Winners

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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Hilary Dean June 2019 Commended

Arts & Crafts

by Hilary Dean

Before I was allowed back into Group, I had to apologize to Carl and sign a form that listed all of my personality defects. The form said the whole thing had been my fault. That I had acted out with no provocation and that I was a danger to myself and/or others.

Now I’m here again in Arts & Crafts with everyone and it’s only slightly less boring than where I was yesterday, On Watch in the white room staring at the wall for what turned out to be three days. I couldn’t guess time inside it. One very long second or the shortest forever.

Carl is walking around supervising us. Why don’t you try origami, Jocelyn? Anyone can do that.

Keizo is rolling clay snakes. Flora is needle-pointing. We’re all talking about what we’re going to eat when it’s time to eat food. Michael just asked me what he had for breakfast. The ECT makes him forgetful but I said, Guess, and he guessed right. It made him smile to remember but maybe he just still had the taste in his mouth.

I don’t get why Flora is allowed to have needles but I can’t use a pen. The rules here don’t make sense. It’s so stupid, I could still stab myself with this pencil, plus get lead poisoning too.

Carl just came over and scolded me. I thought we agreed that too much writing isn’t healthy for you, Jocelyn. It’s Arts and Crafts time, not writing time. I just ignored him. I’m talking to you, Jocelyn.

I looked up at him for a second over my notebook. I pointed to the table between us, covered in a sea of white origami swans. Scattered across the surface like they’d been shot down from the sky.

About the Author

Hilary Dean was the winner of CBC’s Canada Writes award in 2012, and has won EVENT Magazine’s Non-Fiction contest twice. Her work has been named as a Notable Essay in Best American Essays 2015, received the 2016 Lascaux Prize in Fiction, appeared in This Magazine, Matrix, The HG Wells Anthology, and shortlisted for the Journey and Commonwealth Prizes. Dean’s recent film, So You’re Going Crazy… currently airs on CBC’s Documentary Channel and is utilized in healthcare curricula across North America.
www.hilarydean.ca

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Tim Craig June 2019 Commended

The Falling Silent

by Tim Craig

My mother gave me the small pots and pans, while she took the large ones, and together we went outside to kill the birds.

When we got down to the street, most of our neighbours were already there, gathered under the trees and the lampposts. I saw Mei Zhen — the girl from down the hall — carrying a colander and a ladle. I waved to her, but she turned away.

At the given signal from the loudspeakers, everyone began banging their pans together. Across the city, the sky filled with the noise.

My arms began to tire, but each time I slowed, my mother nudged me to redouble my efforts. I looked up at her and saw the determined expression on her face and the patches of damp on her blue headscarf.

Soon the exhausted starlings began to fall from the sky. Some were dead before they reached the ground, some died at our feet, in the gutters, in the grass in front of the apartment block.

Finally, when I thought my arms could take no more, the loudspeakers gave the signal for the noisemaking to stop.

It came like a great sigh, or the tide sucking back across the pebbles. The silence that followed was even greater than the simple absence of sound, for all the music had been removed from it.

We all went back inside to fetch brooms, with which we set about sweeping the birds into piles by the roadway. The municipal hygiene teams would collect them later in their familiar yellow trucks.

Afterwards, I asked my mother if I could go and play with Mei Zhen, but she told me I needed to help her prepare the dinner. Life isn’t all about having fun, she said, banging the pots down on the stove.

About the Author

Originally from Manchester, Tim Craig now lives in Hackney in London. In 2018 he placed third in the Bath Flash Fiction Award and also won the Bridport Prize for Flash Fiction. His story ‘Northern Lights’ was included in Best Microfiction 2019.

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Novella-in-Flash 2019 Winners

Read about our winners and highly commended writers and go to our judge Michael Loveday's report to see his comments on their wonderful novellas-in-flash. All six novellas-in-flash will be published in separate single author books by our small press, Ad Hoc Fiction and will be available to buy in paperback on the Ad Hoc Fiction bookshop and in ebook formats on Kindle and Nook in due course. We are thrilled to publish such a brilliant variety flash fiction novellas by these authors and to further support a form of flash fiction growing so much in popularity worldwide.
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Winner, Ellie Walsh, with Birds with Horse Hearts. Ellie is a PhD student at the University of Plymouth, where her research focuses on Nepalese feminist literature. She has short stories and poetry published in UK, Canadian and Indian journals, and her play was produced in London. Ellie spends much of her time in Chitwan, Nepal, where the villagers teach her how to farm rice and often tell her to lighten up. Read in Full

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Christina Dalcher
February 2019 First Prize

Candy Girls

by Christina Dalcher

No Jews, no negroes, no single women after six. You can break all three rules if you hawk cohibas and candy from a tray strapped to your neck, so that’s how Miriam and I earn a buck. She became Marie. I bleached my skin. Doesn’t matter—at the Stork Club, men only measure your legs or peer down cleavage avenue while the wives powder their noses. They look harder when the wives stay home.

In our room, heavy trays and shoes kicked aside, we lie head-to-toe on a bed built for one. “Hurt, baby?” Miriam asks, rubbing the spot where too-tight heels made their evening marks.

Tuesday was our third time, and I’m leaving out recognizable names. You’ve seen them as giants on silver screens; later, they'll shine on black-and-white sets, small as they really are. Only Miriam and I see the parts hidden under tuxedos and fedoras. We smell their breath—champagne-syrupy, gin-sharp. We feel their bodies stiffen and slacken before tales are told at ashtray-littered tables. You don’t know them like we do.

They’ll talk about our bell-shaped skirts and our smooth skin that, in dark rooms, tastes like girl—not Jewish girl, not colored girl. They’ll whisper about how my fingers find Miriam’s and we hold hands in the during and in the after. They’ll laugh.

Alone, we tell each other different tales:

Only a few more.

The money helps.

We’ll be fine.

And we tell each other truths that rhyme with I love you.

“Hurt, baby?” she says, kissing me everywhere, peeling the stockings off my legs, letting them fall in a puddle of fishnet on the bare floor.

“Not anymore,” I lie.

Then Miriam rubs the sore spots, even the ones she can’t reach.

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.
Photo credit: Laurens Arenas

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Fiona J Mackintosh
February 2019 Second Prize

Snow Falling Upwards

by Fiona J Mackintosh

Meteorology man, you called me when you first learned of my weakness for weather. My love for fire rainbows and sun dogs. For lake effect snow and katabatic winds.

“Weather is mood, and climate is personality,” I’d tell you as you tugged the shirt from my waistband. “As for snow falling upwards, it’s just a trick of the wind and the eye. Gravity will always make it fall.”

There’s a photograph of you lying on our seagrass rug, listening to Satie’s Gymnopédies, a sunbeam striped across your waist. You did bliss very well. In our thousand days together, you’d always listen like you were hearing music, even when it was just my voice, full of unnecessary language.

Over the years, I thought of our lives as railroad tracks, moving forward side by side but never touching. Sometimes I could taste the want of you, but then I’d think about sleeping dogs and Pandora’s box. Instead, I stalked the high latitudes for the greening pulse of the auroras, my wife holding the receiver to catch their eerie sighs and whistles. When she died, I said, “Soon,” but first there was the paperwork, a sorting through, and the four stages, a long tunnel with damp and crumbling walls. Only then did I send the letter drafted long ago, folded into clean, white thirds.

This is what I do, I wait too long. I’d imagined you in a wooden house in the mountains with a great lake spreading out from your door, but now I know there’s not a single place on earth I’d find your footprint. I only hope the spheres are making music where you are. Here, there’s nothing but a goitered winter moon and the slow drag of an ice circle turning in the dark.

About the Author

Fiona J. Mackintosh is a Scottish-American writer who lives near Washington D.C. with her husband and flies back and forward between her two countries at least twice a year. In 2018, she won the Fish Flash Fiction Prize, the NFFD Micro Competition, the October Bath Flash Award, and Reflex Fiction. Two of her flashes were selected to appear in the Best Microfiction 2019 anthology. In her non-writing life, she is a freelance editor for the World Bank. You can find her at www.fionajmackintosh.com.

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Lavanya Vasudevan
February 2019 Third Prize

Sunday Crossword: These Three-Sided Polygons Trap Lovers (9 Letters)

by Lavanya Vasudevan

La, sirs, do you grin at my tales, do you think that I con, that I lie? Then let me tell you of this tangle, sir. Time must untie it, not I.

My beau, my swain, my love last night, he’s grinning in high cotton. He brings me to this crumbling inn, and right away I smell something rotten. “’Tis the last day of the last reign of the Tsar El Gin,” he says, “though his court is the largest in the land.” I nod and tap my nose; it’s a game we’ve played before. But this time, he’s having too much fun, and I wink and nod because I understand. The serving wench, she lingers at our table and wipes it with a tinsel rag. Her ears glint with stolen gold, a sterling ring I ken that I once had. I sit and smile and stand and sit, and now my anger’s lit. So, I pour him a drink, all neat and nice, and another, and another, and in a trice, he’s snoring and reeking of gin, staler than yesterday’s rice. Now, I say again: I’m no liar, gents, I ain’t like those cheating rats. They steal my ring, he two-times me, I strangle him, and that’s that.

Darling Tsar, pour me another, will ya? My heart’s broke, and it’s a real sting.

About the Author

Lavanya Vasudevan was born in a large city in South India that has since renamed itself. She is a recovering software engineer who lives near Seattle, Washington and reviews children’s books for Kirkus. Her short fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Jellyfish Review, Lost Balloon, Pidgeonholes, and elsewhere. Find her on Twitter @vanyala.

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Sharon Telfer
February 2019 Commended

Her safe word is ‘circus’

by Sharon Telfer

But that’s before trombone blares clarinet reedy squeaks bass drum thrums and clowns slick her lips oversize scarlet her nose glows holly berry and what’s with her feet seee them streeeetch still everyone knows clowns are scary right so here’s that word slipping through kiss-stopped smack by whiskery sea-lion bark the candystripe ball bouncing to and fro to and fro never dropping dipping into silver-slippery fish pail dipping for silver-glistening prize then whipcrack reels her back a necklace of teeth cradles her throat her head deep in a red raw meat furnace blazing and this must be it now must be no leopard-skin strongman diabolos her up on dappled appaloosa thumpety thump splayed arms she’s tread tread treading thighs to that pounding rump round and round that very second as she’s giddy-sliding her teeth bite, hard, and up she rises in glitterball twirl hanging on nothing but a smile while her toes find a line a fine one and sole by sole she chalks forward her body eeling this way that held up by held breath only and there it is the board she’s going to make it don’t look down the great O below her she looks down her arms wing back legs like clappers ringing a five-bell peal but firm fingers snatch her tipping ankles wrists spin her spirals loops somersaults ‘til hands release a great gasp gusts from under and she’s comet tailing sequins falling no net falling yet here come the clowns again sirenning in hosing glitter while wheels fall off circling like a flower blooming and she lands on her back like a starfish safe at last in the bull’s-eye of the pulled white sheet.

About the Author

After cutting her teeth on Ad Hoc Fiction, Sharon Telfer won the Bath Flash Fiction Award in June 2016. She has also won the Reflex Fiction Prize, and been selected for Best Microfiction 2019. In 2018, she was awarded the New Writing North/Word Factory Apprenticeship for emerging short story writers. She is an editor at FlashBack Fiction, an online litmag showcasing historical flash. She lives near York, UK, and tweets as @sharontelfer.

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