Spectator competition winners: The polar bear who came to tea

2 April 2022

9:00 AM

2 April 2022

9:00 AM

In Competition No. 3242, you were asked to submit a short story that is a mash-up of cli-fi with a genre of your choice.

In his 2016 book The Great Derangement, the Indian novelist Amitav Ghosh questioned why ‘climate change cast a much smaller shadow on literature than it does on the world’. Six years on, though, cli-fi, like the thermometer, is inexorably on the rise and you were invited to jump on the bandwagon.

I was taken with J.C.H. Mounsey’s Conan Doyle-inflected ‘The Swedish Cassandra’, and with Joe Houlihan’s poignant tale of Pooh and friends in the Hundred Acre Desert: ‘We need honey. Piglet, did you bring the honey jar?… Piglet shuffled his little feet. “All the bees are dead,” he said.’

A commendation also goes to Brian Murdoch, who just missed out on a spot in the winning line-up. He was edged out by the entries below, which net their authors £30.

Sophie was having tea with her mummy when there was a knock at the door. ‘Who could that be?’ said Mummy. ‘It can’t be the milkman or the postman because we are the last remaining humans on the planet. And it can’t be Daddy, because he is on the Wall, repelling marauding mutant invaders! When Mummy opened the door, in swam a giant polar bear. ‘Excuse me,’ said the polar bear, ‘but I’m very hungry. It’s a bloody long swim from Svalbard to Kettering-on-Sea. Could I have some tea?’ ‘Of course!’ said Mummy. ‘Would you like some grasshopper and seaweed soup?’ But the polar bear didn’t just eat one bowl of soup, he ate all the soup, and all the acorns, all the lab-grown microalgae, then he ate Sophie, then her mummy. But he was still hungry! So he sat, waiting for Daddy to come home. But he never did.
David Silverman

At the top of the rise, Cecily found herself looking out over the silent uproar of the ocean, the listless wind plucking at her kirtle while the wheeling gulls mocked her. Beneath that sea lay the busy, wealthy, dirty town that had nurtured her. She recalled the words of Father Ambrosius, who had cursed her even as she lay inviting his lust. Was her indulgent wickedness, and that of others, the cause of the wintry weather, the hungry harvests, the savage storms and the rising, raging sea? Was it the Lord’s chastening, or had the Old Gods of Earth raised the rod of punishment over mankind? Had her dear brother Wilkin perished beneath the greedy waves because of her sin?
The new life fretted within her. What kind of world would she bequeath to her child? Would he even witness the dawn of the 15th century?
Frank Upton

The family convened for the dénouement in the highest attic, both drawing-rooms having already flooded. Inspector Doggerel, competing with the roar of the monsoon outside and intermittent cries from drowning peacocks, felt they were paying insufficient attention to his unravelling of Lord Climedown’s murder. Everyone was perspiring horribly except Lady Climedown, whose aristocratic glow merely intensified. Doggerel was outlining the havoc Gloucestershire’s newfound humidity wreaked on establishing reliable times of death when Dickie Climedown squawked ‘I say!’ at the realisation his spats were sopping. Instantly, everyone noted a heavy dampness about their own ankles, hardly requiring Doggerel’s deductive powers to recognise it was time to adjourn. Minutes later, they were out through the skylight and clinging gamely to the roof. Din increasing, visibility almost nil, further speechifying obviously futile, Doggerel mouthed the murderer’s name – Lady Climedown – into the torrential gloom and, when she did, counted it a spectacular confession.
Adrian Fry

It was a bright cold day in July, and the mercury was showing minus thirteen. Winston Smith unclipped his skis outside the Ministry of Wind. A poster of an icy woman stared at him: GREAT GRETA IS WATCHING YOU. In the foyer, Parsons bumbled over, wearing the balaclava, goose-down parka and green sash of the Party. ‘Good news for Heat Week, Smith! The Chiltern glacier has advanced another mile. Five years and we can get average global temperatures down to pre-industrial levels.’ The telescreen flared into life: it was the only device that could be on stand-by. ‘What a scorcher! In the blazing hell of Tropicana people have been reduced to bikinis and iced tea.’ Winston tried to remember. Had Frigidia always been at war with Tropicana? He suppressed the heatcrime and mumbled his Party mantras. COLD IS HOT. ICE IS FIRE. PENGUINS ARE INDIGENOUS. He loved Great Greta.
Nick MacKinnon

Returning from the corner shop with a selection of insects for lunch, Dr Watson removed the thickly veiled, wide-brimmed hat protecting him from the burning rays of the sun. On the stairs a strange, bearded man pushed past him.
Holmes was gazing out of the window at the North Sea. ‘Who’d believe it could have reached Baker Street already?’ he muttered. ‘We’ll have to move, advertise this place as a bijou seaside residence.’
‘Who was that fellow I saw on the stairs, Holmes?’
‘Ah. A denier.’
‘How do you know that?’
‘Elementary, my dear Watson. Beneath the false beard, his face was horribly blistered by the sun.’
Holmes lifted a small fibre from the edge of a cup. ‘Horse-hair,’ he said. ‘And furthermore, his hat…’
Watson interrupted. ‘Did you discover whether he can swim, Holmes?’
‘That’s hardly relevant, Watson.’
‘I think it is, Holmes. He’s just floated past the window.’
Sylvia Fairley

No. 3245: French connection

You are invited to take a passage from a classic of French literature (please specify)and recast it in Franglais. Please email entries of up to 16 lines/150 words to by midday on 13 April.

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