Vote for your favourite from these fab stories to win the surprise People’s Prize. Our judging team are busy re-reading to choose the winners of the cash prizes. Voting is open until 23.59 (UK time) on 24th April 2023. Results will be announced on 25th. Good luck everyone!
Of Gods and Immortal Birds
Long gone the scorching hopscotch days, the powdered hands of playground chalk and yellow-white tongue from sherbet dip, filing into Assembly, where we bowed and kneeled in communal collapse, and every so often I’d wink at the oversized crucifix high on the wall behind Headmistress.
Then somewhere the worship plans changed. New icons emerged, we succumbed to the lure of the cruise, the booze and the bling, the shopping mall thing, wealth has shifted the ground beneath and the heavens above.
Though I still sense that magic white chalk, that childlike wonderment, deep under my skin, like a Phoenix, waiting…
As Above, So Below
When her commute changed, Laura started fainting on the L. Oftentimes, she woke up on the floor between Montrose and Grand. She’d never noticed the smell of sulfur or seen the subway ceiling from that angle. Pocked metal. HELL in all caps.
Once, a busking guitarist hooked their elbow under hers and brought her back to stand. She didn’t make a big deal of it. Checked her hair for gum and brushed ash from her wide-legged pants.
“Are you lost?” he asked.
It wasn’t until later she realized what he meant to say: that heaven’s a long way from here.
The Purpose Of A Human Pyramid
The evening angelus bell chimes as the men walk through the narrow streets to Plaça Barcelona. Their women follow, calling and clapping. Waiters, with trays of beer and tapas, stand aside.
The crowd quietens as the men begin their formation, building their pyramid, feet balanced on shoulders, participants lighter as the layers build up.
José, the last man to climb, reaches the pinnacle and the cries start up.
‘Bravo José’ again and again, louder and louder.
His mother watches from a window, high above the square. The window from where a gunman shot his father. When it all started.
The Time Until Death Of A Yorkshire Coal Miner, 1936
1 second: Suffocating under the collapsed roof, you think of George.
1 minute: You shovel and sweat, pectorals burning, naked except for clogs and knee-pads.
1 hour: Eating bread and dripping, recounting George’s jokes to two hewers. As you laugh, tea traces white lines down your dust-blackened chin.
1 day: In your Sunday best again – for the christening of George’s fifth bairn.
1 month: You start kissing your wife goodbye. Your father would have said it’s bad luck.
1 month 1 day: George went back, not knowing you’d escaped. They find no marks on his body; the afterdamp suffocated him.
Not Much Longer, My Friend
Tilly admires her prom dress in the mirror. A bargain with a scoop neckline to accentuate her collar bones.
Yasmina shudders at her reflection in the needle plate of her sewing machine. Exhaustion cross-stitches her brow, her eyelids heavy. Nazera squeezes her weary hand. Not much longer, my friend.
Tilly wants to take the dress off but something’s wrong. The zip won’t budge. She curses the shoddy workmanship.
Yasmina wants the day to end but not this way. The factory screams louder than the workers as it collapses around them. She squeezes Nazera’s quivering hand. Not much longer, my friend.
The Eezee-Sleep Foldaway Bed Left Holes In More Than The Wall
You insisted we buy it — a foreshadowing, perhaps: easy to screw on / up / to the wall; compact but we / I wouldn’t be using it. You demonstrated to guests / friends / her how, with one pull / movement / mistake it unfolded and then effortlessly collapsed back on itself / us. Seeing you (plural), I mimicked the concertina action but lacked the mechanism to spring back / forgive / pretend. You (singular) slept on it to give me space but her scent saturated it as if she had skunk-stained the mattress / you / the future. When dismantled, it left holes between us, too cavernous to plaster over.
A Study On Supernovae And The Creation Of Black Holes
There’s a seat at the back of the classroom that remains silent. Another by the window. Two more near the blackboard. There’s a lingering trace of sulphur in the air.
There’s a lesson today. The students are learning about black holes. About stars collapsing all around them. About how they consume everything in their wake, about the wreckage left behind.
There’s the reporters and the mourners. Flowers, cards, and sympathies. Thoughts and prayers. There’s the supernova. Then the void.
There are the children. Misplaced astronomers gazing at silent chairs. Scanning the infinite waste of cosmos. Forever searching for lost stars.
Astern, we huddle together, the solar wind chafing our sunken cheeks. The ocean is a whale, breaching to swallow Australia in great chunks. Gowri weeps, and the children watch her, bewildered; their bedrock also crumbling before them. We bribed our way onto this final transport to Leningradskaya – mythic hope on Antarctica, the only remaining land on Earth. My heart pounds – have we paid our life savings only to be transported to another lost Atlantis? I blink away my thoughts, roiling like the skies above us. Clutching my family, I watch the sea unroll like a vast carpet, enticing us forward.
The urn contains the dust of you.
When I was a child, you taught me – we were created in the death of stars. Through your intrepid telescope, you showed me the primordial collapse of ancient giants. Supernova. Grandfather. My luminous origins.
I witnessed your withering up close, unmediated by lenses or light-years. No radiant explosion, just the slow hulling of your husk. Your name casually wiped from the dementia board ward.
Yet, you taught me the stellar symmetries of collapse and recreation. Through destruction we re-become. Dust to dust.
Soon I will scatter you back into the universe. Stardust again.
Under The Weight Of Words
They started with two syllables: endure; persist; prevail. The shame of not learning at school was soon swallowed by excitement. John wasn’t amused: bloody nonsense, he said, as she did homework at the table. Ignoramus; pointless; braggart; he scoffed and snorted.
But they were only words.
Week three: Collapse. Estrange. Alienate. What nonsense, he declared. Yet secretly, her pride swelled.
Then eventually, the longest words danced across her book. Enfranchise, emancipate, empowerment, she etched. She felt the sounds crash together then settle like marbles in their rightful places – as the front door oscillated, then ricocheted behind him as he left.
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