Bright orange sunrise with blue sky above.

Third Place, Autumn 2021

He hacked the wood into logs, blocks, slices and sticks, splintering them thinner and thinner, his muscles seizing and jamming. He stopped to draw an arm across his forehead and saw it on his inside wrist: a lump, hard and red. When he touched it, it glowed.

By evening his veins neoned blue-white, his arteries warm-yellow, highlighting the map of his workings. He switched on the kettle and short-circuited the street. While others sat in darkness, he radiated a comforting light and flicked through photo albums.

That weekend the children came for lunch. He sat at the table stone-quiet, ignoring the coals sizzling in his stomach as the two sons and daughter pestered him non-stop about selling the house. But this is where I spent the happiest years of my life, he said eventually. With your mother. It’s too big, they replied. Too much space. Mother’s been dead four years.

During the next week he fuelled himself by eating the embers off the fire. He could’ve rocketed to outer-space and raced that flash-arsed Halley. He could’ve chopped wood (in double-quick time) as he always did when thinking of his children’s demands. Instead, he lay in the garden, staring at the Sun and scorching the grass with fire angels. I will not sell the house. There is never too much space.

And as he gazed up, he understood – Sun is selfish; doesn’t give a hoot for anyone. Sun loves being on Her own, beaming like the happiest soul. The fact She’s circled by parasitical planets means nothing to Her. She is the disco ball of the universe. She beams and beams and refuses to be doused.

In one month he spent the Christmas present stash on restaurants, cinema and theatre. He used much of his retirement fund on a three-month trip where he shone and seared in different parts of the world (keeping away from the poles). He met a woman in Copenhagen who said he was hot. They fucked and fucked and afterwards he lay pulsing out solar flares of gratification.

When he returned home, the children visited and carped on about the house and equity release. He opened his mouth and roared a fireball yell of No! He wouldn’t sell; never ever.

The children left, singed with shock. They stayed out of orbit while he wheeled and whirled like an ambulatory star, growing warmer and brighter, and constantly beaming.