2021 Flash Fiction Winners
“It took one hundred and four seconds but felt longer. She knew something was wrong within twenty-five.” –Máiréad Hurley
The quality of the writing was high. We had some wonderful stories from both experienced and emerging writers. Good job! We are proud of our winners, finalists, and everyone who had the courage to submit. Thank you for sharing your work with us and thanks to the judges.
It took one hundred and four seconds but felt longer. She knew something was wrong within twenty-five.
At 15,000 feet, she heard her father’s voice: Just notice your fear. She was terrified, she noticed. Both arms were tugging frantically, she noticed. At an untethered cord, she noticed. The wind slashed through her, silencing the screams that burned her throat. Just notice. Breathe. She closed her mouth. There was nothing she could do. She was going to die.
The problem with accepting death with seventy-one seconds left is that it’s hard to know what to do with the time.
What should she think? She had considered her last words many times: daydreamed- as we all have- about the wisdom she might impart on her (as yet non-existent) grandchildren from a hospice bed if life was long, and death gave fair warning. Or, if there was a tragic accident, how her (as yet non-existent) husband would hold her as she bled and whisper a romantic goodbye. She had always liked the idea of a death-bed confession, but her life had been quite dull, and she didn’t have a good secret. At least it’s not a dull death, she thought, somewhat proudly, and this cheered her up.
8,100 feet. Fifty-one seconds. He would have told her to be mindful, to be present. To try to clear her mind but not judge thoughts that come. Just notice them.
What was the name of that woman who survived a free fall?
From the Guinness Book of Records. V- something?
The best part of waking up is Folgers in your cup.
Last moments. What should I be thinking?
I suppose I won’t have an open casket.
Velma? No, it was more European.
I’ll never see Spurs win the league.
Did I only do this for Instagram?
3,000 feet. There’s the ground.
I told mum I loved her today.
Vivian? It doesn’t matter.
Ten feet. Should I pray?
Has Brexit happened?
Our Father, who art-
Máiréad Hurley is an emerging writer from the United Kingdom. She lives, works, and studies in North Carolina. Her writing is primarily concerned with identity and transition, and will be appearing in a number of publications, including The Bacopa Literary Review and an anthology by The Hawkins Project.
The Second Miss Thompson
By Emma Grace
When the second Miss Thompson teaches Rebecca to class 11C, she avoids discussing the erotic undertones. The other day she explained what ‘phallic’ meant and chaos engulfed the room. It started with wolf-whistling and jeers, moved onto chants of ‘Perv! Perv! Perv!’ and ended with one boy dry-humping the bookcase.
Instead, the second Miss Thompson talks about tension, gothic imagery, the ‘perfect’ past being impossible to preserve – how rot will always settle in. In return she’s greeted with blinking, blank eyes, mouths chewing gum, pens and, on one occasion, an actual Nandos chicken leg.
She fields endless questions about Netflix’s new Rebecca movie. (‘How can Rebecca be fitter than Lily James?’, ‘Why is Danvers such a straight up bitch?’ ‘For real… did Armie Hammer eat someone?’)
‘Where’s Miss Thompson?’ They asked when she first walked in, their eyes widening and bodies bristling.
‘I’m here,’ she’d replied, genuinely confused.
Outrage ricocheted around the room like fireworks as she stood frozen at the front. It took nine minutes and two teaching assistants to get them quiet and seated again.
And so it was explained to her, No, she couldn’t be Miss Thompson because Miss Thompson was their realteacher. The teacher whose tatty copy of Rebecca was still on the desk, whose perfume, tampons and brown lipstick remained in the desk’s bottom drawer and whose looped, flamboyant handwriting was still on the board. She was the second Miss Thompson.
It didn’t matter that she called the essay writing structure Point Evidence Explanation because Miss Thompson called it Point Evidence Analysis. It didn’t matter that she started lessons with a quick quiz, Miss Thompson always started with video clips. Miss Thompson let them end ten minutes early. Miss Thompson only set homework on Tuesdays. Miss Thompson was ‘better at explaining stuff’. Miss Thompson ‘let me go sick bay without all these questions’. Miss Thompson ‘didn’t make us write so much’. Miss Thompson was ‘a G’ and ‘proper buff’. Miss Thompson ‘played music in class’. Miss Thompson ‘called supply teachers stupid’. Miss Thompson ‘actually dressed decent’. Miss Thompson ‘bare flirted with the dads at parents’ evening’. Miss Thompson ‘is a proper teacher – ain’t you some kind of trainee?’ Miss Thompson ‘made me like English’. Miss Thompson ‘was better, why’s she gone all of a sudden? When’s Miss Thompson coming back?’
The second Miss Thompson sends a student to exclusion for calling her a ‘cow’. As he makes mooing noises while leaving, she clamps down onto every muscle on her face, imploring herself not to cry.
The second Miss Thompson sits in her cramped flatshare’s bedroom, planning the next lesson with heavy eye sockets, endless open tabs and scattered answer booklets. She flicks through Miss Thompson’s copy of Rebecca that she’s brought home.
She imagines Miss Thompson preparing her own lessons. How she would skim over her PowerPoint, unfazed by the challenges that awaited. How she’d trace her finger around the outside of her whisky glass as she worked. How her well-thumbed copy of Rebecca would be on her lap and she’d turn decisively to the right page, sketching more vine leaves in an unkempt border she’d created. Her favourite quote would be highlighted in red: ‘what goes on in the twisted, tortuous minds of women would baffle anyone.’
Then, she’d tell the man next to her to top up her drink, who cares that it’s 11pm on a Wednesday night.
The second Miss Thompson lies on her bed, neck flushed and a small smile forming. She delicately tears out that highlighted page.
The second Miss Thompson gets to her classroom early. She heads immediately to a cupboard where she’s noticed a long hazel cardigan hanging.
When the deputy head comes in a few minutes later, he doesn’t notice she’s wearing the cardigan. That there’s the smell of newly spritzed perfume in the air or that there’s brown gloss slicked across her lips. Instead, he offers the second Miss Thompson a longer supply contract, says they hope that she’ll stay.
His face is white. His lips chewed.
Miss Thompson is dead, he tells her, adding something trite about a tragic end, how he’d no idea she was so troubled.
The second Miss Thompson tightens the fabric around her, expresses her condolences.
Then, she lets the class in and, without a word, presses play on the movie. As the students turn to talk to one another, she picks off a long black hair from her new hazel cardigan.
Emma Grace is a teacher from Glasgow, Scotland. She recently graduated with a Masters in Creative Writing and Education from Goldsmiths College, University of London. She was the winner of the 2021 Fugue Prose Contest and her work can be found in places such as XRAY Literary Magazine, Maudlin House and more.
Live on Air
By Geralyn Pinto
I can hear Simon saying, ‘When you’re deep down in a belly of coal, try to imagine as much as you can and breathe as little as possible.’
I trust anything that Simon says. Every miner believes his Foreman and Trade Union Leader. When my father died, it was Simon who worked hard to see that I got his post on something called ‘compassionate grounds’.
‘Simon? Where are you? I can’t see you.’
He’s got to be there somewhere, broad shouldering his way through fractured coal seams, his pale skin smudged to a shade between brown and bitumen, and the light on his white helmet glowing like confidence.
‘Simon!’ Someone’s calling him. The voice works its way through crooked earth tunnels and returns to me as throaty sobbing.
No reply. Only the ooze-sough-gurgle of water dripping from the coal roof. It’s an infinitely reluctant dribble and it’s sending a probe deep into my head.
There is no choice but to listen: drip-drop, d-r-i-p…d-r-o-p,
I’m listening. I’m waiting, damn it! Let’s have the next bloody drop!
Then I see a six-foot shadow contoured by the light of my guttering miner’s lamp.
‘Simon? That you?’
‘Of course it’s me.’
Phut! The lamp’s gone dead as a canary in a methane blast. So I’m grabbing fistfuls of air in the dark. ‘You came back for me, Simon?’
‘A foreman never leaves his boys behind.’ He’s lifting a canteen of some burning stuff to my lips and I’m laughing and crying together, while Simon sings Foxes of the Earth which he had once said was a miners’ chant from a faraway, foreign place called Dumbarton where one line of his ancestors had lived.
I nod. ‘Let’s sing together?’
So he sings again, ‘We’re the foxes of the earth! We’re as merry as can be! We see nor sun nor sky! But we work in harmony!’
I join in: ‘We’re the foxes of the earth! And we walk miles two or three! In cavern, shaft and tunnel! No braver men than we!’ I reach out for Simon’s hand which is large as a shovel and about as hard and strong.
He says, ‘Now lie back on the sacking and imagine – your ma, your home, your girl. You’re about old enough to have your first girl.
What’s she like?’
‘She’s the loveliest I’ve ever seen in Jharia and the first thing when we get out of here, I’m going to ask her.’
And I’m spongy with love! I’m on air, drifting above a flower-filled valley with the Subarnarekha, far below, flowing serenely on its long haul voyage to the Bay of Bengal. Dipita (that’s her name) is on the farther hillcrest. She’s reaching out for me, the wind in her hair, and I’m ploughing through low-slung clouds and calling out her name. Just like they do in the Bombay movies.
The breath is sucked out of me and I’m back in the shaft again.
‘Something exploded, didn’t it, Simon?’
‘Yes – firedamp. But don’t worry son, they’ll be here anytime now.’
‘You’re sure? Come close so that I can your eyes.’ But of course I can’t in the lignite darkness.
That’s what we always joked about – we’d be able to tell where Simon was in the mines by the blues of his eyes, so unlike our cinnamon browns and clove blacks. Simon was an Anglo Indian and he looked different from the rest of us.
A pinpoint of light grows into fervid white incandescence.
“Look! They’re here already, Simon!’
But he whispers, ‘Take a deep breath and dream. When you wake up, you’ll be out there in clean air and God’s good daylight. Breath deep now and slow.’ Something’s going a whoosh a wheesh a whooshy in my ears.
There’s somebody else present (I don’t know who) and he’s saying, ‘Keep an eye on the pressure gauge. We need full flow. The young fellow’s pretty weak. We don’t want to lose him.’
‘Can’t afford to. He’s the only one left of the twenty-four of them. The first to go was that burly foreman chap.’
They’re putting a green, starched cloth over my face and I’m beginning to float away on a piece of mind. But I can sense something working with a whirring and tugging and I have a feeling that in the sticky darkness of the coal mine my legs are being separated from the rest of me – somewhere below my knees.
Geralyn Pinto is a short story writer and poet who has been published and won prizes at home and abroad. She is an enthusiastic participant in the Writer Advice Contests. Geralyn served as Head of the Postgraduate Department of English at St Agnes College, Mangalore, India.
Yvonne Morris for “Hunger”
Mi West for “Downhill”