Flash Fiction

Louise Mangos February 2022 First Prize

A Roadmap of Womanhood

by Louise Mangos

The vein travels east from her cleavage across her right breast. Its trail is blue-green, like the motorways in her faded, water-damaged AA Atlas from the nineties, before everyone started using smartphone apps. It resembles the M1 where it meets the M25 at Bricket Wood, passing two freckles and a cherry angioma. After the junction, it takes a sharp turn south and ring-roads her areola, the place on her body where three babes have suckled, partners have fluttered their curious fingers and slid their passionate tongues. Frogmore. London Colney. South Mimms. The vein then travels eastwards horizontally before fading under her armpit into the ancient woodlands of Epping Forest. It transports her iron, her anger, her waste. It has pumped away the pain of mastitis in a steaming hot shower, felt the soft silk of an underwired C-cup, been prodded by doctors searching for cancerous nodules. The vessel should be blood red, but through the curious filter of human skin untouched by sunlight, it becomes the emerald green of a heaving swamp. Once fascinating, it is now shunned by partners, repulsive to lovers, frowned upon by friends. Today this roadmap is for her eyes only. After the fired flush of menopause has chilled her skin to marble, it remains a testament to the men who have overstepped her boundaries, crossed the central reservation, pulled in to a coffee stop for a quick pick-me-up. She looks at herself in the mirror, parked naked on a double yellow line. She studies the tattoo of her womanhood and wonders if she can do a U-turn, take the M4 all the way to the southwest, where there is nothing between her liver-spotted skin and the pot-holed coastal road except the salty tears of the Atlantic Ocean.

About the Author

Louise writes novels, short stories and flash fiction, which have won prizes, placed on shortlists, and have been read out on BBC radio. Her short fiction has appeared in more than twenty print anthologies and magazines. Her latest novel will be published in spring 2022. She lives at the foot of a Swiss Alp with her Kiwi husband and two sons. You can read more of her short fiction on her website www.louisemangos.com and connect with her on Twitter @LouiseMangos.

share by email

Iona Rule February 2022 Second Prize

Edging

by Iona Rule

I didn’t want to be the type of person who went to Carrie, but ultimately I did. I found her in The Anchor, sitting at a ring-marked table, cradling a rum and coke. The stool bucked beneath me as I sat opposite her, stumbling over my stale words. It didn’t matter. She knew why I’d come. I shuffled the beer mats like tarot cards, then gave in. I whispered against her hair, which looped in a question mark by her ear,

“Can I see it?”

She nodded, resigned, as though she’d expected it, but had hoped I’d surprise her.

I took her home. Her gaze lingered on the dead cactus on the counter. Before I could ask, she removed her jumper and turned her back to me. There it was. Running from the nape of her neck, down her vertebrae, was a black hole. The emptiness stretched away, beckoning to something inside me that howled. I stood on the brink. People said if you entered one, you could access an alternate universe, or travel in time. I could return to a place where Sara hadn’t left and I could still keep a cactus alive. If this didn’t happen, if I only floated in the dark, my atoms pulled asunder, it would be enough.

But I couldn’t do it. I steadied myself on her shoulder and pulled back. We had sex instead. That basic human instinct anchored me as I stared from the edge.

After it was over, I felt empty, like that hole had taken something after all.

As she dressed I asked her how many people had jumped into her. She shrugged.

“I’ve lost count.”

I knew there was another world inside her, one where she dressed alone, watered my cactus, then closed the door behind her.

About the Author

Iona Rule has a birthmark but she’s 97% sure it isn’t a portal to an alternate universe. She has been BIFFY50 nominated and shortlisted in TSS Publishing, Cambridge Flash Prize, Fractured Lit and Retreat West. Her writing can be found in Epoch Press, The Phare and Ellipses Zine.

share by email

Debra A Daniel February 2022 Third Prize

Grand Canyon Official Form 477D

by Debra A Daniel

Standing at the canyon’s edge, I see my ex struggling below. But maybe not. Maybe it’s a bear. Or a clown. Or a clown wearing a bear suit. Or vice-versa.

Although it could be my ex being eaten by a bear. That seems like something that would happen to him. Then he’d lie about it later. He’d make up some story, some half-truth difficult to trace.

“No,” he’d say. “That bear didn’t eat me. We were just joking around.”

“No,” he’d say. “I went to school with that bear. Great guy, Gary. Gary Bear. He lived two doors down. His mom always baked cookies for us.”

I look again. Hmm. It looks more like a clown now. Yes, a clown, for sure. My ex was afraid of clowns, ever since that Stephen King book came out.

Not that he read it. He never read anything. Not even my stories. He just thought it was cool to be scared of clowns.

Now, looking again, I’m pretty sure it’s a clown eating a bear.

Still it could be my ex. He’s so far down in the distance. I can’t tell.

“Is anyone missing a clown?” I ask the ranger. “Do bears suffer from coulrophobia? Have you ever been married to a pathological liar?”

The ranger shrugs. “I can’t answer unless you file an incident report,” she says. “Go to the welcome center. Ask for Official Form 447D Ex/Clown/Bear Attack.”

I take one more look into the canyon. There’s definitely a struggle still going on down below. I hope my ex isn’t being eaten by a bear.

But my tour bus is loading up, and he really isn’t my problem anymore.

About the Author

Debra Daniel, from South Carolina, sings in a band with her husband. Publications include: The Roster, (Ad Hoc Fiction, highly commended for the Bath Flash Fiction Novella-in-Flash, 2019), Woman Commits Suicide in Dishwasher (novel, Muddy Ford Press), The Downward Turn of August (poetry, Finishing Line) As Is (poetry, Main Street Rag), With One Eye on the Cows, Things Left and Found by the Side of the Road, Los Angeles Review, Smokelong, Kakalak, Emrys, Pequin, Inkwell, Southern Poetry Review, Tar River, and Gargoyle. Awards include The Los Angeles Review, Bacopa, the Guy Owen Poetry Prize, and SC Poetry Fellowships. Her second novella-in-flash A Family of Great Falls was shortlisted in the 2021 Bath Flash Fiction Novella-in-Flash Awards and was published by Ad Hoc Fiction in July 2021.

share by email

Kathryn Aldridge-Morris February 2022 Commended

Riptide

by Kathryn Aldridge-Morris

When the nurse returns, he’s in a wetsuit, an oxygen tank strapped to his back, clipboard in his hands, says he’s a mental health nurse and you think ‘Sure!’ as the carapace of a sea turtle grows from his ribs and he shakes seaweed from your files and that thing you’re doing with your arms? you think it’s swimming but it’s the start of drowning and knowing the bottom of the seabed smells of hospital linoleum you try to catch hold of something to help you float, like a child’s armband left behind in the sand, or a mantra, an inflatable mantra: she sells seashells on the seashore—nice—and the nurse seems pleased with you, Keep going, he says, and you don’t let yourself look at the orange windsock behind his head, you focus on the slow tide of words which lap across the lines on his notebook, a memory sunk within you scratching its way out through his pen: Sean’s jacket puffed up in the water; Scratch Scratch, says his pen, then he tells you, It only takes a half pint of seawater to enter the lungs to start drowning, and you look at the plastic cup he’s handing you – that water is not from the cooler, is it? it’s from the fish tank on the side, the fish tank full of dogfish, stingrays, and the red rubber sandal of a six-year-old boy, but you drink it because if you don’t, it’ll go down in a tick box marked paranoia and that’s not a tick box you can swim in, and swimming’s what you need to do right now, swim, out to the buoy where you see your son waving, swim for god’s sake, move your limbs—he needs you.

About the Author

Kathryn Aldridge-Morris is a flash fiction writer with work forthcoming or in Flash Frog, Bending Genres, Emerge, Janus Literary, Ellipsis Zine, The Phare and others. She has stories in seven anthologies, including And if that Mockingbird Don’t Sing. She lives in Bristol, UK, and tweets @kazbarwrites

share by email

Sam Payne February 2022 Commended

When a Youtube clip of Diego Goes Viral

by Sam Payne

Everyone sees Diego pacing his enclosure, those big bear eyes of his all sad and lonely. But Diego hasn’t been the same since his brother died. There are plans to pair him with Tallulah, a rescued dancing bear who’s a bit of a handful, and even though Diego’s never had a successful relationship the zoo will try anything to make him happy. They explain all of this in a lengthy PR campaign, but people still gather outside the entrance waving placards and chanting no more cages and nobody visits because nobody wants to walk through a full-blown protest. Except Harry. Harry, who works the night shift at Ginsters and owes nineteen grand in payday loans. Harry, who’s been coming here with his daughter every other Saturday for months. What do they think will happen if the zoo closes? This is Diego’s home and it’s no fun having to leave your own home, I can tell you. Harry’s daughter, who once stepped on a spider and cried every night for a week, trails behind as he points out flamingos, llamas, zebras and rhinos, but when they see Diego she stops and her bottom lip wobbles and Harry knows what’s coming and he gets down on his knees and says, shit, none of this is perfect kiddo, you know how it is. Some bears end up in Alaskan rivers slapping salmon up in the air and some bears end up here. That’s just life. And even as he says this, he knows it’s not right, he knows he’s making excuses and his daughter pulls away and Harry looks at Diego, looks into those big bear eyes, all sad and lonely, and all around them baboons shriek, hyenas laugh, and somewhere not far from here, a wolf howls to an absent moon. 

About the Author

Sam Payne lives in the UK and her work has appeared in a variety of places including; Fictive Dream, 100 Word Story and Flashback Fiction. She won Flash 500 in 2020 and prevously placed 3rd in the Bath Flash Fiction Awards. She holds a BA in English Literature and a Masters in Creative Writing. Sam is also a reader at Janus Literary and is on twitter @skpaynewriting

.

share by email

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 dougramspeck.com. and you can also find him on Facebook

share by email

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 (www.writershq.co.uk) 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 www.jogatford.com.

share by email

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)

share by email