Spectator literary competition No. 2837 

This week let’s have a poem about the horrors of a reunion dinner. Please email entries of up to 16 lines to lucy@spectator.co.uk by midday on 26 February.

The recent invitation to give a classic of children’s literature the hard-boiled treatment produced a flood of entries that were a joy to judge. Much-loved children’s classics, filtered through the prism of gritty 1930s urban America (what Raymond Chandler called ‘a world gone wrong’), were given a bracing new lease of life. All the hallmarks of the genre were there: sharp repartee, staccato delivery, economy of expression, psychological drama, black humour and the liberal use of simile.

Honourable mentions go to Barbara Lightfoot, Mike Morrison and Poppy McLean, but you were all good. The winners earn £25 each, except Adrian Fry who gets £30.

Adrian Fry

I’m looking for this broad named Alice. An innocent abroad? I’ll say; she’s the type downs a bottle of hooch because it says so, the sort goes down holes looking for answers where wise guys know there’s only questions. Description? Sometimes short, others taller than a barfly’s tales; doesn’t make things any easier for me than for her dressmaker. Known associates? Some of these characters are real cards, those that ain’t are little more than animals; there’s this magic-mushroom pusher with a hookah you can’t hire by the half-hour, a rabbit whose late going the right way about becoming a late rabbit, a hatter of questionable sanity who never stops partying (and never makes with the millinery) and some cat from Cheshire county leaves a smile like a goddamn graffito. Oh yeah, sure as raven resembles writing desk, I gotta find Alice before she loses that head of hers.

W.J. Webster

Daylight the colour of a miner’s phlegm was seeping through the window when Pooh woke. He sat up on the edge of his bed and reached for the jar. He took a large slug of the soothing yellow stuff. It tasted good. So good he had another. Then another. Now he was almost ready to face the day.

Details of the case surfaced in his memory like the bubbles in a swamp. The job was to find Eeyore’s missing piece of tail. Somewhere, anywhere in a hundred acres of wood. It was that easy. There were two ways of doing it. One was to search the forest tree by tree, bush by bush. That might take a year. The other was to try picking Owl’s brains. Half-an-hour later he was outside Owl’s imposing residence tugging the tufted bell-pull.

Sylvia Fairley

Nerve-ends raw as a rare T-bone, I touched the .45 in my pocket, finger on the trigger. I was looking into the predatory eyes of this phoney French broad, Madame Cholet. She was some dame, pointy nose, furry face, looked like she’d been poured into her pinafore and no one had said ‘when’. She was cooking something up, sure as hell, but right now I had to trust her. I’d got to nail this mob, their fingers in every lousy racket; garbage business, money laundering — ‘creative recycling’ they called it. At last I was in their underground den, face-to-face with The Boss, Great Uncle Bulgaria. Hell, this guy was all menace, wrapped in tartan, granite eyes clocking me through two pairs of specs. ‘Ho-hum. Come here, young wombles,’ he growled. He gripped his stick. I’d end up with my nuts inside my ribs if I didn’t get out pretty damn quick…

Chris O’Carroll

If brains were muscles, my two brothers wouldn’t have enough to bench press a mouse turd. Who builds a house out of straw or twigs? It would serve them right to end up as chops and ribs at the wolf’s barbeque. But they came running to me for help, and blood is thicker, as the saying goes. So I’ve got them stoking the fireplace and filling the cauldron with water while I talk things over with the hairball who’s banging at the door drooling for pork. If I don’t open up, he’ll blow the house down, he roars. I let him waste his breath while the water heats up. Finally he gets the bright idea to sink his teeth into us by climbing on to the roof and coming down the chimney. The splash and the scream are beautiful to hear, but now the whole house stinks of boiled wolf.

Gail White

Heidi wasn’t the first girl to go to the big city and come back spoiled like a bad meat loaf. But it wasn’t just that she had gone cold as an iced herring where I was concerned. She brought back Clara, a dumb blonde built like a cuckoo clock with the brains of a Swiss cheese. This chick, I says to myself, is deader than vaudeville, or my name ain’t Peter.

So my girl’s senile grandpa throws a picnic on a mountainside, and the dumb girls start admiring the edelweiss, and, says I, ‘There’s more of it over here, Clarabelle.’ Then Heidi says, ‘Isn’t that where the glacier starts?’ But Fat Blondie comes over, bends down and says, ‘I don’t see the edelweiss.’ ‘Up your crevasse,’ I say, pushing her into the glacier. She rolls in walrus-like and goes down like the stock market after a tsunami.

Mark Allen

It was one of those cold winter nights we get in Narnia when the Queen is feeling frostier than usual. We’d pulled over to pick up a kid lost in the forest. Weird. The kid sat in the seat behind mine. ‘What’ll it be?’ asked the Queen.

‘Turkish Delight — and make it sticky.’

I could tell she was going to make her moves on the boy. I didn’t know why and I didn’t care. My job was to drive, serve snacks — and keep my mouth shut. The Queen had the biggest sculpture collection this side of Archenland and I didn’t want any part of it.

‘You want to be king of this burg one day?’

She’d never talked about handing over the business before. Leastways not to me.
‘Sure,’ said the kid. ‘But what about the others?’

‘What others?’ said the Queen. The temperature dropped by several degrees.

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