Nein Lives – A.F.E Smith (Winner of the Flash Fiction Competition)

As promised, here is the winning entry by the incredibly talented A.F.E Smith. We loved it, and hope you do too!

Here’s what the judges had to say:

…”Intelligent and epic in scale. Short stories embedded within short stories. A great payoff and concept…”

…”Oh very good. Lovely secret history stories and had an excellent flow. Managed a lot with so few words…”



by A.F.E. Smith


My name is Nein. I have had other names, but Nein will do for now.

I sit with my attendant whilst he wrestles with the nature of reality. He thinks he owns me. I let him keep thinking that.

“Nein, Nein,” he mutters, taking his glasses off and polishing them with vigour. “I am convinced they are looking at this in the wrong way. How can this superposition represent what truly happens in the world?”

He is talking to me. I get up and stretch, then step delicately onto the desk. To start with his touch is absent-minded, but my claws kneading his sleeve recall him to a full sense of his obligations.

I knew a man like you once before, I tell him as he runs his fingers down my spine in the way I like. He longed to know how birds and trees and tortoises came to be. How they could change to fit their surroundings. I showed him a mouse, and then he understood. The mouse was uniquely adapted to run away, and I was uniquely adapted to catch it.

He frowns at me. He often frowns when I speak. All my attendants have been the same: so focused on the weighty questions in their minds that they fail to understand what is before their eyes. Perhaps that is what it means to be human.

Did I ever tell you about the man with the apple tree? I ask, butting my head into the palm of his hand. He used to sit in its dappled shade every day, thinking about the laws that keep us all moving along our preordained paths. I would stretch out on the branch above him and enjoy the heat of summer. But when he started forgetting to provide me with fish scraps, I decided enough was enough. I knocked an apple down onto his head, and understanding with it.

He is looking blank. I will try once more.

A long time ago, in China, an alchemist was seeking immortality. He mixed together this ingredient and that, to no avail. Just as he was about to give up, I knocked a candle into his mixing dish. The explosion took off his eyebrows, but he was ecstatic. He had sought to live forever, but instead he had found a way to bring others death.

I wait for any sign of comprehension, but my attendant’s mind is still off in its narrow little orbit. Disgruntled, I turn to groom myself. Of course, that is one discovery I would not choose to make again. My fur was singed just here, above the tail, and it has never been the same since.

“Down, now,” he says, with fine disregard for the sorrow of that memory, and I allow him to lower me to the floor. “I must make sense of this tonight.”

Ah, poor Schrödinger. Just like the others, he needs my help. One day, soon, I will walk into a box and really make him think.