Flash Fiction

Marissa Hoffmann October 2019 First Prize

Angie

by Marissa Hoffmann

Her papa folds a crease into a flattened-out paper grocery bag, turns it over, folds it again, turns it, folds it, again, again. Her papa tells her, Paper dolls hold hands to keep them safe on a journey.

The girl watches her papa. He folds two more bags, same and same. He draws a small doll, tells her, Paper dolls make paper beds, when the night-time comes when they’re walking.

The girl checks with him, she says, Do they snuggle between their paper mamas and paper papas?

Under the stars, her papa tells her. He’s nodding. He draws a smile, draws a flower on the paper doll’s hair, he points at the drawing, he says, Like you.

On the second bundle of folded paper, the girl’s papa draws a tall, thin doll. He shades a black t-shirt, draws arms stretched up above its head, tells her, This one’s waving, this one’s strong. He presses the pencil into the paper doll’s arm, turns the point slowly, presses harder.

The girl touches her papa’s bullet-sized scar, points at the doll, she says, Like you.

The third doll has long, black hair. The girl leans in closer. Her papa draws more, he tells her, Paper dolls think of everything. The girl tilts her head. Her papa says, Paper dolls can even cross the Rio Grande, and around the doll’s waist, her papa draws a giant floaty doughnut. The girl colours sugar sprinkles, dot-dot yellow, green, pink.

They cut, they unfold, they tape together—the mamas, the papas, the children.

Her Papa crouches and she crawls up onto his back. The girl holds tight around his neck. Her papa hangs the paper doll chain. The girl asks, Can the little ones swim Papa?

Her Papa says, The little ones don’t let go. Like you.

About the Author

Marissa's flash was shortlisted at Bath Flash Fiction in 2018 and has been highly commended or shortlisted at Flash500, Flashback Fiction and Flash Frontier. In the past year her stories have been nominated for inclusion in Best Micro Fiction and BIFFY50. Recent work appears in New Flash Fiction Review, Milk Candy Review, Reflex Fiction, The Citron Review, StorgyKids and Bending Genres. She is a fiction reader for Atticus Review and tweets @Hoffmannwriter
website:www.marissahoffmann.com

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Francis McCrickard October 2019 Second Prize

The Wild West

by Francis McCrickard

We knew how to do lots of things back then.

A friend takes a bullet? Easy. Start a fire; clean your penknife blade in the flames; get your friend to take a couple of slugs of pretend whiskey; find a piece of wood for him to bite on; pour liquor on the wound; extract bullet using penknife; put the blade in the flames again; cauterize the wound.

We knew to keep our canteens full but if you’re without water in the desert, find a cactus. Cactuses have lots of water. Mrs. Brady has one in her window.

No chow? Find a snake; pin the back of its head with a forked stick; cut its head off; skin it and roast it over your fire.

A snakebite? Suck blood and with it the poison from where the fangs punctured the skin.

We knew to treat our pretend horses well. A four-legged friend, a four-legged friend, he’ll never let you down. He’s honest and faithful right up to the end, that wonderful one-, two-, three-, four-legged friend.

We knew to keep our guns close, especially in Apache country, Duke Street.

We knew how to send smoke signals using grass, green sticks and Mam’s wet tea towel.

We knew to destroy all evidence of our campfires, to shoot first, never to ride into narrow ravines and never to turn our backs on an Indian unless he’s a friend like Tonto.

We knew how to read tracks that people had left: imprints on the paths, bent grass stalks and broken branches.

We knew how to do lots of things back then.

But we didn’t know what to do when we crossed the frozen pond at the old Hope Mine workings and Mikey Cullen fell through the ice and drowned.

About the Author

Francis is from Cleator Moor in wild West Cumbria. He has worked with young people in Britain, Zambia and Malawi and along the way has compiled educational programmes; written scripts for radio and television; novels for young adults — The Dead are Listening "was a stunner... one of the most intelligent teenage stories to be published for some time." — (Financial Times) and contributed short stories to several anthologies. In 2013 he was given the Observer Unsung Local Hero award for his environmental work. Most importantly, he has, with help, raised a beautiful family. He has recently discovered flash fiction.

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Xavier Combe October 2019 Third Prize

The Games People Play

by Xavier Combe

When I got on the métro at Bastille, there was standing room only.

I squeezed in and found a space next to a young guy who was on his cellphone, playing a war game.

I thought to myself those two words don’t belong near each other.

I could see explosions and mass killings. His display flashed a body count at the top. By the time the metro pulled in at Opera, he had killed 260 people and destroyed three villages. The level he had reached entitled him to use even more powerful weapons and ammunition. And give orders to other shooters. Allies, presumably.

I tapped him on the shoulder. He ignored me and went on firing. I tapped him on the shoulder again. He hit pause and looked over at me, reluctantly. I gave him an appreciative little smile. He didn’t get the sarcasm. He resumed his shooting.

As we were about to reach Boucicaut, I tapped him on the shoulder once more but before he could hit pause I asked him what time it was. The distraction caused his weapon to misfire. He looked at me. He was irritated. I moved away and got off the métro.

As I walked on the platform towards the exit I said to myself I had probably saved about twenty lives and spared two or three huts in a village, somewhere.

About the Author

Xavier Combe is a freelance conference interpreter and translator. He teaches at the University of Paris X. He has authored two non-fiction books in French (L'anglais de l'Hexagone and 11+1 propositions pour défendre le français) as well as op-eds in the French press. He writes and produces audio fiction with 2-time Peabody award winner Jim Hall on their website Muffy Drake.
He has two adult sons and lives in the Paris suburbs with his wife, their two teenage daughters and their dog Zelda.

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Catherine Higgins-Moore October 2019 Commended

Mo bhuachaillín beag

by Catherine Higgins-Moore

I knew it when I went to the Royal. But I did what I was bid.
"You’ll be alright, Love. Wait ‘til your next appointment."

I should’ve stayed. I should’ve tried harder. But when you’re twenty, and you’ve gone nowhere and you’ve done nothing, people think you are nothing. Divis Flats?
Nothing.

I wore sanitary towels every day for a week. Took Panadol like Smarties.

Monday morning I rushed in through the heavy glass doors, my feet soaked. Kept waiting an hour.
Different nurse. Never met my eye.

No heartbeat.

"Better this way than getting one that’s not right." She said, handing me a scrap of paper towel to wipe the jelly off.

Twenty weeks I had him. No time at all. Mo bhuachaillín beag.
A hundred and forty days.

We said we’d try for another but then he moved into the Maze. Plotting against the peelers. Two years sitting alone before ‘Fuck it. I’m off.’

New York, New York.

Can never go back. Didn’t come properly. No visa nor nothing. What’s to go back for?

I see wee ones, poor like mine woulda been. Always buttoned-up wrong. Not one to give a damn about them coming outta school, or send them home in the right knick. Mothers with enough on their plates.

The wealthy ones are always buttoned up right.

I nanny for a coupla girls in the West Village. Gorgeous wee things. New outfits every day. Drawers full of clothes.

My wee mite would’ve been coming in bedraggled. I’da been cursing at him for tearing the arse outta his trousers. Shouting at him to wait ‘til payday for a new pair.

I’m a bit like them. Same hair and pale skin. Their granny was Irish.

People take me for their mother sometimes. I don’t like to correct them.

About the Author

Catherine Higgins-Moore is a Northern Irish writer based in New York. A former BBC journalist, she contributes to The Times Literary Supplement and is founding editor of The Irish Literary Review. In 2019 Catherine was longlisted for the Harper Collins' Comedy Women in Print Prize and highly commended in Poetry London’s Clore Prize. Her play, The Maternity Monologues enjoyed its world premiere in New York, and was commended in BBC’s International Playwriting Award. Her poetry collection, Strange Roof, is published by Finishing Line Press. Catherine has been awarded bursaries by Kenneth Branagh, and the University of Oxford. 

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Michael Mcloughlin October 2019 Commended

Old Glory

by Michael Mcloughlin

Pa’s busy, so he lets me help him pick potatoes. “Just follow me girl and chuck them in the box.”

Later, we pick up ma from the school hall, in pa’s new truck. She’s also busy, working with her friends. But she doesn’t allow me to help her. She says it’s no place for kids. She tells me she sews. I even see bits of white cotton on her clothes. Every time I ask her what she’s sewing, she just says, “Y’all gonna see come July four. It’ll be like something Nebraska ain’t never seen before.”

On the drive home, ma tells pa they’ve reached their total of one thousand. Pa sounds happy, “That’s great, dear!” He’s almost as happy as he was when he bought his truck; he was one of the first round these parts to get one.

The valley’s quite tonight, but tomorrow it will be filled with excitement. We’re expecting a big crowd to watch the parade. I’m sure looking forward to that. According to the newspaper, over five-thousand people will gather at the park. Pa says that’ll be ten times the population of our town.  

Today, Old Glory is proudly floated from the flagstaff of pa’s truck. The people watching extend right through town, waving the stars and stripes, and cheering on the procession. Impossible to tell who’s who going past with them hoods and robes they’re all wearing. I notice a group of hatless negros standing on the sidewalk, but they don’t look happy to me. Maybe the heat’s affecting them; but then it can’t be, cos pa says the sun don’t affect them.

About the Author

Michael Mcloughlin grew up in Liverpool, UK; but by the mid-80’s, he’d had enough of Thatcher’s regime and escaped to the brighter shores of Australia. He works in mental health and likes to write in his spare time. He’s quite new to flash fiction competitions and is looking forward to entering more of them. He has also recently completed a novel and hopes to find an agent. He lives in Hobart, Tasmania.

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Gaynor Jones
June 2019 First Prize

Cleft

by Gaynor Jones

 

noun

a fissure or split

indentation in the middle of a person’s chin

a deep division

Cleft. As belonging to me, my father, his father before him, their fathers before them. Runs way back in our men, as my father used to tell me while he shaved.

Boy, you could find this cleft of ours nuzzled next to the stock of a Henry rifle, or buried deep between the long legs of a good time girl in an old time saloon. You’ll see.

My father was proud. That dent in his skull meant something to him, though he had no hand in its making. Soon as I was old enough to shave myself - and all that came with it - he would come for me. Head tilted up. Chin jutting out.

Him: Eyes like tar and a hand rubbing the indent at the bottom of his drawn face.

Me: In for some shit.

He would grab me, in that convenient little nook that perfectly fit his thumb and forefinger. Force me towards whatever he needed me to see.

Exhibit A: magazines he’d found under my mattress

Exhibit B: a journal entry I hadn’t torn up enough before burying in the trash.

Exhibits C through Z: scripture.

Then: Firm hands gripping my chin, strong arms turning me.

Now: Loose flesh, weak arms, still trying to turn me.

‘What you two do in your bedroom is one thing, boy, but to bring a child into that. A child.’

My son’s face is perfect. Moon-round. I bounce him on my knee, or pat him after his milk and he looks up at me and I look down at him and it is love. While we play, his small hands reach up to my chin, and vanish in the hairs of my beard.

About the Author

Gaynor Jones is an award winning short fiction writer based in Manchester. She won the 2018 Mairtín Crawford Award and was named Northern Writer of the Year at the 2018 Northern Soul Awards. She runs the Story For Daniel competition to raise awareness of blood stem cell donation and childhood cancer support. www.jonzeywriter.com

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Anita Arlov June 2019 Second Prize

A God And His Famous Digging Stick Dug This

by Anita Arlov

Is this the pool? Prie ȁ dieu I cup water. Minnows explode: a mute firework. My fingers glow pond-green, trailing elodia densa. Boy fingers explored my body that day; two squid-shaped clouds bombing a Frisbee sky.

Maori fish for eels here. The stream’s a natural race, narrowing to half-body width and dead shallow. We were eels, pewter-brown from summer, lean Little River nippers. Sneaking away unnoticed (your folks filleting the day’s catch, mine unclicking the Tupperware), we stripped behind the macrocarpas and slid into the laminar flow of the stream.

Eels body-wave to move: an exquisite dance of balance and off-balance. We were eels. Our throats engorged. Our jaws arrowed. Our toes were undulating tails; our fingers fluttering fins. My gob, his nostrils, his eyeballs - I swear they swelled twice their size. We were eels, glibly stroked by an ancient current.

We came to, panting hard, half in water, half in air, armed with fresh knowledge. Our pool was pfft! A puddle. Our folks, murderable. School, torture. But the sky! It was hyper-radiant and huger, like it was a god looking down noticing we weren’t kids anymore. Beaming approval.

He heard my skin with his tongue. He tasted my breath with his fingertips. He smelled my body with his skin. That’s how he described it to me. I told him I saw constellations of palm-tree fireworks behind my eyes. He tasted like

outer space and

burst-lip blood and

the Best Ice Cream in the history of ice cream and

tear-salt when it trickles down your cheek into the cup of your mouth like a hundred and twenty-five in Marbles Bagatelle and

the crunchiest liftable knee scab and

the monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey when the apes get brave enough to lick it.

About the Author

Anita was born in Christchurch, the youngest of four children of Croatian parents displaced by the war. She now lives in Auckland. She began writing overnight in response to the Canterbury earthquakes 2011. Since 2012 she’s staged Inside Out Open Mic for Writers, a monthly spoken word gig for fresh writing, with musician guests. She won the Divine Muses New Voices Poetry Competition 2017. Anita convened a team that ran the NZ Poetry Conference & Festival 2017, a three day celebration of all things poetry including vispo (visual poetry), spoken word and cine-poetics. In 2018 she won the NZ Flash Fiction Day Competition with He, She, It, They, which was nominated for the Pushcart Prize this year. She‘s Auckland Chair for NZ National Flash Fiction Day 2019. Anita’s writing is published widely including Flash Frontier: an Adventure in Short Fiction; Bonsai: Best Small Stories from Aotearoa/New Zealand; Best Small Fictions 2019 and Best Microfiction 2019. She enjoys music, theatre, cryptic crosswords and spending time with family and friends; is fascinated by the natural world and craves beach-combing.

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Stephanie Hutton June 2019 Third Prize

Cosmina Counts

by Stephanie Hutton

Cosmina must measure the room. In this moment, it is all that matters. From her narrow bed, she can just about stretch out her legs before reaching a wall. There’s no ruler to measure the room precisely. Cosmina recalls laughing at her grandmother back in Romania who measured things the old way – how she laughed at all those old ways. Now she would give anything to be scolded by her grandparents: Cine nu are bătrâni să-şi cumpere – ‘whoever doesn't have elders, should buy some’.

But now is not the time for remembering. She must measure. Pas mic – a small step. How many make up this room? She walks the length toe-to-heel, barefoot. The skin of her heels has hardened enough to stick pins in and not feel a thing, from all those months of squeezing her feet into high heels. Cenuşăreasa – Cinderella. No prince after midnight.

Cosmina’s mouth moulds around a map of her route as travelled in numbers.

Jedan, dva, tri, četiri, pet.

Një, dy, tre, katër, pesë.

Uno, due, tre, quattro, cinque.

Un, deux, trois, quatre, cinque.

One, two, three, four, five.

How many pas mic to the low ceiling, the buzzing striplight?

Strip light.

Strip.

How many times has she heard that instruction? In how many languages?

No, she must count only the steps in the room.

Cosmina tries to move the numbers behind her eyelids, to decipher the volume of space she exists in. Instead of school-girl calculations, her thoughts show her the places in-between. Vans, boats, apartments. The stench of roll-ups and bleach. The smiles that flicker before violence. The lies that took a girl and crushed her into the kind of woman who stands in a strange place and counts steps along the floor instead of kicks coming from her baby.

About the Author

Stephanie Hutton is a writer and consultant clinical psychologist in Staffordshire, UK. Her fiction has been shortlisted for the Bristol Short Story Award, Aesthetica Creative Writing Award and the Bridport Prize. She writes psychological thrillers is and is represented by Sheila Crowley at Curtis Brown.

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