On Valentine’s Day weekend, Toronto International Festival of Authors (TIFA) teamed up with FAN EXPO Canada for another amazing Flash Fiction Competition and it was a book-flipping success! 125 writers were challenged with creating a short story (1,000 words max.) in 72 hours that had to include at least one of the following items: an unsent letter or message, an artificial heart, or a lost heir or fortune.
The esteemed judges of the competition were New York Times bestselling author Katherine Arden; Senior Editorial Director of HarperCollins Canada Jennifer Lambert; award-winning writer and editor Nancy Kilpatrick; and TIFA Director Roland Gulliver. A big thank you to FAN EXPO Canada, our judges and all the amazing authors who submitted their stories. We are proud to announce the winners are:
- 1st Prize: Forever May You Reign by Diane Dubas
- 2nd Prize: Inner Demons by Yohani Mendis
- 3rd Prize: Faint of Heart by Nick Clark.
You can check out the winning story below, and read the 2nd and 3rd prize winning stories here.
Forever May You Reign
by Diane Dubas
The woman in the bed did not look like a queen. Jagged rivulets of magic ran beneath her skin and Ella could see the demarcations of each deteriorating spell that held her together. It was strange to be in this room with the queen, whom she’d only seen from a distance or on the side of a coin. Ella had always thought her pretty, but looking at the withered monarch now, she knew it had been a lie.
Magic was like that sometimes. It could perpetuate lies, trick the eye, and flatter the ego.
But that kind of magic crumbled easily. Ella didn’t deal in dreams. Her magic had never lent itself to prettiness and it never would. The cost of her magic was high, so high even a queen might struggle to pay.
The woman on the bed released a shuddering exhale, sending the maids around her into a flurry of frantic activity, fluffing pillows and thrusting water at the dwindling figure. To her credit, the ailing queen swatted them away with a limp hand.
“Raise us up so we might look upon our guest,” she said.
Ella was surprised by the strength of the queen’s voice. She remembered seeing her on the balcony of the palace when she was a girl. She had been so effervescent and alive, so achingly beautiful that Ella had wanted to throw herself upon the ground in supplication. At the time, Ella had believed that was the power of queens.
“Your majesty,” Ella said, bowing her head and dropping into a curtsey. She’d never had much use for curtsies in her life, and hoped it was acceptable. “Let us not dawdle in formalities. I am dying,” the queen said.
Ella appreciated her frankness, but wasn’t sure if it was proper to agree.
“We are told you are a true witch. That you might mend the unmendable. Save the unsaveable,” the queen went on.
“You have been misled, your majesty,” Ella replied. Her heart pounded violently against her ribcage, like an angry bird of prey that had been caged unjustly. One did not tell a queen she was wrong, even a dying one.
The queen narrowed her clouded eyes at Ella. “Go on.”
Ella pulled in a shaking breath. How could she explain her magic? It wasn’t like the woven net of lies that held the queen together now. She did not use spells to coax the magic into a useable form. Magic flowed through her, to do its will as it saw fit. She was a conduit and nothing more. Ella couldn’t dictate its costs until the work was done, and even then she could not promise the outcome.
“I cannot mend the unmendable, nor save the unsaveable. I merely direct magic toward a desire,” she said, wringing her hands in dismay of her own inadequate explanation.
She would have gone on, except the queen interrupted her by falling into a coughing fit so severe that blood speckled the coverlet draped across her legs. The maids descended upon her like gnats on an overripe fruit and she swatted at them once again. Then she looked squarely at Ella, a fierceness evident behind the rheum.
“I do not want to die.”
The queen’s desire struck Ella directly in the center of her chest and she could feel the magic swirling up through the earth, licking at the soles of her feet and climbing through her veins to meet it. The queen’s heart filled her mind, nearly blackened with decay, each pump weaker than the last. Every strand of the moldering magic in her body linked to that heart.
“I can help you,” Ella said, pushing at the magic inside of her, holding it back so she might seek consent. “But I cannot promise the cost of your desire.”
The queen shook her head and Ella felt her desire pulse and strengthen, reaching desperately for the magic she barely held back.
“I will pay whatever cost,” the queen rasped.
“There will be no undoing what’s been done,” Ella said. “Do it,” the queen demanded.
Ella nodded, unable to speak for the fight inside her own body. She reached into her bag, and plucked out a heart made of soft, pink felt. It was inexpertly sewn, for Ella was a true witch, as the queen had said. She was not a seamstress. She held it out to the queen.
“You will need a new heart,” she told her. “Hold this close to your chest and think only of your desire to live.”
Her last instruction was unnecessary as the queen’s overwhelming desire to live pressed hard into Ella, mingling with the magic that had risen up to meet it before she’d had a chance to exercise any control. The magic flowed through Ella like a coursing river and collided with the little felt heart the queen held to her chest, pressing it into her skin and through it. The new heart enveloped the queen’s rotted organ and destroyed every fragment of fetid magic attached. Age melted from the queen’s face, her eyes growing bright and luminous, her skin tightening, her hair thickening and brightening. She was the picture of youth once again – the queen of Ella’s memories.
When it was over, when the magic had ebbed and the desire had been met, Ella collapsed to the ground, gasping for air. She watched the queen rise out of her sick bed, strong and alive, marveling at her hands. She turned a beatific, beaming smile on Ella. It was only then that Ella could see the cost, etched into the queen’s new heart. She would not age, nor wither. She would not die, just as she had so deeply desired. And there would be no need for an heir. Not anymore.
Ella rose to her feet shakily and curtsied weakly. “Your majesty,” she murmured. “Forever may you reign.”
The burden of the crown would be hers to bear. Forever.