Joanna Campbell

Flash Fiction: ‘Boy in a Bearskin’ by Joanna Campbell

1st Place in the TSS Flash Fiction 400 Competition (autumn 2018)

My brothers and I line up outside the house, eldest first, as once we did for ‘Santa’. The winter sunlight glances away, hooding us in shadow.

We take up position, Dad’s weight compressing our shoulders, and set out to the chapel, girdled by our frozen breath.

Sam, the eldest, halts the procession. “I’m so cold,” he says.

We lay the coffin on the glittering gravel. As Sam kneels, a tear skates across the polished lid.

We guide him into the boot-room, musty with rotting cricket-pads, deflated footballs, the crumbling anoraks we wore for fishing. Their pockets used to squirm. And six blistered bicycles. Mum’s still has its frayed shopping basket, the brittle wicker held together by cobwebs.

Dad’s bike is standing guard over the rest, or trapping them. One of his pedals is hooked through Sam’s spokes.

All those rides in the frost, the bitter wind flapping our collars, Dad’s legs pumping yards ahead, setting the pace. All those endless intervals while he showed Sam the inside of a derelict barn, an abandoned byre, a thicket unseen from the hedgerow where we all waited, ducking down. The veins in Mum’s hands always turned purple, stiff and bursting, as if a bruise was leaking out of her heart.

Sam twists off Dad’s saddle, uproots the handlebars from their stem. Deflates the tyres, detaches the pedals. We all disconnect the wheels. Fling nuts and bolts, smashing the walls with their hail.

Dad’s old greatcoat hangs on a rusty nail, spiked with desiccated sticky buds. We all haul it down and Sam pulls it on, a boy in a bearskin.

At his signal, we shoulder Dad high, and this time he weighs nothing.


Joanna Campbell is a full-time writer from the Cotswolds. Her work has been published in numerous literary journals and anthologies, including Mslexia, The Salt Book of New Writing and twice in The Bristol Short Story Award. Her story, ‘Upshots’, won the 2015 London Short Story Prize. In 2017, her flash-fiction story, ‘Confirmation Class’, came second in the Bridport Prize, and the Bath Flash Fiction Award published her novella-in-flash, A Safer Way To Fall. Her short story collection, When Planets Slip Their Tracks, published by Ink Tears, was shortlisted for the 2016 Rubery Book Award and longlisted for the 2017 Edge Hill Short Story Prize. In 2015, Brick Lane published her novel, Tying Down The Lion. In 2018 her story, ‘Nearly There’, was chosen for publication in 24 Stories of Hope for Survivors of the Grenfell Fire. In the same year, her story, ‘Brad’s Rooster Food’, shortlisted in the Royal Academy Pin Drop Award, was chosen for A Short Affair, an anthology published by Simon and Schuster. She is currently editing her second novel. More can be found at her website here

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