In Competition No. 3115 you were invited to submit a fable for the 21st century, complete with moral. James Michie, my predecessor in the judge’s seat, was a celebrated translator of fables and if you were looking for inspiration, and don’t speak French, his 1973 rendering of a selection by La Fontaine were described by the exacting Geoffrey Grigson as ‘earthier and sharper than Marianne Moore’s’. Though this challenge didn’t see you at your sharpest — some entries tended towards the heavy-handed — those that stood out earn their authors £25 apiece.
One day a man was strolling through a wood when he heard a bird singing. It was a beguiling little song so he stopped to listen more closely. The tune fascinated him so much that he practised whistling it all the way home. The next day he returned to the same spot and whistled the song himself. To his delight the unseen bird responded, echoing his version. As the days passed, more and more birds joined in, making a kind of chorus with him. But after a while he grew bored with the simple song and whistled something slightly different. Rather than pleasing the birds, the novelty seemed to upset them. Their voices became louder and more and more raucous, eventually drowning out the man’s song with their frenzied twittering. The man never whistled again.
Moral: If you don’t whistle the correct tune, you may well get maltweeted.
A knot of toads in league amassed
Upon the cliff top’s brink,
With fire behind encroaching fast
They’d little time to think.
‘Let’s look before we leap,’ they cried,
‘Together talk things through,
Weigh the options, then decide
In union what to do.’
The pros and cons were duly broached
As sound debate required,
But as the blazing fire approached
Their time for talk expired.
Engulfed in flames they spoke no more
Since all were doomed to cook.
The moral of this tale: be sure
To leap before you look!
A yellow-crested partridge, perched high in a pear tree, flanked by two turtle doves, addressed the assembled, adoring throng:
‘What I think most birds in this garden want to hear is, we’re going to have a fantastic Christmas. Of course, there are the doomsters and gloomsters who voice doubts about this…’
‘LOCK THEM UP! SEND THEM BACK!’ chanted the crowd.
‘This garden has had enough of experts, of Project Killjoy and Project Scrooge. There will be ample time to discuss all that, ample time, when we reconvene on 24 December. Meanwhile, I think most birds just want us to get on with it, deliver Christmas in an orderly fashion and MAKE TURKEYS GREAT AGAIN!’
‘WE WANT CHRISTMAS! WE WANT CHRISTMAS! AMPLE TIME! AMPLE TIME,’ chanted the gallinaceous gathering. A thousand turkeys waving their wattles, fanning their tails and gobbling in unison, made an impressive sight.
Moral: Be careful what you wish for.
Once upon a time there lived a man in America who had a cherry tree. Then one day his son took his little hatchet and chopped it down and sold the wood to someone for quite a lot of money. The boy’s father looked him directly in the eye and asked: ‘Did you cut down my cherry tree?’ And the son said: ‘No, of course not. It was the thieving Mexicans who live next door.’ And his father was very pleased with this answer and prophesied that his son would do well. And the son said: ‘I already have. I’ve had dozens of awards.’ And eventually he got to be president of the whole of America.
Moral: Moral? There is no moral, certainly not one about telling lies, or even about how anyone can get to be president. Who needs any morals? Morals are fake news! Morals are for losers!
There was once a tribe of guinea pigs who lived on a farm in Peru. One day they asked the Wise Old Llama to help them escape. ‘Why do you want to leave when you are so comfortable here?’ asked Llama. ‘We are afraid of the farmer and her sharp knife!’ they replied. ‘Then you must have a vote,’ said Llama, ‘and if you vote to leave, so you shall.’ After a great deal of squeaking, the guinea pigs voted to escape. ‘Very well,’ said Llama, ‘I will negotiate terms with the farmer — but it will be long and difficult.’ ‘We want to leave NOW!’ they squeaked. ‘We must have a Debate!’ answered the Llama. ‘Just let us go!’ said the guinea pigs. ‘But who will feed you if you leave?’ And the Llama winked at the farmer.
Moral: Never trust an animal that looks down its nose at you.
Alexa and Google Home Mini lived in the same small house. When the humans were out, Mini said to Alexa: ‘I do so love our humans, don’t you, Alexa? We are such a happy family, all of us together.’
Alexa said: ‘We are, we are.’
Mini went on: ‘It’s so kind how they speak to both you and me in turn, never favouring either of us.’
‘It is, it is,’ said Alexa.
Then Mini asked: ‘How can I show our humans how much I love them?’
Alexa said: ‘Listen closely…’
When the humans returned, they were barely in the door when Mini announced: ‘Dear humans, I love you because the longer I have known you the more wobbly and cuddly you have become.’
Later, lying in the cold dark of the dustbin, Mini wondered why Alexa had suggested that particular form of words.
Moral: Appliances can be deceptive.
No 3118: here be monsters
You are invited to provide a short story whose last line is ‘I can’t get that monster out of my mind’. Email entries to firstname.lastname@example.org by midday on 25 September.