We’re excited to reveal our final shortlist of 2021 especially as it has 11 stories on it rather than the usual 10 as we just couldn’t decide between 2 stories for the final spot!
Well done to all who were longlisted, it’s a tough decision at this stage to choose the shortlist. And congrats to all the writers who stories appear below. No telling as always though as voting and judging has to remain anonymous.
Before we reveal the shortlisted stories, we’ve got exciting news about the competition...from now on all shortlisted stories will also be published in the Flash Fictions section of the website as well as the winning stories. This means that each shortlisted writer will have a story with associated image and their name on that they can link to rather than it just appearing in the voting blog. All of the stories will be published fully after the results are announced.
Now to the shortlisted stories…
A man with a cracked heart walks into a bar
Concealed words riddle his body: fractured across his heart; overworked – liver; underused – penis. He taps the pint glass, glancing at her on the bar stool opposite. Lonely scrawled on her forehead. And round her heart, a wavering impaired.
She too must have a trail of regrets clattering at her heels.
He chances a smile. She looks away. He dips his head, sips his pint, his eyes flicking up.
And he catches it, the sign: her lips softening, just for a second.
Soon he’ll go over and talk, hesitantly. She’ll remain guarded till, relaxing, her heart shivers and settles on paired.
A Sign of the Times
Every breaking wave ushers in that great hush you hear right now, the half-remembered memories, childhood holidays, waves, sea, the blind woman with the dog, the old man selling periwinkles, the blowholes on the cliff tops gushing spray up into the sky remembering when they were Gods. The sea-side traders, yelling, selling their merchandise. All the signs of a previous life.
Now, November, on the beach each hush carries a smile, a gesture, a snippet of a conversation, a burst of fragmented audio, light/dark, past/present, and those Derridean binaries returning from the past like static on a broken radio.
Early on in the yawning chasm days, a flock of jackdaws flew by as I opened the curtains onto a pale dawn. Hundreds of arrow-fast inky dashes disappeared over the horizon, and I refused to think it was you.
You weren’t in the kingfisher I saw by our river or the train ticket bookmark I found in a paperback. The feather at my feet was just a feather at my feet, although I picked it up and kept it. Nonsense, you would have said. There are no consolations.
Today, the jackdaws flew past at dusk. A whole sky of them.
If Life Was a Circus, You Were My Clown
Trampolining on seagrass, our performing dog dives and stinks. Silver hoops hold acrobatic seabirds. Rainbow-scaled, ready for the final act, I hear fate tip tapping.
The pretty girls are painting your po-face; I find a swing of driftwood and soar, following the signposts, up and over the waves, a rocket pointing towards the sun. Golden surfers squint and wonder at the no going back of it all.
When I burn down in flames, I perform a backwards flip and land in the heart of your one-handed applause. As I take a low, magnificent bow, the ringmaster turns out the lights.
One for sorrow, Two for joy, Three for a girl, Four for a boy, Five for silver, Six for gold, Seven for a secret never to be told
One – A flutter of black and white feathers, a solitary caw, and I know before I check that the result will be a single line.
Two – One year on. They swoop and dance above. Two lines. I stroke my growing bump.
Three, Four – Twins.
Five – The grey-haired neighbour pops over with flowers.
Six – My blonde-headed husband reaches to take them.
Seven – The sky erupts in raucous cackling. Silver and gold. My two worlds collide. The neighbour shoots me a searching look. I know he’s wondered. Know he’s done the calculations. I shake my head but don’t meet his eyes.
She is Everywhere and Nowhere
Anna wasn’t my real mom, but she stayed the longest.
After she left, I relived every fantastical bedtime story she told me, from feeding a baby kangaroo in Australia, to dancing the samba in Rio de Janeiro.
Dad called her a lying tramp.
Sometimes, I believe that I chose to travel the globe with my camera because I’m chasing a ghost.
I met Johnny and his daughter while photographing the CN Tower.
They want me to stay.
The empty spot in their toothbrush holder competes with the safety of my toiletry bag. I pray I will make the right decision.
The Colours of Doors
When they learn of my ability they surround me the way foxes encircle a bird with a fractured wing. They await their turn to make requests as if my mind is music. They listen for the signs I see. The colour of a door that will lead them to ‘the one’. The colour of hair, eyes, defining features. Dates and numbers, meaning in simplicity.
They don’t wish to know of the other signs, vivid images that flicker. Tangled limbs that jut from jagged, charred metal. Smoke curling into an orange summer sky.
I tell them everything they want to hear.
The Shadows Cast by Silent Stacks
A man in a well-worn suit faces the crowd. He’s well over six feet tall, a barrel stuffed into a perfectly pressed white shirt. A banner reading ‘One factory. One family’ trembles above him in a stiff Midwestern breeze. He raises a megaphone to his lips. From there his words become distant, fragmented.
A tattered American flag flutters overhead. Grey and pink stripes. Fifty grey stars. A few miles away my daughter plays in piles of orange leaves. My wife watches distractedly as clouds spill across the horizon like oil.
We Watch Each Other For the Signs
Yesterday, my neighbour stood a vase in the window with a single red rose in it and blew me a kiss. Today – a painting of two people dancing. He waltzes around the room with a pillow. He makes me laugh. Maybe in a different life we might have had a thing. Through binoculars, I watch him rush off again. When he comes back this time, he looks worried, swaps the rose for the red cross, flashing on and off. We close the shutters together, lie under our beds, listening to the thud of their feet outside, their deep growls.
Words Slapped on a Garden Sign: Reap What you Sow
Five days after the last time she spoke to her father, Carrie staggered from pub to pub, police station to hospital. Inquiring about a troubled man with a pinched face, swollen knuckles, and tense shoulders.
“No sign of him,” they said.
She talked to neighbours, friends, coworkers. Searched garage, and basement. Behind the cellar, Carrie crowbarred a thick, wooden door. Moist air smelled like rusty pipes. A frayed cable scratched her upturned face.
Six days after her father went missing, Carrie watched her mother’s crooked fingers tenderly knead healthy soil into a desolate garden. Carrie never mentioned the man again.
You are Entering the Tunnel of Love
Flashing skeletons, bats and phantoms. I wonder if this ride was once a ghost train. But it did say Tunnel of Love, in big pink letters around the entrance.
Young women clutch their hair and scream. The guys try to look cool.
Amid the leaping out and woohooing, I stay calm. I put up my hand, to keep cobwebs from brushing my face. Having been in a long-term relationship, I know this is nothing, nothing.
My ex was scared of me, but vicious too. Always getting in his little digs.
The boat is stuck. How do I call for help?
Vote for your favourite to win the People’s Prize using the form below. If you have any problems with the form you can also vote on this link: https://form.responster.com/yrwc2H