THE SEVEN YEAR SPELL by Rowan Evans (2nd place, Flash May22)

Caroline Richardson hasn’t moved for seven years. Today is her thirteenth birthday, but she’s still only five years old.

When it rains, she’s beneath the puddles she would have liked to jump in. When the sun shines, it can’t reach her face to warm it. She can’t gather the conkers and chestnuts that fall above her. Golden autumn leaves reach the ground without being caught and wished upon. For seven winters, the snowmen have been left unbuilt, lying flat above her.

Brian Marchant has hardly moved for seven years. At the age of sixty-one, he’d confessed, but refused to reveal her location. The thought that keeps him going is that he will die before they find her.  

When it rains, he remembers the day he caught himself a pretty butterfly. The sun reminds him of the sunburn across his shoulders when he’d stripped to the waist to dig her grave. Bloody, autumn leaves pirouette past his cell window, taunting him with their freedom. When it snows, he turns his dead eyes to the sky and stares into the grey abyss of winter without regret.

Megan Richardson is always twenty-eight years old. Her life stopped the day her daughter disappeared. She often cries with the rain. The sun’s rays never penetrate the darkness she’s in. Leaves are torn from the trees in Autumn, just as her baby was torn from her. She sees her daughter’s face in the snowflakes and hears her laughter in the icy wind. She’s now a mother only to her grief, which latched itself onto her breast and feeds off her.

As the diggers move in to clear the overgrown patch of land at the back of the new housing estate, Megan’s kitchen clock starts ticking. It stopped seven years ago. She clutches the back of a chair and tries to stop herself from falling. Somehow, she knows, today is the day.

Roots are ripped from the ground and saplings knocked aside. The bramble covered scar is about to be torn open. Brian Marchant feels the first shock wave down his left arm and falls to his knees clutching his chest.  

Rumbling closer, the huge machines cuts through the earth. Caroline slowly turns in her grave and is lifted upwards.  

The seven-year spell is about to break.

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