Winners

Fiona Perry June 2020 First Prize

Sea Change

by Fiona Perry

He arrives breathless with excitement, clutching a thick plastic bag bulging with shells. At the kitchen table, he points to the bag and tells me they fattened up over winter. At first, they settled as larvae on ropes, before growing to half the length of a thumb, ready to be stuffed like sausage meat into casings known as socks. The runt grouped with the runt, the alpha with the alpha to prevent unfair competition. I imagine it – the swaying of the long mesh tubes, the seething growth of it. I tell him all of this is wonderful, resisting the urge to remind him he is in fact dead. He smiles and asks me to pour vodka for us into his old reko tumblers which have appeared on my counter top. He says that once the molluscs reach full maturation, they are able to travel outside of the sock – by attaching a byssal thread from their beard to an anchor and then shortening it to move. He finds this both funny and moving. Soon afterwards, he says, the sock collapses into the centre of the column. Collapses into the centre of the column, he repeats. He wipes his mouth with his hand. I am standing beside the stove now, frying diced onion and garlic in the big pasta pot I misplaced years ago, into which I squirt tomato paste, let it sizzle, splash in vodka, warm water and cream. He tips the mussels from the bag into the pot, I sprinkle in sea salt and clamp on the lid. He explains that this is where he has been all along, looking after these creatures. His face soft like a monk’s, he announces he must leave after dinner because new larvae always require his attention out in the ocean.

About the Author

Fiona was born and brought up in Northern Ireland but has lived in England, Australia, and New Zealand. Her first collection of poetry, Alchemy, will be published by Turas Press (Dublin) in autumn 2020. Her short fiction was shortlisted in the Australian Morrison Mentoring Prize in 2014 and 2015. She contributed poetry to the Label Lit project for National Poetry Day (Ireland) 2019. A graduate of Queen’s University, Belfast, and Lancaster University, she worked previously as an environmentalist in a unitary authority. She is currently a teacher, editor, and proofreader and lives with her family near Oxford.

share by email

Hannah Storm June 2020 Second Prize

The species of pangolin compromise their own order: Pholidota.

by Hannah Storm

Pholi - A folly is something stupid.

Dota - She’s learning phonics at school. This is how she would spell daughter.

He said I was fucking stupid. Ordered me to get rid of it. I cradled my belly’s soft shell as it grew.

‘Pangolin’ comes from the Malay ‘pengguling’, loosely meaning something that rolls up.

Later I stuffed into a rucksack all we needed to survive, hiding our future beneath my bed. I curled up by her cot.

Special glands near the pangolin’s anus secrete a pungent fluid as a defence mechanism.

Now the court toilet smells of the fear of losing my child.

That last night, he came home drunk. I’d not showered for two days between the feeding, burping, changing, rocking, cooking. He hissed at me when I begged him to be quiet.

You smell ripe. He tore at my clothes. Why can’t you make a fucking effort? Pinned me to the bed. Cried when he came. Then she cried too. By the time I had settled her, he was snoring. The room reeked of shame.

Pangolins are nocturnal animals. Their shells made of keratin the same substance as human hair and nails.

In the shower I scrubbed myself raw, let the water sear my scalp. Impossible to feel clean.

The mother curls up around the baby pangolin if she senses danger.

He left for work. Then we left. I clasped her to me, promising he would not hurt us again.

Now I hear my name, calling me to Court.

The endangered pangolin is the world’s most trafficked animal; its body parts are sold as a delicacy or used for their mythical healing properties.

When my daughter is older, I will teach her how to protect herself. One day I will explain what being endangered really means.

About the Author

Hannah has been a journalist for two decades, travelling the world and witnessing her fair share of love and loss. She writes flash fiction to pay tribute to the people she’s met and places she’s been, and creative non-fiction to process her own experiences. She's working on a memoir, a flash collection and is editing a novel. Now she is based in the UK with her husband and two children and is the director of a media charity as well as a journalism consultant.

share by email

Sam Payne June 2020 Third Prize

The Man You Didn’t Marry

by Sam Payne

The police meet you after your night shift at Sunshine Care to tell you they're concerned for your safety. They found the man you didn’t marry outside your house at four am. In his car, black bags, rope and a crowbar. They tell you they're sorry but they can't hold him.

The locksmith talks about Brexit as he rips out the deadbolt and replaces it with a shiny new one. When he leaves, you barge your shoulder into the door just to make sure it doesn’t give. But in the night you wake to the smell of Joop and the man you didn't marry is pushing his knuckles into your clavicle and telling you he loves you. His saliva gathers in the corners of his mouth and the white froth reminds you of tide bubbles and you focus on this as he throttles you. You lose consciousness and your body becomes a stingray slipping into saltwater.

You survive because you're lucky or at least that's what people say. You move cities, rent a different house every six months and clean everything continuously. You're happy that you have things in order. Until the therapist tells you perfectionism is a sign of unhealed trauma. When you get home, you throw Bolognese sauce at the walls, empty the cutlery drawer onto the lino and chuck your clothes out of the window until you're satisfied this chaos is proof that you're fine. But every time you sleep you're sinking into a cold, dark ocean. Submerging deeper and deeper, the saltwater strips your flesh until there's nothing left and when your skeleton rests on rippled sand, the man you didn't marry scoops you up. He polishes your bones until you shine like teeth and he keeps telling you he'll never ever let you go.

About the Author

Sam Payne lives in Devon, United Kingdom. She has recently completed an MA in Creative Writing and her work has appeared in various places including Spelk, Reflex Fiction and Popshot Quarterly. She tweets @skpaynewriting

share by email

Emily Harrison June 2020 Commended

Not Now, Universe

by Emily Harrison

I tell her about a guy who took me round the back of a fancy Soho restaurant once, to show me the lobsters in the tank holding claws. We are baffled by what men bother to plan for. I tell her I saw him again, weeks later, hanging around my favourite painting in The National Gallery. We laugh at the possibility that he’d been there all day. Maybe other days. I tell her what I was wearing. She nods slowly as she recalls the dress, brings her fingers to her mouth for a chef’s kiss. I tell her his flat was higher up than I expected, which was annoying because it meant running down dozens of flights of stairs. She does not interrupt me at this point because she knows where the story is headed. She winces when I tell her how he ripped my underwear off me by pulling them forcefully upwards. Amongst other things. It feels good to give her the details. I tell her how I walked home in the pissing rain, went past two separate karaoke bars where I could hear people murdering Hopelessly Devoted to You. How just before I got home, a man almost hit me with his car and then blew me a kiss. I tell her about this guy posting my underwear back to me a week later, and I’m crying in her arms before we can begin to discuss what a gesture as bold as that could possibly even mean.

About the Author

Emily Harrison is a poet and fiction writer based in London. Her poetry collection I Can’t Sleep ’cause My Bed’s On Fire is published with Burning Eye Books. She lives and teaches in Hackney.

share by email

Stephanie Carty June 2020 Commended

The Price of Gingerbread

by Stephanie Carty

My brother Hansel went missing. Father frowned into whisky. His wife rubbed kohl down her cheeks before posting selfies on Facebook.

Hansel said he’d spied a shack with walls made from bottles of cherry vodka in the marshlands. He liked to get high on hope. He’d have made a great spaniel, yapping about on the daily walk as if it might be different one time, as if paths weren’t already mapped out to always end in the same place.

But a twin is only a twin with a twin.

Through the squelch of mud, I tracked his route. The shack was set back in some trees. Columns of cigarette packets created beams to hold the structure upright. I could have sprinkled those white sticks along the path I’d walked but what was the point when nobody would search for us? Glass bottles arched across the roof. Leeching out of the place was a scent far heavier than father’s shirts, woody and dark. I sniffed until the sky spun.

Lights blinked around the door in green and red. I dug my fingers into a crevice to ease out a mobile phone but didn’t know the passcode.

After that, it’s hazy. Hansel and I were back together yet hardly there at all. There were fiery drinks poured straight from the rafters, sherbet to rub on our gums, pastilles that turned day to night. We giggled like the toddlers we’d been before father’s eyes were glazed by grief.

We’re not alone here but let’s not spoil the tale. Let’s not sour the sweet with flashbacks. None of it matters: the strangers, the pressing, the pain. We have the house and the house has us.

My brother reaches out to squeeze my hand. Then we turn to the walls and gorge ourselves.

About the Author

Stephanie Carty is a writer, trainer and NHS consultant clinical psychologist in Staffordshire, UK. Her debut novella Three Sisters of Stone was published May 2018 with Ellipsis Zine and won Best Novella in the Saboteur Awards 2019. Her fiction has been shortlisted for the Bristol Short Story Award, Aesthetica Creative Writing Award and the Bridport Prize. She was a winner in Bath Flash Fiction Award, June, 2019. She writes psychological thrillers and is represented by Sheila Crowley at Curtis Brown.

share by email

Sharon Telfer February 2020 First Prize

Eight spare bullets

by Sharon Telfer

1
The front windows refuse to shut. The house droops, as after a stroke.
They drink in the kitchen. Under the slanting floor, they catch the trickle of thaw.

2
Everything here is the northernmost. Town, church, store, pub. The last.
She replays her field recording, bowhead whales, all booming fuzz and feedback.
“Harmonics!” Erik applauds. “That’s freeform jazz.”
The last blues festival.

3
He softens in her mouth. It’s okay, she whispers, though it’s not. She’ll be gone six weeks.
From the boat, she had watched an iceberg tumble, head over heels, like a clumsy toddler. Not playing, but dying.
Erik kisses her, has to go. Husky safari, tomorrow’s fresh batch of tourists.
He kisses his dogs too. Erik loves his dogs.

4
Everything slides. The wooden stilts sink beneath the houses. A landslip buries the play park. The ground heaves the dead from their graves, sends coffins tobogganing down the road.
She wakes. Remembers. Not a dream. Last summer.

5
Her breath freezes in her nostrils.
Reindeer antlers heap by the roadside. They gleam in her torchlight, like bleached coral.

6
Time loses its way in the permanent dark. The once-white mountain looms black. Deep below, one million seeds – a world’s worth – lie buried. They called it the doomsday vault, fast as a dragon’s hoard. Nine years after opening, meltwater has already flooded in.

7
Beware of polar bears.
A mother and cubs wandered down this street, past the last post office, the last chocolaterie.
If you leave town, you must take a gun and eight spare bullets.

8
The plane spins her back into sunrise.
She thumbs up a clip. Erik dancing with his dogs, a circling, shuffling waltz.
At the northernmost, there are more polar bears than people. If you meet a bear, pull back quietly.

About the Author

Sharon Telfer won the Bath Flash Fiction Award in June 2016 with her story, ‘Terra Incognita’, and was commended in the February 2019 round. She has also won the Reflex Flash Fiction Prize (June 2018). Her stories were selected for the 2019 ‘BIFFY50’ and Best Microfiction 2019. She lives near York and was the New Writing North/Word Factory Northern Short Story Apprentice in 2018. She is an editor at FlashBack Fiction. She tweets @sharontelfer.

share by email

Simon Cowdroy February 2020 Second Prize

The Dissolution Of Peter McCaffrey

by Simon Cowdroy

Heat-ravaged rivets explode off the corrugated iron roof of our milking shed like corks from shaken champagne bottles.

A long drought wind scalds in from the north and the thermometer leaves 50 behind as pitiless gusts scour every nook of the farm. No easy pickings to be found; all that could be taken is long gone.

Dad wasn’t a man you made a promise to lightly, his plea for me to stay burdened with the heft of eight generations. I crane my neck, spot his cross, remember the soil being so unyielding we used up all our dynamite. Not enough time or faith left over for funerals, so his pension cheque still ghosts in.

I lost Annie to the highway a week back. No goodbyes, only the midnight creak of our front door, the bloom of liberated fuel as her car engine fired.

Well rid of her two-faced grace, the lies that fell from those blue eyes as acid rain, but I can’t seem to shake that afternoon before she left. The brutal whisper of, ‘Pete, we’re in this together’, as my tired, fractured head folded into her shoulder.

Joe at the Co-Op rings. The water tankers aren’t coming. He chews my ear about it being the start of Australia’s climate change but sure feels to me like we’re already at the end of everything.

Three hundred cattle are all that remain and I’ve enough feed to get half through next week. The cull is almost a familiar dance now. I never remember grabbing my gun; never forget to keep a bullet in the chamber after it’s done.

I’m not a brave man, and if soft bovine eyes ever boiled over in accusation it would unbind me. Turns out, their gratitude is what keeps me awake.

About the Author

Simon lives as part of a dog dominated family in the Yarra Valley near Melbourne, Australia. He returned to fiction in 2017 after a long absence and in 2018 two of his initial pieces of Flash Fiction were published in Bath Anthology Three (one of which was commended).In 2019 he joined @VirtualZine as editor/reader and can also be found tweeting away at @virtwriting (#VWG).
His first crime novel,Cut of a Knife, was a Pitch Perfect finalist at Bloody Scotland in 2018. Described by a reviewer as ‘Dark, disturbing but startlingly humane’ this novel is currently out in the world looking for a home. His hobbies include writing, reading, the art of Caravaggio, lifting heavy objects and awful puns.

share by email

Christina Dalcher February 2020 Third Prize

Dressage

by Christina Dalcher

And she rides.

She prances the beast sideways, backwards, up, down, feet in the air, falling, balancing, tumbling, perfect circles carved on the red dirt of Spain. Ten years, twelve years, fourteen. Fly a thousand miles from home. Fly south, jump left, skip right. One, two, three. Uno, dos, tres. Één, twee, drie.

And they watch.

Pay your thirty euros; see the Andalusian horses dance. Piaffe, pirouette, travers. Impossible, unnatural gymnastics. Watch the braids in their manes and the flowers in their tails. Watch the girl, ten years, twelve years, fourteen. Watch her fly one last time.

And he bucks.

You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him dance. Because a beast is a beast, mare or stallion, Arabian or Andalusian. To its ears, Ravel and Offenbach and Sousa make noise, not music. Once a day, twice on Thursday, thunderclap roars of olé-bravo-jolly good show. So tired. Weary of spurs and bits and reins and weight.

And she breaks.

She breaks in the middle and at the ends, bones flattening, nerves singing. She breaks sideways and backwards, young flesh sinking into old earth. She dreams a dream of gold, silver, bronze. She wakes.

And they gasp.

Pobrecita-poor dear-die arme-shame-tragedia-so young. Dangerous beast-willful-cattivo-too green. Mobiles ping as news travels. This is Thursday. Next show at three o’clock.

And she mends.

At the sea, she sits, legs bound in plaster, braids in her hair. She sees the wild ponies lope and trot and gallop. Sees their manes free of flowers, sees their legs naked of wraps. Riderless, they fly to the rhythm of wind and waves, When they come to nuzzle her wounds, she wonders, Who is the trainer, and who is the trainee?

About the Author


Christina Dalcher is a linguist, novelist, and flash fiction addict from Somewhere in the American South. She is also the sole matriculant in the Read Every Word by Stephen King MFA program (which she invented). Find her sometimes-prize-winning work in The Molotov Cocktail, Whiskey Paper, and New South Journal, among others. If you’re looking for Christina, she might be here: @CVDalcher, www.christinadalcher.com, or hiding in a closet re-reading a tattered copy of The Shining. Also, she made a book called VOX and another one called Q (Master Class in the US).

share by email

Remi Skytterstad February 2020 Commended

[No Audible Dialogue]

by Remi Skytterstad

The commotion and clamour of the airport is deafening. We are turned to lip-readers by the pack of people and their cacophonic humming composed and orchestrated by a medley of goodbyes / stay safes / I love yous.

Like a ray of sunshine through a patchy carpet of clouds, is our attention drawn to a child / boy / son. The crowd of the airport manoeuvring around him—a crop circle of bodies—in unobtrusive / comfortable / safe distances.

The child is fighting tears. His bottom-lip quivers, and it’s apparent he’s trying to be brave / strong / a big boy.

He is embraced by a man / soldier / father. Together they ripple like a wave when he breathes in his son’s hair, to treasure / remember / survive. And for a moment time slows inside their circle. The crowds bend past them like light around a black hole—a time lapse of bodies, around their sculpturesque scene. The quivering lips—now still—are stretched from cheek to cheek, in a frozen, soundless cry, revealing gritted milky teeth.

Like this we watch them, as the crowds pour and murmur around them, like a river around an islet.

A woman breaks their event horizon, and the boy and the man come alive again.

The son is nodding to the movement of the father’s lips. He straightens his back and wipes away the tears that forced themselves through—his skin darkened in their wake. He moves his mouth in whys / do you have tos / please don’ts.

When the man / soldier stands, he leaves—like the shed skin of a snake—the father around the neck of the son. A translucent outline of a man, only hinting at who used to hold the boy.

The boy is embraced by a woman / mother / widow.

About the Author

Remi Skytterstad is from Norway where he studies educational science. He writes in English as a second language. He is currently in recent issues of Barren Magazine, Flashback Fiction, and Lunate. Find him on Twitter @Skytterstad.

share by email

Claire Powell February 2020 Commended

Valentine

by Claire Powell

The man steps out of his car. Tomasz remains where he is, both hands on the wheel, as though still moving.

It’s black outside, but they’ve stopped on the high street, beneath a yellow lamp. There’s a McDonald’s on the corner, brightly lit, open.

Moments earlier, while pulling out, something had caught Tomasz’s eye: a gift shop filled with teddy bears and glossy heart-shaped balloons. It seemed surreal at first, but now he realises, of course: Valentine’s Day.

The man bends down, picks up his wing mirror.

Tomasz remembers the card Lena once made him. A photo of them in bed, their faces close, pretending to sleep. Stupid really – he’d taken it himself. Had held his arm up high, touched his thumb to the button, closed his eyes before it flashed. To the man of my dreams, she’d written inside. Had he given one to her?

The man opens his boot, removes some kind of tool. Get out, he’s shouting. At least, that’s what Tomasz assumes he’s shouting. He can’t actually hear since – somehow – the radio volume has increased. ‘Lady in Red’ plays out loud.

Tomasz’s hands remain on the steering wheel. How strange. To be thinking of Lena in a moment like this. How surreal. He pictures her inthe crimson bridesmaid dress she wore for her sister’s wedding. She hated that dress, said it made her look like a heavy period.

The man pulls at the handle of Tomasz’s door.

A heavy period! Tomasz was disgusted at the time. He didn’t disagree or tell her she looked good.

The man bangs Tomasz’s window. First with his fist, then with the tool.

He didn’t tell her she looked good, though now he sees she was beautiful.

Glass shatters into Tomasz’s lap. How strange it looks. Surreal. Almost like confetti.

About the Author

Claire Powell is a freelance writer from London. She has an MA in creative writing from the University of East Anglia where she was awarded the Malcolm Bradbury Memorial Bursary and the Malcolm Bradbury Continuation prize. Her short stories have been broadcast on BBC Radio 4, and published in The Manchester Review and The Standard Hotel Short Story Compendium. In 2017 she won the Harper’s Bazaar short story contest. She’s currently working on a collection.
www.clairemeganpowell.com

share by email