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
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.