Winners

Xavier Combe October 2019 Third Prize

The Games People Play

by Xavier Combe

When I got on the métro at Bastille, there was standing room only.

I squeezed in and found a space next to a young guy who was on his cellphone, playing a war game.

I thought to myself those two words don’t belong near each other.

I could see explosions and mass killings. His display flashed a body count at the top. By the time the metro pulled in at Opera, he had killed 260 people and destroyed three villages. The level he had reached entitled him to use even more powerful weapons and ammunition. And give orders to other shooters. Allies, presumably.

I tapped him on the shoulder. He ignored me and went on firing. I tapped him on the shoulder again. He hit pause and looked over at me, reluctantly. I gave him an appreciative little smile. He didn’t get the sarcasm. He resumed his shooting.

As we were about to reach Boucicaut, I tapped him on the shoulder once more but before he could hit pause I asked him what time it was. The distraction caused his weapon to misfire. He looked at me. He was irritated. I moved away and got off the métro.

As I walked on the platform towards the exit I said to myself I had probably saved about twenty lives and spared two or three huts in a village, somewhere.

About the Author

Xavier Combe is a freelance conference interpreter and translator. He teaches at the University of Paris X. He has authored two non-fiction books in French (L’anglais de l’Hexagone and 11+1 propositions pour défendre le français) as well as op-eds in the French press. He writes and produces audio fiction with 2-time Peabody award winner Jim Hall on their website Muffy Drake.
He has two adult sons and lives in the Paris suburbs with his wife, their two teenage daughters and their dog Zelda.

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Catherine Higgins-Moore October 2019 Commended

Mo bhuachaillín beag

by Catherine Higgins-Moore

I knew it when I went to the Royal. But I did what I was bid.
“You’ll be alright, Love. Wait ‘til your next appointment.”

I should’ve stayed. I should’ve tried harder. But when you’re twenty, and you’ve gone nowhere and you’ve done nothing, people think you are nothing. Divis Flats?
Nothing.

I wore sanitary towels every day for a week. Took Panadol like Smarties.

Monday morning I rushed in through the heavy glass doors, my feet soaked. Kept waiting an hour.
Different nurse. Never met my eye.

No heartbeat.

“Better this way than getting one that’s not right.” She said, handing me a scrap of paper towel to wipe the jelly off.

Twenty weeks I had him. No time at all. Mo bhuachaillín beag.
A hundred and forty days.

We said we’d try for another but then he moved into the Maze. Plotting against the peelers. Two years sitting alone before ‘Fuck it. I’m off.’

New York, New York.

Can never go back. Didn’t come properly. No visa nor nothing. What’s to go back for?

I see wee ones, poor like mine woulda been. Always buttoned-up wrong. Not one to give a damn about them coming outta school, or send them home in the right knick. Mothers with enough on their plates.

The wealthy ones are always buttoned up right.

I nanny for a coupla girls in the West Village. Gorgeous wee things. New outfits every day. Drawers full of clothes.

My wee mite would’ve been coming in bedraggled. I’da been cursing at him for tearing the arse outta his trousers. Shouting at him to wait ‘til payday for a new pair.

I’m a bit like them. Same hair and pale skin. Their granny was Irish.

People take me for their mother sometimes. I don’t like to correct them.

About the Author

Catherine Higgins-Moore is a Northern Irish writer based in New York. A former BBC journalist, she contributes to The Times Literary Supplement and is founding editor of The Irish Literary Review. In 2019 Catherine was longlisted for the Harper Collins’ Comedy Women in Print Prize and highly commended in Poetry London’s Clore Prize. Her play, The Maternity Monologues enjoyed its world premiere in New York, and was commended in BBC’s International Playwriting Award. Her poetry collection, Strange Roof, is published by Finishing Line Press. Catherine has been awarded bursaries by Kenneth Branagh, and the University of Oxford. 

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Michael Mcloughlin October 2019 Commended

Old Glory

by Michael Mcloughlin

Pa’s busy, so he lets me help him pick potatoes. “Just follow me girl and chuck them in the box.”

Later, we pick up ma from the school hall, in pa’s new truck. She’s also busy, working with her friends. But she doesn’t allow me to help her. She says it’s no place for kids. She tells me she sews. I even see bits of white cotton on her clothes. Every time I ask her what she’s sewing, she just says, “Y’all gonna see come July four. It’ll be like something Nebraska ain’t never seen before.”

On the drive home, ma tells pa they’ve reached their total of one thousand. Pa sounds happy, “That’s great, dear!” He’s almost as happy as he was when he bought his truck; he was one of the first round these parts to get one.

The valley’s quiet tonight, but tomorrow it will be filled with excitement. We’re expecting a big crowd to watch the parade. I’m sure looking forward to that. According to the newspaper, over five-thousand people will gather at the park. Pa says that’ll be ten times the population of our town.  

Today, Old Glory is proudly floated from the flagstaff of pa’s truck. The people watching extend right through town, waving the stars and stripes, and cheering on the procession. Impossible to tell who’s who going past with them hoods and robes they’re all wearing. I notice a group of hatless negroes standing on the sidewalk, but they don’t look happy to me. Maybe the heat’s affecting them; but then it can’t be, cos pa says the sun don’t affect them.

About the Author

Michael Mcloughlin grew up in Liverpool, UK; but by the mid-80’s, he’d had enough of Thatcher’s regime and escaped to the brighter shores of Australia. He works in mental health and likes to write in his spare time. He’s quite new to flash fiction competitions and is looking forward to entering more of them. He has also recently completed a novel and hopes to find an agent. He lives in Hobart, Tasmania.

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Gaynor Jones
June 2019 First Prize

Cleft

by Gaynor Jones

 

noun

a fissure or split

indentation in the middle of a person’s chin

a deep division

Cleft. As belonging to me, my father, his father before him, their fathers before them. Runs way back in our men, as my father used to tell me while he shaved.

Boy, you could find this cleft of ours nuzzled next to the stock of a Henry rifle, or buried deep between the long legs of a good time girl in an old time saloon. You’ll see.

My father was proud. That dent in his skull meant something to him, though he had no hand in its making. Soon as I was old enough to shave myself – and all that came with it – he would come for me. Head tilted up. Chin jutting out.

Him: Eyes like tar and a hand rubbing the indent at the bottom of his drawn face.

Me: In for some shit.

He would grab me, in that convenient little nook that perfectly fit his thumb and forefinger. Force me towards whatever he needed me to see.

Exhibit A: magazines he’d found under my mattress

Exhibit B: a journal entry I hadn’t torn up enough before burying in the trash.

Exhibits C through Z: scripture.

Then: Firm hands gripping my chin, strong arms turning me.

Now: Loose flesh, weak arms, still trying to turn me.

‘What you two do in your bedroom is one thing, boy, but to bring a child into that. A child.’

My son’s face is perfect. Moon-round. I bounce him on my knee, or pat him after his milk and he looks up at me and I look down at him and it is love. While we play, his small hands reach up to my chin, and vanish in the hairs of my beard.

About the Author

Gaynor Jones is an award winning short fiction writer based in Manchester. She won the 2018 Mairtín Crawford Award and was named Northern Writer of the Year at the 2018 Northern Soul Awards. She runs the Story For Daniel competition to raise awareness of blood stem cell donation and childhood cancer support. www.jonzeywriter.com

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Anita Arlov June 2019 Second Prize

A God And His Famous Digging Stick Dug This

by Anita Arlov

Is this the pool? Prie ȁ dieu I cup water. Minnows explode: a mute firework. My fingers glow pond-green, trailing elodia densa. Boy fingers explored my body that day; two squid-shaped clouds bombing a Frisbee sky.

Maori fish for eels here. The stream’s a natural race, narrowing to half-body width and dead shallow. We were eels, pewter-brown from summer, lean Little River nippers. Sneaking away unnoticed (your folks filleting the day’s catch, mine unclicking the Tupperware), we stripped behind the macrocarpas and slid into the laminar flow of the stream.

Eels body-wave to move: an exquisite dance of balance and off-balance. We were eels. Our throats engorged. Our jaws arrowed. Our toes were undulating tails; our fingers fluttering fins. My gob, his nostrils, his eyeballs – I swear they swelled twice their size. We were eels, glibly stroked by an ancient current.

We came to, panting hard, half in water, half in air, armed with fresh knowledge. Our pool was pfft! A puddle. Our folks, murderable. School, torture. But the sky! It was hyper-radiant and huger, like it was a god looking down noticing we weren’t kids anymore. Beaming approval.

He heard my skin with his tongue. He tasted my breath with his fingertips. He smelled my body with his skin. That’s how he described it to me. I told him I saw constellations of palm-tree fireworks behind my eyes. He tasted like

outer space and

burst-lip blood and

the Best Ice Cream in the history of ice cream and

tear-salt when it trickles down your cheek into the cup of your mouth like a hundred and twenty-five in Marbles Bagatelle and

the crunchiest liftable knee scab and

the monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey when the apes get brave enough to lick it.

About the Author

Anita was born in Christchurch, the youngest of four children of Croatian parents displaced by the war. She now lives in Auckland. She began writing overnight in response to the Canterbury earthquakes 2011. Since 2012 she’s staged Inside Out Open Mic for Writers, a monthly spoken word gig for fresh writing, with musician guests. She won the Divine Muses New Voices Poetry Competition 2017. Anita convened a team that ran the NZ Poetry Conference & Festival 2017, a three day celebration of all things poetry including vispo (visual poetry), spoken word and cine-poetics. In 2018 she won the NZ Flash Fiction Day Competition with He, She, It, They, which was nominated for the Pushcart Prize this year. She‘s Auckland Chair for NZ National Flash Fiction Day 2019. Anita’s writing is published widely including Flash Frontier: an Adventure in Short Fiction; Bonsai: Best Small Stories from Aotearoa/New Zealand; Best Small Fictions 2019 and Best Microfiction 2019. She enjoys music, theatre, cryptic crosswords and spending time with family and friends; is fascinated by the natural world and craves beach-combing.

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Stephanie Hutton June 2019 Third Prize

Cosmina Counts

by Stephanie Hutton

Cosmina must measure the room. In this moment, it is all that matters. From her narrow bed, she can just about stretch out her legs before reaching a wall. There’s no ruler to measure the room precisely. Cosmina recalls laughing at her grandmother back in Romania who measured things the old way – how she laughed at all those old ways. Now she would give anything to be scolded by her grandparents: Cine nu are bătrâni să-şi cumpere – ‘whoever doesn’t have elders, should buy some’.

But now is not the time for remembering. She must measure. Pas mic – a small step. How many make up this room? She walks the length toe-to-heel, barefoot. The skin of her heels has hardened enough to stick pins in and not feel a thing, from all those months of squeezing her feet into high heels. Cenuşăreasa – Cinderella. No prince after midnight.

Cosmina’s mouth moulds around a map of her route as travelled in numbers.

Jedan, dva, tri, četiri, pet.

Një, dy, tre, katër, pesë.

Uno, due, tre, quattro, cinque.

Un, deux, trois, quatre, cinque.

One, two, three, four, five.

How many pas mic to the low ceiling, the buzzing striplight?

Strip light.

Strip.

How many times has she heard that instruction? In how many languages?

No, she must count only the steps in the room.

Cosmina tries to move the numbers behind her eyelids, to decipher the volume of space she exists in. Instead of school-girl calculations, her thoughts show her the places in-between. Vans, boats, apartments. The stench of roll-ups and bleach. The smiles that flicker before violence. The lies that took a girl and crushed her into the kind of woman who stands in a strange place and counts steps along the floor instead of kicks coming from her baby.

About the Author

Stephanie Hutton is a writer and consultant clinical psychologist in Staffordshire, UK. Her fiction has been shortlisted for the Bristol Short Story Award, Aesthetica Creative Writing Award and the Bridport Prize. She writes psychological thrillers is and is represented by Sheila Crowley at Curtis Brown.

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Hilary Dean June 2019 Commended

Arts & Crafts

by Hilary Dean

Before I was allowed back into Group, I had to apologize to Carl and sign a form that listed all of my personality defects. The form said the whole thing had been my fault. That I had acted out with no provocation and that I was a danger to myself and/or others.

Now I’m here again in Arts & Crafts with everyone and it’s only slightly less boring than where I was yesterday, On Watch in the white room staring at the wall for what turned out to be three days. I couldn’t guess time inside it. One very long second or the shortest forever.

Carl is walking around supervising us. Why don’t you try origami, Jocelyn? Anyone can do that.

Keizo is rolling clay snakes. Flora is needle-pointing. We’re all talking about what we’re going to eat when it’s time to eat food. Michael just asked me what he had for breakfast. The ECT makes him forgetful but I said, Guess, and he guessed right. It made him smile to remember but maybe he just still had the taste in his mouth.

I don’t get why Flora is allowed to have needles but I can’t use a pen. The rules here don’t make sense. It’s so stupid, I could still stab myself with this pencil, plus get lead poisoning too.

Carl just came over and scolded me. I thought we agreed that too much writing isn’t healthy for you, Jocelyn. It’s Arts and Crafts time, not writing time. I just ignored him. I’m talking to you, Jocelyn.

I looked up at him for a second over my notebook. I pointed to the table between us, covered in a sea of white origami swans. Scattered across the surface like they’d been shot down from the sky.

About the Author

Hilary Dean was the winner of CBC’s Canada Writes award in 2012, and has won EVENT Magazine’s Non-Fiction contest twice. Her work has been named as a Notable Essay in Best American Essays 2015, received the 2016 Lascaux Prize in Fiction, appeared in This Magazine, Matrix, The HG Wells Anthology, and shortlisted for the Journey and Commonwealth Prizes. Dean’s recent film, So You’re Going Crazy… currently airs on CBC’s Documentary Channel and is utilized in healthcare curricula across North America.
www.hilarydean.ca

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Tim Craig June 2019 Commended

The Falling Silent

by Tim Craig

My mother gave me the small pots and pans, while she took the large ones, and together we went outside to kill the birds.

When we got down to the street, most of our neighbours were already there, gathered under the trees and the lampposts. I saw Mei Zhen — the girl from down the hall — carrying a colander and a ladle. I waved to her, but she turned away.

At the given signal from the loudspeakers, everyone began banging their pans together. Across the city, the sky filled with the noise.

My arms began to tire, but each time I slowed, my mother nudged me to redouble my efforts. I looked up at her and saw the determined expression on her face and the patches of damp on her blue headscarf.

Soon the exhausted starlings began to fall from the sky. Some were dead before they reached the ground, some died at our feet, in the gutters, in the grass in front of the apartment block.

Finally, when I thought my arms could take no more, the loudspeakers gave the signal for the noisemaking to stop.

It came like a great sigh, or the tide sucking back across the pebbles. The silence that followed was even greater than the simple absence of sound, for all the music had been removed from it.

We all went back inside to fetch brooms, with which we set about sweeping the birds into piles by the roadway. The municipal hygiene teams would collect them later in their familiar yellow trucks.

Afterwards, I asked my mother if I could go and play with Mei Zhen, but she told me I needed to help her prepare the dinner. Life isn’t all about having fun, she said, banging the pots down on the stove.

About the Author

Originally from Manchester, Tim Craig now lives in Hackney in London. In 2018 he placed third in the Bath Flash Fiction Award and also won the Bridport Prize for Flash Fiction. His story ‘Northern Lights’ was included in Best Microfiction 2019.

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Novella-in-Flash 2019 Winners

Read about our winners and highly commended writers and go to our judge Michael Loveday’s report to see his comments on their wonderful novellas-in-flash. All six novellas-in-flash will be published in separate single author books by our small press, Ad Hoc Fiction and will be available to buy in paperback on the Ad Hoc Fiction bookshop and in ebook formats on Kindle and Nook in due course. We are thrilled to publish such a brilliant variety flash fiction novellas by these authors and to further support a form of flash fiction growing so much in popularity worldwide.
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Winner, Ellie Walsh, with Birds with Horse Hearts. Ellie is a PhD student at the University of Plymouth, where her research focuses on Nepalese feminist literature. She has short stories and poetry published in UK, Canadian and Indian journals, and her play was produced in London. Ellie spends much of her time in Chitwan, Nepal, where the villagers teach her how to farm rice and often tell her to lighten up. Read in Full

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Christina Dalcher
February 2019 First Prize

Candy Girls

by Christina Dalcher

No Jews, no negroes, no single women after six. You can break all three rules if you hawk cohibas and candy from a tray strapped to your neck, so that’s how Miriam and I earn a buck. She became Marie. I bleached my skin. Doesn’t matter—at the Stork Club, men only measure your legs or peer down cleavage avenue while the wives powder their noses. They look harder when the wives stay home.

In our room, heavy trays and shoes kicked aside, we lie head-to-toe on a bed built for one. “Hurt, baby?” Miriam asks, rubbing the spot where too-tight heels made their evening marks.

Tuesday was our third time, and I’m leaving out recognizable names. You’ve seen them as giants on silver screens; later, they’ll shine on black-and-white sets, small as they really are. Only Miriam and I see the parts hidden under tuxedos and fedoras. We smell their breath—champagne-syrupy, gin-sharp. We feel their bodies stiffen and slacken before tales are told at ashtray-littered tables. You don’t know them like we do.

They’ll talk about our bell-shaped skirts and our smooth skin that, in dark rooms, tastes like girl—not Jewish girl, not colored girl. They’ll whisper about how my fingers find Miriam’s and we hold hands in the during and in the after. They’ll laugh.

Alone, we tell each other different tales:

Only a few more.

The money helps.

We’ll be fine.

And we tell each other truths that rhyme with I love you.

“Hurt, baby?” she says, kissing me everywhere, peeling the stockings off my legs, letting them fall in a puddle of fishnet on the bare floor.

“Not anymore,” I lie.

Then Miriam rubs the sore spots, even the ones she can’t reach.

About the Author

Christina Dalcher is a linguist, novelist, and flash fiction addict from Somewhere in the American South. She is also the sole matriculant in the Read Every Word by Stephen King MFA program (which she invented). Find her sometimes-prize-winning work in The Molotov Cocktail, Whiskey Paper, and New South Journal, among others. If you’re looking for Christina, she might be here: @CVDalcher, www.christinadalcher.com, or hiding in a closet re-reading a tattered copy of The Shining. Also, she made a book called VOX.
Photo credit: Laurens Arenas

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