Winners

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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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

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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 quiet 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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