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The Jug Game

Jennifer’s short fiction and poetry have appeared in a number of publications on both sides of the Atlantic, including The Guardian, Mslexia, The First Line, and Short Fiction. She was the winner of the Commonwealth Short Story Competition 2009 and lives in Devon, England.
Annalisa had begged her father to bring her, imagining dizzying rides and pink stick-clouds of candyfloss, but it wasn’t that kind of fair. Loud-mouthed men with red faces haggled over scrawny roosters and sickly calves; a bearded woman lifted weights to grudging applause; barefooted children wrestled in the muddy arena while their parents cheered drunkenly from the sidelines.
“I need to see a man about a horse,” her father told her, motioning to the beer tent. “I won’t be long.”
Annalisa wandered aimlessly from stall to stall, clutching her coins tight inside her pocket for safe-keeping. She stopped at a low table filled with mismatched ceramic jugs, oblivious to the old man peering out at her from behind the fluted lips and handles.
“I thought you weren’t coming,” he wheezed.
Annalisa jumped. “I’m sorry,” she stammered, backing away as far as she could without seeming rude. “Do I know you?” Perhaps he was a friend of her father’s.
“Never mind. You’re here now,” continued the man, as if he hadn’t heard. “And it’s your turn. Go on, my lovely.” There was a black hollow at the front of his mouth where teeth should have been. “Pick a jug. Any jug. You get to keep the soul inside.”
“But I don’t want a soul,” whispered Annalisa.
“Yours to keep,” he promised.
She shook her head, hard coins biting into her flesh as she clenched her fist tight inside her pocket.
“What’s that you say?” The old man cupped a hand behind his shriveled left ear. “You’ll have to speak up.”
“I said I don’t want a soul. Someone else can have mine.”
“Hear that, my beauties?” the man smiled, feeling his hands across the row of gaping jug mouths like a blind man counting. “Little girl don’t want her soul no more.”
The End
This story was first published on Thursday, September 23rd, 2010


"The Jug Game" was written in response to a photograph of some tall misshaped clay jugs. They immediately struck me as sinister, although I would have been hardpressed to explain why. Imagining what might be lurking inside them led me to the old man at the fair.

- Jennifer Moore

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