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Winners of the Protest themed flash competition

November 28, 2018
Thanks again to everyone that sent stories for this competition. And thanks to all the shortlisted writers for their patience while I made the decision. It was great to see so many different takes on the protest theme. Winner: Lumpen by Jennifer Riddalls Why I chose it: This is beautifully written and despite the harrowing subject matter, filled with hope. The narrator’s voice perfectly blends despair with the underlying belief that things will change for the better. As it recreates the building of the wall between East and West Germany in 1961, the story shines a light on the ways societies today are being led down the same divisive path, while also leaving us with the message that there will always be those who protest against it and spread a message of togetherness, peace and love.   Runner-Up: The Candidate by Hilary Ayshford Why I chose it: Firstly because of the strong voice coming though and because the protest was one that most people would never find out about but a major turning point in the narrator’s life. It shines a light on the absurdity of job recruitment and the way that businesses feel they have rights over their employees lives and minds way beyond the job they are paying them to do. Great stuff and a protest I’m sure that most of us have wanted to make at some point.   Runner-Up: Ted, Sylvia by Jason Jackson Why I chose it: Great take on the theme and the writing crackles and zings with life. I like how it’s not clear if the narrator is unreliable or not. Is her actor husband having an affair with his leading lady, or is it all in her head? The ending is great, leaving you to make up your own mind for how things play out for these characters.   Congratulations to our winning writers!   If you’d to be in with a chance of winning up to £400 in cash prizes and getting published on the website then the next themed flash competition closes on 30th December. The theme is Running Away. Get all the info on how to enter here.   

Ted, Sylvia by Jason Jackson

November 28, 2018
Ted, Sylvia Jason Jackson   I’m at the theatre. He thinks I’m at home, but I’m here, wearing the dress he likes. I texted him an hour ago: break a leg, darling. There’s a hush, and the curtains part. An empty stage, and then there he is: my husband, but he belongs to someone else tonight. Even though I know the lights hide me from him, I shrink into my seat. And then she comes on stage. White dress, off-the-shoulder. Smaller than I expected. Beautiful. I came because I had to see. At night, in bed, he recites his lines, and I fall asleep wondering if he does the same when he’s in bed with her. He’s told me a little about her, and a little about the play. “The opening scene shows the first time Ted and Sylvia meet,” he said. “Is it love at first sight?” “She bites his cheek. Draws blood.” “Shit. Why?” He sighed. “Haven’t you ever felt like that?” “What? Have I ever wanted to bite someone?” “Not someone,” he said. “Have you ever wanted to bite me?” And now the theatre is hot. I want to say to the man on my right, “That’s my husband.” On the stage, they’re both spotlit, moving towards one another, spinning. It’s a scene he was unsure of. He thinks it looks stupid. But the director is experimental. I watch as she spins. Her hair is longer than mine. I imagine myself at home, spinning in front of the mirror, naked, trying to see my own chaos. He’s surprisingly graceful. She’s taught him that move dancers do when they twist around, where their head seems a little behind their body, and then it quickens at a point in each turn to catch up with the body’s spin. And now they collide. Their spotlights join in an intense brightness. The director was right: it’s incredibly effective. They don’t kiss, but their hands are on each other. An intense embrace, and then she pulls his head down by the hair, drags it to the side. She bites his cheek. There’s a gasp from the audience, and he pulls back, covering his face. When he takes his hands away there is blood on them, and he rubs them down her dress, over her breasts. She throws her head back and her laugh breaks the silence. The spotlight cuts out, and I’m standing, fists clenched. The man to my right is looking at me. I want to say, “I know how it’s done. A blood bag in his hand. She didn’t bite him.” I want to say, “He’s sleeping with her.” A single spot: Sylvia – her real name is Catherine – alone at a writing desk. And only now do I see what I can do. I ask the man to my right if I can get past and I walk into the aisle, then straight up to the stage. I put both hands on its lip, take a breath, and

Lumpen by Jennifer Riddalls

November 28, 2018
Lumpen Jennifer Riddalls   Every day Elke and I started tying strips of rags, lumpen, to the barbed wire. The coiled grey tangle reminded me of the thorn forest outside sleeping beauty’s castle. I kept look out while Elke’s slim fingers quickly tied the cloth around the barbs, softening the sharp edges. Tying these scraps of protest against this divide, this open sore that cut our country in two, was all we had. Our Papa was on the other side, the side of plenty, and we had heard nothing. He could have written to us, but he didn’t. Either he was dead, or he had forgotten us and we wanted him to be. We didn’t talk about him, as if he had died the day the wire went up, and I stopped waiting for word the day I realised the tanks in the streets seemed normal. We started with our lumpen after we watched, helpless, appalled and mesmerised, as border guards gunned down a young man sprinting through the no-man’s land towards the coil on the other side. This middle bit became known as the death strip and, of course, belonged to us in the east. After that, Elke fidgeted constantly. She twisted her bone-coloured hair in coils round her hands and sometimes the rope of it went round her neck, wrapped round twice. One evening, sitting side by side and ripping up Papa’s curtains, Elke said, ‘Eventually, we’ll cover every barb. We’ll try, until they take it away again…’ she paused, biting her bottom lip while ripping a particularly stubborn piece of lining from the light blue fabric. She looked up at me, her eyes wet. ‘Or we are rescued from captivity,’ she added, shrugging. From our kitchen window we could just make out the fabric pieces on the barrier. They fluttered in the breeze, tugging at the wire, as if they were wings trying to fly free. Our little flags of resistance called to others and rag covered barbs, that weren’t our doing, started appearing further down the street. Four months after the separation, in bitter mid-December, we woke to find they were finally removing the barbed wire. All our lumpen went with it. We’d hoped for this day but it wasn’t what we imagined. Elke stamped her feet against the cold and noosed her hair as we watched a solid wall being created from paving slabs taken from the death strip. It felt like the ground itself was rising up against us. As if they could hear us breaking, our old neighbours, now unable to reach us on the west side, put up their own protest at our captivity. Hundreds of Christmas trees, standing tall up above the wall, were lit up at dusk, all along the west side of the border, close to their wire. We could see the lights from our kitchen window, shining in the distance. Elke was finally sitting still. I stared at the lights reflected in her eyes. We were not forgotten.

The Candidate by Hilary Ayshford

November 28, 2018
The Candidate Hilary Ayshford   The atmosphere in the room is tense. From a pool of more than a hundred applicants, we are the final twelve to get through to face the psychological test. It is like being back at school: we sit at separate tables and have an hour to answer five questions. An invigilator watches us sternly to ensure there is no collaboration. It is all too much for one girl; she rushes out of the room in tears. Eleven candidates remain. I am sorely tempted to follow her but the state of my finances keeps me in my seat. God knows, I really need this job. The other candidates are scribbling furiously, while I sit gazing into space, trying to decide how to maximise my chances of success. The company says it is looking for honest answers and original thinking, but this could be just a bluff, and if so, should I call it? One by one, the others put their pens down, stand and look around confidently as they leave the room. Now I am the only one left. The invigilator is shifting impatiently in his chair and looking at his watch. The first four questions were relatively straightforward and I have answered them as openly as I can, but I am struggling with question 5: “Is there anything for which you would willingly lay down your life?” Honestly, the answer is no. Would I die if it meant there would be no more wars? No, because war is sometimes necessary to rid the world of greater evils. Would I give up my life to find a cure for all cancers? No, because removing a major natural cause of death would put even greater strain on the earth’s scarce resources. Would I sacrifice myself to save a roomful of children from a mad axeman? I would like to think so, but the human organism is programmed for survival. If it came to it, I would probably save as many as I could, but without putting myself at unnecessary risk. Suddenly, I am swept by a wave of incandescent rage. What bearing do these questions have on my ability to do this job? And what gives the company the right to stand in judgment over my ethics, anyway? Am I prepared to sell my soul for this job? Incensed, I consider tearing up my answer paper and walking out in protest, but that seems a wholly inadequate expression of my outrage. So with three minutes remaining, I answer question 5 with two words, one of which is an Anglo Saxon expletive, then I put my pen down, smile sweetly at the invigilator and leave. The following day I don’t know who is more amazed: me, when they offer me the job, or them, when I turn it down.   About the author: A semi-retired science journalist, Hilary Ayshford is now exploring her creative side from her cottage in Kent, which she shares with her unruly Labrador Morgan.