

A pause, then, “Me. Who else would it be?” The soft tenor of Matt’s voice comes through the door, slightly muffled.

“It’s early!”

“I made breakfast.”

“At six in the morning?”

Sam can almost hear him sigh. “Come up when you’re ready.”

An hour passes by; Sam drifts in and out of waking sleep, the cry of gulls, and the gentle slap of water against the hull, lulling her into an almost dreamlike state.

How long has she been here? How long since she left the life she knew?

She feels a pang of guilt. Was it a cowardly thing to do? Or has she simply done one thing for herself?

One selfish act mired in a sea of selflessness.

She shakes herself, pushing intrusive thoughts away, swallows the guilt like a bitter pill. Now is not the time for introspection.

Sam’s stomach grumbles, she hasn’t eaten since the previous morning. She’s reluctant to leave the comfort of her bed, content to lie there, watching the sunbeams move across the cabin, breathing in fresh, clean air.

Hunger gnaws at her insides; a wave of nausea rises to her throat. Why couldn’t Matt have brought her breakfast in bed?

Sam pushes the sheets back, swings her legs out, and sits up.

There’s a white cotton robe hanging on the back of the door, a pair of white fluffy slippers on the cream carpet. Sam pulls the robe on over her vest top and knickers, slips her feet into the slippers.

Checking her appearance in the mirror, Sam sees a version of herself she does not recognise. Once sparkling brown eyes are dull and tired, dark circles beneath like bruises on her skin. Glossy raven hair, mussed from sleep, looks lacklustre, the curls a tangle of messy waves. She’s skinnier than she realises, collar bones protruding, cheekbones sharp, pronounced. She doesn’t like what she sees, this is a Sam from another life.

“Take your time,” Matt says, not looking up from his book, when she emerges up on deck.

Sam gazes out to sea, and takes a deep breath, the sky is a bright cerulean, barely a cloud breaking the blue; it sparkles like an ever-shifting swathe of diamonds on blue silk.

They are anchored in a wide bay, the surrounding headland lush and green, where a faint indication of switchbacks descends towards a beach of pale-yellow sand. There are people on the beach, not many for this time of morning, mostly surfers bobbing on the water, swimmers splashing in the shallows, the early sunworshippers claiming the best spot on the sand for catching the rays.

Sam wonders about their lives, those people, how ordinary or exciting they may be. How do their lives compare to her own? What would they think if they knew the truth about her? 

“Earth to Sam.” Matt snaps his fingers at her.

“Sorry,” she says. “I was elsewhere.”

“Not regretting it already?”

“What? No, of course not.”

Matt returns to the book he’s reading, one tanned leg resting across the opposite knee, calloused hands turning the pages. Tall and lean, sandy hair tied back in a loose man bun, he looks more Robinson Crusoe than Sherlock Holmes, the Robert Downey Jnr. Years.

Sam sits on the padded sofa, the remnants of Matt’s breakfast on the table before her. A half drunk cup of tea, crumbs from toast, a smear of tomato ketchup across the plate. She helps herself to half a grapefruit, its bittersweet and tangy, the sharp juices explode over her tongue, refreshing and reviving.

“There were scrambled eggs,” Matt says, emphasising the past tense. “But I ate them before they went cold.” He looks at her with a wry smile. “Have some tea.”

Sam pours herself a cup of tea from the white ceramic teapot. She frowns. Why is almost everything on this boat white? She likes colourful things, white is so – sterile.

The tea is flowery, delicate. Earl Grey, not her favourite, but it will do. She prefers Assam or English Breakfast, strong and robust.

“The pick-up will be at noon,” Matt says.


Matt nods. “Today.”

“It’s too soon,” Sam says, panic rising.

“Listen,” he says. “You want to nail that lowlife. Don’t you?”

Sam nods, but she’s feeling sick.

“Well, this is your chance, and I suggest you take it.”

I had initially chosen a different prompt, but the story wouldn’t form, and I only got as far as the first paragraph. Reading through the prompts again, the opening for this story pulled me in straightaway. I would like to develop it further at some point.

I hope you enjoy it, it is very short, but was written to meet particular criteria; length being one of them!