Many congratulations to the writers of the 10 stories below that have been shortlisted in this month’s competition, which had the theme of FLIGHT from a prompt provided by Janice Leagra.
Congratulation also to the longlisted writers as it’s never an easy decision once we get to this stage. We’re re-reading again now to decide the winners, of the cash prizes, and the People’s Prize winner will be decided by public votes, so please don’t announce the name of your story online as it all needs to remain anonymous.
After Our Oldest Leaves For University
Our youngest wants to know when her wings will grow. It’s bedtime and she’s having trouble sleeping in the big room all alone.
Soon, I say. Soon, like her sister, she’ll throw her arms wide, find feathers unfolding into wings.
I list the birds she could be: a hummingbird, shimmering golden green; a nightingale, pink throat open, singing to the moon; or an eagle soaring close to snow-capped mountains in a bare blue sky.
When she’s sleeping softly as a gosling, I tuck her in, kiss her forehead and double check the window on my way out of her room.
Bird in Flight
Grit on Sonny’s hands conspires with sweat to create tiny diamonds, glittering under the prison lighting.
There’s a faint <tik> on the reinforced glass screen. Looking up Sonny sees the inky blue jay tattooed on the back of his father’s hand take flight, back down to the desk between them.
They lock eyes and each sees the reflection of their own face superimposed on the other’s. Sonny sees a life gone wrong: an older, harder, defeated version of himself.
Sal sees himself as a young man, a blank page loaded with mistakes as yet unmade.Then the moment is over.
Mary’s latest charge, Tom, is a flight risk – it says so in angry red letters on his file.
She sighs, imagining the barriers expected to be placed in his way – constant supervision, locked doors…
He’s wide-eyed, elfin, fear wearing him like a musk.
He’ll stay, Mary knows, if she makes him feels safe to.
She lowers herself to the carpet, pushes a box of Lego between them. Silently they build a house. Mary puts a figure inside and pushes open all the doors.
Slowly, he moves the figure to bed and Mary covers them with a tiny blanket.
Just When She Thought Her Life Was Over
Brown and non-descript, it inches along the branch outside the window.
I envy its freedom.
The glassine cocoon appears overnight while your embrace smothered my dreams.
Fingerprints smudge into a kaleidoscope of bruises at my resistance.
A crack appears.
You see devastation, I see inspiration.
Tempted from its prison, I dress in swirling colours.
No longer succored on your nectar-like lies which dripped golden from your tongue.
A palette of realisation paints your face as I float away.
You, an unwilling witness to my transformation.
The monarch basks in its liberty.
As do I.
Laura Geddes Married a Doctor
It reminds her of the time she inter-railed around Europe with Laura Geddes. They’d lost their traveller’s checks and had to sleep on a bench at Utrecht station. The smell of dust and piss at Kings Cross conjures up this teenage memory. Of course, she’d been fearless then, when the darkness had no face.
She pulls the coat over Ethan’s legs as he sleeps on the bench. Charlie nestles under her parka, thumb in mouth. He’s retreated back to babyhood. Without bitterness, she remembers that Laura Geddes married a doctor who doesn’t threaten to kill her children in the night.
I don’t eat carbs for seven weeks then take a twenty-six hour flight to watch the parquet school floor separate the pieces with its old heteronormative spell. You slap the back of someone I don’t recognise, and the medals on your uniform shiver. When you corner me by the name tags, I wonder again if it is my fault, not knowing the Queen’s Gambit from the Scholar’s Mate. You say the airforce made you get corrective eye surgery. Not your hearing? I ask. Remembering the back of your dad’s car, when I said don’t and you pretended to be deaf.
There were angels circling above his bed. A mobile with snowy feathers his mum said came from a swan.
At school he frowned against the casting for the class nativity play. All the angels had white wings and golden halos and curls.
He fiddled miserably with his drab dressing-gown and the striped tea-towel covering his too-dark hair. Trying not to show how much it hurt.
Third shepherd. Again.
When the snow came he pressed his nose against the window. White flakes smothered everything, even his misery.
During break-time he frolicked, rolling around, laughing skywards.
Finally discovering he could already fly.
You should leave everything but you grab things as you run, heart disco beating, feet pounding like gazelles stampeding as smoke chases you, wisping fingers around memories, your books, your paintings, her dolls, her clothes, you grasp things as you pass, knowing there are things in drawers, that the clawing fog will find them, her letters, her drawings, will vanish them like she was never there and you’re coughing now, smoke blurring your vision, you pull a photo from the wall, hoping it’s the one of you together and you howl out the door knowing you are losing her again
The Twenty-Five Year Silence
Kayla Murphy is by the pears in Sainsburys. My stomach hits my throat.
I’m shaking, remembering how my hands felt gripping her wrists.
The adrenaline, the soaring flight of the trapeze slicing the heat of the marquee.
Kayla’s glitter-face, spinning like a mirror ball.
Then cramping spasms in my calves, arms, hands.
She slipped from my grasp, the broken safety wire and screaming crowd.
Her brother guarding her hospital room, blocking my calls.
The crushing weight of guilt.
Kayla’s hands are still in mine, ghost limbs. I’ve been holding her for years.
My heart is hammering, I tap Kayla’s shoulder.
You’d always wanted to fly away.
Your obituary charts your ascent. Local boy made good, role model for a fledgling generation. Hope and stardust in an airborne metal gift box. The sky’s the limit, for those who’re willing.
Our town remembers you with a ceremony. The school kids hang wonky Boeings, fluttery with foil and expectation. The mayor cuts a ribbon for your portrait in the library.
But I remember your hand on my mouth. The sudden leering pitch of the chapel roof. The wingbeat scuffle of a bird who’d blundered in by mistake, scrabbling to find a flight path.
Vote for your favourite here and the writer of the story with the most votes will win the People’s Prize, which changes each month and is announced at the same time as the results. Voting is open until 23.59 (UK time) on Monday 25th January and the results will be announced on 26th January.
If you have any problems using the embedded voting form, you can also vote on this link: https://form.responster.com/csEEkt