Winners

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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Kerry Hood
February 2016 Commended

Waking The House Of Feathers

by Kerry Hood

Maria, Consuelo, Inez. On plastic chairs in the courtyard of Casa Quetzalli. Shouting across the fountain at Ofelia, Rosa, Neli. Throwing out a scarred arm, stamping a square-heeled silver sandal.
– You went in my room!
– You took all the chilli at lunch!
– Inez, how did you pay for those teeth?
– May your grandson never visit, you old bitch!

Miquita and walking frame part the sea, sienna hair lifting, cotton at sunrise. She speaks. Neli, the youngest at seventy, is the slowest to stand. She used to sleep in a car until she was set alight.

Gathering by the outer doors the women bow tremory faces towards the shrine, except Xochitl who is dead on her ripple-stain mattress. It is for her they offer feathers and marigolds (the flowers aren’t real, it’s getting expensive). Ofelia breaks wind. Inez curses. Behind, a breeze unveils ten single rooms with their washbowls and candy bars, a gold Jesus, a baby’s bracelet, a red dress nailed to the wall.

Suddenly, the women straighten. Always there is the bruise noise of scooters and trucks and the barbershop radio, but this second, without warning, they can smell the side street, its dancers and drunks and old boxers, feel its gaps where they waited to be taken to alleys before emerging musky and paid for and torn and vacant and brutalized or, exactly a dozen times, loved.

Now metallic eyelids flash. Feet slide slyly forward. Miquita snaps her fingers, improvises thanks for the Casa, for sanctuary. The others cross themselves. Really, they pray for no feathers, no marigolds; they pray for the doors to spread apart, for blood to pump their bodies along the Strip, for the courage to unleash a frenzy blade, but one of them, at least, prays for the chance to know a thirteenth time.

About the Author

Kerry Hood

Cinnamon Press Short Story Prize 2014; Frome Festival 2014; Bridport Prize 2013 (second); Ink Tears Flash Fiction; Bristol Prize Anthology; JBWB Award (twice); Mathew Prichard Award; Writers’ Bureau.

Placed/shortlisted stories: Bridport Prize (4 times); Mslexia (3); Flash500; The New Writer Prize; Cadenza; Frome Festival; Ink Tears; Words For The Wounded.

Title story, Patria and Other Stories (Cinnamon Press 2015); Bristol Prize Anthology Vol 5; Bridport Prize Anthology; BBC Radio 4: ‘Of All The Whole Wild World’ and ‘Two Ticks’ broadcast from Bath Literature Festival.

Plays (ten) include Meeting Myself Coming Back (Soho Theatre. Sunday Times Critics’ Choice, British Theatre Guide Highlight of the Year, shortlisted Meyer-Whitworth Award, London Evening Standard Awards, discussed in Rewriting The Nation: British Theatre Today by Aleks Sierz and Why is that so funny? by John Wright); Caution! Trousers (for Alan Ayckbourn, Stephen Joseph Theatre); Talking for England (Ustinov Bath). Residencies at National Theatre, Traverse, RADA.

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William Davidson
Inaugural Award First Prize

Radio Alarm

by William Davidson

Cape Wrath to Rattray Head including Orkney. Southerly, veering westerly later, 5 or 6. Showers. Good. Bad. Rattray Head to Berwick upon Tweed. Rat tray head. Berwick upon Tweed to Whitby. Southwest 4 or 5. Mainly fair. Good. Bad. Bad. Bad. Whitby to Gibraltar Point. Last night. Gibraltar Point to North Foreland. Last night. Westerly or southwesterly. Last night. Becoming variable. The rhubarb vodka. Mainly fair. The rhubarb vodka. Good. The rhubarb vodka. North Foreland to Selsey Bill. The bingo hall. Mainly fair. The widower from Thirsk. Good. The rhubarb vodka. Selsey Bill to Lyme Regis. The cathedral. Northwest backing southwest. The cathedral climb. Becoming variable 2 or 3 later. The cathedral police. Mainly fair. Good. Lyme Regis to Land’s End including the Isles of Scilly. The drag queens. Westerly 3 or 4. The stage. The rhubarb vodka. The stage. Rain later. The spotlight. The widower from Thirsk. Land’s End to St David’s Head including the Bristol Channel. The bicycle. Westerly. The bicycle ride. Showers. The naked bicycle ride. Good. St David’s Head to Great Orme Head including St George’s Channel. The racist. Great Orme Head to the Mull of Galloway. The punch. Becoming variable. The chase. Isle of Man. The vicarage. Lough Foyle to Carlingford Lough. The vicarage? Southwesterly. The vicarage. Then becoming variable. The vicar. Showers. The rhubarb vodka. Good. The widower from Thirsk. Mull of Galloway to Mull of Kintyre. The rhubarb vodka. Westerly or southwesterly. The vicar. Decreasing. The key. Showers. The church. Good. Mull of Kintyre to Ardnamurchan Point. The rhubarb vodka. Southwesterly. The rings. Showers. The widower from Thirsk. Ardnamurchan Point to Cape Wrath. The rhubarb vodka. Showers. The witnesses. Shetland Isles. The altar. Becoming cyclonic. The rhubarb vodka. Showers. The widower from Thirsk. Good. The husband. Occasionally poor. From Thirsk.

About the Author

William DavidsonWilliam Davidson lives in York and works as an English tutor for deaf students. His stories have been published in Synaesthesia Magazine, Cheap Pop, The Puffin Review and in the anthology Solstice Shorts (Arachne Press). Lyme Regis was listed as highly regarded in the Brighton Prize 2015. He is in the W9 Writers group, led by Susan Elderkin. He tweets @WmDavidsonUK.

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Eileen Merriman
Inaugural Award Second Prize

This Is How They Drown

by Eileen Merriman

Connie is lying on the sun-baked sand, her cousin Luke beside her. They are fifteen and feckless. Twenty metres and a lifetime away, Luke’s twelve-year old brother bobs over the swells.

The tide is turning.

Ferg is floating, the sky like cut glass and the sea soft and yielding. The sun beats on his upturned face, and the waves beat on the sand, but they sound very far away. That’s when he realises he’s drifting very fast, like he’s in a –

A wave breaks over his head.

Luke’s tongue flicks into Connie’s belly button. She tastes like salt and sunblock and girl. Connie whispers, ‘careful,’ because if their parents find out they’re dead. But then she wraps her fingers around the back of his neck, her tongue slipping into his mouth, and they forget about careful.

Ferg is floundering. The waves are so strong, and he goes under eyes wide water clear as glass and sharp in his lungs, and as his head breaks the surface he lifts his arm, help –

Connie pushes Luke’s hand away. Luke, frustrated, sits up, blinking into the metallic glare of the sun. That’s when he sees it, the flat area of sea between the breakers. ‘What’s wrong?’ Connie calls after him, but he’s already running.

When Luke reaches Ferg he is glassy-eyed, but his arms lock around Luke’s neck, and he’s an anchor dragging them down. Ferg, whose heart feels as if it’s exploding in his chest, takes one last gasp and the sea rushes in.

Luke’s larynx goes into spasm, so he can’t breathe in or out. But his oxygen-starved brain thinks it’s Connie’s arms around his neck, Connie’s honeyed breath in his air-locked lungs. And as the sequined water passes over their mirrored eyes his heart beats its last, forever in love.

About the Author

Eilleen MerrimanEileen Merriman’s work has been published in the Sunday Star Times (NZ), Takahe, Headland, Flash Frontiers, and Blue Fifth Review and is forthcoming in the 2015 Bath Short Story Anthology and F(r)iction. She was commended in the 2015 Bath Short Story Competition, was awarded third place in the 2014 Sunday Star Times Short Story Competition and has recently won the 2015 Flash Frontier Winter Writing Award. In 2015 she was awarded a mentorship through the New Zealand Society of Authors for work on her YA novel ‘Pieces of You’. She tweets @MerrimanEileen.

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Mark Ralph-Bowman
Inaugural Award Third Prize

The Most Amazing

by Mark Ralph-Bowman

It goes dark at 11.43. I’d fixed the toilet. Flushed a whirlpool. Not completely dark. Like the Hollywood blue nighttime filter. I see Amy out there. Two doors down. All tits and brown eyes. In the street.

- What’s going on, Will? She asks when I rock up. Cool as Smithy.

- Like I know, man? I just flushed and. Well.

- You flushed the toilet?

- Yeah. I fixed it.

- Awesome.

She scratches at the pink nobble of a button on her blouse. Looking away into the midnight blue. Up where the library was. Kia dealership now. I’m wondering what she’s thinking. No. I’m wondering if she’s thinking. Like I do. Blokes. You know. Every three seconds.

- You play that game? She asks. When you was a kid? What would you do if you knew the world was ending?

- Oh, yeah.

Where’s this going I think.

- What did you say?

- Depended?

- On?

- If there was girls.

- And if there was?.

- We talking back then?

- Whenever.

I look up at the sky. Getting darker. No stars up there. But I can see just fine. Probably my eyes adjusting. They do. Fifteen minutes it takes.

- Whenever? She says. Then or now.

- Back then it woulda been I’d find the girl I never told and I’d tell her.

- What? What would you tell her?

- You’ve got the most amazing eyes.

- What if she didn’t have?

- You’ve got the most amazing eyes.

Her smile breaks out like a timelapse flower opening. Lips glossy as Ramiro pepper skins. The tiniest mole, all on its own at the end of the line of her eyebrow. A full stop.

About the Author

Mark Ralph-BowmanMark has been involved in education and performance in Uganda, Nigeria and the UK, enabling writing and performing opportunities for people of all ages. He writes plays for both adults and young people, has a novel nearing completion and writes short stories. He is currently preparing a touring production of his play “With You Always”. He tweets @Emahbea.

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Sarah Henry
Inaugural Award Commended

Sailboats

by Sarah Henry

“He’s a sales associate,” she said, liberally shaking more vinegar onto her fried fish. She added extra salt for good measure.

Her father carefully avoided making eye contact. He only did this when he disapproved of what she was saying. His parenting style was more laissez-faire than authoritarian.

He made a noncommittal noise, raised both eyebrows, and then gestured the waitress over for more oyster shooters, an appropriate way to get a little drunk before 5:00. Besides, she loved the tangy taste of cocktail sauce combined with the meaty oysters. That, or she had a zinc deficiency.

“We met at a friend’s wedding. It was great to find someone I was actually attracted to, you know? Weddings can be such a drag otherwise. Seems like everyone is getting married now.” She used her finger to wipe away the condensation marks left on the table by her warming beer.

Her father looked up at the mention of a wedding. He was currently on wife number five. Two before, and two after her mother. Symmetry.

“I just want you to be happy,” he said finally, his concession to her dating someone, in his opinion, below her status. Her father did believe in coincidental romances, having followed that fairy path several times himself.

Lily leaned back in the wicker chair, finally satisfied. She knew her father was right about this guy, that she was forcing him to be something he could be in her mind. She also knew that inevitably his dirty socks would gradually find themselves further away from the laundry hamper, and that beer rings on the coffee table wouldn’t seem so endearing when she was doing the dusting. She sighed, took a drink of her sweating beer and watched the sailboats make their slow progression out of the harbor.

About the Author

Sarah HenrySarah Henry is a high school English teacher living in Fort Collins, Colorado. She enjoys writing flash fiction because of the challenge it provides of saying so much in so little. Two of her stories, “Violet and Gray Teeth” and “Phyllis” have been shortlisted in Mash Stories Competitions 5 and 7. Her story “The Shadow Figure’s Philosophy” won The Other’s Award for Needle in the Hay’s writing competition, and her try at cyberpunk climate fiction, “Batteries,” was shortlisted there as well. She tweets @SAnnjelee.

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