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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Novella in Flash 2024 Results

Huge congratulations to the winners and highly commended writers in our 2024 Novella in Flash Award, selected by John Brantingham. Read their bios below.

Ad Hoc Fiction is publishing, Hereafter the first prize novella by US based writer, Sarah Freligh and the runner-up novellas, Nose Ornaments by Sudha Balagopal from the US and Marilyn’s Ghost by Jo Withers,from Australia.

Best wishes to our two highly commended authors, Jupiter Jones and Thomas McColl, and the shortlisted and longlisted writers for future publication of their novellas. And good luck to everyone who entered. It was a privilege to read your work. What a wonderful array of novellas!

You can read John Brantingham’s comments on the three winners and the two highly commended in his judge’s report and his general comments in his report and also his reading notes from when the short list was announced. We really appreciate his careful work over the past few months.

First prize winner:
Hereafter by Sarah Freligh

Sarah Freligh is the author of six books, including Sad Math, winner of the 2014 Moon City Press Poetry Prize and the 2015 Whirling Prize from the University of Indianapolis, and A Brief Natural History of Women, published in 2023 by Harbor Editions, and Dear You, Alien Buddha, August 2023. Recent work has appeared in the Cincinnati Review miCRo series, SmokeLong Quarterly, Sun Magazine, the Wigleaf 50, and in the anthologies New Micro: Exceptionally Short Fiction (Norton 2018), Best Microfiction (2019-22) and Best Small Fiction 2022. Among her awards are poetry fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Saltonstall Foundation.

Nose Ornaments by Sudha Balagopal

Sudha Balagopal’s fiction straddles continents and cultures, blending thoughts and ideas from the east and the west. She is honored to have her writing in many fine journals including The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, CRAFT, The Maine Review and Bureau Dispatch. Her highly- commended novella-in-flash, Things I Can’t Tell Amma, was published by Ad Hoc fiction in 2021. She has stories included in Best Small Fictions, 2022 and 2023. When she’s not writing, she teaches yoga. Find her on Twitter @authorsudha or at

Marilyn’s Ghost by Jo Withers

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. Her work has featured in Best Microfictions 2020 and Wigleaf Top 50 2021. She has also been nominated several times for a Pushcart Prize.

Highly Commended
Nine Inches of Rain by Jupiter Jones

Jupiter Jones lives in Wales and writes short and flash fictions. She is the author of three novellas-in-flash, The Death and Life of Mrs Parker, Lovelace Flats, and Gull Shit Alley and Other Roads to Hell. Being a proper nerd with very little social life, she is currently working on a PhD on the role of (dis)connectivity in the novella-in-flash.

Highly Commended
The Man With the Glass Blown Head and Brick Wall Face by Thomas McColl
Thomas McColl lives in London and works as a Procedural Publisher at the House of Commons. He’s had two collections of poetry published – Being With Me Will Help You Learn (Listen Softly London Press, 2016) and Grenade Genie (Fly on the Wall Press, 2020) – and his short stories and poems have been published in magazines such as Fictive Dream, Bare Fiction, Here Comes Everyone and Smoke: A London Peculiar, and featured on BBC Radio Kent, BBC Radio WM and TV’s London Live.

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Dawn Tasaka Steffler October 2023 First Prize


by Dawn Steffler

Because the internet said, children who lose a parent to suicide are more likely to die from suicide. Because for Tyler’s fourteenth birthday, I took him to Disneyland and thought we were having a good day, until his eyes brimmed with tears while we were in line and he mumbled, “I’m sorry, Mom — I don’t think I want to be here anymore.” And I knew he wasn’t talking about Space Mountain. Because my therapist said, “I know you’re angry. But you need to hold space for Tyler to grieve.” And I remember thinking, does no one give a fuck about me?

My husband hovers. I hear songs on the radio that croon “I’m sorry”, or I’ll see a heart-shaped cloud, or the Mexican place has a new banner, “Life is hard, tacos help.” I always ignore him. But two hours ago, Tyler barged into my bedroom, he’s receiving an award at tonight’s Senior Ceremony and his dress slacks are too short. I wanted to say, You’re just like your Dad, always leaving stuff to the last minute! But I didn’t. I said, “Would you like to look in your Dad’s closet?” And Tyler examined each hanger, the scrape of wire on wood, the rustle of fabric. He selected a navy suit and a pinstriped shirt still in the dry cleaner’s plastic sleeve. And when he emerged, I felt like I was looking at a ghost, except this ghost’s hair was shaggy and falling into its eyes.

And now I’m standing at the back of the gym. When Tyler accepts his commemorative plaque, the flyers on the table next to me flutter and ripple. And I whisper, “Fuck off.” I whisper, “Yes, he turned out amazing. No thanks to you.” I whisper, “Well, thank you. That means a lot.”

About the Author

Dawn Tasaka Steffler is a fiction writer from Hawaii who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. She is a Smokelong QuarterlyEmerging Writer Fellow, StoryStudio Chicago StoryBoard Fellow, and Best of the Net nominee. Her work appears or is forthcoming in Many Nice Donkeys, Milk Candy Review, Flash Frog, Pithead Chapel, Stanchion, Ghost Parachute, and others. She truly does believe tacos make life better. Find her on Instagram, Twitter and Bluesky @DawnSteffler and at

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Mairead Robinson October 2023 Second Prize

Butterfly Effect

by Mairead Robinson

That night you flipped out, drunk on vodka you found in your brother’s room as you rummaged for weed, you didn’t know that your best friend, too numb, wouldn’t speak for three days, and as you flipped, alone and raging, you didn’t know your teachers, on hearing the news, would rolodex their heads for anything they might have ever said, and you didn’t know as you emptied the bathroom cabinet for something to be enough, that your neighbour would stare at the fence, recalling a six-year-old on the trampoline, pigtails lifting into twin smiles as you bounced up down, up down, and you didn’t know as you smashed your own face in the mirrored doors, the bath filling dreadfully behind you, that your mother would say you were everything, just everything to her, and as you stepped half-dressed into tepid water, you didn’t know that the boy you slept with after a party, the one who bragged to his friends, would never again hold anyone close, and your mother’s boyfriend, who said you were all grown up, before he slunk from your candy-striped sheets, your pop-star posters, would hold your mother up at the funeral, eyes hard-glazed, like a daughter to me, he’ll say, lies the only truth on his face, and you didn’t know, as you gripped a glass shard without thinking, felt such calm sluicing through, that your brother would find you and be too afraid to know what to do; he’ll turn off the tap, towel-mop the tiles; soft white soaking up pink, and you didn’t know, when you flipped into that grey blur, that you’d be buried in the pale lilac chiffon you wore to your prom, cocooned in a casket painted by your cousin with poppies and vines and big yellow swallowtails fluttering through leaves.

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 tweets @Judasspoon and skeets

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Sally Jubb October 2023 Third Prize


by Sally Jubb

It was the way she gave him chocolate. Fed him, I should say, as if he was still a baby. Not that you’d give a baby chocolate. Then she sort of played with it in front of his face, him with his lips parted, as she waved it about. The way a cat’s head follows left to right, right to left, if you taunt it with a bit of chicken, that’s what she did to him. I watched her in the mirror, as I put on my necklace before leaving the house.

Later, from the window, I watched them in the garden, deep in lupines. She put a straw between his lips. The liquid was pink, the glass bottle flashing in the sun between her fingers. I imagined her saying the word suck, and remembered a stranger’s fingers dragging my nipple over his face, him rooting blindly as the milk came in spurts, the stab as he latched on, the crying, him sucking on and on, the hopelessness of it.

She’s carrying him now between the trees, lifting him high in the air, him reaching down with his fingers touching her face. Now she takes his fingers into her mouth and shakes her head about like some daft dog. He’s laughing. I only know her name. I don’t know who she really is. These agencies make stuff up. Joy is very loving and caring. Joy is endlessly patient and loves nothing more than to play.

They’re holding hands now and pointing at something on the lawn. A blackbird, or maybe a starling. Sturnus vulgaris. Whatever it is she’ll have to go.

About the Author

Sally Jubb lives in North Yorkshire. She received the Andrea Badenoch Award (Northern Writers Awards) in 2015. Since then, her work has appeared in various anthologies, including The Bristol Short Story Prize, The London Magazine, Best British Short Stories (Salt). She won the Colm Toibin Short Story Prize in 2017. She has an MFA in Creative Writing from Birkbeck College, London. She recently completed a horror novel.

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Autumn Bettinger October 2023 Highly Commended

Train to the Last Iceberg

by Autumn Bettinger

His tangled blond curls flutter in the breeze kicked up by train wheels. The zoo slides by, passing a giraffe licking metal poles and an elephant staring into the sun. She points towards the polar bear, a great white blotch on a barren scene. She taps her son’s shoulder, calls his name, but he keeps looking at the plants and people that chug by.

She watches the water fall from the bear’s fur in soft sheets, pattering old plastic jugs that litter the enclosure. Even in a zoo, where great murals depict the ice melting in the arctic, they give Polar Bears trash to play with.

The train heads towards a tunnel. Kids squeal, a few toddlers burst into tears. They can sense the dark. She watches the back of her son’s neck for goosebumps. At six he’s almost fearless. She imagines the last fight they had, the one where she grabbed him, told him to listen. JUST LISTEN.

She scared him. She scared herself. She tried to apologize. She took him to the zoo.

The tunnel pushes in slowly, the light fading in a blast of shrill giggles and gasps. She and her son stay quiet in the black. Nothing but sounds. No polar bears. No slamming doors. No throwing ice cubes against the side of the house to try and break her anger apart.

The light creeps back in as a familiar pressure nestles into her palm. A small hand buried in the wrinkles and veins that puddle above her knuckles. The train sucks its last cars from the dark as the polar bears fight over an old buoy and the giraffe’s black tongue licks, and licks, and licks. She squeezes his hand and thinks about rising oceans. She squeezes his hand and promises not to melt.

About the Author

Autumn Bettinger is a full-time mother of two living in Portland, Oregon. When not folding laundry or slinging snacks, she can be found writing in the wee hours of the morning before her kids wake up. Her work has been audio adapted for The No Sleep Podcast and has won the Silver Scribes Prize. Her stories can be found in The Journal of Compressed Literary Arts, On the Run, Numnum, and others.
All of Autumn’s published works can be found at

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