Storytelling Collective does a yearly challenge for flash fic, with prompts and a nice community format. After completing 2022’s run, I picked my ten favourites and collected them in a nice little volume you can pick up at Itch.io. As I’m (finally) editing the collection of my Flash Fiction February faves for 2023 I figured that I should share one or two from last year’s bunch.
“Okay then, well, what do you see when you look at me?”
Sissy rested her chin on her fist and looked at Ribbon. Looked at her friend. The realization that Ribbon was her friend was startling and precious and she set it aside to examine later.
“You look like how naga were in the illustrations from my childhood world folktales book. Only, more real.”
“Yes, but how exactly?” Ribbon’s soft lisping voice had a lilt of amused curiosity.
“Well, you are mostly snake—and a very pretty one, thick bands of brown scales with skinnier stripes of ivory between them.” Sissy waved at the great length of Ribbon, coiled comfortably before her. “Then your head is a human head, only instead of long straight hair like in the illustrations you have a mane of feathers that go down your back a little bit.”
“Okay!” Ribbon’s coils tightened and released in a movement that Sissy had learned to interpret as ‘excited.’ “If you could identify what kind of snake my body was, what would it be?”
“Easy, California Kingsnake.” Sissy smiled. “Your face is even like a human version of theirs, a cute little oval.”
“Do you know a lot of snake breeds on sight?” Something in Ribbon’s dark eyes made Sissy think it was a trick question but she answered truthfully.
“Absolutely not. I only know California Kingsnakes because my daughter’s sixth-grade class had one and we ended up taking care of it over holidays since no other families would. I learned everything you could about kingsnakes.”
Ribbon coiled and uncoiled, then settled herself down so her face was even with Sissy’s. This close, and with the association in her mind, Ribbon really did look like a snake-become-girl, her snub nose and light and dark patches of skin mimicking a kingsnake’s blunt digging head. Sissy remembered her daughter at fifteen trying to explain furries and sparkledogs and was considering explaining the concept to Ribbon when the naga interrupted her train of thought.
“Just a few more questions. What colour are my feathers and what do they remind you of?”
“They’re jewel-toned, but like gems, not clothing colours. Red and blue and green, like in pictures of Quetzalcoatl.” Sissy sped quickly through the last word, knowing she was pronouncing the Nahuatl sloppily.
“And what is that?”
Sissy felt silly explaining a mythic creature to another mythic creature. “A feathered serpent. He’s a deity in Aztec culture but also the Quetzalcoatl is a type of creature in stories, not quite a dragon, I guess.”
“Okay, so.” More of Ribbon’s body moved under her so she sat primly upright, like a teacher who had reached an important part of a lesson. “To you, I look like: the general shape of a creature in a favourite childhood book, mixed with an animal you are fond of and a magical being you know about.”
“Yes?” Sissy felt confused. “You look like what a naga would look like if it were real—because you are real.”
“I look like what you think a naga would look like if it were real.”
“Your mind shaped me into something you could recognize, Sissy. I look like what I do, to you, because that’s how you believe I should look.”
Sissy shook her head. “But you’d exist if I wasn’t here.”
“Yes, but not in this form. One of you called it the ‘observer effect,’ which was very tidy.”
“But what if two people were looking at you at the same time?”
“Oh, Sissy.” Ribbon moved to curl up closer to her, resting her head against Sissy’s. “No matter who is looking at me, I remain me.”
Ribbon’s sun-warmed body radiated heat against Sissy’s back. “Well, that’s good, it seems like it would be confusing otherwise.”
Ribbon laughed. “Very. Anyway, I think your perception of me is one of the best ones I’ve heard. You see me as pretty.”
“That’s because you are pretty.”