THE MOST FASCINATING WOMAN IN THE WORLD by Andrew Boulton (1st Place, Flash Feb21)

When it became clear she truly was the most fascinating woman in the world, everybody wanted to be near her. And, because she genuinely was a fascinating woman, and hadn’t simply been mistaken for one, she could think of nothing worse to be than fascinating.

At first, it was intrusive but never especially dangerous. People would wait outside her fascinating apartment and trail her through the streets to whichever fascinating place she was going. Such was the fascination with what she bought, read and ate, that she could no longer do any of these things without an audience pressed hungrily up against the glass, fogging the windows of her favourite shops and cafes with admiring breath. She even tried going to the least fascinating places she could think of, eating bland food and reading awful books, but all this did was make everybody fascinated with vulgar things, while keeping her from the things she loved.

One day, when her bag was snatched by someone desperate to see what fascinating secrets it contained, she decided to flee. But fascinating people can never be invisible, even when they try to be, and soon she dragged across the country a tremendous train of the intensely fascinated. She constructed a decoy that looked fascinating enough from a  distance to lure the attention of her following – and then snuck quickly away to the ocean.

Her head-start was slender, but it was enough to get her into an old green rowboat and far out to sea. But even away from land, the fascination of her was undiminished and she was pursued for many nautical miles by crowded pleasure crafts, people leaning perilously over the side, holding up their thumbs or making heart shapes with their fingers. She rowed for days, the sea and the fog drenching her excellent books and spoiling the fine food she’d brought with her.

Eventually, it seemed as if she’d finally escaped her following, and it had been many hours since the last person had sailed alongside to ask where she’d gotten her earrings. Exhausted, she put down the oars and let the little green boat drift with the tide. She slept.

When she woke up she found herself drifting towards a canoe that was being chased along the water by an armada of ladybird pedalos. The canoe passed close by and she got a good look at the woman in it. And, for the first time since she could remember, she was fascinated.

The woman in the canoe looked up at her and, before the most fascinating woman in the world could introduce herself, the canoe woman cried out for her to piss off and drown. How remarkable, she thought, to meet someone so fascinating all the way out here. And she smiled to herself as she pulled hard on an oar to turn her little green boat around, and row quickly after what surely was the most fascinating woman in the ocean.

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