Comp results: April 16 Themed Flash

Many thanks to everyone that submitted stories on the theme of Danger. I’ve been spending a lot of time feeling tense recently while I’ve been reading them! Congratulations to the winners and all on the shortlist.

Winner: Out of Bounds by Jude Higgins

The creeping sense of dread here was so well done. Wondering what the next dare was going to be and knowing that the danger levels of each were going to keep escalating had me completely gripped. Really lovely imagery and great use of the senses. The use of second person narrative really drew me in as well and gave it such a sense of immediacy.
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The author: Jude Higgins converted to flash fiction a few years ago after trying her hand at a novel on the Bath Spa Creative Writing MA. She’s had pieces published in the Fish Prize Anthology, 2014, Landmarks anthology for National Flash Fiction Day, Flash Frontier, Visual Verse and forthcoming in Halo Literary Magazine and Severine literary magazine. She organises the Bath Flash Fiction Award and blogs at judehiggins.com

Runner-Up: We’re Going to Pick Daddy Up by Jan Kaneen

The contrast of the child’s voice and the danger that I thought was coming is very effective. I loved that the danger didn’t turn out to be what I thought it was and that the ending is so open to interpretation.
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The author: Jan Kaneen is a mum, wife, sister and pug servant who recently got a distinction on the OU’s course A215 in Creative Writing. She loves flash fiction and writing short stories and is learning as much as she can about teeny tales to get match fit as she writes her first novel.

The Shortlist

  • Debris by Diane Simmons
  • Fire Ants by Ali Forbes
  • Out of Bounds by Jude Higgins
  • Pear by Helen Young
  • Red Things by JC Winter
  • Rough Wine by Cath Barton
  • Synthflowers by Robert Grossmith
  • We’re Going to Pick Up Daddy by Jan Kaneen

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The next Themed Flash Competition deadline is 31st May 2016 and the theme is Riches. 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 new 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.

We’re Going to Pick Daddy Up by Jan Kaneen

The car seat’s all sticky on my legs. They make a squishy-squishy noise when I move them.

‘Are we nearly there yet?’

Mummy doesn’t say anything.

I don’t think she can hear me so I ask my Moominmamma. She’s got smiley eyes and an apron and a big handbag. My Mummy’s exactly like Moominmamma – kind and looks after people. The only time my Mummy isn’t exactly like Moominmamma is when Daddy comes home from the army.

When Moominpappa accidentally breaks a plate, Moominmamma says, ‘I’m glad it’s broken, it was pretty ugly.’ When Daddy breaks a plate, Mummy cries and runs upstairs until he’s gone to the pub then comes down and clears up the sharpy bits so we don’t get them in our feet.

‘Are we nearly there yet?’ I ask Moominmamma really loud, squishing my legs.

‘Flippin eck Jessie,’ shouts Pauly, ‘can’t you see she’s driving?’

Pauly thinks I’m talking to Mummy.

‘She can’t listen Jessie because she’s concentrating and we’ve only been going twenty minutes and will you please stop doing that flamin thing with your stupid legs.’

Mummy looks into her little mirror.

‘Alright Pauly,’ she says then, ‘No Jessie love, we’re ages away. Why don’t you two play a game of I-spy to pass the time? This traffic’s awful and I need to concentrate.’

‘I’m not playing with her,’ says Pauly. ‘She doesn’t even know the alphabet.’

‘Come on Pauly love,’ says Mummy, ‘be kind to your little sister. She’ll never learn if we don’t teach her how.’

I do my special smile at Pauly, the one that’s like sticking your tongue out and we play I-spy for a bit.

‘Bugger,’ shouts Mummy and the car starts stopping on the little road next to the big one.

Mummy puts her head on the steering wheel breathing all heavy like she’s been skipping.

‘Don’t worry,’ she says, ‘the engine’s overheated that’s all. It’s probably all the stopping and starting.’

She gets out and opens the front of the car. All smoke comes out and I say, ‘Look Pauly, it’s on fire.’

‘It’s steam stupid,’ he says shaking his head, ‘don’t you know anything?’

He’s very clever our Pauly but he’s not always kind. Mummy gets back in and turns the key two or ten times. It makes a clicky noise. Baby Charlie wakes up. She’s in the front in her baby seat.

Mummy looks at her then turns to us, ‘I think Rusty’s had it this time kids.’

Our car’s called Rusty because it’s knackered. ‘I’m going to have to telephone for someone to come and rescue us. It shouldn’t take more than fifteen minutes. There’s emergency phones every mile down the motorway. You two must stay in the car.

I’ll take Baby Charlie in the sling.’ She’s very serious now, looking right at us. ‘Paul, I’m relying on you to
look after your little sister.’

Lorries swoosh past as she walks away.

‘Pauly,’ I say, squishing my legs really fast, ‘I need a wee.’

***

Jan Kaneen is a mum, wife, sister and pug servant who recently got a distinction on the OU’s course A215 in Creative Writing. She loves flash fiction and writing short stories and is learning as much as she can about teeny tales to get match fit as she writes her first novel.

Let Jan know what you think of her story in the comments below!

Out of Bounds by Jude Higgins

Out of Bounds

Jude Higgins

That day, your brother dared you to put pennies on the railway track. You lay on the bank waiting for the train to steam by, close enough to hear the crunch as the pennies flattened out. Because you didn’t have your sweet money anymore, your brother dared you to nick liquorice and sherbet lemons from the sweet shop while the slow old lady fumbled out the back. You got two handfuls from the open jars and refused to share them with him. So you had a fight and he prised open your fingers and snatched away most of the liquorice.

At home, your parents were busy in the pharmacy so you both went into your brother’s bedroom to drop marbles on people walking down the street. You were already in trouble after your father came out of the shop, and shouted that you could kill someone doing that. But your brother dared you to go into the attic when everyone was asleep. The attic was out of bounds because that’s where Mr Perkins, the previous chemist, had stored arsenic for sheep-dip.  It was still there, in cardboard boxes. Your father didn’t know what to do with it, now it was banned. Your brother said you had to stay in the attic for an hour even though he knew Mr Perkins’ ghost came roaming at night. And while you were up there you had to taste the arsenic. If you didn’t do that, he’d say you stole the sweets from the old lady.

That night you crept up the stairs while your brother watched from the doorway of his bedroom timing you with his new watch. Even though you tiptoed very softly, the floorboards in the attic room swayed and creaked like your grandfather’s dentures. The room smelled of dust and something sweeter, like gone-off cherries. Moonlight filtered through the cobwebbed skylight and lit up the staring eyes of the toy lamb your father used for window displays. You thought you saw a shape in the corner of the room, heard a rustle and froze.But it was only your brother coming in to watch. He pointed to the boxes of arsenic.

‘You’ve got to tell me what it tastes like,’ he whispered. ‘Then you can have the last piece.’ He dangled a string of liquorice in front of you. ‘I’ll tell on you, if you don’t.’

You poked your finger into the white powder and licked it.

‘It doesn’t taste of anything,’ you said.

‘It won’t hurt you, then.’

When you’d gone downstairs, eaten the liquorice and swilled out your mouth under the cold tap, you looked in the mirror and opened wide as if you were at the doctor’s. Your tongue was still black, like the inside of an oak tree struck by lightning. You wanted to show your brother, but when you opened his bedroom door, he was already asleep.

 

***

Jude Higgins converted to flash fiction a few years ago after trying her hand at a novel on the Bath Spa Creative Writing MA. She’s had pieces published in the Fish Prize Anthology, 2014, Landmarks anthology for National Flash Fiction Day, Flash Frontier, Visual Verse and forthcoming in Halo Literary Magazine and Severine literary magazine. She organises the Bath Flash Fiction Award and blogs at judehiggins.com

Let Jude know what you think of her winning story in the comments below!

 

Comp results: March 16 Themed Flash

Once again, the stories submitted for the themed flash comp were of excellent quality and it never ceases to amaze me how our brains work so differently and how such a wide range of stories can come from the same prompt. Congratulations to this month’s winners, who have both appeared in previous anthologies of winners, and to the writers who made the shortlist.

 

Winner: White Noise by Shirley Golden

This apocalyptic tale grabbed me from the very first line and the language really conveyed the desperate world that these characters were living in without us having to be told. I like how the theme of belief is embedded throughout the story and that all of the characters are believing something different about themselves and what their chances are. Really atmospheric, so much characterisation achieved for a flash, and feels like it could be a much bigger story without it feeling incomplete.
Read It

 

Runner-up: Identity Crisis by Tracy Fells

What struck me about this is the way the main character’s belief changes throughout the story. The seemingly small actions and random thought processes that reveal so much about her state of mind. Really impressed with how Tracy has shown not told so much of the story and the open ending left me wanting to know more. It felt like it could be a new beginning.
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The Shortlist

  • Identity Crisis by Tracy Fells
  • Life After Love by Marty Mayhew
  • Lost by Ani Popova
  • Shame by Deannie Day
  • The End is Nigh by Sally Lane
  • White Noise by Shirley Golden

 

Thanks to everyone that entered the competition. The next theme is DANGER and the deadline is 30th April 2016. Get writing and enter your stories here!

Other competitions open now with cash prizes, publication with innovative indie press, Urbane Publications, and  the chance to get your work in front of a top literary agent are:

Identity Crisis by Tracy Fells

The slap of cold air mists my glasses. I take them off, as I don’t have anything to clear the lenses, yet without them the world remains fogged. It’s better this way, stumbling through the nightmare, faces and features blurred beyond recognition.

‘Here, use this,’ says the WPC offering a tissue. ‘Mine always do that, that’s why I’ve got my contacts in.’

I take the tissue and wipe the front and then the back of the lenses, then the front again. Now I’ve stopped I’m not sure I can move again. Perhaps I can stay here, on this spot, not knowing. Not knowing is believing.

The WPC takes my arm. She’s not going to let me stay. She wants this to be over, to tick the box. ‘You okay, Mrs Henshaw?’

I ignore this bloody stupid question.

My other bookend stands too close. Any body odour is masked by the overpowering stench of disinfectant. His white coat brushes against the bare skin of my arm where the hairs are raised. I should have worn a cardigan. I knew they were bringing me to this cold, hopeless place, but didn’t consider the practicalities. Always pack a woolly. Gran’s words are in my head. She never left the house without a spare cardy, brolly and one of those see-through plastic rain hats that tied under the chin.

The technician looks younger than my son. He scratches the stubble on his chin, then rubs his hands on his lab coat. Maybe this is his first time. Another day I would have smiled at him, murmured reassuring platitudes like any good mother. Today, I shrink from his contaminating fear.

In front of us stands the trolley. When the sheet slips from his face my world will collapse. I’ll sink to the floor, crumple and deflate with howling despair.

The WPC’s grip tightens as the technician steps forward. His hand is on the sheet.

What if I start to retch? I haven’t eaten since the police telephoned last night, my stomach is empty so I’ve nothing to throw-up. My eyes are stuck open, yet I can’t picture his face. I try to summon a memory, anything from his childhood, from our holidays in the caravan, from his graduation. I can hear his voice, ‘Stop nagging Mum.’ But the colour of his eyes, the shape of his nose have disappeared into the mist. What kind of mother forgets her child? What kind of mother lets her son fall off the radar, to live on the streets?

I wipe my glasses again, so I can see clearly.

Bowing my head, I breathe out my fear.

I understand why they called me. Age, height and hair colouring, all match.

IT’S NOT HIM.

I shake my head. This poor boy is not my son. I have a second chance. I can believe again.

In the corridor I sink to my knees. Hands touch the floor, as if in prayer, and I retch until my stomach hurts.

White Noise by Shirley Golden

We hiked to the ocean because Hanna didn’t want to die in the city. She hungered to hear the sigh of the sea and taste the salt-stained breeze. The buildings were tombs of rotting flesh. We scavenged supplies from dead supermarkets where refrigerators hummed with out-of-date meat. Hanna said we risked infection if we stayed. Kim followed Hanna without question, and I was too tired to argue. Owen said he couldn’t leave, as if an umbilical cord tied him. But when we loaded our rucksacks and headed west, he trailed after us.

I took the radio, substituting food supplies for batteries. But I kept that to myself. The static airwaves grated on them.

‘Give it a rest, can’t you, Ben?’ Mostly, it was Owen who made me stop. Hanna said everyone was dead; the virus had taken everything.

‘There might be others like us,’ I said. We’d witnessed the death of a city. Why did they assume that included the world, as if an egotistical need required them to be the last?

At the coastline, the brackish odour was better than the stench of rancid streets. Kim fell into the sea as if it was the first day of a holiday; even Owen kicked off his shoes.

‘The cove looks a good place for shelter,’ Hanna said, untying her laces but never removing her boots.

I learnt to light a fire by spinning a stick, using dried weed as tinder and driftwood as fuel. Mostly the wood smoked and spat, but at least I created sparks. No one minded that it gave little heat. We tried to condense saltwater, but the drops we extracted were never enough.

When they slept, I combed the airwaves, straining to hear beyond the static hiss.

In the early hours, Kim would wake and pace around the camp. She talked of shapes in the distance.

If Owen heard her, he’d say, ‘Go back to sleep. Save your energy for netting fish.’ He knew her from before, said she was a dreamer, said habits like that were hard to break.

Late one night, Kim crawled across the sand and leaned against me. ‘Did you hear it?’

Owen had warned us: she’s been drinking seawater.

‘A voice,’ she said. ‘You heard it, didn’t you? You know they’re watching, don’t you?’

‘I’ve sensed something,’ I said. But I was losing the frequency.

‘Keep searching,’ she said. Her eyes were glazed. ‘They’re watching; they’re waiting. But our seclusion is no fluke; they fear we’re carriers.’ Her phobias shivered through my body, towards my heart. ‘They’ll help, once they see… Owen’s wrong, people aren’t that callous.’

So, I twisted the dial and kept turning, even after the moonlight faded to a grey muddy puddle, and Kim slipped into sleep as morning stained the horizon with hollow pockets of light. Shadows like deformed arms opened across the bay; giant’s arms that could smother black holes in a dense embrace where nothing, not even light, escapes.