We received so many great stories this month, as ever, so well done to everyone whose story was longlisted. And an extra congratulations to you if you made the final eleven!
Thanks to Emma Finlayson-Palmer, Amy Barnes and Joanna Campbell for helping to read and choose the lists.
We received 135 entries, so this month’s first place cash prize is £162 plus a free entry to the annual Retreat West Flash Fiction Prize. Second place will also receive a free entry and a cash prize of £108, and each shortlisted writer will receive a free entry too. Both winning 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 22nd June.
Enjoy these great micro fiction stories, and then vote for your favourite in the poll at the end of the post.
The picture hung crooked on the wall, all silver and grey streaks, the line of the train seeping into the smoky clouds. She reached up to straighten it and shrank back. A vein, a fleck of black, by the engine? She moved closer, her hand reaching out. Someone jumping from the train.
‘Excuse me, my bill please?’
The waitress nodded.
She turned back to the picture. The fleck, the vein, had disappeared.
She shivered, left The Station coffee house, holding the door open for a man in a black overcoat who took her seat under the picture and floated upward.
Beyond the Line
Today you’re in the high north, searching for a long-abandoned railway. You’ve become so adventurous since it happened, the thing you don’t say. You never look back, only up. It doesn’t get more up than the Arctic tundra. You find the tracks, stretching into the barren landscape. Your guidebook tells the story of the last train ever to run here: the emptiness around him drove the driver mad. He jumped off without warning and ran away. He was never found. Maybe he never stopped running. You suddenly wonder if you might be him. You slow your pace, just in case.
End of the Circle Line
Strange to go against the flow, to squeeze through bodies hell-bent on bagging seats on a train going nowhere; ridiculous to abandon scores of commuters, het up and sweaty-faced, in stifling hot carriages; peculiar to say ‘I forgive you’ when your less-than-loving wife confesses adultery; weird to not want to know what ‘technically it wasn’t infidelity’ means; mad to move on in mindless circles, like a driverless train; odd that new Viagra ads plastered along your route will snap you out of it; ludicrous to leave your career mid-shift and find yourself racing home for an urgent talk about automation.
Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results
Multiple tracks were laid out around the living room at 4 Lowry Close, where four miniature steam trains were in motion, one for each quadruplet, driven by homemade peg dolls whose painted smiles drooped with each day they raced around the coffee table, the walls, the fireplace and the feet of the parents, who sat resigned on either end of the sofa in an ever-growing cloud of engine smog and violent tempers, and as the days passed the peg dolls splintered while waiting for the heat of summer to open a window so they could leap free, escape and forget.
Reality is coming apart at the seams. Fragments of track and the trees that border it are peeling away and slipping between apertures. The distortion is advancing. I crouch and shield my face in the overwhelmingly hot air amid the sounds of warping metal and pinging rivets. Passengers are peering out the windows of the carriages, bemused by my reaction. A woman steps out. Her feet blur. Parts of her are disappearing into the drawers of causality.
‘First-time driver?’ she asks.
I nod. Her proffered hand is simultaneously massive and minute.
‘Trust me. It’s better to be on the train.’
No Smoke Without Fire
Fragile. That’s how he’d describe her. Apparently there’d been an arson incident when she was younger but he didn’t ask about that. Sometimes it frightened him. The dark moods. The blank expression.
He wanted to help so badly, but felt weak. Ineffective.
His phone beeped as he eased his train to a halt at the last station. He read the message: I know you’re leaving me.
He sighed, pressing the heels of his palms into his aching eyes. Peering through the bug-smeared windscreen he took in the skyline. A charcoal plume bled onto the evening pink.
On the Night of Miracles
Twelve thousand people see the face of Jesus, the outlines of their long-departed—perceive the
weight of their hands, the scent of their skin—see birds rise up into the blackest sky like stars
ascending. The news calls it a queer coincidence; the church, a sign; governments, an insurgency.
At the station, five-year-year old Zara senses the tinkling of bells, fresh lavender, sees the driver
jump from the train and disappear down the tracks. Until her dying breath, she swears there was
light there, a woman’s figure, the faraway echo of an orchestra, a crescendo of magic.
Seven Reasons Harold Johnson Abandoned His Train
- He’d never wanted this job anyway – it wasn’t, as the recruitment consultant had assured him, a “suitable alternative to office management”.
- Yes, Mary had become accustomed to a certain lifestyle which necessitated a certain wage. But what did it matter now?
- The cab air was too thick.
- The uniform sat too stiffly at his neck, like a restrictive barrier.
- Restrictive barriers should keep people back, just as brakes should engage immediately.
- Your brain shouldn’t snapshot scenes you never wanted to see, but it does – playing them on loop until you can only run.
The Self-Fulfilling Prophecy
They’re in my dreams and deepest sleep, in the quiet night and noisy morning, in the car driving to work, in canteen chatter and every silence, over the Tannoy, in the swish of doors, inside the cab as I start the engine, in the rhythm of the train, the rhythm of the train, the rhythm of the train.
The same thing. Over-and-over.
They’re in the stopping at the station as I jump onto the track, in every gasp and throbbing heartbeat as I tear along the sleepers, as I race along the sleepers, as I—
The rusted carriages at Tripoli station are empty unless the moon is full.
The drivers come first, then passengers, real except for the softness of their edges.
Some come to visit then, others to visit now. It’s a happy occasion for all but the driver with the letter folded in his jacket. He leaps from the train before it has stopped. He would be risking death but it’s too late for that now. The passengers watch him run towards something or away from it, they’ve never asked. They only hope he comes back for the next filling of the moon.
We Stay As You Left Us
I brush-paint bogies yellow, red, with merry play people; let color trickle down my faded childhood. Dad laughs from somewhere. Like he used to when we reached an inner corridor on imaginary rails, me at his shirt tail, the weight of our shadows on him; sometimes making a rattling noise as we passed bridges. Mum whistled; I went choo-choo-choo; steps synchronized like wings.
Magic escaped in steam one night when our holiday train drew into a sea-side station. Voices in Dad’s head surged in waves; he leapt over a moss-printed cliff.
Mum and I remained buckled, stranded on the platform.
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: form.responster.com/15Bawu
Good luck, everyone!