In Competition No. 3021 you were invited to compose terrifying lullabies.
Lorca wondered why ‘Spain reserved the most potent songs of blood to lull its children to sleep, those least suited to their delicate sensibilities’, but the Scandinavians set the bar pretty high too: the unsoothing–sounding ‘Krakevisa’, from Norway, tells of gruesome uses for the carcase of a crow: ‘… from the entrails he made twelve pair of rope/ and the claws he used for dirt-forks.’
While the entry was crawling with the usual nasties — wolves, trolls, goblins, malign crows, Harvey Weinstein — there was also Alun Morris’s not unconvincing contention that a 21st-century nipper’s worst nightmare might be not the Bogeyman or the Sandman but — shudder! — being deprived of the internet: ‘A silent spy is watching, his name is Curfew Jack./ He’ll cut off all your data, whack, whack, whack!’
The winners below earn their authors £25 each.
Prepare, dearest child,
For a magical leap
From the nest of my arms
To the deep pool of sleep,
A pool with a reek
Like the breath of the dead,
As cold as the moonlight,
As heavy as lead,
Where the ghosts of your sins
Drag you gradually down
With their long-taloned hands
Till you shudder and drown,
But drowned in the night
Means not death, just delay.
Then you waken, my sweet,
To the horror of day.
Still your body, slow your breath,
Sleep is just a little death.
Cold as winter, blank as snow;
Sample what our forebears know.
Quiet as forest, cool as stream,
Death is sleep without a dream,
Nothingness for him and her;
All will be as all once were.
Deep as cavern, old as sea,
Death is all our destiny.
Practise for it every night
That, one day, you’ll get it right.
Strange as midnight, still as lake,
Will you die or will you wake?
I would watch you all night through
But I’m sleeping. Dying, too.
Rock a bye baby, now let me tell
How your sweet life will be unconfined hell
The riches you thought your legitimate due
Will soon be consumed by the grey-headed few
The cackling crones with their cardiganed beaus
Will make baby’s legacy fast decompose
And before you can talk, nay, even crawl
They’ll have spent the whole lot, cradle and all
Did you, poor thing, dream of four walls around
A home of your home, a fortress so sound?
Well, forget it, dear child, as with scarcely a frown
Your gran and her cohort will blow it all down
Cruelly the equity they will release
Squander your fortune in lives of great ease
And you, little babe, can pick up the tab
For their wildness in care homes and time in rehab.
Here comes the Nidgery-Nadgery Man,
Breath you can’t see and as grey as a badger, he
Wants you, so hunker in sleep if you can.
Down from the mountain or up from a cave,
Frost to his fingertips, lonely and raggedy,
Soil in his pockets that smells of the grave.
Bones all ill-fitting and tongue sickly-white,
Wants to be playmate and friend to the family,
Still yourselves, childer, and close your eyes tight.
Ghoul-ridden slumbers smite your eyes,
No one is near to hear your cries,
The Myling child, left out to die
Returns to sing a lullaby.
Mara, the wolf-wife, haunts your dreams,
Crushes your chest, ingests your screams,
The cow-tailed Huldra eats your soul —
Beware the many-headed Troll!
The Kraken wakes to steal your sleep
And Draugen, lurking in the deep,
Blackened and rotting, with stink of death,
Will drink your blood, consume your breath.
Beware the Lindworms, sneaking forth
From frozen forests of the north
To suck your life, to tear and bite,
Sleep, pretty baby, through the night.
Bugs in the pillow,
Bugs in the bed,
Crawling all round you,
My sweet sleepy head.
In through the window
Steals the dark night
Coming to rob you
Of colour and light.
Black in the blackness
Silent beasts pace,
Waiting to gnaw at
Your dear little face.
Slip into dreamland,
My darling, and hide —
There you’ll escape from
The real world outside.
No. 3024: Brown studies
To mark the publication of his latest novel, you are invited to submit a short story in the style of Dan Brown. Please email up to 150 words (including a word count) to firstname.lastname@example.org by midday on 8 November.
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