The editors at FewerThan500 are pleased to announce the winners of our Alternate History Flash Fiction Story contest. The contest attracted almost 50 entries from all over the world. The editors reviewed the entries based on a set of eight carefully chosen criteria. The editors enjoyed this story, but felt it did not meet the mainstream definition of the alternate history genre. Nevertheless, we found it to be a compelling, well-written story about a historical literary figure, and a creative approach to re-writing history. Thus, we opted to give it an honorable mention.
By Betty Stanton
I – Because I could not stop for Death
The woman in white tucks a strand of dark hair that has flown away back behind an ear and waits. Her tippet of sheer tulle is bound at her throat, and the thin gossamer of her dress cool against her skin – sharp contrast to the last heat of sunlight lingering in the air and compliment to the cool edge of the knife in her hand.
She waits out the setting sun, watching the moon climb behind the small cottage that rises, barely visible, from the mound of a western hill. It had been a home once, full of laughter and warmth. Perhaps children from the small school she’d passed on her way had lived here, or a farmer from the fields that surrounded the desolate place. Now it is a ruin; a ruin that Emily must traverse, whether she wants to or not.
II – A Clock Stopped — Not The Mantel’s
Finding her way into the cottage is a challenge, and once inside the queerest thing – a clock that had been ticking as the door closed behind her stops, suddenly, and Emily turns to the mantel in time to see the shadow of a puppet, a child’s toy, crumpling to the ground.
Then, as suddenly as it had stopped, while she watches the ticking begins again. With each strike the limbs of the doll move as if possessed. The trinket quivers. Rises. Then, hunched as if with pain, turns like a pendulum toward her, and Emily knows her presence is no secret here.
III – We Grow Accustomed to the Dark
The cottage is enveloped in a thick blackness as she steps over the next threshold.
When she first started these explorations, Austin might have held the lantern for her. With him away she only steps with less certainty, gropes in the dark, but then finds the light of stars in a window and uses them to guide her feet.
Emily’s eyes are always quick to grow accustomed to the dark.
IV – A Coffin—is a Small Domain
In the final room she finds at last what she has expected. The coffin is small, meant for a child, and when she pulls back the lid the face that meets hers is so impossibly young that he should have been a citizen of Paradise and yet, instead, rules in this diminished domain; this grave of restricted breadth.
Still, when his eyes open, her fingers curl on the hilt of her blade.
V – “I want”—it pleaded—All its life
“Don’t – “ he begs, “I want to live –“ and the words seem so sincere that Emily very nearly stops her hand, but she has been too well trained for sympathy. The child foe falls with the sigh of that wish still on his lips.
Any sympathy Emily might feel is lost as she walks away and returns to her carriage.
Betty Stanton is a writer who lives and works in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She is currently a candidate for an MFA in Creative Writing from The University of Texas at El Paso. Her work has appeared in various journals including Siren, Gravel, Proximity, and Nimrod International Journal of Prose and Poetry and is forthcoming in several other publications.