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Winners: Charlotte West - Paris, 2154

We love genre fiction here at Grindstone. We love stories that are real and plot driven, just as much as we love literary fiction that addresses the internal. We don't think that either is better than the other, so it's always a pleasure when a well written piece of genre fiction like this pops up. The pace and heart here were undeniable, and were what cemented this piece in the shortlist.

Flash Fiction 1000 - Shortlist

Paris, 2154

Charlotte West

The rhythmic tapping of my sewing machine has grown to be part of my heartbeat. I can feel it pumping inside me more than I can feel the blood in my veins. She has become an extension of my very being.

She was my grandmother’s sewing machine. I made sure to look after her so that she still works perfectly after all these years. My grandmother taught me how. How to sew, how to look after her machine, and how to fall in love with being a seamstress. It didn’t take long. The clacking machine entranced me from the very beginning.

I was so lucky to have found this little shop in Paris. It is an odd space; tall and narrow, with four storeys crammed to the rafters with rolls of fabric, spools of thread and shelves of ribbons. Even my bedroom at the top is full of it. I set my machine up next to a tiny round window on the third floor overlooking the street outside. I like to peek through and watch life unfold below me as I work. Occasionally, someone glances up at my little window, and I smile and wave. Florence, who works on the till downstairs, tells me that I have formed a reputation for myself. Apparently the locals think I am a ghost, haunting the little sewing shop. I think she’s making it up.

This morning, as I thread my machine and get to work, I feel the sun coming in through my little window and warming my hands. Florence is listening to music downstairs, and I can smell the freshly baked bread from the boulangerie across the road. Fabric flies beneath my fingertips as I feed my machine, adjusting this and hemming that. I hardly notice when the sun hides behind a cloud.

Except, it isn’t a cloud. It isn’t until Florence screams that I look up from my machine and notice the contraption looming on the horizon.

Taller than any of the houses along the quiet road, a figure stands, silhouetted by the sun. I gaze up at it in awe, recognising its shape and trying to comprehend its presence.

Florence storms up the stairs and tries to drag me away. I don’t want to go. This is my home. This place means everything to me. It is my legacy. My grandmother’s legacy. It is more than just a shop. Yet here is this monstrosity, come to ruin it all.

I try to block out Florence’s wails and pleads and organise my thoughts. I calculate how long it will take for it to get here, and how long it will take us to get to my car. There might be enough time.

I grab my sewing machine and tell Florence to calm down and follow me outside. Outside. Just where we don’t want to be. She trails after me obediently though, but not without protesting. Every step we take she comes up with another reason why we should go back inside. I don’t listen to her. I keep striding forwards. Down the stairs and out the front door into the panicked streets. People are screaming and running towards us. That figure that casts a shadow on my usually sun-trapped street is drawing ever nearer. I hoist my machine up higher on my hip and make my way through the oncoming crowd. Towards it.

Sirens wail in the distance and the smell of smoke and brick dust fills my nostrils. I glace up, comparing the machine on the horizon to the one in my arms. They are so different. My little sewing machine, my most treasured possession, is nothing like that horror that is so close now I feel like I could almost touch it. But my car is even closer. I know it is just a street away. If I could just get us there before it moves again…

Florence is clinging on to my hand as we weave our way between people fleeing in the opposite direction. She is still screaming in my ear, begging me to turn back, but I don’t listen. I can’t. We are so close.

The machine in the sky takes a great step, its leg crashing through buildings like a child might kick down a sandcastle. A shop to our left is destroyed, sending dust and rubble into the air, deafening us. We keep running. I’m practically dragging Florence now.

I turn a corner. I can see my car. Pale green. Covered in bricks. Flames licking their way from beneath the burnt-out bonnet. Completely destroyed.

I feel dread wash over me like a cold shower. My legs stop working. I see the world in slow motion as I drop to my knees, tears running down my cheeks. Florence has let go of my hand. I can hear her telling me she’s going back. Then she’s gone.

Cradling my sewing machine in my arms, I gather the last few drops of energy I have left in me to push myself off the ground, and I start to walk. I turn around, with my back to my wrecked car and to the ever-encroaching machine, and I walk.

I just want to go home.

As the world dies around me, windows shattering, car alarms pleading, smoke billowing, I walk. Just as the machine makes its way slowly but surely through Paris, flattening everything in its path, I retrace the footsteps I thought just minutes ago would be my escape.

I walk through my familiar front door, I walk up my familiar narrow staircase, and I set up my beloved sewing machine in front of my little familiar window.

It’s closer than it’s ever been before. I can see every detail in its metal flesh. I watch as its foot comes crashing down on the boulangerie, reducing it to nothing but crumbs. A clawed hand is coming towards me.

Apparently, the locals think I am a ghost, haunting the little sewing shop.

Now, I will be.

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