Flash Fiction Contest Winners

As part of this year’s One Read program, we invited you to take inspiration from “Nomadland,” and tell a tale of transition. The story could be about anything and anyone, but it should evoke the notion of transition, change or a journey, be it literal or personal.

All of the writers shared their stories in less than 250 words. Thank you to everyone who entered and shared your stories of transition.

Our two winners are Audrey Mueller and Stacie Strong. Honorable mentions go to Allen Fennewald and Kate Robbins.

We are excited to share the winning stories with you!

Pumpkin Cake by Audrey Mueller

If, in mid-September, you walk down the lane to the little white house perched amid goldfish ponds and weeping willows and shiny pinwheels . . .
You might just hear about Granny’s special summer’s end pumpkin cake.
As for me, I was first introduced to the cake when I was eleven. I was staying with her over the weekend — just me and my flowered duffel bag.
We were sitting in quiet comradery, surveying the vast back lawn, when she turned to me.
“I called you here for a reason,” she said. “Do you know it?”
I shook my head, and she smiled a bittersweet smile from her rocking chair on high.
“Summer’s end. This time of year, things begin to change. You’re starting middle school, aren’t you, my dear?”
I told her I was, and she rose from her chair and hobbled to the shelf hanging above the counter. From amid a tableau of porcelain dolls, she retrieved a wooden box, held delicately together by an orange ribbon.
My grandmother delivered the box into my hands. I tugged the ribbon apart and lifted the lid.
Inside was a carefully crafted, richly frosted cake.
I felt Granny’s hand on my shoulder, gentle and supporting. “When you eat this cake,” she said as I looked at it in wonder, “remember that the colors of fall are a different beauty, but just as rich.”
My grandmother is one of the wisest people I know.
And, of course — she’s one of the best bakers, too.

Venice by Stacie Strong

“Look! An empty gondola!” Sibyl grabbed Adam’s hand and pulled him along, darting through the crowds like an eel through reeds. She stepped into the boat, elbowing out a slow-moving Japanese couple, and settled onto the velvet cushions with a sigh.
Adam marveled at her energy. They’d been in Venice for forty-eight hours, but Sibyl still dashed at every new discovery as if it were going to disappear into the early morning mist. “That’s what comes of making me wait for my honeymoon for thirty-six years,” she had said when he asked her to slow down a bit.
Sibyl chatted with the gondolier in a spirited combination of English, Italian and high school Spanish while Adam gazed up at the shimmering, pastel buildings, with their lacy, intricate columns and deep-set windowsills. Though the guidebook said Rome was the Eternal City, Venice seemed much more enduring, timeless even, at least while they were floating down a cool, shaded side canal. When they burst out into the main waterway, Adam recoiled into the cushions, his hand in front of his eyes, warding off the hot, bright blast of sun and the guttural roar of the motorized water taxis.
Sibyl glanced around. “All this will be gone soon,” she said. “The water’s rising. The city’s sinking.” She paused. “Ah well, what can you do?”
The boat drifted on, through history, through the thrumming energy of the city. The sun slid behind a cloud, and the sparkle on the water faded from sight.

Movie Day, 1951 by Allen Fennewald

It was movie day, the best day of first grade that isn’t a snow day.
Mr. Mark rolled in the projector, the floor groaning as it went over those hollow spots all us boys liked to jump on to feel the boards bend.
“Okay class, as you know, we will be watching a short film for science class this morning,” Miss Wimbleton said, patting her hands together like when everyone failed the same spelling test. “Everyone pay close attention, because we are going to be learning something that we may need someday.”
“I wish movie day was everyday!” I yelled from the back of the room.
“Please, Randall, not today,” our teacher said, pointing with her hands held together like an angry angel.
The projector started buzzing, and we started cheering as “Atomic Alert” came on the screen.
“Movie day and bombs!” I gleefully whispered.
It actually started pretty boring, but then they showed the big mushroom clouds. That was all comic-level neat — until Miss Wimbleton started crying. Really crying, like she wanted her mom. My toes curled.
“What is your job?” the man in the movie asked. I didn’t know. Sirens went off. Our teacher kept crying. Kids on the screen ran away. “Don’t hesitate, find cover,” the man tells us.
I crawled under my desk and prayed it’d stop, which didn’t happen until Miss Wimbelton remembered she never told us where the shelter area was. By then, I’d decided to be too sick for movie days.

We by Kate Robbins

We hold on tightly to the subway handrail, carefully balancing on the balls of our feet to absorb the shock.
We have to be careful about these things now. We hold our other hand to our shared stomach.
It strikes us that we are now one of the protected classes that people give their seats to on the subway. But we aren’t showing yet and the idea is so new that we can’t quite get our mouth around the words that it would take to ask.
But even though it isn’t visible yet, the proof of our plurality is in the doctor’s note in our purse. We have to look at it sometimes to remember that it’s really true. That so suddenly I am no longer I, but irrevocably we.
There’s no more privacy in our body, there’s nothing in us that isn’t shared. From blood to bone to brain matter, it’s no longer mine but ours. It feels impossible that a bit of rough and tumble after the bars could be the start of this magnitude of connection.
We look around at everyone else standing or sitting, bored by their commute and absorbed in their own lives. And they’re all alone. We absently stroke our hand down the flat of our stomach. The idea of being only myself is just a few hours outdated but it already feels so far away.
The train lurches to a halt and we step out onto the platform, into a new life.

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