Contest #186 shortlist ⭐️


Fiction Sad

"It's cold."


"Can I have a blanket?"



"You could try to strangle me. Or hang yourself."

"You really thought this through, huh? You sure this is your first time?"


"A heater?"


"Because of the wiring?"

"I'm not giving you something heavy to lug at me when I come through the door."

"Now you're just giving me ideas."

"You're too good at coming up with them yourself."

"You're too good at predicting them."


"If I had a basement, I would at least decorate it better."

"Why bother?"

"Well, it doesn't feel very homely, does it?"

"I'm giving you tea, food, a mattress - there's nothing more I can do, so please stop complaining?"

"Oh, sorry. I forgot to be grateful. A hot cuppa tea in a fucking polystyrene cup is going to make sitting in a stranger's frigid-ass, dank, smelly basement so much better."

"We're not strangers."

"...That's what you took from that."

"We're not strangers."

"I don't recognize you."

"You wouldn't. But I know you."

"Well, that's not creepy. Also, how do you know how I like my tea?"

"Are you going to finish it?"

"How do you know how I like it?"

"I told you - I know you."

"But I don't know you."

"I wish you did."

"Fuck off."

"Are you going to finish that?"


"I thought you were cold."

"I'm always cold."


"You keep coming down here. Why?"

"Because you're here."

"But I don't understand - why kidnap someone just to talk to them? Are you that sad - that lonely? Shouldn't I be hurt or dead or in a ditch somewhere?"

"Stop it."

"Why? Does it upset you? Does the thought of me bleeding, wounded and curled in on myself, or my corpse, blue-lipped and still and rotting down here - does it scare you?"


"Does it? Does my death make you sweat?"

"Just shut up! You don't know what you're talking about, and you don't know what I've been through and- just. Stop it. I can't do this right now."

"Hey, don't just walk away. Fuck's sake, come back here-"


"You can't leave for so long."

"I know."

"You can't never come back."

"I know."

"It was cruel."

"I know."

"I thought I was going to have to start talking to myself. At least I'd be good company - ha! Imagine, 'couldn't even last a week alone without a dribble of madness - imagine me being mad. As a madman, just so you know, I think the first thing I'd do is start redecorating this stupid room with all sorts of imaginary, funky colours, so much so it would make imaginary you blanch."

"I'm sorry."

"Don't be. I haven't found my imaginary paints yet."


"What's this?"

"A gift."

"You're too kind."

"You're laughing. Don't laugh."

"No, no - I think it's sweet."

"Hey, it wasn't easy to repackage."

"I can tell."

"It's certainly quite an array."

"Do you like it?"

"I've never had such a collection of polystyrene cups in my life."

"What's in them-"

"Oh, shush - I do like it. I love it. The paints will make these dreary walls a bit brighter, at least. But you must know I'm not much of an artist."

"Oh, I know you are."

"I'm sure you don't."

"I'm sure I do."

"You know what - get out."

"Sending me away? I'm shocked."


"Common, aren't you impressed?"

"So now you do not simply know me, but you can predict my every move?"

"No. I just know you're the sort of person who adores the product, not the process. You can call me when you're sure it's perfect."

"I might just never finish - and then what, who will you talk to if not the stranger you locked in your basement?"

"No one, I suppose. There's no stranger worth talking to quite like you."


"It's beautiful."

"I hate it."

"Then I'll just have to love it for you."


"You say you're enamoured with my shitty painting, so I'm guessing you're not an artist."

"I like to think I am."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"I'm a scientist, so I like to think I'm searching for the art of living."

"Not quite the same."

"Are you sure? Are you certain we're not the same?"

"I'd love to know how you think I'm remotely similar to you."

"You see, in science - and art - we're looking to simplify aspects of life, or rather, looking at a facet of the world, delving into the cogs that make it spin and expounding on it."

"You sound like you've thought too much about this."

"A writer, for example, will create a novel about all the terrible little ways one falls in love - the terrified, wavering candlelight of touch, the blistering heart, and the moths of dreams that follow it. And a scientist does the same, looking at each moment and how it adds up to devotion."

"But one tells from the heart, and the other from the mind."

"All to the same end."

"Which is?"


"That's a load of bull crap."


"Art can be fun - art is warping the world into something beautiful. Science is scraping off layers of nuance and incomprehension and wonder until all that remains is the skeleton of understanding."

"A skeleton of innovation that carries a world."

"It's ugly."

"Art can be ugly too."


"Are you really a scientist?"


"But how do I know? How do I know anything you've told me is true because you seem to know so much about me, and yet-"

"I'd never lied to you. I never have."

"I don't believe you."

"You don't have to believe me, but down here, I only have the truth."


"So what kind of scientist?"

"The charming kind."

"Oh? Not the mad, kidnaps-and-experiments-on-innocent-civilians kind of scientist?"

"No, not that kind."

"So I'm not an experiment?"


"Well, that's disappointing."


"Am I being filmed for a reality show? Are there people waiting behind that door with 'laugh' queues whenever I say something stupid?"

"It would be an interesting premise."

"So I'm here for the psychotic masses' entertainment?"

"Only way to pay the bills."

"The strip club didn't accept you?"


"Can I ask you something?"

"Go ahead."

"Why all the butterflies?"

"They're easy to paint."

"And the oak tree?"

"It reminds me of something."

"Of what?"

"I can't remember - but it makes me feel happy. Like, the ghost of delight from someone else's dream."

"I'm glad it makes you happy."

"But why do you sound sad? Why does my painting make you sad?"

"It's nothing."

"I won't tell anyone, I promise."

"It just - reminds me of something."


"Where do you go - when you leave?"


"Not out? Not to the pub? Not to see friends?"


"Do you have kids?"



"...I used to be."

"What was she like?"

"She was an artist too."

"Another scientist with dumb ideas about what art is?"

"No - quite the opposite of me. She was honest and brilliant and forgiving. Sometimes too honest."

"What happened to her?"

"It doesn't matter."

"I thought you said you wouldn't lie."


"Am I a replacement for your wife?"

"Do you love me?"

"I can't love what I don't know."

"Then no - you aren't a replacement."

"So why am I here?"

"I thought you loved unknowns."

"I do, but you're like a shadow; every time I start to grasp who you are, you've already shifted with the hour."


"I can capture a single moment of you in paint, and I can love a moment, but I cannot love you."

"I wish I could understand."


"I got married under a tree, just like that one."


"Just us. My wife and I - a walk in the park, and she tripped because she couldn't keep her eyes off the butterflies - landed on one knee. She laughed until her eyes glistened with tears, and when I asked her what she found so funny, she said - 'My love, I have a terrible idea'."

"At least she had a lick of sense."

"Sense has little to do with love."

"You're smiling - oh, don't stop. It's lovely."


"Tell me a story."

"What kind of story?"

"The honest kind."

"The one where we all live happily ever after?"

"I don't think you believe that one."

"No, but you never did, either."


"You know the truth."

"But I want you to tell it."

"It never ends well."

"Tell it anyway."

"It was two years ago. The car smelt sweetly of cider, and the rainbow dice rattled on the rearview 'cause the windows were wide open, and your hand was out - surfing the wind as we took the country route."

"The road was empty, green pastures - going to visit mum."

"There was music playing - you remember the song? 'She's Not Cryin' Anymore', by Billy Ray."

"She ain't lonely any longer."

"Yeah. That one, and-"

"There's a smile upon her face."

"Hey- shh. It's alright. I won't go on."

"I know it. I know it- why can't I remember?"

"Hey, hey, don't cry-"

"I'm trying! But it's all mangled-"

"Don't push it any further."

"You! You were looking at me. It was such a lovely smile-"

"Come now, let's not do this now. Let's talk about something else. You aren't ready-"

"But watch the road. The road! The road-"


"I don't like being down here."

"I know."

"It's cold."

"I'm sorry."

"Can I have a blanket?"

"I'm so, so sorry, love."

February 23, 2023 15:31

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Charlie Murphy
03:45 Mar 01, 2023

Great story. Love the dialogue!


18:49 Mar 01, 2023

Thanks! :)


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Amanda Lieser
19:42 Mar 14, 2023

Hey Hannah, Congratulations on the shortlist with this one! I really enjoyed the way that the story answer the prompt in a creative manner, and I thought that you manage to capture the human souls of these characters incredibly well. I think that your setting was also very interesting and I thought that you did a great job of telling these characters back stories without telling it to us directly. My favorite line was: Then I'll just have to love it for you. Nice work!


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Jane Andrews
07:30 Mar 04, 2023

This was perfectly executed, Hannah. The slow reveal of story, bit by bit, was set up so well by earlier comments that suddenly took on more significance as the dialogue continued. I loved the subtlety too: rather than sledgehammering us with the truth, you allowed us to piece together the clues - which totally reflects the gaps in memory/understanding of one of your MCs. A well deserved place on the shortlist.


18:13 Mar 04, 2023

It was a bit of a challenge balancing the reveal while keeping it more implicit but I'm glad it came out alright. Thank you for taking the time to comment - I really value it :)


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Wendy Kaminski
15:44 Mar 03, 2023

Excellent, Hannah! Talk about knocking it out of the park on your first submission! Congratulations on the shortlist recognition, and welcome to Reedsy!


18:11 Mar 03, 2023

Thank you! Glad to be here :)


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Al Cassidy
11:58 Mar 02, 2023

Really well done, Hannah. The way you describe the feeling and the movement between them comes together so nicely.


13:42 Mar 03, 2023

Thank you, I appreciate the comment!


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Wally Schmidt
15:25 Feb 27, 2023

The dialogue is stellar slowly revealing each of the MC's and how they are bound to each other. Very well written, Welcome to Reedsy Hannah! Looking forward to reading more of your stories


18:48 Mar 01, 2023

Thank you!


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Jeannette Miller
17:23 Feb 26, 2023

Hannah, Brilliant! I can see this being performed onstage with a minimal set and blackouts between each short scene. The dialogue moves so cleanly and naturally with such melancholy and moments of poignancy, it's really strong. I love the relationship between the two people and that near the end you realize their connection. A lot of layers... Well done!!! A solid first submission. Welcome to Reedsy :)


15:06 Feb 27, 2023

Thank you!! I really appreciate the comment :)


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