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

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

February 2020 Micro Fiction Longlist

Thank you to Ali Thurm for providing this month’s brilliant 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.

We received our highest ever number of entries (130) and so the winner will receive an equally impressive £260, in additional 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.

The final ten will be published next Monday with public voting opening at the same time.

All readings and votes are anonymous so writers if you are on this longlist, please do not tell anyone which story is yours.

Thank you to all who submitted and congrats if you made the longlist!

Longlist:

  • A Point of Light
  • A Warning to Those At Sea
  • An Unusual Holiday Let Opportunity
  • Anyer Lighthouse
  • Betrayal
  • Change, Rising Fair
  • Chiaroscuro
  • For mother
  • For the Drowned
  • Goodbye to all that
  • Incantation
  • Incubus
  • Into the Light
  • It Is Water
  • Kopu Lighthouse
  • Letting Go
  • Lookout
  • Mad, Sad or Bad?
  • Nothing Lasts
  • Pharos
  • Quicksand
  • Safe Passage
  • Salt Kiss
  • See The Light
  • Shaken Houses
  • Significant Notes on Lighthouses
  • Smeaton’s Tower Ten O’Clock
  • Standing into Danger
  • Tending the Light
  • The Banshee’s Daughter
  • The Dimming Light
  • The Last of the Lighthouse Keepers
  • The Lighthouse
  • The Lighthouse Keepers Wife
  • The Tyrant
  • The Walrus
  • To rent: Repurposed Lighthouse
  • Together Again
  • Walking in the Steps of Another
  • Wreckers

Enjoying our Flash Fiction comps? Check out our new Flash Fiction Memberships, tailored to suit the flashing enthusiast. And as an added bonus, sign up in January and you will receive our entire back catalogue in ebook free of charge!

When The Last Flame is Blown by Denny Jace

When The Last Flame is Blown

Denny Jace

‘Is this Mum?’

‘Yes…she’s about five.’

My sons are sorting through my things. Kneeling, heads bowed, piles of photos dripping through their fingers.

‘Yes,’ I chuckle; ‘Me on my fourth Birthday! I was cross, your grandad had forgotten the candles.’

The boys nod and sigh.

The photo’s moved to the bottom of a pile, then absently shuffled like a deck of cards. We could play Poker or lay them face down like Tarots.

The shuffled pack is tossed into the binbag.

‘No!’ I shout.

They don’t hear me; I’m the silent sudden chill that breathes goosepimples down their spines.

 

About the author: Denny Jace has been writing since June 2019. She writes Flash Fiction and Short Stories and is building up to her first novel. She lives in Shropshire with her husband and two (grown up) children. Most of her days are spent reading her stories to Maude and Stanley, her two faithful dogs. She has previously been longlisted/shortlisted and runner up in Retreat West Micro Flash Fiction 2019. Follow Denny on Twitter: @dennyjace

 

Safety in Numbers by Sara Hills

Safety in Numbers

Sara Hills

‘Not one lick of buttercream,’ Mama warns. ‘The cake is for the party.’

Simi bites her tongue before it talks back.

Turning four means helping scrub her brother’s stiff grey socks. Four for starting school. Four, the number of probing fingers on Uncle Pachy’s right hand.

Simi glares at the cake until her eyes water. She pokes it. Buttercream gives way, knuckle-deep, and Simi bores four even holes.

She pictures herself in the schoolyard, morning light sunbursting on the windowpanes, disappearing in a clatter of uniformed children. The safety in numbers.

Simi scoops up buttercream and takes a bite.

 

About the author: Sara Hills is a writer based in Warwickshire, UK. Her short fiction has been nominated and shortlisted for various anthologies, including both the Bath Flash Fiction Award and the Bridport Prize. She tweets from @sarahillswrites.

 

January 2020 Micro Fiction Shortlist

January 2020 Micro Fiction Competition Shortlist

Well done to everyone who had a story on the longlist. We’ve had a few debates but the shortlist is finally decided upon! Congrats to all the writers whose stories appear below. Voting is anonymous though so please don’t tell anyone what your story is called.

Voting is now open until 23.59 on Monday 27th January. Winners will be announced on Tuesday 28th.

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

A Birthday Wish

Cake was an unheard of treat in the orphanage and so the anticipation of sweetness on tongues brought smiles to sad eyes. The candle wick released a hiss as the flame took hold, Lorna closed her eyes – and wished.

The damp grey melted and she opened her eyes to a beautiful forest clearing. Whispers of her mother’s voice curled about her until warm arms folded her into a perfumed embrace. Matching brown eyes shone as they danced, feet damp with dew, hair swirling free, their laughter breathless.

Under a soft lunar glow, a sleepy smile carved itself against salt-streaked cheeks.

 

An Exquisite Pain

Sylvie’s excited to be turning four – the doll she’s begged for, the cake with too much icing, the party games, the four candles to puff out with her delicate wisps of breath. To her, four means big school and pinafore dresses and pig-tails with bubble-gum bows.

I dream of it too. For her. And for me.

In reality, an ever creeping shadow looms. Our subsuming is inevitable. The four allotted formative years end so They come.

She goes.

The hopeless unknown shreds me daily – one choice too permanent to contemplate, the other to exist without my beating heart.

 

Diary Entry: The Presents Keep Coming

I’d prayed all night, lying in bed, staring at the ceiling, and the mosquitoes said Yes, Jesus and Mary said Yes, even God said Yes. I could eat the whole cake! Another surprise – a lovely dress, a pair of red leather shoes – the type we can’t afford – ever so special! I put them on straight away and waltzed into the kitchen. Mum said she couldn’t see anything, would I shut up. She was cooking all kinds of nothing, my stomach was rumbling and it was getting cold. Daddy, your shoes are under the bed. Nobody can see them except me.

 

Frosting Trails

She catches the sugar drops of his words on her tongue. They’re sweet and warm like an iced birthday cake. She swallows them. Always.

His glances are like silk and she doesn’t feel the barbs. His hands trace frosting trails in her skin, linger a pulse-beat at her throat.

Where are you going? What time will you be back? Who’ll be there?

His words taste like love, his love feels like safety, and his safety feels all-consuming.

His love hurts, but she thinks it’s better than no love at all.

She could almost take it. But their daughter is watching.

 

Fury

And when I am Queen, I shall build a castle of shell and stone, and I shall stand on the tower and scream into the sky scattering crows like arrows of my anger, and I shall sweep down the stairs with steel in my blood and send armies to meet you and their shields will blind you with the white heat of my fury and their swords will slice you like milk.

And you will say shhh, it’s okay, and stroke my hair. And I will let you wrap me in your smell and my castle will crumble like sand.

 

Negative

A snapshot, black and white. Each minute detail etched roughly into the back of my eyes. Is it real, this memory? My room, a stark prison cell. The cake, a peace offering from my familial warder. Icing slammed against the side of the cake. White sweetness against the black. The cake knife glints as it lies there, daring me to cut and slice. Wasn’t I lucky to have such a lovely cake made for me? That’s what everyone said. They didn’t see the butter being beaten to a smooth, submissive pulp. The hidden anger as the wooden spoon was wielded.

 

Playthings

Mama tries not to come to conclusions about boys’ natural urges. Outside Gustav is rattling his pedal-driven go-kart against a bucket, while inside Phoebe sits alone in front of her 4th birthday cake. Round and round the wheels spin, kerthunk, kerthunk. Why? Mama would seriously like to know what besets the child, but she will not call him yet again. Instead she prepares to light a match.

“Mama,” Phoebe interrupts. “Can’t we wait for Papa to come back?”

Another crash. Mama places the matches beside the cake. She’s trying so hard not to
come to conclusions about boys’ natural urges.

 

Safety in Numbers

“Not one lick of buttercream,” Mama warns. “The cake is for the party.”

Simi bites her tongue before it talks back.

Turning four means helping scrub her brother’s stiff grey socks. Four for starting school. Four, the number of probing fingers on Uncle Pachy’s right hand.

Simi glares at the cake until her eyes water. She pokes it. Buttercream gives way, knuckle-deep, and Simi bores four even holes.

She pictures herself in the schoolyard, morning light sunbursting on the windowpanes, disappearing in a clatter of uniformed children. The safety in numbers.

Simi scoops up buttercream and takes a bite.

 

The Making of a Monster

After she told them about her vision on the beach, showed them the sculpture she had created, they kept her in a room. It was bare only for a simple bed and the sand she moulded into her prophesies. Once a week they allowed her to go to Mass. She was made to stand in front of Father Howard while he studied the reflection in her shiny black patent shoes and told her she was ‘holy’. One day she would squeeze the sand into an image of Father Howard and then she would pound it into obliteration with her fist.

 

When The Last Flame is Blown

‘Is this Mum?’

‘Yes…she’s about five.’

My sons are sorting through my things. Kneeling, heads bowed, piles of photos dripping through their fingers.

‘Yes,’ I chuckle; ‘Me on my fourth Birthday! I was cross, your grandad had forgotten the candles.’

The boys nod and sigh.

The photo’s moved to the bottom of a pile, then absently shuffled like a deck of cards. We could play Poker or lay them face down like Tarots.

The shuffled pack is tossed into the binbag.

‘No!’ I shout.

They don’t hear me; I’m the silent sudden chill that breathes goosepimples down their spines.

 

 

If you can’t see or use the voting panel below, you can cast your vote on this link: https://form.responster.com/46o3UJ

 

Climate Change by Epiphany Ferrell

Climate Change

Epiphany Ferrell

We were to meet at eight. I assumed a.m. but maybe it was p.m. Finding myself alone on the beach, with slate sky and squid ink water, I counted white-capped waves until I got to 547, then wandered off from our rendezvous point, snail’s pace, walking in the foaming surf with my sandals left on the beach.

I wandered down the smooth sand, leaving a crooked path of water-filled steps. I was no longer sure we really had said morning. I began to suspect myself of intrigue.

Evidence: I went to the wrong restaurant to meet him just last week. I knew it was the wrong one, but I went anyway. Evidence: I wore my hair in a low ponytail to the beach rendezvous, a style he loathes. Conclusion: I am a saboteur.

I stepped around a jellyfish that had washed onto the beach. It stretched itself so thin I could almost see through it. It distorted the sand with its body, and yet the distortion made it more beautiful. They thrive, I’ve read, in warming, oxygen-depleted, acidified oceans. How fortunate is a jellyfish to benefit from climate change.

I was in water to my knees when I looked back and saw him, standing alone on the beach at our rendezvous point. He had his back to me, or I think he did. I walked into the swell of the next wave and the one after that, counting backward from 547, because that’s what we do, we hysterical young brides, with rocks in our pockets. I kept walking into the water, and it flowed into me, through me, spreading my white broomstick skirt around me like a bell, like a pulsating, jellyfish bell.

There are women, they say, who have seal skins they shed when they want to live on land. They reclaim the skins when they want to return to the sea, when they want to leave the world of men. I had no seal-skin but into the water I went, permeable, tentacled.

 

About the author: Epiphany Ferrell writes most of her fiction in Southern Illinois at Resurrection Mule Farm, so-named after a mule survived a lightning strike there. She received a Pushcart nomination in 2018, and her stories appear recently in The Slag Review, Blue Fifth Review and Pulp Literature, and she blogs intermittently at Ghost Parachute. She is a reader for Mojave River Review and New Flash Fiction Review.