Andrea Wotherspoon - Winner

Competition: WM00109 Flash Fiction

Andrea Wotherspoon lives in Thurso, Caithness, where she works in waste management by day and writes short stories for magazines by night. She has entered many Writing Magazine competitions has been shortlisted a few times but this is her first win. Her current writing goal is to complete the novel she’s been working on for three years, but the lure of short stories keeps pulling her away.

Andrea Wotherspoon

Heartless

The wind blows a blast of droplets – rain or sea, she isn’t sure – against her face. Today is not a day for a clifftop walk, but she wants to hear the tide, to see the angry swell so akin to the rage burning inside her. A rage at him, who she had once loved more than anyone, but who she now despises with a passion she can hardly believe possible.
Their marriage is a minefield of mind games and one-upmanship that neither can win. He flirts with someone, she flirts with someone. They watch each other from corners of narrowed eyes, a love that has festered and blackened into hate, each trying to hurt the other. Both have cheated. Both would cheat again.
She takes her keys from her pocket, and with numb, cold-reddened fingers fumbles with the blue string doll on the keyring. She hisses with impatience until it is off its silver hoop, then throws it into the snarling sea with a guttural roar.
He bought the keyrings on their first date. One red, one blue, both with a pink felt heart.
‘That’s you,’ he said, holding up the red one. ‘This one is me.’
He gave her the blue one.
‘So we’ll always be together even when we’re apart.’
She smiled, hugged him, buried her teary face in his shoulder. Was it possible to love someone this much? Yes, and more. He proposed a month later.

Now, the dolls are blackened from years of being tossed in pockets, felt hearts long gone. Her love ended when the heart fell off, maybe even before then.
Back home he is out, and she is glad. She lights the fire to warm the chill from her bones, holding her palms out to the infant flames as they devour the kindling.
She spots his keys on the table. He has forgotten them. Perhaps he stormed out looking for her. Or maybe he’s gone out with the sole purpose of making her wonder where he’s gone. This was her reason for going out earlier. It’s a game they play often. She smiles smugly as she picks the keys up and pulls off the heartless, faded red doll and tosses it
into the hungry flames.
There is a knock. She sighs, debates ignoring it. Instead, she decides she could
toy with him.
But it’s not him. She can see two people through the glass.
‘Mrs Smith? Can we come in? It’s about your husband.’
She frowns, opens the door and shows them in, curiosity where there would once have been fear.
‘A body was found on the shore earlier. We have reason to believe it’s your husband… Mrs Smith?’
Their words no longer register as her face grows hotter. Heat overwhelms her. She moves away from the fire but it follows her.
‘Mrs Smith? Are you okay? You’re looking flushed.’
She tries to speak but the heat takes her breath away.
‘The fire…,’ she barely utters.
The flames dance as they consume the red doll.

Judges Comments

500 words might seem a lot when you’re struggling to reach your daily writing target, but the challenge of fitting a full story into that tight limit is even more considerable. It’s certainly not something that can be tossed off in a quarter the time of a 2,000-word story, needing even more attention on word choice, pruning and shaping. In fact, the best approach to a challenge such as this is to write over, then pare back your work to the absolute essentials. That seems to have been the technique favoured by both our winners in this competition, judging by the precision with which they both hit the word limit. But neither story feels short-changed. Each finds plenty of room for scene-setting, atmosphere and changes in pace.

In first place, Heartless has time to build its tension, with descriptions of elements, location, the protagonist’s mood and that masterful paragraph of marital damnation beginning with the deliciously juicy ‘minefield of mind games’. You can practically taste the bitterness.
The crucial detail of those talismanic keyrings at first appears to be nothing more than colour in the sad backstory and a particularly effective touch is the initially innocent foreshadowing in the loss of the heart from hers. In exactly 500 words, we’ve gone from love story to horror story... and told two life stories.

 

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