We’ve read and re-read the shortlist of 25 stories to get to our shortlist of 10. Well done to all who were longlisted and congrats to the writers on the shortlist. No telling which story is yours though!
Voting is now open for the People’s Prize vote until midnight on Monday 25th October. Results will be announced on Tuesday 26th.
Good luck everyone!
My sister told me that fairies lived at the bottom of our garden in a treehouse made specially for them by the people who lived in our house before us; people who were foreigners and didn’t speak English so the fairies didn’t speak English either and didn’t understand anyone who wasn’t a fairy, so she said I wasn’t to go looking, I was only to appreciate that our garden was unique in that no other garden on the road had a fairy house. I didn’t understand unique, but I understood secrets, with my budding wings flattened under my Aran sweater.
There weren’t places where words would be found anymore, except for the shrines.
Here in the copse between the old roads, Mab had taught me the shapes of letters from messages people left, daubed or scratched onto bark; crumbly charcoal hopes which sluiced away overnight, always springing up again elsewhere.
“See,” she’d say, “there are still others.”
Fragments of dawn finally crept through shuddering leaves to where I’d hidden. Among our empty snares nestled a fresh shrine. Dew rinsed away my tears, but not the marks I’d seen and heard Mab’s shadow scraping over, shaping letters with yesterday’s spent kindling.
Five Gods I Worship in a Tiny Shrine Hidden Right at the Top of My Secret Garden
- The plastic gnome we stole in Scarborough that first sugar-spun summer of seashells and starfish.
- The emerald bead you found in the tide-line and threaded with ribbon and slipped round my wrist.
- That button-eyed squirrel, spotted in Oxfam, brought back home because no-one would love it.
- The driver’s side wing-mirror from my company Kia, still scrawled with the word HELP in black felt-tip caps, because it was the only place I’d see what you’d been trying to tell me.
- The ghost-white feather floating onto my coat sleeve the day your wife laid you to rest, and I lied my goodbyes.
Into the Woods
Through the day, her school uniform had grown muddied and grass-stained; now it was soaked with amniotic fluid. Above her, the soft blue sky laced itself with thorns.
She made no sound as her body tore open, had uttered no sound for the last nine moons, not since the world had ended.
As the baby broke from her, bloody and battered, it too was silent. Images of wisps of grass, of slapping, rose and fell, but she only lay there, waiting, as the smiling figure of leaf and shadow approached; wondering if, finally, someone heard her wordless cry for help.
I get a letter in the mail; it says HELP in inky writing, not newspaper cuttings fighting, flipping to freckled abandon, dirty tears on fevered cheeks and armfuls of twigs, bones, feathers, things falling, picking up; cat-calling, flailing into nettles with Miranda bitching and scratching about a boy in uniform skirts, fat bills way past caring, the pasta so al dente it hurts, running through an airport knowing it’s too late, a mirror of endless lines to keep me going, recognising the hardwiring, knowing no one else is going to save me and that’s why I’ve addressed it to myself.
Snog, Marry, Curse
“Too much blusher” the third husband says. He spits on a tissue and scrubs my cheeks.
I burn the tissue with a pinch of salt. Steal a drop of blood while he sleeps. Write his name on a broken mirror. Draw a tree around it with green eyeliner. Bury everything in the woods.
In the morning, he’ll wake up stiff, towering over everything, wondering why he can’t move or call for help. His voice is no more than a rustle.
I promise to visit soon.
Smile as number four carves a heart into him, my new name at the centre.
The Hanging Tree
I kept everything that reminded me of Dean. One time he wrote the word “HELP” in the rearview mirror while on the phone with his girlfriend, as I got undressed in the back of his BMW. Our first Christmas together, he bought a garden gnome and superglued it to a rocket ship bookend; the card read: Behold the AstroGnome. He made that stupid cricket out of acorns and yarn and made me wear it all summer.
I nailed it all to the hanging tree. The hawks get caught on the nails and leave their feathers. Nothing is permanent, I guess.
The First Letter of Gnome is Silent
The gnomes have her trapped. They clock her movements with a whirr and a click whenever she steps outside. The one that’s leaning on a spade has moved opposite the kitchen window. When she tells Brian he laughs, says she imagined it, then reminds her to take her tablets.
She pops the pill from its shallow plastic grave, a chalk-white coffin nestling in her palm. Brian thinks a normal woman would be over it by now. The gnome raises an eyebrow.
She lets the tablet slip away down the plughole, knowing that when she leaves, he’ll look the other way.
The death-shrieks of the trees summoned Nemi. At the bottom of the ravine, the monster lay on its back, ticking as its metal carapace cooled.
The creature hung upside down, eyes closed, breath rattling. Diamond chips of glass sparkled in its hair. One hand flailed, grasping for something beyond reach. Trickles of rubies ran up its face.
Nemi tasted the blood; liked it. And the flesh.
The inquest attributed her injuries to the crash.
Nobody wondered how the rearview mirror came to be nailed to a tree a mile away, nor who scrawled HELP on it in bright blue eyeliner.
What the Small Ones Know
Day weaves through trees, wind calls in circles like an incantation. I see you: your Hunter wellies, your waxed jacket, your flask of warm pretence. You trail your shampooed dog through centuries of forest. You never see me.
Today you have a child in tow, pink and glossy as a cake. The dog pulls as you close on me, sniffs like a truffle-pig, scrats at bark. I hold my breath. I watch as the earth tells the dog, who tells the child, who picks up the talisman, presses its feather to her face, then slips it silently into her pocket.
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