By Stephen Wilson

A vampire in a European city where the sun never rises in winter—perfect conditions for threat-free feeding. Too bad Nosferatu is meh.

Drinking bleach and comforting others in pain … all in the same day.

Such are the plot lines of students recognized as part of the 2022 Flash Fiction competition.

Flash fiction is a genre built on brevity but still requires a deft hand in tersely narrating plot, conflict, descriptions, and character development. For students in this contest, word count was capped at 500.

The judge was Cara Blue Adams, author of You Never Get It Back, winner of the John Simmons Short Fiction Prize in the Iowa Short Fiction Award Series. Stories in the book have been awarded the Kenyon Review Short Fiction Prize, Missouri Review Peden Prize, and Meringoff Prize in Fiction.

Taking top honors was Laura Bedser ’23 for her story “Better Left Unsaid.” Honorable mentions went to Claire Brassil ’22 for “Think of Me” and Roman Daniel ’22 for “A Vampire in Tromso.”

Bedser and Daniel each read their winning fiction. Adams followed by reading from her book and then answering questions.

Here’s a bit more about a few of the authors, background on their work, and the full stories.

Laura Bedser wears gray coat, white scarfLaura Bedser
English and religious studies

Inspiration

“In high school, I was in the process of writing out a character’s background for a different story via little snippets of her life. Going through my computer, I found such a snippet containing a paragraph that then became the core of my flash fiction piece. This paragraph centered around an exchange that dropped into my head one day, years ago, and stuck there: ‘You drank bleach? … thought it was water.’”

Writing process

“I drafted this story by taking that initial conversation and expanding around it, thinking about what would lead up to and wrap around such dark humor. Instead of having a plan, I let the story write itself as I explored the narrator’s complex feelings about the difficult moment she observes.”

Thoughts on win

“I am honored to have won this year’s Flash Fiction contest. Cara Blue Adams’ comments were lovely, and I feel so lucky to be supported by my family, friends, and professors. I was at home, in my bedroom, when I found out I had won. As soon as I got the email, I shouted downstairs to my parents to tell them.”

Story: "Better Left Unsaid"

My mom and I followed the directions to Jamie’s room from the lady at the front desk, navigating the maze of hospital corridors. We only made one wrong turn this time before we found the elevators. I thought about how they rushed him down a hallway like this one on a gurney, his bloody vomit smearing across the white tile floor. I remembered watching the doctors whisk my brother away and then a social worker asking me for my mom’s phone number.

My vision was tilted with the past when we got to room five-oh-three. The door was cracked open, and I could hear a quiet voice inside. Jamie’s girlfriend, Kate, was sitting on the edge of his bed, clasping his hand. She was wearing his favorite sweatshirt; he was wearing a hospital gown. I tucked myself behind the door so they didn’t see me watching.

“I just… God, Jamie. You drank b leach? ” Her bluntness stunned me. Maybe that was why Jamie liked her. She could acknowledge the things my family was not capable of saying aloud.

He gave a halfhearted smile and rasped, “…thought it was water.”

She laughed, but it was a humorless sound. Then, she was sobbing, the hysterical type, eyes squeezed shut and everything shaking. Jamie guided her head to his shoulder. He ran his fingers through her wavy hair, clumsily, his hand like that of an uncoordinated child’s.

“S’okay,” he murmured to her. “S’okay.”

She tried to say something else, but the words were blurred and smeared into nothing, like fresh ink under rain.

I couldn’t watch anymore. I took a seat in one of the chairs across from his hospital room until I could breathe again.

My mom remained upright. She looked like she wanted to go into the room, but she hesitated, leaning forward on her toes. “We should wait until Kate comes out,” she said softly.

“She shouldn’t have to… to be alone after seeing him.”

“She should leave,” I said. My eyes were burning. “She should be comforting Jamie. He shouldn’t be comforting her.”

“I think it’s good for him.” My mom blinked fast. She looked much older all of a sudden, under the yellow hospital lights. “He needs to see how scared we all were to lose him. I think that’s important.”

But why could Kate cry in front of him, when I could barely find it within myself to look at him? All I felt was sick to my stomach. My brother almost died, and now there he was, comforting his girlfriend like any of this was normal.

I left to wait in my mom’s car.

Roman Daniels smiles

Roman Daniel
English and government and law

Inspiration

“In that window of time between mid-March and summer of 2020, right when the pandemic was getting started and we got sent home, there was a novelty to it with some people calling it ‘Corona Spring Break.’ By summer I was burned out from not doing anything. I couldn’t get a job, so I just sat home all day. At the same time there were people with relatives sick with COVID who had it much worse than I did, so it was almost like having an unsympathetic problem. The vampire in the story thinks he’s gotten exactly what he wants, but it turns out to not be what he expected.” 

Thoughts on win

“I’m happy that the Flash Fiction contest is back. That was always a highlight of fall for me. I like trying to brainstorm little moments that would work for such a small story.”

Story: "A Vampire in Tromsø"

Ever heard of Polar Night? Any place above the arctic circle gets a few months, November to January, when the sun never rises. I settled on a small Norwegian city with a view of the Northern lights. It seemed like the perfect place for someone like me. It would be my vacation, so I made the trip North. Nobody noticed a tiny bat in the Maersk box, or an extra set of hands unloading the Ikea truck. I arrived where there was snow under my boots and cold I couldn’t feel. State healthcare meant good blood.

Within a week I was over it. The daily threat of being incinerated is scary, but it’s exciting. Now there were too many hours in the day. Every time I eat it’s just another blond person shivering under too many blankets. I sit in coffee shops and watch as people dressed like I used to dress hurry off to metal concerts. I try to remember the fear of staying out too late.

I’m spending more time inside. Everyone I meet is paler than me. It’s as if the snow sat up, put on a parka, and started walking around. I don’t read their language, and their voices have too many syllables. Everyone is friendly, and no one is afraid of me. Why would anyone here be afraid of the dark?

It’s time for another trip. At the end of the continent the woods end and you can sit and gaze out over the arctic sea. The only sound is the ice flows crashing against each other. I’m going there to wait for the sun.

Learn more about this major

English

English embraces both the critical study of texts and the production of texts. We define texts broadly to include theater performances, films, and new media. The major fosters exploration, analysis, discussion, and understanding, and it encourages reading and writing as lifelong pursuits for any professional.

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