Well done to all who made the longlist and congrats to the writers of our shortlisted stories – no telling which is yours yet though!
Vote for your favourite from these 10 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 25th April 2022. Results will be announced on Tuesday 26th. Good luck everyone!
An Audience With Eggs
Eight egg-faces engage us, bold black lines on smooth shell. Some googly-eyed, some bemused, one a closed-eye open-mouthed laugh, another a mischievous wink. Eggs that’d earlier nestled in my son’s eight-year-old palm, canvases yielding to his pen’s caress. Each arched brow, each skewed smile, each protruding tongue speaks to me; words he cannot utter.
Is this the first tiny crack, a sign my chick may soon hatch?
He nestles into my shoulder, his touch as brief as it is unexpected, and as his downy head strokes my cheek, my frantic heart is calmed. I marvel anew at my glorious child.
During Her Existential Crisis, Jessica Considered the Impermanency of Maggots
I stared at the embers in the fire. They twisted like orange maggots. Illuminous. He was still talking, but the words swirled around me in a fog.
“So you see…”
That didn’t make sense. Maggots wouldn’t last in a fire. And they’d be white.
“You can’t say it’s unexpected. Can you? Not really.”
They would burst, I expect. Or would they shrivel? Little charred caterpillar carcases.
“Aren’t you even going to answer me?”
Shrinking down. Like burnt seaweed or tissue paper and crumbling. Crumbling into ash and black and then gone. Gone.
Dissolving into nothing. Until they disappeared again.
Ella’s lexicon lingers, though she is long gone. Ruth twists what will always be, for her, basghetti around her fork, incanting the words not words to summon her daughter.
Strawbabies, pumcakes, hitabottomus, frumpits, viginer.
Boiling water for her evening meal, and taking down a packet from the shelf, Ella feels a tug on the final thread that ties her to home. She ignores it. She is schooled in a new language now.
Dysfunctional, toxicity, pernicious, estrangement, complicated.
She scrolls as she eats her pasta. One day soon, she thinks, she’ll change her username and finally lay Basghetti Girl to rest.
Fish Out of Water
“Emperor Angelfish – Harlequin Tusk – Pyjama Cardinal”
Fish facts flowed off his tongue, releasing pressure from the information compressed in his head and filling the silences with a reassuring certainty.
With absolutely no understanding of the subtle, non-verbal dialect of adolescent attraction, he still didn’t know how he had invited her along to the aquarium, but she was brilliant at logarithms and he liked the dimple that appeared as she tasted the names in her mouth.
Noticing the shine of her strawberry lip balm so close in their reflection, he snatched a breath.
“A purple Tang” she said. He was hooked.
Home Truths and Three Shades of Orange
We jump the train, swig cans by the sea. A burnished drawbridge. A sinking sun. I joke there must be thousands of suns, all huddling beneath the horizon. You tell me I’m talking nonsense.
Our first flat. We smoke on the fire-escape, call it our balcony. You steal marigolds but we don’t have soil. Each time we smoke there’s little heads shrivelling, until I can’t look anymore.
The core of molten lava in a volcano is 2000 degrees Fahrenheit. Nothing can live there because when it explodes, lava destroys everything in its path.
You told me you couldn’t stand nonsense.
I’d Like to Teach The World to Sing
Shadows skim across the floor. Stephen pulls Sally from her box. Presses a switch. The buckled bedsit lights up as his wife comes alive. She points to the dented clothes rack. Kimono, Stephen says. Sally shakes her head. Slips on a minidress and go-go boots. Her mouth opens and a dissonant cadence lands in Stephen’s brain. Lyrics about perfect harmony and peace throughout the land. His ringtone before the mushroom cloud invisibled. Sally’s warble stays on an endless loop. Stephen’s head throbs. His eyes burn. He snaps his fingers and Sally’s features go slack. He’ll fix her settings tomorrow.
One Giant Leap
I met Loona one night in the Victorian shelter opposite the beach. ‘I come from the dark side of the moon,’ she said. ‘Remember those landings? That giant leap cracked open my egg and I hatched a month early.’ ‘I hatched then too,’ I said. ‘We must be the same age.’ ‘Moon years are different though; one of mine equals three of yours.’ That made sense. Her skin had a shimmery pallor. Zero wrinkles or crows feet. ‘No need for collagen pills,’ she said. ‘We absorb moonbeams instead.’ ‘How did you get here?’ I asked. ‘Through your dreams,’ she replied.
That Summer When Mommy Decided Not to Put Up With Anymore of Daddy’s ‘nonsense’, or When We Got a New Daddy
Daddy drove our shabby SUV to the beach to watch. “Thar she blows” daddy shouted as the rocket’s parabola flared towards space. Mom’s eyes echoed its arc, rolling in unhappy symmetry.
Later we sang Major Tom and hoovered hot, ketchupy fries into our bird beaks, until mom’s short fuse detonated. We cooled our mouths with hot sundaes, while daddy cried hot tears.
New-daddy smelled like Mercedes Benz; newly-minted mom had a mean mouth and tight face. We cast off old-daddy like rocket boosters, moving on while he floundered into the gutter. Beer-glass weighted pockets dragging him towards the ocean floor.
The Patchwork Comforter
There’s no rhyme or reason to the quilt your mother’s crafted from the clothes you were wearing when you died. It’s small enough to cover the beautiful baby you won’t ever have. It’s a dirty t-shirt and bloody sweatpants.
She’s given your brother the one made from sparkling moments and hard-earned degrees. He’s down on his luck these days and ever so slightly thrilled.
She drapes the heavy quilt over her heart at night; swears she can feel you twitching. She pulls you close this time, cradles your head on dark wet tarmac and whispers, ‘I’m here. Don’t be afraid.’
My mother stroked my hand and said she was feeling my age about the time she dropped her jewelled watch down the drain. I said it was a metaphor. She said the heart of being is not letting go. I wasn’t sure but still she grasped the nodding Jesus until it turned into a dachshund. Then both Christ and the watch had gone.
A gold-tipped, gull-winged car flew over the altar.
I expect they do cocktails now, she said. Mine’s an El Diablo.
The waitress smiled angelically and brought a large one. I ordered mixed nuts with my Last Word
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