Winners

Molia Dumbleton
February 2018 Third Prize

Why Shit Is Still Like This Around Here And Probably Always Will Be

by Molia Dumbleton

Joey says his crispest memory of his mom is that ticky-ticky click-click-click of high heels on linoleum in the mornings and the clatter of plastic dishes and bracelets and curse words in the sink and her insistence that he hug her low and fast before she put on her pantyhose Jesus c’mon hurry now be a good boy because they’re expensive and runs were always blamed on him Goddamnit Joey even when he didn’t touch her legs not at all and all his trucks were in the other room besides.

The sound of those wind chimes she hung on the front porch still gets to him now he swears they put him in some kinda mood real fast whenever some girl he’s trying to go home with has them outside her apartment when they get there For fuck’s sake chimes you gotta be kidding me rubbing his nose in the way her sweet smoky smell used to go out the door with her into the cold air and into that loud car of hers down the road and away again an entire heart’s lifetime tick-ticking away in his chest before Mrs. Lewin and her big smell would get there to find him alone truck-handed and gob-faced at the plastic glass of the storm front door.

About the Author

Molia Dumbleton’s work has been awarded the Seán Ó Faoláin Story Prize; Columbia Journal Winter Fiction Award; Dromineer Literary Festival Flash Fiction Prize; and Kelly Barnhill Micro-Fiction Prize. She has been a Finalist for the Glimmer Train Very Short Fiction Award; Indiana Review Half-K Contest; The Hemingway Society’s Hemingway Shorts Contest; and Iowa Short Fiction Award. She has also been a Peter Taylor Fellow at the Kenyon Review Writers’ Workshop and a Susannah McCorkle Scholar at the Sewanee Writers Conference. Her fiction and poetry have appeared in The Kenyon Review, New England Review, The Stinging Fly, and others. She currently teaches at DePaul University and is a reader for The Masters Review.

share by email

Tracey Slaughter
February 2018 Commended

Compact

by Tracey Slaughter

It’s a junkshop find that brings back the smell of them – a kind of sweetened pinky-beige topsoil my aunts would carry everywhere with them, gilded flip-open discs of powder, hard-caked, that still puffed traces over everything. A push-in metal tooth worked the clasp, then they’d unhinge it, anywhere they needed to, perched on a bus-seat, queueing at the cinema, blotting off steam and suds over the sink. Inside lived another face. A swipe of coating for the wrinkles and pitting, a swab of glamour for the sweat and the soot, and they’d dab and polish with their onion-skin hands, and re-emerge, their smiles resurfaced, to take themselves off to a matinee or square off their seats in the cafeteria for a good old session of sip, hiss and gossip. Friends met them there, equally floral and bloodyminded. But it took my aunts to preside. And I pick the bronze disc out of the litter of the shop, and I fiddle with the rust of its scalloped fastening, and a gust of them wafts out, the sound of them cackling, the squeak of their complicated undergarments, the musk of their costumes, all dancehall and armpit, the cumbersome tamped-down plenty of their blue-silk busts. Always jolly, until you crossed them. Thick as thieves, a formidable old-maid front, glossy and tough as they come. Mouths akin to fruit in their tropical acrylic, over a crooked assortment of teeth. Battlers. Hard-nuts. And I used to be able to see myself in the circle of light, when I rifled their handbags, I used to take a peek and think I could rub in their tint, could repaint myself robust, could frost my little face with a swish of their moxie, be brazen, bold-as-you-please. But I’ve disappeared in the mirror. It’s like dusting for fingerprints.

About the Author

Tracey Slaughter is a poet and short story writer from Cambridge, New Zealand. Her work has received numerous awards, including the international Bridport Prize (2014), shortlistings for the Manchester Prize in both Poetry (2014) and Fiction (2015), and two Katherine Mansfield Awards. Her latest work, the short story collection deleted scenes for lovers (Victoria University Press) was published to critical acclaim in 2016. She is currently putting the finishing touches to a poetry collection entitled ‘conventional weapons’. She teaches at the University of Waikato, where she edits the literary journal Mayhem.

share by email

Elisabeth Ingram Wallace
February 2018 Commended

Satin Nightwear for Women Irregular

by Elisabeth Ingram Wallace

The walk to the Allotment is wet and full of cats, taut muscled screams darting under cars. It’s clunky, carrying all the bulbs she hoarded in one plastic bag, a bin-liner, stretched to a thin translucent skin.

When I get to her plot, I plant them. Ten halogen, twenty-two bayonet, and thirty-seven screw bulbs.

The ground around me is worming, and when I walk away the earth shatters.

I take her two nightstand drawers full of polyester nightwear to the wasteland behind Lidl. Giant white French knickers, black slips, a blood red chemise.

The labels are cheap and Chinese and the brands don’t translate. ‘Queen Silky Unique’, ‘Satin Nightwear for Women Irregular.’

I squirt lighter fluid, drop a lit match. When I walk away the sky bites and coughs through me. I can taste the perfume burn, her tight satin cling.

Her cookbooks next; one-hundred and twenty-three.

One is handwritten.

Her life in cakes, pages clotted with butter, her fingerprints, still. Two sheets stick, crack open an echo; a Rorschach of coffee, spilt decades ago - cockroach, demon, shadows. Her face.

Next day, I walk past it, already displayed in the Oxfam window. 99 pence.

For three weeks, I walk home a different way.

I walk the long, wrong way home and think of another window, the one in the hospital. I opened it wide. “My wife is too hot,” I’d said to the nurse, “she needs air.”

But I needed air. I didn’t want to be alone in that room, with her last breath. I wanted it out.

I tell everyone. I am OK.

Burying her is easy.

It’s just filling a hole. Burning her up into sky, and walking away.

About the Author

Elisabeth Ingram Wallace lives in Glasgow, and is spending 2018 writing her first novel. Her flash fiction is published or upcoming in SmokeLong Quarterly, Atticus Review, Flash Frontier, and every Bath Flash Fiction Award anthology so far! She has a Scottish Book Trust ‘New Writers Award’, a Dewar Arts Award, and won ‘Writing the Future 2017’ with her sci-fi short story ‘Opsnizing Dad’. She studied English as a mature student at Oxford University, and has a Creative Writing M.Litt. with Distinction from the University of Glasgow. You can find her on Twitter @ingram_wallace

share by email

October 2017 Judge’s Report
David Swann

As a boy, I loved a story about a football player whose team had just won the FA Cup at Wembley Stadium. Sitting in the dressing room after the match, the player complained he'd lost a contact lens out on the pitch. One of his team-mates is supposed to have said, 'Well, this is our lucky day – why don't we go back out and find it?' According to the story, they did just that, and found the contact lens within moments!

I've never known whether the hunt for the lens ever happened, and I don't care – because the story's full of some weird ancient storytelling truth that I trust.

Now I often remember the tale when I'm entering writing competitions. The pitch at Wembley is vast, and success seems impossible.

Yet sometimes the luck is with us. Sometimes there's a glint in the grass.
Read in Full

share by email

Rose McDonagh
October 2017 First Prize

Pony

by Rose McDonagh

“Look,” Declan said.

Joanna moved to the living room window, from which she could see the back green, the bright square of it.

“Oh,” she said. Her pony was munching grass under the washing-line.

“Bloody hell,” Declan said, “Some nutcase has gone and got themselves a horse.”

“Looks like it,” she said.

“What were they thinking?”

The thing was she’d pitied it, all plastered in mud and roped to a lamp post.

“Maybe they didn’t think, maybe they just did it,” she said.

The pony walked under a low-slung bath towel. Its shadow created a cut-out shape. Declan heaved the window open and let in the gentle sound of teeth tearing grass. “Idiots. They’ll not be able to keep it.”

“How’d you know?”

“You can’t keep a feckin horse in a shared garden.”

“It’s more a pony,” she said.

Dinner smells and radio noise rose from the other flats.

“How did they even get it here?”

It had clopped along the pavement. Only once stopping to eat questionable flowers. “I don’t know,” she said. Its forlornness had spoken to her of vocation.

“They’re expensive,” he said.

“Probably won’t cost more than a big dog.”

Declan turned to her. “You’re not going to start moaning at me for a bleeding dog again?”

“Honestly, no.”

“Good. I worry dogs lead to babies.” He pinched her arm, leaving a white patch.

“Ow. I’m over dogs and I’ll never get on to babies. I’ve got finer things to think about nowadays.”

They stepped away from the window and headed into their nook of a kitchen where nothing was cooking.

Out back, the pony shook its mane full of sun and its silhouette shivered. Other figures gathered at other windows. They gazed at it the way they would have gazed at a bonfire.

About the Author

Rose McDonagh was born in Edinburgh. She has had writing published by BBC Wildlife Magazine, Gutter, SmokeLong Quarterly, Fairfield Review, the Guardian online, The Eildon Tree, Brittle Star, The Nottingham Review and New Writing Scotland. She read at Edinburgh International Book Festival in 2017 as part of their Story Shop programme. She currently works for two Scottish charities.

share by email

Catherine Edmunds
October 2017 Second Prize

The Hierarchy of Substances

by Catherine Edmunds

Four barefoot kids walk down the road, sticks in their hands. They pause at the entrance to the mighty Elsecar Main Colliery, years before its 1983 closure; the early morning sun almost shines, despite the rain and leaden skies.

Tonight, the fire crackles. Outside, the trees strain against the night. The hierarchy of substances has been abolished, that’s what I tell my visitors. The whole world can be plasticized and we are become ‘plastiglomerate’. What’s that? they say, briefly interested. A new Anthropocene stone formed of melted plastic, debris and organic matter. We’re sinking beneath the rubble.

The boys are writing an essay: ‘How we lived then’. I tell them I’m not sure why we could never grow lupins. The boys roll their eyes. They’re not interested in lupins or sunflowers, only coal-grimy tragedies.

I love the fells, the falling dark; I love it when the pub is calling and nothing can get between you and that first pint, glorious and full of hope.

I’m bone tired now. Galaxy flowers hold entire universes on their petals, and agate crystals can look like tiny landscapes. The boys don’t want to hear this. When the winding gear fails, how long does it take to hit the ground? That’s what they want to know.

I shake my head, take out my aids, watch them mouthing murmurs of too soft words. I stop and walk backwards for a while. Four of us. Barefoot. Sticks in our hands.

About the Author

Catherine Edmunds was educated as a classical musician at Dartington College of Arts, and the National Centre for Orchestral Studies, Goldsmith’s College, London. After twenty years as a professional musician, she re-invented herself as an artist and writer. Her artwork includes book illustrations and TV appearances, and her written works include a poetry collection, four novels and a Holocaust memoir. She has twice been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, four times shortlisted in the Bridport, and has been published in many journals, including The Frogmore Papers, Aesthetica, The Binnacle, Butchers’ Dog, and Ambit.

Find her on her website, or tweet her @cathyedmunds

share by email

Matthew Gibson
October 2017 Third Prize

Not For Want Of Trying

by Matthew Gibson

THE Speaker. He would have to remember that.

"You need to study harder," said the tutor.

I will, promised Taimur. But it wasn't easy. It wasn't instinctive.

When the militia arrived at his village, their truck a satanic porcupine of weaponry, empty eyes spelling out their intentions as solemnly as a wedding vow, then it had been instinctive.

When his bus was stopped at the border, when every third passenger was taken out at gunpoint, he had known to keep his head bowed.

When he arrived at the coast, the sea-salt overwhelming, the waves unfamiliar, he had no doubt about his destination.

When the boat foundered, he knew to cling to the driftwood, knew to kick grasping hands away as their owners drowned around him.

When coastguard backs were turned, he leapt from the holding pen.

Waiting at the roadside for the one truck in 1000 to offer him a lift.

Picking out others like himself, following them to the camp at the edge of the sea.

Fashioning shelter from crates and sheets of corrugated iron. Knowing to study the lorries as they pulled in and out, waiting in line to cross the water.

Instinct when his time arrived, jumping aboard, curled between frozen boxes of shellfish.

Instinct to ignore the cold, to stay hidden, half breathing, half dead, as the ferry swayed gently and passengers laughed high above.

Sitting warm in the classroom, the air stale and safe, he had no idea how he had managed the journey.

Sitting warm in the classroom, he had no idea of the official title of the House of Commons’ chair.

"You need to study harder," said the tutor. “You need to put in some effort."

"Do you want to be in this country or not?"

About the Author

Matthew Gibson was born and brought up in London, where he lives with his partner and two cats. He studied English literature at university where he developed a love of the short story form. Now, several years later, he has decided to try his hand at his own. This is his first flash fiction win and his first published work.

share by email

Alison Armstrong
October 2017 Commended

The Chameleon

by Alison Armstrong

Last night I dreamt of our house in Kosedere, way up on the mountainside. I was in the garden at the back, with the seven pomegranate trees. The fruits warmed, half way to ripeness, in the August sun. The evening breeze that fetched up from the bay and gave respite from the heat had not yet begun. It was the day you came back with the chameleon. You brought it back, like a trophy. By chance you had found it, you said, by the side of the road. It was dying. But, like a child, I was filled with the drama of your arrival, convinced that we could save it. I had never seen one before, not in the flesh. The perfect smallness of its form. I thought a chameleon should be bigger somehow, like an iguana. Its skin was rough and smooth in the same stroke – reptile skin – dotted relief. Was it extra delicate in its dying state? We put it on the low wall, near where the vines bush out for shade. It rested on its side in the white dust, no longer able to stand. We watched its breathing, quick and small. Its magnificent turning eye, still turning. The movement mechanical, some innate deep down thing? Its four tiny feet were sticking out from where we placed it. Opposable toes, half-curled, beginnings of an unmade grasp. In silence we stood, watching. Its tail, coiled round – unable to cling to branch, nor any thing, save itself. Its life slipping away quietly with each rapid breath. And, as your hand left mine, I watched its colour change from the brown of its arrival to the white of surrender. Or a last camouflage against the bleached pallor of stones?

Two complete colours in the space of one skin.

About the Author

I live and work (as a teacher and painter) near Lancaster with my two children​. I was born in Leeds and studied in Lancaster, Leeds and Cambridge. I have been writing for many years. This is the first time I have had any fiction published, in fact, the first time I have sent a piece of flash fiction anywhere. I won a Northern Writers' Award for fiction this year. I am seeking a publisher for my short-story collection and am writing a novel.

share by email

Al Kratz
October 2017 Commended

What If Nothing Hurts Us More Than Imagination?

by Al Kratz

I finally went to see the doctor because it was easier than telling My Girl that I hadn't gone. It was easier than watching the disappointment grow. It was easier than admitting weakness. The ways she could move me were magical, but when the fire alarm sounded, I wished I had held my ground. I could just as easily die in a fire. These things happen all the time. I went to the doctor because My Girl had put her hands on me. She was magical that way too. But now on the ninth floor with a bunch of old people, stairs our only option, I thought, Oh great, are you happy now? You'll never get to touch me again. And then I thought, Come on, man. This isn’t all about you. Look at these people. What a loss we would be. And as if a wall of smoke had already done its deed, I had trouble breathing from the fifth floor down. She had put her hands on me, and I had asked her to say, O Captain! My Captain! But she just said, Shut up! This is serious! I went to the doctor because My Girl had felt something wrong. Right there in her beautiful hand, she had held a lump, small enough for fingers—my little life and pointless death. Or was it my little death and pointless life? What if it was just her imagination? What if it was the truth? I don’t know. After I opened the fire exit, after I felt alone in the parking lot, I caught my breath. I saw that I wasn’t alone. I saw everything I needed to see. These things happen all the time. The fire might have been a false alarm. I don't know. I didn’t stick around.

About the Author

Al Kratz lives in Indianola, Iowa with his fiancé, their three dogs, and any college kids that return to the nest. He is working on a short story collection and a novel. He writes fiction reviews for Alternating Current. He finished second in the February 2016 Bath Flash Fiction Award, and his story in Jellyfish Review was nominated for Best Small Fictions 2017. This year, he has had work in Ellipsis Zine, Train, (b)OINK, and forthcoming in Bull.

He blogs at alkratz.blogspot.com and tweets @silverbackedG

share by email

June 2017 Judge’s Report
Meg Pokrass

I could not believe how many powerful stories I read in the long list of fifty stories. It was very difficult to select the short list of twenty and then to choose the winners. I noticed that many stories involved a longing for lost innocence, equilibrium, and trust—a feeling that seems to be with us so much these days as the world becomes an increasingly chaotic place. What sensitive, strong voices you all have.

First Prize
Tying the Boats In 164 words, the shortest on the long list, 'Tying the Boats' is an elegant, masterful piece in which every word is essential. The author makes brilliant use of metaphor, yet her touch is gentle. The power in this story involves what is not said, which leaves the reader on-edge. We can't help but identify with the main character, who we see is in emotional danger.
Read in Full

share by email