Today, we are proud to share the grand prize winning story from our 2020 Flash Fiction Contest: “Crocodile” by Ashleigh Bell Pedersen. Guest judge Sherrie Flick writes, “This story accomplishes what I think all flash fiction strives for: creating the momentum and scope of a bigger story within a smaller one. This story ripples out like the river Sunshine swims through. Great tension, great detail. Everything is on the verge of change—language, Sunshine herself, the water, and what lurks within.” Dive in below:
The lake was not actually a lake but a wide and deep brackish bayou. The far shore was crowded with tupelo and cypress; once, out in her daddy’s bateau, Sunshine had seen a gator leap from under the duckweed to snatch a mama duck sitting on her eggs in the hollow of a rotting tupelo. Sunshine had screamed, but her daddy had only sipped his flask and grinned lazily, like he wasn’t at all impressed.
Sunshine was standing in the lake when she discovered the stones, one behind each bare nipple. They’d felt tender in the cold water so she’d stood and cupped her palms against each and found them—two strange, tucked-away treasures.
Her mama hated the word nipple and instead said buttons when she had to call them anything at all. She also hated the words fart and anus and, for some reason, toenail clippings. If Sunshine’s own nipples worked like real buttons, she could unfasten each one and pluck out the stones for safekeeping.
She pushed her goggles back from her eyes and looked again: The nipples themselves were bigger, she saw—two pink, puffy mounds. Beneath them she could push the stones back and forth, just like with her kneecaps, only her kneecaps were there all along and these stones were what JL would call une surprise. JL only spoke French to annoy their mama, who insisted that the Turners never mistake themselves for Cajuns. Mama said Cajuns both drank and talked too much to be trustworthy—and whoever knew the difference between the truth and another tall tale? Mama only said these things because of Sunshine’s daddy, who was half-Cajun. He told true tales and tall tales, and Sunshine had to admit it was hard to tell the difference. He told her, for instance, that a crocodile lived in the lake—though everyone knew there were only gators. But her daddy shook when he talked of it, his eyes buggy.
It was massive, he’d said, its hide black as time itself, with jaws that could swallow a whole house. “Could swallow you, Sunny, before you even saw that crocodile for yourself. You’d live out your days in a crocodile belly.”