QuickFic 27/11/15: The Winner

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Wow. Can we just say something? Something a little bit cheesy or, sticking with our American tone today, corny? We’re really thankful for you lot. Another batch of brilliant, bonkers, bitesize bits of fiction filled our inbox today and we had ever such a lovely time reading it all.

Now for the important part, though.

Our winners.

RUNNER-UP: Francesca Walsh

You Said You Were Tall

She: “You said you were tall.”

He: “I am.”

She: “You’re standing on a chair.”

He: “So you’re sizeist and speciesist. Nice.”

She: “I am not. It’s just you’re not what I was expecting.”

He: “Can’t say I’m too thrilled myself. I made it quite clear you had to be vegetarian.”

She: “I usually am but I eat when I’m stressed.”

He: “Stressed? You’ve had three meat starters so far and one of them was raw.”

She: “It’s called Steak Tartare.”

 He: “Funny name for a COW.”

She: “Well they had to make your granola specially. It’s not even on the A la Carte.  That’s coming off your half of the check.”

He: “You’ve got a very big head.”

She: “What?”

He: “Your head. It’s very big. And hairy.”

She: “Everyone says I have beautiful hair. And it’s a hell of a lot better than a shrivelled bald head with skin hanging off your BEAK.”

He: “It’s called wattle. And it’s a sign of virility.”

She:  “Don’t you go getting any ideas. I promised Carol I’d go to dinner with you because she said you were lonely this time of year. THAT’S as far as it goes. DINNER! And that was before I saw YOU.”

He: “Don’t you patronise me. You shallow ornithophobic.”

She: “How dare you call me that. I just don’t like YOU. I don’t care what you are.”

He: “So, will we do this again?”

She: “Sure. We have chemistry.”

 

RUNNER-UP: Bikram Sharma

Pa

On Thanksgiving, Pa decided he no longer wanted to remain a human. “It’s simple, really, this body is old and inelegant.” He pulled at the loose skin under his neck. “Just for a day, I’d like to be a bird and fly. That’d be something to be thankful for.”

“Oh yes?” Ma said. “And what about your family?”

“I’ve got 364 days for you, my darlings.”

He locked himself in his study and Ma resumed cooking, muttering to herself. Hours passed before there was a colossal explosion. The door was ripped right off its hinges. Pa hopped out, looking very much a turkey. He cocked his head, inspecting the damage he’d done.

Ma loomed over him. “Oh well done. Please, why don’t you make a mess of the living room as well?”

Pa clucked in indignation. His feathers were long and black, beautiful, but under his bald head dangled a loose flab of pink skin.

“A turkey,” Ma said, exasperated. “You can’t fly, you oaf!”

He shook his body and took a few ungainly steps to the window ledge. Flapping his wings, he took off, soaring low and clattering to a stop on our neighbour’s roof. His claws dug into the shingle and dislodged a tile, which fell to the ground and shattered. He looked at us. Even from that distance, his guilt was unmistakable.

“Should we help him?” I asked.

“There’s no helping a man like that.” And yet, Ma opened the window wider, waiting for him to return.

 

WINNER: Christopher Wakling

Full Fat

“A-s-k-a-n-c-e,” he says.  “Look it up.”

“I know what it means.”

He pecks at his muesli. “Sure you do.”

“Christ, I’ve had it up to here with your judgemental bullshit,” she says.

“I’m trying to help.”

“No, you’re doing what you always do: you’re belittling me with assumptions.  I don’t need one of your fancy Harvard degrees to know what’s really going on here.”

“Whatever.  Eat up.”

A car hushes past outside. The smell of bacon rises from her plate.  Sunlight falls through the blind, underscoring the cruet with an insulting shadow. 

“I never asked for this,” she says.

He looks up.  “For what?”

“You know full well what.”

“A full English breakfast?”

“No—”

“I just thought you could do with feeding up.”

She holds his eye for a moment.  Ever since she started the five-two diet he’s been doing this, forcing her to eat huge meals on her ‘normal’ days.  Four weeks in and she’s actually gained weight.  Meanwhile, he just keeps on with his sanctimonious vegetarianism and power-walking, getting thinner and thinner.  A glass of full fat milk for Christ’s sake.  And him so … gaunt!  I want to murder him, she thinks.  Seventeen months ago she was reassuring her mother that the age gap didn’t matter, and now she’d like to snap his scrawny neck, roast him whole.  He turns to face the window and the horrible wattle beneath his chin sways.

“Looks like it’s going to be a nice day,” he says.

 

Congratulations, Francesca, Bikram and Christopher! And thanks to all who entered. We can’t wait to roll the Christmas prompts out…

QuickFic 27/11/15

A very happy and thankful Friday to you! We hope all of our American friends had a lovely Thanksgiving yesterday. We might just have chosen a festive prompt, too…

As always, the rules are simple. If you already know them, you can skip right ahead to the prompt. Just at the bottom of the page, you can’t miss it! We’ll meet you down there.

If you’re new round here, this is how it all works: we’re about to show you a prompt. Write us a story, of 250 words or less, inspired by that prompt, and then pop it in an email to academy@faber.co.uk, by 2:50pm. You might win some books!

These ones!

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L-R: Their Lips Talk of Mischief, In Bitter Chill, Rites of Passage, The Vogue Factor, How We Live and Why We Die

Come on then. Prompt time:

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We can’t wait to see what you come up with!

By entering our QuickFic writing competitions, you’re granting us non-exclusive worldwide permission to reprint your story on our website should you win. The winner will also get a chance to win a place on one of our Start to Write one day courses, because at the end of the year we’ll be choosing our favourite of all the winners – the champion of champions, basically.

Wednesday Writing Exercise: Story vs Plot

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The hot topic for our Writing A Novel students this evening is Story vs Plot. Now, despite us pitting them against each other like that, story and plot are actually good friends. They get along nicely. They need each other in fact. And our novels need them both. But understanding the difference is really important, too.

Story is how we sum up the novel in its entirety. It’s the flavour of the thing, the What. What’s this story all about? is the question, and you should be able, at this stage, to answer that in a single sentence.

Plot is the Where and the How. It’s all the individual bits that make up and drive the story from A to B.  Writing A Novel tutor Sarah May describes it as ‘the detailed scenario, event by event, which makes up the story, together with sufficient character motivation to link them logically.’ Sounds simple, right?

Welllll… maybe not. So for this week’s exercise, let’s pull that plot apart. We’ve sort of borrowed this particular one from very clever Shelley Harris, who just happens to be the tutor on our upcoming one day Fiction Skills course on Plot. So she knows her stuff.

  • Get yourself a roll of wallpaper, or wrapping paper, or any kind of paper that unrolls and is super long. Now get yourself two types of Post-It – two different sizes, or two different colours, even fancy shaped ones if you like. On the first type, write down all of the key events (there might even be an inciting incident in there) that happen in the novel, and stick them in order, down your unrolled and super long piece of paper.
     
    There! Your novel has a skeleton. It just needs fleshing out now… So on the second type of Post-It, write down all the things that happen between each of those key events, and stick them on.
     
    Now the thing to do is to look at it. Are there lots of Post-Its bunched up in certain bits, and then only a single one between another two key events? Would it make sense to move some of the Post-Its to other places? Could this thing happen here, to make more sense out of that one? And what is driving the plot? Are all of these Post-Its things the characters are doing, or are they things which happen to them, beyond their control? Could you have more of a balance between the two?
     
    Lastly, are there enough Post-Its? If not, look at your characters. Ask yourself How can I make this more difficult for them? Answers on a Post-It, please.

QuickFic 20/11/15: The Winner

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Well. Another week, another QuickFic – another bucketload of talent arriving in our inbox. Thank you to everyone who entered; everyone who wrote smart, interesting, dark and funny stories using that prompt up there (which is, of course, the opening line of The Old Curiosity Shop, by Mr Dickens. Nice one, Charles). There were sinister meetings and sneaky spies; weevils and Warsaw and, memorably, Ted Hughes. We loved every minute.

Anyway, someone has to win. These books need a HOME.

RUNNER-UP: Jessica Rachid

Hunter

Owls begin to cry out as the wind rustles through the leaves, sending shivers down my spine. I can smell the burning of pine. The woods are alive tonight.

My rifle is strapped to my back, ready to take down any passing prey. Hilda told me to check the traps and wrap up. Night is generally my time for walking. It is perfect for hunting foxes and rabbits.

Tonight, I am without a hunting partner… my brother. Patience is needed in this forest. He had none. Now I am alone. But I feel at home when twigs snap underneath my feet and I hear the crickets calling out. It is peaceful, almost like a melody. It can lull you to sleep if you aren’t careful. I have spent many nights looking up into the stars and waking with the dawn.

Plenty of strangers enter the woods. They do not realise the dangers. Warning signs are ignored. Sweethearts creep under the willow tree. Young boys and girls start bonfires and drink and scare off game. Then they are surprised when accidents happen. Only last week, they found a body by the ravine.

There is a full moon in the sky, lighting my way. I have set a couple of snares and I want to see what I have caught. Silence stretches out. I always love the anticipation. It is a thrill to see fresh blood.

 

RUNNER-UP: Alison Wassell

On Hope Road

Come with me on my evening stroll. Move stealthily so as not to disturb the inhabitants of Hope Road. Curtains not yet drawn, the Lesser Spotted Teacher at number four performs her evening ritual. Observe her strained expression as she pours her first glass of wine before removing her coat.

Next door, in a brightly lit kitchen, an adult female feeds her young. These small creatures are notable only for the fact that they appear to exist on a diet of chicken nuggets and chips.
Note the flickering light as the barber at number eight fires up his laptop. Home from his hairdressing he is about to engage in some grooming of another kind entirely.

Listen carefully. You may hear the mating call of the Brown Suited Bank Manager as he loosens his tie. The female of the species appears reluctant tonight. This behaviour has become increasingly typical of late. The Bank Manager, feathers ruffled, persists in his quest. Those with more acute hearing may identify the low moan of the female as she finally acquiesces.

Reverend Peters can be spotted in his study. He is a creature of habit and can be heard tapping at an ancient typewriter late into the night, oblivious to his young offspring, who softly closes the front door and teeters down the path on high heels, giggling into her phone, on her way to some nocturnal adventure.

Hope Road falls silent. In a few short hours the inhabitants will emerge again from their lairs.

 

WINNER: Liz Falkingham

Met By Night

Earlier, the low rays of the dying sun had painted a false summer glow across a landscape already stripped for winter. Only the shivering grass and bowing trees would tell the truth to an observer safely behind glass. It is this stiff wind which now pries beneath her wool jacket, drying her horse’s coat into tiny hieroglyphics of sweat. The last line, taken at a relentless gallop but still far out of sight of the hounds, had taken them miles from home and it was not until they had stopped, given up on the fox, that Clare realised how far it was back to the wagons waiting in the fading light.

The others have gone, turned off down green lanes back to their farms and the sweet relief of a hot bath and whiskey. Now Clare trots on alone, feeling her horse’s tiredness in his stumbling gait – the adrenalin which had carried them both long gone.

This part of the country is not familiar and the coming dark, falling with December’s abruptness, means she hesitates where the track splits into the wood. Shadows festoon the path, night’s cobwebs caught amongst the stark branches. This way is quickest, she thinks, don’t be a bloody fool.

Mid-way, enclosed all around by gathering darkness, her horse jerks up his head then stops. Twigs fracture, betraying footfall. From the gloom he emerges, reddish gold even now. The fox pauses, meets her eye, then turns and walks away, at ease in his night territory.

Congratulations, Jessica, Alison and Liz! And thanks as always to everyone who entered. You are all wonderful.

See you next week – happy weekends, happy writing.

QuickFic 20/11/15

Good morning! Another Friday has rolled around which can only mean one thing. Doughnuts for breakfast!

Actually, no. We ate all the doughnuts yesterday. But it does mean we’ve got a brand-new QuickFic prompt, just for you.

It’s down at the bottom of the page there. All you have to do is write us a story, of 250 words or less, inspired by it, and send it to us (academy@faber.co.uk) by 2:50pm this very afternoon.

At 3:30, we’ll publish the winner, and that winner will win these books:

Bottom to top: Eleven Days, The Vogue Factor, The Mirror, White Crocodile, The Palm-Wine Drinkard

Right then. Let’s have us a look at some prompt.

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Who’s up for a moonlit stroll?

See you at 3:30!

By entering our QuickFic writing competitions, you’re granting us non-exclusive worldwide permission to reprint your story on our website should you win. The winner will also get a chance to win a place on one of our Start to Write one day courses, because at the end of the year we’ll be choosing our favourite of all the winners – the champion of champions, basically.

Wednesday Writing Exercise: Dialogue

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Following on from our discussion last week on voice, tonight our Writing A Novel students will be discussing dialogue.

How hard can dialogue be? you cry. We all know what talking sounds like! We all speak words to each other! Every day!

Well, actually, it can be a bit tricky to get right. The key to good dialogue in fiction, a reliable source informed us the other day, is to strike the balance between being true to life, and being Not Boring.

With that in mind, here are two exercises to help:

  • Choosing the correct vocabulary for each character is essential when bringing dialogue to life. Think carefully about each person’s background and lifestyle, the person they are and the person they want us to think they are. Consider who they’re talking to, too – do they speak in a different way when in conversation with their boss, than, say, a friend from home?
     
    As an example, here are a load of words which all basically mean ‘great’. Make a list of all of the characters in your novel, and, for each, choose the word(s) – you can add others if necessary – they’d be most likely to use in conversation. This should help get you thinking about the intricacies of each character’s speech, and how you can make them work harder for you.

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  • Often the most important part of dialogue is the things that are left unsaid; the information hidden in between the lines. There can be real power in such exchanges, especially if the reader knows more than the characters. Adding such layers to your dialogue can also really help with that Not Boring bit, too.
     
    Give it a go: write a short scene of dialogue (500-750 words) between two of your characters, where one or both of them are hiding something from the other.

 

Next week: Story vs Plot 

QuickFic 13/11/15: The Winner

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Firstly, a HUGE thanks to everyone who entered QuickFic today. You’re always wonderful, but today you really excelled yourselves. As your stories come in, we mark our favourites with stars – so we can whittle them down to the winners after the deadline has passed – and today the inbox looked like a beautiful galaxy of excellence. Great stuff.

Anyway, we do have to choose a winner, much as we’d just like to send ALL OF THE BOOKS to all of you. So here those winners are.

RUNNER-UP: Sharon Telfer

Fall Guy

Sure, we had a helluva lot of jumpers. Soon as the market crashes, they start tumbling like ticker tape on Broadway. It don’t ever finish like in the movies, though. Laid-out neat and clean, like a baby in its crib. No sir. And it’s New York’s Finest hosing down the sidewalk.  

Way I see it, they were suckers from the first pitch. Borrowing what they didn’t have to make money they couldn’t touch.

Me, I never believe what no one tells me, and only half of what I see. So, when the call comes, some guy’s hollering how he’s going to take a leap off the roof of the bank, I ain’t so sure he will.

Thing I always remember is, Pop taking me to see Houdini that day. Houdini trussed up like a turkey at Thanksgiving, Mrs Houdini running in for one long, last kiss. Three minutes later, he’s free as a bird, crowd going wild. Son, whispers Pop, all that wrigglin’ and twistin’, that’s just show. That kiss, that’s his wife slipping him the key.

The real jumpers, they don’t fuss. They don’t want no one to see. They’re too ashamed they fell for the trick.

So while everyone else is yelling at this guy, don’t jump, and secretly hoping he will, I’m looking down the alley. And that’s when I catch ‘em, sneaking out the back with bags full of honest people’s hard-earned cash.

Me, I’m a cop, see. New York’s Finest. I ain’t nobody’s fall guy.

 

RUNNER-UP: Judith Higgins

Falling

We train for this. I didn’t tell the wife the time I jumped from six storeys up. They had ten of them down there holding the Browder net – big guys, like me. Landed okay, although the tarp nearly touched the concrete. Afterwards, my insides were all shook-up for days even though Jimmy sneaked me a shot of moonshine before and a bottle to take home.

So I know what it’s like to be there staring down with all those faces looking up. Everyone silent, everyone hoping. She’s at seven storeys this one – but she’s a little thing, that big belly hanging out in front of her. Nobody says the word out loud, but there’s a whisper that travels like a wave through the crowd – pregnant, she’s pregnant.

Today, Jimmy gets the job of shouting up to her. His voice carries the best, makes the women feel safe. And we haven’t lost many, not this year.

“You can do it baby, you can do it sweetheart, you can do it, darling.’ He sounds as if he’s her fella. It often works.

She’ll have to jump soon – smoke’s pouring out around her. I can just make out the high treble of her scream through the crack and hiss of the flames. She shifts towards the edge. Knees bent, braced ready, I will myself not to close my eyes. It’s a reflex. Everybody does it.

But we have to look, we all have to see them, falling, falling.

 

WINNER: Catherine O’Sullivan

Tuesday 6th March

I’m in love!

It’s very exciting. I wonder if people can tell? I feel like there’s bits of light streaming out of me, party-popper style. I’m surprised dad hasn’t noticed anything. I want to say her name all the time. I keep just saying “Oh this girl at school” or “Someone I know”. Her name sounds like magic.

BETH.

Mr. Devlin is out today so we have a free period. I’m supposed to be revising. I’m writing this instead. I’m trying to frown and look serious like I’m writing down facts about glacial erosion, but this silly smile keeps escaping.

There’s about ten minutes til the end of the school day and then I’m going to tell her.

Is that mad?!

I’m going to.

(It might be mad.)

If I decide to get some chips on the way home from school then I can walk with her down towards town. I’ll tell her then. I’ll say it. I’ll say “Beth, I love you.”

I overheard Sarah say that she heard that Beth has a crush on someone in our class.

!!!

It’s loads of effort to not just keep looking at her right now. That’s why I’m writing so much. I can sense her though. If I unfocus my eye a little bit I can see her ponytail out of the corner of my eye. Beth! I love that ponytail.

There’s the bell.

!!!

 

Congratulations Sharon, Judith and Catherine! And thanks to all the rest of you brilliant lot.

See you next week!

QuickFic 13/11/15

Well hi there. Great to see you at the Inspiration Station this fine morning.

If this isn’t your first QuickFic fix, head on down the page and get that prompt.

If you haven’t played before, let’s have a quick rundown of how it actually works:

At 9:50 on a Friday morning, we give you a prompt. You write us a story, inspired by that prompt, of 250 words or less. That bit’s important. Then give it a title and send it to academy@faber.co.uk, by 2:50pm, because that’s when the deadline is.

At 3:30 we’ll announce the winner – and that winner will win these books:

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L-R: Cover Her Face, Bark, The Pocket Wife, White Crocodile, Amnesia

Sound alright?

Great. Let’s have a look at that prompt then:

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See you back here at 3:30!

By entering our QuickFic writing competitions, you’re granting us non-exclusive worldwide permission to reprint your story on our website should you win. The winner will also get a chance to win a place on one of our Start to Write one day courses, because at the end of the year we’ll be choosing our favourite of all the winners – the champion of champions, basically.

Wednesday Writing Exercise: Finding Your Voice

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Right. We’ve looked at ideas and what to do with them. We’ve talked about narrative and finding the right point of view, and about developing characters and giving them dimensions.

If you’re NaNoWriMo-ing or just soldiering on with your work in progress, this is all great groundwork. Hopefully things are chugging along nicely.

But maybe they’re not. Maybe you’re at that 10k or 20k wordcount, and something just isn’t quite working. Things feel a bit sticky or stilted, and maybe you’re finding it more difficult to motivate yourself to write each day.

As our Writing A Novel students will be discussing tonight, it might well be that you haven’t quite found your voice yet. Don’t be alarmed. It happens to us all.

Voice is a sort of nebulous concept which we hear talked about a lot in publishing. People will sometimes tell you how they fell in love with a novel’s voice, but it’s more commonly cited as a problem: ‘I love the concept, I just didn’t really think the voice worked’.  Sometimes it comes back to that old likeability problem, but more frequently, the issue is that the voice just isn’t believable or consistent enough.

This is important whether you’re writing in the third- or first-person. Even in the third-person, your voice needs consideration – is the narrator completely impartial, an absolute non-being, or do they have opinions and feelings which will colour the way they tell the story?

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If you’ve got a first-person narrator, think carefully about the choices you make with their language: the way they phrase a sentence, the vocabulary they use, the reference points they have. These need to remain true to the voice throughout your manuscript – for example, do they speak in long, flowery sentences for periods of time and then switch to slang? Does it work to have them referencing Homer in one chapter and then Homer Simpson in the next? It may well – we’re all contradictions as people, and that’s what makes us interesting – but thinking about every element of your voice in this way will make it convincing, compelling and something for a publisher to fall in love with.

So, a couple of exercises to help with that:

  • Write a transcript of an interview between you and the narrator of your novel. You can ask them about themselves, or about a particular event in the novel, or their relationships with the other characters, whatever you like (Interview them for a job! Arrest them! Pretend they’re famous and you’re Graham Norton!) – what really matters is to think about the way they speak, the way they would phrase things, the words they would choose.
  • Take your first paragraph – or first page, or even first chapter, if you like – and rewrite it using the voice of another character. Try and choose someone as different as possible from your narrator (for example, you could swap an omniscient third person narrator for the protagonist, who will have a much more personal and closed view on things). Think consciously about the words you’re choosing, the details your new narrator is picking up on, and why you’re making those decisions. Now look back at the original, and think about why you chose those words, those phrases. Are they the right ones?

All of this is also going to come in handy for next week, when we’ll be looking at DIALOGUE.

QuickFic 06/11/15: The Winner

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The opening, of course, to ‘The Hollow Men’ by Faber’s very own T. S. Eliot – and the prompt for this week’s QuickFic. What with yesterday being both #EliotDay and Bonfire Night, it felt like just the right thing. Penny for the guy!

Anyway, your stories warmed and November-chilled us in equal measures. We really like it when you do that. Thanks, team!

Let’s have a look at those winning stories, eh?

RUNNER-UP: Simon Clark

The Traveller

‘It’s the stars I miss the most,’ he says. I look up, and he’s staring at me.

‘Sorry?’

‘These stars,’ he says, gesturing at the window. ‘They’re fading. Pale. You’ve no idea.’

A train just arrived. I hear it hiss and wheeze and rattle. Behind the frosted glass shapes bob and move. The platform’s busy, but this waiting room is quiet. I thought I was alone, but he’s sitting there, and I don’t know how I missed him. He cranes his neck to peer through the skylight.

‘They left me,’ he says. Dementia? I wonder.

‘Are you OK? Do you need help?”

He chuckles. ‘I do, oh yes, but not from you. Not from you.’

‘Oh.’

‘The Other Kingdom – oh, you should see it! The throne of the Empty Man and his Hollow Men Guards.

It radiates with power. Oh, it crackles, like burning straw!’

I take in his clothes – travel-stained, my mother would call them – his boots, his bags. ‘You’re lost?’ I try.

‘Left behind. Those cowards. This place is so empty! They closed the door to me.’ He spits, wet and sticky. I hear fireworks outside, smell smoke and coffee and oil.

‘There’s so much out there,’ he says. ‘You’ve no idea. This planet’s so young, all of you. You’re the hollow ones!’

He laughs and wipes his mouth.

‘And now I’m stuck here. How about that.’

‘I’m – um – sorry.’

He’s staring at the sky. ‘Me too,’ he says. ‘Me too.’

 

WINNER: Katie Munnik

The Crows’ Response

But we heard your other words.  

You may have turned cold in that field, stuffed your ears for warmth, and deafened yourself to your own words, but we were watching and we heard. As always, we were there, just overhead.

You leaned together like trees, like thieves, and we thought you were going to listen to her, her long hair catching in the wind, her face a bright coin you promised never to spend.

Then you stood with the others in the crowded place, the other men all denying what she knew.  You held yourself hollow, empty, pure, yet everyone knows we crows can smell death.

One for sorrow, two for joy, but you did not stop to count. You let the others set the pace. Fly with the crows, they say, as if we were to blame but it was you who walked away and now you say alas, but you cannot deceive.

We saw what you did, what you buried in that field, what you told her when she came.  And why she closed her eyes.

Now in the field, you are alone, striding out, a black shadow along the ground. You will not make it to the river this time.  And you cannot scare us. We have wings. We will cry out.

Crows remember faces.

 

Congratulations, Simon and Katie! And thanks to everyone who wrote us something wonderful. Happy weekends, all.