Grindstone's "Dirty Dozen" 2019: The Collection
This year's Dirty Dozen competition was a lot of fun. Reading for the big prizes can be tough because the pieces are long, we've got lots of different judges all weighing in, and of course, there are some big prizes on the line! Plus, we hand the best pieces over to our guest judges, so we don't even get a say in the final result... But of course, we do all that for you guys, so we can get your work in front of agents, so we can help push you up in the industry. Though, for all its benefits, we miss the old days. When life was simpler.
I don't know if any of you remember (or were there), but our very first competition was a lot like this one. We asked writers for just 250 words, and had a grand prize of £100! How much did it cost to enter that one? £4.
We were an army of two, and sat up at night reading the entries. Though there weren't many to read. I think we had around 40 entries in the end, which barely covered the prize pool, and certainly did pay us anything for the judging! But we did it because we loved it, and we loved helping writers out by providing a different sort of competition.
So when we run these microfiction competitions, it's not just to give variety, but it's to keep us in the game. It's to keep us reading and judging, having fun without big money at stake, or the pressures of juggling shortlists and a team of judges.
Micro fiction is special because it really allows so many different types of 'quality' to show through. In 3000 words, there's lots of room for error. But in just 144? It levels the playing field and allows all writers to compete on even footing. And of course, it allows us to choose our favourites! Life takes its toll, and we don't get a lot of reading time these days. But micro-fiction allows us to stay close to our roots, and we wouldn't have it any other way.
We loved choosing this collection, and we really hope that we can continue to host these fun little competitions with super low entry fees and an equal opportunity for all.
The twelve writers below will all see their work in print in the new year as the first collection in our 2019 anthology, and will also receive a free copy of it to keep. But, for now, here they are. The wonderful, the magical, the downright wacky, and the brilliant 2019 Dirty Dozen.
1. Sticky Blue Rice
By Sherry Morris
Our last day in Thailand you spot the dish on the menu. Clap your hands, bounce in your seat like the baby we can’t have. My lip curls. It’s served in a banana leaf, but I imagine the peel. See myself slip-sliding away. Yesterday’s rice arrived in the shape of a teddy bear. I order a margarita. Say I’m not hungry.
You explain the dish is prepared with coconut milk, coloured with dried flowers, creating a super-sweet, super-tasty, super-food. I close my eyes, await my drink. You can talk non-stop about almost any little thing. I want to give you a super-kick. Say holidays aren’t substitutes.
The rice arrives. Each individual grain holds fast to the other, creating shape, substance. The taste is satisfying, surprisingly good, something like scented semolina. Sweet and blue can work as a combination. I reconsider leaving you.
By Ryan Annett
“You’re leaving again.”
That stopped her. She stood framed by the doorway with her back to me. Her rucksack slid from her shoulder and slumped to the ground.
Her hand hung loose by her side. The strap was still hooked in it, but threatened to fall. She let go.
I think we both expected that final release to resonate between us but it didn’t. The strap just fell, and we just stood apart.
She sobbed and I took a step forward before I could think.
She turned around to look at me and I swear all time just stopped. All of the good times hung around her now, like the light in a charcoal sketch.
“I still love you,” I said.
Her lips trembled, her eyes melted.
“Even now?” She asked.
3. Adulthood Imagined, Innocence Lost
Their kisses were loving. His hands not groping and jerky. Eventually his lips found her breast. She was well developed for a sixteen-year-old and he seemed to relish the experience.
“Do you still want to do it?” he asked in a hoarse whisper, as he came up for air.
“Yes,” she replied.
He helped her undress and quickly lost his own clothing. In the cab of his pickup, he soon found paradise. She lost her virginity and found what she thought was adulthood.
Delivering her home, they had a brief kiss. “Goodnight Ginny. That was wonderful.”
Smiling she said, “Night, Mr. Eckert.”
“Night, Dennis. See you at school tomorrow.”
In the house, not questioned about the hour, Ginny went to her room to be alone with her memories.
As Dennis drove home he rehearsed what he would be telling his wife.
4. Nothing To Lose
By Emma K. Leadley
My husband hated Scrabble. Waste of bloody time, he’d mutter, turning back to the TV. I’d force a thin-lipped smile, hiding my contempt for how he sprawled across the sofa and the stench of beer oozing from his pores.
He didn’t know I’d seen the debt-collection letter this morning. It was hard to stay silent and stifle my relief. In that moment, I let go of long-held resentments: his refusal to allow my name on the bills. Or his bank accounts. I was free.
My phone buzzed: my turn to play. I had a Q on the rack. Most people disliked Q, but I liked it, from the words it made to the sharp sound in my mouth. QUIT. I could do better. QUITE.
REQUITE? I thought of the letter again, grinning.
I slipped, unnoticed, from the room.
Packing my bag, I typed: QUITTER.
5. Every Broken Thing
The pill feels like shards of broken glass as I swallow, slicing my insides. “Go home”, she says, “try to relax”. They’ll see me tomorrow.
Outside, I walk oblivious to the weather, the noise, the crowds. Numb to all around me. Only inside of me matters; what is happening, what is not.
All day I concentrate. Will I know the moment? But I feel nothing, no different than yesterday. Yet everything is changed.
Dreams are broken, I am broken. I am the mother of every broken thing.
White lights, blue gowns, red gloves. Pushing, sucking, twisting. Over, before it has had the chance to really begin.
Sleep is a nightmare, waking is worse. The air is too loud, the rain too hot; trees in the sky and clouds underfoot. Everything is wrong.
The world is ending, and no one has noticed.
6. No Refund
By Roland Hughes
Once your assassin is paid, the small-print had said, no refund will be available. It had made sense at the time.
Roger settled in to the same corner of the café, the one with the mirrors, where no-one ever took him by surprise. He greeted his reflection, adjusted his cravat, and sipped his coffee.
Take control of your destiny, the advert had said.
He no longer remembered what had made him read on, but he had liked the idea. Avoid drifting into old age and senility. Allow our assassins to end your life at a moment of their choosing – before it’s too late.
He signed the contract quickly, alone, and didn’t think about the How and the When.
But then, Susan happened.
He glimpsed her purple coat in the mirrors and stood up suddenly. His right hand reached for his tightening heart.
7. I Learned To Love Reading From My Mother
By Ahaa Jan
Mum waited till I left home before she left my Dad.
She took her neglected beauty and the ruined houseplant; the Astilbe she’d uprooted from the shade, when she gave up her garden flat for Dad’s home library in a maisonette above a butchers’ shop. My childhood home.
What I learned from my Dad I learned firsthand. He read to himself, preferring written words to speaking and chose to exist in others’ imaginations rather than really dream.
In that silence, Mum bled her heart into his hands. She’d stripped its fern-like foliage and plumes of blood-red blossoms, pressing them deep into his books, into the worlds he’d hide in, in the one world he could not bear that she might reach him.
Dad called it pressing flowers and believed a passion meant she was happy. For too many years I thought the same.
8. It Wasn't Always Like This
By Pam Corsie
“Is it raining?”
“Just a little.”
“Are you sure? When I looked the sun was shining?”
“Why do you ask me? You never believe my answers.”
“Don’t get cross with me.”
“Sorry, cheer up. Whatever the weather, we’re meeting them at 1230 in the Crown. It’ll be fun.”
“The Crown? Not the Antelope?”
“No, the Crown. I’ve booked a table for 1 o’clock. We can have a drink first.”
“Do they know it’s not the Antelope?”
“Of course they do.”
“Are you sure? You’d better text them.”
“I don’t need to. They know where we’re going. We only decided this morning.”
“We’d better leave if we are eating at 1230.”
“It’s OK, no rush. Meeting at 1230. Eating at 1.”
“Who are we meeting?”
“Our children and their families.”
“Is it raining? Will I need a mac or umbrella?”
9. Your Funeral
By Barbara Young
Did you seriously expect me to turn down the invitation? I wouldn’t miss this for all the weed in Thailand. And what a grand occasion it is. Your family, draped in sombre black, emit elegantly muted sobs while whispers of suicide slither through cold air. The priest, hands clasped in anguish, tells the assembled company what a paragon of virtue you were, with your charitable deeds and your love of children.
I sit obediently, head bowed, as they throw disapproving glances at my inappropriate clothing (I couldn’t resist a splash of colour). They’re wondering if I will make a scene, throw my howling body onto the coffin.
No chance, Peter. You know every scar on my body. You should know, you put them there.
I know the exact shape of the bullet wound on your head.
I should know. I put it there.
10. Thirteen Digits
By Lauren Everdell
But I couldn’t remember the last number, the last of thirteen digits that would save my life. Unlucky thirteen.
Who remembers a code that long?
Banks were like that.
I’d never even tried to memorise it. Put it in my phone, didn’t I. Against the rules but what was the worst that could happen?
I pictured my phone. Left on the kitchen table.
Forgotten, like the deadly thirteenth digit.
I closed my eyes, straining to hear the conversation ahead of me. But the whispers drowned in my heartbeat.
I ran the numbers.
Made it to twelve.
I turned my wrist, lowered my eyes to the time. Ten in the morn—
A scream, and a gunshot that put me next.
Eyes, as black as the muzzle of his gun.
“The vault code, bitch.”
I ran the numbers.
Made it to twelve.
11. Urban Infertility
By Louise Mangos
We used to draw energy from the city like heroin through a syringe. The greedy pulse of it lay throbbing in a shiny spoon.
Now we can’t distinguish the white noise of a thousand cars and three thousand air-conditioning units from the tinnitus in our heads. Our passion has stalled between punctuations of wailing sirens and a beeping staccato of horns. We wither in the spaces between crowds, and barrenness prevails.
Today you’ve brought me to the marshlands.
My nostrils sting with metallic leaves of wild garlic.
My ears ring from the sharpness of the wren’s song.
Clouds and sunbeams cast silver daggers on my eyelids.
Feathery green moss covers a swamp heaving with quivering vernal breath. We lie on nature’s eiderdown, and you cast your seed.
And the mire of my belly is filled with the promise of fresh new life.
12. The Fall
By Fran Egan
It was a spectacular feat by anyone's standards. Apton Academy's darling: winning countless accolades for his school. One minute, a figurehead. The next, an outcast.
Broadcasting literature was his passion. He dispersed it in packages, a gift to his gathered retinue. The most unlikely students were captivated. The words of Wordsworth, the paragraphs of Pullman, the chapters of Chekhov, all carefully unwrapped and consumed. GCSE results at their highest, his rapid ascendency complete.
Then one remained behind to ask a question, sat close, listening to the explanation, looking up with innocent eyes. One made informed comments, probed further, took on a passion. A brush of chalk dust from a black blazer and a connection was made.
It was merely a hand on a knee. A rub of a back. A promise of more.
One told and all was destroyed. Love’s labour, lost.