Congratulations to the winners of our flash fiction contest! This year’s prompt was inspired by the Spring Arts Festival, which included an astounding student tribute to Queen. Along with many memorable performances, the following three pieces also honor the iconic band and tell their own tales of “Innuendo”:
“Seven Sinful Moons” by Natalie Dawley
I awoke to the desert sun’s intense beams, briefly blinded by the light that waited for me to wake from my night’s rest. I pulled myself from the comfort of my mat that laid on the floor of my family’s hut. Tonight, the pink moon would be rising, and we needed to prepare for the midnight harvest. I put on my working clothes, worn from the heat and motion of not only me, but my older siblings who had left the village years ago. I pulled my hair back into a braid and walked into the blistering sun my skin had long grown used to.
The sun now held itself at its peak and soon the pink moon would be rising, providing us with food for the coming week. There was no resting today; the food from last week had run out two days ago and we needed to harvest more during the short time the moon shown.
For generations, this village has been carrying on the tradition of the Sinful Moons. Every day, week after week, the cycle of the moons remained the same. My father had told me this tale when my family first moved here. According to our ancestors, the seven Sinful Moons each brought pain, hardship and struggles, but also blessings and gifts. On the first day of the week, the pink moon of gluttony would rise and bless the unfertile ground with lush plants bearing the sweetest and richest of fruits. But by the next night, the yellow moon of greed would take it all away as if it had never even existed in the first place. The third and fourth day of the week the desert would be covered with the violet moon of pride and the green moon of envy, flashing their colors. On the fifth day of the week, the orange moon of wrath would turn the dessert black, flaunting its bright orange color to compete with the absent sun. On the sixth day, the blue moon of sloth would blend with the sky and pause the actions of the earth, halting the flow of water. And on the final day of the week, the red moon of lust would devour any who touched its light. These stories used to scare me, but now they have just become a way of life.
The baskets were full; perhaps this bounty will last us longer than last week’s. But the day and night had passed; the sleepless eyes plagued the streets as each citizen made their way back to their huts, so I followed suit and made my way back to my own.
The next day passed, and as always, the fruit and plants disappeared, leaving the land desolate. The fertile ground returned to its barren state, as if the plants had never encroached upon it and the sky was its normal blue, without a cloud in sight.
As evening approached, the sky had begun to transition and the varying lights of the violet and green moons fought for their right to own the sky for another night. These two moons would compete like this for two days, even though they could not shed their light on the earth until the sun had given up its reign and retired beyond the edge of the plain. Because of their sins, the violet moon of pride would never accept defeat and the green moon of envy would always want to win, creating an eternal feud.
Night and day passed, just as they always did. The moons fought and now it was time for the orange moon to take its place and boast its power by turning the desert black from its wrath. I woke the following day to see that the blue had returned to the sky, but soon the blue moon would take over the dessert drying up the only source of water. I ran to the vases that stood empty next to the door, clumsily clenching them to reach the spring, before the blue moon would halt the water flow. But I was too late–the spring was dry like the bottom of my vases. I knew that this happened to many people, but in that moment, my mouth began to crave its moisture. I went back to my hut, trying to avoid the heat that would only worsen my discomfort. I laid on my mat, awaiting the day’s end, snacking on fruit and falling into a deep sleep.
I opened my eyes and saw the red light shining through my window, inches from my feet. I quickly drew them away and hid as far from the light as possible. I wondered how I had managed to sleep this long. I had failed to close my door and shutters; therefore the red light of the lustful moon would take me. How did I let this happen?
Before long, the light had encroached me and I was seconds from death. I frantically closed my eyes awaiting the surely painful end. I opened my eyes and saw that the wretched light had disappeared or maybe it was hidden. I looked at the ground and saw grass and trees, which made me question my own existence. Had the desert been a prison? And then it hit me: in order to survive, every member of that village had lived as a prisoner in the torturous terrain, numb to the life they once knew. I was fortunate enough to escape, but was this new world a prison as well? How many had left the desert to return to this strangely familiar world? I didn’t know, but I was willing to find out. I picked myself up from the lush forest floor and began weaving myself through the trees, pursuing a new life with hopeful possibilities.
“The Balancing Act” by Samuel Proia
I awoke one night in the dark, eyes fixed to the walls that I could not climb, the luxury of living broken into pieces at my feet. The floor like quicksand dissolved, and deeper I sank like a heart in mourning, like a stone in a turbulent river. Sounds filled the void that had now eroded beneath me, and like a circus, like a one-legged dancer in a balancing act, I screamed but the numbing image of floating among the heavenly bodies far surpassed any noise that might protrude from my lips. Then, as if by some divine intuition, my eyes forced their way upwards and back farther into my skull than I dare remember. I saw two lifeless eyes glaring down from the atmosphere into my very soul, two levitating spheres that pirouetted inside the black. Suddenly, the quiet was split by the tremors and echoes of hideous laughter, the kind of sour malice that comes from taking a child’s sucker or pushing an elderly person down a flight of stairs.
“So you want it all?” A grin emerged from the monolithic shadow. The air began to spin with uncertainty, and one by one, the planets themselves hurled past me in a torrential wave unlike anything imaginable, they spun in rotation each returning to the figure’s massive palm before bouncing again to heights almost out of view. It was surrealistic even as I looked down to gain some sort of balance, I found myself standing atop one of the massive spheres. Fear? Fear was beyond an option and it was a new feeling altogether that filled my veins as I stretched forth my arm a microphone manifested itself firmly within my grasp and though sweat dripped from my brow I felt an urge like none that had ever come to me before. I raised my eyes once more to the demonized caricature and lifted the glistening silver transducer above my head and with a breath deeper than the oceans, more intense than the sun I let the words cut through the darkness, “Show yourself, destroy our fears, release your mask!”
Never had a cry been more resounding, never a wish more true. The stars themselves would descend to answer had they not hidden in a renewed state of contrition. The planets proceeded to fall and tumble back into their respective corners of the universe and like the clouds that can be dark and terrifying in the heart of a storm but calm in the presence of the sun, the striped nightmare that had sprung free from a cage in the back of my mind began to shrink and wither until it was no more than half of my size. The pale white skin wrinkled and the massive eyes had retreated backwards into a head that no longer held the fright that stilled my hand.
I awoke one night, eyes fixed to the walls. So I climbed them. I emerged from a pit that held my thoughts captive but no creature or god could ever hold back the man with a one-track mind. After all, the show must go on.
“It Can Be Anything You Want It to Be” by Rachael Eckerson
“Are you sure you’re ready?” she asked me, her voice just above a whisper and her big, black eyes staring into mine as she anticipated my response.
I nodded my head, eager to finally see what she had been hiding.
“Are you really sure?” she pressed, as if she didn’t believe I truly wanted to see what was inside the leather pouch she wore around her waist every day.
She and her pouch had become a hot topic of conversation in town as of late, intriguing everyone who saw her walking around with it. No one had ever seen her before, and she mostly only ever received strange looks and under-the-breath comments about her appearance – understandably so. With wildly yellow hair that caught the eye of anyone who dared look her way – going in all directions and being picked up in a breeze that wasn’t there – and the frock she wore that was striped like a candy cane, red and white, she was practically begging to be approached. Yet no one did; no one but me, that is.
“Yes, just show me it already!” I replied annoyedly, perking the corners of my lips up into a small, eager, reassuring grin. She returned the gesture before averting her attention down to the leather satchel and wrapping her delicate fingers around the buckles keeping it closed.
My heart began to pound against my chest, much like it did when I decided to approach her. When I was making my way over to her, I couldn’t help but notice all the judgmental eyes on me; the eyes that usually were on her but, because the direction I was walking in had made it clear that it was my intention to speak to her, they were now focused on me. I nervously tugged at the collar of my suit jacket – my surroundings growing warmer and warmer with each step I took – and swallowed the lump that had formed in my throat.
“H-Hi,” I stammered, attracting the strange girl’s gaze from the spot on the floor it had been affixed to. She straightened her slouched posture and crossed her arms over her chest. “I-I’m Delilah,” I introduced myself, extending a hand out to her.
A wicked smirk crawled onto her face at the mention of my name. “Delilah,” she repeated slyly, “Come with me.” She gave me no choice to accept or refuse her offer, snatching my hand and dragging me away. I had trouble not tripping over my feet as she pushed her way through the crowd, unrelenting in her endeavor.
She pulled the two of us into a shadow-cast alleyway and positioned us against a cold, damp wall. I stared at her wide-eyed, regretting my decision.
“Do you want to see what’s inside?” she asked me, her lips stretching from ear to ear and forming a delirious grin; her hands moving down to the pouch and curling around the buckles keeping its contents concealed.
Words failed me as I stared at the leather bag, only being able to nod my head in response. She smirked and slowly wrapped her fingers around the buckles, but before she could reveal what was inside, she took a moment to ask me if I was ready, and then another to ask me if I was sure. Part of me wanted to say no, her hesitance striking a nervous chord inside of me, but I knew that I needed to do this – not just for me, but for everyone. She’d been a stranger in this town for too long, walking the streets like a shadow, catching everyone’s eye but causing doubts whether she was actually there or not. I had to find out; I needed to know why she was here.
Acknowledging my acceptance of the risk that undoubtedly entailed, she opened her pouch and met my entranced gaze, drawing me in like a siren to the rocky coast of her island. I peered down into the bag around her waist, a heavenly, almost blinding glow emanating from the opening she’d created.
My jaw dropped in awe as the glow subsided to reveal what was inside. It was so beautiful, like something I’d never seen before. I wanted to jump in, experience it for everything it was, and I think that’s exactly what she wanted me to do; what she wanted us all to do. Yet no one did; no one but me.