Furious Fiction April 2021 winner and shortlist

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Every month a long queue of writers from all over the map throw their narrative hats into this three-ringed circus we call Furious Fiction, crossing their fingers, dropping their heads in prayer and hoping to get lucky.

These were the April criteria:

  • Your story must begin in some kind of queue.
  • Your story must include the words CROSS, DROP and LUCKY.
  • Your story must include a map.

 

Once more, nearly 1300 storytelling hopefuls stepped up (one at a time, no pushing please) to the challenge. There were lines for banks, lines at the supermarket and lines in the afterlife (a common one). There were queues of people, queued thoughts, queued items, queued cars – even the occasional “queue” hairstyle.

And right at the front of the queue, our winner for April was TJ Edwards – for his darkly humorous story, “A Job Well Done”. Quite the appropriate name, because this writing job just happened to yield TJ a tasty $500 cash. Well done!

You can read TJ’s story below, along with five other shortlisted stories from this month plus a longlist of entrants that made it to the final cut. If YOU entered this month, congrats on putting your creativity out there – regardless of whether you placed or not. If you had fun, you also won, and we hope to see you add to your story collection in May. Who knows, it could be YOU at the front of the line!


 

APRIL 2021 WINNER

A JOB WELL DONE by TJ Edwards, NSW

“You need a bag for those? It’d be fifteen cents, or a reusable one for a dollar.”

I glanced down to the items on the conveyor belt. Rope. Leather gloves. Tent pegs. Tarp. Mallet. Pliers. “Yeah, I’d better. Cheap one, please.”

The woman’s name tag read Kevin, a boisterous middle aged redhead, probably looking forward to her twenty years of service pin. Her eyes met mine. “Seventeen dollars, fifteen.” Her face lit up when she realised I was looking at the name. “Oh, funny story! My name’s not really—”

I tossed out a hundred dollar note and grabbed the bag. “Keep the change.”

The sliding doors opened to the parking lot and while I’d been inside, the night skies had opened. My car sat alone at the edge of the carpark. With my suit jacket as a makeshift umbrella, I made a run for it, cursing the whole way.

Brian’s wide eyes greeted me as I popped the trunk, the duct tape still firm across his lips; his hands and feet still bound. “Sorry for the wait. Chatty checkout chick.” I tossed the bag in and slammed it shut.

Around the rearview hung a cross, it wasn’t mine, just whoever’s car went missing tonight, but maybe God was with me. A police car slipped siren-less through the parking lot in the mirror and I gasped, not realising I’d held my breath. If I was lucky, Catholic Kathy may not have noticed her car missing.

The wipers couldn’t move fast enough in the unrelenting deluge and the lights could barely illuminate two feet in front of them as I exited the city. I squinted through the downpour until a sign drifted past like a phantom.

Lovitt’s Lookout.
Next Right.

The narrow gravel road led to a small picnic area with some dull lighting and I pulled into the parking spot on the hill opposite and pulled the map from my jacket pocket. It dripped as I tried to unfold it and I reached up to turn the light on inside the cabin.

Nothing.

Leave it to me to steal a car with a broken light.

I rushed from the car to the picnic area and held the map up to the light while deafening rain pounded the tin roof above me. Lines blurred this way and that, ink ran into other inks, landmarks became blobs, and words became utterly illegible. “Fecking hell, what a night.” I started back toward the car when I stopped dead in my tracks. The car was nowhere to be seen. A flash of light caught the corner of my eye and I turned just in time to see it drop straight off through the trees and over the edge of the lookout. I ran to the cliff and watched the car tumble deep into the thick woods, hundreds of meters below.

With a shrug, I called the only number in my phone. “It's done.”

What we loved:
A tidy, well-baked story goes a long way in flash fiction, and this is definitely an example of “a job well done”. Playing out like a black comedy, we were instantly hooked by the eclectic queue of items on the conveyor belt and the introduction of ‘Kevin’ the redheaded checkout chick. From there, the surprise and exposition-less scene of Brian in the boot keeps the pace and intrigue on a steady path right until the end, where the car, and hitman’s job come crashing down. This is a story that knows what it is from the first sentence and commits all the way – with a consistent tone that’s appropriately light-hearted and deadpan, dialogue that’s minimal and effectively placed exactly where it needs to create an impact, and ultimately an overall absurd scenario that delivers an enjoyable read from start to finish. We often get entries with unnecessary back stories, so the decision to keep ‘Kevin’ and Brian on the sidelines is a masterstroke.


 

SHORTLISTED

UNTITLED by M Blight, SA

It goes on forever. Ahead and trailing behind. The whole town trickling its way. I am surrounded. The heat, or something else, is stifling. My heart is heavy and screaming in my chest, my mind is clogged. They will find out.

The moon is full, unexpected. It shines its accusing spotlight through the windows. Silver daggers right through me. I tiptoe but you don't. You know the small child upstairs won't wake. I shake the thought of her from my mind.

The view outside finally shifts. The cars crawl around the corner and onto the long driveway. Slowly we come to another standstill, cruelly forcing me to halt at the imposing entrance. Two stone pillars hold court. Menacing gargoyles atop them cast their judgement. I look up at them and wait. With their cold, hard stares they disapprove.

The sheets are satin and black as the night. Cool against my warm back. Your breath quickens as your pulse intensifies. You trace circles of fire around my nipples. We don't know it yet but this night will end in our fiery embrace and burn us both to a culpable crisp.

I find an empty spot in the back and sit cramped with others. The whole town appears to be here and she holds centre stage. There are gentle nods, hugs, flowers, flowers and more flowers. After a while sobs hush into silence as the priest clears his throat.

My fingernails in your back. Your tongue in my mouth. I notice a turned-down picture frame on a cabinet. I shut my eyes tight. If we're lucky we will survive this.

One by one people recount feelings and stories. Kind, outgoing, loved. I cross my legs and spy a love bite on my inner thigh. I quickly cover it with my hand.

The kitchen now. You like the excitement. You lift me up onto the counter. A map of Paris stuck to the refrigerator. You promise to take me there one day. I know it's a lie.

There you are. In the front, with your young daughter. Your shoulders heave as you wail like a good husband should. I watch and can't tell if it is mourning or guilt that pours from your body.

As I'm putting on my heels you check your phone. Missed calls and messages. Fear erupts on your face as you listen to them. A winding road. Cliff edge. Sun glare. Critical condition.

Black sheets and whispered promises. It's all right, she won't find out. Kisses and moans. Pain and guilt.

I drop a single rose on the coffin. It hits the pile of flowers, rolls down and off, and lands on the floor.

What we liked:
This story is a great example of trusting the reader as it delivers a rewarding and satisfying experience in the metronomic way it switches back and forth between the past and present. What lifts this story is also its vivid descriptions and imagery – the blackness of the sheets and secrets within, the judgement of the moon, pillars and gargoyles in the harsh light of day. This story contains a simple idea and nameless characters who shine bright from the creative storytelling and authentic, raw details. It also uses short, stabbing sentences to great effect – helping to mirror the protagonist’s state of mind in both remembering the past and coping with the here and now. A compelling use of the medium.


 

SHORTLISTED

IT PASSES by Matt Goddard, UK

“I don’t believe it,” said Swarvy, the rotund axe-carrier who found himself at the head of the party. “There’s a dwarf jam.” The rest of the troupe stared ahead, some rising on thick ankles to peer over low shoulders, chain ropes of hammered gold chiming at their waists. Ahead, a thin crossing, stretched across the mountain top, all stony paths and crumbling wooden bridges. It wound through impossible stacks of stones, some tapered like stalagmites. Either side was a sheer drop of hard grey slate. An endless supply of shingle scuffed the sheared rock on its journey to a bottomless pit. But that didn’t deter the line. In the distance, they could see a willowy elf making slow progress down the queue, a light beech clipboard in hand.

“Well,” said Swarvy, his hands gripping his leather lapels like a leader, even as his feet scrabbled for a chip of stone that would give him the higher ground, “it is peak quest season.”

The other dwarves all murmured and nodded in agreement, some even removed their wool and iron helms in deference to the wise words. A quest worth doing was one worth waiting for. Whatever came, they’d be ready. They unwrapped their cloth-bound sandwich packs and settled down. They all knew the words: the Furnaces of the Wellspring weren’t lit in a day. So they thought, munching as they ruminated, the Mines of the Pit King weren’t going anywhere fast. “We're lucky,” they all thought.

Full stop. A few squiggles to the side, I drop the pen in its holder. As I look, the words shift as my mind switches fully to the loving weight on my chest. Light breathing, a soft gurgle I meet with the edge of an apron. A soft wipe of your lips with the cotton seam, careful of the ink on my fingers. It takes effort, the slow movement of a right hand pinned down. Supportive; a pillow and a guard. Then you yawn and stretch. I accept both, silently, and let them shudder down to my expanding chest.

In both my palms you’re easy to lift. One hand on the back of your head. I lay you in the cot. How long has it been? I can only tell from a clock that might as well hang around your neck. I feel that tick and tock more than my heart. On the desk, beside my notes and papers, is what used to be a map. I’d drawn it days ago, weeks? A blur of blots and scribbles. I’d tried to sketch the impossible, to spell out what I should do, to tell how this was going to go. To reassure. But everything was fiction. A fantasy. Impossible to predict. Now, I can’t even tell when I last looked at it, and I see the ink has faded. Unconditionally, I know we’ll make it through anything. I touch a hand to your face as you sleep. Your mum will be back today.

What we liked:
With a bold approach, this story takes a risk with genre that pays off – deceiving the reader with a humorous fairytale in its first half (a clever way to capture the judges’ attention?), before swiftly changing direction and finishing as a drama grounded firmly in reality. Combined with its title, the power lies in its ability to be interpreted in various ways – a struggling new parent coping by escaping into fantasy stories… A quest worth waiting for that mirrors the task at hand raising a newborn child. The desperate urge to plan it out on a map, knowing the unpredictability of life renders this futile. Like the author protagonist, the art is created and laid bare, allowing the audience to experience it in any way they choose. An excellent example of knowing the rules, and choosing to break them.


 

SHORTLISTED

LUCKY BREAK by Laura Jay, Vic

Black ants trail one another in single file hunting for morsels along the ridge of a filthy mattress. Ashby watches them with dull blue eyes, drawn back to a time when she was with Jojo lining up to get into the hottest club in London. One flirtatious look from Jojo, a peek of cleavage from her low cut pink sequinned top and the bouncer welcomed them in. The DJ was dropping a rhythm that had the two girls dragging each other to the floor, joining in with the gyrations of the strobe lighted crowd. Jojo had earlier declared Ashby had nothing suitable for clubbing and dressed her in borrowed clothes. She felt practically naked in the metallic crop top and too short skirt but at least her boots were okay. No way was she going to risk her neck balancing on the tall toothpicks Jojo calls sandals.

Ashby met Maddox that night. “Be careful with that one” Jojo warned her as Ashby was taken by the hand and led away from the bar. For Ashby though, the attraction was instant, like the spark of two soulmates meeting for the first time. Maddox was intoxicating, they quickly became inseparable, partying together constantly. Ashby was drawn into a world of fun and spontaneity unlike the rigidity of early life with overbearing parents. Showing promise on the piano, aged three, they had mapped out her young years of endless repetition of theory, scales and scores. The treasure chest for her pirate parents who stole her life led to a scholarship at London’s Royal Academy of Music. Ashby was bitter, nobody ever asked what she wanted.

With Maddox in her life, savings soon depleted, the hard earned scholarship revoked due to lack of attendance. A few remaining friends tried to help, but for Ashby there was only Maddox. There wasn’t a part of herself Ashby didn’t give to Maddox who ate away at her soul and rusted her moral compass. The demeaning acts she did would never have crossed her mind before coming to London. Once shapely manicured hands that danced over ivory keys, forced to do other things to sweaty men that desired her. The few who saw her as a person bothered to ask her name, she was “Lucky” to them, never Ashby. When enough money was earned, she was allowed back into the embrace of Maddox once more.

The ants have found a dying cockroach, coating it with their bodies like coconut on a truffle. Ashby looks on, unmoved for its fate. Distantly a siren blares, strobe lighting partially illuminates the room through haphazardly boarded up windows. Urgent footsteps approach softly.

“What have you taken love?” whispers someone as he lightly touches her wrist. He sighs when she doesn’t respond.

“No pulse on Jane Doe” he says to his partner holding the medic bag,“ten pounds says it’s another Maddox overdose”.

What we liked:
Where many chose to structure their entire story around a queue, this one immediately stood out for merely placing the line on the periphery of the piece. The narrative is framed largely through flashback, a clever manoeuvre given the protagonist is taking a final look at their life. Ashby’s experiences and downfall come to life through apt symbolism and well-crafted backstory – tumbling further and further into a life unlike the one she left behind. The clever misdirect of the ‘Maddox’ twist (a drug, not a person) provides the extra edge – prompting a reread and new appreciation of the language and descriptions used throughout. Clever, compelling and ultimately tragic storytelling.


 

SHORTLISTED

INHERITANCE by Meg Jackson, Kenya

Five.
I stand in the queue of dancers backstage. The warm air from their breath beats at my lips. I close them tight. I can feel my mother’s anxious eyes on me through the thick velvet curtain.
She is right to be anxious.
I freeze.
All those eyes watching from the dark.

Fifteen.
She is hospital-bound. There is nowhere safe to rest my gaze. Certainly not on her.
It is somehow both too dark and too bright to open my eyes.
Every surface reflects light. I absorb it all.
I am there/ not there.

She has drawn me a last picture. A treasure map she says.
I take it. Put it away. Look instead at my feet, my tools of trade.
She says she is chased by a tiger. I know this feeling. Curl my feet into pointes under her bed.
She is there/ not there.
Her ‘map’ goes into the box with the other broken things. I do not need more lists.
I am there/not there.

Twenty five.
Once I came upon her map in the dark and it leapt at me like a wild beast.
The rest of it you can read somewhere else.

Thirty five.
A man, a baby. I begin to understand. I think I have found the treasure.
Long nights of adoration.
This is love.
Then a cross marks the spot – we bury the treasure – and are alone.

Forty five.
The after-times.
For a while, I come alive. Anything is possible.
I think I might now at last take out her picture. Try to understand her.
I unfold it to the last set of creases.
Then the expectations bury me again.

Fifty five.
My mother’s tiger finds me.
Small things. A plate dropped and then another.
An oven left on, heat seeping out from underneath
I don’t mind.
I am lucky, I still have my baby.

Sixty five.
I like her. She is round and friendly and kind.
She looks a little like me.
It is time, she says, to go through things.
She reaches into the box and pulls out a piece of paper, many times folded.
I recognise it as one recognises an old enemy: from a distance, with a gut full of twisted snake hate.
She looks a long time.
“From Gra – your mother?” she asks. “Such talent.”
She passes it to me. The weight of the thing.
The beauty of it.
At this last moment, I look. It is not what I expected. Not a list of expectations.
It is a web, a forest. And the treasure at the centre is love.

Five.
I stand in a queue of dancers, on the edge of a stage.
My mother is waiting.

What we liked:
The lyrical prose and effective structure here creates an equally accessible and intriguing story – rich with metaphor and restrained language, allowing the reader to dig a little deeper into the heart of the story in every paragraph. In very few words we learn of the protagonist’s emotional state, maternal relationships, health challenges and biggest fears while leaving some details open to interpretation. Alongside, the criteria are deftly woven in, enhancing the flavour of the story rather than distracting from it. ‘Show, don’t tell’ is particularly executed to great effect. The bookended descriptions of a five-year-old ballerina is a fitting way to package this snapshot of a life that tells so much, in such few words. Another great example of a title that adds a new layer to the enjoyment of the piece, instead of merely parroting what is already there.


 

SHORTLISTED

UNTITLED by Sarah Fisher, Qld

Today is the day. I feel lucky.

The English in the crowd outside the St Paul’s cathedral are leading by example, morphing into the snake-like formation they are renowned for, and showing the other tourists how queueing is ‘done’.

Six microphoned tour guides stand in readiness at the doors – ready to allocate groups, remind patrons there is no photography, and most importantly … to invite patrons to take a map.

How many of us will fulfil our destinies today? I will, certainly. I’m the fifth map in the plastic brochure holder. Thankfully I’m not first. People rarely take the front one. Cecil’s been there for three weeks now.

I try to visualise my saviour and imagine my euphoria as they expand my quad folds to admire my glossy, pristine artwork. They’ll caress me gently as they run delicate fingers over the numbered attractions in my key. I’ll feel their sweet breath roll over me as they whisper excitedly about visiting the crypt – won’t it be amazing to see the Duke of Wellington’s sarcophagus!

I wonder how many tactiles will visit today. Those increasingly-rare humans who appreciate us physical maps. Curse those digital freaks with their phones and their tablets. I can’t deny though, that the spatially-challenged numpties who are compelled to constantly turn their device in 90 degrees increments so the map is facing the way they’re facing – and are thwarted by the wrong setting on their orientation lock feature – are incredibly entertaining.

Digital maps. They think they’re awesome. Just because they’re the “latest thing”. New doesn’t guarantee great though. They don’t realise that they miss the best things about being a map. Trapped behind a screen, what kind of life is that? They’ll never live a life on the high seas – embroiled in the bawdy, rum-soaked rants of pirates, treasure hunts … being impaled on tables with swords and cutlasses.

They’ll never be rolled and stored in dry, dusty attics and storerooms – forgotten for centuries and then extracted reverently from their slumber. They’ll never be block mounted and displayed in museums. They’ll never have criss-crossed sticky-tape surgery to reinforce overused folds.

Digital maps are soft. Pixelated pansies.

Though if I’m honest, with my three folds, I’m unlikely to experience those things either. I wish I’d been one of those big-arse road maps that folks used to take on road trips – even in spite of the violent folding incompetence that humans are famous for. Rolling is the safer and less painful option, but one is more useful with folds. More valuable.

And what of my fate?

Will I be plucked from the brochure holder and then shoved in a handbag? Will I be dropped on the floor, or discarded in a bin at the end of the tour? With any luck, I’ll make it into a scrapbook when my owner gets home, and I’ll be cherished into old age when they reflect on their holidays.

Well, here goes. I’m about to find out!

What we liked:
While most stories focused on the queue this month, this one decided that maps were far more interesting. And so, we get a creative POV that is introduced quickly and drives this compelling character piece, taking the reader through the twists and turns of the world of maps and their deepest desires, nostalgic ponderings and the anticipation to fulfil their life’s purpose (poor Cecil). The narrative voice is particularly strong, reminiscent of an elder shaking their head at the young-uns who are swept up in the digital age, lamenting that they’ll never experience the good ol’ days and golden age of maps. The piece is also peppered with dry humour and expertly evokes a great sense of empathy for these inanimate objects – an impressive feat when basing a story on non-human characters. Long live paper maps!


 

LONGLISTED ENTRANTS

There were a lot of lucky longlisters this month – representing the top 4% of all entries received and on the judges’ radar. Well done if you made this list – we could be publishing your story in full next time!

THIS MONTH’S LONGLISTED (in no particular order):

  • EDUCATIONAL BENEFITS by Lynette Minucos, NSW
  • FORGIVENESS AND WHATNOT by Ylva Ve, Sweden
  • IT'S EASY ON PAPER by Ward Nigel, QLD
  • 7 JULY 2005 by Ray Tilma, Netherlands
  • A NOTE FROM ME TO YOU by Wanaka, Belgium
  • INK by Megan H Lewis, VIC
  • A MAP AND COLOURED PENCILS by Stephen Mccarthy, NSW
  • POMP by Stephen Hickman, VIC
  • THE ANSWER GUY by Tom Eskdale, NSW
  • ROAD TRIP by Jen Hacker, NSW
  • THE MAKING OF AN A-HOLE by Natalie J E Potts, SA
  • RACHE by Shelley Stocken, NSW
  • THE MYSTERIOUS GIRL IN A BLUE HAT by Angela Dillon, NSW
  • THE SORT OF WOMAN WHO CALLS by Ruth Brandt, United Kingdom
  • UNSUNG HEROES by Keran Hutchinson, SA
  • DUALITY by Timothy Webb, United Kingdom
  • THE BEACH LOCATED WITHIN K34 by Christopher Hart, QLD
  • THE BUTTERFLY BUSH by Helen Auld, NSW
  • WHERE HEAVEN MEETS HELL by Sydney Brooks, United States
  • UNTITLED by Deborah Campbell, QLD
  • MONSTER by David Miles, QLD
  • ONE STEP by Amanda Maxwell, NSW
  • THREE GREEN LIGHTS by Rowan Bell, United Kingdom
  • A NEW ENGLAND VAMPIRE VISITS THE GROCERY by Mackenzie Hurlbert, United States
  • A SENSE OF GRAVITY by N.E. Rule, Canada
  • ZOMBIES by Fiona Mckay, Ireland
  • A MAN WALKS INTO A BANK… by James Kay, WA
  • WHO MANS PARADISE? by Charlie Rogers, United States
  • THE LIVE-AGAIN LOTTERY by Artie Kuyper, United States
  • FARE RISK by Mc Scott, United States
  • A BETTER PLACE by Helen Manias, QLD
  • UNTITLED by Nathan Bachman, United States
  • FREE FALL by Nina Miller, United States
  • DYING TO LIVE by Rhoda Hill, Canada
  • MIXED EMOTIONS by Vivienne Moles, United Kingdom
  • THE QUEUE by Kinneson Lalor, United Kingdom
  • ON BEING PUSHED DOWN A FLIGHT OF STAIRS by Gabriella Page, Italy
  • SO TOO, SHALL THIS PASS by Shaynie O'Neill, QLD
  • CLOSED by Kenzy Fahmy, Egypt
  • A PICTURE IS WORTH A THOUSAND WORDS by Lucinda Carney, Spain
  • WORLDS APART by Loueze Harper, VIC
  • MERGE LIKE A ZIP by Helen Yuretich, New Zealand
  • THE LEGACY by Barbara Smith, VIC
  • CHECKMATE by Belle, NSW
  • LINES DRAWN by Zarah Virtanen Windh, Sweden
  • UNTITLED by Susan Bennett, VIC
  • NUMBER'S UP by Jack Woolverton, United States
  • SETTING THE STORY STRAIGHT. THE BIRD IS THE HERO by Michelle Dickins, VIC
  • UNTITLED by Aggie Novak, United Kingdom
  • YOUR AVERAGE JOE by Teagan Howell, WA
  • THE RIBBON by Elissa Moss, ACT
  • THE WOMAN IN THE PINK HOODY by Dettra Rose, NSW
  • WORD ASSOCIATION by Chloe Steward, NSW
  • UNTITLED by James Antony, QLD
  • REALITY CHECK by Lilith Corvade, VIC
  • MAYBE NEXT MONTH by Tessa D'Alfonso, VIC
  • DELI DREAMING by Anna Winter, NSW
  • 2020, AUGUST by Ben Hogan, WA
  • OF QUEEN AND COLONY by Jake Bamford, WA 

 

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