This month, the Australian Writers’ Centre kicked off Furious Fiction – our brand new MONTHLY short story competition, challenging anyone on the planet (aged 17 or older) to deliver us a sub-500 word story in just one weekend! And the reward? A very tasty $500 in cash. (Please don’t eat the cash.)
(Hearing about all this for the first time? Go to the Furious Fiction homepage to learn more.)
The rules are simple enough. We give you some story parameters and you give us words. For this month’s maiden voyage, each story had to achieve the following:
- Have an opening sentence of exactly THREE words.
- Include the words “forty”, “flamboyant”, “fortune”, “flavour” and “furious” at some point in the story (plural forms – if they existed – were allowed).
- Involve the prop of a “feather” in some way.
From the hundreds of entries received, our judges read them all, compared notes and then re-read them, eventually arriving at this month’s shortlisted stories. And it’s congratulations to Dettra Rose whose story “Fill your Boots” was judged this month’s winner.
You can check out the winning story below, along with the other three shortlisted entries.
FILL YOUR BOOTS by Dettra Rose
Dear Broken Heart.
Drink vodka. Drop onto the sofa. Let tears fill up your boots. Pull the stuffing from a cushion. Shred it. Be furious. Tear down the soft sound of hope. Stare at the rug but don’t see it. Flick the TV on but don’t hear it.
Mantra the words … ‘There’s nothing left to lose. There’s nothing to lose.’ Cradle your hundred-ton bruise. Wear pyjamas and forget you have clothes. Open the fridge and stare into it. Peck at last night’s untouched food. Hate the coconut flavour.
Be alone. Whoever rings don’t answer the phone. Curl up your fists. Reach out and feel no one there. Talk to God in curses and prayers, think he won’t hear you and doesn’t care. Play the song that speaks out your sorrow. Put it on repeat.
Walk by water but don’t feel it move. Be a husk. Look at daylight but only see dusk. Spend forty bucks in a noisy bar, watching the others with flamboyant hearts. Hear the songs of a homeless man. Give him a small shiny fortune. Hug his wiry dog.
Buy an anorak – a hooded home. Live in it. Feel safe. Drag the weight of your heart around and fear the load won’t shift. Count the hours. The days. Walk in the park and look at the ground. Stoop. Pick it up. A proud silky feather.
Look to the sky. Look for a blue golden bird. Touch the soft spine with your fingertips and feel the wing it came from. See it as a sign – a defining line – a new mark of time. A symbol of flight. A crack in the sky of your long dark night.
Take the feather home and place it like a crown on your unmade bed. Pull the curtains. Open the window and let the soupy air out. Stare at the world and see it. Drop into the sofa. Let the new day you glimpse fill up your boots.
What we loved:
The compact style grabbed us immediately and manages to tell so much in so few words (327 to be exact). Seven short-burst, stacked stanzas, with excellent use of repetition and a real understanding for the stages that we go through. It reads as it should, like a “to do list” for a broken heart – hence why this format makes sense here. The ultimate “moving on” manifesto!
THE APARTMENT by Alicia Kacar
Forty… five… minutes. Alexandra glared at her watch and started the countdown. It felt like days since she pulled into the basement of the nameless apartment building, yet only moments had passed. She gazed intently at the shiny clock face, desperately willing the small hand forward, while secretly wishing time would stop.
Sickness swelled in her throat. She swallowed hard. In forty-five minutes she’d be free. She took the single black feather from her satin bag and twirled it between her fingers. Five minutes to the apartment. Thirty minutes inside. Five minutes back to her car. The extra five minutes were for her own sanity. The worst case scenario. She dared not imagine this nightmare might end even one minute early. She’d always been a practical person. And timely. For someone so measured, the uncertainty of her plight seemed sadly ironic.
The small hand edged forward. Forty-four minutes. She ran the feather slowly up her forearm, tracing the blue outline of her vein from wrist to elbow. In one swift movement, buoyed by the thought of freedom, she swiped the keys from the ignition, snatched her bag, and stuffed the feather into her skirt. She closed the car door and started towards the lift.
She punched in the code he’d sent her. Three, two, three, four. The lift lurched to a furious stop. The doors parted ominously, and she strode quickly but discreetly down the corridor – careful to stifle the click of her heels on the cold, concrete floor. She felt for the feather, as if for assurance, and knocked three times on the apartment door.
He was tall, slim and not unattractive. Certainly not the monster she’d envisaged. A mess of salt and pepper hair fell easily around his forehead, and the heady flavour of fresh cologne hung between them in the air. Cinnamon and sandalwood. The soothing combination seemed cruelly misplaced against the brashness of his shirt.
A flamboyant maze of pink, green and gold. Was it cotton or silk? Alexandra couldn’t tell. It reminded her of the hibiscus flowers that bloomed wildly around her childhood home, and was grossly unrestrained for what she considered a sombre meeting. She hesitated momentarily, hypnotised by the shirt. This was just business, she reminded herself. A professional exchange, which she’d approach with the same efficiency and detachment she applied in her job as a legal clerk.
What choice was there, anyway? Money was her only escape. While the sum she’d receive was hardly a fortune, it was enough. Enough for a one-way ticket and a few weeks’ rent. Enough to untangle the suffocating web of terror and deceit. Enough for Alexandra to survive.
Without speaking, she removed the feather from her waistband and touched it to his chest, lingering on a patch of bare skin peeking from the crest of his shirt. He backed into the apartment and she pulled the door shut behind them. Forty minutes. In forty minutes, it would all be over.
What we liked:
Universally, this was a story that grabbed us from the beginning and took us along for the ride. The tension and description was top-notch right through. A real ‘thriller’ style narrative, it felt quick to read yet was only just under 500.
HAND-SQUEEZED by Madeline Young
So much pink. It was sprayed across the room with the abandon of a cheesy horror flick.
The horror theme was only compounded by the baby shower cake, a pseudo-realistic cesarean monstrosity that looked like a scene from the movie Predator.
I slipped my flask from the pocket of my dress, tipping vodka into the hand-squeezed lemonade made by my Crazy Aunt Karen, whose flamboyant pink lipstick was starting to run in tiny estuaries from her lips.
Everyone had titles in my family. For instance, across the room was my Lesbian Cousin Celeste, who wasn’t really a lesbian, she was more fluid than that, but had brought home a girlfriend one Christmas, and forevermore she was Lesbian Cousin Celeste.
I was Poor Single Sophie. I was fortunate that it resulted in good alliteration.
“Soph, you have to play pin the feathers on the flamingo,” my mother said, her face scrunched with furious intent as she mingled, ensuring everyone had good time.
I gulped my drink, thankful that the vodka dulled the sour lemon flavour. I picked up a pink feather and jabbed it at the painted foam ball, somewhere in the vicinity of its heart.
My mother circled back around. “Go sit next to your Lesbian Cousin Celeste. I don’t want her to feel left out, you know, because she’s a lesbian.”
I didn’t feel like pointing that lesbians had babies all the time. I hadn’t had enough vodka for that conversation. I sat down beside Celeste, flashing her my flask. She held out her glass with a look of abject desperation.
My mother cleared her throat. “Hello everyone, thank you for coming to Grace’s baby shower.” Golden-child Grace a.k.a my younger sister. “We thought we might open some presents.”
Crazy Aunt Karen sat down beside me, her champagne flute so full she had to lap at it like a kitten.
I held back a wince every time Grace opened a present and pulled out tiny pink socks or a onesie.
Aunt Karen elbowed me in the ribs. “You better hurry up, Sophie, if you want to have kids before you’re forty.”
I sucked in air between my teeth as pain hit me. She didn’t know. No one knew. I wanted it that way. The only person who knew was Ricky, and he’d taken the knowledge with him in his battered black suitcase, leaving behind disappointment and a fortune in fertility clinic bills.
I pasted a painful smile on my face. “I can’t even look after a plant, let alone a baby.”
Grace opened my gift, a tiny porcelain carousel. A five year old relic that had sat on the top shelf of my wardrobe, the last vestige of a dream that could never happen. I forced myself to maintain the smile as Grace thanked me and moved onto the next item in the endless pile of tissue wrapped gifts.
I excused myself to go to the bathroom, to patch up my facade with tears, vodka and lemonade.
What we liked:
Within 500 words, Madeline blends laugh-out-loud comedy moments (Crazy Aunt Karen’s lip estuaries!) with the raw, private pain of fertility treatments. Some great characters in a very relatable scenario… oh, and great story name!
TRAINS WITH FEATHERS by C.H. Webb
It never ends. I watch as my friends get on the crowded train. They call for me, ask if I’m coming. My mother will be furious with me if I’m late, but crowded spaces riddle me with anxiety. I turn a white feather over in my hands. “I’ll catch the next one!” I call out. I know I won’t. I will have to catch this train eventually. The doors close on my friends, and I watch the train disappear into the tunnel. A flash of fire flares up just shy of forty seconds later. I catch my breath for the hundredth time that evening, dropping the feather, then turn to face the escalator. A young boy walks down the steps with his mother, proudly wearing a paper crown covered in glitter and feathers, presumably made at school. As they make their way onto the seating a bit beyond me, I watch the white feather fall from his hat. I pick it up and begin to twirl it in my hands. Stevie comes down the escalator, flamboyant and loud. His clothing is ostentatious and probably costs a small fortune; it’s one of the reasons I love him. His boyfriend, Paul, walks beside him, one arm draped cooly around Stevie. Eliza is behind them, nose in a book. She smiles quickly at me and pops the gum in her mouth. Peppermint flavour. I know, because I’ve asked her a hundred times.
The train pulls into the station with a deafening screech, breaking me out of my reverie. It’s already crowded, but still more people climb on. I watch as my friends get on that crowded train. They call for me, ask if I’m coming. I walk up and place the white feather in Stevie’s shirt pocket. “I’ll catch the next one!” I say, stepping back. I watch the train pull away from the platform and down the tunnel. Just shy of forty seconds later, the flash of fire flares up. I catch my breath for the hundred and first time. Slowly, I turn to face the escalator. The young boy and his mother come down, and walk past me to some seats. The white feather drops from the boys crown, and I pick it up. I have tried stopping my friends from getting on the train, I have tried preventing the trains departure. I even tried to leave the station, and opt for a different platform. All the stairs lead back to this place. I have tried everything I can think of. A hundred and one times. Eventually, I know I will have to board the train myself. You cannot outrun fate. But as I watch my friends board the train, as I see the little boy follow his mother faithfully onto the metal contraption, a fear fills me. In forty seconds, I will be dead. For now, I play the game, over and over and over. It never ends. And it won’t ever end. Not until I board the train.
What we liked:
This entry stood out in its daring to tell a story in a different way. What we get is a near-claustrophobic stream of consciousness that doesn’t want to give you paragraph breaks because that would mean sweet relief from this sickeningly intense cross between ‘Sliding Doors' and ‘Groundhog Day'.
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