Winners

Shelley Wood
June 2016 Second Prize

Rags, Riches

by Shelley Wood

So hot, so hot: heat being ladled from the sky. Danny—not his real name, but the name everyone knows him by, even the cops, even Danny himself—Danny woke late-afternoon to find the shade had stolen itself away, leaving him lying on the pokey-dry grass in the blazing sun like a man on a griddle. A man on a griddle: head muddled, head duddled, head fuddled from whatever he’d drunk-smoked-pricked through his thick hide leaving him sizzling in his own stink at the base of a tree that must have turned away, nose wrinkling, yanking its shadow clean off Danny and setting it down somewhere else.

Danny can’t stand his own stink. The whole sour-salt-sweet-cheese-rank-rotten-apple-funk-shit-wreck of him. These days, Danny doesn’t hear so good, can’t taste for crap, but his sniffer works just fine, works like it’s the only thing left on him capable of putting in an honest day’s effort.

Kids are clowning around on a raft in the bay, squealing and leaping into the shimmering waves. Two tight-skinned teenagers pull themselves up the ladder, their golden limbs slick like creatures newly birthed. Danny has to glance away, wondering if, in a different life, he’d ever learned how to swim.

Soon enough, Bylaw will come by and nudge Danny’s shoe telling him he’s gotta-getta move-on. Danny is goddamn tired of moving on.

But here’s the heat again now, inching around the tree and bringing Danny’s stink with it. Walking’s the only thing left. Walk into the lake and keep walking until the waves have scrubbed him raw, his clothes have washed clean off his ruined body, and the slivers of glinting silver have shaved him smooth as a baby. Surely if he just keeps walking he can surface on the other shore, bejewelled.

About the Author

Shelley Wood

Shelley Wood’s short stories have appeared in F(r)iction, the Nashwaak Review, the New Quarterly, carte blanche, and Room. In the past few months, she has won the Tethered by Letters contest and the Cobalt Review’s Frank McCourt prize for Creative Nonfiction, and was shortlisted in the Writer’s Union of Canada Short Prose Competition for Developing Writers. She divides her time between New York City, where she is the managing editor at TCTMD.com, and Kelowna, Canada, where she is researching a suitable home for her first novel.
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Elisabeth Ingram Wallace
June 2016 Third Prize

The Baby Came Early, Screaming

by Elisabeth Ingram Wallace

Davina clocked Harold the second he was born. She slapped his arse and shoved her wrist-watch in his mouth. He sucked the tinny heartbeat, silenced. “I understand you,” she said. “You just need more time.”

By six-months old, he had twenty-six manual alarm clocks, four digital time-pieces, and a free-standing grandfather clock which he slept in like a crib. The days pounded. The flat pulsated. Davina slept in the bathtub like each night was a hurricane warning.

Each time Harold cried, Davina gave him a new watch, or let him touch the numbers on her iPhone. Then the wailing began again.

“What’s wrong Harold?”

But Harold just sobbed, his big hands in his mouth. The hands were from a 1919 train station clock. Czechoslovakian, solid bronze. She’d bought them off eBay.

“You’re too small a number to explain. Maybe when you’re one, or two. Then you can tell me what’s wrong.”

She played him ‘Hammer Time’. She read him ‘The Hours’. At night the clocks glowed neon, and crawled round the room with their slow worming glow.

They listened to the woman on the phone-line tell them the Greenwich Mean Time, over and over, and the time was always different, except for twice a day.

That’s where Davina got the idea. To stop all the clocks, before time consumed them. “Then you’ll be right. Not wrong. At least twice a day.”

Davina killed the iPhone in the washing machine, on Cottons, ninety degrees. She unplugged alarm clocks, removed batteries from watches, pulled pendulums from carriages.

From the grandfather’s belly, Harold kicked, howled and emptied. Davina had morning sickness, all over again.

About the Author

Elisabeth Ingram WallaceElisabeth did lots before fiction: silver-smithing, production design, and working as a prop-maker for children’s TV. She’s made diamond rings, giant emus, a dog’s birthday cake, as well as shoving steaming microwaved tampons into pies to make them look fresh-out-the-oven-scrumptious. After receiving a Dewar Arts Award, Elisabeth studied Creative Writing in Glasgow, and has been published in two anthologies and edited another. Elisabeth is currently writing ‘The Precinct’, an apocalyptic short fiction series, and is in the middle of writing ‘Lobster Queen’, her first novel.

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Anita MacCallum
June 2016 Commended

Boobless

by Anita MacCallum

A commitment to permanent scratching, these tights, tucked into my regulation-grey knee-length skirt. Knickers, white cotton, are stuck to my bum with a thin layer of sweat and still the teacher drones on and on. Fat black fly bangs against the window matching the rhythm of the numbers spilling from Mr. Weston’s mouth.

Calculators mashing sums inside dirty plastic cases, I can spell ‘hello’ and ‘Boobless’ and ‘Boobs’ and all sorts of things like that with my upside down screen but I can’t add up. Dust particles dance in the air as numbers crawl across my book. A particularly plump number eight squats on the page. I push down hard trying to squish it flat. I want it to stay still.

The air in the classroom is solid. Dense like lead. I’m thick in the head. That’s me. Big head one leg, that’s number nine, he’s mighty fine. Twenty two, ducks, quack. Nineteen ninety nine Prince and the revolution and number seven takes me to heaven. Times, add, divide and conquer, Willy Wonka, exploding sweets. Numbers rise up from the page to the sounds of ‘Hands Up, Baby Hands Up’ eight ladies wobbling, ducks dancing, prancing from the page, a parade of disco numbers and I…

‘Susan Braithwaite.’ A rubber bounces off the side of my head.

‘Susan Braithwaite, get down from that chair this instant.’ Mr. Weston’s claret-coloured face watches as my legs climb down and cease their apparent kicking. I resume my seat in my splinter ridden prison that contains me Monday, Wednesday and Friday. A new ladder creeps up my tights, from my knee to the top of my left thigh. Mr. Weston’s black oil eyes squash the disobedient dancing numbers back into place on the page. They line up neatly, casting off their costumes, waiting.

About the Author

Anita MacCallumAnita is a Bristol based writer, full-bodied with a nutty after-taste. She writes about people living on the edge of society, mental health and feminism. Transformation compels her and she is inspired by stories of positive activism. Anita can often be found performing her work in and around the South-West of England. She is currently writing a play exploring motherhood and mental health.

Anita works as a socially-engaged artist playing with words, glitter, flowers, projections, installations, hearts, minds and loves collaborating with other writers and artists.
Twitter: @loud_word
Facebook: MacCallumAnita
Website: loud-word.co

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Michael FitzGerald
June 2016 Commended

Falkland Island Walk

by Michael FitzGerald

The Turkey Vulture bobs about the moor here. He has a head like a red nightmare and he doesn’t care, he’s not looking for friends. He would rather you were dead. You are just calories to him. We both thought he’d found a dead crow on the track but it was a broken umbrella. I’m moving over the land like him, dropping a bit, rising a bit, it goes on this way. Landmarks can be a solitary post, a plank or similar, often sticking up, other times lying down. Closer to a settlement the bits get bigger, sheets and slabs appear, then holes in the peat, full of black water, like tar, then big sandwiches of matter such as a piece of roof. The wind makes the heather buzz. Everything is built on stilts, nothing will embrace the ground. It’s all hovering, still deciding whether it wants to take root or not. Loops of movement begin. A dog goes in and out, in and out. Hens pop in and out. Sounds pass on the wind like fleeing ghosts. A man comes out then in, out then in, like the hen but slower. You wouldn’t notice these cycles unless you observed them over time, which I did. The wind goes in and out, the sun, the moon, the day, the week, the hen, the dog, the man.

About the Author

Michael FitzGerald

I am delighted that my writing has been commended. I wrote this piece after spending a winter surveying the remoter parts of The Falkland Islands to create a Historic Building Register. I’ve recently got into flash fiction as an exciting bridge between prose and poetry – I like both the freedom and the ambiguity of it. A single idea or whim can turn into a piece quite quickly, and the editing requires a ruthless discipline where only the essential can remain....not unlike the subject of the piece.
Thanks everyone.

Artist: www.studiofitzgerald.com
Architect: www.mfitzgerald.co.uk
Facebook: @michaelfitzgeraldartist
Instagram: @studiofitzgerald

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Sheila Armstrong
June 2016 Commended

October 29th, 1.17am

by Sheila Armstrong

Someone found the cat under a park bench, fur flat against its back, wet-sleek from an oily stain. Someone said it had probably been up under a car, that they go for engines because they’re warm, that they fall asleep and either wake up in pieces or in another county. Someone said that this one looked like a badger. Or a skunk. It stinks enough, someone said. Mangy, too.

Someone said it was drain-water, not oil, because it had been raining earlier, and the thing had probably been chucked out of a car straight into a puddle. There was laughter. There was silence. Someone said there was one way to find out, and lit a match with a careful wrist-twist, then flicked the stick of wood forward, so it tumbled, arcing skywards, fanned brighter by the night-time breeze.

Someone started forward, mouth full of a swallowed shout, but stopped as the screech began. A shriek that crawled inside the eardrum and beat its tiny fists against the surface in agony; that writhed, pain pouring from every crevice; that clawed at every nerve. Someone cursed, a chain of words stitched together into a high-pitched shout, and fumbled with a scarf, grasping at the fur, fanning the singe-smell into little circular orbits. Someone flung a can of beer in a hopeful spray of amber foam that slowed and stretched out the time into puddles that clamoured to be allowed to pass.

Then the seconds broke free, and spilled all at once, and the cries began to drop back down the register. And someone turned and ran, skittering across the gravel, then another someone, and another, until all the someones were gone, but the weak and soft noises continued, spiralling in on themselves until they spluttered out with the last of the flames.

About the Author

Sheila Armstrong

Sheila Armstrong is a writer and editor. She grew up in the west of Ireland and is currently based in Dublin. She has been published in The South Circular, Literary Orphans, The Irish Independent, Litro magazine and gorse journal. In 2015, she was nominated for a Hennessy Award in the First Fiction category, and she contributed to Young Irelanders, a short story collection published by New Island Books.
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John Saul
June 2016 Commended

Tearful

by John Saul

When I heard of a town having tearful peripheries I soon thought of the outskirts of my own home town when I was young. With their pale concrete and rough surface, the flat roadways were certainly sad and unloved, evoking no fondness except possibly from one or two pilots who peered down on them as they homed in on the airport nearby. No one liked to drive on them on account of the rumbling, a cause for depression, so they were left to driving schools and the occasional lost juggernaut or police who had to investigate. Set back from the roadways, the houses too were sad, hoping not to be associated with the cheap paving and arid verges, but they were likewise affected by the situation of the periphery, where little grass graced the earth. The people were not sad; they might be beautiful, as was Linda who worked at the chemical works over the bridge and Keith who also worked at the chemical works, and they would meet at each other's houses whenever they could. Both wore fine coats, Linda's loose and easily taken off, Keith's expensive-looking soft leather, zipped tight against his tall self, and both had thick dark hair they tossed back many times in a day but, their hair aside, it was as if the messages they passed between them were expressed in their coats. There were tears, young tears to do with jealousies and fine gradings in declarations of love, but happy times too, at small dance halls and birthdays in one of the houses set back from the roadways, and happier times still, when they removed their coats and slowly drove themselves into frenzies, before returning to quietly reverberating moments of tenderness, when the pores of their skin felt so open and clean.

About the Author

John Saul

John Saul was last year shortlisted for the international 2015 Seán Ó Faoláin prize for fiction. This year he has work included in Best British Short Stories 2016. He has a website at www.johnsaul.co.uk

photo: J Tang

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Ingrid Jendrzejewski
February 2016 First Prize

Roll and Curl

by Ingrid Jendrzejewski

It’s a small town, so when a call comes through from Amber Groves for Mrs. Philips, you know it can mean only one thing: either her husband or her sister has passed.

“She’s under the dryer,” you say and pop your gum. You think you’ve made your point but end up having to add, “Well, you can come on down and talk to her yourself, or you can wait until I’m finished with her wash and set. We’re in the middle of things here.”

You put the phone down and look over at Mrs. Philips. She’s under the hood dryer reading a magazine, lost in her plastic gown. She’s shaking a little and at first you think she’s crying, but then you see she’s laughing. She has some lipstick on her front teeth.

When her timer dings, you remove the hood and check her hair. The gel has set, so you wheel her to your station and take out the rollers. You run your pick through what’s left of her hair, teasing enough to make some volume, then combing the rest over the top to create the shape she likes. You form her bangs into curls by hand.

Then, you get out the hairspray. Mrs. Philips smiles, squeezes her eyes shut and lifts her chin. “This part always feels like spring rain,” she says as you begin to spray.

You carry on for nearly three minutes; you carry on until you’ve used up the whole bottle. You spray until her hair is as hard as a combat helmet, until that smile is fixed on her face like a shield. Then you give her some tissues. You tell her they’re for her teeth.

About the Author

Ingrid JendrzejewskiIngrid Jendrzejewski studied creative writing and English literature at the University of Evansville before going on to study physics at the University of Cambridge. Her fiction has appeared in The Conium Review, Inktears, Wyvern Lit, Vine Leaves, Flash Frontier, The Liars’ League NYC, and Williwaw: An Anthology of the Marvellous among others. Last year, she won Gigantic Sequins’ Flash Non-fiction Contest, Rochdale's Literaure & Ideas Festival Bite-sized Enlightenment Flash Fiction Contest and the A Room of Her Own Foundation’s Orlando Prize for Flash Fiction. Links to her work can be found at www.ingridj.com and she occasionally tweets @LunchOnTuesday.

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Al Kratz
February 2016 Second Prize

You Have So Many More Choices Than Fight Or Flight

by Al Kratz

When you encounter a bear in the woods, lock arms with a friend. Make yourselves appear stronger. Transform into a collective self. When they ask how little girls like you survived the bear, shrug your unlocked shoulders and agree: isn’t it a wonder?

Just in case, hang out with stronger people. Maybe that guy from your co-ed softball team with the tattoo on his neck. It might feel counter-intuitive, but don’t confuse the number of fights you will witness with the number of fights you will be in. Just don’t fall in love with the tattoo man.

When you fall in love with the tattoo man, and your mother whispers to everyone that her son-in-law is in jail over a little fireworks thing, tell her, Mom, it wasn’t firecrackers—he’s in prison for making bombs. You’re neither fighting your mother nor fleeing the truth—you’re standing your ground.

When you encounter a carpenter bee in the woods, be still. The male has no stinger. It’s safe to call his bluff. The female only stings when provoked. As she flies around your head, repeat to yourself: she’s not really a bee, she’s not really a bee, she’s not really a bee.

When you lose your wedding ring in the woods, let it be. This is the universe singing for you. Listen to all she has to say. You don’t have to fight or run from the universe. You have so many more choices than that.

When you divorce the tattoo man, testify how so many things aren’t even worth fighting for. It’s not fight or flight if you don’t care who you’re getting away from or where you’re going to. You’ve seen birds. Sometimes flying is just for the sake of flying.

About the Author

Al KratzAl Kratz lives with his girlfriend in Indianola, Iowa where he is working on a short story collection. He is a reader for Wyvern Lit and writes fiction reviews for Alternating Current. He won the 2013 British Fantasy Society Flash Fiction contest and has had work in Literary Orphans, Third Point Press, Spelk, Red Savina Review, and others.

Blogs at alkratz.blogspot.com and tweets @silverbackedG.

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Clodagh O’Brien
February 2016 Third Prize

Billy

by Clodagh O'Brien

Billy knows when it’s time to get up. He doesn’t need a clock or a watch or a radio. Billy just knows.

Billy takes Weetabix from the shelf and drops two biscuits in cold milk. He stands in front of the microwave and pretends the light inside is lightning.

Billy yells goodbye to his mother and cycles to school. He has tied strings to the spokes, so when he goes fast it’s as if he has tails.

Billy sits in the front row in class. It means he can see everything on the board without squinting and gets to taste chalk dust.

Billy eats lunch at the end of the playground. He shares his sandwich with a squirrel that lives in the triangle of a tree.

Billy cycles home the long way so he can ride over all the bumps. He stays in the middle of the road even if a car beeps.

Billy measures out spaghetti and puts it in water with salt and oil. He stands above it until the bubbles come.

Billy goes upstairs to eat. He feeds his mother with a teaspoon and tries not to get Dolmio on the duvet.

Billy washes the dishes with bleach because there’s no washing up liquid. He leaves them to dry the way his mother taught him.

Billy does his homework on the coffee table with a wonky leg. He writes slowly so the pencil doesn’t jiggle and he has to start again.

Billy sits cross-legged in front of the television and looks at himself. His nose is getting bigger and his hair longer.

Billy puts on his pyjamas and makes sure his mother takes her pills. He kneels in bed and makes a steeple of his hands. Billy tells God he hates him and goes to sleep.

About the Author

Clodagh O'BrienClodagh O’Brien writes flash fiction, short stories and the occasional poem. Based in Dublin, she has been published in Flash: The International Short-Short Story Magazine, Litro, Literary Orphans, Thrice Fiction, Visual Verse amongst others. Her flash fiction was highly commended at the Dromineer Literary Festival and shortlisted for the Allingham Arts Festival. She loves writing in bed, and realises there are too many books to read before she dies. You can find her blog at: www.clodaghobrien.com and tweets @wordcurio.

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Peter Blair
February 2016 Commended

Shadowtrain

by Peter Blair

I am off-kilter, coasting perpendicular to the upright, ninety degrees in the shade. Everything is grey. The seatbacks are headstones; the antimacassars are embroidered with dates of lovers I’ve never had. A melancholy love song, crooned in a voice I almost recognize, loops over the tannoy. As we curve into the mountains, I lose sight of the river and do not know if we have crossed the frontier. Patting myself down for travel documents, I find a stub that bears no seat or carriage number, date or time, departure point or destination. Each page of the passport plucked from the breast pocket of my shirt is blank. I will not know how to explain myself to the ticket inspector and border guard, whose languages I may not speak. I have no currency for a bribe. I stow myself in the luggage rack, but am in plain sight, my buttocks bulging through the elasticated mesh. As I try to squirm free, my feet become entangled and cannot be extricated. I will have to throw myself on the mercy of the officials, as an innocent abroad. The low-fi love lyric is an earworm burrowing into my head: something about an interventionist God. Across pastures and ravines, the shadowtrain lengthens and shortens, rises and falls. I am off-kilter. Everything is grey.

About the Author

Peter BlairPeter Blair lectures in English Literature and Creative Writing at the University of Chester, where he leads the MA Modern and Contemporary Fiction and teaches on the MA Creative Writing: Writing and Publishing Fiction. He is co-editor of Flash: The International Short-Short Story Magazine (www.chester.ac.uk/flash.magazine) and co-director of the International Flash Fiction Association (www.chester.ac.uk/flash.fiction). His stories and poems have been runners-up in the Bridport Prize and the Fish Prize. His critical publications include essays, reviews, and interviews on South African literature and on flash fiction, including the ‘Flash Fiction’ article in the Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook 2016 (Bloomsbury).

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