We found it pretty hard to reach a consensus this month! There were 6 stories that went straight through to the shortlist in the next round of reading and voting but then the final 4 had us divided. But we have reached our decision.
Many congratulations to these 10 writers and well done again to all who reached the longlist. We’ll be choosing our top 2 to win the cash prizes and now it’s over to you to vote for the People’s Prize winner. As always, writers if your story is here please no telling anyone what it’s called.
You have until 23.59 (UK time) on Monday 22nd February to cast your vote at the bottom of the page. The results will be announced on Tuesday 23rd.
The beach was riddled with ghosts. They gathered in clusters, squabbling like seagulls, scattering and coming together with the surf; an array of fragments and lost pieces, jumbled words and forgotten names, drawn here on the tides.
She’d made a hobby of watching them; they were easily startled, and would dart away if approached, but from the rocks she could watch their iridescent gleam, hear snatches of long-faded conversations.
Ghosts, she knew, were sad, simple things; seen by almost nobody, and felt by nobody at all.
If nothing else, she owed them an audience.
It was the least anyone deserved.
Company Annual Conference 2019 – Thinking Together
Forget names instantly.
Doodle on corporate logo pad.
Raise an eyebrow at Wellbeing colouring pages.
Applaud Keynote speaker.
Turn towards the screen.
Escape into a vast windowless hall.
Avoid corporate clones huddled in fake bonhomie.
Collect a reheated croissant and lukewarm coffee.
Lurk beside anonymous painting.
Shuffle back amongst the herd of delegates.
Twist and push against their blank-eyed faces.
Exit automatic hotel doors.
Sea air chills my lungs. I gasp. Sun-dappled water sparkles beneath spattered clouds as I cross the sand. Elevated on a rock, the wind ruffles my curls free.
Details About a Purse that Occupy the Mind as we Wait for a Prognosis
What matters is not so much the size, but the shape and material it’s made of. A square, hard-sided bag will hold a precise number of items with no room for last minute additions. A small package of tissues might gain access, but why weren’t they the first thing in? The rest – lipstick, lotion, gum and mints (yes, both) wallet, keys, phone charger, Tylenol, list of prescriptions, pens, reading glasses, and the watch she wears even though the time is right there on her phone – none of these will matter on the day you carry your mother’s purse for her.
Waves gently rise and fall against the shore. Standing near the water’s edge, Tin studies the sand’s concentric patterns. Bending to cup a handful, she sifts its fine grain and clay softness through her fingers. Small cockles appear, and Cine film memories: a shy, dark-haired child with her first armbands, and 1977, when she and her sister danced the Hula on a float for the Queen’s Silver Jubilee.
Wrapped in a grey wool coat, Tin cuts a lonely, distant figure across the long stretches of sand, like the haulage vessels passing slowly on the horizon under the sky’s metallic haze.
In the Gaunt Shadow of the Devil’s Knuckles
The frost-ruby sun creeping over Skull Crag catches Serena serenading the unsullied morning.
‘Massive anchovy shoals spotted in Biscay Bay,’ Father had said.
Shin deep in glacial brine, she harvests the razor shells herded into the gaunt shadow of the Devil’s Knuckles by the looming daylight.
‘Calm seas, don’t fret.’
Back aching from scooping tightly sealed clams one by one into her calf-skin sack, Serena straightens for a stolen moment to check again for father’s missing trawler.
Every muscle below Serena’s knees is deadened by the out-flowing current, her fingers the same blue as her reddened eyes.
‘Your mother’s eyes.’
In the offing
There’s a container ship nearing the sky’s edge, its boxy outline sailing towards the light. The sky lours grey near the shore. The waves shush the shingle, rolling. The ship is gravid with cargo, laden block by block, mapping ports of call.
Like the ship, she is in the offing – the waters between anchoring ground and true horizon.
She watches, gravid with cells multiplying at their own pace, white on red, mutating, misshapen, as she rocks gently with the tide, feeling nothing yet: uncharted.
She wills them both safe passage. The ship sails fearlessly into the sun.
Misgivings about balancing equations
Ruth said she’d stay in the hotel, but she’s never so much as left a book unattended. She squints at the low sun behind her sunglasses. In the distance, water slinks against her daughter’s ankles. When Ruth hears her daughter scream, she is ready to run. But the boy grabs her daughter’s hand and pulls her from the cold boil spume. Her daughter laughs, the sound high but sand-damp. Hand in hand, she and the boy walk on. Their footprints are parallel and shallow, tracing the water’s shade, the place it was before it folded back into the untamed sea.
“You’re like the Queen,” he used to joke, “taking your handbag everywhere, even to the beach.”
She knows she should miss him, miss the children. She does miss the sea, the shock of spray on her face. Not the sand. Not those ground down particles of something that used to be bigger, stronger, scratching at feet already itching to leave.
Back in the city she inhales exhaust fumes and fast-food outlet fake aromas and feels at home. She’ll call what he thinks of as home later. On the underground she clutches her handbag to her chest, trying to stay afloat.
The Truth about Lobsters
Fisherman John would meet me here with two lobsters every Saturday. He’d press them into my hands with a wink and a squeeze. It was his dimpled smile that softened my shell though his kisses tasted of salt and his calloused skin was rough against my own. People say lobsters mate for life. But that’s not true. Male lobsters are promiscuous sods. Sooner or later the female has to fend for herself with ten thousand eggs under her tail. People say lobsters don’t feel pain. But that’s not true either. Beneath the tough exterior, they are tender and raw.
I expand and contract towards and away from the woman shivering on the rock.
I wonder at her with fingers of froth, at her reasons, at her erosion.
I ask in susurrations. I’m listening. Tell me.
But she doesn’t.
She’s silent, the wind evaporating her tears, buffeting them, lowering them to me.
And I take them, gladly, absorbing them like I’d absorb all her burdens, if only she could let them go.
I stretch, lap the rock, lick her shoes.
Eventually, I understand. Carefully, I embrace her with aquamarine arms and she submits everything. Unburdened, she floats on my caress.
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