Winners of our Flash Fiction Contest

Prime Number Magazine’s Flash Fiction Contest operates quarterly with a $353 First Prize, a $151 Second Prize, and a $53 Third Prize. The July 1–September 30 contest is now open for submissions with a low $7 entry fee. Enter now through Submittable.

First Prize: Kathryn McMahon / Second Prize: Kelly Wisdom / Third Prize: John Van Kirk   

First Prize, January-March 2019

McMahon FF.jpg

Kathryn McMahon

Followed by Author Bio

Hurled at the Night 

We went to the motel pool because I saw Corey, the night manager, filling up her truck at the gas station and she asked if I wanted to come by for a swim. Ever since high school there’d been some divide she and I couldn’t cross. The shadow of a latitude line curling between us, even when I moved home. All summer, I thought about going to the pool. I bought a new bikini but still didn’t go—not until my cousin Georgia came to escape the carcass of her marriage. Her husband was back on meth. She brought along a white rat she’d named Ed after him, which was more revealing than it was sick. We sat on my porch drinking sea breezes and eating bagels for dinner like we were in college again, and everything was so hot and dead that I asked if she wanted to check out the motel’s new pool.

“Doesn’t Corey work there? Didn’t you two fool around before her mom caught you?” She tossed a cinnamon bagel crumb for Ed to scamper after.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I said. But I cut my nails short because I liked how Corey had grown into herself, even if I didn’t know how to get there.

Georgia and I walked to the motel. We were tipsy and it seemed wiser than driving, never mind the sunset licking our heels. We’d forgotten towels, so I left her to squeeze through the gate and its Guests Only sign while I went to the reception booth. Corey was on duty behind a window freckled with bugs. She came out, sliding past a plastic ficus to gently take my elbow. Her fingers felt like a tongue, not wet, but wanting, and I followed her to the linen closet and pushed her through the door. I kissed her and her hands reached for me like stray cats for a chicken wing. It wasn’t erotic and maybe that’s why it was.

I pulled away only because Georgia was calling me. I wandered out, clutching two towels rolled tight as alibis. She was skinny-dipping and said I should too since no one was around.

“What about that guy on the balcony?” I pointed up and she waved and he waved back. “What about Corey?”

She shrugged.

I took off my sundress but kept my bikini on. Corey went behind her window and watched me, knuckles under her chin. I stepped in and let the water cup my jaw like I too was just a face, while Georgia talked to the guy on the balcony, her voice low and warped with the lust of losing herself.

“Come on down,” she cooed, ignoring how her wedding ring glinted red in the glow from the Coke machine. The man said okay, would we like some coffee? No? No. He’d be right down.

“What are you doing?” I asked, but Georgia swam away from me. I couldn’t leave her and the sea breezes were evaporating inside me, making me hungry and annoyed. I thought about asking Corey if she wanted something from the vending machine. I wished I’d brought along some bagels. Poppy seed, sesame, everything-but-the-garlic. I wished I’d brought my own towel and my own car, too. Left Georgia at home with Ed’s replacement.

A white rat ran under a lounge chair and toward the street. Corey yanked open her door, yelling because that rat had hopped out of Georgia’s purse, she’d seen it. My cousin hauled herself naked from the pool and dripped over to her bag, took out some dried fruit, and started tossing it in the water. Luring Ed away from things that could crush him.

Raisins floated everywhere, and I climbed out. In front of the No Glass Allowed in Pool Area sign stood the balcony man, staring, a bottle of Jack under his arm. And balanced in his hands were three Styrofoam cups of coffee though we’d said no.

Corey cursed at him, then at Georgia, but Ed was sniffing his way toward the pool. He jumped in, shot across, and seized a raisin. Corey grabbed the pool skimmer, aiming it like it could throw flames. I caught her arm, keeping it longer than I needed to—

“Come back to me, Ed,” called Georgia. “Come on back.” But Ed swam for the raisins, diving after all he could.


Kathryn McMahon is a queer, cross-genre writer who divides her time between the Puget Sound and southwest England. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Black Warrior Review, Hobart, Wigleaf, SmokeLong Quarterly, Booth, Passages North, The Cincinnati Review, Split Lip, PodCastle, and elsewhere. She is the 2018-19 winner of New Delta Review’s Ryan R. Gibbs Award for Flash Fiction. Find more of her writing at and follow her on Twitter at @katoscope.

Second Prize, January-March 2019


Kelly Wisdom

Followed by Author Bio

Surrealist Hellscape

Mondays are spaghetti with ground beef and Prego. If the can of shakeable parmesan is empty, the dad and the son get angry. They pelt the mom with spoons until she runs to the store for more. This month, the daughter is off carbohydrates, so she eats a bowl of meat sauce by itself. She doesn’t engage in any spoon-throwing, but she is glad for the parmesan when it comes and coats her meal with a thick layer of powdery white cheese dust.

Tuesdays the dad works late in preparation for his Wednesday morning meetings. The mom takes the son and the daughter to the happy food place, even though they haven’t really been into happy food for the past couple of years. The son finds that his friends are all there, though, so he drifts over to their booths, leaving the mom and the daughter to eat without him. When he and his buddies exit the building without saying goodbye, mostly what they feel is relief.

Wednesdays there is leftover spaghetti sauce but no noodles, so the daughter eats sauce again while everyone else has a burned grilled cheese sandwich, canned peaches, and potato chips. The daughter wants to read a book at the table, which would seem like a positive for her life as she’s been in her school’s lowest reading group for years, but the book is on her tablet and there’s a rule of no electronics at the table. The mother hangs onto her “no” even as her belief in it drains slowly out of her. The daughter angrily slops sauce down her chin onto her favorite scarf. As the meal goes on, she makes no effort to clean up, letting more and more sauce dribble with each bite until her front is a sodden red mess. The son laughs. The mom and dad crunch louder on chips to cover up the noise.

Thursdays the mother can’t leave her bedroom. She lies facedown on the carpet, sobbing, until the dad finally gives up and stops yelling. He makes four french bread pizzas in the microwave and lets everyone use their devices at the table. (The daughter avoids the bread, picks at the cheese and toppings.) The kids feel a little sorry for the mom, but this is the happiest night they’ve had all week.

Fridays are date nights. The mom and the dad dress up and go out to eat. They’ve been driving further away from the house each week, looking for someplace new. The new places they find turn out to be the same as all the old places, but they keep searching anyway. Now they drive all the way into the city only to get drive-thru sandwiches and eat them in the car. While they’re gone, the son takes all the snack bags up to his room and closes the door. On her own downstairs, the daughter eats cheese slices melted on a fresh white paper plate. One by one, she unwraps each slice, places it in the middle of the plate, and nukes it. With a fork she scrapes the cheese off the plate and into her mouth before it has a chance to harden and cool. She repeatedly burns her tongue and the roof of her mouth. When she discovers a bag of mini pepperonis, she arranges them on the cheese in the shape of a flower or a penis and then scrapes that down her throat, too.

No one speaks of food on Saturdays. The daughter begins her fast on Friday at midnight and does not break it until Sunday dawn. While everyone else huddles downstairs, chewing as silently as possible, she lies flat on her back on a hard bed, chanting the names of her middle school enemies in a voice gone hoarse and dry from want.

Sundays, the mom regains her will to live. After an hour of sweating out toxins at a spin class, she comes home to smilingly prepare a lavish brunch—French toast and bacon and creamy eggs and grits and crunchy potatoes and fruit and chilled mimosas for the grown-ups. The whole family sits at the special table in the dining room. They move forkfuls of food from the special plates into their mouths again and again until everything is gone and their minds are blank and the entire weekly routine is forgotten.

Tomorrow they won’t even mind when it starts right back over again with spaghetti.


Kelly Wisdom is a writer and community college English teacher in North Carolina, where she lives with her family. She holds an MFA in Children’s Literature from Hollins University and an MA in English from the University of North Carolina—Charlotte. Her writing has been featured in Atticus Review, Little Fiction, and Sanskrit.

THIRD Prize, January-March 2019

use-Van Kirk0818.jpg

John Van Kirk

Followed by Author Bio

Chikuzen Reproves his Sister

a letter from Black Dome Zenji


Dear Sister:

I have always marveled at the human urge to seduce the virtuous, disturb the calm, provoke the peaceful. What is the perverse pleasure we feel from achieving this? Is it that we find such people annoying because they remind us of our own failings? So it was with me, I believe, when as a young man I sought whenever I could to unsettle the settled, when I slipped acid into the punch bowl and sat back to watch what happened. But that is far behind me now, as you, dear sister, know better than anyone. Here on this mountain I have worked to purge myself of all that, have learned, or so I thought, to accept each day and what it brings with equanimity. My possessions, many of which I loved, I have given away. Even my authority as head monk I have let go, so that I can sit in my cabin and listen to the turning world. But you must come down from your Olympus sometimes, as you said when you visited me yesterday. You can’t just stay here all the time. And I told you, yes, I have to come down sometimes, must abandon my solitude and go down the hill to the shops once a week for my bread and coffee, my potatoes and rice. And I confessed to you how I love that walk through the woods and down the country road, how I look forward to it, though I try not to look forward to things, try still not to get attached to things, even that walk down the hill in the beautiful snow this time of year. But you have outwitted me, my dear, have caught me in my longing, have tipped me from my precarious equanimity. Once again I have allowed myself to be unsettled, as I look out through the frosty windows, bundle up in the warmest clothes I have, ready for my brisk walk in the bracing cold, and find that you have taken my winter boots, though how you slipped them out of here right under my nose I’ve no idea. So the walk will be colder, wetter, trudging through the snow in my heavy socks and summer sandals. It will be a new walk. I will feel it more intensely than other walks. For that I thank you.



John Van Kirk is the author of the novel Song for Chance (Red Hen Press). His short fiction has earned the O.Henry Award and the Iowa Review Fiction Prize and has been published in a variety of magazines and several anthologies. Recent publications can be found in Columbia Journal Online, *82 Review, Eclectica, and Chattahoochee Review.