Following the announcement of the winners of the ‘Story in a Teacup’ short fiction competition at last week’s Henley Literary Festival, we are delighted to publish the winning entries in our pages, in association with Dragonfly Tea.
Today, in the Flash Fiction category, winner Jane Healey gives us ‘Swirling Mist’…
The rabbit is between your breasts, the doves tucked into the cup of each hand, and the dog huddled under your knees, lifting you up like a litter in this cramped space. The cupboard door is bolted from the inside. Another thump on the front door of your apartment shakes the building.
The card decks and your notebooks are in here with you, some of the speciality harnesses too, the larger pieces are hidden in a security vault between shows. Good illusionists are making the big bucks now and everyone wants a shortcut; the black market seethes with poorly printed blueprints, flimsy trick mirrors, packets of tea masquerading as flash powder, animals painted white. One of your rivals got knocked down by a car when he refused to sell his plans and his right hand was crushed beyond reconstruction. Now his new card tricks are the talk of the city.
The doves flutter in your hands. Another thud. You touch your ear to the door.
Your apartment used to belong to a magician who called himself ‘Dante The Great’ whose widow told you he would be horrified to have you living here. But that only makes it more delicious. You have wrestled your way up to an apartment all of your own, to fine things and Italian silk suits. From a woman in a box to a woman with a saw. You have your own show – rows and rows of people with nice smooth palms that money slides right off – you are responsible for your own success.
The building shakes again. Your front door is splintered with three decisive blows and kicked through. A single pair of footsteps enters and stalks from room to room. Papers are disturbed, books pulled out of shelves, furniture pushed over. The dog whines gently against the bend of your knee and you nudge it quiet. The intruder comes closer, walks back and forth in front of the disguised entry to your crawlspace. The floorboards creak, their knuckles crack. You wait; your palms are dry against the feathers of the doves.
You’re still as flexible as you were when you started as an assistant; your muscles aren’t even aching yet. The best in the business at getting out of a tight spot. Recently you’ve been planning a new trick where you are the one who locks yourself in a box and the one who gets yourself out, no assistant required. But your manager says people aren’t ready for that yet, that it’s not enough flash.
There is a sudden snapping sound then a crackle that multiplies. The footsteps walk away. You think you can feel heat on your feet where they are pressed to the door. You wait.
The light from the crack at the bottom of the door changes; the rabbit whuffs below your chin. Smoke furls underneath and upwards towards you – a clean white swirling mist, the best smoke a magician can buy. You disappear.
Next Sunday, read the overall winner of the main story prize from this year’s Henley Literary Festival, inspired by Dragonfly Tea’s ‘Moonlight Jasmine’…
Illustrations by Harriet Lamb, courtesy of Dragonfly Tea.