Steven Holding - Runner up

Competition: Flash Fiction Competition

Steven Holding lives with his family in Northamptonshire. His stories have been published by Trembling With Fear, Friday Flash Fiction, TheatreCloud, Ad Hoc Fiction and in Massacre Magazine. He has been shortlisted in several competitions including Flash 500, The Henshaw Prize, Exeter Flash Fiction, WriteStars, TSS Publishing and others. Most recently, his story Three Chords and the Truth received first place in the Inktears 2018 Flash Fiction Competition. He is currently working upon further short fiction and a novel. You can follow his work at www.stevenholding.co.uk

Steven Holding

Walk With Me Through the Long Grass and I Shall Hold Your Hand

We shared adventures you and I. Seized the weekend by its ankles then hoisted it upside down, furiously shaking Saturdays until nothing remained in its turned-out pockets. Three fuzzy channels in black and white bored us to tears. Who had time to try and decipher the snooker when there was a technicolour world demanding to be explored?
Two kids on their pushbikes (or in rockets, or tanks!) Endless miles of tangled countryside. For us it was a steaming jungle or the deadly surface of Venus; a dried-out ditch a trench in the Somme, a blackberry thicket attacking triffids.
Those fields were our ocean, defining the edges of everything. The rest of the universe, both good and bad, lay quietly waiting for us, out of our sight, somewhere over the horizon.
Growing older, that territory shifted, shaped by nature as well as ourselves, once familiar landmarks assuming a deeper significance within our ever-expanding lives. Overgrown top-secret dens where dreams were once readily shared now concealed carefully stashed cans and well-thumbed glamour mags; the knotted oak that only you could ever climb looming large in our minds that evening we feasted on the fairy ring we found lurking in its shadow.   
The low moan of the rusty kissing gate, and those sweaty days when it finally lived up to its name.
We hadn’t talked for years when a newspaper headline yelled out at me from the wire racking of a train station tobacconists. You, of course, had gone on to become quite the celebrity. I, on the other hand, was more than content with my average life and the anonymity it afforded me. Seeing your name, I fumbled to grab a copy, suddenly frozen in time as brief-cased commuters swarmed past me, tutting loudly as I selfishly caused a split-second delay in their journey to who knows where. The print quickly smudged, turning my thumbs and fingers purple as the article informed me of what you had done; the tabloid seeming to relish its graphic description of every lurid detail. When I saw the location you had chosen, I could feel the place calling out to me immediately.
In a story, I would have dropped everything and boarded a steam train there and then, experiencing deep and meaningful insights as I travelled, gazing from an open window with a melancholic expression. Real life, as we know, is much less dramatic.
Two weeks later I rang in sick to work; made the three-hour drive in my battered hatchback. I would have played our favourite album, but, you know, the stereo was broken.
Parking up by the village green, I was surprised that the gate was still there. Happy that it remained unoiled.
Regardless of what I felt, at least your actions took me there once again. Strolling through the long grass, smiling as the sunlight kissed my skin, I think I understood.
If the truth be told, are not all of us simply seeking a way to get back home?
Take my hand.  

Judges Comments

Steven Holding's Walk With Me Through the Long Grass and I Shall Hold Your Hand, the runner-up in our 500-Word Short Story Competition, is an evocative, elegiac piece in which the narrator looks back at the past they shared with a friend who, it transpires, has died in shocking circumstances.

The precise details of how and what happened in the present are deliberately left untold. WWMTTLGAISHYH is a story about memory, and how the past can seem more vivid than the present, and how the loss of someone significant from  the narrator's younger days provokes heightened impressions of bygone days. Steven shows great skill in conjuring the atmosphere of the past his narrator shared with their lost companion in the first half of the story, conveying a dreamy, recollected world of shared experience that contrasts sharply with the first half of the second part, where the narrator's focus is on the prosaic, busy details of their present-day life.

It's a a carefully constructed piece that makes the most of the 500-word limit. The end, where Steven ties all the strands of his story together, has been carefully crafted to present an oblique, multi-faceted vision of what happens when everyday existence with its petty incovneniences and mundance realities (the car stereo that doesn't work, the day off sick) comes up against the profound moments that alter the course of a life: loss, mourning, remembrance. Written with delicacy and restraint, WWMTTHLGAISHYH conveys a langoruous sense of the past. It's so full of impressions that it feels as if a much longer story has been compressed into a tight space. And yet it never seems rushed as it opens up an imaginative space for the reader that is effective and moving.

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