We are delighted to announce the winner and runners up for this year’s Flash Fiction writing competition:
1st place Phil Olsen
Dirk Maggs awarding Phil Olsen with his Flash Fiction Competition Prize
All traces of Pluto had long been removed from the planetarium. It had been years since Geraint last ventured through the navy blue corridors that weaved round the top floor of the Museum of What We Know So Far (MuWWeKSoF). He dragged his hand along the raised surface of the glow-in-the-dark dotted lines that charted circuits of the sun, a little higher up on this visit. Pluto was gone from the domed map of the solar system above his head; was gone from the text panels that detailed surface areas, temperatures, gases and moons. Geraint squinted and scrutinised the space, expecting to find evidence of a painted-over planet, demoted to dwarf and erased. He hoped to at least find an explanation of What We Once Thought We Knew, but there was nothing. Not an asterisk or a footnote about the ninth planet he’d grown up with. Geraint was alone until a pair of double doors opened into the space. Painted the same navy as the walls – and with no handles or architraves – they hadn’t looked like doors until they were pushed open by a trolley. Like a re-emerging ghost train carriage. It was a children’s activity trolley being pushed by a girl twenty years his junior. She wouldn’t remember Pluto ever having a presence here. ‘Excuse me?’ Geraint called after her. ‘We’ll be closing up in fifteen… Malcolm! There’s still someone up here.’ The girl announced without slowing or turning to face him. ‘I was just wondering what happened to the old orrery that used to be in here?’ ‘The old what?’ ‘Orrery. A hanging mobile with all the planets on metal wires…’ He made a rotating gesture with his right arm, while his cupped left hand was presumably meant to symbolise the sun. But he was drawing a blank from her. She stopped pushing the trolley and pulled out a rock from a plastic drawer. ‘You wanna check out what the moon feels like?’ She held it out towards him. ‘No, it’s okay, I was just wondering about the—’ ‘It’s been authenticated by Buzz Aldrin… He says this is what it feels like.’ ‘The orrery used to hang over there I think. Anyway I guess it doesn’t matter, I just—’ ‘Closing in ten minutes. MALCOLM!’ Geraint took the stairs down and stopped on level three when he saw the sign for the Vivarium. He could hear the jangling of keys and imagined it to be Malcolm locking up. He wondered if Malcolm wore a name badge that read ‘Hi, I’m Malcolm, how can I kick you out?’ Funny how the tanks of frogs and lizards had changed less than the solar system since his childhood. He watched a cricket scarpering to the back of the tank in a futile attempt to escape the lizard, only to come up against a painted background of Arizona red mountains. Sticking out of the dirt was a piece of wire and there, under the foot of a gecko, was Pluto.
2nd place Michael Westcott
Signs of Life.
Against a sea of black, a small shuttle weaves between the stars. The shuttle roars forward, unaware it is being watched by an ethereal figure whispering, her voice lost on the solar winds, her radiantly purple hair chasing after it. “You look lonely.” Khora floats alone in space, no need for protection against the cold of space. Her pale face reflects the starlight with a look of bemusement across her four eyes tracking the shuttle. With elegant agility, Khora takes off to catch up with her new curiosity, the stars blurring past her, betraying her speed. The shuttle races through the galaxy. A rusting metal pod with crude racing stripes along the sides, a military logo of an eagle clutching a globe with U.N.S.P underneath. Khora’s face shows no sign of strain or effort from the incredible speed at which she travels as she reaches along the far-side the ship, a small victorious smile at reaching her quarry. Climbing atop the shuttle, her hair rushing overhead, she lies face down, crossing her feet behind her and propping her head up with one hand while the other hand moves along the metal, following the grooves of the welding, reaching the port hole on top of the shuttle. Wiping away the built up frost to reveal a human male’s face frozen in determination, stubble running over a chiselled jaw line, dark brown hair grown out of a military buzz cut. A name patch stitched into his orange jump suit: COMM JOHN STEVENS. Khora’s face scrunches up in a look of overzealous scrutiny as she looks off behind her where a small planet is visible in the distance, a hue of brown smog swirling in the atmosphere. “You are going Frehac? Why?” A red light begins to emit from the cockpit. The flashing light shows a panel for the life support system reaching a critical limit of 13%, the small bars quickly deteriorating, “6 hours oxygen remaining” underneath. “You will never reach Frehac in time.” She moves behind the shuttle, aiming towards the russet hued planet. Her clothes billow against the fire of the engines but she does not burn. Life support at 11%. “Goodbye.” She gives a final push helping the ship enter the atmosphere of Frehac, as she disappears into the clouds. The shuttle door ejects into the desert of Frehac and John steps out of the shuttle, disorientated. He pulls out a scanner and looks for a reading. He covers his eyes from the bright sun as he scans around the wasteland he stands in. He grimaces as he speaks into his wrist communicator. ”Control. This is Stevens. No life detected. I repeat. Negative for life.” John stands alone in the wasteland, looking off into the horizon as his wrist panel receives a transmission. ”Maybe next time Commander. Dispatching pick up now.” Khora sits at the edge of the stratosphere, holding a small metal piece of the shuttle reflecting her sullen face. Khora meets her own gaze as she whispers. “You look lonely.”
3rd place Rachel McGreal
The guards stood stoically, lining the corridor that led to The Chamber. Hands rising instinctively in salute, blank expressions turning to confusion as the group marched past, the hands of one of their own cuffed behind her back, cold metal biting skin, heavy hands on her shoulders as they jostled forwards. Whispers of ‘traitor’ and ‘spy’ reverberated around the captive, her steely gaze unfaltering; head held high as she repeated, ‘it had to be done’. The Commander sat high above those assembled, flanked by officers of The Authority, still troubled by the empty space to her right, an imbalance created by recent events. Chatter pierced the air of The Chamber, only stilling at the sound of approaching heavy boots on metal walkways, eyes focusing on the prisoner as she was unceremoniously pushed to her knees to face her judgement. That she still wore her officers uniform angered some, shouts and curses forcing the Commander to rise quickly, a cautionary glance stilling their tongues, enforcing the calm before shifting her gaze down to the woman below. Most prisoners were usually too afraid to meet her eye, but not Rigg, she had always been an exception. Even facing certain death, the emerald green stare of her former First Officer seemed brighter than ever as it bore into her, still exuding confidence and strength; no hint of regret or fear. “Your decision is final?” The Commanders voice rang out around the expansive hall, its occupants awaiting answers for the actions of the prisoner. But they heard no words. The commander the only witness to the accused’s response; an unwavering stare into cold blue eyes, the slightest nod of her head. Acceptance. “Then you are more than aware of the consequences. Take her away!” Judgement passed, she turned quickly to make her exit, halted by a steel grip on her wrist, matching the look on the face of her Second Officer. “Commander - she's the only one who knows…” “Then see to it you force it from her before her sentence is finalised. I need to know!” The brief glance over her shoulder confirmed her fears before she left. That emerald stare, the smirk, the slightest shake of her head. She would never know. Rigg had always been good with secrets. Her body wore the scars of her torture like badges of honour. The information she held was far too valuable to kill her for and she had the strength to endure. So it continued, day by day. Lying on her cell bunk, Rigg stared out of the small porthole, smiling at the faint shimmering of a distant constellation, fingertips instinctively tracing over the indistinct patterns tattooed on her forearm, mirroring what she gazed upon. The map to the ninth planet had been in front of them the entire time, The Authority were just too blind to realise. And now its guardian was planning her escape. Just like she had done last time, just like she would do again.