We are delighted to announce – and share – the winner and runners up in our first Faclan Flash Fiction Challenge.
Flash Fiction is a form of writing that generally contains some character and plot development but is very short – 1000 words maximum. Variations on the genre include six-word stories, 280 character stories (aka ‘twitterature’), 50 word mini-sagas, microfiction (100 words) and sudden fiction (750 words). One of the most famous examples is the six-word story pictured above and usually attributed to Ernest Hemingway.
In the run-up to this year’s Faclan: the Hebridean Book Festival we invited writers to submit pieces inspired by this year’s festival theme, ‘Human Nature’.
On The Beach at Dal Mhor by Anne Elizabeth Edwards.
Beathach by Finlay Macleod.
The Crow on the Cradle by Gill Thompson.
Congratulations to our selected writers, all of whom win free tickets for events at the festival, which runs from Wednesday 30 October to Saturday 2 November, with a top line-up of author events, film screenings, and more. The winning writer can also enjoy a free dinner for two in An Lanntair’s cafe bar.
You can read the winning entry and the two runners up in full below.
On the beach at Dal Mhor
by Anne Elizabeth Edwards
On the beach at Dal Mhor, rain obscures the cliffs then reveals them in alternating shifts. The wind lifts sand and scours my face. Tears form to shield my eyes in natural protection. The sea’s taste is bitter as I breathe. The spray salt stings my nose. Regardless of the cold I sit on the wet sand. Damp seeps through my trousers, chilling my hip bone in a steady creep. I know I will pay with pain later, but am careless of actual and potential discomfort. As time passes, I am dimly aware the tide has swept closer, foam washes my boots. Fascinated I watch as water now covers my feet. I consider myself a stone. I shall sit for a millennium. I pray… let the sea rub my jagged pieces smooth. Let seaweed root itself in my gut, my heart, my open mouth. Let peace descend on me with the unstoppable tide. Caress me with its cold fingers, sucking me in, succouring me. I will be a sea-maid, a marine Ophelia.
‘Hello hello…let me help you… I saw you from the machair. Let me help you.’
I’m barely aware of the voice. Strong arms lift mine. Is there two people? No one person my height but strong thick limbs. Regardless of propriety he lifts me under my oxters. There is the squeaky- rustle sound of Gore-Tex rubbing together. He lifts me, then pushes and carry’s and leads me. My teeth are dancing in my mouth, clipping my tongue. My body is grey clay, all drag and resistance.
In the camper van I am stripped without ceremony like a doll. He has the phone on speaker. He is following instructions from a lady with a stern voice.
‘Clothes off…including underwear. Heating on, blankets, towels, socks…no food, no hot drinks.’
‘I’ve put the kettle on…’ he says protesting. He is towelling my hair roughly without tenderness. He has dressed me in his clothes. T shirt upon T shirt. Two jumpers. A blanket.
‘No hot drinks’ she commands. ‘Do you have flat “full fat” coke? Sugar in water?’
He roots in a cupboard above my head, pushing me aside without ceremony. I realise he is afraid. I try to tell him that I am not afraid, but can’t, my teeth are gnashing. He gives me undilute squash in a dirty coffee mug, a sip triggers sneezing. He stops. He pushes me into a fetal position and hugs me to him. He smells of Malcolm.
‘They are coming.’ He says over and over without variety. ‘They are coming.’ His voice soothes me, soothing himself. There is warmth in him but I can’t draw it out.
Now there is a golden dream of sharp light that hurts my eyes. I squeeze them tight to red vessels.
‘I love you Malcolm.’ It’s important that he knows that.
‘Malcolm knows you love him.’ he says.
by Finlay Macleod
Bha mi uair air tiodhlacadh ann an Nis ‘s a’ coiseachd ri taobh fear air an robh Dòmhnall Sheòrais. “Nach annasach am beathach an duine fhèin,” thuirt mi ris son facal dhen a’ chòmhradh, “mar a thig e a dh’adhlacadh a cho-chreutair.”
“Nacheil fhios agad fhèin, a dhuine thruaigh,” ‘s e fhreagair e, “nach e beathach a th’ anns an duine.”
Cha tuirt mi an còrr. Dh’aithnich mi gur e am beathach a bh’ agam.
The Crow on the Cradle
by Gill Thompson
She spotted the injured bird in the yard, its feathers trailing pathetically. Its beak looked sharp and vicious and its black eye was fixed on her with a wary gaze.
Armed with a towel, she stepped closer to the bird, gingerly moving one foot in front of the other, careful not to make a sudden noise. The bird hopped away until it could go no further, cornered against the wall of the outhouse. Choosing her moment, she lunged forward, wrapping the cloth around the bird and holding the creature closely to her to prevent it from struggling. The bird put up faint resistance but then gave up.
When she looked closer, she saw that its wing was broken. She splinted the wing and folded it against the shiny black feathers, binding it with a bandage.
“What the hell are you doing?” said Tom when he came in…”let me get my gun and shoot it!”
“That would be cruel,” she exclaimed “It’s a living creature and deserves a chance.”
“You can’t keep it, Helen,” he warned, “Crows are wild, they can’t be tamed, and anyway, they bring bad luck”
But Helen ignored him, feeding her patient with scraps of meat, worms from the vegetable patch and water through an eye dropper.
Over time, the bird grew to trust her. The day came when the wing was mended and the crow was fit to be set free. But it didn’t seem inclined to go.
It would take flight, soaring up to the roof, only to return again, strutting around the kitchen or landing on the windowsill and preening its feathers. Sometimes it would swoop in through an open window and perch on pieces of furniture…from chair to bedstead and to the rails of the child’s cot that stood empty in the unused nursery.
She liked its company.
To Tom crows were vermin, scavengers. They stole corn seeds and pecked out the eyes of newborn lambs. He had no time for this bird that seemed to mock him as it took up residence in his home.
Helen fell pregnant. As her belly swelled and the baby moved inside her, they discussed names and talked about the future for their child. A boy or a girl? A teacher, a farmer, a lawyer, a doctor?
It was a girl. Content and smiling, fair-haired like her mother. They called her Claire.
Then Simon, was born. A demanding child, always needing attention but the apple of his mother’s eye.
Crow kept on coming to the house for several years but then was only seen occasionally, as if watching from afar.
She missed it, but her life was now filled with childcare and cooking and school runs.
The children grew up, both having success at school and good prospects.
Claire took up with a boy who seemed to have a good future ahead of him. They married and moved into the local town. It became clear that he gave her little freedom and could be violent if he had a skin-full. Then he went too far. She escaped to a women’s refuge for safety and moved away. There was no regular contact. Helen felt cut off from her daughter, rejected.
Simon had no interest in the crofting life. He carved a career for himself in the Army. When he came home on leave, there was a distance between him and his father … words that hung in the air unspoken. Simon was often away … he kept in touch but could not say much.
Tom was finding the work more and more of a strain. It was hard living… out in all weathers, early mornings and late nights of lambing … working with and against the elements and he was not getting any younger. However, the prospect of selling up and the croft going to strangers was something he did not want to think about.
Sunlight pierced the spaces between glowering dark clouds. Helen needed to feed the sheep before the rain started. Shrugging on her coat and pulling up her boots, she crossed the field towards the huddle of sheep. She saw something out of the corner of her eye…. something swinging on the fence. The stiff corpses of 3 black crows, suspended upside down from the top wire.
She was angry with Tom, but there was something else, a feeling of unexplained foreboding.
Rain sluiced down in sheets across the yard, soaking her through. She made a cup of tea but had barely sat down to drink it, when the headlights of a car swept across the yard. A knock at the door and she went to see who it was.
The uniform was enough… Helen needed no other explanation.
It was as if a curse had been on her life ever since … ever since …
She waded through the wet grass ignoring the rain. Big black birds rose up in front of her as she disturbed them. She raised the shotgun to her shoulder and aimed at their dark flapping bodies, the cracks of gunfire mixing with the panicked squawks from the birds, before their bodies plummeted lifeless to the ground.