Stomp by Christopher Risewick 

When the doctor suggested fentanyl, we knew it was over. I’d watched Mum’s paralytic agony swell for too many years. We were out of options.

The old school yard’s desolate, but the place feels timeless: I still hear the voice of the boy who hectored me as I stood at the schoolyard’s threshold with downcast eyes.
“The bus isn’t coming yet, doofus! What are you doing?”
I watched ants creep up through the cracks in the sidewalk, imagining insect societies in resilient tufts of yellow-bottomed grass.
“Hey doofus, don’t step on the crack, or your mom…”
“That’s just supersishion,” I whistled through a gap between my canines.
To demonstrate my conviction I stepped on the crevice from which the ants had emerged, killing god knows how many in the process. My foot froze in place, aghast at my reckless slaughter.
After recess, I walked back to class with an uneasy feeling in my belly.
I didn’t sit down long before I was called to the principal’s office, and all the way there I thought to myself, “How could she possibly know I killed all those ants?”

The sidewalk is an x-ray projection of all the broken bones in the world. It was impossible to enumerate how many mothers had suffered from these unhallowed slabs.
Amidst the concrete debris I find Mum’s fissure, and when I do, a faint clicking rises below me.
Thousands of ants pour from the gorge, and I pound my foot onto the surface again and again. When the entire crack is gummed over with white, creamy entrails and shiny black carapaces, the effusion quits.
I pant as I return to my car.
On the drive home my phone won’t stop ringing. I mute it. Its dull glow tells me all I need to know.

Judges’ comments on the winning story

A story about guilt. Horrifying, gnawing, unrelenting guilt. This has been a central theme in horror since the days of The Tell-Tale Heart, and has here been told poignantly in a tale about a son and his mother. All wrapped, of course, around an old creepy superstition. Congratulations to this competition’s worthy winner.

 

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