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


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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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Dara Yen Elerath June 2021 First Prize

The Button Wife

by Dara Elerath

The button wife bends her body across the bed, but the cloth husband is not interested in touching her. Instead, he phones the burlap wife. He likes the way her coarse skin brushes against his body. At night, the button wife cries, recalling how her husband used to clutch the dark thread of her hair. She knows the burlap wife’s curls scratch him in the fashion he prefers. The cloth husband has a passion for roughness, but the button wife, woven from cotton, has only been soft and yielding. One evening, she decides to scour the buttons of her eyes with a steel wool; she hopes her husband will love her again. Soon, they are scuffed and cracked. When her husband comes back he looks at her with anger. You have ruined your eyes, he says, how can I look at you now? Later, gazing in a hand mirror, she notes she is no longer beautiful. She lifts a pair of scissors and snips the strings that knot the buttons to her face. Then she can no longer weep; then she can no longer see her husband leave the house each evening. She irons the hem of her dress in darkness. She waits to hear the sound of his car speeding down plastic blacktop. She dreams of the burlap wife’s hair cutting her skin the way it cuts her husband’s. Sometimes, she pricks her arm with a darning needle to feel. The red thread that unspools from her body is long as a dog leash. She wonders then if she is a dog. She hopes the cloth husband will walk her when he returns. She resolves then to wag her tail in greeting. She resolves then to sleep at his feet.

About the Author

Dara Yen Elerath is the author of Dark Braid, which won the John Ciardi Prize for Poetry (BkMk Press). Her first published flash fiction appeared in Tahoma Literary Review and was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Her poetry has appeared in journals such as The American Poetry Review, AGNI, Boulevard, Plume, Poet Lore, Hunger Mountain, and The Los Angeles Review, among others. She received her MFA in poetry from the Institute of American Indian Arts and resides in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

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Emma Phillips June 2021 Second Prize

Strong Like Carp

by Emma Phillips

Aoi-chan was strong like a carp. Even when the bombs fell, she hardly flinched, although her best friend Megumi said she laid upon her futon each night and cried the Edo river. Megumi did not have fighting spirit. Aoi was like the Koi she used to feed before the war, when she walked through Sensô-ji Temple with her father.

“See,” Otosan declared, “they dance their beauty but find their strength together. Stay proud, my daughter. Remember your Japanese heart.” Otosan was in the Imperial Army. Aoi ran their stall with her mother now, selling eggs from her grandmother’s chickens and tending each scrap of their yard to grow vegetables. The Koi had disappeared but Aoi kept them safe inside and when the fire bombing started, she drew a pond for them in the ashes. Her father sent her paper cranes inscribed with the symbol for courage.

Aoi joined the search and rescue teams. Her thin fingers and keen eyesight helped pluck survivors from the rubble. The Koi led her to them. Each day they swam through the broken streets and gave her hope. The radio said the Emperor would never surrender but Aoi heard Japan was losing the war. She fed her worries to the fish.

By the time the atom bombs landed, her shoal had multiplied. Their rainbow scales dazzled Aoi and she held onto their tails. In the morning, they were gone, leaving dust on the edge of her eyelids. Where the Koi had led her home, she found American soldiers handing out candy. Aoi refused to chew gum, cursed when Megumi spat pink bubbles from her lips the shape of peaches. Her father returned. Otosan taught Aoi to chase the Koi upstream again. “Old life has gone,” her father said, “now a new one starts.”

About the Author

Emma Phillips lives close to the M5 in Devon with her husband, son and guinea pigs. She teaches in a primary school and has become addicted to Flash Fiction over the past year. She has lived in Japan and China and loves to sing karaoke badly. Her work has been published in Blink Ink, Popshot and Mslexia. If she were a fish, she’d like to be a carp.

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Leonie Rowland June 2021 Third Prize

Reasons You Married a Woman Called Rose

by Leonie Rowland

Please match the following numbers with the correct letter*

a. The love story

b. The proverb

c. The theories

d. The joke

e. The myth

f. The whole

1. Because when you were born, there were tides in the kitchen: boiling water gushing over abandoned pots, falling onto your mother where she lay on the floor, still trying to reach up and stir the pasta, worried it would come to pieces if she didn’t, that your life would start by falling apart. You moved from warm fluid to starchy water and then to hands careful with soap, scenting your skin, a velvet perfume. Your mother says the bubbles were pink, that you were laughing. You still adore the smell of roses.

2. Because you were burned as a baby / because you are lying / because the stars are eating themselves / because you are high on transgression / because you have a hysterical brain / because you hate your father / because you hate your mother / because no man wants you / because your body is craving / because you are split where it matters.

3. Because your breasts were always inadequate, and you deserved a second chance.

4. Because on your first date she made you pasta, and when the water splashed your skin, she kissed it away, took off your dress and folded it, made you realise you were whole before her, with her—all of this for hours, and nothing fell apart.

5. Because you found her at the mouth of a volcano, and the volcano sparked, and the mouth said: there are promises we must keep.

6. Because in this barren wilderness, there are still flowers.

*Answers are subject to change.

About the Author

Leonie Rowland lives in Manchester, where she completed an MA in Gothic Literature. Her debut chapbook, In Bed with Melon Bread, is available from Dreich, and she is Editor-in-Chief of The Hungry Ghost Project. She has recent work in Wrongdoing Magazine, Pareidolia Literary, The Walled City Journal, Sledgehammer Lit and Punk Noir Magazine, among others. You can visit her website or find her on Twitter @leonie_rowland.

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Debra A Daniel June 2021 Commended

Across The Street The Old Man Clears Out His House

by Debra A Daniel

Late every afternoon, Mr. Anderson unloads a rusty wheelbarrow full of giveaways onto the driveway’s edge, displaying each item as if designing a department store window. Duck decoys. National Geographic magazines. Embroidered Christmas stockings. One day kitchen utensils. Cast iron skillet. Shrimp peeler. Nesting bowls. The next day it’s fishing rods, tackle box, a couple of golf clubs.

We watch from our front porch. Me, sipping tea, humming along while my husband plays guitar. He chooses songs he thinks Mr. Anderson would like. Old standards. “Paper Moon” or “I’ll See You in My Dreams” maybe. I tell him I don’t think Mr. Anderson can hear anymore, but my husband plays anyway. Never much of a talker, Mr. Anderson keeps to himself, but once in a while, before he totters back, empty and done for the day, he waves.

Every afternoon, minutes after Mr. Anderson disappears, the young woman who rents the apartment on the corner rolls a wagon along the sidewalk, stopping at Mr. Anderson’s driveway. She picks up each piece, turning it over in her hands. Muffin tin. Sock monkey. Dog collar. Examining. Not to find fault. Not to eliminate.

No, she takes everything, filling her wagon with an old man’s castoffs. Then she pulls her cart away. She lives alone. No roommate or rescued mutt to keep her company. She’s not a talker either, but sometimes she waves, too.

Each day as the clearing progresses, the treasures become larger, the wagonload more precariously balanced. Toaster. Nightstand. Stained glass lamp. Bit by bit she salvages his belongings. Dog bed. Hatrack. Desk chair.

When the weeks pass and the old man is gone, we watch the young woman remove the sold sign and unlock the door. Then wagonload after wagonload she wheels the bits of Mr. Anderson back home.

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 recently shortlisted in the 2021 Bath Flash Fiction Novella-in-Flash Awards and is forthcoming from Ad Hoc Fiction at the end of July

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