Award Nineteen

Doug Ramspeck October 2021 First Prize

Snow Crow

by Doug Ramspeck

And the days were made of auguries. And the cricket calls arrived disembodied from the field. And a dead mole lay on its back by the garage, gathering its thin blanket of ants. And wasps hummed outside the boy’s window like primitive wraiths. And one morning, he found a dead crow in the woods and carried it back to the house, hiding it at the back of his closet like a reliquary. And sometimes he imagined the creature calling to him in the night, calling to him in his dreams, and the boy would rise, pull the string for the closet light, and open the cardboard box. And there was the crow: its dark wings motionless, its dark and lacquered eyes gazing up at him. And sometimes in the mornings, the boy stepped into the backyard and gazed at the sun with its raw, sepulchral eye. And at breakfast, now and then, he asked about his father. And his mother would cross her arms over her chest or set his plate so forcefully on the table that the boy would look away. And some afternoons, he sat in his closet and imagined the crow lifting itself on the dark oars of its wings, rowing high above the trees. Or the boy imagined a crow call fissuring the air, a crow call that was both corporeal and incorporeal at once. And the smell in the boy’s closet was like something secretive congealing on the surface of a pond. And on the evening when a first light snow of the season came dropping toward the land, the boy carried the crow back into the woods and tossed it as high as he could manage into the air.

About the Author

Doug Ramspeck is the author of eight collections of poetry, one collection of short stories, and a novella. His most recent poetry collection, Book of Years (2021), is published by Cloudbank Books. Individual stories have appeared in Iowa Review, The Southern Review, The Georgia Review, Narrative Magazine, and many other literary journals. His short story “Balloon” was listed as a Distinguished Story for 2018 in The Best American Short Stories. A retired professor from The Ohio State University, he lives in Black Mountain, North Carolina, United States. His author website can be found at and you can also find him on Facebook

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Jo Gatford October 2021 Second Prize

The Mothers

by Jo Gatford

At the birthday barbecue the mothers all talk to the other mothers because they are the ones who bought the gifts and the burger buns and made the salad and remembered the condiments and the napkins and baked and decorated the cake and they are acutely aware of which milestones a three-year-old should have achieved by this momentous day and so they talk in crushed glass voices about assessments and spectrums behind the hostess’s back while the fathers spray lighter fluid onto the coals and chase the children with snapping tongs and cure crying with ice cream that was meant to be for afterwards and from this distance you can’t really tell the difference between them aside from the way the mothers all watch the birthday boy as if they’re waiting for something to happen and even though they say all the right lines like he’ll get there in his own time and he’s still so young and you know so-and-so’s niece didn’t talk until she was four the mother at the centre of the circle has to fasten the edges of her smile with clothes pegs to keep it stretched tight and when the platitudes threaten to burst her eardrums with the pressure of what is not being said she excuses herself to refill the cooler and holds her hands beneath the ice until her wrists turn numb and she knows that later in a series of splintered messenger groups the other mothers will discuss all the things she’s doing wrong and what they would do differently if he were their son but afterwards, unmasked, the boy curls into her and they lie nose to nose breathing in one another’s air until tiny particles of him line her lungs and she can finally feel her hands again.

About the Author

Jo Gatford is a writer who procrastinates about writing by writing about writing. Her work has been published most recently by SmokeLong Quarterly, Pithead Chapel and Trampset, and previously won the Shooter Lit poetry competition, the Flash500 Prize, the Bath Flash Fiction Award and The Fiction Desk Flash Fiction Contest. Her first novel, White Lies, was published by Legend Press in 2014. She is one half of Writers’ HQ ( and occasionally tweets about weird 17th century mermaid tiles at @jmgatford. She feels very strongly about puns and Shakespeare. Read more of her work at

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Tim Craig October 2021 Third Prize

That’s All There Is, There Ain’t No More

by Tim Craig

Cribbage is a traditional card game for two players, for example a father and his son who haven’t spoken for six years, in which the object is to score 121 points while avoiding eye contact. Cribbage is a game sometimes played by a father and his adult son, where the wooden scoring board serves as a proxy for difficult conversation. Cribbage was invented by the seventeenth century poet Sir John Suckling, although whether he devised the game to provide a neutral space in which he and his father could co-exist without speaking is not recorded. Cribbage is often played in dark corners of pubs, by a father and son who would rather look at their cards — ‘fifteen-two, fifteen-four, that’s all there is, there ain’t no more’ — than each other’s faces. In Cribbage, a card game often played between a father and his son (now also a father himself) there are exactly 1,009,008 combinations of hands which score no points at all, while the top score possible with a single hand is 29. Although the game is often played in complete silence — by, say, a father and son who have long forgotten how to speak to each other — Cribbage nevertheless boasts its own rich glossary of phrases, like ‘one for his nob’ and ‘two for his heels;’ it has also given the English language such everyday expressions as ‘pegging it’ and ‘streets ahead.’ The card game Cribbage is most commonly played by two players, e.g. a father and the adult son he cannot bring himself to forgive. In this version, the winner is the first person to move his matchstick – or peg – up and down the Crib board twice, drain his pint glass, look at his watch and say, ‘Aye, well…’

About the Author

Originally from Manchester, Tim Craig lives in London. A winner of the Bridport Prize for Flash Fiction, his stories have (now) placed four times in the Bath Flash Fiction Award and have appeared in both the Best Microfiction Anthology and the BIFFY50 list. He is a Submissions Editor for Smokelong Quarterly. (Twitter: @timkcraig)

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Chloe Banks October 2021 Commended

If Everyone Was A Superhero

by Chloe Banks

Well, maybe not everyone. Some people. A few. Enough, anyway. If enough people were superheroes, we would get used to it in the end: the runaway trains stopping at cliff edges, children plucked from the windows of burning buildings.

There would come a moment at the start of every drama when we expected it. As the car skidded out of control we would scan the high-rise windows for a caped figure. We would side-eye mums with prams, pizza boys on mopeds, to see who revealed themselves first. At the corner of every street there would be an alarm to summon them. Press the glass for a shrill damsel’s scream.

There would be a new column in the Sunday Times each week – a list of mundane rescues, a roll call of saved lives. Nobody would read it. Teenagers would roll their eyes at Mum’s freakish strength, Dad’s totally lame freeze-ray fingers. Everything would be epic; nothing would be cool.

On days like this, there would be no needles or grainy ultrasound images.No chats about Time Remaining. Your doctor would stride to your bedside with a laugh. Sorry I’m late – woman tied to the tracks outside Waterloo. All fine now. He would lower his glasses, green x-ray beams sweeping your body. Ah yes, I see the problem.

It wouldn’t be easy – nothing about this is easy. He would place his hands on you, tendons straining, eyes popping as he hunted them down. Every lump.Every rogue cell. But just when our hero looked set for defeat, he would fall back with ragged breath. All gone, he’d say. You’re free to go.

If everyone was a superhero we’d no longer be plummeting, free-falling through time. We would jump hand-in-hand from the hospital roof, capes billowing.

And we would fly.

About the Author

Chloe Banks is a teller of tales: some short, some long and some prize-winning. Her novel, The Art of Letting Go, was published by Thistle Publishing in 2014 and her novella, At the Bottom of the Stairs, will be published by Reflex Press in 2022. She is currently working on her first play scripts as well as continuing to dabble in flash fiction. Chloe lives on the edge of Dartmoor with her husband and two young sons. When not taming words or children, she likes to take long walks, eat chocolate and look at pretty graphs. @ChloeTellsTales

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Audrey Niven October 2021 Commended

On Rannoch Moor

by Audrey Niven

It’s a clear day. Clear enough. They set off. They have guide-books, knapsacks, waterproofs in breathable fabrics, wicking base-layers, hats, gloves, walking poles, stout boots, sandwiches, hip flasks, energy bars. They have mobile phones – no signal, of course – a camera, binoculars, a book of birds, a book of flora of the Highlands, a compass, a Swiss army knife. Someone has an orange. Someone brought an umbrella and everybody laughs.

They leave behind the hotel with its tea and bacon rolls. They walk towards the woodland. The ground beneath their feet crunches, then it snaps. The pine-needles muffle all the sound in the forest. The forest gives way to the moor. The road – such as it is – meanders off.

Stay on the road.

The moor is eighty-four percent water. It deceives the eye with its low-lying heather, brownish water glinting between its roots.

They read about the blanket bog that lies on the surface, its rocky outcrops and lochans, the slow decay of dying things, the mesotrophic standing water.

The rain pushes in over the mountains and falls on them. There is no shelter on the open moor, so they stand together in a circle, their backs to the weather. They have rain in their pockets. The umbrella blows away. No-one laughs.

By nightfall they are still walking, pushing forward but slower now. They are afraid but they only say so by arguing, by whining like children. They see lights in the distance at last. They are expected. Someone knows they are coming – a reassurance as the wind gets up and stings their faces. They tuck into themselves and press on.

At sun-up the moor lies quiet, the weather undecided. By the side of the road – if you can call it that – a trail of orange peel dwindles away to nothing.


About the Author

Audrey Niven is a Scottish writer, editor and coach who lives in London. Her stories have previously won prizes in the HISSAC Flash competition 2020 & 2021, been listed and published in the Bath Flash Fiction Anthology, National Flash Fiction Day, Lunate, Ellipsis Zine and Reflex Press. She’s supposed to be writing a novel.@NivenAudrey

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