Here's a selection of some of the best short fiction and flash fiction that MUSE has had the pleasure of reading this summer - fabulous, creative and inspiring stuff from a world in lockdown.
by Lulu Arnott
Hats can be anything. Tall dark and handsome, short round and fun, sporty, shady, stylish, flat, bumpy, completely pointless.. so why is it so hard to write about a hat? If you write about one (be it good or bad) the other might get upset. Which is silly because you might like the second hat more than the first hat but it’s easier to write about the first hat because the first hat is in the past.
And what if you did write about the second hat? Could you write about how it makes you giggle and melt inside and how it feels like home? Could you write something down for anyone to see about your cheesiest feeling towards the second hat? Or would everyone think you’re naive and stereotypical and disregard your writing because it has no depth other than comfort and positivity? Which never makes for an interesting read. Unless you’re into all the clichés which you definitely aren’t because that is very uncool.
So fine. Write about the first hat. The first hat was nice. But the first hat was also selfish and immature and made you miserable. Can you write that? That sounds incredibly petty and resentful. Even though you know the first hat was kind and someone will really like that first hat but are you allowed to write about the negatives of the first hat for any other hats or ties or bags or shoes to see? What if you make the first hat sad? You don’t hate the first hat.
Ok so don’t write about either hat. Write about a bow tie or a shoelace. But you’re meant to write about what you know without plagiarising something you have read or seen so it has to be something you know from life and what do you know about life you’re not even old enough to vote. All you know (that reveals nothing personal about yourself because you’re too scared to do that) are hats. Well, you know much more than that but you are struggling to think of anything else right this second.
Wait some more.
Just don’t forget. Because you know what you’re like. You’ll think you’ve done it or you’ll forget to put it on tomorrow’s to-do list.
You could write about something personal. It might be uncomfortable and hard to let anyone else read but it might be your best work. You’ve written about your personal life before, granted without showing anyone. Or maybe you should just give up and choose a different career path. Who makes money from writing anyway? No. You have to do this. Write about the hats.
The hats aren’t hats anyway.
I had said something I shouldn’t have.
by Cecily Herbert
Naoko’s voice alerted me to the possibility that I had said something I shouldn’t have. Her high-pitched gasp startled me into oblivion. It went silent. I stared down at my feet, shuffling around waiting for her to say something. I stared up at her, into what were once deep blue eyes; now, all I could see was nothing.
‘I trusted you’ she whispered, a slow clear tear trickled down her face. I wanted to catch it but I knew I had already lost it, lost her.
‘I didn’t mean to hurt you,’ I murmured. That was a lie. I did, I wanted to hurt her for everything she had done to me but I couldn’t admit that to her; she was my best friend. I picked up the gun. ‘I’m sorry.’
by Ella Storm
Glossy, sleek and spherical. Comfortably nestled in his pocket, stretching his glinting chain all the way up to the third button on that tattered waistcoat. The very button he took a fancy to the day he arrived in that pocket, that beautiful day. He’d never ticked louder. Two faces grinned at each other, one rosy, one polished. He was a pocket-watch, and a fine pocket-watch to say the least. He was the perfect gift and he knew it, because from that day onwards he never left that pocket. They accompanied each other to every event, weddings, funerals, dinners, each flying by with every confident tick of his outstretched hands. They assisted each-other in times of need, his smooth face displaying the inevitability of a missed flight or a waiting friend sitting opposite an empty chair. Yes, sometimes he got things wrong, perhaps wasn’t wound properly. But that was all part of his charm, of which he had lots, with his subtle winks and glimmers on evenings when the sunlight hit him just right.
Nothing could stop them; they were a forever punctual pair. But the seasons changed, alongside the gradual wearing of the man’s waistcoat, threadbare and frayed at the edges; only acceptable to look upon after ‘one too many’ at those endless weekend cocktail parties.
Tick, tick, tick. HE didn’t seem to mind. To him, the pocket only grew softer and more comfortable. His gleaming surfaces only saw the best in the world, because after all, time flies when you’re having fun. He didn’t even notice when his roman numerals began to fade, or when his chain became frail. All of these things were simply part of a well-timed life.
Until the day arrived.
Both faces, one slightly less rosy, the other slightly less polished, gazed down at each other once again. The wrinkles carving a pattern across one face, dull markings outlining the other. Neither recognised the face staring back. Who was this man? No longer vivacious and handsome, the life of the party. Just wan, and tired, the continuous ticks of each day showing in his lustreless eyes. And who was this pocket-watch? A pallid and lumbering lump of metal, with a few missing numbers here and there. Just two old codgers looking lifelessly at one another. A single tear splashed onto the smooth face from above, concealing time for a split second. None of this mattered anymore, the parties, the flights, the events he was never late for. What mattered was the memory of that first day. The perfect fit of his new pocket-watch in his new waistcoat, nestling cosily into the material for the very first time, the ticks almost deafening from his lively body. That memory would last much longer than his little face could ever count, that memory would last a lifetime.
She'd Stare at the Sky.
by Zoe Baker
She’d stare at the sky. It seemed to dance for her. Clouds intertwining and waltzing, performing to an audience of one. She saw everything in the sky. The sky, she thought, was so empty, it was so full and packed and overflowing with nothingness, which meant she saw everything in it. The vast blue planes that echoed above her acted as an abyss of thoughts and words that she could fill and replenish without consequences. The sky would embrace her with its velvet arms and squeeze her to its breast, letting go of the reality of the empty world below. She had always felt at home in the sky, but when it came time to slip back into the ordeal of existing, she would look back up to the sky again and weep as she knew she would always be stuck below, staring up.
by Rose Grundon
This path represents longevity, stretching infinitely with its end invisible to the finite human. As I walk along it, I feel aged as though with every fresh step I take, a year of my life has passed. A year of my life which now belongs to the path.
Everywhere is green or brown and all around I see people, each to their own, murmuring with an air of mystery. Everyone has secrets.
As my pursuit continues, I feel as though I’m being watched despite being hidden by the vast wilderness and the sweet smell of the freshly cut grass.
In the distance I see men and women in lines, regimented and purposeful. Carrying instruments of death and marching further and further into the timeless void without a fear in the world. They do not look back.
There are others too, pedestrians, pets, police, all of whom continuing this monotonous journey to the non-existing finish line.
Under a towering oak tree I see a girl and she seems different to the rest. Enveloped by her thoughts, she sits in a purgatory between the past and the present. This is not her world.
As I watch her it is as though she opens her soul to me, revealing all of her past memories. The brassy limbs reaching beyond their roots, desiring to touch the warmth of her benevolence are symbolic of something. She is alone and they want to protect her from the truth of reality, from the harsh world.
The morning light pierces through the leaves, blazing up the weeds. Her eyes, the vessel for her thoughts; unknown like our fate. She knows something that we do not.
Clothed in a bright yellow dress, she contrasts with the others, shining in amongst a sea of grey. Unlike the others, she seems too fragile and too innocent for our world. I pity her, yet envy her innocence.
I decide to pace onward, distancing myself from the girl and the idyllic purgatory where she sits.This walk is draining. I feel lifeless now, almost as though the growing distance between us equates to a life of misery. I fear that with our separation, that I will no longer be able to breathe, as though she is a cure for my inevitable ageing. A cure for the surplus years which will be added to my life with each new step that I take along this never-ending path. She is my protection against the dangers that I will face as I venture further and further. I need her, but I can’t go back now.
by Emily Clannachan
A programme for the school’s annual charity catwalk and talent show. Crumpled and ripping around the edges. Creases adorning the beaming girl center stage. Faces I somewhat know, looking up at her in admiration, distorted by the purple lights.
My best friend and I sat two rows from the stage, frozen with the excitement and anticipation. Phones at the ready. We grasped each other’s hands, waiting as nervously as our friend on the stage as the judges made their decision.
“And the winners of St Cat’s Got Talent 2019… Mani and Natalie!”
We launched from our seats and cheered, laughing at the embarrassed look on Mani’s face. You could see how much time and effort she had put into her dance and the long hours she spent after school in the dance studio, in the way she studied the award in her hands. Before we knew, she was rushing towards us, smiling ear-to-ear, almost knocking us over when she jumped and hugged us, tears of joy falling down her face.
The most common and most conspicuous acts of animal altruism are done by parents, especially mothers, towards their children.
by Ana Pozigun
A few years ago, back when grandpa was still alive and I was sick, no one else was willing to read with him. My sisters were never interested in anything that required them to read much, not even on the internet, and my dad was busy on his tablet – as usual – pretending to do important work. That’s when my grandpa was left with no choice but to read with himself, or so he was excited to do. It’s not like he was forced to read with someone once a week, but my mother is too obnoxious to argue with and my dad is too lazy to step up or protest against anything in the household, thus our family slowly began to draw in what seemed like matriarchy. My mum would get on anyone’s nerve, not by will, though. I was surprised to find out that my mum willingly volunteered to read with him in his study, but it must’ve sounded appalling to him, and it did turn out to be the way he expected – tremendous.
I overheard them. It’s not hard to hear my mum speak, even in a big apartment with two floors, you can hear her high-pitched voice no matter where you go. I quickly rushed out of my bed, even with flu; the excitement that brought me was stronger than my poor immune system.
Apex is a strange thing. A new technology that people would only be able to predict inside their minds in science fiction and fantasy, never to find out later it would be written in history books and physics. It’s a computer chip, which year by year stores all the memories that you choose to keep before your death. After a new member is born, at the age of five, that chip must be replaced with the previously deceased relative. It just so strangely happened that grandpa has died later than my mother, who turned out to be his own step mother in a couple of previous lives. I am the last generation; however, I am now allowed to have any independent children with their own memories, and their own lives to be born. I must replace them with a different person, previously deceived – who turned out to be my grandfather.
“Ooh! Look at this book, what pretty pink cover.” My mother exclaimed. I could sense my grandpa’s irritation through the door.
“Don’t touch anything!” he snapped and put her hands away. “I’ll chose. No one is allowed to choose but me!”
“Oh, but I think I can choose for once too.” She pushed him away slightly and reached for a pink book. “Look how pretty it is. Isn’t it pretty? Tell me it’s pretty. Why, of course it’s pretty!” She sat down on an armchair next to a fireplace. “I think you should read a pretty book too. Look over there, to your left, there is a green one. But it’s not a pretty as mine, mine is much prettier than yours!”
“Have you ever read before?” Grandpa asked sarcastically.
“Only in my previous apex, I haven’t read anything this life.” She said, scrolling through pages. “Where should I begin?”
“That’s not how books work.”
“I decide how books work, not you. You are my son.”
“No in this apex, and not your biological son.”
“No, you are my son and I don’t care.” She said and looked at a random page. “I like this page; it has the least word. Page number fourteen, do you have the same?”
Grandpa looked at the page my mum had been showing. “It’s a photography book,” she said. “Barely any of the pages have words.”
“No, they have a lot of words. Previous pages had picture of people and short description of their life. It was like three or four paragraphs, it’s a lot. This doesn’t. Come one! Open the same page for you!”