What a wonderful return to QuickFic that was. Beautiful, eerie and downright creepy stories, all inspired by the photo above (which might have itself been inspired by some very sad news yesterday; if you know, you know). We loved them all; we’re very happy to be back.
So let’s have a look at our first winners of the year.
RUNNER-UP: Anastasia Gammon
Deer in the Mist
“Approach them slowly,” Ben says, like I have any interest whatsoever in approaching them.
When Ben invited me to spend the weekend at his family’s cabin, I had expected hot chocolate near the fireplace, warm blankets, and maybe even a smattering of snow. I had not expected patchy central heating and persistent wet fog. Or deer. They’re everywhere, staring at you through the fog like creepy little children in some old horror film. Ben thinks they’re his best friends.
He’s crouched down in some weird kind of almost squat, walking crablike through the fog towards one of them. “Come on,” he beckons. I pull the mothball-smelling blanket I found this morning tighter around me and dig my heels into the wet ground. I wish I were back in the cabin with Chester, Ben’s weird little spaniel, banned from this particular excursion. Lucky thing.
“Honestly,” Ben says, close to the deer now. “It won’t hurt you.” Just as he reaches out a hand to touch the deer’s head, I hear a high woof from somewhere. Ben’s eyes widen as Chester leaps out of the bushes to our right, his tongue lolling out of his mouth as per usual. The deer scatter, panicked. Ben just has time to dive out of the way of the one nearest him, straight into a slick of wet mud.
Chester, satisfied with his work, trots straight over to me. I scratch him behind his ears, the way I’ve seen Ben do a million times.
RUNNER-UP: Sharon Telfer
He doesn’t stop to wash the sweat from his body. His bag is packed, ready, by the door. He pauses only outside his daughter’s room to check her soft breathing. It is still some time until dawn.
They chose this house because of the forest closing round it. Like Sleeping Beauty’s castle, he tells his daughter. Except he doesn’t sleep. The nightmares stalk him down the path to the hide. Images flash across the screen of trees, white starbursts, blood-red sand. He hears the scream of jets, of shells, of children.
Deep in the hide, he waits for the cold, the damp, the green to do their work. As dark melts to light, the images flicker, then fade. He breathes deep. It is the smell he loves most, a slow, ripe decay.
They appear slowly, as if developing from the mist. The hinds first, then the stag, antlers branching into the trees behind. They turn towards him.
It is the shot of a lifetime. He focuses, prepares to shoot, then lowers his camera. Once the shutter clicks, they will be gone. This one he will cache in his mind’s eye, his own secret talisman.
He will return to the desert soon. Last night, his wife asked why he must always go back, why risk so much. Someone must be there to see, he says. But he’s not sure that is the real reason.
The deer dissolve from the glade.
WINNER: Rose McGinty
The darkness lifts. Only now I see what a misfit I look, with one striped glove and one dotted, in my mothy coat. Luckily the blue, grey morning drains their colour, and who but me will be out walking in this cold, damp air? Only ghosts.
In summer, when we walked here you picked me lily of the valley. Even now, if I close my eyes, I can just catch the scent, most potent of all the woodland. We walked and walked that day, the hours drifted away, like dandelion seed. We didn’t feel hungry, nothing human. We came to the lake, and you kicked off your sandals. Jesus sandals, I called them. Your T shirt and shorts pulled off next. You were lilac, dappled with star spots in the dusk. I looked up, saw Sirius blink. You ran along the jetty, stretched, leapt, arced like a deer in flight. The still water bladed emerald as you slipped beneath.
Ten years, and that image still slides through my mind like the most perfect raindrop on a window pane. Perfect, until touched.
The wood thins just here; I push through the dripping ferns. Bending down, amongst the knotty curled up fronds, waiting to hatch; I see the fresh tips of the lily of the valley. Beyond is the clearing, where we lay as you dried off, after the lake. My hand, cool, across your throat. Movement in the shadows; longing. A fawn tiptoes towards me.
Congratulations Anastasia, Sharon and Rose! And thanks to all who submitted stories.
See you here same time next week?