Many thanks to our judge, Michael Conley, for picking this quarter’s winners from the excellent stories he was sent. Congratulations to our winners and to all who were shortlisted and longlisted in this round.

Judge’s Report

First of all, thank you to Retreat West for giving me the opportunity to judge these fantastic pieces.  

I’ve been at the disappointed end of enough shortlists to know that it’s never very much consolation when the judge says how difficult it was – but now at least I know it’s true!  I came back to all ten of these stories several times during the period I’d set myself to make the judgement, deliberately returning to them in different moods and different times of the day.   I found myself changing my mind about my top three quite often and I do feel that I saw the value in all of them – hopefully your appearance on the shortlist in the first place is enough to convince you to keep sending these out – I feel sure they all belong in print somewhere! 

I chose the theme of Amok because for a while it was the alternative working title of my own debut short story collection, Flare and Falter.  I was really interested to see what other writers would do with a theme that I tend to often explore myself.  I’ve always liked stories about chaos, where the normal rules of the world are suspended. The shortlisted entries interpreted the theme in different ways and I enjoyed the magic of Uniform, the strong sense of voice in Love Letter To Dr Burns, the passion of The Running, the bitter-sweetness of All At Sea, the bleakness of Twenty Golden Notebooks, the romance of Double Fisherman’s Knot and the surprising twist of My Procrastination.  Thank you for letting me read them.

First Place: Skimmed Milk by Emily Harrison

This piece jumped out to me the first time I sat down to read the entries, and remained with me each subsequent time.  I liked how subtly it related to the amok theme – all of the chaos had already happened, and this was all about aftermath, the hard business of taking responsibility, tidying up, making things as right as they can be.  The ending was a small ray of light out of the story’s dark murk: uplifting without being sentimental or trite.  Lennie’s choice felt inevitable but not predictable and I loved her for it. 

And the style too: spare and uncompromising.  That pigeon, ugh.  My favourite thing was the thread of metaphors running through the piece, showing us Lennie’s temptation to let loose and run amok herself – to make the easy choice of cruelty or indifference instead of compassion – ‘if Lennie had a barb wire mouth’, ‘if Lennie had a tar heart’, ‘if Lennie had dust for a spine’.  These little moments provided a structure for the piece but also kept reminding us of how hard it can be to do selfless things. Finally, I admired the restraint of not (fully) revealing what had happened to Lennie’s own daughter – this absence at the heart of the story gave it all the more power.  Congratulations on a brilliant story.

Runner Up: Alan, On His Birthday by Mikki Aronoff

I need to make sure this report isn’t longer than the story itself!  I loved the brevity – it was something that made the piece stand out from the others immediately, but it didn’t feel like a gimmick or like the story was unfinished.  I loved the direct engagement with ‘amok’ and the playfulness of your choice of beaver antagonists.  How did they get into the amusement park? Why did they run amok? What did that look like, exactly?  I love that you didn’t tell me.  The beavers were running amok and I believed you.  I loved the ending.  I love how inappropriately inadequate his mother’s reaction was to realising she’d swapped him.  Poor Alan, on his birthday. Or maybe not?

Runner-Up: Bulkheaded Dragons by Maria Thomas

This story crackled with energy.  The dragons in the sky managed to be believably real and also a metaphor, and I really enjoyed the lushness of the fantasy-genre descriptive language there.  The descriptions of Andy and Sophie felt like a natural extension of the dragon-weather, and I believed in the lust between them – such a difficult thing to do well, but you managed it through the heavy repetition and the simplicity of the verbs and adjectives.  The dragon-weather also worked as a backdrop for Danny’s murderous rage, which you picked up through the clever doubling of the basalt rock.  This was a really finely wrought piece which impressed me more each time I returned to it – the balance of the weather, the lovers and the murderer was like a finely-tuned machine.  

Well done to the winners!

The next and final deadline for this quarterly competition is 30th December and it’s an open theme – just send us your best! See all the info here.

2022 is the last year that we are running this competition. We are launching the WestWord journal and will open for submissions for the month of January 2023. The theme for this submission period is VISION. We want your best micros, flashes and short stories for our new publishing venture! Get all the submission info here.

Skimmed Milk by Emily Harrison

She’s been crying since dawn. The girl Lennie’s man has knocked-up and discarded at Lennie’s front door.

If Lennie had a barb wire mouth, she might say it’s embarrassing. All the crying. Instead, she’s given the girl a box of tissues and told her to take a seat. 

Lennie is surprised about the situation in a way that disappoints her. Her man rubs himself over women like a fox in dog shit. She should have seen this coming. 


“How’s the lass?” Jean asks, through the whip of sea air. 

It’s four weeks later. The baby is due soon.

Lennie has called Jean every night, cord curled around her fingers to cut off blood supply. Jean is Lennie’s closet friend.

“Keeps saying she might run away.”

Below them the sea front is boys. Their baggy clothes make them look like bare-necked turkeys. They tramp along the promenade. 

“Can’t be easy,” Jean replies. 

Lennie has let the girl stay. She’s just seventeen.

If Lennie had a tar heart, she might have told the girl to ‘sling her hook.’ But Lennie had a daughter of her own. 

“Called her dad again.” Lennie stubs out her cigarette. Heel twist. Tarmac crunch. “He said she can only come home if she gets rid of the baby.”

Lennie doesn’t mention that the lass threatened to take her life. That she told her dad (and Lennie, since she was eavesdropping) she would jump from the heavens of the cliffs. 

It’s too close to home. 

“Forcing her to have an abortion this late on.” Jean sniffs. “Could you even?”

With boots too big for him, one of the boys on the promenade swings his leg up goose-step high and kicks a pigeon along the path.

“I know,” Lennie says. A cheer rings out. Lennie can see a severed head. Guts on the concrete. “Horrible bastard.” 


“You won’t do it?” Lennie asks. 

The girl is fused to the sofa, sad as skimmed milk.

“Do it?”

“What you told your dad the last time he called. Jump.”

She’s threatened it twice more since. 

The girl says she won’t. Not really. She thinks Lennie’s man will come back and this will all be solved.

If Lennie was a saint, she might hold back from saying that her man is long gone, and even if he isn’t, the girl won’t get anything from him. 

He is disappointment made flesh. 

“You don’t know that,” the girl says.

“I think I do.”


The girl goes into labour in the dark lull after midnight. Ambulance called. Delivery slow. 

If Lennie had dust for a spine, she might have crumbled under the cut of it all. The girl and the baby and her man gone missing. 

Instead, she pulls her daughter’s clothes from the loft – the miniature knitted boots, the little blue leggings – and brings them to the hospital. 


This story won first prize in the Amok themed quarterly flash fiction competition

About the author: Emily Harrison has spent the past two years studying for a Creative Writing MA and now she’s not sure she has any creativity left. She has had work published with X-R-A-Y Literary Magazine, Ellipsis Zine, Barren Magazine, STORGY Magazine, The Molotov Cocktail, Litro, Tiny Molecules and Gone Lawn to name a few.

Alan, On His Birthday by Mikki Aronoff 

They shut down the amusement park when beavers ran amok among the rides. Threatened with lawsuits, the manager barked safety exits through a bullhorn. Alan howled and dug in his heels as his mother yanked him away, bumping and scraping him along the sidewalk; his father would take care of him once they got home. They flagged his chart in the ER when they x-rayed his arm. Mother crimsoned. Nurses looked her up and down. Outside, flat tails SPLAT! to distractwhile webbed paws zip the boy away to grow a thick, insulated coat. To learn how to plug leaks.


This story was runner up in the Amok themed quarterly flash fiction competition

About the author: Mikki Aronoff’s work appears or is forthcoming in New World Writing, MacQueen’s Quinterly, Tiny Molecules, The Disappointed Housewife, Bending Genres, Milk Candy Review, Gone Lawn, and elsewhere. She has received Pushcart, Best of the Net, and Best Microfiction nominations.

Bulkheaded Dragons by Maria Thomas

The sky was full of dragons. Ridge-backed and horned, fanged and scaled. Dragons with tails, long and spiked, coiled like ammonites. Dragons of alabaster and anthracite, pewter and basalt. The sky was full of dragons, bulkheaded and angry.

The sun was blistering, oppressive, the air heavy, heavyweight. Insects dive-bombed the lake – wasps, ants, grasshoppers, beetles. They didn’t creep, or crawl, they launched, they tumbled and piked and somersaulted. They swam, they flailed and they drowned.

Danny lay in the long grass. He was half and half – sleeping and awake, anxious and calm, ecstatic and furious. He lay in the long grass and waited.

Sophie lay in the long grass. She was half and half – sleek and sticky, excited and weary, wary and hot, hot, hot.

Danny watched Andy approach. He knew where Sophie lay. He knew through the taste on his tongue, the scent in his nostrils, the vibrations in his groin. He knew why Andy had come, knew what Sophie had offered, knew what it might cost her, them, him. Knew as a grasshopper knows when to drown in a lake.

Andy lay in the long grass with Sophie. Lay in the long grass on Sophie. Lay in the long grass in Sophie. Sophie moaned and Andy moaned, and in the long grass close by Danny grew as angry as bulkheaded dragons.

A large flat stone found its way to his palm, maybe it was basalt, maybe not. It was flat and ridged like a dragon’s tail, and heavy, heavyweight, fierce. Danny picked his way through the long grass towards Andy and Sophie, the rock, basalt maybe, firm and fierce in his hand. Sophie barely had time to scream as the storm broke, as the thunder blasted and the lightning cracked and the rain tumbled from the sky like basalt.

The dragons roared and Danny roared with them, and the basalt fell and fell and fell.Afterwards as calm as the eye, Danny lay in the long grass, watching the rain wash blood from his hands, staining the earth red, waiting for the storm to return


This story was runner up in the Amok themed quarterly flash fiction competition

About the author: Maria Thomas is a middle-aged, apple-shaped mum of two. She has work in EllipsisZine, Funny Pearls, Levatio, Fiery Scribe Review, Paragraph Planet, VirtualZine, Free Flash Fiction, Punk Noir, Roi Faineant Press, Cape Magazine, Story Nook, WestWord Journal and (upcoming) Punk Monk and Yuzu Literary. Maria won Retreat West’s April 2022 Micro competition. She can be found on Twitter as @AppleWriter.

Earth Themed Flash Shortlist

Earth Themed Flash Longlist

Once again, a big thank you to everyone who submitted an entry in the Earth themed flash comp!

Congrats to everyone whose story appears on the shortlist below. Please don’t tell us which is yours if it’s there as readings are still anonymous! Winners will be announced soon!


  1. Soil
  2. Celestial Bodies
  3. Buried
  4. Undertaker, Sexton, Mourner
  5. The Five Stages of Hopelessness
  6. Ten Things I have Learned From Being a Troglodyte
  7. Terra
  8. Freewheeling
  9. Unearthed
  10. Rasul: Spa Treatment with Rosie



The next themed flash deadline is 29th March and the judge, Gaynor Jones, has chosen the theme: Abandoned. So get writing! Get all the info on this year’s comps and judges here.


Earth Themed Flash Longlist

Earth Themed Flash Longlist

Many thanks to everyone that entered the final themed flash comp of 2019. We received 92 entries this time around and enjoyed reading them all.

Congrats to everyone whose story appears on the longlist below. Please don’t tell us which is yours if it’s there as readings are still anonymous! Shortlist will be announced in a couple of weeks.


  1. A Carillion For Earth
  2. All This Talk
  3. And Far Away
  4. Buried
  5. Celestial Bodies
  6. Coming Out Of The Upstairs
  7. Don’t Pity The Whistle Pig
  8. Earth
  9. Earth To Tilda: Can You Read Me?
  10. Folly
  11. For Sale
  12. Freewheeling
  13. Gone To Earth
  14. Grounded
  15. How Trees Breathe In Winter
  16. Ice Between Us
  17. It Came From Below
  18. Looking After The Earth Dog
  19. Rasul: Spa Treatment With Rosie
  20. Stones Among Trees
  21. Safe In The Earth
  22. Soil
  23. Ten Things I Have Learned From Being A Troglodyte
  24. The Death Of Mother Earth
  25. The Five Stages Of Hopelessness
  26. The Rhubarb Rebellion
  27. Unearthed
  28. Undertaker, Sexton, Mourner
  29. Warpaint
  30. What She Sees When The Earth Moves



The next themed flash deadline is 29th March and the judge, Gaynor Jones, has chosen the theme: Abandoned. So get writing! Get all the info on this year’s comps and judges here.