Results: October ’16 Themed Flash

Thanks to all that entered the October Themed  Flash Competition. The theme was Jealousy and there were some very interesting takes on it. There were a few stories that really had a lot going for them bar some sloppy mistakes – tense switches and lots of typos being the main ones. Proofread!

There’s only one more competition for this year and the final theme is Endings so step away from the Christmas leftovers, chocolates and mince pies for a while this festive season to send in your stories by the 30th December deadline and you can get cash and published on the website. Enter here.

But for now, details of the October results are:

Winner: The Invisible One by Sophie Van Llewyn

This has such a strong atmosphere and some lovely imagery. A sad and poignant tale, with a real sting at the end, that I really enjoyed.
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Runner-up: Intruder by Victoria Walklate

I liked how it wasn’t immediately clear what the narrator was but that by the time I got to the end, it seemed inevitable.

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Intruder by Victoria Walklate

Soft, peaceful darkness. I lie exhausted amongst the remains of my brittle cage. My shelter is lined with velvety down and the reed-woven walls are protectively high. My tiny chest rises and falls steadily. I inhale the musty, comforting scent of home and realise that I’m not alone.
How strange. My sibling is bigger than me.
I ponder his size. We hatched at the same time, I’m sure, yet unlike me he’s hulking and oddly intimidating. He stirs, and I tense. His eyes are tightly closed, like mine, but suddenly he hoists himself towards me with lethal purpose. I cheep a wary greeting, but he takes no notice. He snuggles against my side for a moment and then slams into me, shoving me sideways. My claws scrape along the bottom of our home, ripping away the soft down and revealing the stark foundation below. He nips me savagely and I know pain for the first time.
A rush of wind and flash of light; there’s another creature in our world. Instinct makes us rise up, crying out and opening our mouths. But, oh no. His reach is so much greater than mine. Even blind, I can tell that his gape is wider and much more insistent.
I realise that the stranger has a wriggling gift clamped in her mouth. Too late though;my sibling is gulping it down and our visitor has disappeared.
Another rush of wind; another stranger appears. This time I’m faster. My gape is wide and I demand attention loudly but my companion throws his bulk over me and crushes me into silence. The soft, crunching noise returns as he accepts the second gift. Hunger and jealousy rush through me, but I am utterly helpless.
Four more visits from the two strangers. Four more prizes bestowed on my sibling.He’s getting stronger.
I drift into the sweet relief of sleep. Not for long, I tell myself. Just for a moment.
I jerk awake. He’s been busy. My naked body is wedged between his cumbrous form and the wall. He’s tight up against me, shuffling backwards to hoist my body on top of his.One rough thrust and my head flops on to his shoulder.
Fight! Instinct screams at me to defend myself but he’s just too strong.
Another rush of wind. My sibling presents his pink mouth innocently, as if I’m not draped helplessly over him. I wait in desperation for the visitor to notice. Instead, another prize is dropped devotedly into his mouth. She’s far too busy to see any further than the rapacious gape in the darkness. I am so hungry, drowning in jealousy and despair. The beat of wings and we’re alone again.
He hoists me to the very top of the wall. A cold breeze sways the shadows around me and flashes of light make me wince, but my eyes stay closed, my meagre strength gone. One final heave and I’m tumbling into the darkness, my fate sealed from my first breath.
***
About the author: Victoria Walklate lives in the beautiful English county of Norfolk with her husband and two children, and has a historical fiction novel to her name. She’s currently working on her second novel, several short stories and lots of other random things to stop her getting up to mischief while the kids are at school.

The Invisible One by Sophie Van Llewyn

Laura’s hand is just as white as the sheets it is resting on. But of the two sisters, she is not the invisible one.

“How was school this week?” Their mother’s voice is muffled by the surgical mask. She is sitting on a low chair at Laura’s bedside, arranging her blanket, asking her other daughter the same question for the third time since her visiting hour began. Melissa’s nose stings and her eyes become clouded, in spite of the deep breaths she is taking. This time, she says nothing and nobody notices. Melissa moves closer so she can see what absorbed her mother’s attention.

Laura’s bald head looks like the one of an ugly doll. A skull like the ones she has seen depicted on pirate flags, with a sheer layer of nearly transparent skin, stretched like muslin over an embroidery hoop. Only the eyes betray the fact that Laura is still alive, though when they open, they reveal an unfocused gaze, a fog through which the sisters fail to see each other. Melissa reaches for mother’s hand, but Pamela withdraws it as if her daughter’s caress is an acidic burn. “Don’t touch me! You might give me germs! Do you want to kill your sister? Stand back, will you?”

After they leave the hospital, grandmother takes Melissa to a church so they can pray together.

At home, Melissa is a silent observer of the delicate dust snowfall: on her mother’s vanity table and its powder boxes and crystal bottles, on her father’s razor blade in the bathroom, on the oven which has long forgotten how to bake —most of all birthday cakes— on the small single bed with its lilac bed cover. In this abandoned temple of a forgotten god, the faces in the picture on the TV console are mocking her — Laura, when she was still her sister, and her father on one side of the tennis court, Melissa, when she was visible, and her mother on the other. They were all wearing racquets, white sweaters tied around their shoulders and wide smiles. Melissa cannot look at it, so she places it in the attic, next to her sister’s bicycle, the one nobody taught her how to ride.

During her next visit, her mother and grandmother leave the hospital room, so they can talk to the doctor. Melissa lifts the surgical mask from her mouth and blows warm air on Laura’s face, like blowing candles, making a wish. Laura’s eyelashes flutter, dandelion seeds in a gentle breeze. She rubs her sister’s bony hand in hers and kisses her on the cheek. Laura opens her eyes and glazes her watery look over her sister. Melissa is startled at how liquid her sister’s gaze is, ever flowing and unable to cling to anything. When her mother returns, Melissa is sitting on the low stool, reading “Cinderella” in whispered tones.

***

About the author: Sophie Van Llewyn is Assistant Editor with the literary magazine Bartleby Snopes. Her prose has been published by or is forthcoming in Flash Frontier, The Molotov Cocktail, Halo, Unbroken Journal, Hermeneutic Chaos Journal, among others. Sophie’s book reviews have been published by Necessary Fiction.

Fertility Rites by Gwenda Major

Amanda and Graham met at a teachers’ conference in Scarborough. On the second night they gazed dreamily into the distance as the rain lashed against the windows of the Spa building and the noise level rose beyond deafening. Later, huddled more intimately over a small table sticky with beer, they discovered that they shared a birth sign and that they both had a passion for all things green, both politically and horticulturally.

Amanda and Graham didn’t have sex until their second meeting in Huddersfield; there was a certain decorum to such things in the seventies. They arranged to meet at a cinema Graham knew where they watched The Godfather, so overcome by lust for each other that they were later unable to recall any of the plot, only the thrilling vibrato of Nino Rota’s famous waltz theme. Afterwards they caught a bus back to Graham’s flat, a soulless place located above a hardware shop on the outskirts of the town, where they tore each other’s clothes off and made frantic love on the lino flooring of the sitting room, then on the kitchen table before finally making it to the bedroom. Later they lay in each other’s arms, listening to the hiss of traffic on the A61, the glare of the headlights filtering softly through the brown linen curtains. There was never any doubt that Amanda and Graham were made for each other.

Their wedding night passed in a blur of passion. “I could eat you all up” murmured Graham as he stroked Amanda’s thigh during a brief gap in the proceedings.

“What’s stopping you?” Amanda whispered, closing her eyes. That night she dreamed of lying in a giant cornucopia, nestled against the red flush of a watermelon, the swollen firmness of a courgette, the sensuous curve of a chilli pepper.

As time went on Amanda filled the house with large and luscious foliage plants while Graham nurtured enormous prize vegetables in the garden. Growing things became their consuming passion.

Time passed and Amanda and Graham pottered about in contented retirement until one day in September cousins came to visit and found the house empty. In the living room they discovered Amanda’s slippers aligned neatly in front of the sofa. Amanda’s cousin remarked that the rubber plant and the huge philodendron seemed even larger than ever and just for a moment he thought he heard a delicate sigh but then decided his imagination was playing tricks.

Mystified they searched the garden but drew a blank. The cousins marvelled at the incredible size of the vegetables in the raised beds, especially the potato bed where the foliage seemed to have grown to an enormous size. As they turned away from their search the sun glinted on something lying on top of the deep dark earth of the potato bed; had they looked they might have recognised it as one of the buckles from Graham’s gardening braces but they had already walked away.

***

About the author: Gwenda Major lives in the South Lakes area of the UK. Her passions are genealogy, gardening and graveyards. Gwenda’s stories have featured in numerous publications. She has written four novels and two novellas; three have been either longlisted or shortlisted for national competitions. Gwenda has a website and blog at www.gwendamajor.wordpress.com

Flakes by Jan Kaneen

When you storm out of the front door, slamming into the midnight, fast and antsy, thinking in angry fragments that whizz and whistle round your mind’s eye like burning shrapnel, oblivious to the cold air on your salty cheeks or the loud, quick, clip of your staccato boots echoing through the midwinter dark, and you walk and walk breathing sharp and jerky, until you take that long-deep breath that eventually and inevitably, cuts through the chaos, cools your lungs and you slow right down, frowning at the dark like you’ve just woken up mid sleepwalk.

When you stop to blow your fingers warm because you’ve become aware that your hands are aching with the cold and you watch your powdery breath as it billows up into the starless dark catching an impossible sparkle from the glittering specks that’re starting to fill the air and you lift your head to watch – diamond mots morphing into lacy flakes – millions of them, swirling and swarming, landing on your outstretched hand, settling on the country track where they form a quick, white covering and you shiver and glance behind you, at the eerie trees lit by the amber gloom of a single street lamp their blue-black branches tapping and scratching like old, cold bones, and you turn for home, teeth chattering, walking fast again, not out of anger anymore, that dissolved as soon as you saw the beauty, but because the inky village has become full of looming shadows and weird noises and although the fallen snow is muffling your footsteps so they’re quieter than your heartbeat that’s pounding in your head, you wish they were quieter still and when you round that final corner, almost running now, you’re so glad to see the familiar thatch of home silhouetted against the wintery midnight that you fairly leap up the breathless steps, fling the front door open into a wall of warmth that reddens your hot-cold face and he’s stood right there, in the vestibule, wearing his fat salopettes and that old polar coat that’s been hanging in the Narnia wardrobe in the spare bedroom ever since that time you fancied learning how to ski, donkeys years ago.

When the snowflakes in your eyelashes and hair melt in relief as much as anything else and you want to laugh and laugh because he looks so comical, but you don’t because his expression is serious – sort of angry and relieved at the same time, (he’s been worried sick and was just about to go and find you) so you shoot him that look, the one that always melts into smiles on both your faces, and you tumble into each other’s arms forgetting about everything else and make clumsy love right there in the vestibule, numb-finger fumbling with hilarious zips, lost in the intense white magic that the snowflakes are weaving as they land wild and silent in enchanted drifts just beyond the safety of the closed front door.

That.

***

About the author: Jan Kaneen is doing an MA in Creative Writing at the OU and trying…really trying to write a novel. The Flash fiction obsession helps with both, allegedly. She’s been published in several mags and lit-zines and so far this year has won comps at Molotov Cocktail, Ad Hoc, Zero Fiction as well as running up here.

Themed Flash Results: June and July 2016

Firstly, sorry for being so late with the June and July results. The number of entries received for the First Chapter comp that ended in June was more than double received in previous competitions and took a long time to process! Then summer holidays came along but finally the results are:

June 2016

Only one story made the grade for this month.  I’m afraid we felt that the rest of the entries all lacked any real emotional depth or humour and either relied on punchline endings, just sort of petered out, or felt like they were part of something bigger and weren’t a complete story in their own right. Have a read of David Gaffney’s blog about writing flash that has an impact to really try and master the form.

The winner is: Cath Barton for How to be a winner

Congrats Cath – very apt title it turns out! We loved the humour in the voice and the off-kilter feeling of it and were never quite sure if it was an unreliable narrator or not. We’re still undecided now.

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July 2016 Shortlist

  • Dancing Partners, Diane Simmons
  • Flight of an Eagle, Sally Lane
  • Mortal Envy, Michelle Scowcroft
  • Sister of the Dead Girl, Annie Dawid
  • Two-Faced, Boo Singh
  • The Locked Box in my Cupboard, Annie Dawid
  • The Power of Prayer, Gwenda Major

The winner is: Michelle Scowcroft for Mortal Envy

A very different take on the theme that surprised us right from the start. Great use of imagery and language.

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The runner up is: Sally Lane for Flight of an Eagle

Nice sense of dread, claustrophobia and suspense with a great ending that left us wondering.

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Congrats to the winners and shortlisted writers. August results will be posted in the next couple of weeks. There’s 3 more deadlines to enter for 2016 then for 2017 there will be slight change and there will be fewer deadlines. Instead of monthly, the comp will have 6 deadlines a year so every 2 months instead of every month. Themes will be online in December 2016.

If you’d like to learn more about flash fiction writing then there is a new online flash fiction course coming in November 2016. More info on that very soon.