We’ve wrapped up the judging of the Third Annual QSF Flash Fiction Contest, so we’ll be sharing the top stories – first the top three, then the individual Judge’s Choice stories – something new we are doing this year. We had some fantastic submissions this year – congrats to everyone! All stories were limited to 300 words max, with the theme “flight”.
These stories will all appear in the forthcoming “Flight” anthology – more details soon.
Our second Judge’s Choice story is Angel Martinez’s pick: a newcomer named Ellery Jude, with a beautiful, lyrical tale – congrats, Ellery! Here’s the story – enjoy it, and see Angel’s comment at the end.
by Ellery Jude
From behind the curtain, Dancer hears the crowd.
It swells and bustles like one living entity, a massive beast, spilling waves of sound to their ears. The pounding of their blood and heartbeat pulses through Dancer’s brain in time with the beast’s breaths.
Dancer rubs sweating palms against their dress, their skin sliding smoothly against the resilient fabric. After a lifetime or a second, they hear a whisper. “You’re on.”
They step forward, dress brushing against the hardwood floor. As the curtain opens, Dancer’s heart climbs with the swell of the music and light blinds their eyes. The dress sheathes their body, pushing womanhood upon the crowd, but inside it all tumbles together, a bright blurred spectrum of existence that never stops whirling.
They start their routine after a moment’s breath, their movements flowing at sharp contrast with stark fear filling their stomach with liquid fire. The beast shifts before them, fangs bared—murmurs waiting to strike as Dancer almost stumbles, hiding their mistake with a step and a flutter.
The music begins to beat more quickly, driving Dancer in a fast tempo of light and bright excitement. At last, with a flourish, they tug a string behind them and open the back of their dress—iridescent bat wings unfurl in the shining light. As they spread them and rise above the beast, their heart calms, their breathing slows, and Dancer is one with the music. Above, the beast is nothing. Above, they are alone. Alone I move to my own beat, neither woman nor man, but myself.
The dress flutters around slender legs as their wings dip and turn. As they drop back down with the beat of the music, words fall like arrows. “More of the pretty lady!” The beast roars, and Dancer is afraid again.
Angel says: This story grabbed my heart and squeezed hard. The lovely, spare description requires careful reading, close reading, which draws the reader into the anxiety and fear, into the character’s momentary freedom and abrupt return. Both a metaphorical and physical description of a non-binary person’s struggle, Performance is both beautiful and heartbreaking.