Supernova by Matt Coleclough
Repentance by Eunice Hung
Robotic by Sofia Trujillo
The Close Sky by Jemima Blench
Death and the Angel Gabriel by Will Fothergill
Flash Fiction Competition 2018 It is universally acknowledged that a picture is worth a thousand words. However, for the Percival Libraryâ€™s seventh annual short story competition, we called upon aspiring writers to submit up to 500 words, taking inspiration from one of eight pictures to create an imaginative and compelling narrative piece. Celebrating 40 years since the original radio broadcast of The Hitchhikerâ€™s Guide to the Galaxy, our theme has a distinctly sci-fi feel this year. This booklet contains all five shortlisted entries with glowing comments from the 2018 judge, Lucy Christopher. Lucy is a critically-acclaimed author and a Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing at Bath Spa University. Matt Coleclough was chosen as the overall competition winner for Supernova, his hilarious take on the perils of space travel. We hope you enjoy reading these stories as much as we did! -The Percival Librarians
Matt Coleclough Winner of Flash Fiction 2018 Supernova The two astronauts were tethered to the station like kites, swaying, bobbing like moored canal boats, uncomfortably close, bumping into one another. In their eyeline, at a distance impossible to estimate, a milky pink soup was slowly revolving in space, like a miniature glittering galaxy. “I mean, it’s kind of beautiful, in a way. Like, it’d look pretty cool, wouldn’t it, if you didn’t know what is was?” said the first astronaut. “Who it was.” said the second. “Oh yeah. Who it was.” They remained in silence for a while, looking out. It was unbearable. The second astronaut reopened transmission. “What are we gonna tell HQ?” “Well, what happened.” “What did happen?” “Well... she sort of just... burst.” “We can’t tell them that. People don’t just burst. When’s the last time you saw someone spontaneously burst?” “About ten minutes ago.” “That’s not what I mean, that isn’t how it works. People don’t just burst.” “Bunny did.” “Are you sure?” “What do you mean, am I sure? Of course I’m sure.” “Christ.” “Do you think she’ll keep spreading out like that?” “What’s wrong with you?” “No, I mean, are we going to need to clear her up, or is she just going to keep spreading out?” “We’re in space, of course she’ll spread out. I thought you were a physicist.” “I’m a doctor. What we really need is an archaeologist. You know, one of those ones who puts old pots back together -” “Shut up.” A bit of the substance that had formerly constituted their mission leader drifted past. It bounced off the window of the station, shimmering. Only their breathing disturbed the silence. “Bunny would’ve wanted it this way.” said the first astronaut.
“Really?” “Yeah, she died doing what she loved.” “Bursting?” “Exploring space, boldly going -” “Don’t.” “What?” “Just don’t.” “Don’t what?” “Don’t quote Star Trek.” “Oh yeah, right. She hated Star Trek, didn’t she.” “She wasn’t exploring space anyway. She was cleaning the windows.” “We’re probably going to need to clean them again.” “Shut up.”
Judge’s Comments: “I really enjoyed Supernova. I thought this was a really clever and extremely funny piece, relying heavily on skilfully written and realistic dialogue. The description was great when it was there too. I would urge Matt to enter it into a professional Flash Fiction competition! I even laughed out loud at one point.” -Lucy Christopher, 2018
Eunice Hung Shortlisted for Flash Fiction 2018 Repentance At first, it was a tiny red flash distant in the universe, eons of light years away. It was only months later that they found out what had happened. A planet inhabited by life forms, beings not dissimilar to humans, had spontaneously combusted. No one knew why. Then there were more. Planet by planet, reports of stars shattering all over the universe, barren landscapes fissuring, the mantle seeping onto blistering lands and eradicating thousands of civilisations â€“ It was after thousands of these occurrences that they finally began to understand why. Galaxies work together to discover the cause behind these catastrophic incidences. Through interplanetary information transfers, and millions of distress calls that arrived too late, they finally established the causes. Massive population declines due to spillage of radioactive substances. Water shortage. Starvation. Civil wars. Itâ€™s as if every misfortune ever known to earth is happening all at once over the entire universe. Before long, it was all around them. Heat and flames consumed their friends, foes, neighbours, allies, everyone. There was no stopping it. Global annihilation was imminent and absolute. They witnessed the fall of everything that was and had ever been. Some called it the apocalypse. Armageddon. The ascent of hellfire and the Devil. Many prayed to the unhallowed gods, mutilated themselves and others, begging for clemency from the entities high above. They panicked. They tried to stop it, barricade themselves, even tried putting the blame on other planets and lands. Nothing worked. Countries fell, continents fractured, and seas churned. And then it was upon them. Torrid seas surged, mountains trembled, and the earth turned itself inside out. Molten earth rose, exterminating every being, heedless of the piteous howls and wails. Populations were devoured by vast crevices emerging from the parched land. Heat seared desolate plains and razed cities to the ground, devastating and unstoppable. For the first time in its existence, Earth felt fear.
Mankind fled as the earth was stripped bare of itself. Countless lives were lost. As the last remnants of man struggled to the top of the last surviving mountain, beholding the crimson universe, they couldnâ€™t help but wonder what on Earth had gone wrong.
Judgeâ€™s comments: "Repentance has great potential to be expanded into a longer piece and dealt with some interesting big ideas. Great inspiration from the picture." -Lucy Christopher, 2018
Sofia Trujillo Shortlisted for Flash Fiction 2018 Robotic Question: What is a robot? Answer: A programmed piece of machinery that has no feelings. This machine decides my fate. All those times I cried, all those times I laughed or felt any emotion may have been programmed. My whole life I have waited for this day, yet it came too soon. I’m Mia, I’m 15, the age everyone is when they take the trial. Right now I am standing in the queue, my dad on the right, my mum in front of me, and my twin brother, Freddie, to the left. The room is cold with a solid metal floor and barred windows. I feel like I am in a prison cell waiting to be unlocked. I am watching the people pass through, their heads down, shy, nervous, but above all, AFRAID. Afraid of what lies ahead, afraid of their future. The queue is shortening, Freddie and I are next in line. Our fate is creeping up on us like a lion on its prey. The machine is colossal, towering over me casting a shadow like a rain cloud. The metal panels swipe from side to side, and as a person steps in the doors close shut and the lights dim. The whole process takes around five minutes until you receive your results. Freddie is next in queue and then me. Before he steps forwards I pull back his arm and whisper in his ear, “Whatever happens, I will always be your sister.” His eyes begin to tear up as he steps in. I hear a voice asking some questions and then the machine starts scanning. I look up almost praying for him as I wait, preparing for the worst possible outcome. I think back to when we were young, when there were no worries, when we lived freely. Now, now times have changed. People are miserable and starving, praying that things will be different. We live in a segregated culture, in which other people decide how we live. People are looked upon depending on these results. Things change from today, and they don't change for good.
I feel a hand squeezing mine. As I look up I see my mum’s warm hazel eyes staring into mine. She has a hopeful look in her eyes but her mouth is trembling. I give her a hug knowing she is more scared than I am. The noise in the room settles down, meaning Freddie’s trial is over. He steps out both relieved and shocked. I’m now at the front of the queue and my name is called in a deep and husky voice. I reply so quietly almost a whisper. I step into the machine and lift my arms hardly finding the strength to hold them high. The machine makes some strange noises as I wait terrified. After waiting for what feels like forever the lights come back on and I almost fall out of the machine. I look up at the screen, my name flashes. I drop to the floor with a scream.
Judge’s comments: "Robotic would have been my runner up choice. I thought the description and tension were especially good here, and the big story that this snippet was indicating at was enticing and gripping. I wanted to read on!" -Lucy Christopher, 2018
Jemima Blench Shortlisted for Flash Fiction 2018 The Close Sky 'Look at the stars!' You grinned. Moonlight on teeth, dark hair tinted silvery. You were a shape defined by the stars behind you, hips and waist casting a shadow on the sky. You were blotting out the stars with your dear frame. The gap between your front teeth glinted white under the waxing moon. 'Leo,' you pointed out. 'Wheeling up there. High summer. There's Virgo, too. Looks nothing like a girl if you ask me.' I wasn't looking at the stars, though. In that moment, the centre of my universe was not some supermassive black hole, as you tell me, but was you, a veritable nebula of fine feathery hair, soft words, soft clothes, softer hands. In that moment, I could have sworn you were happy. The cliff we were on seemed undaunting to us, an unlit cigarette of a thing, unthinkable, a far cry from your tiger-toothed smile, quiet and feline and only for the stars. They've known you all your life, after all. Did you forget? You were like the moon to me, pulling tides spring and neap, drawing me to your eye like water, clearing my thoughts and the path beforehand, soothing with silver light. How can one destroy the moon? Will you not rise up from the murky waters below, to cast light on my miserable haze-filled head? Part the smoke like curtains? Blow it off like headland winds? Surely, just when I believe you may never come back, you will wane again, a slip of silver in the sky. You are new, that is allSurely? Look at the stars, I think bitterly. There aren't any tonight, their subtle sparkle engulfed by the flickering amber of the street lamp. Smoke curls off into the cold darkness, devoid, freezing. The sky is so empty tonight, and only our artificial lights guide us home; what with the stars being gone, and all. What is all the wonder of a night sky without one to marvel at it? I wonder if you'd be cross with me. The leaflet you left in my bookcase tells me there's a meteor shower tonight. It's a delicate thing, sun-faded, the inked words like veins in a pressed leaf. It seems ready to crumble when I touch it.
I wonder if you think I should be watching the Ursids pass by. I can't even see the moon right now, darling, through these bloodshot eyes of mine. My mouth tastes sour. I wouldn't want to taint the stars with my presence. I wouldn’t want to burnish their silver. Yet still my head tilts toward the heavens, as if I’ll find answers up there. It might be an aeroplane, or, worse, my imagination, but I swear I can see the morning star winking at me. It seems an inappropriate gesture. Look at the stars, my darling. It may be the last thing you see.
Judge’s comments: "The Close Sky had some lovely descriptive language. I think this piece could be expanded into something very interesting indeed - who are these people talking to each other? The last line added a tantalisingly creepy element." -Lucy Christopher, 2018
Will Fothergill Shortlisted for Flash Fiction 2018 Death and the Angel Gabriel Death and Gabe sat at the table sipping Earl Grey. It was an odd thing to see, to one side the shining dark skin and flowing white robes of Gabe and to the other the skeletal figure shrouded in thin dark clothes that was Death. It would be odd if they were normal people, but they were not normal people, they were angels. “Upper Management was thinking, Grim, that maybe you could do with some help, that’s all. I mean, it's nothing personal.” “Upper Management” started Death “has decided that I need an assistant. Since the beginning of creation I have been doing this, placed by the Big Cheese, but now Upper Management decide that I need an assistant.” “Well, they have noticed a few minor issues, Death, that has been a bit of a cause for concern; Upper Management has been going through a bit of a restructuring.” “Restructuring, last time you lot restructured, Lucifer fell from heaven!” “ No, it's nothing like that, we are just moving away from the, shall we say, fire and brimstone of the past. We’re modernising and we’re rather hoping you would do the same.” “Hence the assistant, to keep an eye on me.” Gabe sighed. “Death, we have been concerned that you doing this on your own my not be all that good for you. I mean, you have developed a bit of as gambling problem.” Death rolled the eyes in his skull. “You play chess on a beach with a Swedish knight one time and now, before you know it, everyone wants to bet their life.” “Well, it's not just that, Grim, Upper Management also noticed that there have been some technical hitches with some of the recent passings.”
“Oh, not this again, FOUR doctors have said that he was in a vegetative state, how was I supposed to know he was going to recover from that coma? So I gave him a glimpse of the other side...” “Death, these things can be really serious” “I mean, yes, he wrote a book about it, but no one took any real notice. No one does down here.” “Death, these things can have very serious consequences, the whole need for faith could be at risk.” “Well, I'm not sure why you are so concerned, the people down here, they don’t notice anything. Sometimes, just for a laugh me and some other angels burn divine images into their toast. They hardly ever notice and when they do they don’t care. Humanity is more focused on the trivial, they won't argue about the nature of the trinity but rather whether the cream goes first on a scone and how you should say ‘scone’ in the first place. They made their own cults and religions, but instead of calling it Church they call it internet discussion forums and party conferences. You could march a whole line of popes in a conga outside Buckingham Palace and no one would notice. I’d hardly think half of them would blink.” Death sighed and took a long sip of Earl Grey. “I didn’t know you drank?” asked Gabe “I consume almost everything. When will this new assistant be arriving?” “He’s called Ian, and he will arrive next Tuesday.” Death stared down at the dregs in his tea. “Fine.”
Judge’s comments: "I very much enjoyed Death and the Angel Gabriel, which I found funny and clever. Loved the Earl Grey sipping!" -Lucy Christopher, 2018
Read the five fantastic pieces of creative writing shortlisted for our annual Flash Fiction competition.