Flash Fiction: The Anchor

My regional writing club held a flash fiction contest recently. Flash fiction is when you tell a story in a certain word count (in this case, it was 750 words), and the story needs to be complete with a beginning, middle, and end.

Note: Here are some excellent flash fiction prompts, if you’d like to try writing a super short story.

Honestly, I have the hardest time writing short stories (hello, I’m a novelist), so I thought I’d try my hand at this challenge. After much editing and extreme cutting, I managed to clock in at exactly 750 words.

Spoiler alert, I didn’t win. But I do think my first stab at flash fiction turned out pretty great. So I thought I’d share it with all of you.

The Anchor

I awake to an explosion of sound, jolted as the back of my head hits something solid. Alert, my hands grip the steering wheel. A blanket lies in my lap. No, not a blanket. The airbag. It takes me a second to register what’s going on, but realization hits me as water reaches my ankles. I’m in the river, my car flowing with the current. Through the windshield I can see the bridge getting smaller by the second.

Judging by the rapidly rising water, I don’t have much time to act. I try to roll the window down, but the car has no power. I jiggle the handle on the car, but the automatic locks hold me prisoner.

“Damn it!” I’d been nodding off for the past hour, and knew I needed to pull over, but I’d been in a hurry to reach home. I bang my fist against the window, panicking as the river outside reaches the bottom of the glass. Inside, the water has reached halfway up my shin. My heart pounds as I continue trying to break the glass. I heard somewhere that the metal part of the headrest is pointed enough to break glass with enough force. Twisting in my seat, I jimmy it out of the sockets and then brace myself before slamming it into the window. It ricochets out of my hands and lands in the water on the passenger side.

“Come on,” I mutter, fumbling blindly until I grasp it again. Everything goes dark as the car submerges completely, and my breath comes in short gasps. It’s all I can hear above the rushing river and the metal against glass as I continue my attempts at escape. I wipe my face, the river water mingling with tears as I plead with the gods, with anyone who can hear.

Hours ago, I was drowning in a different kind of river. Hannah sat across from me, her winsome smile conjuring up memories I’d spend years trying to forget. She wore that yellow sundress I’d bought her. When I mentioned it, she casually said she hadn’t remembered. I could tell this was a mistake. It was my fault we were here—not just because I texted her today, but because I’d been the one to say goodbye.

I drop the useless headrest in the water and it sinks to the floorboards. I have to lift my chin now to keep air in my lungs. It’s a long shot, but I search my pockets until I find my phone. It’s supposed to be water resistant. The black screen proves that doesn’t mean waterproof. I drop that too, closing my eyes as I crane my neck, trying to savor the last bit of air in my car.

“What are you doing here?” Hannah had asked me. She rested her hand on the table, inches from mine. I thought it was an invitation, until I saw the ring on her finger. She hadn’t even told me she was dating anyone. I pulled my hand away, reaching for my glass of wine instead.

“I told you. I was in town, and thought it would be nice to see an old friend.” I sipped my wine, watching her face fall slightly as I downgraded what we’d shared.

I thought I was finding myself the day I left. She’d melted into the floor as I packed my bags, but all I could see was the door to my future. I thought she was my anchor, keeping me from my dreams. It took her absence for me to realize she stabilized me in a raging sea.

Across the table, she held her thumb in her fist. I used to call her on this, laughing at what she called her “thinking thumb.” This time, I let it go. Now there was someone else who treasured all her quirks, her endearing habits, and the way she cared about everyone else above herself.

“I love you, Hannah,” I whisper, the water creeping up my raised chin, heading for the last few inches of air. I take in a deep breath and hold it as the water closes over my face. In the murky darkness, I can make out streams of light and shimmering movement. My chest tightens, but my mind feels calm. I wait until my lungs are close to bursting before I let go. When I breathe again, water fills my lungs. The shadows increase. My body feels light, and everything slips away.

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