Themed Flash Fiction ‘The Discovery’ 2016 Results:
1st place: Lynne Love with Under the Skin
Runners- up: Stephanie Buosi with Getting it Right
Suzanne Forman with Space
Now read their wonderful stories:
Under the Skin
The doctor examines Alice’s hands, her exposed forearms, the lines that slither under rolled up sleeves.
‘And this happens while you’re asleep?’ Head bowed, his words flutter to the blotchy carpet.
Alice listens for skepticism, for barely concealed disbelief and finds none. This one’s good at pretending.
Seven GPs, three specialists, a holistic healer … all have studied the marks. Like ancient scars, they pucker the surface of her body and she blushes to think of the few undecorated fragments of flesh hidden by her clothes. All of her examiners doubted her honesty. Three suggested psychiatric referrals, though she wonders if others left the same instinct unspoken.
Why wouldn’t they think she’d made the symbols herself, that she’d taken a blade, sliced the freckled skin, watched the crimson pearls burst, form chains along every creeping tendril? She’d tried to explain to the last doctor — a puckered woman, nicotine yellow hair and fingernails — that she could never create something so intricate. That her lone, pathetic attempt at self-harm as a teenager had left a few scrappy slashes that healed quickly, vanished in weeks. The mention of self-harm had been a mistake that led to her changing practice again.
‘At night. Yes.’ It’s all she can say. There’s a chemical taste on her tongue, as if she’s gargled with antiseptic to mask the flavour of something worse.
She wants to tell him how she lies awake, trying to hold off sleep and failing. That every morning is the same. The itchy, tight sensation at the back of her knee or the sole of her foot or the small soft spot at the base of her spine. The mirror shivering in her hand as she discovers the new image — a leaping boar, a wolf, a lotus flowering in the notch between her collarbones, its petals opening and closing with each breath. She wants to share the worst thing too, the feeling she can’t shake. That she’s being manipulated, reimagined. Redesigned.
His finger follows the profile of a dragon, its snout in the crease of her wrist, the end of its tale spiralling her elbow. The touch feels intimate, as if he wants to map every inch of her. Why is she here, laying her body open to scrutiny again, letting another stranger handle her, judge her?
‘This was a mistake.’ She tries to pull away but his fingers curl round her wrist, smothering the reptilian head.
‘Don’t,’ he says.
Something in his voice makes her pause, but then the feeling returns — of being a rabbit caught in a snare, his grip the tether.
In the struggle, the cuff slides up his wrist. There’s a mark — a scar! — and below that more, loops, whirls, question marks encircling bulbs of bone. Alice stares, unsure, unwilling to believe. The doctor inches back his sleeves and … There. Her arm rests against his. His lines beginning where hers end.
Scuffing her damp cheeks she whispers, ‘I’m not alone.’
Lynn demonstrates how to paint a picture in the mind superbly here. Stunning imagery. Each word matters in this story, yet it flows from start to finish so effortlessly. But, it’s not just about the description; there’s also a fantastic story here, with a beautiful ending, which leaves the reader with feelings of hope for Alice’s future.
Getting it Right
She mixed paint carefully, adding touches of blue or black when she changed her mind. Which she did often—she couldn’t remember the colour. Chewing her bottom lip, she leaned back and judged her work. Then she bit hard, her mouth filling with blood, and resisted the urge to scream.
It wasn’t right.
A walk, she decided, dropping her paint plate—leftover Styrofoam from last night’s dinner—and eagerly turning away from the portrait. A walk to clear her head; maybe the last of the hangover too. The memories were always sharp when she was sober, but for this, this catastrophe of a painting, she would risk it. The colour would haunt her if she didn’t get it right. That little pink face, always perfect, would dance behind her tired eyes until she cracked open the next bottle, and she needed a steady hand to paint.
Then, maybe, if she got it right, she would sleep that night.
Elsi was thirty-seven years old, and her age was starting to bother her. She had begun avoiding mirrors, shop windows…even clean glassware. Thirty-seven and living in a tiny rental, fifty-seven steps from the ground. She was panting by the time she reached the bottom, but elevators would irritate her until the hangover left. Last night’s binge clung to her like a second skin.
How many bottles had it been since she’d last seen him? She counted back the years as she took her next twenty steps.
When did her life start falling apart? She counted back again to twenty.
The sun was too bright. She should have waited until dark, when the regret aging her eyes would be less obvious. But Elsi knew she couldn’t have stayed in the apartment without destroying that painting, and she had worked too hard to let it go. Besides, the fresh air was nice. Shuffling, squinting against the sun, avoiding the afternoon crowds, waiting for the pedestrian light to turn green like a good person, Elsi wondered if she was normal. Then she wondered if people thought she looked old. And then she stumbled, nausea ejecting the one piece of toast she’d managed to eat that morning.
At least he’s happy, she thought with a shaky smile. At least that was one thing she’d done right—despite how much it hurt to remember his perfect little face, the perfect little hands, the beautiful blue… green… brown…?
Elsi bit her lip again. Clutching her rolling stomach, she tried to quicken her steps.
It was almost five o’clock. The café would close soon, her margin of time shrinking on her yet again. She wanted to hear his voice, and this time, too many years later, she would do it. She would walk up to the counter and order something, anything, and listen to her boy ask politely what cup size she wanted. He would smile at her—a perfect stranger—and she would finally see the colour of his eyes.
Stephanie’s story stood out for me straight away. I was intrigued to know more about this troubled woman and why getting the colour right was so important. Stephanie’s writing brought all the woman’s suffering and pain to life. The ending made me gasp. A very worthy runner up.
When she was in nursery school, the teacher said she could be anything she wanted to be.
Sure, girls can be astronauts nowadays.
Then, when she was ten: “We have lots of books about space if you want to know what it’s like up there.”
Thirteen. “I think you really need to start taking your future prospects more seriously, young girl.”
What the guidance counsellor said was that being good at something is more important than the thing you’re doing being good.
Like, you’re not gonna be an astronaut, Billy. Let’s be realistic here. But, hey, you could be damn good at hospital administration. Take that leaflet, hon. We don’t have leaflets on going to space as a career. I suppose you’d have to go to America for that.
Or Russia, maybe.
“You’re twenty-fucking-three, stop with the space shit.”
“If you can’t be an astronaut, marry one.”
“Oh, honey, they always go for, like, beautiful women. No offence, Billy.”
She’s nearly forty and people still bring up the astronaut thing, like she can’t forget she wanted crazy things when she was a kid. Every child dreams too big. She wound up doing chemistry instead.
And so they say: if you can’t do, teach.
Billy lectures Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday at the university, then does life drawing classes at the leisure centre on a Friday evening. You’ll get chemistry students who want to be the next Robert Boyle and ones who really liked Breaking Bad. She’ll never say to anyone: no, you can’t do that.
Even if they do casually ask about cooking crystal meth. You know, for a friend. Their friend is, um, just curious.
She has her ways of talking around these questions.
But she doesn’t outright say no.
Her students ask so many questions. Sometimes they make her stop and think: hey, who am I to tell them what’s right?
A whole lot of teaching, she finds, is actually about learning.
“You’re twenty-fucking-three, stop with the space shit.” That was her first real boyfriend. Christopher, his name was. He said she’d just let anyone tell her what to do. Like he did for a while.
What the guidance counsellor said was that being good at something is more important than the thing you’re doing being good.
What Billy teaches her students is that that’s crap. If you want to be an astronaut, be an astronaut. Somebody has to be one, after all.
“You know what I discovered after I started teaching?” Billy says to the woman so close to graduating, “sometimes you just need to do what you want to do, because other people will guide you to where they want you to go, and maybe that isn’t always where you need to be.”
“Does that mean I can stop listening in class?”
She still reads astronomy books in the bath. If only for fun.
I loved the central character of Billy straight away and felt for her; we often have our dreams quashed in real life. Billy could easily have done the same to others, but she breaks free from the confines placed on her and encourages others to reach for their dreams. The story unfolds so effectively and the touches of humour bring a smile to the reader’s face.
100-word Flash Fiction Competition 2016 Results:
1st Place: The Life of a Teddy Bear by Sacha Black
2nd Place: Money by Adam Dixon
3rd Place: Morning Antlers by Julia Anderson
The Boy Who Lost His Shadow by Geoff Le Pard
Snatching Some Peace by Rachel Louise Dove
Who Me? by Lestie Mulholland
Fire Exit by Jocelyn Barker
Why? by David Harrison
Know Your Enemy by Geoff Le Pard
Here are the stories. Enjoy:
The Life of a Teddy Bear
I protected him for ten years. Now he closes the cardboard coffin on me. It makes my stuffing heart ache until it breaks in two.
I never told him, but I’m terrified of the dark. Only his cuddles kept me brave. And now there’s no one to protect me. I’m all alone in the loft.
Tears trickle out button eyes for what feels like an eternity.
Until one day, a crack appears in the box. Blonde locks and bright blue eyes smile at me, sewing the first stitch of my heart back together.
This story had me right from the start. By the end of the first paragraph I was hooked, feeling that sense of abandonment, along with the teddy bear. The first person viewpoint is the perfect choice for this story; the reader is carried along with the bear, feeling and experiencing everything along with him. It’s a simple concept but so beautifully told. The story takes the reader on an emotional rollercoaster; not easy to do in only 100 words. I love the descriptive language; I could imagine this whole cycle of the life of the teddy bear in my mind. In a story of such short length, every word has to count and, in this story, it certainly does. A very worthy winner.
You know me. You covet me. Gold, silver, copper, paper and plastic; I have had many guises but I am always known. Young, old, man, woman, saint or sinner, it matters not; all hear my voice, my siren call. I lurk in the caverns of your minds and whisper to you constantly, maddeningly, irresistibly. Sleepless nights, broken friendships and dark deeds await you, for Greed is my puppet and he serves me well. I am the root of all evil and my reach is tireless…I will watch you teeter on the brink of madness and laugh at your despair.
When I first set this competition, I advised entrants to think outside the box and this is exactly what Adam has done in his story. You don’t often see a story written in the second person and it’s a brilliant choice here. Adam sums up the subject of money and its hold upon us superbly, making us almost believe that money is a living, breathing being that we can’t escape. A wonderfully atmospheric story.
Every day, my dear teenage daughter, your morning antlers slay my peace. You butt heads with me and endlessly bleat, “This isn’t right; that’s wrong,” before you set off for school. Why are you never satisfied?
The new breakfast cereal you chose and munched at the weekend is no longer to your exact taste. Your expensive shoes that were bang up to the minute in fashion last week are now, “So last year, Mother. I can’t possibly be seen dead in them.”
Oh yes, you can, dear daughter. Step closer and let me fasten the tie on your school uniform.
I loved this story on first reading. With a fifteen-year-old daughter, I immediately connected with the mother in the story. I know just how she feels! The story is also very cleverly told and the use of language spot-on. I wondered how Julia would bring the story to a conclusion and the ending is a highly satisfying one. Once again, this story offered something a little different and so it instantly stood out.
Flash Fiction Competition November 2015 Results:
1st Place: Geoff Le Pard with The Refusenik
2nd Place: Adam Dixon with Gemini
3rd Place: Anna Cookson with Breathing in and Beathing out Love
Kim Russell with Empty Platform
Dafne Mathioudaki with Shadowman
Julie Hutchinson with The Head Hunter
Christine Humfrey with A Little Gem
David Harrison with The Corner of the Street
Now read the top three stories:
Geoff Le Pard
It starts with grit. An unwanted irritant, inveigling its way inside the shell. Within hours the host has tried to protect itself, by coating the guest. All it does is replace one foreign body with a bigger problem. The guest is adapted to its environment but the relationship is uncomfortable. The host tries to smooth, add an acceptable surface but it is a compromise, a coping mechanism. Gradually it seems less foreign but the accommodation is never comfortable; the defences are still at work, trying to make the grain more like the host, a reflection of it.
And just when the guest and host reach a kind of equilibrium, another, greater problem, a predator appears and the unwanted guest is the prize, the host discarded. The guest is not an irritant but precious, a commodity. But it is not free; just the subject of another unwanted relationship.
Raul turned the pearl in his fingers; he was that pearl. A piece of human grit, washed into Europe’s maw, ground by its machine. An irritant, clothed, fed, educated but always unwanted. A foreign object, gaining knowledge of systems, until one day his value was appreciated. An interpreter, a go-between. No longer grit but a pearl; the accumulation of layers.
But not free. As a pearl, stringed, set and polished but a commodity.
A pearl is beautiful but inert. Raul’s beauty is his animation. And that is his difference. He can stand and fight.
I think someone is watching me. Not ‘watching over’ me, but actually watching me. I get strange feelings whenever I am alone, usually an odd tickling sensation between my shoulder blades, as if someone is glaring at my back. There is nothing there, of course. Not physically, anyway.
When I am drifting from deep sleep towards wakefulness, I sometimes see a figure floating above me. In the split second before I start into full consciousness, I catch a glimpse of the figure. I am certain that it is a baby. A spectral new-born that hovers above me, gazing down at my resting body. In that second, I can see accusation and pain in those big, seemingly innocent eyes… I don’t think the ghost of my twin sister approves of me surviving her.
I wonder what her purpose is, watching me like this. It makes me anxious, and since childhood my insomnia hasn’t abated. Whenever my heavy eyelids close and I unwillingly succumb to the oblivion of sleep, I know that she will be there when I wake up. Watching. Waiting. According to our mother she had been holding on to me tightly in the womb right up until the end. She didn’t want to let me go…
Breathing in and Breathing out Love
There are five slow stains on the bed from when you were here last night. We breathed in and breathed out, then. But now, as the sun slides plaintively under the tousled curtain, and the day is more than half begun, there’s a space between the sheets that smells of you.
I like it at first because I’m breathing you in again, but, when I’m more awake, it reminds me that you’re gone and my knees come up to my chin, like the pain is closing me up.
Last time, it was three weeks. You said you were busy, you said you had work. And then, you came, with the flowers with the baggy petals. I was suspicious of their dropping necks but I let you in. I let you right in.
After, I watched the big pink petals drip their blowzy bodies onto the table and crinkle until they were a parched husk, but you didn’t see that, you’d gone again.
You’d gone to them.
There are three children in your family and a woman with a blank face because I don’t want to imagine it.
You clenched your fist when you say it’s hard and you say you can’t change the situation and you tell me not to wait.
I tried to breathe you out, but, when the call came, and the night was porous for love, I said yes, and I breathed you in…
Knowing all the time that I’d have to breathe you out again.
Flash Fiction Competition June 2015 Results:
1st prize: Jocelyn Barker – The Trip
2nd prize: Christine Steenfeldt – Dark Side of the Moon
3rd prize: Kanika Hope – Overheard
Susan McCall – On the Edge
Lesley Mace – Locked Out
Andrew Newall – Sorry I’m Late
Geoff Le Pard – Love
Janet Williams – New Life
Now read the winning entries:
“Couldn’t tell me Mum the truth, could I? She’d ‘ave gawn ballistic! You know what she’s like, always on me case …”
Bazza was talking to his mates, Ronnie and Tom, supping lager at a beach bar in Ibiza.
“What d’you tell her, then?” said Ronnie.
“Said I’d got work abroad, putting in a swimming pool for some rich geezer. Liked that, she did. She’s always on about me getting work. Like I haven’t tried …”
“She doesn’t know you’re on holiday, then?” said Tom.
” ‘Course not. She even let me off rent to pay for me plane ticket. Didn’t tell her me Dad gave me a few quid, neither.” Bazza laughed at his own cheek and his mother’s gullibility.
Frowning, Ronnie asked:
“What you gonna say when you get back?”
“Job fell through. She won’t know no different.”
The lads were pondering Bazza’s genius when the sound of a toilet flushing announced the arrival of a text on his smartphone. He read it.
“Bloody hell! Stupid cow’s only gone and put her bloody foot in it!”
“Who?” asked Tom.
“Me mother. Says some bloke rang two days ago because a job had come up in the Garden Centre where I tried to get work last summer. Had me home number on their records.”
“That’s bloody brilliant news!” said Ronnie.
“No it ain’t! She told him I was fixed up working abroad.”
Ronnie and Tom said nothing.
“Stupid,” murmured Bazza, shaking his head and gazing into his empty glass.
Dark Side of the Moon
If the moon hadn’t been full that night, Jim wouldn’t have taken the short cut from the pub along the river and through the ginnel. And if Jim hadn’t done that he wouldn’t have seen a man sneaking into the alleyway from the back gate of his house and none of what followed would have happened.
He stood in the kitchen listening to the sounds of Angie in the bathroom. Washing off the scent of a man?
“Only me. Fancy a cuppa?” he called.
“Ooh, ta, that’d be lovely.”
He waited a few moments and then went upstairs, empty handed. Angie turned her head from where she lay in the bath, the water lapping at her breasts.
“Where’s the tea?” she asked, smiling.
Killing her was remarkably easy. She fought but catching her unawares gave him the upper hand as he pushed her under the water.
Later, after he’d mopped up, he went downstairs. He wanted her mobile, wanted to find out who the bastard was. He went into the lounge. Her handbag was lying open on the coffee table, its contents strewn. Had it been upended in the heat of their passion? He rummaged through it, opening zips, looking in pockets but there was no phone. He picked up the purse. It was empty. No cards, no cash. He let it drop to the floor where it lay bathed in the glow from the moon shining through the window. And he stood there, until light dawned.
“When you arrive, I will leave your Daddy. He’s always going to the King’s Head where he drinks too much and gets into a frightful temper. Last time he went there he smashed my face with his belt and kicked me in the stomach. He was so angry he might even have killed you, my pet. No, I won’t take this anymore. I’ll start work at the hair salon again – Martha will have me back. Now you promise me you’ll eat well and get a lot bigger, my little survivor. We’ll both be fine then, won’t we?”
I was curled up with my book in a secluded arbour in the park. The mother’s soft, crooning voice came from behind the rhododendron bushes. It was a one-sided conversation; she was presumably on the phone to the child, a child too young, perhaps, to grasp the meaning of her terrible words.
I resented this intrusion on my peaceful Saturday morning; I had overheard without meaning to, and had ended up with a nagging sense of responsibility.
There was a panting sound, like someone lifting something heavy. I peered over the bushes and saw her getting up from her bench. She was much younger than I’d thought, with curly brown hair forming a halo around her angelic face. Sure enough, an ugly red weal ran across her left cheek. Her slim, child-like body was disfigured by the most enormous belly. There was no phone – she’d been talking to her unborn baby all along.