Dark quiet room

The Failing Writers Podcast announced the winners of their 2023 Flash Fiction Competition today. I didn’t win, but I did make the longlist – a fact that I found out early on in the podcast announcing the results because of the very catchy song they wrote mentioning people who didn’t quite make it onto the shortlist. And whilst I’m incredibly disappointed not to have won £500, it’s nice to know I wasn’t a million miles away.

It was in that song (which you can hear here, about 12m30 in) that my story was described as a ‘horribly bleak vision’ which I don’t deny… but I’m going to let you judge for yourself – because here it is!

(For context: the theme of the story had to be “failing” and it had to include the phrase “Sorry, I haven’t got time”)

What’s left when there’s nothing left?

What’s left of the moonlight breaks through a crack and reflects off your face, bone white. I finish telling the story. You lie, peaceful in the deepest sleep. You always liked that story. It was our story.

You were always so far ahead of me. I would say: ‘Wait for me,’ but I’d knew I’d spend my life trying to catch up.

In the end, it was me who carried you here, hid you behind boarded windows. Since the oceans boiled and the sky filled with clouds of thick, poisoned smoke, there’s been nothing to see, and much to keep out.

I stand and feel my way to the door, flicking the switch as I enter the hallway. It’s a habit. Nothing happens. There’s been no power for months.

In the other room, the fire is burning low in the hearth, but it’s still alive. I add a log from the pile and place a kettle on the tripod. I sit on the floor, knees hugged to my chest as the flames revive.

You would say: ‘Sorry, I haven’t got time,’ and you’d laugh.

I don’t remember the last time I heard you laugh. I remember nothing since we came here. No one has time anymore, there is no more time.

You would say: ‘Time is an illusion.’

There is nothing to remember.

I feel bad. I don’t think I’m remembering our story properly. My mind is clouded. There’s no hope in the darkness.

You would say: ‘Memories aren’t real.’

The kettle boils and I pour the water into a chipped mug with the last of the leaves. I’ve used them many times and what flavour they once had has leached away. I place my face over the steaming mug and inhale. The ghost of peppermint clears my head. I continue to breathe it in until the water cools enough to sip.

I wonder if I’m telling it as you remember it. Do I still remember the events themselves? Or am I just remembering another memory, a subsequent retelling, embellished and smoothed, like a photocopy of a photocopy? The light parts bleached, and the features lost? The dark shadows deepened until they hide everything?

I feel like I’m losing my grip, but I need to be strong for you. I’m so scared, because I need to be strong for you.

I stand up and place my mug on the floor, wander back to the room where what’s left of you lies. I see so much less of you. You’re fainter, less distinct.

What’s left of the moonlight bathes your face, white bone. I’m trying to keep you alive, but the memory you live in is degrading. All I can see are outlines; all I hear is the ring of feedback.

It’s all I have left to do: to keep you alive and to keep you safe.

As the tear leaves my eye and rolls down my face, I hear the thump of bodies against the door and hold you closer.