We received so many great stories this month so well done to everyone who got longlisted last week and an extra well done if you made the final ten. But also really well done for even writing and submitting something in such strange times.
Thanks to Emma Finlayson-Palmer, Amy Barnes and Joanna Campbell for helping to read and choose the lists – we have had a good debate about some!
We received 139 entries – the most ever – so the cash prize is £278, in addition to a free entry to the annual Retreat West Flash Fiction Prize. The runner-up will get a free entry too, plus both stories will be published in the Flash Fiction section of our website.
Voting is anonymous so please don’t tell anyone what your story is called.
Voting is now open until 23:59 on Monday 27th April. We are trialling a new voting system that shows the number of votes each story is receiving as we thought this might add to the excitement – but the official results will still be announced on Tuesday 28th April.
Enjoy these great micro fiction stories and then vote for your favourite in the poll at the end of the post.
A Nice Cup of Tea
Snick, snick, snick. A tiny sound as the slender stems break under her fingernail. Just the topmost leaves, the most delicate in flavour. Snick, snick. Only a few from each tree. Aged trees, older than her great-grandmother, and twice as gnarled. Stunted by generations of women picking their leaves.
Phut, phut, phut. A kettle bubbles in the darkness of a tumbledown hut. In the fug of warm milk and hot flames her rain-soaked, weary muscles ease. Phut, phut. There’s nothing delicate about this brew. Sweepings, twice stewed, and boiled with cardamom. Flavour drowned out by spice, bitterness shrouded by sugar.
From the fence, you told me that our hill was Mount Fuji, back when I hung off your every word. You told stories in pretend Japanese, with translations. You promised we would climb that mountain, one day. You said you would always protect me because that’s what big brothers do.
Here at the foot of the real mountain, with some of your ashes at my feet like clumps of cherry blossom, I am disappointed.
The real wonder was in your voice, your wide eyes, your expansive gestures. They never changed.
I needn’t have come here; you belong on our hill.
Dinosaurs and the Weary
Giant dinosaurs sleep on their bellies. Spiked armor on display to ward off enemies. I stand back and admire the great beasts that hide from the world to rest. They persist in their existence, despite a whole people who would call them extinct. I see their magnitude and gargantuan invisibility.
But why do they sleep, when they know we are afraid? Why do they let us say what we say about the asteroids and the great winter? Don’t they know that we fear something lonely, something beyond us. I beg them awake, to rub our heads in this dark night.
In the House of the Devil
Your pisco breath hot on my cheek, you push into me.
Through the window, I count the rooftops, until black swallows them, and I wonder how many other homes harbour secrets like magma.
Only tourists search the sky for the volcano here. The locals try to ignore it, though it tars the town, lake and everything in between with its name. In Mapuche, Villarica is Rucapillan, or devil’s house.
I should have listened to their warnings.
In the morning, my skin and the sheets are streaked with your eruption.
You lie dormant.
Lava comes from the Latin verb to wash.
Item One Hundred and Twenty-Five: To Climb a Mountain
Once pristine, the paper was smattered now with deep, grubby creases, each item struck through in turn, dark against pale. Until the last.
She stood looking out at the view, the blossom tinged air lifting the edges of her scarves as the scent of the sun caused her heart to ache.
He would have loved this.
Their tomorrow had swirled into rounds of poison pumped into tired veins, until, there was only yesterday and their home echoed with promises left unfulfilled.
She pulled the urn from her bag. Watched as he kissed the breeze and brushed the peak at last.
I must tell her what I see. The picture is postcard-sized, glossy, parted like bird’s wings in one corner, sky bending unnaturally.
My therapist tells me I must play along. There’s a woman in the foreground. Mountain shining through an endless mist.
She nods. Flicks eraser scum off her notepad. I see a beautiful woman oozing confidence. Not dwarfed by what faces her, but humbled by its complexity. Familiar with every crack, new and old. Fiercely independent. Or hiding fears of a world she cannot fix?
Possibility, I say finally. I see no end of possibilities.
The boy waited patiently, an invisible shadow. Spewing gravel, the jeep skidded to a halt beside him. Out they rolled: joking, braying, bleating, hoisting identical rucksacks onto broad shoulders, comparing altimeters on oversized watches.
Once they’d sauntered past the tree-line, the boy sprang to his toes, gentle as the soft gloaming, and fast as the foehn. Gliding past them, they thought he was the haar sweeping in.
Cloud lapping at his feet, the boy waited at the summit. Though all were guilty of desecrating the holy mountain, only one would pay the price by stepping into the watery cloud.
My father could climb mountains with one stride. His rucksack was heavy with a lifetime’s burdens, but once he smelled the foothills, it seemed to weigh nothing at all. For years, he set his foot against the incline and challenged gravity.
When I was tall enough, I joined him. My pack contained water, sandwiches and an empty space for burdens of my own. Yet, even without days to weigh me down, I struggled to keep up.
Next time will be easier, my father never said. He gave me scalding coffee from a flask and taught me the victory of inches.
A rip in the sky appears like a mountain shadow planted in the view. Pilgrims come to watch the heaven’s fault-line let our future in.
The aurora borealis, shooting stars and lightening, seep symptoms of our pain. At the edge of the world we stand, find the wound, peel back this second skin and let blood fall like rain on Chernobyl fires.
A goose with patchwork burns crosses the field, honking at break of day. We do not wear black. We put the sun back in the sky, sew the tear up and let our eyes mist with the view.
When Coffee is in Your DNA
Java was his idea.
Find your roots.
I don’t need to.
Aren’t you curious?
The sari was his idea.
You’ll look like a native.
I don’t need to.
It’ll keep beggars away.
The temple was his idea.
Explore your heritage.
I don’t need to.
You do, really.
Being alone was my idea.
Can’t I come?
I don’t want you to.
You do really.
Staying was my idea.
You know I can’t.
I’ve found my roots, it’s what you wanted.
He doesn’t drink coffee now, he says its taste is too bitter.
We think these are a fantastic selection and we hope you’ve enjoyed them too. Vote for your favourite below. If you are having trouble accessing the form below you can also vote on this link: https://www.retreatwest.co.uk/poll/april20-micro-shortlist/
April 2020 Micro Fiction Shortlist
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