Lucy Vickery

Spectator competition winners: dystopian animal stories

A flamboyance of flamingos [YULIIA LAKEIENKO]

In Competition No. 3222, you were invited to supply a dystopian short story that incorporates as many collective nouns for animals or birds as possible.

Your appetite for dystopian imaginings may be somewhat limited at the moment — ‘How about setting something sweet and optimistic?’ write Frank Upton — and there was a dismal sameness about the entry this week. Notable exceptions included David Silverman’s Huxley-Orwell-Collins-Atwood mash-up, Nick Syrett’s Conan Doyle-inspired vignette, and the winners, below, who each pocket £25.

After the human colonies had been obliterated, meetings of the Great Unkindness took place, of course, at Ravenna. Each year, patrolling mobs, murders, gaggles, skeins, charms and even convocations of birds from finches to eagles reported on undue activity. Worryingly, a weight of albatrosses reported seeing a shoal of coelacanths near Madagascar — fish with legs had to be watched. A land-based covey of grouse was sent in to observe, while a siege of herons kept up surveillance. The pod of dolphins scare had worried the parliament of owls — bloody mammals, they had hooted. A bazaar of guillemots had apparently spotted a shrewdness of apes in Africa, but the ostriches (acting as a flock, troop or possibly herd) simply ignored that collective term and went in kicking. However, none of the flights, scolds, exaltations or murmurations noticed the huge division of amoebae in the ocean, as evolution quietly got going again. Brian Murdoch

At the climax he scratched her face, but she did not bleed. He began to brood. ‘Did I pass muster?’ he wondered, out loud; but seemingly she did not hear him, and lay there, glaring. The knot in his innards tightened. It was his first congress with a humanoid alien, as far as he knew, and yet he felt no pride, only confusion, even a prickle of guilt. In the distance he heard the smack of synthetic waves. ‘You

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