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Winners: Oonagh McBride - Popcorn

Complexity and quality never have to be synonymous, and we see so many pieces that overreach, only to fall short at the last hurdle. Either because their concepts are too broad, their stories too deep, or their plot to expansive -- three things that hinder much of the writing we see in Flash Fiction especially. Which is why, when we read Oonnagh's piece, we fell in love with its simplicity and almost abject humour.

Flash Fiction 500 - Shortlist


Oonagh McBride

Bob, I feel the need to confess something before I die, and I hope you can forgive me. It was the late eighties, and we were already a couple of years past retirement age. Our cinema was struggling due to the competition from that new multiplex, and I could have wept could when you turned down the offer for the place. I can still hear you mumbling “there is no way a yuppie in a baggy suit is turning my cinema into a car park for his yuppie friends to park their Ferraris and Mercedes.”

When you said you had a surprise, I hoped you’d reconsidered. I imagined leaving the cramped flat above the cinema for a lovely cottage by the sea. You know I always fancied Bognor Regis. What a disappointment when, with a flourish, you revealed the big secret. A popcorn machine. “This’ll turn things around,” you said, but as you know, it didn’t. I was too old to be vacuuming popcorn between each show, and honestly, people were so messy with it. You soon became disillusioned with the machine, and I hated to see the hope drain out of you. Still, you refused to sell.

I won’t lie to you Bob; those were tough days for me. One afternoon, I watched that horror B movie from Australia about killer rats. You know how much I love a horror flick, and I needed to relax. For some reason, even though I didn’t really like popcorn, I was clutching a huge bag of the stuff, and my hand seemed to travel automatically from container to mouth. I watched the screen in delicious terror as the rats multiplied, grew and started to challenge the supremacy of humans. When the house lights came up, I looked down and noticed that I had dropped popcorn everywhere. It was on my sweater, my seat and the floor. I was just as bad as the customers. That’s when I had my idea, and you're not going to like what I did next.

I purchased two rats, one male and one female, from the nearby pet shop, and I just let them loose in the cinema. At first, just the occasional person would claim they saw something dart across the theatre. However, the rodents thrived on their popcorn diet, and soon there were reports of rats running over the feet of the audience. As you know, It came to a head when a woman watching Beetlejuice looked down at her lap to see a rat calmly looking up at her, just waiting for her popcorn to scatter. She screamed the house down, and you were mad when you had to individually refund every ticket.

The environmental health department shut us down immediately, and someone must have tipped off the yuppie who turned up later that day with a reduced offer. What choice did you have now? We’ve enjoyed our retirement by the sea, and, to be honest, I don’t regret my actions.

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