Short Story Competition Results 2011

Results of our Short Story Competition 2011
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The three short-listed are not in any particular order

Commended.  10 of 214 entries.
In no particular order:

Surface Tension by Chris Buckham
Friendship and Bullying by Laura Bentley
The Stage by Sarah Reid
Lifeline by Christine Griffin
The Monday After by Maria Francis
Sunday Mass by Caroline Zarlengo Sposto
The Banking Crisis by Charlotte Lee McGarry
The Last Man (entry removed)
Taking the Plunge by Celeste Yates
Sea Dragon by Amelia Riley 


1st Place: CARTE BLANCHE by Marion Grace Woolley

We’re like the sea, you and I. Rolling to a thick, deep rhythm that only we can hear. That invincible river of truth running between two distant shores. The type of truth you can drown in.

Some nights, that’s exactly what happens. Dragged beneath the surface of my own consciousness. Pulled under by the crocodile teeth of my own lies, ready for that final death roll. I wake, sweat drenched and sour in my own scent. Afraid that I will never be able to rise again, back to the cool oxygen that my body craves.

That’s the thing about cravings. Some things you crave because, without them, your flesh would die. You need to breathe, to eat, to drink. But other things – you need them just as much, but, in needing them, you’re killing yourself.

You never understood that, did you? You never quite got it.

And now it’s too late. Every day of our lives I tried to explain it to you. Tried to show you; make you aware. At first I thought you hadn't noticed – I really was that subtle. Pouring your champagne before mine. Helping you into your coat as we left the restaurant. Would I have noticed? Probably not.

But as time went by, I started to suspect. I knew you better than that, see. To me, you’re like crackle glass. There’s nothing transparent about you. If you were ordinary, I could look straight through you and know all there is to know. I could see our future on the other side of you. I could look you over, and look away.

But you’re not. Your clarity changes with the light. Those thick fractures within you, they fascinate the eye. I could gaze at you for a lifetime and never see the complete picture. It takes a complicated person to be that beautiful. It takes intelligence to break itself upon the jarred rocks of self-realization and denial.

That’s how I knew that you were choosing not to acknowledge me. You were fully aware of my craving, yet you chose to overlook it. You chose to withdraw into the facetious playroom of childhood innocence. You chose to be stupid, blind and dumb.

And every part of me wanted you more for that.

I couldn't help what happened that night. The fairy lights twinkled as bright as stars around the garden trellis. Your husband and his fat, porky guests quaffing port like pigs in a mud hole. Drunk on their own fine taste and sense of self-worth. I watched you smile, like a string of pearls strung around a pauper. That fake, false way that I watched you cultivate over twenty years of marriage.

I missed the girl in you. I missed the part that was real; that was genuine. Where did she go? Sometimes when we’d take tea, or walk in the country, I’d imagine that I caught a glimpse of her. For a moment she would return as if from some far-flung adventure to the outer shores of existence. ‘I was always coming home,’ she’d say, then just as soon be off on her next escapade, far beyond my grasp.

I loved you from the first moment I saw you, standing in your skinny gym slip at St. Mary of the Immaculate Heart’s. I cherished those all-girl dances we used to attend. They were our salad days. Where no man could touch you, because none were invited.

Every sentence begins with ‘I’, because I never knew what you thought or felt. Did you ever look at me sideways in the showers? Did you ever wonder? Did you ever, for one brief moment, in the dark-enraptured night, consider what it might have been like?

Each of your boyfriends came and went, so literally. Yet I was always constant. After every heartbreak, after every betrayal – wasn't I always there, just as I ever was? Perhaps you believed my inventions, those imaginary boyfriends who never called and never sent me flowers. Surely you knew that there was only ever one. One person, out of the entire world, that had my full attention.

It had to be said. As we sat beneath the eaves of your grand affluence, staring out across the night-cooled lawns towards the lake. It had to be said.

The sting of your hand across my face burns still. That hot horror as you realized what I had been trying to tell you all our lives. And in that moment, as your eyes flashed and your pearls broke and scattered, I knew that you had known. I knew that, in your own way, you had expected this moment to come.

I suppose, if we’re now to be honest, I had always known your reaction. What caused me to provoke you, I cannot say. The empty look of your Gould-guzzling guests, your husband’s hollow laugh; the sheer plasticity of it all? The faintest recognition in the depths of my soul that there could be another life behind all of this. Something real. Something meaningful.

And now, there is nothing. Should I regret opening my mouth? Because I do, with every ounce of my being. If, by staying silent, I could look upon you every day for the rest of our lives – look, but never touch – I would sign my name to that contract. But it’s too late. That river of truth touches both our continents, but forever keeps us worlds apart.

Should you ever return to the country of our birth, you shall find me waiting. Here, beneath the eaves.


2nd Place: WHEN MAMA COMES by Danica Green

They came in the night, but I wasn't sleeping, drifting in a haze of uncertainty when I heard the first guns and wondered if they were coming for me. Papa ran in and threw me over a shoulder, the sudden movement making me retch and tears filled my eyes, magnifying the moonlight as we stepped outside the door. The streets were filled with people screaming children younger than me sleeping on through the chaos next to mother's breasts, the elderly sat quiet and resigned in the dust. The guns came closer as the throng pushed and heaved in the narrow space, none quite knowing the correct direction, or whether there was anywhere to go. When the men arrived I admit to awe, hundreds upon hundreds in identical clothing, a phenomenon I had only seen on Sundays at church with every babe in a white frock, combed hair and shoeless.
 
The men began to shout above the noise of my neighbours, spreading out and grabbing hair and arms. That's when mama came out with baby Joseph and said they were trying to take the town, laying down curses I hope never to hear again, threatening each one of their souls with damnation. They reached us fast and took me from papa, holding him to the wall with a gun across his throat and I couldn't call his name because my face was smothered with a dirty hand that smelled of cigarettes and blood. I struggled as he walked away, but I watched them take Joe, mama spitting in the face of the man who held her, a swift knee to the crotch and he went down a second before she did, a flurry of fists beating her to the ground. After that I couldn't struggle any more.

The rest of the night was strange and dreamlike, the back of a truck with twenty other children all wanting to cry but ending up asleep, thrashing in nightmares that led to bloodied mouths for those who lay in the way of an elbow or foot. When the dawn came we stopped, the doors opened and we were carried limply to a stone cold building with layers of dust and five beds too few for our number. We spoke little, wept fiercely, and when the men came back in the evening with buckets of porridge I told them they'd be sorry when mama came but they didn't hear me over the swell of hungry mouths crowding around their legs.
 
The days went on all the same, food in the evening, sleep at night and the growing stench of waste that emanated from the corners of the room where we relieved ourselves. After we ate we would play a game with splinters and a board fingered into the dirt, trying to smile and daring to laugh but in truth it brought us no real joy, its only function to determine who got a bed that night. I never lost, but sometimes I'd lend my stomach as a pillow to one who did.
The game stopped three weeks ago. It became unnecessary, as now there's two beds too many. The tears still come in the morning, food at night, but the men make sure to watch us eat it all before they leave. I tell them they'll be sorry when mama comes, but they just laugh and laugh, slap my face and tell me mama's dead.

3rd Place: NEW MESSAGES by Katriona Angel

The girl huddles up against the bus station, face turned into the rain and the smell of wet pavements and falling leaves. A phone rests in her shaking hands, its battery starting to run out. She turns to the voice-mail and a clinical voice informs her:

You have 8 messages.

Her hands are riddled with shivers, but she plays the first, most recent message. The voice dominates the air around her with high, fast words:

‘November 18th: Honey, where are you? Just call us, text us, anything will do.’ Her throat closes at the sound of the voice. ‘Everything will be all right, I promise.’ It’s a lying promise, but it cuts right into the center of her. The phone runs onto the next message.

‘November 18th: Don’t do anything foolish, Rose.’ She holds the phone away from her ear, halfway to skipping the message when the voice goes on. ‘Stay where you are and call me. I’ll come pick you up straight away and we’ll go home together.’ Tension creeps in. ‘I don’t understand...what you expect to find out there. So don’t be silly. Just please...’ It’s virtually a whisper now. ‘Call me.’ Rose leans back against the glass, watches the rain lash down and studies her own hollow eyes. The cold settles heavily on her bones, curls up like an ache inside her. She lowers the phone to her lap, waiting.

‘November 15th: Rose, how are you?’ Then there’s a nervous laugh, like fluttering wings. ‘So, listen, we’re all painting the house tonight and you’re coming over. Too bad, I already told Mum and Dad that you were!’ A pause, one so long she thinks Lily has forgotten how to breathe. Then she goes on in a quiet, hushed voice. ‘Please, Rose.’ The exact same words that she said before Rose dropped the paint roller and dashed out of her parent’s house, desperate to escape the acrid smell climbing down her throat. Another pause. Her voice is so young, so easily hurt. Rose grips her chest, trying to loosen the vice around it. ‘Bye for now.’

‘November 10th.’ The harsh voice speaks again. ‘It’s over now. The police apprehended the perpetrators. I thought you should know.’ Rose breathes out heavily, a huff of white cloud in the cold. ‘The worst of it is over, Rose.’
But that’s a lie, too. She still remembers the sickening smell of fresh white paint and the pressing rotten warmth of the room. She remembers how different it looked from the floor. She still remembers the first time she heard these next words on voice-mail and the shattering of the beaker that slipped out of her hand. ‘He’s dead and not coming back.’ The words spill out in a terrifying rush that bends the street around her, but there’s more. He lowers his voice and speaks a crime of a sentence. ‘Lily’s the one who needs comfort right now and don’t you forget it.’
She should scream at him. She should get him to pick her up just so that she could tear his voice out and he’d never speak an atrocity like that again. She should tell him the truth and go crying to his arms.

‘November 1st.’ Her father again, full of counterfeit control. ‘We’re attending the funeral today. He was a friend of the family, not just your sister’s boyfriend. Nothing else matters. Do you hear me? Nothing else.’ It was the same tone he used that day in the kitchen when he gathered them together and said they say he had sex shortly before...traces of blood... Lily glanced quickly at Rose; looked away. Then she shook her head and whispered not with me.

‘October 17th.’ Her mother’s voice takes over, low and sedate. ‘They’re taking Robin to the hospital now.’ A tear slides down Rose’s cheek at his name, making a warm trail down her frozen face. It reaches her lips and she swallows it only to find her throat has closed up. ‘My God, Rose, it’s awful-’ The voice has grown wet and she knows her mother is crying. ‘How could anyone...how could they?’ She goes on sobbing and the message is lost.

‘October 15th.’ The second to last message. Lily again. Her fingers fumble to delete it, but the words tumble out into the chill and freeze her fingers in place. ‘Rose, I’m so, so sorry. I can’t believe he would...he didn't even deny it...God, Rose...it’s all my fault.’ Those words echo in her head until it’s Rose saying them, over and over. ‘Robin was such a mess yesterday and...his house was, too, Rose... and nothing I say or do that makes any difference!’
She can see Lily through the words, her shoulders tensing up to her ears, her arms clipped in as she whispers, her face collapsing in on itself in anger as she stamps her foot. ‘I know what he...and you...Rose, I...God, I told one of his flatmates what he did!’ She sounds hysterical now, her voice getting higher and shriller. ‘Rose, I was scared. I didn't consider what might happen to Robin! Rose, will you let me tell the police? I’m coming over to your flat, okay? Let’s tell them together. Rose, you’ll let me in, won’t you? Rose...?’ She stops the message, her sister’s panic spreading and wrecking around in her body. She waits for the last message, the pacifying voice that came before the chaos. She raises the phone to her ear to listen and blocks out the rest of the world.

‘October 13th: Rose, it’s Robin.’ A self-conscious laugh. ‘Listen, I need to talk to you. Do you think that you could come over? I’m painting the house and I could use some company. I guess I...need your advice on colors  Blue? White?’ His voice is soft, reaching out of the phone like he’s sitting there with her. The rain washes down her body. ‘Thanks.’


Short-Listed: A RIVER of BLOOD by Deborah Rickard

Blanche sat up in bed staring at the wallpaper opposite; at red roses playing on a pale blue sky, till they slipped out of focus and merged into a river of blood. Savoring her sweet tea she closed her eyes and indulged in the warmth of the mug between her hands. Suddenly Matt stirred. Blanche flicked her eyelids open. Matt groaned. Blanche's fingers gripped the mug. Matt turned. And his breathing resumed the rise and fall of waves on a sleeping shore.
As the sun painted the sky early morning red, Blanch carefully placed her mug on the bedside table, lifted her legs from the bed and swore that one way or the other, by the end of the day, she'd have caught Matt red-handed.
"Where are you off to?" Matt's voice muffled from beneath the duvet.
Blanche froze, dead still, her toes gripping the soft pile of the carpet. "I told you," she said, "I've got a dental appointment in Exeter," she lied.
"Hhmph," Matt muttered and went back to sleep.

Upton Standing was always busy on a Thursday, even this early. It was Market Day and the wide, cobbled street in the center of town thronged with stall-holders setting up stalls, shopkeepers hurrying to work and early morning shoppers searching for bargains amidst brightly colored canvas canopies. Blanche fed on the scent of fresh baked bread and herbs and spices dancing with the fragrance of flowers packed into deep green buckets. She paused at the flower stall, before scurrying into the book shop behind and positioning herself in front of a shelf. She pulled out a book and waited, casting constant glances through the window. Minute after minute ticked by, and book after book slid from the shelf in her pale hands.
The girl at the flower stall, dressed in crimson flowered frock and shoes with heels that would give Blanche vertigo, began slicing ends from the stems of cream colored roses with the quick flick of a sharp bladed knife, before placing them artfully in a bucket. She looked as pretty as a rose herself, Blanche thought; a dark red rose with a rich red bloom caressing her cheeks.
Suddenly Matt appeared, wearing his pin-striped suit and a smile Blanche hadn't seen for … oh … so long! Her breath stopped. He strode up to the flower stall. Blanche pushed her fingernails into the cover of the book grasped tightly in her hands. The flower girl sliced the creamy head off a rose and smiled up at Matt, slipping it into his buttonhole. Matt bent to kiss the forehead of the thief who'd stolen his smile, and then bent lower to kiss her lips; her deep red lips.
Blanche's heart pounded and the blood drained from her face. She pulled for air and grabbed the bookshelf. She mustn't lose control; the control she'd clung to this last week of waiting; the week since she'd discovered the red rose in Matt's lapel when he came home from work, late.
"What's this?" she'd asked.
"A rose," he'd said.
"Where from?" she'd asked.
"The flower girl in the market," he'd said.
Blanche had seen the flower girl before.

Blanche eased herself from the bookshelf and forced her legs forward. Somehow she made it through the shop, outside, and on to the cobbled stones of the market place. But Matt had gone. She pulled a bunch of ivory blooms from a bucket, drew deep on their sweet perfume and approached the flower girl, still slicing stems, with the shadow of a smile still lingering on her lips and the bloom of love still kissing her cheeks. Blanche held the flowers out as if to have them wrapped in pretty pink paper, but her foot kicked out; quick-sharp and sudden, catching the flower girl's stiletto heel and toppling her to the ground. She'd lost control. That was all. And high-heeled shoes and cobbles were never a wise combination.
Blanche bent, swiftly stretching out her hand. "Help!" she cried weakly, as the flower girl's blood-curdled cry faded to a pale whisper, and a satisfying warmth seeped past the steel blade and caressed her fingers.
A crowd gathered. Matt rushed forward and stopped, his eyes wide but no words came from his gaping mouth. He fell toward the flower girl. Blanche reached out as if to catch him. And dark, red drops fell from her hand, splattering onto granite cobblestones like rose petals on tombstones, until they merged into a river of blood.



Short-Listed: SOMETHING for the WEEKEND by Patsy Collins

Gemma loved her Saturday job at the pharmacy. It wasn't as glamorous as the clothes shops where her friends worked and didn't seem such a good place to meet boys as the music mega store would have been, but it had advantages. It was close to home and her boss, Mr Cantrell, was very kind. The first week she’d filled shelves and learnt where things were kept. The next week Mr Cantrell taught her to use the till. She soon realized it wasn't just sick people who used a pharmacy. Her very first customer was an attractive young man who bought a toothbrush. She rang in the price, counted back his change and put his purchase in a paper bag, just as Mr Cantrell taught her.

By lunchtime, Gemma had served a variety of customers. Most had been retired people more interested in chatting than buying anything, or harassed mothers looking for quick answers and even quicker service. There had also been two more young men, both of whom bought toothbrushes. As she ate her sandwiches, she said, “I think I’m getting used to the till, now, Mr Cantrell.”
“Yes, dear, you’re doing very well. I can see you’re going to be a great help to me, as well as increasing the sales of toothbrushes.”
Before Gemma could ask what he meant, another customer came in. It was ‘fabulous’ Phil, from the school football team. Although Gemma had watched every game, she’d never got to speak to him. When he’d finished High School in the summer, she thought she’d lost her chance. “I’ll serve this one, Mr Cantrell. You finish your lunch; I can manage on my own.”
She stepped up to the counter and waited. Phil actually spoke to her.
“Hi Gemma, I didn't know you worked here.”
He knew her name!
“I started last week, how can I help?”
He selected a toothbrush.
“Just this, thanks.”
He gave her a lovely smile, allowing her the chance to appreciate his clean, white teeth.
“See you,” he said as he left.
Gemma really loved her job. The next week, Gemma sold several more toothbrushes, including another one to Phil. He did have lovely teeth, but it seemed odd he’d want another one so soon. When he bought another one the following week, she remembered Mr Cantrell saying she would increase the sale of toothbrushes and asked what he’d meant.
“Well, you see we sell all kinds of items here, sometimes customers are a little embarrassed about their requirements.”
Gemma nodded, she had noticed that young women seemed to prefer her to serve them when they bought personal items.
Mr Cantrell said, “Some of the lads might really want toothbrushes of course, but that’s not what they usually buy when I serve them.”
“Oh, you mean …” Gemma blushed. “Perhaps you should give me a sign when it might be better for you to serve?”
When Phil came in again, Mr Cantrell didn't make the agreed sign, so Gemma served him. Phil bought another toothbrush. He seemed nervous as he chatted to her.
“ You've got nice eyes,” he said.
She nearly told him how great his smile was, but stopped in time as she remembered what Mr Cantrell had said about toothbrushes. Phil couldn't really need a new one every week.
“Does he ever buy anything other than toothbrushes?” she asked her boss, after she’d finished serving Phil.
“Oh yes, dear.”
Phil was flirting with her despite apparently already having a girlfriend. What sort of girl did he think she was? The following week Phil selected two toothbrushes and some baby oil.
“Planning an exciting weekend?” she asked.
“These are for next weekend, but yes, I’m expecting a good time. Perhaps you’d like to join me?”
What a cheek!
“Gemma, could you just give me a hand here?” Mr Cantrell called, before she could say anything. He pointed to a box he was unpacking then served Phil.
“I think I should explain something, Gemma. That young man has taken a liking to you, I think you feel the same way?”
Gemma nodded.
“He’s very shy, he’s been trying to work up the courage to ask you out, I know because I had quite a chat with him last week whilst you were at the post office. I didn't guess he’d ask you out so soon, or I’d have said something sooner.”
“Shy? But the toothbrushes, and you said he bought other things…”
Mr Cantrell laughed. “He really does want the brushes and the other things he buys are cotton buds. I’ll let him explain.”
Gemma hadn't realized Phil was still in the shop.
“ I've got a vintage car I've been doing up, the toothbrushes help me polish the grill and other fiddly bits of metalwork. I’m taking part in a rally next Saturday afternoon, would you like to come?”
She looked at Mr Cantrell.
“I’ll let you finish early, if you like,” he said.
Phil arrived to collect her in a gleaming open topped car. He opened the door for her, like a proper gentleman.
“I’ll just be a moment,” he said and went into the pharmacy.
Gemma tried not to speculate about what he could be buying, she didn't want to misjudge him a second time. He handed her a bag as he got in the car. Inside was a huge pair of sunglasses.
“I don’t want you getting anything blown into your pretty eyes,” he said, before driving her away.


Short-Listed: THE MAN by Katie Rose

The room was locked, dark and cold. The minimal light that was cast came from a small box mounted on the wall that appeared to be simulating sunlight. There was no decoration, no furniture and the ceiling, floor and all four walls were painted in a charcoal color that although un-chipped was thin and wearing. A single door positioned in the center of one wall was the only entrance and exit to the room and was painted in the same color  A one way spy hole towards the top of the door allowed outsiders to peer inside at the room’s inhabitants, but it was hardly ever used. The door had been locked for a very long time, possibly too long to remember, but that could change depending on who was trying. The key was long, thin and copper. Never rusting, never ageing, it sat in the lock unyielding and unmoving. The man who was inside the room now had never touched the key, nor tried to turn it. He knew he could, knew at any point he could attempt to leave the room and although he had never been told he knew the key wasn't dangerous or fake

 ‘Today’ was shifting, sometimes it would feel more like yesterday, then like the future, it was impossible to tell what today was and more importantly; who today was for. It could be for him, the man now mused, time could really have been solely for him all along. He had never liked the nature of time before, it had felt trapping and rigid and mind numbingly linear. The popular phrase from the past, “Time is no man’s friend,” had always resonated with him, who would befriend time? Who would welcome the slow, ever changing, yet ever constant nature of it? It was predictable, yet totally random and could never be reasoned with no matter how hard a human willed it. No, he had not liked time. And yet now, in this room, time was his only company. Time was the only thing that had not left him, when all else had abandoned or ceased to be, time pressed on. It was a comforting, steady pulse; ever present and ever ready. And yet he still did not understand its mystery. 

The biggest mystery of course did not concern time. It was not even why he was in the room, slowly he had come to realize the reasons why. They were complicated and many, yet also simple and obvious. The longer spent inside the room, the clearer things become. The very nature of the room demands clarity and revelation but never gives anything away for free. You must spend your time willingly to receive the benefits that the room has to offer. A begrudging heart or stubborn mind will stop the room’s workings dead; and you will only be left with your own past knowledge. Future knowledge and even present knowledge will begin to fade into the distance, like smog slowly covering a city’s horizons, engulfing the inhabitants in its limited sight. 

You see the room did have its dangers. 

But the more the heart was willing to learn, the more the brain bent to the rooms will, the more the room would offer. Not always reveal, but offer at least. This man had got to grips with this concept after a long, long time of being there. Then again, the man now mused, it could have only been a second. There was no way to know for sure. 

The mystery concerned the room’s key, or rather the door’s key. Now the key was brighter at the moment, more obvious, present. Sometimes the man did not even notice the key was there at all. It was almost invisible to him, but he knew of course that it had never left. The key would not do anything as vulgar as merely disappearing. But right now the key was practically luminous, inviting his eye with every blink. The man had been watching the key grow brighter, had noticed it changing and it now occurred to him, that the obvious thing to do would be to turn the key. Surely there could be no other reason than that for the key to suddenly become so achingly apparent. 

At this realization he noticed his body change. The hands that had become used to a permanent state of cold became warmer. His heart that he had forgotten existed suddenly became audible, beating softly within his chest. Warmth appeared to flood through his arteries like liquid, filling him with a sensation from the past that he had not felt since entering the room. He did not recognize it clearly enough to name it, he just knew that he had felt it before. The physical reaction then changed; the warm hands become tingly, the heart sped up its beat and the flood of warmth became ice cold. A new sensation was taking him over now, another feeling from the past but one that was a lot more familiar than its predecessor. After a few moments the man could even remember the name of it. 

This was fear. 

The key continued to permeate the room with its presence and as the man continued to allow it to infiltrate his mind he began to form an idea. The man found himself reaching for the key and gently holding it in his outstretched palm. It felt hard and sturdy. It would not be easily bent or broken, it had one purpose and that purpose would be fulfilled; should the purpose be chosen.

The man cocked his head and drew a long, breath. Slowly he turned the key away from the lock; he heard a low click that resonated through the room. Then he felt the catch give way under the key’s force and without further warning the door swung outwards. The man looked outside; there was only black. He could not see any definition, light or content. Just black and then,

Nothing.


JUDGES’ Critique for the Short Story Competition 2011

During this, our first year of the Swan Ezine short story competition, we were astounded, awed, by the quality of many of our entries. Indeed, it has proved painful to choose the best from our most superb submissions. Thus, for our short list, we have alphabetized the entries in terms of surnames, as we found them all equal in excellence. As stated in our guidelines, we sought strong, concise use of language, centered on any theme or idea. Winning entries met this requirement in abundance.
Although with reluctance, we felt, in fairness to all, we needed to disqualify any entries which did not comply with our guidelines. Below is a list of these reasons, in no particular order, each of equal relevance:
Some entries had no title, others exceeded the designated word count, or had not been adequately proofread and spell-checked. A few contained words we believed some readers might find offensive. 
A number of entries proved to have been previously published. Others were sent as attachments, despite our requirement that all stories be pasted into the body of the email. 
We will now explain, to the extent we can, the reasons for our choices.
 
First Place: 
Marion Grace Woolley’s story, Carte Blanche, holds deep, haunting pain in its every sentence. On a more profound level, it examines whether the choice of a lover need be based on gender or emotion. The narrator seems to intuit her friend’s understanding of her desire to draw their friendship into a deeper dimension. The physical slap in the narrator’s face, hints at some level of guilt at her own hidden wish for their friendship to slide into a more intimate form. 

Second Place: 
Danica Green’s story When Mama Comes constructs, like a painting, created by meticulous stroke by stroke, a deepening vision of terror. This framework proves especially pertinent in that, in a sense, children become the ultimate victims of wars created by adult world leaders. The child’s conviction that her “mama” can both rescue her from her tormentors, then make them pay for their brutalities, evokes the sense nearly all of us harbour, throughout the whole of our lives, that “mama” can erase even the most demonic abuses. 

Third Place: 
Katriona Angel’s story New Messages absorbed us by its relentless intensity. Each of the “messages” has its own voice, its level of urgency. The reader is drawn into the listener’s sense of betrayal, as the details of her violation emerge. We are left with the sense that, whatever her decision might be, it will impact forever upon both her and those closest to her. 

Short Listed:
Something for The Weekend by Patsy Collins, captivated us in that it speaks to that right of passage each of us, in our own individual ways, experience during our path towards adulthood. We sense the main character, Gemma, has taken a Saturday job at a pharmacy, not only for the salary, but in quest of romantic adventure. What sort of customer will she meet? Might some young men flirt with her, ask her out? While not having acknowledged this wish to herself, it is conveyed to the reader. Her employer soon realizes, doubtless before Gemma does, that her allure is a business asset. Gemma’s hopes are expressed in her delight in recovering what she had viewed as her lost opportunity of interacting with her sports idol, “Fabulous Phil” Still, the reader is allowed, almost urged to share Gemma’s initial view of him as egocentric, exploitative.  She finds herself drawn to him in a way both intriguing and frightening. The reader, along with Gemma, feels surprised, relieved at the outcome; we are left wishing her well with her romance.

Short Listed: 
A River of Blood by Deborah Rickard caught our attention by its lush, vivid imagery. While the cliche of catching her partner, Matt, red-handed detracted a bit from the strength of this story, its use could be justified by the hue of red roses and blood which permeate the piece as a whole. Despite the title, we, as readers, believe Blanche plans a verbal firestorm between, the flower girl, Mat and herself. We feel a degree of compassion for this unnamed, young girl, her loveliness reflected in her roses, who may have had no idea she has become involved with someone else’s partner. 

Short Listed:
The Man by Katie Rose explores an area which most of us are prone to avoid in thought as well as reality. The man featured in the title speaks for all humankind. As such, He is about to confront first the horror and inner suffocation of approaching death, then freedom from this ultimate fear, as his soul, freed from his body, becomes forever released from its harness. 
End