The second round of the Bath Flash Fiction Award closed on February 14th, 2016, just over a year after the inaugural contest was launched. Six hundred and fifty entries arrived from all over the world – traditional stories, experimental pieces, all the different forms of flash fiction.
A big thank you to everyone who entered and spread the word on social media and elsewhere. And thank you to our judge, Tania Hershman for creating the shortlist and selecting winners within two weeks.
Our next award is now open, and we’re delighted to have writer and editor Michelle Elvy as our new judge. The closing date is in four months time, June 12th midnight GMT.
Do enter again, whatever style of flash you write. We love reading your stories. As well as the chance of winning a big prize, all entries will be considered for our anthology, due out the end of 2016.
Founder Bath Flash Fiction Award
First, to say: choosing the winners was difficult! Going from longlist to shortlist was a matter of what grabbed me on first read, whether it was the story, the freshness of the language, the structure, or something unique and surprising that I’d never seen before. But the next stage is when I got tough, because I was actively looking for reasons not to pick stories. I had to get to my top 5 from 20. This is when a judge gets ruthless. A story has to give something back on a second read – and a third read! Any even slight laziness in language – an overused phrase bordering on cliche, a typo – and that made it far more likely that I would discard that story. Also, if the premise was great, an intriguing idea, but the follow-through and the ending just didn’t do it for me, that landed the story in my No pile.
Read in Full
Roll and Curl
by Ingrid Jendrzejewski
It’s a small town, so when a call comes through from Amber Groves for Mrs. Philips, you know it can mean only one thing: either her husband or her sister has passed.
“She’s under the dryer,” you say and pop your gum. You think you’ve made your point but end up having to add, “Well, you can come on down and talk to her yourself, or you can wait until I’m finished with her wash and set. We’re in the middle of things here.”
You put the phone down and look over at Mrs. Philips. She’s under the hood dryer reading a magazine, lost in her plastic gown. She’s shaking a little and at first you think she’s crying, but then you see she’s laughing. She has some lipstick on her front teeth.
When her timer dings, you remove the hood and check her hair. The gel has set, so you wheel her to your station and take out the rollers. You run your pick through what’s left of her hair, teasing enough to make some volume, then combing the rest over the top to create the shape she likes. You form her bangs into curls by hand.
Then, you get out the hairspray. Mrs. Philips smiles, squeezes her eyes shut and lifts her chin. “This part always feels like spring rain,” she says as you begin to spray.
You carry on for nearly three minutes; you carry on until you’ve used up the whole bottle. You spray until her hair is as hard as a combat helmet, until that smile is fixed on her face like a shield. Then you give her some tissues. You tell her they’re for her teeth.
You Have So Many More Choices Than Fight Or Flight
by Al Kratz
When you encounter a bear in the woods, lock arms with a friend. Make yourselves appear stronger. Transform into a collective self. When they ask how little girls like you survived the bear, shrug your unlocked shoulders and agree: isn’t it a wonder?
Just in case, hang out with stronger people. Maybe that guy from your co-ed softball team with the tattoo on his neck. It might feel counter-intuitive, but don’t confuse the number of fights you will witness with the number of fights you will be in. Just don’t fall in love with the tattoo man.
When you fall in love with the tattoo man, and your mother whispers to everyone that her son-in-law is in jail over a little fireworks thing, tell her, Mom, it wasn’t firecrackers—he’s in prison for making bombs. You’re neither fighting your mother nor fleeing the truth—you’re standing your ground.
When you encounter a carpenter bee in the woods, be still. The male has no stinger. It’s safe to call his bluff. The female only stings when provoked. As she flies around your head, repeat to yourself: she’s not really a bee, she’s not really a bee, she’s not really a bee.
When you lose your wedding ring in the woods, let it be. This is the universe singing for you. Listen to all she has to say. You don’t have to fight or run from the universe. You have so many more choices than that.
When you divorce the tattoo man, testify how so many things aren’t even worth fighting for. It’s not fight or flight if you don’t care who you’re getting away from or where you’re going to. You’ve seen birds. Sometimes flying is just for the sake of flying.
by Clodagh O’Brien
Billy knows when it’s time to get up. He doesn’t need a clock or a watch or a radio. Billy just knows.
Billy takes Weetabix from the shelf and drops two biscuits in cold milk. He stands in front of the microwave and pretends the light inside is lightning.
Billy yells goodbye to his mother and cycles to school. He has tied strings to the spokes, so when he goes fast it’s as if he has tails.
Billy sits in the front row in class. It means he can see everything on the board without squinting and gets to taste chalk dust.
Billy eats lunch at the end of the playground. He shares his sandwich with a squirrel that lives in the triangle of a tree.
Billy cycles home the long way so he can ride over all the bumps. He stays in the middle of the road even if a car beeps.
Billy measures out spaghetti and puts it in water with salt and oil. He stands above it until the bubbles come.
Billy goes upstairs to eat. He feeds his mother with a teaspoon and tries not to get Dolmio on the duvet.
Billy washes the dishes with bleach because there’s no washing up liquid. He leaves them to dry the way his mother taught him.
Billy does his homework on the coffee table with a wonky leg. He writes slowly so the pencil doesn’t jiggle and he has to start again.
Billy sits cross-legged in front of the television and looks at himself. His nose is getting bigger and his hair longer.
Billy puts on his pyjamas and makes sure his mother takes her pills. He kneels in bed and makes a steeple of his hands. Billy tells God he hates him and goes to sleep.
by Peter Blair
I am off-kilter, coasting perpendicular to the upright, ninety degrees in the shade. Everything is grey. The seatbacks are headstones; the antimacassars are embroidered with dates of lovers I’ve never had. A melancholy love song, crooned in a voice I almost recognize, loops over the tannoy. As we curve into the mountains, I lose sight of the river and do not know if we have crossed the frontier. Patting myself down for travel documents, I find a stub that bears no seat or carriage number, date or time, departure point or destination. Each page of the passport plucked from the breast pocket of my shirt is blank. I will not know how to explain myself to the ticket inspector and border guard, whose languages I may not speak. I have no currency for a bribe. I stow myself in the luggage rack, but am in plain sight, my buttocks bulging through the elasticated mesh. As I try to squirm free, my feet become entangled and cannot be extricated. I will have to throw myself on the mercy of the officials, as an innocent abroad. The low-fi love lyric is an earworm burrowing into my head: something about an interventionist God. Across pastures and ravines, the shadowtrain lengthens and shortens, rises and falls. I am off-kilter. Everything is grey.