Flash Fiction 2017 Round 1 Winner: “Her Mother” by Kate Finegan
During the summer of 2017 we continued our annual Flash Fiction Contest Series, inviting authors to respond to three different picture prompts. You can read more about the series here. Round 1 submissions responded to our photo prompt with the following criteria: here.
Her mother would worry, waking up before dawn in an empty house. But sixty percent water, that’s what she was; that’s what her mother had told her, and she’d awakened to high tide beneath her skin.
Minnesota has ten thousand lakes—more than that, actually, her mother had taught her—but she was content with the lake she knew by heart. She biked to it, inflatable kayak packed tight in a box bungeed to the rear rack, gravel scattering beneath her twenty-inch tires.
No headlight. Just her, the moon, the mournful call of loons across the lakes. They could be miles away, or feet.
Her father would talk back to loons. He sounded like one of them, throat full of longing. He’d been gone a year; he wasn’t coming back, her mother had taught her.
Before he left, he’d taken her to the magnetic rock, a monolith amidst stumps of a burned-down forest. She’d never been to Paris, but she couldn’t imagine the Eiffel Tower any taller than this great, black rock. She held out her compass, and the needle swung to the rock. She circled it, the needle oblivious to true north. Her father said it was a glacial erratic, dragged far from home in the last ice age. He rubbed the rock the way her mother fingered her mother’s mother’s golden cross necklace she kept locked up in a box at home.
She’d paddled across the open water and come to a stream so narrow the reeds brushed her arms. She couldn’t see the bottom—too dark—but knew golden grass waved a foot beneath her paddle, shimmering blonde hair. She imagined pulling it, pulling and pulling until a woman was reborn from the earth, a buried princess.
Voices. Rustling leaves. Cracking twigs. Light. Orbs floating ahead, just above the water. She stopped paddling, looked down and saw the waving hair, looked ahead and saw a crowd of people flowing off the banks, like zombies, arms outstretched. This lake was small, but deep, and they quickly lost their footing. She recognized her dentist, her doctor, her Sunday school teacher.
They walked into the water; the whole town, it seemed, but not her mother. Her mother had warned her about these lights, how they didn’t really mark a thing, but people would follow them to their deaths in search of hidden treasure. The seekers went under without a splash.
The orbs vanished as quickly as they’d appeared. She paddled over to where they’d been, leaned over the side of the kayak, pushed her oar as deep as she could into the black water, but no hand grabbed it. They were gone, and all that remained was a loon at the bow of her boat. It looked at her, then turned and took off with great difficulty, as if the water were weighted with gold. But that was just how loons took off. Their bones weren’t hollow like other birds’. She’d learned that from her mother.
Kate Finegan‘s work has appeared in The Fiddlehead and Halo Lit Mag. She won first place in the 2017 Fiddlehead Short Fiction Contest and is currently working on a historical novel. She lives in Toronto.