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