Well done to all who made the longlist and congrats to the writers of our shortlisted stories – no telling which is yours yet though!
Vote for your favourite from these 10 fab stories to win the surprise People’s Prize. Our judging team are busy re-reading to choose the winners of the cash prizes. Voting is open until 23.59 (UK time) on 27th February 2022. Results will be announced on Monday 28th. Good luck everyone!
I didn’t take all of me when I left. I kept my past tightly packed away. But I always remembered the ephemera of my youth, those dormant treasures that flickered into being at a thought. And you – suspended in time – existing alongside ticket stubs and birthday cards; forever tied to the things I kept because I never wanted to forget.
When I opened those boxes and let the light flood in, I finally understood that you weren’t there – that your memory couldn’t be bound and confined. And I breathed out as those remnants flew free, like confetti on the wind.
Every time I do the washing, I think of you. I wonder if you knew that last load was the last wash you’d ever do. If you knew that Friday tea of fishfinger-pesto-pasta was the final meal you’d make your kids. If you saw light at the end of a tunnel. If that was enough to pull you through, or if you had to be dragged backwards looking at your boys.
Some days, I think I see you up in the field walking your imaginary dog, and laughing at the stories spinning in your head that I will never read.
For Light is Energy and Cannot be Destroyed, Only Transformed
Reflecting – I could have done more. You seemed happier. I shouldn’t have left you alone.
Refracting – The funeral priest calls you sinner, pleads forgiveness for the way you left the world. At home, I scratch holes into the bible: God said,
“Let there be light” and there was light. God separated light from darkness.
Scattering – I take your ashes to the hidden cove at sunset. I read poetry, remember laughter. I tip your urn into the water, you sparkle on the iridescent tide.
Radiating – I gaze skyward. Your light has left Earth, in 1.3 seconds it will reach the moon.
Send in the Clowns
The secrets of the circus were in danger of exposure.
The smell of sawdust and elephant dung barely concealed the things that rotted slowly and not so discretely beneath.
The hastily strung lights, twinkly high against the canvas, stubbornly threw the wrong kind of shadows on the fading feathers and sequins, cavorting nightly in the ring beneath.
Most patrons caught the mood and asked no more.
Simply took what they paid for.
A taste of wonder. One night of illusion; tarnished and second hand.
And those that lingered; asking questions and wanting more?
They were directed, silently, to the clowns.
She was the school nerd, better than Google at explaining the stuff their Physics teacher mangled. With the properties of waves and particles, it was pure electromagnetic radiation in the part of the spectrum that, miraculously, a human eye could perceive. Her classmates shrugged and stared blankly. Then she thought about yesterday afternoon, when hiding round the corner from the waiting gang, how she heard them planning to cleanse her cleverness with tears of pain (not their actual words) and consequently took another route home to avoid the ambush. Unlike sound, she told them, it only travels in straight lines.
Summer in November
My instinct is to head south. To rediscover the summer.
As green waves smash sunbeams into a thousand glassy shards, my toes etch your name in the sand.
The swallows are still here, darting between swaying palms and squawking parakeets. Instead of sunbathers, pushchair parents gossip over cappuccinos while their dogs and children chase gulls from the beach.
Couples walk the esplanade. Entwined. Whispering.
I can hear your laugh, see your selfie pose.
But the sun has abandoned the Catalan coast. Clouds rise like smoke. Water chills my bare feet.
And an ebbing wave erases you.
Like the cancer did.
There is a Light That Sometimes Goes On
He takes your hand; pulls you from the car that his father has lent him just this once because you’re young and falling in love for the first time.
On the shore where you played together with crabs in a bucket, there’s a midnight tide of electric blue that speaks of magic. While you’re already dreaming of sapphires and children, he grins and says,
You know in that moment that he will thrill you on the back seat, whisper tenderly ‘forever,’ and mean it, but you’ll never be enough to keep him in this run-down town of one-night phenomena.
The Ballad of Oranmore (or When Your Grandmother Knew I was the One)
I’d never seen her without the other girls before, but there she was under the awning of the Roxy blowing blue clouds into the Galway rain like a blazing-haired Deidre in wet corduroy. I tossed a prayer of intercession in the rough direction of Saint Raphael and bummed a ciggie from a fella walking past. She looked up and smiled. I ached to take those calcite hands and kiss them warm again. She was chewing gum and looking down the street. May Dagda and all the gods of my forefathers let me smoke without coughing. Have you got a light?
We Follow the Wolf Moon
Flames, fanned, by something unspeakable. A canker that rancoured, wicked, untreatable. We buried the light, let darkness seep in, our shadows more grubby than secrets.
A bairn born sleeping, still. We sniffed the air, tasted mischief – blamed the blackthorn. Our poison, pervasive, spread quicker than whispers whipped by the wind. Infected, turned septic, cut deeper than rope. Gripped, strangled, like ivy.
The pack is hungry. We’re silent now. Our wagging tongues choked on the smoke that we stoked – a smoke we spread without fire. Shamed by the moonlight, we follow the wolves to the fields where they’ll burn the witches.
Words I Sign to my Five-Year-Old When They Stop Our Power
Electricity / trigger fingers collide
Off he buzzes. In the fading half-light, he live-wires the living room, charging into a dead TV, lifeless lamps. I, too, crackle with static at what’s to come.
Light / a fist explodes
He seeks the moon, but it’s smog-smothered. Then, face illuminating, he points at me. Glowing, I point at him.
Fire / fingers flicker
A candle’s lit. He doesn’t believe the small flame is enough. How do I sign that when it catches, when rage burns white-hot, when we – the people – blaze through the city tomorrow, everything in its path will be kindling?