Award Twenty-Six

Mairead Robinson February 2024 First Prize

A Palimpsest of Cheerleaders

by Mairead Robinson

Mel’s in the bleachers, inspecting her shattered shin-bone, pantyhose around her ankles, thighs like a pair of suckling pigs. Sadie reckons Mel would’ve been crowned, but I think Sadie herself; even with her stomach bleeding out, she has that poise, that prom-queen pout. ‘Why d’you even care?’ I say, ‘We’re dead, remember?’

Posthumously,’ she snaps. Her tear-brim gaze moves beyond Mel, and I know she’s seeing the blue silk draped wraith-like on its hanger, the strappy shoes, the simple silver locket. I’ve seen her touching fingers to the hollow of her throat, mouthing, ‘Me?’

The field’s Elysium green. Palimpsest. Miss Ingram chalked it on the board; a parchment erased, marks beneath still visible; squeak of plimsols on the locker room floor, jocks charging out, ball flying high, crowd on their feet, and us, mid-routine, twizzling pom-poms on the T-stretch, hearts wide open to Danny Markham’s bullets as he riddled the squad, taking us all out.

Mel was sweet on Danny, mistook dark-eyed hatred for love-sick brooding, and hoped for his corsage on prom night. ‘Fat chance,’ says Sadie as she lunges, hands on hips, elbows out. I joined because Mom said college, and who knew cheerleading scholarships were a thing? So, there I was, and here I am, effaced by kite-high Danny, his Pa’s M16 spitting fire. He was troubled, wailed Mel, blasted leg a right angle, fatal bullet lodged in her heart like Cupid’s flinty arrowhead.

Shadow-shapes stand in the dug-outs. Our mothers, so small, wispy as smoke. Mel hops over and suggests we do the lead-in, so we’re high-kicking, pike jumping, pom-poms razzle-dazzling as we holler the chant, as if they could hear us, as if we could scribe ourselves anew beneath the yearbook obituaries, as if there was anything left save all this ache, this longing.

About the Author

Mairead Robinson writes and teaches in the South West, UK. Her work has appeared in Ellipsis Zine, Crow and Cross Keys, The Molotov Cocktail (Flash Monster 2023), Free Flash Fiction, Full House Literary, Voidspace, and in various anthologies too. She is supposed to be working on a novel, but has become hopelessly addicted to Flash Fiction. She won second prize in BFFA, October, 2023. Mairead tweets at @Judasspoon and skeets

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Jo Withers February 2024 Second Prize

All The Things That We Are Not

by Jo Withers

The soldiers came quickly, took us to the shelter (not a house, not a home). Said we’d be safe here (not happy). Inside, women and children (not men, not husbands, not brothers, not fathers) huddled together (not together, in the same space).

We’re all the same now (not people). It had always happened somewhere else before (not real, not us).

We knew each other by our clothes (not names) what we were wearing when the bombs fell (not like snow, not like tears). Some in business suits, some in school uniform; a waitress in her coffee-stained apron, a baker with flour splattered up her arm (not white, dotted red with blood).

We ran into the streets at the sound of the explosions, torn from our past lives (not present, not future, gone). The sky filled with smoke (not birds, not clouds, not sun). We ran from the explosions and the screams (not away, just further, still heard, still haunting).

They pulled us into trucks, drove us to safety (not sure, not certain). Took us to the bunker with no windows (not night, not day) gave us water and food. We were grateful although we were cold and scared because at least we were here (not outside, not captured, not dead).

Yesterday we were at work, at school, at home (not cocooned weeping in the dark). If today was like every day before (not shredded, not eviscerated, not annulled) I would meet my sister after work. Her office was south of the city where the damage was worst (not hopeful, not likely) and whole streets were now gaping holes (not pathways, not roads) and although the soldiers return every hour, bringing more people, reuniting family and friends, each time the door opens they are strangers (not her, not her, not her).

About the Author

Jo Withers spent the first thirty-five years of her life in Northern England before moving to South Australia in 2008 where she now resides with her husband, children and a motley crew of elderly pets.She works in her local kindergarten and finds the children’s quirky comments are a constant source of inspiration for her ‘world off-kilter’ brand of fiction.Jo has previously won prizes at The Caterpillar, Reflex Press, FlashBack Fiction, Furious Fiction, Retreat West, Molotov Cocktail and SmokeLong Quarterly. Her work has featured in Best Microfictions 2020 and Wigleaf Top 50 2021. She has also been nominated several times for a Pushcart Prize. Her novella-in-flash, Marilyn’s Ghost, which was a runner-up in the Bath 2024 Novella-in-Flash Award is forthcoming from Ad Hoc Fiction this spring.

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Gayathiri Dhevi Appathurai February 2024 Third Prize

How to make a realistic Paper Rose

by Gayathiri Dhevi Appathurai

First, you can choose what colour and type of rose you want to make.

My father would disagree; after all, he didn’t want a girl, but what choice did he have with me?

Take a sheet of paper. It should be flexible but not too delicate.

My mother would disagree; a girl should be delicate, or else what would the family think of her upbringing?

Cut 3 squares of that paper, even 4. Size doesn’t matter. The bigger, the better.

My parents would disagree; girls can never have a big ego. So why give them so much learning?

Take one square and fold diagonally, repeat two more folds, making it small.

My grandma would disagree; a woman shouldn’t feel small to obey a man. Isn’t that how we preserve family values?

Draw an arc, cut the top, and a little at the bottom. You get a creased flower shape with a hole, but it isn’t complete yet.

My family would disagree; marriage completes a woman. What really does a solitary life accomplish?

Curl the edges of a flower, cut one pie shape, and glue the open edges together like a cone; one segment remains untethered.

My husband would disagree; a woman must be tethered to her man’s will. How else can marriage work?

Repeat steps 4 through 6 for other squares, cutting one segment more each time. You get smaller flower cones and more segments separated.

My family would disagree; separation is never a choice. Why would a man hit his woman unless she angered him?

Curl and make cones out of the lone segments. Assemble from largest to smallest cones and adjust until the flower looks whole.

My parents would agree. A woman must always adjust. No more questions.

Finally, this is it. You are done.

I agree.

About the Author

Gayathiri Dhevi Appathurai has an Engineering degree in Electronics & Instrumentation and works in the Information Technology Industry. Her stories have been shortlisted and published in the anthologies of Bristol Short Story Prize ‘21 , Edinburgh Flash Fiction Prize ‘22, Oxford flash fiction Prize summer ‘21 (Finalist). She is a Flash Fiction finalist in London Independent Story Prize, 2nd half ‘21. She is a trained Indian Classical Carnatic vocalist and has performed in renowned Fine arts venues in southern India. Her other creative pursuits include painting and sculpting. She lives with her husband in Mumbai, India.

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Pilar García Claramonte February 2024 Highly Commended

Four Conditions of the Heart

by Pilar García Claramonte


Doctors are avoiding the zero conditional. No-one tells me, “If a brain is deprived of oxygen for twelve minutes, it never recovers fully.

You sleep. I watch. We share this arctic cubicle with the beep and whirr of machines. One shivering certainty rises stark-naked with your in-breath and falls in time with your chest: If you die, I die. If you die, I die.


Fourteen days since you collapsed on our kitchen floor. Doctors use the first conditional daily now: “If your partner doesn’t wake soon, we’ll need to make decisions.”

Your first conditionals were much easier.

If I promise coffee in bed forever, will you marry me?

If it’s a girl, we’ll name her Daisy.

If we retire next year, we’ll grow old by the sea.


It’s been thirty-two days. I hold your hand in one hand and write, with the other, the probable results of hypothetical situations. The complexity of the second conditional, scribbled on the back of hospital leaflets, is my foothold through this labyrinth.

If you woke, you would live significantly impaired, physically and mentally.

If you lived, you would not manage to breathe on your own.

At the end of the day, I scatter scraps of leaflets amongst binned paper cups. Acrid coffee coats my tongue across the dark drive home.

If you spoke, I know what you would tell me to do.


I tackle the third conditional in the classroom. The hardest of the four.

“You have to imagine the probable result of something unreal, impossible, something that didn’t actually happen,” I explain.

I write on the whiteboard: If, eighteen months ago, he had lived

I pause, marker pen in the air. “In this conditional, there’s often a sense of regret.”

I wipe the board and start another sentence.

About the Author

Pilar García Claramonte wishes that she had discovered the joy of creative writing much earlier in life. Now retired, she spends her time between the Kent coast, Oxford and the Basque Country, where she was born, trying to make up for lost time, aided and abetted by some great teachers and writing buddies. She was also highly commended in the June 2023 Bath Flash Fiction Award

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Sarah Gillett February 2024 Highly Commended

An experiment on a bird in the air pump (after Joseph Wright of Derby)

by Sarah Gillett

Anna so wanted to stroke its soft white body that she poked her fingers into the cage when Maria wasn’t looking. The cockatoo stabbed, drawing blood with its curved beak, tongue waggling. They both screamed and it went back to preening itself, nibbling under its downy parts, closing its wings with a dry snap, smoothing down its combed head with grey claws. Maria said she deserved to get pecked, it wasn’t a pet and if anything happened to it then Papa would be filthy furious and lock her in the box under the stairs until they all forgot she was there, until she died. Anna, yelling, wished she could be a ghost and haunt Maria forever and ever and always. Shrieks crumpling to giggles, they washed their faces and fumbled each other into pale lilac silk dresses.

Downstairs the parlour table was set with wooden instruments, connected by brass tubing, polished handles, glass vessels. When Anna asked Papa what the gnarled slimy thing in the amber liquid was, he said it was a diseased human skull. The sisters shivered. Papa’s important friend placed the cockatoo inside a large glass jar and demonstrated the effects of something called a vacuum, counting seconds on a silver watch.

The white bird shone in the candlelight. It looked fragile and heavy, its feathers wide, its feet scrabbling then twitching slower. Maria hid her face but Anna could not look away. She wanted to touch the glossy black eye staring right at her. Around her, moving splashes of cheek and hair and cloth caught the light in time with the thumping of her heart. She had thought it was only in the shadows that everything was dark and treacherous. Time was slower there, the box had taught her that. She held her breath and waited.

About the Author

Sarah Gillett is an artist and writer from Lancashire, UK. She currently lives in London, where she investigates the life of things across space and time. She has a soft spot for meteorites, the colour blue, old dictionaries, glass paperweights and early postcards. In another life she would have been an astronaut.


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February 2024 Long List

Congratulations to all the authors who have made our Award long list and huge thanks to all who entered.

Author names are yet to be announced, so while it is fine to share that you are on the long list, we do ask that you do not identify yourself with your particular fiction at this stage.

We receive many many entries, and occasionally some entries have the same title. We are in the process of sending an offer of publication email to all authors on the long list. Please do not assume you are on the long list unless you have received that publication offer. If in doubt, contact us.

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