This month’s Furious Fiction continued to break records, with almost 1400 entries received across the weekend! The theme was a little different too, as we got all descriptive. The August criteria were:
- Each story had to include, word for word, ALL of the following SIX descriptions:
COLD AND GREASY
SCRATCHED AND WEATHER-WORN
SWEET AND PUNGENT
- One of these six descriptions had to appear in the first sentence of each story.
Finding things to attach those adjectives to became the number one order of business, and we had many ink-stained writers, shiny, silver jewellery and shrill, piercing screams! But ultimately, there had to be one winner, and the five hundy in cold, hard, shiny, sweet, pungent cash this month went to Helena of Queensland, Australia.
You can read Helena’s story below, as well as a selection of other shortlisted stories and a further longlist of entrants whose stories were in the running. Well done to everyone who entered – we hope to see your work again next month!
AUGUST 2019 WINNER
SELECTIVE MEMORY by Helena
His aftershave was sweet and pungent and he talked too fast. She regretted telling him her name. He used it liberally, as annoying salespeople often do. His badge, and his introduction, told her he was called Joe.
“The truth is, Marjorie, this device will change your life.”
She stared out into the mall, where other shoppers hurried past. People who were smart enough not to be cornered and coerced by a fast talking, booth-based salesman. Or were they? On closer inspection, her chair was scratched and weather-worn. She was hardly the first shopper to be given this pitch.
“You see, Marjorie, this shiny, silver circle can triple your memory storage. Not double. Triple! Can you believe that?”
Marjorie shook her head at Joe in feigned disbelief, while looking covertly for an escape route.
“Special occasions, family gatherings, childhood memories, you can store it all. Once the transfer is complete, access is completely wireless. It’s that easy.”
The mall was tropical and open-air, with warm sunshine flooding between palm trees and the faint scent of hibiscus and coconut oil. Marjorie willed herself to get up and walk back out there.
“You will be amazed at how much space you have after our simple procedure.”
Marjorie smiled, but inside she despaired. The problem was that Marjorie had always been a people-pleaser. She found it impossible to say ‘No’. She had been suckered into so many impromptu purchases over the years, her house was overflowing. From kitchen whiz gizmos to fitness, work-out gadgets, to every variety of bubble bath, moisturiser, miracle shampoo and superfood; Marjorie had bought it all.
“Would you like to try a free sample?”
She nodded, helplessly. Joe placed a small, silver disk on her forehead. The metal was cold and greasy against her skin. He tapped authoritatively on his tablet.
Marjorie’s vision flickered. Slowly the world darkened; took on a smoky, sepia hue, like peering through ink-stained paper. Memories flashed in front of her eyes.
“I’m storing part of your childhood.”
The device hummed. Marjorie felt unease fluttering in her stomach. Memories blazed past, faster than she could comprehend. Her childhood was being pulled from her, sucked into the small, silver circle. She could hear her mother’s shrill, piercing voice, admonishing her over and over.
“Manners Marjorie! Posture Marjorie! Oh honestly, Marjorie!”
She squinted her eyes closed, against the barrage. Then, all at once, there was silence in her head. The voice that had been her constant companion, and critic, was gone.
Joe removed the small disc, beaming down at her.
“How does that feel, Marjorie? Pretty roomy, right?”
A small light flashed on the side of the disc.
“That means your memories are safely stored. I can transfer them back, or wrap this for you to take-away. Will that be cash or credit, Marjorie?”
Marjorie took a deep breath, stood up, and flicked her hair back over her shoulders.
“Actually, you know what? I’m not interested. Joe.”
She smiled with newfound confidence, and strode out into the sunshine.
What we loved:
With an immediately relatable setting and all-too familiar one-sided exchange dominating proceedings, we are quickly drawn in to great one-way dialogue as Marjorie remains trapped in this salesman’s enclosure. But uninterested resignation quickly becomes a life-long lightbulb moment as the free sample sets Marjorie free at last. This story’s deceptively simple set-up lands delightfully with its inventive twist. We are indeed the product of our childhoods!
IN A RUSTY SONG by Jacqueline Trott
It was a cold and greasy sky that pressed low above my head on the day that you left me, when winter slid its fingers under my porch door. You had left the front gate swinging open in a rusty song, and all signs of you had been packed up and were gone.
I had been noticing the paddock dam meeting with the clouds more often, holding hushed conversations about you in mirrored grey. I had heard the trees rattling their bones through the night, warning me, as they shook off their leaves. The mountains around the town breathed your departure in misty messages, and the bare fingered branches knitted them into blankets to lay over church and field. Still, I hoped you would stay a little longer.
The shrill, piercing cry of the butcher bird told me that since you had decided to leave, the sun would stay hunched near her horizon. Without you, she was not wanted anymore and her magical-coloured afternoons were to be cast aside and forgotten. The last of the crickets announced at dusk that the ink-stained blotches of evening would creep across my fence in keenness from now on. Since you've been gone, the spiders have started threading shiny, silver silks of the harvest-moon into their webs, under blinking baubles of stars frozen into the night sky.
My house creaks your absence. The wooden boards feel cold and hard under my feet without your warmth to bounce them. They aged overnight, showing scratched and weather-worn faces lined with worry. It wasn't long ago that they used to be glossed daily by tiny feet running out to paddle in summer joys. Those memories have faded without you here. The sweet and pungent smell that you would bring inside- wafts of leaves crunched underfoot and ripened pumpkins ready to be cooked- has all but disappeared. It has been replaced now by a musty blue-grey that hides in the corners of the ceiling.
You will always be the season of my heart, Autumn in the country, but your colours have been swept away by the bracing-brisk blown by southerly winds. I wanted you to stay, to fill my pockets with blackberry and radish and rosy- cheeked apples. But I knew you were finally on your way that day… when winter slid its fingers under my porch door, and you left the front gate swinging open in a rusty song.
What we liked:
Bookended by a first and final sentence that are as solid as a rock, this story uses strong imagery to depict loss in a beautiful, poignant way. Here it’s all about the little details – weaving in the descriptive criteria seamlessly to create a truly satisfying read. A well-balanced, evocative story, with an apt title that is punctuated throughout, this is a masterclass in detail and description.
SCHRODINGER’S CAFE by Michael McMaster
She is, of course, late and my long-forgotten meal is cold and greasy. New customers, ducking in to shelter from the rain, ring the bell as they open the door, and every time I look up with a little less enthusiasm.
I want her here. Need her here. Hope that she doesn’t come. There is a conversation lurking for when she does walk in. Mapped out by the ink-stained letter in my pocket; a conversation that will be as sharp as the shiny, silver biopsy needle that has pinned me here, now, waiting.
This is a moment that I can stretch out for as long as she is not here. Until she arrives, I can plan a weekend away together, a summer of intimate holidays and invigorating sunshine and I can look further to a home, a family and growing old, scratched and weather-worn together. That’s a bright, comfortable path, its scenes and flavours as sweet and pungent as the aromatic herbal tea I know she will order when she arrives.
Of course, trying to focus on this story is more effort than I have the energy for, and the alternative crowds in to block the view. Rooms with disinfectant smells, charts with incomprehensible words and always pills and tablets, served by faceless white coats who show so much care as they feed me poisons. Assignations with smooth, sterile machines that engulf me and pour invisible energies into my body, burning and twisting tissues that I can’t see. I search every scene to catch a glimpse of her. Is she with me, waiting outside the treatment rooms? Holding the glass of water? Cleaning my face and holding my hand when the spasms reject the meager meal she prepared? But she gets harder to spot each time, more distant, more scenes without any sign of her, and eventually she is gone.
Better to hold on to this present moment. The rain on the café window, the shrill, piercing whistle of a kettle boiling water for tea, cubes of sugar in the bowl on my table. These are real. These are now. I stare down at the bowl and try to count the individual grains of sugar in a cube. One. Two. Slowly tracing along the edge of a single white, fragile cube to pick out each crystal, cubes themselves, smaller than sand. Five. Six. The focus, the concentration needed to identify each grain holds me here, at this table, in this café, now. Keeps me safe from both imminent futures. If I don’t think about them, don’t look at them, then neither exists and both exist and only by not looking can I stay safe in this now. Nine. Ten. Eleven.
The door opens, the bell chimes and she walks in. And as she sits down in front of me the superposition collapses and the futures come inescapably rushing in to join us at the table.
“So” she smiles, “what is it you want to talk about?”
What we liked:
We know immediately the kind of scenario we’ve arrived into. This is followed by three perfectly relatable sentences to begin the second paragraph and a wonderful merging of reality and imagined futures all colliding. Restrained throughout, we feel like we’re right there at the next table on this rainy day. Excellent use of the descriptions, it’s like a cafe version of Waiting for Godot – where the build up is as intriguing as the answer to her final question. Great title!
THE STORY TREE by Andrew Allsop
A scratched and weather-worn tree stands tall on his patch of grass lining the shops and cafes of his hometown. With the wind’s help, his branches sway towards the window of his beloved bookshop. He listens.
On afternoons when the window is open, the tree leans close so that he can hear stories being told. A woman with a lively voice tells them at the same time each day. After school, children flock to their favourite storyteller. They gather around her, chattering and chuckling until she opens her book. Silence. She reads.
At story time, the tree is transported from his town to faraway lands. Words carry him, roots and all, to places a tree cannot go. His branches become wings, climbing to the clouds as a shiny, silver dragon. His trunk becomes legs, trekking on trails of adventure up snow-capped mountains. His leaves become gills, breathing the ocean with unknown, unseen creatures of the deep.
Books feed the tree with goodness and badness and happiness and sadness, nourishing him with something not found in sunbeams or raindrops. Birds and bees are drawn to the sweet and pungent flavour of his flowers over any other tree in town.
When winter comes, the bookshop window remains closed, and the tree cannot hear any stories. All he can see is the storyteller’s mouth moving, her arms flapping. His branches sag. His leaves fall.
When spring arrives, the window opens again. If not for his roots, the tree would jump for joy. Stories breathe life and colour back into his branches.
Seasons come and go, along with years. Children come and go, too. The tree remains, looking forward to his daily ritual more and more as time passes.
One autumn day, the story is interrupted by a shrill, piercing noise. The woman’s words are muffled by a BRUM-BRUM-BRRRRRRR, thump.
The noise continues the next day, getting closer and louder. It is coming from something hidden behind the other tall trees that line the road. It ruins another good story, drowning out every word with its BRUM-BRUM-BRRRRRRR, thump.
On the following day, the tree can finally see the noisemaker. A man is holding it, a sword with a thousand mechanical teeth. The teeth are angry and hungry, biting into wood, BRUM-BRUM-BRRRRRRR, thump. Progress has come to town, but it is worse than any monster in any book. Trees fall to the earth, thump.
It is the tree’s time to fall. He looks through the window of the bookshop one last time. Dew drips from his cold and greasy leaves. BRUM-BRUM-BRRRRRRR, thump.
After a long sleep, the tree stirs. But he is no longer a tree. He is a book. His trunk and his branches are now ink-stained pages, alive with words. He sits with pride and anticipation on the bookshelf. The woman reaches for him. The children gather around her, chattering and chuckling. She opens the book. Silence. She reads.
What we liked:
A celebration of storytelling, we enjoyed the unique POV this one presented us with and how it made us buy into the rather lovely idea of the tree being nourished by listening to books being read out loud. Things took a dark turn, but the ending brought things full circle rather nicely (although we’re still mourning the loss of all those trees!). A simply told story that delivers its message in an inventive way – would make a great picture book!
YOU HAD ME AT… by Kylie Fennell
‘Sweet and pungent,’ he says with authority before sloshing the wine around his mouth. In fervent concentration, his eyebrows dart around like hungry caterpillars trying to escape. ‘Be free little guys,’ I think to myself, ‘Save yourself’. Or did I say it out loud? It was hard to tell. Unlike my sipping and swilling date, I prefer the gulp and guzzle school of wine-tasting.
I down my glass. The disapproving look he casts me is reminiscent of being summoned to the school principal’s office. Was he a school principal? I can’t recall, but a review of his heavily slicked-back hair, his blue Wall Street shirt with white collar and shiny, silver cufflinks, confirms that he’s a professional twat.
After dating a string of kale-eating, teetotalling, wannabe ninja warriors, I’d been attracted to the part of his profile that said he enjoyed a good wine.
He suggested wine tasting for our first date, bringing me along to his wine appreciation club, which is nowhere near as much fun as it sounds. It involves hours of painstakingly detailed analysis of wines with little of the ‘enjoyment’ you’d expect from drinking said wine.
As I procure myself another glass of wine he excuses himself to go to the bathroom.
‘Cold and greasy with a bitter aftertaste.’ I’m startled by the deep voice behind me.
I spin around to be greeted by a jeans and T-shirt wearing man who could easily pass as a Hemsworth brother.
‘Sorry? Which wine are you describing.’
‘I’m describing your date.’
I choke on my wine.
He flashes a dimpled grin. ‘I don’t know crap about wine…or more accurately, I don’t give a crap, as long as it tastes all right. So I’m describing the wine club members instead.’
I can’t resist a smile.
‘Why don’t you try?’ He indicates his date, a petite woman gesticulating and loudly disagreeing with one of her fellow members about something to do with tannins.
‘Okay then. Light-bodied and acidic with a shrill, piercing finish.’
‘Ohhh, that’s harsh.’
I’m about to apologise when he laughs. ‘No that was a good one. Go again.’ He looks in the direction of an older man whose tanned face speaks to a lifetime working outside. His navy blazer appears to be covered in white cat hair.
‘A great vintage, but a little scratched and weather-worn.’
He counters by describing a man, wearing a tweed jacket with elbow patches and an ink-stained tartan tie, as ‘crisp and dry with nutty undertones’.
We succumb to a fit of giggles ignoring the collective shushing and stares from around the room. Eventually, we recover. ‘We’re going straight to hell,’ I say.
‘I thought we were already there. Say, do you want to get out of here?’
He raises a questioning brow.
‘On your description of me.’
He strokes his chin in mock thought.
‘Unapologetically complex and exuberant with just the right amount of spice.’ His eyes twinkle. ‘Did I pass?’
‘You had me at cold and greasy.’
What we liked:
This first date isn’t going particularly well, but it does gift us with a hilarious hungry caterpillar opening that pulls us in to this wry wine club ‘meet cute’. Using the required descriptions in this setting proves a genius move, as our protagonist and new friend proceed to summarise the room in wine-label fashion. While most stories chose to occupy more serious themes this month, this stood out for its fruity hints of humour and feel-good aftertaste.
TO DO LIST by Ben Ashley
The shrill, piercing scream abruptly became a soft gurgle as her blade slid neatly through his trachea.
“Ick!” she exclaimed, as blood cascaded outwards. She held her victim awkwardly at arm's length as he crumpled lifelessly to the floor, careful not to spoil her clothes.
“Honestly,” she said. “I just had these laundered.”
Her response came in the form of air weakly escaping what was left of a throat.
“Yes, yes,” she muttered, and grabbed the dying man by his long, cold and greasy hair. She began to drag him along the floor. “You’re really quite filthy.”
The corpse did not respond.
She opened the sliding wardrobe and unceremoniously crammed the man inside. He looked like a sweaty, pink, overcooked prawn. She almost giggled.
Still clutching the knife, the immaculately dressed woman wiped the blade on the dead man’s trousers until it gleamed shiny, silver in the white room light. She attempted to close the wardrobe door, but it caught on his outstretched shoe. Frowning, she slammed it repeatedly until the man’s ankle broke inwards and it clicked shut.
“So noisy,” she scolded.
Returning the knife to its well-concealed wrap around her thigh, she removed a small scratched and weather-worn journal from her jacket pocket. She took a pen and slowly crossed out the second last line, drawing a tiny sad face next to it.
“We’re almost there,” she said.
The woman moved deftly, but was largely unconcerned. Occasional screams were not uncommon in this sad excuse for a hotel. Her final target was in 312, two floors above. After glancing at her reflection to make sure there were no untoward stains, she made her way down the corridor to the elevator, humming to herself. They would be proud of her, she knew.
With a ding, the doors opened, and a young man inside flashed her a smile. His cheap cologne poured out of the space, an overbearingly sweet and pungent odour that made her want to vomit. Her hand drifted absentmindedly towards her thigh.
“Going up?” he asked cheerfully.
“Blergh,” she replied, dry retching. She pressed the button for the third floor. The man fell silent and stared directly ahead.
“Mustn’t be distracted,” she said to herself as she left the elevator and the confused man. Her focus remained on room 312. Then she could go home and take a long shower. This dirty work did not agree with her, but she had to finish what they started. She was determined.
There. 312. She steeled herself and tried the handle. A bad feeling rose in her chest. It was unlocked.
“Room service,” she declared, barging in. The gruesome scene that met her made her head spin.
Her last chance at closure was splayed across the bed, face down. The back of his head closely resembled a dropped watermelon. Dried blood pooled black across rippled sheets, heavy blots like ink-stained paper.
“For heaven’s sake,” said the woman, her face pale. “No. No, no, no.”
She had been so close.
What we liked:
Anyone who has seen Killing Eve may recognise a similar casual manner of our female hitwoman here. She’s on a mission and the contrasting first two paragraphs set the tone well. With good pacing and use of the required adjectives, this story also gave us one of our favourite lines this month: The corpse did not respond. Definitely at the ink-stained end of black comedy, an oddly refreshing take on the many murders we received this month!
UNTITLED by Laura Snow
The doctor squirts cold and greasy gel onto my belly. My jeans are pulled down, just a little. My shirt pulled up, just enough. The ultrasound probe begins a silent search. I follow the progress on the small eighties’-grey screen. I hope we find you quickly. I pray we don’t find you at all. Around the blinking cursor I swim, paddle underneath the letters that spell my name. I deep dive into the blackness, I don’t emerge until my chest hurts and I’m grey. The doctor paces the sand looking outward. He signals me to the shore by calling.
I submerge again and see your heart beating on the screen. In those beats you are seeking, in the pauses between I lie.
You’re parading up and down the house trying on my shoes. You’re laughing in the mirror, red lipstick on your teeth. You’re jumping on the trampoline, calling “look Mum, look how high I can jump! Look Mum, look what I could be”.
The doctor returns the probe to its cradle. He hands me a cloth that sighs as I wield it, use to wipe away. The cloth falls from my fingers and I tuck you back into bed. I’m making you false promises already. I have already gifted you to fear. I wasn’t supposed to see you. But then you were not supposed to be. But I do see you, my scratchy little peanut. I see you, far beyond the screen. Your heart beats furiously, you’re already angry with me.
The theatre dances around me. Coats and masks humming a synchronised tune. Open Laura. Open up to death. The shiny, silver instruments of war click and clatter as they are brought to life. There is a cold sensation spreading down my arm, a fuzzy feeling in my head. The sweet and pungent taste of sick burning my tongue. My eyes are closing. The light is leaving. A gloved hand reaches out to claim only me. I am tethered to life while you float away. I imagine the shrill, piercing sound of you bursting into death and I am so sorry. “Laura. Laura.” A nurse croons in the recovery ward and I dance obligingly for her, opening my eyes, repeating my name. I’m a snake weaving around her fingers as she sings me a lullaby of tea and sandwiches.
At home I hold ink-stained sheets against my breast. The blotches of sin still wet. I’ll bring you back into this world. I’ll write you alive. Scratched and weather-worn I bleed into the pages, until my eyes run dry. I mix a liquid remedy to trace the contour of your pain. That’s all I can give you, never a name.
What we liked:
An emotive and haunting piece deftly narrated and using symbolism to great effect. We swim alongside Laura throughout her ride to the ultimate ink-stained end. An intimate story, but one shared by so many – and we appreciated it more with each re-read. The choice of words, including the rhyming final sentence, powerfully brings this story home.
Congratulations also to the following entrants whose stories were in the top 2% this month. To you – and all others who entered – keep it up! You never know when the storytelling stars will align…
AUGUST 2019 LONGLISTED (in no particular order):
- HOME by Tamra Palmer
- UNTITLED by Lucy Lemon
- AS LONG AS YOU WANT by Sean Elliott
- STILL LIFE by Caylee Tierney
- MARRAKECH DREAMING by Michael Vimal du Monteil
- UNTITLED by Elizabeth Kollias
- DEAR KEVIN by Zoe Gross
- ALICE IN WONDERLAND AGAIN by Krusha Sahjwani Malkani
- THE CUSTOMER by Jessica Over
- ULTRAVIOLENCE by Kate Hulbert
- SHIRLL PIERCING by Dean McCallister
- UNTITLED by Emily Scott
- THE MONSTER IN MY DRAWER by Yuliia Vereta
- A WORKER’S DUTY by J.D. Donne
- THE SENTINEL by Marion Langford
- THE INHERITANCE by Elizabeth Coby
- ‘TWAS THE NIGHT BEFORE by Nikki Blakely
- A DAY AT THE MARKETS by Latesha Randall
- UNTITLED by S.D. Scott
- SOFA WITH A PURPOSE by Rochelle Smith
- THE PICNIC by J.J. Andrews
- IRONY by Claire Austin