The Rival at Syracuse is pleased to announce our winners for our spring 2016 flash fiction contest! We’ve received some great submissions, posted below are the top three – in order from first to third place, and two honorable mention pieces!
I’m four or five or six, sitting in my grandparents’ front yard with a big metal bowl of snap beans in my lap. Pinch and twist, pinch and twist, I know the ritual like I know my mother’s tantalizing warning: “Always wash your hands when you’ve finished up a batch. They’re sprayed with poison.” Handling deadly beans is how I pay my keep for being the beloved granddaughter. Someone has gobbed sunscreen onto my twig legs, for the afternoon sky is a white-hot swath, brutal even for a North Carolina summer. The light seeps straight into my head—sloshes around inside like lemonade.
I nibble on my pinky nail without thinking. The bitter taste reminds me too late of my mother’s words. Sprayed with poison. This must have been how Snow White felt right before she took a tumble. In a dreamlike calm, I put the bowl of beans aside and stand. There’s no time to cry or run for an adult. I plant my feet in the ground and swivel round, awed at how each panoramic scan of my grandmother’s garden could be my last sight. I go where there are yellow daffodils and wait to die.
We ran all night just to end up here and I don’t recognize anything remotely close to what we ran from. The Castle, it was once a place where I felt safe, and now I am a fugitive all through out the kingdom, wanted dead or alive. I’m forced to keep away from the only place I want to be and the only keepsake with me is Barneum, who was forced to leave as well. Barneum is tapping me and pointing frantically ahead at a big black tree, “Scarecrow!” he stutters. My blood turned so cold I swear it froze in my veins when I heard that word. My eyes trolled the black tree until I found what Barneum was pointing at. At the bottom of the large tree was an albino white, emaciated creature with bright red eyes. It must have spotted us first and tried to hide in the hole at the bottom of the dead tree. Wait a minute, the dead tree… we must be in the clearing of deadwood. This must be where these terrifying creatures dwell after being pushed out of castle grounds. I had only heard stories about the creatures of deadwood… none pleasant!
Billie was lounging on her grandfather’s dusty porch when the countdown to the end of the world began. Upon hearing the electronic voice spark from the radio, Pa merely grunted and leaned farther back into his rocking chair.50, the radio warned.
50, the radio warned.
“Some warning,” he muttered, “Well. What should we do with our last minute, Billie-Jean?”
Billie tried to produce a splendid way they could spend the shrinking minute together, but her mind came up blank.
She shrugged, “Guess we just watch the sunset. It’s a real nice one today.”
Pa grumbled in agreement, then sighed heavily, “Can’t say I didn’t see it coming.”
“Yeah,” Billie added bitterly, “President Trump really fucked us over.”
A long pause echoed between the two of them as a plane swirled lazily in the sky, faroff in the distance.
Billie started, “What if – ”
“None of that now,” Pa comforted, his usual stern voice taking on a warmer tone,
“What’s done is done.”
Billie nodded, a tear sliding down her cheek as a large metal package dropped from the belly of the approaching plane.
“What’s done is done,” She repeated.
She wanders among the forest, feeling the brisk air nip at her pale neck. The trees welcome her in and treat her like she never left. The sun cradles her like the baby she always wanted. The endlessly flowing water encapsulates her. The water moves forever and forever. To stop the flow of water would be to stop all time. She prances through bushes, and her skin gets pricked by multiple thorns. The blood makes her feel alive. Being closer to death brings more life. The soft, faded emerald grass feels smooth against her calloused skin. The sunlight brings out the yellow in her battered teeth.
As she moves along the woods, she bumps into a cold, hard tree. Suddenly her mind is still and back again. Her eyes open as she stares at the plain white concrete walls that surround her. She looks down. There is no grass but a tile floor that chills her feet. She looks to her right, there is no tree but a wooden door that is shut tight and locked, making it incapable for her to leave. She looks up and sees no sun but a blaring tainted yellow lamp above that taunts her. A nurse comes in and cleans up the small wounds she inflicted on her own skin. She sits down on her bed, stares at the white walls, and resumes her day.
As I stand in front of the golden alter, I know I have to make the decision. The box on the right is covered in bright, red roses and the one on the left is covered in sharp, brown thorns. One cannot exist without the other. This is a decision each of us must make in our lives, as it has been for centuries. When a child turns sixteen they are brought in front of society and asked to choose.
“Isabella Annalise, you must choose a life of roses or thorns”, the vice chancellor states.
Those who open the box with thorns move to the outskirts of society never to contact those whom have chosen the life of roses. Growing up in school it was very clear that we were to choose roses and only a few rebels ever went selected the box on the left with the threatening thorns, but it does happen on occasion. The box with the roses means safety and family. However, freedom and a life of adventure await with the thorn box. I take a deep breath and step forward, picking up one box.
Thank you to everyone who participated!