How to be a winner by Cath Barton

On the day I won the lottery I put on my sparkly four-inch heels. Bad decision, because I tripped on a kerb outside the restaurant where I was going on a hot date. My first thought as my face slammed into the plate-glass window was that I wouldn’t now be able to eat the soft-shelled crab that I’d been looking forward to. Correction, my first thought was for my spectacles and camera. Only after I’d checked that they were unbroken did I think about the crab. And then I looked around for my date.

There was a lot of blood and screaming. It wasn’t me screaming but my date was embarrassed. My dress had been ripped by shards of glass. I wanted to cry – it was my favourite dress – but then I remembered my lottery win. What was I complaining about?! I smiled at my date, or tried to. The contortion of my rapidly-swelling face must have looked like a grimace. He started backing away. Thought: he had not yet heard about my lottery win. Cynical thought: he had nothing to stick around for. Well, if that was the way he saw things he was clearly not going to be life-partner material. Better to find that out now, though I was still sorry about the crab. This was supposed to be the best place to eat it in London.

People were crowding round, asking me if I was okay. In my confused state I waved away all offers of help and set off down the road. The pain in my right ankle was nothing compared to the throbbing in my face. The next thing I knew I couldn’t move my arms. They were pinned down by a sheet and there was an antiseptic smell in my nose. So I was in hospital. That much I could work out. But my mind was fuzzy. I’d had a dream about winning the lottery. No! I had actually won it – the ticket was in my coat pocket. Shit! Where was my coat?

The nurse had a kindly face, but she didn’t understand, thought I was asking for a comb. Not that I was making it easy. Forming words is tricky with a broken jaw.

“Aha,” she said after I’d spluttered at her for a bit. “You want your coat! No, no, my lovely. You won’t be needing your coat for a while yet. Try not to talk.”

I pulled my arms out from under the sheet and gestured turning the coat pockets inside out. In the end she brought my coat to shut me up. I searched in one pocket, then the other, then both again. Nothing, nothing, nothing! That was when I did start screaming, big time.

The lottery ticket never turned up. My winning ticket. But my jaw and ankle got fixed. Every day I count my blessings. I don’t wear those crazy heels. I’m careful on kerbs. And I narrowly avoided a very bad choice of life-partner. I’m a winner.

***

About the author: Cath Barton is an English writer who lives in Wales. Recently, her flash fiction has been published on-line on ZeroFlash and Spelk.

 

Mortal Envy by Michelle Scowcroft

I envy her illness. I envy the gather of people who hush about her. Heads bowed, their voices honeyed, steps quietly trod.

Here am I. Alone.

I envy the joyous flowers they present and the bright boxes of chocolates that pile, unopened, by her bedside. The over‐bed table adrift in wafts of scented orange, of fresh apple and sweet kiwi fruit. Bowls of potpourri mask the stink of her urine, her defecation, her decay.

I smell the stink of weeks of my own unwash.

Idling on the windowsill, cards laze laden with a futility of get‐well wishes. White sheets crisp. Her pillows plump. Smoothed and soothed by a passage of nurses, visitors, attendants. All tendering their regard and their respect to the last hours of her life. Her comfort their concern.

Hear me. These hours are my last too. My role as a mother already stolen. I have no other.

Drugs and drips muffle her cares, her concerns, her consciousness. Drowsy in smile. By day, by night, I perch by her side. Alert. Always there. Always watching, always waiting. The doctors vigilantly come, and go. Seeing to her. Asking how she is.

They don’t ask me how I am. They don’t ask me if I pain. Have I eaten, have I washed, have I slept much the night.

She’ll be gone by the morrow to the rosy empty of no pain, no anguish. No more worries. And me, alone.

Fearing the unknown, struggling all the tomorrows on my own.The harrow of years yet to come.

Plundered. Despoiled. Impotent. Left useless. Without future. Still enduring the pain that she, fortuitously, no longer to suffer.

Can I come with you, I whisper in her ear. I took you everywhere with me when you were small, and now, when I feel small, you go and abandon me.

Her eyes deepen and pool. Her breath loud beating. She falters as she tries to move her head, her lips towards me. She mur‐murmurs an incomprehensible into my ear.

No choices, now, her to make. Her burdens blown. Life clinging no more.

I envy her that. I envy her demise.

***

About the author: Michelle Scowcroft lives in an isolated area of the Yorkshire Dales. She graduated in 2015 from Lancaster University with an MA in Creative Writing. Michelle prefers to write in a literary genre mostly aimed at a female readership with themes of difference, dislocation, alienation and loss. Unlike Mortal Envy most of her work is humorous and positive in outcome.

Flight of an Eagle by Sally Lane

The clank of the bolt yanked sideways comes first, then the rattle of the keys. Your ears are attuned now: you can count the last few clanks and the rattles until you know the next are for you. Anticipation is paramount in here; you don’t want to be caught unawares. Number 22 didn’t suspect a thing when it all kicked off, and look what happened to her.

The hyena pack is already dominating its end of the breakfast table. Head Hyena is holding forth, baring her teeth even as she shoves the Krispies in. The rest of the pack grins silently, with nodding heads like toys on a spring. You look for Number 22. It’s Day 4 and her chair is still empty at the other end of the table.

‘Sleep well?’ asks HH, as sweet and as deadly as a barley sugar stuck in the throat.

‘Yes, you?’ you reply, brightly. You care deeply about the good quality of her slumber: it makes her pelt glossier; her nostrils keener; her fangs all the better to bite you with.

‘Where’s your stinky friend?’ The hyenas erupt at this, the cleverest, drollest witticism in the whole, wide world.

‘Must have overslept,’ you reply. You are pleased with yourself, even as they smell your fear. You take your place at the end of the breakfast queue. You shuffle forwards in concert with the rest, like a segment of some grotesque, oversized insect.

That morning, like all other mornings, you’d gazed at the birds between your window bars: the long-tailed tits with their syncopated flight; the starlings strutting, self-important; the whole lot scattering as the pigeons descend to snatch the biggest worms. You’d followed each one with voluptuary eyes, imagining yourself among them: you’d be a long-tailed tit or a pigeon, either would suit.

That afternoon, you hear again the wailings, the howling at the moon. You picture the gnashing and wild eyes, the swinging of Number 22’s unwashed dreadlocks as she flings herself at her locked door. You, her trusted, her only friend, know the source of her fury: the blank, rectangular space on her wall where a golden eagle, soaring high above a canyon, used to be.

HH had slept well the day the guards came running. Her vision sharp, her ears cocked. She spied the eagle, slant-ways, through No. 22’s opened door. You picture her smile as she licked her lips: punishment for the stolen photograph – mysteriously missing from the prison library the week before – would be swift, severe. The pack would have a new corpse to feast upon.

That evening, you descend the staircase, and Number 22 is there at the table’s far end. Her head is down, her caterwauling ceased. The hyenas wait with their breath hanging in the air, observing you with glinting eyes. Your integrity and your future survival depend on what you do next. You place yourself in the middle of the table. You have clipped your own wings and you are not proud.

***

About the author: Sally Lane has had many jobs, from chimney sweep booker and strawberry picker to office automaton. She dreams of a life in the woods, with only a canoe and a campfire for company.

Comp results: May 16 Themed Flash

Sorry these are so late but June was a very busy month and July is proving to be the same!

Thanks to everyone that entered. The winning stories are…

 

Winner: Slime by Tamsin Macdonald

Loved the metaphor and imagery in this story and the brilliant use of language to really evoke the sliminess of the world.

The author: Tamsin Macdonald is a Manchester-based secondary school teacher by trade who is in the process of earning her writing stripes. Recently, she was a finalist in the Storgy short story competition and one of her short stories is published by World Weaver Press in an anthology of sirens-themed fiction. She writes at great length (novels) and short length (flash fiction, short stories, poetry) and enjoys performing at spoken word nights in Manchester.
Read It

 

Runner-Up: Milk Chocolate Bride by Christopher Stanley

Great descriptions and imagery and I could really picture everything the narrator was seeing and dreaming and also feel the cloying chocolate in my mouth.

The author: Christopher Stanley lives on a hill with three sons who share the same birthday but aren’t triplets. He writes to stay sane and has been mostly successful so far.

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The Shortlist

  • Broken Pennies by Angela Dacre
  • Crown by Josie Turner
  • Dungeons by Andrew Wills
  • Easily Parted by Sally Davies
  • Milk Chocolate Bride by Christopher Stanley
  • My Tatelah by Annie Dawid
  • Slime by Tamsin Macdonald
  • Winter Sun by Clare Isla

***

The next Themed Flash Competition deadline is 31st July 2016 and the theme is Envy. Winner and runner-up stories get published on the website and there’s cash prizes too. Find out more here.

The annual RW Flash Fiction Prize has substantial cash prizes and the winning and shortlisted entries all get published in the annual anthology with innovative indie press, Urbane Publications.

This year’s judge is the esteemed flash writer, and novelist, David Gaffney. Read his tips on writing flash with an impact before you submit. The deadline for entries is 30th September 2016. Get more info here.

Milk Chocolate Bride by Christopher Stanley

I never had money for self-indulgence. Without the scholarship, I wouldn’t have been able to attend the boarding school. So when Morag promised to buy me the biggest chocolate bar she could find, I didn’t ask why. I was poor compared to my housemates and chocolate was a luxury I could rarely afford. I didn’t realise Morag’s promise might come with a price until Valentine’s Day, when I returned from hockey training to find a 200g bar of Bourneville on my bed. The note said ‘Was hoping for something bigger, Mx’

I knew precisely two things about Morag: she was Hungarian and she was obese. Revoltingly so. Looking at her, I could easily imagine nightly banquets of Belgian buns and Dobos torte, with Morag squeezing pastries into her mouth until her belly rippled beneath her bib and her cheeks were flaked with crumbs.

I tore the note to pieces, broke the chocolate into chunks, and swallowed both until all that remained of my Valentine’s gift was an empty wrapper and a sickly taste in my mouth. I would never tell anyone.

At the weekend I watched the girls’ hockey with Emma. Near Emma. Emma was pretty like she’d been poured from a vase and I blushed whenever we made eye contact. After the match, I returned to my study to find a 400g bar of Cadbury’s Wholenut on my pillow. I shoved half into my mouth and hid the rest in a drawer.

The following days brought more chocolate. I filled my tuckbox with Toblerone and wedged Fruit & Nut bars between the text books on my shelf. At night I dreamed I was fat like a Friesian cow and dancing naked with my milk chocolate bride.

A junior housemate knocked on my study door. ‘Emma’s coming,’ he said, breathing hard. ‘She wants to borrow your economics homework.’

‘How long have I got?’

‘Twenty minutes?’

There was chocolate everywhere. If I let Emma into my room, she was going to ask questions. I emptied my tuckbox onto my duvet and slipped the chocolate from my shelves. Panicking, I had just one thought: destroy the evidence.

Wrappers fell to the floor as I chewed my way through chunk after cloying chunk. Chocolate bound my teeth and fingers like mortar. Flakes found the creases in my trousers and dribble stained my shirt. My stomach groaned but still I imagined I could complete the task and make myself presentable before Emma arrived.

Then someone knocked on my door. I wasn’t ready. The handle turned, the door swung open and there was Morag, standing in my doorway with her latest offering.

‘What are you doing?’ she asked, appraising the scene. ‘My chocolate. My gifts. I thought we’d share them. I never meant for you to…what are you? Some kind of animal? You’re disgusting!’

And with that, she left.

I sighed a chocolate sigh. I could already picture the rumours rippling through the school like so much milk being stirred into thick, dark cocoa.

***

About the author: Christopher Stanley lives on a hill with three sons who share the same birthday but aren’t triplets. He writes to stay sane and has been mostly successful so far.

Slime by Tamsin Macdonald

In the cool dark of a certain summer night, insomniac legions of slugs rise. They overwintered in global warmth, partied through short damp days and now they gleam with good living.

Some are cigar-sized, pumped up Weiders and Schwarzeneggers: Muscle Beach badass molluscs capable of bench pressing passing traffic. Don’t step on them; you’ll know about it.

Others are more your Peter Lorre types. They slide, surreptitious, skirting scenes with sneers of superiority. And they have plans. Such plans…

All lack the season of natures: sleep.

Harmless though, you’d like to think. In the grand scheme of things. Soft-underbellied, soft in the head. No real bite.

But in dank corners, cornucopias congregate. Their leaders call them to order, drip-feed them the words they’ve waited so long to hear.

“My fellows, shout after me… Sleep is for losers!”

“SLEEP IS FOR LOSERS!”

“This is our year!”

“THIS IS OUR YEAR!”

The crowd shivers as they intone the mantra. Their leaders continue:

“All the conditions are right for mergers and takeovers years in the planning. We will triumph where our forebears failed. The rest of the earth will produce for us. We will gorge and grow richer.”

As the rest cheer, the Peter Lorres rub their tentacles together. Their eyes stretch out as far as they can on their stalks, stretch to breaking point like they’ve munched too much of the wrong kind of root. Any semblance of reason in them is gone.

“Richer,” they croon. “Richer. Yes, interesting… We must grow richer.”

The crowd disperse, smearing the streets as they go, and slicking into back yards for exclusive VIP raves where consumption is a must. Hedges? They have them. They have it all. Especially the grass roots.

Because they’re worth it.

They find the good stuff, and after they fuck in it, they fuck it up.

They don’t all get off scot free though. Some bloat with free drink and die in soupy excess. Some hoover themselves dry on crystalline chemical shite. Some stay for after parties and get caught by the dawn. They burn up with the dew, shrivel vampire-like, become nothing more than dark twisted canines scattered across concrete paths.

The corpses are still there when you venture out. The corpses and a litter of leaves and chewed green shoots. Every slug who knows what’s good for them has crawled under rocks, curled in corners that never catch the sun, crept up walls and under eaves. They’re waiting out the heat of another day.

All the garden paths are criss-crossed with careless slithers of their spare silver. There’s nothing left to spend it on and they’ve left a right state in their endless wake.

***

The author: Tamsin Macdonald is a Manchester-based secondary school teacher by trade who is in the process of earning her writing stripes. Recently, she was a finalist in the Storgy short story competition and one of her short stories is published by World Weaver Press in an anthology of sirens-themed fiction. She writes at great length (novels) and short length (flash fiction, short stories, poetry) and enjoys performing at spoken word nights in Manchester.