Lucy Vickery

Spectator competition winners: short stories after Walter de la Mare

[Photo: AlxeyPnferov]

In Competition No. 3208 you were invited to submit a short story whose first or last line is: ‘“Is there anybody there?” said the Traveller.’ The given line opens Walter de la Mare’s slippery, haunting, much-anthologised ‘The Listeners’ and many entries echoed the 1912 poem’s supernatural theme.

An honourable mention to George Simmers and David Shields, and £30 each to the prizewinners below.

‘Is there anybody there?’ said the Traveller.

‘“Asked” would be better.’

‘Or “enquired”?’

‘Too ornate. Keep to your authorial voice.’

Laura. Sacked from her academic post for the unacceptable views in her paper ‘Narrative Queerness – A Neostructuralist Critique’ and reduced to giving Creative Writing courses to amateurs like me. Laura, as short and plain as her prose style. Laura, with her Iris Murdoch hair, Agatha Christie teeth and Toni Morrison earrings. I adore her. I love her arid criticism and occasional droplets of praise. I adore it when she tells me my writing is awash with adverbs. How she enjoys pronouncing those ‘A-’ words, awash, abeam, athwart, akimbo, even ‘anent’. How I should love to go a-shopping for groceries with her!

I continued reading. ‘There was no reply. Yet the Traveller felt himself reaching out, reaching out desperately, compelled by a dry little kernel of hope within him…’

Frank Upton

‘Is there anybody there?’ said the Traveller.

The Clairvoyant bridled at the role appropriation but, before she could manifest the basilisk stare upon which her authority rested, a chorus from the Other Realm filled the darkened room with a deafeningly whispered ‘Yes.’

The Traveller, stunned into rare silence, listened as the Clairvoyant outlined his credentials: 91 countries glancingly visited, as many travelogues sold to transatlantic glossies, his request to visit and chronicle one last Undiscovered Country.

‘Tourist!’ spat the combined dead of the Earth, their chill ectoplasm materialising to drench the Traveller where he sat.

Was it insult or shock that killed him? The Clairvoyant couldn’t immediately know, their circle of two broken by his expiry.

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