April 2020 Micro Fiction Shortlist

We received so many great stories this month so well done to everyone who got longlisted last week and an extra well done if you made the final ten. But also really well done for even writing and submitting something in such strange times.

Thanks to Emma Finlayson-Palmer, Amy Barnes and Joanna Campbell for helping to read and choose the lists – we have had a good debate about some!

We received 139 entries – the most ever – so the cash prize is £278, in addition to 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 27th April. We are trialling a new voting system that shows the number of votes each story is receiving as we thought this might add to the excitement – but the official results will still be announced on Tuesday 28th April.

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

A Nice Cup of Tea

Snick, snick, snick. A tiny sound as the slender stems break under her fingernail. Just the topmost leaves, the most delicate in flavour. Snick, snick. Only a few from each tree. Aged trees, older than her great-grandmother, and twice as gnarled. Stunted by generations of women picking their leaves.
Phut, phut, phut. A kettle bubbles in the darkness of a tumbledown hut. In the fug of warm milk and hot flames her rain-soaked, weary muscles ease. Phut, phut. There’s nothing delicate about this brew. Sweepings, twice stewed, and boiled with cardamom. Flavour drowned out by spice, bitterness shrouded by sugar.

Big Brother

From the fence, you told me that our hill was Mount Fuji, back when I hung off your every word. You told stories in pretend Japanese, with translations. You promised we would climb that mountain, one day. You said you would always protect me because that’s what big brothers do.
Here at the foot of the real mountain, with some of your ashes at my feet like clumps of cherry blossom, I am disappointed.
The real wonder was in your voice, your wide eyes, your expansive gestures. They never changed.
I needn’t have come here; you belong on our hill.

 

Dinosaurs and the Weary

Giant dinosaurs sleep on their bellies. Spiked armor on display to ward off enemies. I stand back and admire the great beasts that hide from the world to rest. They persist in their existence, despite a whole people who would call them extinct. I see their magnitude and gargantuan invisibility.
But why do they sleep, when they know we are afraid? Why do they let us say what we say about the asteroids and the great winter? Don’t they know that we fear something lonely, something beyond us. I beg them awake, to rub our heads in this dark night.

 

In the House of the Devil

Your pisco breath hot on my cheek, you push into me.
Through the window, I count the rooftops, until black swallows them, and I wonder how many other homes harbour secrets like magma.
Only tourists search the sky for the volcano here. The locals try to ignore it, though it tars the town, lake and everything in between with its name. In Mapuche, Villarica is Rucapillan, or devil’s house.
I should have listened to their warnings.
In the morning, my skin and the sheets are streaked with your eruption.
You lie dormant.
Lava comes from the Latin verb to wash.

 

Item One Hundred and Twenty-Five: To Climb a Mountain

Once pristine, the paper was smattered now with deep, grubby creases, each item struck through in turn, dark against pale. Until the last.
She stood looking out at the view, the blossom tinged air lifting the edges of her scarves as the scent of the sun caused her heart to ache.
He would have loved this.
Their tomorrow had swirled into rounds of poison pumped into tired veins, until, there was only yesterday and their home echoed with promises left unfulfilled.
She pulled the urn from her bag. Watched as he kissed the breeze and brushed the peak at last.

Possibility

I must tell her what I see. The picture is postcard-sized, glossy, parted like bird’s wings in one corner, sky bending unnaturally.
A photograph.
My therapist tells me I must play along. There’s a woman in the foreground. Mountain shining through an endless mist.
Somewhere hot?
She nods. Flicks eraser scum off her notepad. I see a beautiful woman oozing confidence. Not dwarfed by what faces her, but humbled by its complexity. Familiar with every crack, new and old. Fiercely independent. Or hiding fears of a world she cannot fix?
Possibility, I say finally. I see no end of possibilities.

 

Sacrificial Lamb

The boy waited patiently, an invisible shadow. Spewing gravel, the jeep skidded to a halt beside him. Out they rolled: joking, braying, bleating, hoisting identical rucksacks onto broad shoulders, comparing altimeters on oversized watches.
Once they’d sauntered past the tree-line, the boy sprang to his toes, gentle as the soft gloaming, and fast as the foehn. Gliding past them, they thought he was the haar sweeping in.
Cloud lapping at his feet, the boy waited at the summit. Though all were guilty of desecrating the holy mountain, only one would pay the price by stepping into the watery cloud.

 

Strider

My father could climb mountains with one stride. His rucksack was heavy with a lifetime’s burdens, but once he smelled the foothills, it seemed to weigh nothing at all. For years, he set his foot against the incline and challenged gravity.
When I was tall enough, I joined him. My pack contained water, sandwiches and an empty space for burdens of my own. Yet, even without days to weigh me down, I struggled to keep up.
Next time will be easier, my father never said. He gave me scalding coffee from a flask and taught me the victory of inches.

Torn Sky

A rip in the sky appears like a mountain shadow planted in the view. Pilgrims come to watch the heaven’s fault-line let our future in.
The aurora borealis, shooting stars and lightening, seep symptoms of our pain. At the edge of the world we stand, find the wound, peel back this second skin and let blood fall like rain on Chernobyl fires.
A goose with patchwork burns crosses the field, honking at break of day. We do not wear black. We put the sun back in the sky, sew the tear up and let our eyes mist with the view.

When Coffee is in Your DNA

Java was his idea.
Find your roots.
I don’t need to.
Aren’t you curious?
No.
The sari was his idea.
You’ll look like a native.
I don’t need to.
It’ll keep beggars away.
It won’t.
The temple was his idea.
Explore your heritage.
I don’t need to.
You do, really.
I don’t.
Being alone was my idea.
Can’t I come?
I don’t want you to.
You do really.
I don’t.
Staying was my idea.
You know I can’t.
I’ve found my roots, it’s what you wanted.
It’s not.
He doesn’t drink coffee now, he says its taste is too bitter.

We think these are a fantastic selection and we hope you’ve enjoyed them too. Vote for your favourite below. If you are having trouble accessing the form below you can also vote on this link: https://www.retreatwest.co.uk/poll/april20-micro-shortlist/

 

April 2020 Micro Fiction Shortlist

This poll has been finished and no longer available to vote !

April 2020 Micro Fiction Longlist

 

Many thanks to everyone who sent in stories for this month’s micro fiction comp, and to Cath Barton for the inspiring prompt that generated the most entries we’ve had so far. Which means the winner will receive a cash prize of £278 as well as free entry to the annual Flash Fiction Prize.

Of the 139 entries we received we’ve got a longlist of 40 stories. All readings are anonymous until the final judging is completed so only the story titles are show here. If your story is listed please don’t let anyone know what it is called! Congrats to the 40 writers who made it through.

April 2020 Micro Fiction Longlist

  • Ancient Indonesian Tattoos, East of Java
  • A Ghost is Here
  • A Nice Cup of Tea
  • Big Brother
  • Carefully Crafted
  • Changes of Fortune
  • Dinosaurs and the Weary
  • Dormant Power
  • Elsie – The Love of my Life
  • Everything Left Behind
  • Garden Party Guidelines
  • Homecoming
  • How to Climb a Mountain
  • Item One Hundred and Twenty-Five: To Climb a Mountain
  • In the House of the Devil
  • Life and Death
  • Lost in Translation
  • Maesta
  • Nadia’s Mission
  • On Preparing to Climb a Mountain for the First Time: I Will Not Let You Stop Me
  • Paralysis
  • Possibility
  • Sacrificial Lamb
  • Search Continues for Missing Botanist in Roen
  • Strider
  • Ten Seconds Before the End of the World
  • The Ache
  • The Distance
  • The Grey Monolith
  • The Mountain
  • The Other Mountain was on Fire
  • Time to Sow
  • Torn Sky
  • Tristão
  • Up, Up and Away
  • Utopia
  • Walking on Chocolate
  • Working from the Top
  • When a Man is not a Mountain
  • When Coffee is in your DNA

 

We’re busy reading again and the shortlist of 10 stories will be online for public voting on Monday 20th April. Good luck everyone!

2019 Short Story and Flash Fiction Prize Winners

2019 Short Story and Flash Fiction Prize Winners

We’re very excited to announce the winners of the 2019 Short Story and Flash Fiction prizes. Many thanks to our judges for taking on the tough job of choosing the winners from the shortlisted stories. Angela Readman picked our winning short stories and Meg Pokrass our flash fictions.

Well done to all of the writers who made our long and shortlists and a HUGE congratulations to the winners of the top 3 spots.

2019 RW Short Story Prize Winners

I was delighted to judge this competition; of all the competitions I’ve worked on this was the closest. Any of the stories in the shortlist would have been worthy winners, the standard was exceptional. Each story varied in subject and style, but was impeccably structured. I read each story in the shortlist a few times, and my top five even more. I took my time, and ultimately chose the stories I couldn’t forget even after a few days had passed. I’d like to congratulate all the writers who made the shortlist and want them to know they all wrote stories I am certain will find a place in the world and be read for years. It was difficult to choose only three out of so many wonderful stories, but, in the end, I had to choose the ones I couldn’t stop thinking about.

First Prize: Sal by Emma Hutton

Reading Sal gave me goose bumps. The title is deceptively simple, yet the originality of the character took this coming of age story to a whole other level. The writing shone. The tension between men, women, and social expectations is palpable. I found that the more I read the story the more layers it revealed. This is a story that just keeps on giving. It deserves to be read more than once. Every word earned its place as the winner.

Second Prize: Whale Watching by Louise Farr

A delightful story of how we become who we are and the ways that we cope with loss. I was impressed with the use of childhood impressions that made the disappointments of daily life almost magical. The voice leapt off the page and continued to surprise me throughout. Funny, sad, strange and moving, it was impossible not to place this story. I know it will stick with me for a long time, the character is so compelling I felt I could hear her heartbeat.

Third Prize: Mess of Love by Jason Jackson

A fascinating exploration of the dynamics of a relationship and what strength really means. I was submerged in this story by the sensory opening and was impressed with how details are used to convey character. However flawed these people may be, the use of touch in this story made their relationship utterly convincing. The mess of their love seemed incredibly real.

2019 Flash Fiction Prize Winners

First Prize: Treating the Stains and Strains of Marriage by Sherry Morris

Treating the Stains and Strains of a Marriage is a story about the fading colours of a marriage. With brilliant sensory flourishes, startling use of metaphor and internal rhyme, this darkly funny story tackles the world of domestic drudgery and whips it into something deliciously unsettling and surreal.This story’s originality and jaunty confidence won me over! I have never read anything else like it.

Second Prize: Riverwater Cistern by Niamh MacCabe

Riverwater Cistern is an enchanting story about early love and friendship, and the magical world of childhood. Filled with gorgeous use of poetic language and finely tuned emotional detail—a visceral reading experience that made me remember (with longing) what it was like to be that young, and intensely alive.

Third Prize: Wormholes, Mushroom, Silverfish by Timothy Boudreau

Wormholes, Mushroom, Silverfish is a fresh and original coming-of-age story, shown through a sensory-rich lens. I admire the way this author trusts the reader, and the masterful way they express the gritty emotions of teenage isolation without being gloomy, or overtelling.
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These stories and all of the shortlisted stories in both categories will be published in the winner’s anthology later this year so be sure to snap up a copy then!
Many thanks to all of the writers who submitted stories for the 2019 prizes, we enjoyed reading them all. We’ll be announcing the details of the 2020 judges and prizes next month…

February 2020 Micro Fiction Shortlist

February 2020 Micro Fiction Competition Shortlist

Once again, thank you to everyone who submitted to our lighthouse-themed comp and well done if you made the longlist! We received our highest ever number of entries, so the prize fund for the winner is a spectacular £260!

And thank you to Ali Thurm for providing our prompt! Retreat West Books will publish Ali’s debut novel One Scheme of Happiness on 27th February. You can pre-order your copy here or find out more about her unsettling tale of uneasy friendships on our website here.

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

Voting is now open until 23:59 on Monday 24th February. Winners will be announced on Tuesday 25th.

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

A Warning to Those at Sea

You saw me, in my element, dancing in the waves. Those body rolls, you said, hands skimming down my curves, pausing again at that place where scales met skin. I shivered, wanting more.

If you loved me, you would, you said, as I undulated back into my briny loneliness.

And so, one day, I did.

People say the rocks are sharp as daggers. But that’s nothing to the vicious bite of new-hewn feet on land. To the agony of your betrayal.

You cast off from the shore again, so here I am.

Bleeding, crawling, climbing.

To put out the light.
 

An Unusual Holiday Let Opportunity

Your holiday will begin with an exciting boat ride to the island.

  • Ignore the mermaid tails embedded in the rocks.
  • Take care whilst treading the desiccated bones of sailors and bairns.
  • Avoid the cobwebbed corpse of the keeper yawning in the dust.
  • Don’t touch the selkie skins or the skull of the Stoor Worm.

The management confirms these will eventually disappear.

The lighthouse, being operational, has an electronic fog signal. Guests can use the ear plugs provided to mute the sounds of the ghost pipers, the siren songs and the monster Modernity as it rolls and crushes, rolls and crushes.

 

Change, Rising Fair

‘Ten years?’ I say.

His face is passive, he’s survived tempests, my temper is nothing.

‘Time passes quickly up here.’ His eyes are on the horizon, I am no more distracting than the wheeling herring gulls outside. I try again.

‘You could’ve written. We thought you were dead.’

He turns away, pours water from a battered kettle into an equally distressed teapot. The familiar domesticity of his movements enrages me, but I take the cup when it’s offered. He peers at the brass barometer on the wall and frowns.

‘Change.’ He says. I put down the cup and hug him.

 

Chiaroscuro

The lighthouse beam eclipses the smoky-faced moon, which is waxing gibbous tonight. Its dazzling ribbon floods the tormented sea, leaving the rocks in darkness, while I loiter here alone at the top of the steps.

I was guided to this place through the dreamscape, and from here I see it all – what has happened and what is still to come. As I listen to the gentle swoosh of the rotations, I count the eclipses till I run out of numbers. I can see things now as the ancients once saw them and the future is brimming brighter than ever.

 

Goodbye to all That

There are 4 of them. All dressed in shades of black except for Davy. Davy is in grey which matches the sky. They laugh at Jimmy because he says his suit is the colour of outer space.

“The salesman in the shop said so.” It’s the first time they have laughed today.

The lighthouse where they once played, hid, ran to, is boarded up now. Rust bleeding into plaster, the lamp long since extinguished.

“Ready?” says Graham. They nod in unison and watch as he scatters ashes on the wind and the ghosts of 60 years ago dance in the dust.

 

Incubus

Low tide, and she hitches her skirts waist-high, wades through salt and bladderwrack. Linen petticoats begin to bloat; silt squashes between toes.

She reaches the iron tower on the rocks, its fire licking rainclouds.

The package between her breasts remains dry: nutmeg, mandrake.

She looks back. They begin to line the beach, armed with torches. But she will do as she pleases. She will lie beneath the tower’s heat, while her cunning, quick fingers conjure him, again, in an unholy prayer.

And she will stay here, with him, entranced – until the fire above her wanes into embers and ash.

 

Kopu Lighthouse

As we approach through the conifers, you say it is your mother. Solitary in starched skirt, rocky edges hewn cold and sharp, her beacon-face both warning and admonishment. And from that tiny barred window of a mouth: Watch you don’t turn out like your father.

I lean into you and say, “To me, it is a Dalek.”

Back home, while you sleep, I ease a sonic screwdriver under your pillow, with a note: For those tricky, maternal moments. And whisper that I know—with that same conviction with which tide lures ship to sandbank—you will never be like him.

 

Significant Notes on Lighthouses

There are 19,000 worldwide.

On maps they look like chess pieces.

Ornamental versions are popular in fish tanks.

You once said stars are lighthouses in space, guiding people onwards.

Aged six, I gained a C grade for my project describing how lighthouses protect ships from angry waves.

Aged eleven, I received an A grade for my poem depicting mothers as lighthouses and fathers as volatile waves.

After he left, we bought a boat and visited a different lighthouse every weekend.

In hospital, I hold your hand, crepey brown like a treasure map and wait for you to find your star.

 

Tending the Light

They bring a revolving night-light to your room and we watch its cool finger sweep the ceiling. Your breath slows to match its rhythm and I imagine your tinnitus whispering traveller’s tales in murmurs of the sea. Though I stare deep into the ebb tide of your ocean eyes, you drift beyond my reach.

Born under its beam, you ensured the light shone true. Now your own is fading.

Your absence aches in the grey dawn. Looking from the corridor window, the lighthouse stands sentinel. Through dissolving mist, its beam caresses me while it lights your way.

 

The Banshee’s Daughter

The air around the lighthouse is possessed of a new and fickle madness. The lamp’s beams dance across the shoulders of the rowing girl and touch her face: her expression a thundercloud of grief for the ancient betrayal of her sex. Around her, water, cold enough to crack human skin, licks the spines of sea-urchins who trace the shadows of her oars, watchful and ready.

As the girl’s boat shivers between the rocks, her laugh envelopes the grinding wind, like needles shrouded in silk: sharp enough to be mistaken for her mother’s wail, sincere enough to herald the same fate.

 

 

If you can’t see or use the voting panel below, you can cast your vote on this link: https://form.responster.com/rlHqEb

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Earth Themed Flash Shortlist

Earth Themed Flash Longlist

Once again, a big thank you to everyone who submitted an entry in the Earth themed flash comp!

Congrats to everyone whose story appears on the shortlist below. Please don’t tell us which is yours if it’s there as readings are still anonymous! Winners will be announced soon!

Shortlist

  1. Soil
  2. Celestial Bodies
  3. Buried
  4. Undertaker, Sexton, Mourner
  5. The Five Stages of Hopelessness
  6. Ten Things I have Learned From Being a Troglodyte
  7. Terra
  8. Freewheeling
  9. Unearthed
  10. Rasul: Spa Treatment with Rosie

 

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The next themed flash deadline is 29th March and the judge, Gaynor Jones, has chosen the theme: Abandoned. So get writing! Get all the info on this year’s comps and judges here.

 

Earth Themed Flash Longlist

Earth Themed Flash Longlist

Many thanks to everyone that entered the final themed flash comp of 2019. We received 92 entries this time around and enjoyed reading them all.

Congrats to everyone whose story appears on the longlist below. Please don’t tell us which is yours if it’s there as readings are still anonymous! Shortlist will be announced in a couple of weeks.

Longlist

  1. A Carillion For Earth
  2. All This Talk
  3. And Far Away
  4. Buried
  5. Celestial Bodies
  6. Coming Out Of The Upstairs
  7. Don’t Pity The Whistle Pig
  8. Earth
  9. Earth To Tilda: Can You Read Me?
  10. Folly
  11. For Sale
  12. Freewheeling
  13. Gone To Earth
  14. Grounded
  15. How Trees Breathe In Winter
  16. Ice Between Us
  17. It Came From Below
  18. Looking After The Earth Dog
  19. Rasul: Spa Treatment With Rosie
  20. Stones Among Trees
  21. Safe In The Earth
  22. Soil
  23. Ten Things I Have Learned From Being A Troglodyte
  24. The Death Of Mother Earth
  25. The Five Stages Of Hopelessness
  26. The Rhubarb Rebellion
  27. Unearthed
  28. Undertaker, Sexton, Mourner
  29. Warpaint
  30. What She Sees When The Earth Moves

 

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The next themed flash deadline is 29th March and the judge, Gaynor Jones, has chosen the theme: Abandoned. So get writing! Get all the info on this year’s comps and judges here.