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Category: Summer 2017

Summer 2017 Judge’s Report

This round, Vanessa Gebbie had the difficult task of picking three winners from a long-list of fifty stories. Here’s why she picked the stories she did:

First Place

Fly Away Home by Helen Rye

A worthy winner in a strong field, and a terrific flash. Yet again, I am astounded at how much can be carefully packed into a tiny suitcase. I much enjoyed this piece for many reasons, not the least for its originality—flipping back and forth between bald technical communication and the musings inspired by of all things, delightfully, a stray ladybird hitching a ride.

I loved this piece for many reasons, not the least that it leaves me with so much to ponder, even after many readings. The underlying concept of leaving this beautiful, fragile world—so wonderfully evoked in so few words—because one day we might have to survive, is chilling. Turning one’s back on what is known and striking out into the unknown, listening to the echoes of childhood safety for a split second. The persistent thought—can we ever really leave the past behind?

The language in this piece is great, its effective juxtapositionings, its lyricism: ‘this ocean that aquamarines the bright planet’ set against the baldness of automated systemspeak: GLYCOL EVAP OUTLET temperature down around 58. This juxtaposition, to my mind and ear, acts as echo to the themes of the piece, emphasising the distances to be crossed, perhaps the unbridgeable difference between here and there. The poignancy of leaving much-loved richness and colour for a monochrome future, even if it is bright. The two creatures named, the ladybird and the blue whale—I am put in mind of ‘all creatures great and small—and the fact that we might well have the choice to leave, take our technologies elsewhere. They don’t. I hope this piece is shared widely. It certainly deserves to be. Many congratulations to the writer.

Second Place

Stop, Stop, Stop, Go by Stephanie Hutton

I much enjoyed this intriguing flash, the tightness of the prose and meeting this wonderful character. I was drawn to the shimmering nature of it—a twist of synaesthesia-meets-irreality as this writer creates a believable, slightly magical/disturbing series of events for this character who struggles to control her own body, as if that body has taken over, such that she has to control her hands, consciously—then her feet. I particularly loved the concept of the spoken word becoming concrete, and the delight of the baby in the ‘now’ and its subsequent shaming—very thought-provoking. Another terrific flash. Congratulations to the writer.

Third Place

Medium Sliced Humanity by Taria Karillion

I thought this was a very neat flash, the collision of two worlds, which on the face of it seem so wide apart, but actually, more similar than that. Again, so much carefully packed in—a filmic piece, covering a series of simple actions told in spare prose, whilst telling a much deeper more resonant story. Congratulations to the writer.


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Fly Away Home

SUMMER 2017 FIRST PLACE

Ignition—3, 2, 1. We have a lift-off.

We have fuelled-weight 28.8 tonnes; there are two hundred seconds ‘til we escape Earth’s pull and there is a ladybird on my sleeve.

S-IVB is safe. Close the PRIMARY BACK PRESSURE valve.

Ahead are the white, burning nuclear furnaces of stars, I have notebooks full of their speculative mechanisms and the study of matters affecting the trajectory of their satellites and I would give my flight badge for a sample the size of a rivet from one of them. And now here is a ladybird and I am four years old. My mother’s hair smells of lilacs.

Pitch is tracking. Looking good.

This spacecraft weighs less than a yearling blue whale, I am blasting away from the green, swelling belly of Earth, I can no longer see how she ripples in the wind where she has cast off the white shroud of winter and here, here is a ladybird.

GLYCOL EVAP OUTLET temperature down around 58.

Gravity is not your friend, the thing that keeps you earthbound, tied to rock and dust and this coraline sunset you see here this ocean that aquamarines the bright planet, it is not a gift, and all my life I have worked to escape it and ahead, ahead are the stars and the black and the white, the blazing, blazing white that is my future. I have the data. I have it right here. There’s no protocol for turning back.

And yet. Here is a ladybird.


Flash Fiction by Helen Rye
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Stop, Stop, Stop, Go

SUMMER 2017 SECOND PLACE

Three stops before the bus arrives near my home and I’m sitting on my hands to discipline my fingers into good behaviour. The lady sitting in front of me has her chestnut hair in a loose chignon. Each section curls around the next like strips of bacon nestling together in a pan. Little wisps escape and beckon me. My fingers yearn to trace over the shapes and smooth the hair into place. I bend forwards to apply more pressure to my trapped hands. As I do, I smell the remnants of her day and the shadow of last night.

My husband is perplexed. He misunderstands my tenderness for others, as of course a man would. Whilst he stomped about this morning, I noticed how deeply the ridges in his forehead indented; canyons carved from three years of marriage. The muscles of his forearm flexed with every other word, which boomed, sending capital letters rocketing into the air. I nodded along as I watched NEVER and MUST and EMBARRASSING ping against the wall and change direction like a neglected DVD player.

One stop away from home. I distract myself from the lady’s hair by pressing my feet to the floor of the bus. Vibrations hum up my legs. All the passengers sway to the bass of the engine as the bus bounces along the unloved road. We are connected in rhythm.

Perched on his mother’s lap, an infant stares at his own wiggling fingers. He dribbles with delight in the moment that is only now. I roll out my tongue. He copies and we both giggle. His mother yanks a cloth from her bag and dabs at his saliva, tutting to teach him of shame.

We approach the bus stop near my house. Habit tells me to stand. I cross my feet over one another and stay seated, staring at their capacity to choose. I squeeze my eyes so that rows of shops and buildings blur into a cartoon of colour. My muscles exhale. Seventeen of us rock gently together as the rumble becomes a roar, the landscape changing from greys to green, green, green.


Flash Fiction by Stephanie Hutton
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Medium Sliced Humanity

SUMMER 2017 THIRD PLACE

‘Fiat Iustitia Ne Pereat Mundus’
(‘Let justice be done, lest the world perish’)

Two shoppers reach for the last stickered loaf.

One hand, pale and rough with fingernails glossed in Final Reminder Red. The other, rubble-brown and campfire-ash, save for a white band on one finger where last month’s shopping bill used to be.

Both women pause before the plastic packet—its colours the same as the graduation gown of one . . . and the flag from which the other fled.

Lips are pursed as purses barely jingle. Showdown in Aisle One. The high noon moment is silent as compassion and need go head to head.

Red-nails grabs and turns on broken heel, wobbling but head high—school shoes and lunchbox oranges matter more than dignity.

Queuing, one bottle of milk behind one prize loaf, the other woman’s too-big coat reveals a delicate body, a knitted baby sling and a tiny palm reaching from within.

The ‘Manager’s Special’ Basket bows under a heap of hot cross buns. Red chews her lip as the doughy crosses fill her gaze. Then, at the conveyor belt altar, she looks back . . . Tearing the loaf in two, she holds half out beneath a semi-smile.

And for a moment, in that small corner of the world, humanity comes up for air.


Flash Fiction by Taria Karillion
Picture: IMG_1238 by Matt Burns under CC BY-SA 2.0
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Looking for Clues

You know I will walk the shore, eyes down, watching those prints form, looking for any object that isn’t sand or pebble or broken shell or dried seaweed.

The imprints that my feet leave will be clues that I was concerned, clues that will only last till the tide returns, or a dog let loose scuffs them messy. I’ll pick up anything I find and examine it, feeling the grit and the grains of sand and brushing it only half-clean. A shoe, maybe, leather, black, salt-cured and sun-baked, the laces rough like an unshaved face, lonesome, its pair long gone.

I will look up at the cliffs, red and scarred, imagining his walk from there to the sea. A long walk he took every day, the tide sometimes in, sometimes out.

I don’t know what he was wearing, precisely—whether he had a towel, whether he was clothed and changed there, even whether he was ready at all. Whether it was planned or an impulse acted upon.

The last time I saw him, he said his morning swim was a swim in the big sea. I just nodded, smiled, said right. When he was leaving, he went to hug me and I didn’t know what to do. When you’re fifty-five and your eighty-three-year-old father who’s never hugged you walks up to you with arms outstretched, you just think he’s making up for lost time.

And I know I will find them. The spectacles my father will have removed before walking into the sea, walking to swim, like every morning, or so I thought, just walking till he decided it was deep enough to stretch forward, feet off the bottom, arms forcing the sea away from his body, the air from his lungs, out, out, out.


Flash Fiction by Sean Baker
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360 Words in Purgatory

The room is square and almost bare. It has no windows and no door. Crude smells seep through the floorboards. I lie on the plastic sheet, trawling colours from the bulb to splash across the plastered ceiling. My room is square but not quite bare; I have an icon on the wall.

My Madonna, black and once with child. I know you from knees aching on wood cold as marble. Do you wonder what brought me here? Or how I came to dance with shadows? Perhaps my resolve could have been firmer, maybe my struggle longer. Silent and smiling Madonna, worlds bubble in your eye.

I am eight years old and with the other children. We carry nets, swing jars and laugh. The air smells summer pond green. We are running through grass. We belong to the world.

Pop. A matchbox strikes. Grandad stands hands out on the door step. My hair is blond and we are going to feed the geese. I hold a bag of bread. The geese are noisy, quick and sharp. I am wearing a shiny red coat. I am loved.

I am ten years old, standing on a swing. Knees bend and straighten. Higher, faster. Over the top. Send it over. Higher. Faster. Jump. Pop!

A rowing boat, a canal and a sunset. I hold a green bottle. An oar slips over the side. My throat is thick with wine. Her breath is hot on my ear.

I am staring into black water, staring at something that shouldn’t be there. They wriggle and turn on feathered wings. Saucer eyes swirl. Scales ripple gold. They are hungry. Pop, please.

Silent and smiling, you remain. You know the location of my heart and the secrets I buried there. You know my failures and my betrayals, but you remain.

The walls are thin. There are other rooms, other steps, other scratches, other voices. Together we kneel and together now we pray.

“We will not die. We can break but they will come. They will patch together flesh, and brain and bone. We will not be the same but we cannot die.”

Madonna, in your eye, a river flows.


Flash Fiction by Tim Kenny
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The Sweetest Poison Kills You Slowest

All London adores Eliza’s parrot, save Mary Durdy who cannot abide a caged bird. Eliza slips it nips of sugar, commanding it to talk. It whistles at her like a furious kettle.

Eliza locks the tea caddy and sits, straight-backed in her stiff brocade. Her parlour glows in the spitting light of its well-fed fire. It is a haven. Everyone says so. When Mary Durdy comes, in her grey gown, it feels as though a cloud has stolen in from the street.

Eliza pours. Samuel steps forward, passes the cup to where Mary Durdy perches, drizzling her persistent sermons.

“Will you take a little sugar, Mary,” Eliza asks, “against the bitterness?”

Samuel offers the bowl as if it were a scoop of diamonds. He is a magnificent creature, Eliza thinks. His red coat blazes, bright as the bird. She has powdered his hair with white, swaddled his legs in silk. His life is sweeter here, surely, whatever Mary Durdy says, than in the salt sweat of Papa’s plantation.

Mary Durdy declines, drones something Eliza does not care to catch about decay and rot. The parrot sidles up the bars of its cage. Samuel retreats to the wall.

Soon Eliza will be Lady Poole. Time, then, to leave behind the tedious duties of childhood. Such as entertaining Mary Durdy. Eliza dips her spoon into the bowl, glimpses in its sparkle the jewels she has been promised.

“Sugar!”

Mary Durdy starts, slops tea into her saucer. “Sugar! Sugar!” shrills the bobbing parrot. Eliza claps in triumph, rewards it with another sliver, sucks it a kiss from her pursed lips.

Mary Durdy, after merely the briefest pause, recommences. Eliza sighs and stirs her tea to glittering sweetness. She smoothes her India cashmere, admires the way the firelight plays across its rich gold threads. It shows their colour off just so.

Samuel, as a good footman should, says nothing, eyes fixed ahead. As evening falls, he watches his face emerge, reflected on the window like an unforgiving ghost glaring in through the pane.


Flash Fiction by Sharon Telfer
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