‘It’s been a joy and a privilege to read all the entries to Altrincham Word Fest’s historical short story competition for schools during lockdown. At a time when many of us were barely able to concentrate, it’s so impressive that students were able to research and put together such wonderful, sensitive stories. It was truly moving to read them during our own challenging moment in history. I congratulate each and every one of the young writers who entered. – Carolyn O’Brien, author of ‘The Song of Peterloo’ and head judge.
Winner of Years 9-10 Category – Alina Patwary
‘Alina’s entry was striking in its originality – both in structure and subject-matter – with some beautiful phrasing. We had hoped for stories that taught us something we didn’t already know about our local area, and this has certainly whetted my appetite to learn more about events of the English Civil War in Manchester.’ – Carolyn O’Brien
‘The Battle for Manchester’ by Alina Patwary
Red reflections danced along the river. Below my feet lay the depths of the Salford River- what would become the River Irwell. Its liquid form undulated, little ripples crashed into one another until the reflected-red silhouettes drowned. Behind me stood the prosperous town of Royalist Salford; in front were wooden posts linked by chains, protecting the impoverished Blackfriars. The atmosphere between the two was thick- one spark could set the scene alight. Oliver Cromwell had seized the hearts of the Mancunian peasants with whimsical teachings from God – they called themselves Purists. For once, I was glad that my brown plumed-hat shaded my face. The Parliamentarian rally ahead emitted a bad omen, menacingly awaiting to be unleashed. The Royalists aligned themselves into a battle-fashion. Everyone – both friend and foe – were coaxed into a silence. We were all waiting for the spark to ignite.
The sun rose to its zenith, now was the girl’s chance. The Roundheads had formed battalions along the earth ramparts by the village-edge: leaving the front line inconspicuous from her vantage-point. She jumped off the stone wall and assessed her options. She was a Purist, but despite her religious beliefs, she desperately wanted to enliven a chapter of her mediocre life. Surreptitiously, she sneaked into the depths of the crowd. Her mud-mask and dark cap concealed her face (she looked like a wild beast lurking within the shadows of the crowd). The girls auburn lengths were underneath the cap, which was screwed tightly onto her head. Her battered clothes – which were stolen from her neighbour – were too large for her 4’8″ frame. No-one could possibly recognise her. Something rare for a girl in a town with constant communication—from talking in the market place to door steps. She had freedom.
Bang! The spark was ignited. I clicked my musket trigger several times a minute—aiming at the Parliamentarian defenders of Blackfriars. On cue, paroxysms were thrown towards me; knives; bullets; people and horses. The junction at the end of Salford Bridge was narrow: the bottleneck curse. Swerving left, I dodged the door of Satan but unfortunately, the Cavalier behind wasn’t so lucky. Back to consciousness, I was centimetres from a watery plunge. My arms pressed hard against the Hanging Bridge rail, in an attempt to stop my body from toppling over the side. My body turned towards the action. Within the initial minutes, at least fifty people had fallen dead. With haste, I refilled my musket. Reborn in the middle of the fight for Blackfriars, I sprinted towards the bottleneck, pushing the Royalists further forward. Those at the front of the herd faced the worst of the village wrath. By the time it was my turn, approximately fifty more people had lost their lives. Corpses (some in the Roundhead metal armour; others in the Cavalier red) were ubiquitous – scattered everywhere along the sodden path. Abruptly, barbaric hands tugged at my hat and musket. I caught the eye of a Roundhead and shoved the musket-length into his stomach, momentarily relieving the pressure on my arm caused by the villagers’ tenacious, clawing hands. A second was enough. I turned to face them, firing my musket at close proximity. The musket could shoot at a range of 300 meters; someone a few feet away would experience the true horrors one small bullet-sized hole could cause. A salty concoction coated my lips. The corpses produced a plague for the nose. The air was river-thick with panting and smoke trails epicentered from every angle. I was in the village main street—the Roundhead soldiers were defending the bottleneck. God was by my side as I was one of the few with fortune enough to avoid the bridge-end cruelty. Knives were glued to the Mancunian’s hands. I retreated back into a cottage wall. Sweat and fabric greeted my fingers. I cast a glance back. Someone was there and they didn’t look pleased that I had waltzed back into them at all.
A Cavalier had crashed into the girl. His hand had touched her damp cap, knocking it to the ground. Her eyes were intent with murder. A fiend who burnt every soul leaving the ashes as a solemn reminder not to mess with him. Her auburn hair had come loose from her bun- her freedom would be cut short once the townspeople found out she had disobeyed their explicit instructions. That didn’t matter right now. 1642, the 25th of September, would remain as the day she tasted freedom; but that time was running dry as she fought to prevent the fall of her beloved Manchester. She dived into the man, temporarily blinding him. He howled. His eyes were drenched in a frantic panic: the girl had stolen his musket. He was only a few feet away. The weight of the musket gave her muscles a hard time. She aimed it at the man. She shot.
My instincts compelled me to move. I fell low. The bullet brushed my feather hat clear of my head. Adrenaline surged. My musket had fallen down to her side. Bent double, she was catching some breath from the humid atmosphere. I lunged into her, brushing my fingers over the metal machine. Forcefully, her hand pushed against my chest, knocking me off balance. Her delicate fingers twitched as she pressed the trigger.
She shot my leg. A waterfall of red erupted. I screamed louder than I had ever before. Her face contorted.
The girl had been successful. That didn’t mean she was pleased. The man was crying from the sudden pain. She knew that his people wanted control over her village: but that did not mean she had to be a monster. She pulled his hands away from his leg and hauled him towards the cottage wall.
I felt numb. The world was a chrome of Roundhead tawny-orange, midday-sun yellow and black. The girl smiled at me. I don’t know why, but it was comforting. I welcomed my journey to the after-life. But before that, I spent my last breath.
“Make Manchester proud.”