The Writers Bureau Short Story Competition 2019
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The Winner of 2016 Flash Fiction Competition

Alyson Hilbourne Winner

1st Prize

Alyson Hilbourne

"I am delighted to win the 2016 Writers Bureau Flash Fiction Competition. Although I usually write longer short stories I enjoyed experimenting with the form of this story. I hope you enjoy it too."



the town's residents search among the rocks and boulders: the schoolteacher, classes abandoned for the day; the postman, deliveries delayed; the grocer, shop closed; the policeman, shirtsleeves rolled up, and the mayor, jacket removed and braces exposed.

But one man already scoured by guilt, moves faster than the others and well ahead skirts a tide pool looking for anything unusual.


bladder wrack tossed up by the storm, a rotting blanket of stench that envelopes the town.

And salt spray spat out by angry white-flecked waves that reach up the beach to reclaim the seaweed.

The man is soaked as he struggles regardless across the rocks. It splashes the row of neatly paired shoes left on the promenade by the rescuers. Just back from the shoes stand a line of people, watching. Mothers hold babies, hands circling chubby pink thighs, while small children clutch at their skirts, picking scabs or biting chapped lips, faces solemn and voices hushed.


the flat metallic tang as the reporter from The Standard licks his pencil absent-mindedly. He is balanced on the running board of his car for a better view, his eye returning again and again to the searching man. He has a journalist's instinct for a story. This is the man to watch as he rolls the pages of his notebook idly over the spirals.

What is the story? The distraught mother; a family ripped apart; a school in mourning, where children avoid the empty desk and remember a name in whispers.

Or a miracle? Found safe and well and reunited with his hopeful family.

"Hold that front page," he murmurs.


the mother's keening, her voice mixing with the screams of gulls as they make low sorties over the heads of the women. She rubs a hand across her face, eyes red-rimmed and hair awry. She is poised on the edge of the promenade. Each time a rescuer stands to ease an aching back, she gasps and attempts to rush forward, but arms restrain her. She wants to be down there, helping.

How can she live without her only son?

He, just ten, had been playing chicken with the storm waves last evening. The man, who was leaving the pub early, pulled the boy's friend to safety. Since first light he has been searching, overturning boulders, poking in tide pools, looking under fishing boats. He blames himself. Couldn't he have reached out with both hands?


the hard salty hide of the brown Clarks sandal as the man's fingers dig under the rock. It is scuffed and worn at the heel, but freshly gift-wrapped in seaweed and half buried in the sand.

The man breathes deeply to slow the hammering in his chest, tucks his arms against his sides and hunches his shoulders. If only things were different. He was a fingertip away from being a hero. Now history will paint him as a villain...

For a moment he shuts his eyes, pausing, before he holds the shoe aloft...

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