The inaugural Bath Flash Fiction Award was launched in February 2015 and we’re delighted that Annemarie Neary agreed to be our first judge. She’s been very positive all the way through the contest, which has been a wonderful support – we didn’t know how long it would take to achieve the target of 1000 entries. In the end it’s been eight months from start to finish, roughly the same time as some other awards with known deadlines.
Running the Award without a deadline meant that we avoided the usual flood of entries that often arrive at the end of contests with a fixed-end date. We’ve been able to read the stories anonymously in batches as they arrived and select for a provisional long and short list as we went along. As a result, we’ve managed to announce the winners within a week of closure. Annemarie again helped with this. After receiving the shortlist, she spent a concentrated few days reading and rereading the stories to come up with three great winning flash fictions, two commended pieces and a very interesting and detailed report.
Judging the inaugural Bath Flash Fiction Award has been both an honour and a delight. The organisers did the hard work of sifting through one thousand entries and sent me, as if by magic, the twenty intriguing stories on this shortlist.
The first thing that struck me was the proliferation of certain themes — death, apocalypse or social breakdown featured in at least half the shortlist — which is not to say that the stories themselves are uniform. Far from it. Without exception, the writers have used their 300 words to create something fresh and distinctive.
by William Davidson
Cape Wrath to Rattray Head including Orkney. Southerly, veering westerly later, 5 or 6. Showers. Good. Bad. Rattray Head to Berwick upon Tweed. Rat tray head. Berwick upon Tweed to Whitby. Southwest 4 or 5. Mainly fair. Good. Bad. Bad. Bad. Whitby to Gibraltar Point. Last night. Gibraltar Point to North Foreland. Last night. Westerly or southwesterly. Last night. Becoming variable. The rhubarb vodka. Mainly fair. The rhubarb vodka. Good. The rhubarb vodka. North Foreland to Selsey Bill. The bingo hall. Mainly fair. The widower from Thirsk. Good. The rhubarb vodka. Selsey Bill to Lyme Regis. The cathedral. Northwest backing southwest. The cathedral climb. Becoming variable 2 or 3 later. The cathedral police. Mainly fair. Good. Lyme Regis to Land’s End including the Isles of Scilly. The drag queens. Westerly 3 or 4. The stage. The rhubarb vodka. The stage. Rain later. The spotlight. The widower from Thirsk. Land’s End to St David’s Head including the Bristol Channel. The bicycle. Westerly. The bicycle ride. Showers. The naked bicycle ride. Good. St David’s Head to Great Orme Head including St George’s Channel. The racist. Great Orme Head to the Mull of Galloway. The punch. Becoming variable. The chase. Isle of Man. The vicarage. Lough Foyle to Carlingford Lough. The vicarage? Southwesterly. The vicarage. Then becoming variable. The vicar. Showers. The rhubarb vodka. Good. The widower from Thirsk. Mull of Galloway to Mull of Kintyre. The rhubarb vodka. Westerly or southwesterly. The vicar. Decreasing. The key. Showers. The church. Good. Mull of Kintyre to Ardnamurchan Point. The rhubarb vodka. Southwesterly. The rings. Showers. The widower from Thirsk. Ardnamurchan Point to Cape Wrath. The rhubarb vodka. Showers. The witnesses. Shetland Isles. The altar. Becoming cyclonic. The rhubarb vodka. Showers. The widower from Thirsk. Good. The husband. Occasionally poor. From Thirsk.
This Is How They Drown
by Eileen Merriman
Connie is lying on the sun-baked sand, her cousin Luke beside her. They are fifteen and feckless. Twenty metres and a lifetime away, Luke’s twelve-year old brother bobs over the swells.
The tide is turning.
Ferg is floating, the sky like cut glass and the sea soft and yielding. The sun beats on his upturned face, and the waves beat on the sand, but they sound very far away. That’s when he realises he’s drifting very fast, like he’s in a –
A wave breaks over his head.
Luke’s tongue flicks into Connie’s belly button. She tastes like salt and sunblock and girl. Connie whispers, ‘careful,’ because if their parents find out they’re dead. But then she wraps her fingers around the back of his neck, her tongue slipping into his mouth, and they forget about careful.
Ferg is floundering. The waves are so strong, and he goes under eyes wide water clear as glass and sharp in his lungs, and as his head breaks the surface he lifts his arm, help –
Connie pushes Luke’s hand away. Luke, frustrated, sits up, blinking into the metallic glare of the sun. That’s when he sees it, the flat area of sea between the breakers. ‘What’s wrong?’ Connie calls after him, but he’s already running.
When Luke reaches Ferg he is glassy-eyed, but his arms lock around Luke’s neck, and he’s an anchor dragging them down. Ferg, whose heart feels as if it’s exploding in his chest, takes one last gasp and the sea rushes in.
Luke’s larynx goes into spasm, so he can’t breathe in or out. But his oxygen-starved brain thinks it’s Connie’s arms around his neck, Connie’s honeyed breath in his air-locked lungs. And as the sequined water passes over their mirrored eyes his heart beats its last, forever in love.
The Most Amazing
by Mark Ralph-Bowman
It goes dark at 11.43. I’d fixed the toilet. Flushed a whirlpool. Not completely dark. Like the Hollywood blue nighttime filter. I see Amy out there. Two doors down. All tits and brown eyes. In the street.
– What’s going on, Will? She asks when I rock up. Cool as Smithy.
– Like I know, man? I just flushed and. Well.
– You flushed the toilet?
– Yeah. I fixed it.
She scratches at the pink nobble of a button on her blouse. Looking away into the midnight blue. Up where the library was. Kia dealership now. I’m wondering what she’s thinking. No. I’m wondering if she’s thinking. Like I do. Blokes. You know. Every three seconds.
– You play that game? She asks. When you was a kid? What would you do if you knew the world was ending?
– Oh, yeah.
Where’s this going I think.
– What did you say?
– If there was girls.
– And if there was?.
– We talking back then?
I look up at the sky. Getting darker. No stars up there. But I can see just fine. Probably my eyes adjusting. They do. Fifteen minutes it takes.
– Whenever? She says. Then or now.
– Back then it woulda been I’d find the girl I never told and I’d tell her.
– What? What would you tell her?
– You’ve got the most amazing eyes.
– What if she didn’t have?
– You’ve got the most amazing eyes.
Her smile breaks out like a timelapse flower opening. Lips glossy as Ramiro pepper skins. The tiniest mole, all on its own at the end of the line of her eyebrow. A full stop.