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.

Water Themed Flash Winners

Water Themed Flash Competition Results

As the slight delay in announcing these winners indicates, it’s been an agonising decision this time. So an extra big well done to everyone who reached the shortlist stage! As always thank you to everyone that entered too and I’d also like to shout-out everyone that has shared comments and well-wishes across social media throughout the year. Now, drumroll…

Winner: The Oxbow Parenthesis by Anne Howkins

Why Amanda chose it: Great voice for this troubled young girl with excellent use of language. Loved how the descriptions of the river in her geography lesson were used to reveal so much more about her life. Excellent take on the theme.

Read it here



Runner-up: The Fairytale Ending by Jan Kaneen

Why Amanda chose it: This epic flash tale covers such a huge span of time to tell a personal story of a family and also of the climate change issue the world is facing. Really clever writing.

Read it here



Runner-up: Climate Change by Epiphany Ferrell

Why Amanda chose it: Fantastic voice and a real sense of mystery set up around the narrator and what she’s up to right from the offset. Lovely imagery and like how the title misleads you so the real meaning of the story is slowly uncovered.

Read it here



Highly commended: The Absolution by Jude Hayland and The Last Piece of the Puzzle by Stephanie Percival

Both serious contenders and it was a tough decision to make.



The final themed comp deadline for the year (EARTH) is nearly here, 29th December 2019. Winners get cash prizes and published on the website. Get all the info here. If you’re regularly entering our Flash Fiction comps and interested in other flashy things, check out our new Flash Fiction Memberships, tailored to suit the flashing enthusiast.


Sept 2019 Micro Fiction Results

Sept 2019 Micro Fiction Results

We’ve had another great response to the latest stories and received just under 200 votes this month. The two winning stories were so close and swapped positions in the top spots repeatedly and were neck and neck a lot of the time. In the end, the first place story won by just 2 votes. So huge congratulations to both our winning authors and to all who were shortlisted.


Winner: Falling In. Falling Out by Dettra Rose

Read it here


Runner-Up: A Sweet Mistake by Denise Telford

Read it here



The next Monthly Micro comp opens on 7th October and from now on the prompts are coming from authors published with Retreat West Books. The October prompt will be from Sophie Jonas-Hill whose brilliant novel, Unprotected, is coming out with us in November 2019. We’ll be revealing the cover very soon!

For slightly longer flashes up to 500 words, the WATER-themed flash fiction competition closes on 29th September and there’s up to £400 in cash prizes available. Plus the annual RW Flash Fiction Prize closes in October and there’s cash prizes for all 10 shortlisted authors, with publication in the paperback and ebook anthology.

We look forward to reading your stories soon!

The Perfect Word by Bev Morris

The Perfect Word

Bev Morris


It was the day of the perfect word: psithurism.

Go on, say it out loud. Hmm, doesn’t that sound glorious? And how does it feel in your mouth? Soft, slight and almost not there? Such a pleasure to say, don’t you think?

I can’t take all the credit. The autumnal weather and strange light of the ebbing season made me more restless than usual. You know, the kind of day where even your skin doesn’t quite fit. I headed out to Taf Fechan Forest, taking the rain as a sign of the cleansing to come. Crunching through the yellowing leaf debris on the sodden ground, I listened as the trees lifted their voices to sing to me, their sighing whispers bringing ghosts of seasons past to caress my cheek. Their language ancient and urgent, telling me a secret. Telling me the final word to offer up to her.

Taking out my phone I photographed my hand against the bark of a grey willow tree and sent the image to her together with the word. Like every day since we’d met, she was waiting for my message. Don’t you love it when you know someone is that hungry for you? The message was read instantly, the acknowledgement simple: ‘Yes’. I had found a word that sated her desire and I would be rewarded.

The first file arrived and was a stark silver-tone photograph. I could see our poem etched on her skin, starting at her belly button and curving outwards:

Words weave webs of bewitching wonder
teasing, tempting, tattooing our tongues.
Broken back Brecons beckoning beneath our
silky sibilance: singing strange songs…

The alliteration had been our initial conceit, the thing that had drawn us together in the chat room. Intelligence is sexy, don’t you think? Engage the mind and the genitals will follow. The poem spooled out: word by word, line by line, stanza by stanza, blooming like a dog rose in untended hedgerow. I swallowed hard at the anticipation of seeing the final word in the promised place and pressed my back against the tree, letting the rain drip from its branches onto my face, while I waited.

Then the film downloaded and I shuddered at the beauty of what we’d created.

Each ripple of our passion played out on her flesh for our world premiere. We didn’t need a red carpet, did we? The audience was all around us. I read the poem on the breeze rustling through the faltering canopy: every syllable and comma lifting off her body as she turned and swayed in front of the camera. Her face, her name, still a mystery to me but her soul was mine and the poem was the prison we had crafted for her. As the last word edged through my lips and she reached her hand towards the lens, I knew I had lost everything to the whisper of the wind.



About the author: Bev’s short stories have been published in literary anthologies and women’s magazines and she was a finalist in the Write Here Write Now 2019 playwriting competition. Her poetry has appeared in the last three Beautiful Dragons Collaborations and was part of a community project on buses in Harlow. A short collection of her poetry is due to be published Rugged Rocks Running Rascals in October exploring a relationship with a soldier. Alongside creative fiction, Bev supervises academic writers and has written for academic journals and conferences (SCUTREA, BERA, The Skills Journal). Bev also coaches other creative writers to ‘get that darned thing written’ and to experiment with multi-media approaches. She is currently ghost writing a special forces autobiography, editing the second draft of her feminist dystopian novel and trying to invent time travel as there just aren’t enough hours in the day.

Twitter: @MarvellousMinds
FaceBook: Marvellous Minds Ltd

If you’ve enjoyed Nicola’s story, please leave a comment below letting her know!