Well done to everyone who made our longlist and congratulations to the 10 writers whose WILD-inspired stories are now on our shortlist. Our judging team will decide on the winners of the cash prizes and the shortlisted stories are published below for the People’s Prize voting.
You have until 23.59 (UK time) on Monday 22nd March to cast your vote for your favourite. If your story is published below, no telling anyone which is yours as that’s against the rules! All voting and judging is done anonymously.
The sound of you was quieter, but I still knew you were there from the rustling.
Scrap-paper catkins dripped from every branch that could be reached, handwritten breadcrumbs to their authors’ villages, sprays of wishes marking trails down to the cove. By summer they’d be all but gone; maybe a few tattered inkblots dangling, illegible. Remember stealing pigeon eggs in the Hollow? We found that nest lined with love spells, once.
Salt chill swept up the bay path to meet me there, rattling this spring’s freshly scrawled blossom, words already bleeding away. The sound of you, still all around me.
After the Funeral
I push open the door, circumvent a mound of unopened post. In the front room, dust now lines the sideboard, smothers the china figurines she’s arranged into perfect families. A hollow indents Mum’s armchair. I can see her sitting, straight-backed, pearls, cashmere cardigan. I should have visited.
The garden has succumbed to a tangle of weeds. Dandelions vie for space with their siblings. Ivy creeps into crevices, suffocating patches of forget-me-nots below. The roses flourish strong and tall. Mum’s pride and joy. I stroke a crimson petal, and a thorn pierces deep into my flesh. I remember why I never visited.
Bring in the Clowns
Visitors’ day. They stand in a queue. Women with clown faces, push-up bras and tight leather skirts. Feet squashed into spine curving stilettos. Just for their man. Their little daughters in pink frilly dresses, hair brushed and silky. Sons in their Dad’s image. Lookalikes in tracksuits and trainers. The rent sacrificed for must haves. The rent man seduced for a week’s grace.
Once bags, pockets and babies’ nappies have been searched the travesty begins. Men’s eyes lusting for what they couldn’t have. Taunted by each other. Trapped behind bars.
The ‘clowns’ smile for their captive audience. It drives them wild.
Death at the Winter Solstice
It was the shortest day of the year and a thump on the patio door. Only minutes before I thought it queer – no birds at the feeder andominously quiet. Then chased by a sparrowhawk, it smashed against the pane.
A jay lies dead, head oddly twisted, its soft pink breast still warm.I shovel up the corpse, slide it into a plastic bag to be dumped when the bin men come.
Yet I can’t make myself remove the imprint on the glass – this smudge of wild splayed wings, even though the windows have just been cleaned for Christmas.
How to Sow a Wildflower Meadow
While my neighbours are at work, I climb the fence and slash their artificial lawn into latticed piecrust. Their garden is grey and green. No incidental blooms of forget-me-nots or foxgloves. Just uniform grass bordered by foot-high evergreens and paving.
Puncturing the underlay and weed membrane, I picture the wildness that waits patiently in the earth. I scatter handfuls of seed before smoothing the puckered turf back into place leaving fractures just wide enough for stems of cowslip and yarrow to nuzzle skyward. Freshly exposed worms and insects buck and twist; with each new slit, the soil begins to breathe.
I Cast a Wish Upon the Tide
Each time my sleeping baby cries, my heartbeat stills. I check her driftwood crib. Find no oarweed braided through her finespun hair, no starfish oystered inside limpet fists, nor spindrift in our fond embrace.
No sign her fisher mother sailed homeward on this moonlit tide.
Our daughter weans on tiny shrimps and elvers. Licks salt flakes from a nacre spoon.
Swimming lost in nightmares, I awake to find kelp ribbons tied about my daughter’s wrists threaded onto seahorse charms.
Wild brackish flavours linger on my tongue and hands. And footprints trailed across the mudflats disappear like shadows on the waves.
I Remember When You Were a Kestrel, My Love
Even as a fledgling you were bold, soaring to impossible heights on tawny wings while your friends lingered, restless and envious, in the safety of the branches below.
I remember your excited chatter. A joyful, cacophonous exposition of where you would go, what you would do, who you would be.
You sing so sweetly now. Fold your wings demurely and preen your plumage with a manicured beak. Settle into the shadow cast by his wingspan as he hovers high above you.
But your feet, on that perch polished smooth by impatience, still remember when you were a kestrel, my love.
Le Pain Maudit – Pont-Saint-Esprit 15 August 1951
I mutter-made the sourdough starter. Named her. Kept and coddled her. Fed her up each night. Treated her better than my mewling babe, precious wild-at-hearth yeast.
I syphoned-off grimp-blackening scum. Worse than bed-wintered stanklinged misplaced stockings.
Milled and bowled, I kneaded her, reckless cupboarded illumination. Freed up her restless gluten, to rise, rise, rise.
My coddling worked the flour and water, sweet levain in frothing motion. Oven-scorched screeched poetry for breakfast, scarfed with a scanted mouldy jam.
She liberated me, yes, yes, yes, made me dance and rave.
I’m wild-witchlinged now and burning for it. As charcoaled as the crust.
When he goes, she lets her hair grow out of the bob he favoured. She leaves off her bra, and wears the same t-shirt three days in a row. It is the one with the slogan that offended him. This pleases her.
Mould grows in half empty coffee mugs and the washing machine is switched on only when she runs out of underwear.
The cat reclaims her position on the bed and the two of them sleep curled together long into the morning.
In a month she is as he found her, but stronger in the places he assumed broken.
The Significance of Horses in the Dreams of Young Girls
While Sister Mary Bernadette is teaching biology, your classmates doodle horses in their notebooks. At lunchtime, they describe the scent of straw that fills their dreams, the warm snuffle of horse-breath at their throats. All night they ride trit-trot round walled gardens; spend hour after hour combing manes until they shine like silk.
You have nightmares torn around the edges. You lie, tell them you dream of horses too. You know how to be convincing. If you dreamed of a horse you would swing your leg over its back, jab your heel into its flank and gallop far, far away.
Good luck everyone!
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