Flash fiction competition: the shortlisted stories (2)

The Melting Point

by E E Rhodes

I met him at Kemi’s tiny airport. I could tell straight away that he hadn’t wanted to come. His mom might even have bribed him to get on the plane. 

When he was young I’d got him an Orvis junior rod and we’d gone fishing in the creek. He got a bite and dropped the rod in panic, and it had taken both of us to rescue it. He had that same desperate look now.

On the road he stared blankly out of the window. Lapland’s relentless snow fields and frozen trees didn’t impress him. He glanced at me and shifted away fast when I caught his eye. Not just the landscape that was iced over. I turned the truck’s heater up and he unclenched half an inch. I hoped it was just shyness, I too had been gawky at thirteen. And we’d not seen each other for almost nine months. 

At the cabin I showed him where to stow his gear, before talking him through the stove and gas boiler. I joked that as long as he didn’t blow us to kingdom come or burn us down, it’d all be fine. He shrugged, finishing the hot chocolate his mom had reminded me was his favourite. I’d have remembered on my own, but it was nice she’d told me.

He’d kept fiddling with his Nintendo console and seemed surprised when I showed him the DS I used when the internet glitched. It wasn’t a total Jack London existence. While the cabin’s furnishings were sparse, there were crammed bookshelves and an old fishing rod on a couple of hooks above the door. He took the book I offered him and relaxed a little further.

That night I heard sighing, but when I whispered a question he didn’t answer, feigning sleep. Fair enough. Some things have to be re-earned. He’d seen my moving as a personal betrayal, even if his mom was the one who’d originally left me. Even though I wasn’t actually his biological father. I was the most consistent thing he’d known. Until I wasn’t. He hadn’t been able to reconcile himself to my going somewhere so far away.

In the morning, when he looked outside, there were icicles twice his size hanging off the conservatory roof. I asked if he wanted to help at the reserve for the day. He shrugged. Not reluctant, exactly, but desperate to be persuaded. I remembered obscuring my own adolescent need to be wanted with feigned indifference.

I told him we could go fishing after I’d finished my rounds. Cut holes in the ice. Hang out. Maybe bring back some fish for supper. I could see him considering, still wanting more from me. Needing it. I nodded towards the front door, it was his Orvis hanging above it. He followed my eyes and recognised his old rod. He frowned at the otherwise spartan interior. 

His pinched look cleared, and, smiling like the sun on ice, he crossed the room and hugged me.

E E Rhodes is an archaeologist who lives in part of a small castle in Worcestershire. She writes flash, short stories and prose poetry to make sense of it all. She’s currently finishing a flash novella set in South Wales.

Icicles 2. Photo copyright Cath Barton











Flash fiction competition: the shortlisted stories (1)

Comfortable Discomfort

by Emma Robertson

The silence between us bites harder than the local white wine on my tastebuds. I’m drinking far too quickly, not knowing what else to do with my hands. Joe shifts in his chair for the third time in less than a minute and looks out at the serenity of Lake Bled, a stunning vista that is, frankly, wasted on us tonight. The powdered sugar dusting on the mountains can’t sweeten the unpalatable truth: we have absolutely nothing to say to one another.

Joe pats his pocket; we’d promised to go without phones tonight. He retracts his hand quickly when he sees me looking, reaching for the bottle instead. The rattle from the ice bucket earns him some sharp side-eye from the hovering waitress for topping me up before she’d had chance to.

Before, we’d have shared a conspiratorial smile at that, back when we were a team; us against the world. Now, strangers within our own marriage, we’ve become the cliched sitting silently in restaurant types that we used to laugh at and vow to never become.

“What are you having?” Joe asks eventually.

“The fish platter.” I point at it on the menu.

“That’s for two people.”

“Oh.”

Joe pauses. “I don’t mind sharing the platter.”

“Do you even want fish?” I look at him, thinking don’t do me any favours. He half nods, half shrugs and we revert to silence.

We’d vowed to try and reconnect after the incident, using the conservatory savings to take a break somewhere peaceful. So far, Slovenia has been even more picturesque than I expected but the wonder of our surroundings only magnifies the distance between us.

“The hotel is charming,” I offer, seeing Joe fidget yet again.

He nods. “It really is.”

“Wonderful views.”

He opens his mouth to say something, then shuts it again.

When we’d checked into our cosy room in the eaves of the hotel, I’d felt the urge to jump up onto the bed and see the view from our tiny window in the sloping roof but I’d felt silly; I’m not myself with him anymore. It’s as if we have forgotten how to show any joy or spontaneity in front of one another. We’re on our best behaviour, polite and distant.

It’s awful.

I see Joe pat his pocket again and I sigh. “Just get your phone out, for God’s sake.”

His forehead creases. “What do you mean by that?”

“You clearly want to check your phone and you might as well.” I take another stinging swig of chilled wine. “It’s not like anything fun is happening here.”

He hesitates. “This isn’t… it’s not about her,” he says, avoiding my eyes. “I told you I wouldn’t contact her again.”

I freeze, inhaling sharply. “Don’t. Mention. Her.”

“Sorry.”

The waitress approaches and we order the fish platter for two. “Good choice,” she smiles, making a show of topping up the wine again.

Silence returns as she departs. Joe takes out his phone and I reach for my glass.

Emma Robertson is an inclusive dance tutor and writer from London, UK. Her first fiction pieces were published in late 2020 in the Pure Slush anthology Wrong Way Go Back and in Eastern Iowa Review’s Water issue. She has previously written articles connected with her teaching work for dance industry publications. She can be found on Twitter as @emmadancetrain

Sprats’ heads. Photo copyright Cath Barton

Flash fiction competition: THE WINNERS

Winner: Too Much Space to Dream by Isobel Copley

Runner-up: Nobody’s David by Katie Isham

Many congratulations to the winners and the other shortlisted writers, Emma Robertson and EE Rhodes. Isobel and Katie will each receive a book and all four writers will have their stories published here, starting tomorrow with Comfortable Discomfort by Emma Robertson and continuing daily until Sunday.

What made the winners stand out from the crowd were their original takes on the brief: they used the words I gave – ice, conservatory, roof and fish – in unobstrusive ways. Their stories were also those that have stayed most strongly in my mind.

I’ve offered to send short constructive feedback to any of the other entrants who request it. Most have, and I’ll be getting that feedback to them shortly. Here are a few general points. None of them are original and obviously these are just my opinions; a different judge in a different competition may see things differently.

  • In a competition that gives you a prompt, or words to include, it’s always good to put aside your first idea, as many other people are likely to come up with something similar. Even put aside your second idea and see what’s waiting in the wings – it may surprise you.
  • A short piece of 500 words or fewer does not give you space for many characters. I’d recommend using a maximum of 3. Of course if you’re Dickens… But you’re not. Stick to a few.
  • Use the fact that your title is additional to your 500 words to make it work for you and enhance your story.
  • Start late and finish early. In other words, plunge straight into your story, no preamble. And finish in such a way that your readers can see the scene continuing to spool in their minds. Life is continuing, in one way or another, at the end of every story.

Come back tomorrow and on the following days to read the stories I selected.

Icicles – photo copyright Cath Barton

Flash fiction competition: the shortlist

In no particular order:

Comfortable discomfort by Emma Robertson

Too much space to dream by Isobel Copley

Nobody’s David by Katie Isham

The Melting Point by E E Rhodes

Congratulations all. The winner(s) will be announced on 10th February, together with some judge’s comments.

Ice Shards. Photo copyright Cath Barton

NEW Flash fiction competition

Write a story of no more than 500 words (not including the title) including the words:

ice

conservatory

roof

fish

Set your story in a country you’ve never visited.

Please abide by the usual content rules. If you are in any doubt as to what they are look at any other writing competition rules.

Send your story in the body of an email (no attachments please) to

cath.barton@talktalk.net

by 12 noon GMT on Sunday 31st January.

Please include your Twitter handle if you have one.

Shortlist announced 5th February

Winner(s) announced 10th February

FREE to enter.

Prizes: books (but I will only post within the UK, sorry.)

I will publish the winning stories here on my website.

Photo copyright Cath Barton