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Winners: Gill Coombs - The Gathering

The power of the author is absolute when it comes to writing, and that power comes with the ability to subvert ideas, engage in subterfuge, or misdirect readers in whatever way they see fit. And, that's what struck all of us when it came to Gill's work. We all went down the same path, with the same mode of thinking, all to be turned around at the end and showed something utterly different. The piece didn't miss a step and resolved wonderfully, which was enough to secure Gill the win.

Flash Fiction 500 - 1st Place

The Gathering

Gill Coombs

Into the sunset, into the wind; he is travelling further west than he has ever been, faster than he has ever travelled. He leans to the left, exhilarated and terrified by cornering so fast. The gang, mostly in black, are serious and purposeful; they have done this before, and it shows. He wouldn’t attempt such manoeuvres on his own but somehow the others sweep him on, and he takes risks he didn’t know it was possible to even dream of taking.

As they cross the bypass they are joined by another group, slightly larger than his. Slowing down a little, he glances sideways at the newcomers: they are strangers, yet they are of his tribe. He has a visceral sense of belonging: of shared purpose, of history and tradition. He feels excitement mounting; his heart flips before settling into a new, strong rhythm.

He takes in details of the journey, committing them to memory: the lanes lined with bare hawthorn; the busy, complex motorway junction with cars moving swiftly and neatly in and out of lanes; the bridge over the wide, smooth river reflecting low November sunlight. He wants – needs – to be able to find his way again. Late in the afternoon, somebody calls a pit-stop and they circle round, coming to a halt. He sees a few deciding to carry on, keen to reach their destination. But he doesn’t know them, so he waits impatiently on a wall while the others get something to eat.

Then they’re off again. He notices their numbers have swollen further. He didn’t hear anyone arriving; perhaps there was already too much noise. He’s never felt such a thrilling cacophony of sound. As they head west again he senses energy rising all around him and stays close to his own group, afraid of losing them. Before long, they’re moving low and fast again. Some who’ve been doing this for years begin to watch the sky as clouds mount, hiding the dropping sun. Suddenly he becomes aware of a vast dark crowd ahead, circling beside a lake. Before he can take it in, they’re amongst the throng. The noise is now tumultuous, the air filled with a reek both awful and exciting. Newcomers are arriving from all directions.

This is what he has been waiting for, though that waiting has laid dormant most of his short life. Without looking to see what the others are doing, he plunges eagerly into the mob – which lifts him skyward over the lake at dizzying speed. Alarmed, he turns – and bumps against an anonymous body, knocking them both off course. They bounce away from each other quite smoothly, but he knows instinctively that to cause a collision is a serious faux pas.

He knows now that he should be amongst his family, whose movements he can read and respond to without trying. And then there they are: flying above, beside and below him as he eases into the terror and bliss of this, his first winter gathering of starlings.

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