Oct 2021 Monthly Micro Winners

Well the People’s Prize voting has been nail-biting this month! So close between 3 stories all the way through and in the end, two stories ended up with the same number of votes so are joint winners. The other story that was a hot contender was just 2 votes behind!

For the second month in a row, the judging team has also chosen the People’s Prize winner as second prize winner!

Congratulations to our winners and well done to everyone who made the shortlist. All of your stories got lots of votes too and it’s so hard at this stage to pick winners.

Shortlist

  • Aran Wings by Alva Holland
  • Common Prayer by Robert Marmeaux
  • Five Gods I Worship in a Tiny Shrine Hidden Right at the Top of My Secret Garden by Jan Kaneen
  • Into the Woods by Rachel Rivett
  • Return by Julia Ruth Smith
  • Snog, Marry, Curse by Joanne Key
  • The First Letter of Gnome is Silent by Anne Soilleux
  • The Hanging Tree by David Osgood
  • Trophy by Hilary Ayshford
  • What the Small Ones Know by Marie Little

First Prize Winner: What the Small Ones Know by Marie Little

Why we chose it: We love this take on the theme and the opening line is lovely, lyrical. Really nice surreal and mystical feel to it and the ambiguity of who the narrator is gives it a sinister edge.


Second Prize and Joint People’s Prize Winner: Five Gods I Worship in a Tiny Shrine Hidden Right at the Top of My Secret Garden by Jan Kaneen

Why we chose it: We were really impressed with the way the disparate elements in the photos were woven in so naturally and the final line has great emotional impact.


Joint People’s Prize Winner: Snog, Marry, Curse by Joanne Key

We didn’t choose this – you did! But it’s a great, dark story that leaves you wondering what, or who, is next.


Congratulations everyone! And we’d like to give a special mention to Aran Wings by Alva Holland as it was so close to being a winner in the People’s Prize vote!

We’ll be back with the November contest on Monday 1st and that will be the last one for 2021 as we have December off. But don’t forget the deadline of the annual RW Prize is on Sunday 31st October – send us your short stories, flash fictions and micro fictions to win cash and paperback anthology publication! See all the info here.

Oct 2021 Monthly Micro Shortlist

We’ve read and re-read the shortlist of 25 stories to get to our shortlist of 10. Well done to all who were longlisted and congrats to the writers on the shortlist. No telling which story is yours though!

Voting is now open for the People’s Prize vote until midnight on Monday 25th October. Results will be announced on Tuesday 26th.

Good luck everyone!


Aran Wings

My sister told me that fairies lived at the bottom of our garden in a treehouse made specially for them by the people who lived in our house before us; people who were foreigners and didn’t speak English so the fairies didn’t speak English either and didn’t understand anyone who wasn’t a fairy, so she said I wasn’t to go looking, I was only to appreciate that our garden was unique in that no other garden on the road had a fairy house. I didn’t understand unique, but I understood secrets, with my budding wings flattened under my Aran sweater.


Common Prayers

There weren’t places where words would be found anymore, except for the shrines.

Here in the copse between the old roads, Mab had taught me the shapes of letters from messages people left, daubed or scratched onto bark; crumbly charcoal hopes which sluiced away overnight, always springing up again elsewhere.

“See,” she’d say, “there are still others.”

Fragments of dawn finally crept through shuddering leaves to where I’d hidden. Among our empty snares nestled a fresh shrine. Dew rinsed away my tears, but not the marks I’d seen and heard Mab’s shadow scraping over, shaping letters with yesterday’s spent kindling.


Five Gods I Worship in a Tiny Shrine Hidden Right at the Top of My Secret Garden

  • The plastic gnome we stole in Scarborough that first sugar-spun summer of seashells and starfish.
  • The emerald bead you found in the tide-line and threaded with ribbon and slipped round my wrist.
  • That button-eyed squirrel, spotted in Oxfam, brought back home because no-one would love it.
  • The driver’s side wing-mirror from my company Kia, still scrawled with the word HELP in black felt-tip caps, because it was the only place I’d see what you’d been trying to tell me.
  • The ghost-white feather floating onto my coat sleeve the day your wife laid you to rest, and I lied my goodbyes.

Into the Woods

Through the day, her school uniform had grown muddied and grass-stained; now it was soaked with amniotic fluid. Above her, the soft blue sky laced itself with thorns.

She made no sound as her body tore open, had uttered no sound for the last nine moons, not since the world had ended.

As the baby broke from her, bloody and battered, it too was silent. Images of wisps of grass, of slapping, rose and fell, but she only lay there, waiting, as the smiling figure of leaf and shadow approached; wondering if, finally, someone heard her wordless cry for help.


Return

I get a letter in the mail; it says HELP in inky writing, not newspaper cuttings fighting, flipping to freckled abandon, dirty tears on fevered cheeks and armfuls of twigs, bones, feathers, things falling, picking up; cat-calling, flailing into nettles with Miranda bitching and scratching about a boy in uniform skirts, fat bills way past caring, the pasta so al dente it hurts, running through an airport knowing it’s too late, a mirror of endless lines to keep me going, recognising the hardwiring, knowing no one else is going to save me and that’s why I’ve addressed it to myself.


Snog, Marry, Curse

“Too much blusher” the third husband says. He spits on a tissue and scrubs my cheeks.

I burn the tissue with a pinch of salt. Steal a drop of blood while he sleeps. Write his name on a broken mirror. Draw a tree around it with green eyeliner. Bury everything in the woods.

In the morning, he’ll wake up stiff, towering over everything, wondering why he can’t move or call for help. His voice is no more than a rustle.

I promise to visit soon.

Smile as number four carves a heart into him, my new name at the centre.


The Hanging Tree

I kept everything that reminded me of Dean. One time he wrote the word “HELP” in the rearview mirror while on the phone with his girlfriend, as I got undressed in the back of his BMW. Our first Christmas together, he bought a garden gnome and superglued it to a rocket ship bookend; the card read: Behold the AstroGnome. He made that stupid cricket out of acorns and yarn and made me wear it all summer.

I nailed it all to the hanging tree. The hawks get caught on the nails and leave their feathers. Nothing is permanent, I guess.


The First Letter of Gnome is Silent

The gnomes have her trapped. They clock her movements with a whirr and a click whenever she steps outside. The one that’s leaning on a spade has moved opposite the kitchen window. When she tells Brian he laughs, says she imagined it, then reminds her to take her tablets.

She pops the pill from its shallow plastic grave, a chalk-white coffin nestling in her palm. Brian thinks a normal woman would be over it by now. The gnome raises an eyebrow.

She lets the tablet slip away down the plughole, knowing that when she leaves, he’ll look the other way.


Trophy

The death-shrieks of the trees summoned Nemi. At the bottom of the ravine, the monster lay on its back, ticking as its metal carapace cooled.

The creature hung upside down, eyes closed, breath rattling. Diamond chips of glass sparkled in its hair. One hand flailed, grasping for something beyond reach. Trickles of rubies ran up its face.

Nemi tasted the blood; liked it. And the flesh.

The inquest attributed her injuries to the crash.

Nobody wondered how the rearview mirror came to be nailed to a tree a mile away, nor who scrawled HELP on it in bright blue eyeliner.


What the Small Ones Know

Day weaves through trees, wind calls in circles like an incantation. I see you: your Hunter wellies, your waxed jacket, your flask of warm pretence. You trail your shampooed dog through centuries of forest. You never see me.

Today you have a child in tow, pink and glossy as a cake. The dog pulls as you close on me, sniffs like a truffle-pig, scrats at bark. I hold my breath. I watch as the earth tells the dog, who tells the child, who picks up the talisman, presses its feather to her face, then slips it silently into her pocket.


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Oct 2021 Monthly Micro Longlist

Thanks to everyone who took part this month. I think that photo prompt had you all stumped as we only received 81 entries this time around. So that makes the cash prizes £121 for 1st place and £81 for second. People’s Prize announced along with the results as always.

Many congratulations to the writers of the following stories that have gone through to our longlist – no telling which is yours though!

Longlisted Stories

  • 90T2
  • All Living Things Will Adapt to Climate Change in Whatever Way They See Fit
  • Aran Wings
  • Away With the Fairies
  • Common Prayers
  • End of Term Report
  • Five Gods I Worship in a Tiny Shrine Hidden Right at the Top of My Secret Garden
  • Getting to Know You
  • Help comes in different guises
  • If you go down to the woods today
  • Into the Woods
  • Memento Mori
  • Plants Don’t Have Eyes. Or Do They?
  • Rescuing a Dryad
  • Return
  • She Couldn’t Make the Goblin Potion in Time
  • Snog, Marry, Curse
  • Sweet
  • The First Letter of Gnome is Silent
  • The Games We Play
  • The Hanging Tree
  • Trophy
  • Trying to Grow Old in Peace
  • What the Small Ones Know
  • Would You Believe It?

We’ll be back with the shortlist on Monday!

Sept 21 Monthly Micro Winners

Many thanks to everyone who read and voted in this month’s contest. We’ve made our decision at Retreat West HQ and our second prize winner is also the winner of the People’s Prize vote!

Well done to everyone who made the shortlist. It’s a tough decision for us at this stage and all of the stories have so much that is great about them.

Shortlist

  • Five Uses for Milk We Hadn’t Heard of Until Louise’s Wedding by Jo Withers
  • How To Grow and Care for Grapevines by Kinneson Lalor
  • Instinct by Josie Lane
  • Milking It by Georgia Cook
  • Mixing Milk Thistle Tea by Rae Cowie
  • Notes Left for My Sleeping Husband in the Final Six Months by Kristina Thornton
  • Pina Colada by Nancy Freund
  • Residue by Gail Warrick Cox
  • Till Death Do Us Part by Denise Bayes
  • The Winter of Relationship by Dettra Rose

We loved the darkness of this and the vivid use of the senses. We were completely transported to this room with these people and although it feels like a complete story, it also conjures up such a larger world and made us wonder about what came before, and next.

First Prize: Mixing Milk Thistle Tea by Rae Cowie


Second Prize & People’s Prize Winner: The Winter of Relationship by Dettra Rose

We loved this take on the theme and how it was used to show that the narrator’s loss of her cat was so much more devastating than the failure of her marriage.


Congratulations Rae and Dettra!

Rae wins £130 and Dettra wins £87. They both also get a free entry to the RW Flash Fiction Prize, which closes next month.

For winning the People’s Prize vote, Dettra gets access to the recordings of 2 sessions of her choice from our Online Flash Fest.

Next month’s prompt goes live on Monday so get ready to write!

Flash Fest Micro Comp Winners

Everyone who bought a ticket for our Flash Fest was able to submit a micro in advance to win secret prizes and the winners were revealed at the festival on Saturday.

The theme was CONNECTED and we loved reading all the entries and seeing the different ways this was interpreted.

You can read the winning stories on the links below. Many congratulations to our winners!


First place: My Velcro Baby by Rosaleen Lynch

Prize: Experiments in Flash Course – October 2021

We loved this breathless, sad yet hopeful tale of a mother and daughter that can’t connect until they have to. Brilliant one sentence micro packed full of emotion without being sentimental.


Second place: Conscious Connected Breathing: A Beginner’s Guide by Denise Bayes.

Prize: Fantastic Flashing Course – November 2021

Great hermit crab form with the steps for breathing more consciously leading us through the narrator’s journey from hopeless to hopeful.


Third place: All The Women in My World by Eleonora Balsano

Prize: Flash Fiction Fix Mentoring Session 

Brilliant take on the theme and loved the portrayal of connection we can feel with total strangers just because we’re all going through this human experience together.


Highly commended: (dis)Connected by Slawka G. Scarso

Feedback on 5 flash fiction stories (up to 600 words each)

Loved the title and how its meaning is revealed as the story progresses; and the emotional impact that comes from the sparseness and disconnectedness of the prose to tell such a horrific tale.

Sept 21 Monthly Micro Shortlist

It’s that time again when we have 10 brilliant micros on our shortlist that need your vote. The Retreat West Reading team decide the winners of the cash prizes but it’s over to you to decide who gets the surprise People’s Prize!

Well done to everyone who was longlisted and congrats to the writers of the 10 stories below – no telling which is yours though and voting must remain anonymous!

Voting is open until Monday 27th September and we’ll announce the winners on Tuesday 28th. Good luck everyone!


Five Uses for Milk We Hadn’t Heard of Until Louise’s Wedding

Skin softener (two to three cups added to hot bath) –

Lengthy soaks to soften anxious bridal skin,

Silver polisher (tablespoon applied on rag) –

Ninety place settings in fairy-tale marquee, rubbed until they sparkled perfect,

Secret messages (brushed on paper, left to dry) –

Or sent by text, or whispered breathless into pillows – ‘Don’t marry her, I still love you’.

Stain remover (soaked into affected garment) –

Wedding morning, lipstick on collar, ‘Frivolous Fuchsia’, the bridesmaid’s shade,

Teeth preserver (submerge in small glass, dash to dentist) –

Engagement ring flashing, she slammed her fist into his jaw, sending incisors scattering through the bridal bouquet.


How To Grow and Care for Grapevines

The neighbours aren’t collecting their milk.

We’re hello-how-are-you neighbours. Nods and smiles neighbours. They sign for packages then leave them on the doorstep. I hold theirs for days until they ring the doorbell. They never step inside.

When their grapevine grew over the fence, I pruned it. Winter then summer. The fruit ripened well, cones of fleshy globes. On their side, it grew wild into the gutters. They cut it down. Without asking. The grapes shrivelled and fell.

Their house is silent. They might be in Greece. They might be dead. The milk goes rust-yellow and sour as unripe grapes.


Instinct

The milk bottle cracks hard against the grey, flagstone flooring. Opaque white liquid haemorrhages over the splintered glass. I reach down to clear the detritus; a shard splices my skin and crimson blood spools into the lukewarm fluid.

I snatch my hand and am drawn to the rivulets of red plasma coursing through the lactose delta. A memory is stirred: strawberry sundaes and gingham tablecloths.

Something now pops in the distance. Not champagne corks this time but airborne gunfire. More soldiers will arrive, but I will tend to their wounds and cream their bruises, comforting them like my own sons.


Milking It

She selects a glass jar from the cabinet, opens it with practised care. The liquid inside swirls like viscous fog. Slowly, slowly, she unwinds the largest snake— a yellow-eyed cobra, twisting from the nape of her neck— and eases it over her shoulder. It hisses and wiggles, flashing needle-sharp fangs as she hooks it to the lid. Venom dribbles down the insides of the glass, milk-white, and Medusa breathes a sigh of relief.

It’s not the snakes that worry her; it’s their bite. Each belligerent little pinprick.

Curses, she thinks, bring a whole new meaning to the term Hair Care.


Mixing Milk Thistle Tea

Peat-smoke drifts from the fire, as she crushes tiny milk thistle seeds with a pestle.

He groans in the bunk; a sheet bunched by his pale feet. His complexion that of cream gone sour. No longer fit to roar that the neighbours call her a witch.

She adds boiled water and sets the cup to his lips.

‘For your liver,’ she says.

He gulps. A dribble trickles across his cheek. She wipes his greying stubble with a cloth.

‘Tastes foul,’ he manages, before slumping against the mattress.

Elderberries gleam, like beads of black jet scattered across the table.

She waits.


Notes Left for My Sleeping Husband in the Final Six Months

To Squidgy,

Last night was fun. I’ve missed our adventures!

Didn’t want to wake you.

I’ll be late from work tonight.

Love, C x

To J,

The milk is off. I’ll get more on my way home.

C x

Couldn’t find the back door key to put out the bins. Can you sort? Ta.

Milk was off again. You can sort. Buy one pint not two.

I’m stopping at Janice’s tonight. Don’t call. I won’t answer.

C

Dear J, Thanks for sorting the boxes for me. I’ll post my key through the letter box. My solicitor has your email.

X


Pina Colada

Pineapples and coconuts are pretty ornaments, but her blown-glass avocado-half gives guidance. Her husband yells, “Hey! How about some…” something she can’t hear.

“Bike ride?”

Her pit throbs, so she goes. Rides hard across the mangrove bridge, halts below the mansion, panting. Her gaze rises to the rainbow-painted balcony. Spindle colors come in waves.

Arms akimbo, naked yoga man takes in the breeze. She watches his vinyasa. Cobra. Tree. She ponders an exchange then settles on her banana seat and pedals home.

Her avocado whispers welcome. Pewter, silver, Bristol blue. A million milky moons pull at her like a tide.


Residue

I bathe in creamy liquid scented with rose and jasmine. I rub a dripping sea sponge about my body contours and wash myself free from the linger of you. Submerged in virgin white I rinse you clean away. And when I step from the tub opaque rivulets trickle down my limbs leaving tiny pearl droplets clinging to my skin. I pat them dry with soft Egyptian cotton.

Cleansed from the ache of you I slide between cool silken sheets and drift from consciousness. But inevitably you enter my dreams and once again the persistent residue of you curdles upon me.


Till Death Do Us Part

They had been dead for days.

As you and I began our married life together, their bodies had lain rotting on the other side of the wall.

Untouched milk bottles on the doorstep alerted us. Rancid yellow liquid spilling out of pecked silver foil tops.

An ebony bloom of bluebottles buzzed out when the police knocked the door down.

I can hear those insects now, persistent, tinnitus trapped inside my skull.

My palm against the wall vibrates as the couple’s suffering leaches through.

I pour tea, hold the milk jug towards you.

You flinch from the pervasive scent of decay.


The Winter of Relationship

A harsh white blanket spread across the sky and every grassy blade.

Penny’s fingers numbed sticking posters to lampposts.

Missing Cat. Freddy.

Later, her husband, Rob, said, ‘I never wanted that cat,’ and dumped Freddy’s dish in the bin. Penny fished it out.

A dead rat was on the doormat in the morning. Penny whispered, ‘Freddy?’ and hid a saucer of milk behind her bike. Rob turned the engine of his car, drove off in a snowstorm. Penny buckled in the silence. No goodbye, kiss or smile.

Three days later, Rob still wasn’t home. Penny didn’t put up any posters.


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