Photo Flash Challenge #3: Finalists
Update: Winner announced!
Thanks to everyone who either submitted an entry or voted! Well done to the overall winner, Jan Brown, with her story, Hot nights, neon lights. You’ll receive a £25 gift voucher and one free entry into a Quarterly Themed Flash Competition.
Names and bios of all the finalists have been added below. Once again, thank you to everyone that contributed, either by entering or voting!
We’ll announce the next Photo Flash Challenge in a few weeks so watch out for it on social media. As the last three challenges have used quite dark and ominous images, I think we’ll change it up next time and go with something ‘light and fluffy’!
A). Hot nights, neon lights by Jan Brown
You know you’ve hit rock bottom when you’ve run out of friends who’ll let you kip on their sofa. How I got here isn’t important. It’s temporary. Fact is, I’m dossing in a doorway, layers of cardboard cushioning the harsh, unyielding steps. It’s coolish, secluded and no-one’s moved me on yet. The flashing sign bugs me but, hey, it’s well lit so nobody’s robbed me and only one drunk has paused to piss. I doubt he even registered there was a human here.
They come, they go. Rooms by the hour. I leave them to it, uninterested. The girls, the boys are friendly enough now they know I’m not competition but they’re too focused on getting their johns inside to bother with me when they’re working. As for the punters, I’m invisible. Invisible is good but still hurts someone like me.
I yearn for elusive sleep. One eye opens incuriously when another cab arrives. Irina extracts herself elegantly. Love those shoes! She’s persuading her petulant john he won’t get recognised. He objects to the seedy hotel but her low sexy growl is irresistible and out he unfolds. Won’t get recognised? I curse my stupidity for flogging my mobile. I could have sold this to the papers: Sex Scandal MP! Unfortunately, I needed coke at the time. Tant pis.
I can’t settle. I recall his familiar face, his pompous voice. My mind’s racing, drawn inexorably to my car-crash of a life. I stay alert to watch him when he comes out, smug, sated, furtive. A cab draws up. Irina’s convincing him no-one’s around – obviously I don’t count. I’m buzzing. I want to see the expression on his face, for the hell of it. I unfold myself, run sweaty fingers through my hair and step into the light.
Jan Brown lives in West Yorkshire. She’s learning the discipline of Flash Fiction slowly but surely.
B). Sanctuary by Hilary Ayshford
The flickering sign cast a blood-red glow in the damp night air, promising respite and sanctuary. She was exhausted, although she had left home only two hours ago.
The hotel lobby smelt of sweat, damp clothes and stale cooking, but its cracked lino and peeling paintwork were reassuring: it was unlikely anyone would look for her here. The bloated, scruffy man at the desk barely looked up as she signed a false name in the register and handed over her cash.
He glanced briefly at the baby she clasped to her chest. “I hope that thing isn’t going to cry all night,” he grumbled.
“Don’t worry,” she replied. “You won’t hear a peep out of him.”
The room was as shabby as she expected, the carpet threadbare and the bath stained with rust and limescale. Through the thin walls she could hear a television blaring on one side and two men arguing on the other.
She filled the wash basin with warm water, gently removed her son’s clothes and washed and dried him, before laying him carefully on the worn bed cover. He felt cold, so she swaddled him tenderly in her scarf and lay down beside him. She just wanted to hold him for one more night, and sleep without fear of what the next day would bring.
They would find her husband’s body in the morning, but not before she handed herself in at the local police station, offering her dead son’s battered body in mitigation.
Hilary Ayshford is a semi-retired business magazine editor and journalist, and after a long career writing scientific articles she is now giving rein to her creative side. She lives in Kent with her badly behaved Labrador, Morgan, where she writes, paints and walks, inspired by beautiful natural surroundings.
C). Crossroads by Jeanette Everson
Bright lights on the highway offer a wrong kind of promise.
Sudden neon, harsh against the hard grey night. Blurred edges of letters dance in a fuzz. Focus comes slower than understanding; we know what they spell out.
There. We’ll stop there.
I don’t want to. Irrational; without logic.
We have to. It’s too late to go on. Red lights flicker a Morse-like warning we can’t decode.
Shimmering lights beckon us. A bed. A roof. Respite from this deluge that delayed and enclosed us in this endless grey-dark that shrouds a road we no longer recognise. Anywhere; anywhere will do. I imagine that the wall of rain no longer lets us pass – are we have motionless, pressed up against it, the rain driving while we remain still?
There. We’ll stop there. We have to. It’s too late to go on.
Smudges of brightness break through the darkness – some kind of relief from this endless highway. Distorted letters we try to decipher through water. H? M? What does it matter? Either will do. The letters run down our windscreen like a blood-red river. We can’t see anything clearly. That signpost missed, the wrong turn, those directions begged from the bedraggled figure at the side of the road. Soaked through, he was; we should have offered him a lift.
We shouldn’t have, we remind ourselves. Don’t trust a stranger who looks like that.
There’s a place, he’d said, yonder. He’d waved an arm; spraying a fresh waterfall through the car window, opened only for directions but letting in more.
Ye can’t miss it. Ye sees it as the road turns. He leaned in. Mebbe I’ll see yous there. Winked, laughed, retreated into downpour, mingling with grey.
The road bends again; the lights change sides once more.
Jeanette was first published in Horse and Pony magazine at the age of ten. She’s striving to achieve equal accolade now she’s (allegedly) a grown up, and has a couple of flash fiction contest wins lying around somewhere (Publications include Grindstone Literary Beta Winner and Grindstone 500 Second Place; Shannon 101, and contest placings on Zeroflash and Retreat West.)
Jeanette runs her ceramics business from her home in rural Ireland, which she shares with her husband, her children, a steady stream of visitors from overseas, and far too many animals. She quite likes to shut the door on them all and write.
You can follow her on Twitter
D). NO TRACES by Charlotte O’Farrell
Susan had cleaned up after so many suicides over the years, it felt like a normal part of her job. Almost.
It puzzled her why so many people ended their lives at the Pennyroyal Hotel, so far from anywhere and so nondescript. The final views these people enjoyed from their windows were not of idyllic forests, paradise beaches or iconic cityscapes, but of a declining small town high street – a standard commuter town.
Susan dusted the light fitting in Room 34, removing any mark that hinted at the belt that had been tied around it. This gentleman had been particularly thoughtful, as far as Pennyroyal suicides went. He left a pile of £20s with a brief note – “For the room”. There was no way to send on any change, though, as he had signed in under a false name. The officer investigating had Googled it. He’d borrowed it from a character in a little known novel; the character had thrown himself into the path of a bus, but survived.
She changed the sheets. They hadn’t been slept in or touched but the body had hung there for six hours, just a metre away. It felt right to change them.
She dusted the table. The police had already checked for fingerprints, both of the suicide and anyone else who might have been in the room with him. They hadn’t found any signs of anyone else and the unidentified dead man’s prints didn’t match any records.
Every surface was scrubbed, cleaned, dusted and polished. No sign that anyone had stayed there at all. Good as new. She turned off the lights and moved on to the next room on her list.
Charlotte O’Farrell has recently discovered the joys of flash fiction. At 29 years old, she is rediscovering her childhood passion for writing, having spent most of her 20s neglecting it. She lives in Nottingham with her husband, daughter and cat and works in marketing.
E). Wordplay by Laura Blake
Hotel. Five letters. Such a small, unassuming word, but it’s a good one. It has potential. Anything can happen in a hotel, especially a small, unassuming establishment tucked away in the less desirable part of town.
Five letters. Doesn’t sound like much, but you can have a lot of fun with a word like hotel.
Hot. It’s hot in my room, the safety latch on the window allowing nothing more than the slightest trickle of Chinese food-flavoured air to circulate the cramped space that’s barely large enough for the double bed. Despite the heat, our bodies come together, a tangle of limbs as our sweat soaks into to the questionably clean sheets. I lick her neck and taste her salted perfume. I want to take my time, enjoy it, enjoy her, but oh god, oh god-
Lot. It’s over. Anticlimactic, really, but there’s not a lot I can do about it now. I wanted her too badly, I say, by way of apology. It’s not exactly something I can control. She’s not interested in my apologies, but I try anyway. I’m almost embarrassed. She looks disappointed.
Let. Let me live, her body screamed. I don’t need to look in the bathroom mirror to know that she clawed her desperate pleas onto my back, raked the words into my skin, since she couldn’t open her mouth to speak, or to breathe.
Toe. It’s easy to slice off a toe and drop it, still warm, into my breast pocket. It will be some hours before she’s found, but I have no reason to linger. This particular place has served its purpose, and there are enough hotels, enough rat holes, in this city for me to find refuge in, until the need takes over again.
Hole. Something that needs to be filled.
Laura Blake is based in Birmingham and works in publishing. She writes short stories and flash fiction in her spare time and is attempting to master Italian.
You can follow her on Twitter