May 2020 Micro Fiction: shortlist

We received so many great stories this month, so well done to everyone whose story was longlisted. And an extra congratulations to you if you made the final ten!

Thanks to Emma Finlayson-Palmer, Amy Barnes and Joanna Campbell for helping to read and choose the lists – as ever, it wasn’t easy to narrow the longlist

We received 125 entries, so this month’s cash prize is £250 plus a free entry to the annual Retreat West Flash Fiction Prize. The runner-up will get a free entry too, plus both stories will be published in the Flash Fiction section of our website.

Voting is anonymous, so please don’t tell anyone what your story is called.

Voting is now open until 23:59 on Monday 25th May.

Enjoy these great micro fiction stories and then vote for your favourite in the poll at the end of the post.

His Guardian Angel

He doesn’t notice when I show him fresh lemons; altocumulus clouds like ploughed fields; dew on cobwebs. This is my last resort. 

We find the fortune-teller’s door: Knock Loudly And Wait, it demands.

Tea-leaf spider-legs dot her cup as he tells her of his misfortune.

‘Then you must make your own luck,’ we answer, in unison.

But he shakes his head – determined, I think, to ignore dandelions; resilient mint tufts between stones.

I can do no more. She rings her bell and I am lifted, soaring away – swooping into altocumulus, across ploughed fields – to take my own advice.

If Opportunity Knocks

Marjorie had intended to put it all behind her when she moved to the village; she knew she wasn’t getting any younger, but there was something in the way the window cleaner had looked at her that first week, and it did provide her with a bit extra, something for a few treats like a decent bottle of gin.

She’d put the note in the porch after the unfortunate misunderstanding with the vicar; it gave her time to check from the bedroom window. She did wonder afterwards though whether she hadn’t seen a small flicker of disappointment cross his face.

Couples Counselling

I’m standing at our back door reading the hastily penned note. The curtains to our living room twitch. They are dark and geometric, symbolic of our mood after that day shopping for them. Symbolic of our marriage pre-lockdown.

We are already socially distant; already separated.

As per his text message, I place my deckchair facing the window. This week it’s my turn. This week it’s all about my needs.

A frisson of excitement bubbles in my gut, old forgotten sensations simmer. He always was a good dancer.

I knock loudly and wait.

Oh God, I hope he wears the Stetson.

17 Albert Street

I used to imagine revenge tasting like a Zoom lolly. Or the icing peeled off a bun in one go. Like a big plaster. But it doesn’t. It tastes of gum chewed too long and gone hard.

Knock and wait. My arms want to stretch out. Straight. Where he can see them. But I’ve learnt habits can break just as easy as bones.

He opens the door. I see the belt, restrained in denim loops, his ring binder knuckles, the blood in my eyes, the grain of his desk.

‘Volunteer buddy,’ I smile. He hesitates, steps back.

Lets me in.


Bobby Raven tattoos people in the basement of his house. Gemma knocks and waits. It’s dodgy as hell but he’s cheap and she’s heard good things, like how he doesn’t speak much.

There isn’t a part of him that isn’t inked and as he hands her the binder, she’s drawn to a tattoo on his wrist. Tiny cherub wings.

‘Those. Right here,’ she says, showing him her bare palm. This way she’ll get to hold what she cannot have.

He blinks slowly and takes her hand, as if he understands, as if her story is already written on her skin.

Knock Loudly And Wait

We marry in 1979, the week ‘Ring My Bell’ tops the radio and lifts the discotheque. It’s all shimmer and flashing lights at first. Even when I bake the bird dry, there is always something fresh between us – the pop of a cork.

The fizzle.

Two kids and three stone later, I check your collars for cliches; find a number in your pocket.

‘Repairman,’ you say. Dishwasher, toaster, table leg…

A broken litany lies between us.

About my bell? This old thing hasn’t been rung in ages. Doorbell’s still broken too. I reckon one’s an easier fix than the other.


In the utter darkness, Captain-Lieutenant Kolesnikov had lost track of time since the explosion. He banged a spanner on the bulkhead of Compartment 9, no longer expecting an answer.

‘Just us, lads.’

Laboured breathing from the dark was the only reply.

Kolesnikov knocked on the hull at what he reckoned were hourly intervals. Three dots, three dashes, three dots – who would save their souls?

They called their names, their voices weak and hoarse. He wrote them by feel and pressed the note into a high point in the last air pocket.

Kolesnikov knocked again and waited. Then there was silence.

Stay Inside

His problem with dancing was that he was never in his whole body at once. His focus would concentrate into, say, his left arm. His right, left to its own devices, would get up to God knows what.

His cats suffered similarly. Watching the birds, all their energy concentrated into their licking tongues. Their distracting tails thumped unconsciously beneath the windowsill.

He developed a meditative exercise: pretending the thumps were various people deliberately knocking at the door. This helped. His mind knocked at his escaping right arm, and it let him in, and said he could stay inside, for now.

The Disciple

Waking sleep-fuddled each morning, she knew he’d made his daily pilgrimage.

First the drifting scent of disturbed chamomile when she opened her window.

Then a gentle after-trembling of the earth, birds alarm-calling in the shuddering willows, vague flattened grass shapes of to and fro feet.

Ridged doorstep clay boot droppings crumbling in early beaming sun, scarlet flakes, finger scratched from the door’s peeling paint, floating over the white roses.

Swirling whorls from a stranger’s cautious fingerprint on cracked glass, tapped reverberations setting her dreamcatchers a-sway.

Always the doorstep offerings.

Resistance worn away; she scrawled her note.

Lay morning silent…waiting.


I press an ear to the protruding wall in my bathroom and listen for a bird, a cough, anything.

Once I heard an old man singing. Another time, a mother read bedtime stories.

I heard New Year celebrations in spring, chatter from an Italian barber shop, the whirring machines of a commercial gym.

For weeks now the little wall has been silent.

I knock loudly and wait.

Then, I recognise her raspy chuckle.


It’s been years since I heard the voice of my Czech grandmother, telling me not to worry. It would all be over soon.

We hope you’ve enjoyed reading these stories as much as we did. Vote for your favourite by using the form below or by following this link:

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