Winners

Fiona J. Mackintosh
October 2018 First Prize

Siren

by Fiona J. Mackintosh

In the wet slap of the haar, the lassies slit the herring mouth to tail and pack them into briny barrels. I see her head move among the rest, brown curls escaping from her shawl. She has the juice of silver fishes in her veins - it’s in the raised blue of her wrists, her raw fingers, in the taste of oysters when I lick her down below, her skirt canted up and knees apart.

They say despair can be a man’s making, but that’s not how it feels to me. I give her everything I have - primrose plants, stockings, greenhouse fruits – and everything I am, a stiff-collared man behind a counter at the bank. She says my palms smell of money and loves their smoothness on her skin, but then she sees the brown sails coming, the lads home from the draves, swaggering in their thigh-high boots. She rests her elbows on the bar, pink mouth open, as this one tells of breaching humpbacks and that one tells of waves the height of mountains. I loathe their muckled arms and sunburnt faces and wish them at the bottom of the sea.

She knows the only times I venture out are on the calmest days, sometimes to cast a line and once a year to watch the puffins hatch. It’s not an epic life, not one likely to inspire the poets. But when the Reaper goes down with all hands lost, it’s my door she comes to and cleaves herself to me from head to heel. She says, “I need a man who willnae leave me wantin’.” Afterwards, cross-legged on the bed, she hangs a pair of cherries over her ear and, giddy with my unexpected luck, I take them in my mouth, stones and all.

About the Author

Fiona J. Mackintosh is a Scottish-American writer living near Washington D.C. whose fiction has been published on both sides of the Atlantic. In 2018, she has won the Fish Flash Fiction Prize, the NFFD Micro Competition, and the Bath Flash Award and was runner-up in Reflex Fiction’s summer contest and Retreat West’s quarterly themed competition. Her flashes have been nominated for The Best Small Fictions and Best Microfiction, and her short stories have been listed for the Bristol, Galley Beggar, and Exeter Short Story Prizes. She was honored to receive a Maryland State Arts Council Individual Artist’s Award in 2016.

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Zahid Gamieldien
October 2018 Second Prize

The Coast

by Zahid Gamieldien

Bita, drenched, shaking—her bones are shortbreads soaked in mother’s milk, her knuckles white, red, gripping, numb. She’s crouched against the gunwale of a boat that’s not much more than a skiff.

A wave whumps her crown, skittles those on deck. Recovering, they shuffle crab-like in their orange vests and latch onto whatever they can.

Brine is in her eyes. She can't tell what comes from her and what from the ocean, and she's forgotten about the child. But he's there, in a pink life vest, chapped lips near her belly, too old to be wet-nursed.

Three weeks ago, she was nursing her own baby when a soldier with a port-wine stain on his brow snatched him from her nipple. Spiked him headlong into the ground. Bita’s scream curdled in her throat.

Her chest still heavy with unsuckled grief, she hears the child whimper. For an instant, she can see the coast. Then she can't. The sea climbs, forms a snow-globe around them. They're encased—a fossilized moment.

Now she's under; everyone's under. In her ears, a roar, the memory of shelling. Around her, tumbling limbs, snatches of color, costumes of skin.

Motes of air drift upward. Twisting, trying to follow, she feels a hand snatch at her ankle. She kicks, kicks, kicks, connects with a face, and she glides, seeking the surface.

It doesn't arrive. Seawater slushes down her gullet. Suddenly there's wind cutting up her trachea. She wheezes and her lungs expand.

In the distance, a shock of pink. Her arms flail, shovel water, will her toward it. When she reaches it, it's just the child's life vest, empty. She holds it to her cheek. The tide ebbs and swells, hoists her toward the sky.

Beyond the tumult, she can finally see the coast for what it is.

About the Author

Zahid Gamieldien is an Australian author, screenwriter and editor. You can find him at zahidgamieldien.com.

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Emma Neale
October 2018 Third Prize

The Local Pool

by Emma Neale

Turn a corner, into air tangy with chlorine. The smell removes memory’s stopper and an anxious genie swims out. What about the turquoise of a small town pool? What about concrete, dark with Rorschach marks that wet bodies left behind after boys egged on and watched?

Police, phoned by a passerby: the next day, when their own girls cried, ‘See ya!’ over pop-radio falsetto, did the cops saloon-door from their bathrooms, half-Santaed with soap, then gruff up quick hugs, foam-chins hooked over their daughters’ shoulders, to hide fuel-lines of dread in their eyes?

The mothers of the pool-girl’s friends: did they slash open packets, shove cupboards shut, slam on about hemlines, and torn black tights peep-showing lucky pennies of skin, because grown women can’t just wish-link pinkies, to ward off a suburb’s sons?

The girl’s friends, asked by social workers to tell when she skipped classes, because she had to get back on track, mustn’t let one summer dusk haunt her with that boy crisping her open, peeling her back like the winding-key on a tin of imported sweets — did those friends stop reporting because tears skirred free as she begged please don’t? Or because they learned she’d agreed to meet the boy again, at a bus shelter’s cold bunker, and the red folded mystery of how a wound could drag her back to its own start was too confusing? As disorienting as the acrid smoke they heard about later, when a schoolbag, schoolbooks, stockings, wasp-striped school tie, were soaked in art-room turps and set alight, as

a girl prayed for flames to leap a pine plantation’s firebreak, hive for the new subdivision and one blue house, its yard junked with bikes and a boy’s outgrown clobber, slung into trash bags slumped limp as drunks.

About the Author

Emma Neale’s most recent novel, Billy Bird (2016) was short-listed in the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards and long-listed for the International Dublin Literary Award 2018. A new poetry collection, To the Occupant, is due out from Otago University Press in 2019. She lives in Dunedin with her husband and their two children, and is the current editor of Landfall, Aotearoa-New Zealand’s longest-running journal of arts and letters.

photo credit © Jim Tannock

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Simon Cowdroy
October 2018 Commended

Particularly Complicated When The Snakes Show Up

by Simon Cowdroy

The mice slow them down.

During dry spells, I never spot the tiger or brown snakes as they slide away, slaloming through the sinewy grass of the paddock, keen to see the back of me.

Give us heavy spring rains, like this year, and the mice arrive in torrents, a scratching, squeaking, stinking tsunami. For the snakes, a bumper crop mercilessly devoured into increasingly torpid, bulging sheaths.

“Watch yourself.” Mum warns.

Dad finishes the arvo shift at three, gets home by quarter-past, a handful of workmates in disorderly tow.

At five, Benny, who is slurring the least, lights the barbie.

“Red-headed idiot using a Redhead match.” Dad says, and everyone laughs like they hadn’t heard it yesterday.

I’m on the shuttle run, beer fridge to back-yard, so I keep my boots on, the ground littered with discarded bottle tops, serrated edges that bite into your feet like fangs.

The charcoal infused choke of recently incinerated meat slides away on the breeze along with their mood. They sit in silence, half-drunk stubbies gripped in coal mine calloused hands, Dad with his head down so you can’t see the scales slide across his eyes, the flick of his tongue.

The brooding lingers until they call it a day and drift home.

Cleaning up means I don’t have to go inside, not be around when it kicks off. If mum says nothing the bruises won’t show and she can walk us to school tomorrow. My sister hides in her room, fearing: the knock, the cruelly gentle first touch, the venom that hardens her heart.

I load the empties into the bin and the clatter almost drowns out the first slap.

Still only dusk, so I jump the fence and head for the paddock, not caring where I put my feet.

About the Author

Simon lives as part of a dog dominated family in the Yarra Valley near Melbourne, Australia. He returned to fiction writing in 2017 after a long absence, and in the past year his work has been short listed (Tarbert Festival Oct 2017) and long listed (Bath FF June 2018). In addition his in-progress novel was one of seven finalists in the Pitch Perfect competition at Bloody Scotland Crime Festival 2018. His hobbies include writing, reading, lifting heavy objects and making awful puns.

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Rosie Garland
October 2018 Commended

How can a woman sleep when the Master is in pain?

by Rosie Garland

In her room beneath the eaves, she listens. Laughter twists up the screw of the back stairs. The Master struggles to be heard above his wife’s shrill squeal. She knows how men are trapped in marriages; how women entice and steal what is not theirs.

Her cheek beats a heavy pulse against the Master’s bedroom door. She stretches the small hours with the pricking of her blood into the Master’s shirt cuffs. She unpicks the seams of the Mistress’s gowns, sews them a shade tighter. Slides a curtain ring along her finger.

The Mistress writes. It is poetry, says Mistress, although no question was asked. She heats the tongs; curls Mistress’s hair, peers at the dapple of ink on paper. She does not need the skill of letters to know the telltale shape of lies about the Master. All that twittering of the quill, when all a woman needs to do is spread her arms and cry, God. Yes.

She will show him. She will mend his prisoned heart. Will keep her eyes down and never laugh unless he draws it from her as a man persuades a shy beast to his outstretched hand.

When he is away, for men must go in order to return, the house-bones creak. At night, she sifts sugar into the ruts between the boards, loosens stair-rods, rubs the banisters with buttered paper, peels back the rug and polishes the floor. The half-hour before dawn finds her sharpening knives. She breakfasts on oats and water; doesn’t hold with honey, milk, things that distract the tongue’s attention. On the driveway beneath the yews, the crackle of rooks.

About the Author

photo credit Rachel Saunders

Rosie Garland is an award-winning writer of fiction and poetry, and sings with post-punk band The March Violets. With a passion for language nurtured by public libraries, her work has appeared in Under The Radar, Bare Fiction, The North, New Welsh Review, Rialto & elsewhere.

In 2012, she won the Inaugural Mslexia Novel Competition. Published as The Palace of Curiosities, it was nominated for both The Desmond Elliott and the Polari First Book Prize. Vixen was a Green Carnation Prize nominee. Her latest novel The Night Brother was reviewed in The Times as “a delight: playful and exuberant.” Find her at www.rosiegarland.com

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KM Elkes
June 2018 First Prize

Extremities

by KM Elkes

The way Bobby told it, one minute he was working the chainsaw and the next he was on the forest floor, wondering why there was nothing on the end of his arm.

The rest of the crew reckoned his hand got spun into a ravine. Nobody wanted to waste time searching while Bobby bled out. Logging accidents happen all the time - there’s extremities all over those woods.

When he got out of hospital, they gave him a party. I found Bobby outside, smoking a cigarette with his wrong hand. I’d brought him towels, stolen from the hotel in town where I have a summer job.

“Can I see?” I asked.

Bobby slid off the mitten they had given him to keep the stump clean. The end was puckered with stitches like sewn up lips. The skin flap they had stretched over had little hairs growing out.

“How’s it feel?” I said.

“My ghost fingers hurt at night,” he said.

“They say you get used to it.” I had no idea if that was true.

Bobby shook his head. “Funniest thing, right after it happened, it started raining. That sound, man. I thought it was people clapping. For me.”

I left the party early. I had to be at the hotel before my boss arrived - she’s a failed ballerina and bitter about it. I stay on her good side so she doesn’t find out about the towels or the cutlery or all the other things I’ve stolen. That job is my ticket out of these trees.

When I went, I saw Bobby alone again, holding out his stump up like he expected something to grow from it. I didn’t feel bad for him. I just felt sorry for the other hand, out in those woods, fingers curled, grasping at nothing.

About the Author

KM Elkes is an award-winning short fiction writer and editor from the West Country, UK. His flash fiction successes include winning the Fish Publishing Flash prize and the Triskele Books prize as well as winning or being placed in a number of international competitions, including the Bridport prize. His work has been broadcast on BBC Radio and appeared in more than 20 anthologies as well as many literary journals and e-zines. His short fiction has also featured on the school curriculum in the USA and Hong Kong. He is a Best Small Fictions Nominee 2018 and is a co-editor of the A3 Review magazine. He has also been guest editor of Flash Frontier in New Zealand.

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Conor Houghton
June 2018 Second Prize

The Undertakers’ Jolly

by Conor Houghton

On the first weekend of every May, just as the whitethorn makes the hedgerows so beautiful that it is an agony to know you could never count every petal, all the undertakers in Limerick go on their annual trip. They don’t go far, usually Lahinch, once as far as Dingle. They get dressed up and have a big meal, with pints of Smithwicks and Guinness for the undertakers, wine spritzers and shandies for their wives.

The conversation starts with sports but quickly turns to their trade: the best makeup for dead skin, plastic undergarments to keep the burial clothes clean. With the peach melba, they share the stories, told as if they were funny, that are the real purpose of the trip. Some really are funny, take Paddy Sherry’s tale of the priest, the underground cinema and the red haired corpse: while few people actually like Paddy, all are happy to laugh. After that come the stories that no telling could make funny, the funerals of children, of whole families, of forgotten men. Finally they turn to death. “It comes to us all” Paddy would intone, his face wet and red.

This particular year, sick of her husband and his talk, Mary Sherry stepped out for some air. As the hotel door closed and she walked towards the water, she heard fiddle music from a pub, she heard the hiss and rattle of the ocean turning the one million times turned stones along the shore, she heard the silence. Far out in the moonlit water she saw a group of dolphins surface and dive, swimming north. She fancied she could hear, somewhere under the silence, the sound of their breath and she wished that when she died her body could be let sink, untended to, into that dark brine.

About the Author

Conor Houghton is a computational neuroscientist living in Bath, but originally from Galway. His fiction has appeared in the first Bath Flash Fiction Anthology, the 2017 National Flash Fiction Day Anthology, Bare Fiction Magazine and the Bristol Short Story Prize Anthology.

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Tim Craig
June 2018 Third Prize

Northern Lights

by Tim Craig

After an hour or so, I decided to ask him about the tooth.

It was dangling from the sun visor on a piece of cotton, and it had a gold filling that occasionally glinted as we passed under the lights.

The lorry driver reached up and flicked it with his fingernail, setting it dancing back and forth.

“It was my father’s,” he said.

Then he grinned.

“The only gold I ever got from him”.

Pavel turned to look at the road ahead, his expression serious once more. All three lanes were busy with traffic heading north for the weekend.

He was quiet for a moment or two, then he shrugged.

“He hit my mother, I hit him. He left. I never saw him again.”

“I was seventeen.”

He flashed the headlights to allow a Sainsbury’s lorry to pull back into the inside lane. The lorry moved across, then toggled its indicators in thanks.

“I found the tooth two days later. It had landed in a flowerpot and I thought I’d better take it with me in case another evil old bastard grew out of it.”

He smiled, and as he did so I noticed a sparkle of gold in his own mouth.

Neither of us said much more after that, and he dropped me off at the next services.

After he’d gone, I stood for a while on the motorway bridge, watching the trail of diamonds and rubies on the wet tarmac.

About the Author

A Mancunian washed up in London, Tim Craig writes fiction for a living. But in his day job he calls it ‘advertising’ (and it usually has a phone number at the end of it).

The only thing greater than his delight at being placed third in the Bath Flash Fiction Award was his shock. He loves reading and writing flash fiction because he has a very short attention sp...

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Ingrid Jendrzejewski
June 2018 Commended

Shadow Broth

by Ingrid Jendrzejewski

1 cup nothing / 1 tsp dust motes that fizz in unexpected light / dash of cobweb / memory, to taste. Weigh out the ingredients if you don’t have the right measures, spoon them from old canisters bought long ago at yard sales. Nobody will mind if you leave the crusts off or if the darkness fails to rise: dark is fine in small, dense portions. Nobody, in fact, is paying attention. When the oven fails to ignite, when the click-click-woosh of the hob is more of a tick-tick-tick-tick-tick-tick-tick, when the gas man won’t answer the phone and you’re all alone with the lights off too, that’s when you can really get cooking. Leave it for one of those evenings when you know better than to work alone, and then do it anyway. Leave it, leaven it, then pick it up and turn it over in your hands. It will feel like dough and smell like yeast, but yet, it will remind you of the time that you brought home nothing but dust from the supermarket, even though what you picked up from the shelves came in bright, bright packaging. They’ve turned off the gas, they may turn off the electricity too, but it’s okay to sing to it, and let it sing back to you. If you have flour, flour your workspace. If you have water, save it. If you have an egg, crack it and let it run through your fingers, cold in the warm air. Yield: none. This is your red wine, your five-a-day. This is what will keep you going until the morning comes, until you pay the bills, until the silverfish scatter. This is what will sustain you until you wash your spoons.

About the Author

Ingrid Jendrzejewski primarily writes flash fiction and shortform work, and has published over 100 pieces since she started submitting in 2014. She has won sixteen writing competitions (including the Bath Flash Fiction Award and AROHO’s Orlando Prize for Flash Fiction), judged five, and has placed or been shortlisted in around fifty more. She is currently editor-in-chief at FlashBack Fiction and a flash fiction editor at JMWW. You can find her online at ingridj.com and on Twitter @LunchOnTuesday.

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Amanda Huggins
June 2018 Commended

Strong, But Not Rough

by Amanda Huggins

If I was pretty like Laverne, then I’d go out with Rory Campbell. I’d hold his hand under the table, and it would feel warm and strong, but not rough. If I were tall and lithe like Laverne, I would see over the heads of the boys who think they’re clever and cool, and I’d notice the way Rory’s hair curls into his collar, the way his smile reaches all the way up to his eyes, and the way he stays quiet when the others fight.

When we leave the pub and pile into Robert’s car, Julie and Laverne slide across the boys’ knees, feet wedged into the seat backs, heads pressed against the vinyl roof. Laverne sits on Rory Campbell’s lap, and I squeeze in next to them. Laverne doesn’t talk to Rory, she leans forward between the seats and strokes Carl Broadbent’s neck, blowing her soft girl’s breath in his ear. Carl laughs in that stupid way of his, and Rory catches my eye, smiles as though we’re sharing an intimate joke.

If I was Laverne I’d be jealous that the world’s most beautiful boy was smiling at another girl. Especially when that girl is the dumpy one with mousy hair and a snub nose. And if I was Laverne, I’d notice when he reached along the back of the seat to rest his fingertips on the girl’s shoulder. Then I’d probably feel sick inside.

But I’m not Laverne, I’m Cathy Carnes, and I can feel Rory’s touch like so much fire as we race through the country lanes. My heart is beating louder than the music. When we hit the bank and the car flies through the air, I don’t even notice, because Rory Campbell is gripping my shoulder with fingers that are strong, but not rough.

About the Author

Amanda Huggins is the author of the flash fiction collection, Brightly Coloured Horses, published by Chapeltown, and the short story collection, Separated From the Sea, published by Retreat West Books.

Her work has also been widely published in anthologies and literary journals, as well as in national newspapers and magazines such as the Guardian, Telegraph, Wanderlust and Mslexia.

Her travel writing has won several prizes, including the BGTW New Travel Writer of the Year Award, and her short stories are regularly placed and listed in competitions, including Bare Fiction, Fish, InkTears, and Cinnamon Press.

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