Last Year’s Flash Fiction: An Appointment With Old Enemies

Storytelling Collective does a yearly challenge for flash fic, with prompts and a nice community format. Every year I complete a run I pick my ten favourites and collect them into what is basically a zine. I’ve got 2024’s up, so now it’s time to share some faves from 2023.

An appointment with old enemies

An image rendered in faux-photocopy style of two daggers, each pointing in opposite directions horizontally over the pages of a book mid-turn. A circular vignette frames them.

Of course, you’ll fall for your nemesis. If there was a handbook that would be the third chapter after “An Introduction to Healthy Obsession” and “Branding: The Balance Between Recognisability and Rigidity.” It doesn’t matter what side you’re on or if you are some flavour of grey that rejects sides, if you have a nemesis, you will fall for them.

In that imaginary chapter, you’ll be told its fine, it’s normal. When two people hate each other very much then a lot of complicated feelings get folded into their relationship. Imagine a baklava, which is a discrete object. It’s a delicious pastry and I recognize that picturing it is a little distracting, but soldier on. A baklava is a discrete object the way being a nemesis is. But, within that object are delicate layers that can’t be teased apart without destroying the very thing they are. There is also a dreamy filling and a sweet drizzle and a satisfying crunch and this imaginary chapter in this imaginary textbook would find a metaphor for all of it. There would be a diagram, probably. You’d read the chapter right before nemesis class, instead of earlier in the week like you should have, and you’d spend the entire nemesis lecture thinking about baklava.

The point is, it is normal and good to fall for your nemesis and it is also very complicated. Because what is the next step? If you fall for them romantically then are you looking at years of pining or will it be a quick romance? And after, will you spend your time together giving your beloved a kiss before clocking in on opposite sides? Or will you fall out of love, adding a new, aching layer of feeling?

Remember, you may not fall for your nemesis romantically. That’s a misconception many beginners make. You can fall for your nemesis in friendship, and the person with whom you have vowed mutual destruction is also the person who knows you best and who you can call when your cat dies. You can fall into hate, which is far messier than falling in love, because hate can make for incredibly poor decisions. And if, fuelled by that hate you actually destroy your nemesis, what do you do then?

If there were a follow-up manual to the imaginary nemesis manual it would be about living after you’ve vanquished your nemesis. It would have chapters like “Filling Your Time with Feuds” or “Angling for An Arch-Enemy” and would list the contact information for recovery groups in the back.

You will fall for your nemesis. The challenge is not in avoiding that fall, it is ensuring that in your passion, those delicate layers of feeling, you do not destroy them. They must take the same care toward you. It is as easy to destroy the thing you love as it is to destroy the thing you hate, so if you fall romantically for your nemesis don’t think that means you’re in the clear.

It is surprising, actually, that these handbooks don’t exist. Even a series of lectures that you could watch on your own schedule would be helpful. We’ve been doing this long enough, there have been ample historical examples of what to expect. And yet we keep plunging ahead as though we’ve only just invented everything and have to learn the rules as we go. If I’d had a handbook maybe, this wouldn’t have happened. Some passage in a chapter titled “Handling Hubris” would have stuck with me through the years because of a very stupid pie chart. If I’d had a handbook maybe, something to summarise all those things we should already know, you would still be here.