Furious Fiction: February 2024 Story Showcase

Welcome to February’s Furious Fiction story showcase – our monthly champagne-popping, popcorn-munching celebration of creativity! Here were the criteria/prompts that we asked for this month:

  • Each story’s first sentence had to include something being POPPED. 
  • Each story had to include a character referencing a FILM title.
  • Each story had to include the words LEAP, BOTTLE and SHADOW. (Longer variations were okay if original spelling was retained.)

And ‘pop’ – let there be lightbulbs, as hundreds of story ideas presented a variety of scenarios and of course, a variety of film titles. Favourites were ‘Groundhog Day’, ‘Back to the Future’, ‘Aladdin’ and ‘Psycho’ (and hundreds more!) – with some stories even deciding to cram as MANY movie titles and references as possible! Along the way, we saw leaps of faith, leaps to conclusions, leap years and frog leaps. Messages in bottles, bubbles in bottles, water bottles and liquor bottles of all shapes and sizes. A lot of pets named ‘Shadow’ along with figurative and literal shadows too. All in all, a WIDE range of stories – as the showcase will illustrate.


In flash fiction, it’s all about opening with a BANG – but this month, we thought that starting with a “POP” would take you to far more places. And wow, you did not disappoint! Here are just some of the creative things that were popped in the stories we received:

  • Body parts! Including heads, shoulders, knees and toes (knees and toes). Along with ears, eyes, knuckles and teeth! (Oh, and entire weasels.)
  • Champagne! Any opportunity to celebrate something was explored – from weddings and birthdays to untimely deaths – it was all fair game and we were frothing for it.
  • Balloons! Children’s parties featured heavily, as did a plethora of other celebrations – from retirement parties to 70th wedding anniversaries. And a very 21st century celebration – the gender reveal party!
  • Cherries! Yes, popping the cherry was also pop-ular, described in a variety of ways!
  • Clogs! Death turned up in a number of opening sentences this month, usually accompanied by clogs. Americans take note – to ‘pop your clogs’ is like kicking the bucket!
  • Guns! Often related to the previous point, we saw everything from assassins to kids with cap-guns. 
  • Questions! Ahhh yes, we were quite literally ‘asking for it’ weren’t we? And you answered, with dozens of marriage proposals gone right, wrong or somewhere in the middle. (We end with a fun one below.)
  • Bubble wrap! From the utilitarian to the alarmingly seductive (you know who you are), this ASMR-ish of all packaging featured heavily, and we couldn’t help but be wrapped up in it!
  • Rice bubbles! Snap, crackle… you know the rest. Breakfast cereals definitely popped up milking it more than usual this month and a certain slogan is most definitely to blame.
  • Pimples! Oh my. Wow. The number of stories that opened with mirrors being splattered with pus was truly a sight to behold. Just like those faces, we’re still a little scarred.
  • Buttons! A lot of large (or exploding!) bellies and chests sent buttons popping in a cacophony of wardrobe malfunctions that most certainly pushed our buttons.
  • And of course, popcorn! From stovetops to microwaves to those big fancy machines you see in cinemas, we saw it all – and the reasons to be dining on this salty treat were as varied as the storylines. 

On that note, grab your own popcorn and settle in to enjoy the show(case). We’ll be starting with our top pick of the month, followed by our showcase shortlist and longlisted stories. And as always, to ALL WHO ENTERED – congrats, you’re all “pop” stars and we hope to see you popping the cork on your creativity again next month!



The genie popped out of the beer bottle, spitting obscenities like bullets. He was a little man and wore an Akubra hat, RM Williams boots, faded jeans and a flannelette shirt. He swore, rubbed his lower back and groaned. ‘Give us a minute, mate, been in there 10 years.’

My eyes burned from the smoke and I looked stupidly at the bottle in my hand. ‘You were in a beer bottle.’

‘So?’ he asked. I thought I saw something dark and shadowy in his eyes.

‘I didn’t know genies lived in beer bottles.’

‘Not too many Arabian oil lamps around here, mate!’ He stood straighter but still had to look up at me.

‘You don’t look like a genie.’

‘And you’re no Aladdin, yet here we are.’ He rubbed his hands together. ‘Let’s talk about your two wishes.’

‘Two wishes? I thought there were three!’

‘Haven’t you heard of inflation? The cost of living crisis? You get two wishes these days and that’s a bargain!’

I took a deep breath. ‘I wish for….’

The genie held up his hand. ‘I’ll stop you there, mate. First, I have to read you the genie wish policy.’ There was another flash and smoke again filled the old cellar. When it cleared, I saw the genie was holding a scroll. He took a pair of glasses from his shirt pocket and perched them on the end of his nose. ‘This is being recorded by the way. For training purposes.’


‘You have two wishes. I strongly suggest you use them wisely. However, any advice I give you is of a general nature and does not take into account your personal circumstances.’

‘I don’t want financial advice. I want to be rich! So rich I can do whatever I want for the rest of my life!’

The genie leaned forward, a little too eagerly. ‘Is that a wish?’

I opened my mouth to say ‘yes’ and something stopped me. ‘No, I need to think.’

The genie swore. ‘You want to be wealthy, yes? You want to buy cars and houses and diamonds? Just say it. I wish to be wealthy. It’s not that hard!’

I smiled. ‘I wish for wealth and a long life.’

‘That’s two wishes.’

I nodded. ‘I don’t want you making me rich and I drop dead two seconds later.’

The genie laughed. ‘You’re clever, mate, but not clever enough.’

‘What do you mean?’ I started to feel lightheaded, as if I’d drunk too much alcohol. Even though it was only midafternoon, the light was fading.

The last thing I remember was the genie leaping at me and then I woke up in the beer bottle. I panicked, pounding on the glass. From what sounded like a long distance away, I heard the genie say, ‘Genies are wealthy. We just don’t get to spend our wealth. The good news is we do have a very long life. Enjoy yours, mate.’


Humour and dialogue – two things that are notoriously tricky to get right. But here we have an example of nailing them both. We had a number of ‘genie in a bottle’ (thanks Christina Aguilera?) stories this month, but there was something charming and disarming about the topical yet atypical interplay between our two characters here – each trying to stay ahead of the other. Nothing is sacred as the back-and-forth hits its comedic straps and we are happy to enjoy the ride right until the final fate is revealed. The result is a story that is not afraid to shake up the bottle for a lot of bonza fizzy fun!


I give my tooth a wiggle with my tongue, and it pops out just like that. I’m lucky I didn’t swallow it to be honest. It’s been loose for a week now, the last person in my class to reach the first-tooth milestone.

There’s blood on my finger when I hold it up for Pop to see. I stay with him on weekends while Mum works. She rolls her eyes when I tell her he really believes in fairies and magic, so now I just keep this to myself. Pop even built a fairy path down to a tiny bottle-green house he built in the overgrown laneway beside his apartment. Fairies live there when we aren’t watching. When I’m with Pop, I believe in magic too.

Pop props his glasses at the end of his nose and peers down at my tooth. A real beauty, he says. Let me wash it for you.

I drop it into his big hand, and it falls into one of the cracks on his palm. I explore the new gap in my mouth with my tongue and it tastes like blood. It makes me a bit woozy to be honest, but I don’t want to worry Pop, so I don’t say anything. Just what the tooth fairy is looking for, he says inspecting it with his magnifying glass. Put it in a glass of water next to your bed tonight.

I’m determined to stay awake so I can see if the tooth fairy is real, but I fall asleep. When I wake up, it’s still dark and I need to pee. Then I remember to look and the glass with my tooth is gone. She left me two gold coins. My heart beats faster and I wonder what Mum would say. It might be one of those things I need to keep to myself.

I tiptoe out to the bathroom and hear Pop snoring. I peep into his room and nearly fall over. He has not one but a whole set of teeth in a glass. The tooth fairy must have missed him. Or maybe she can’t carry that many. I stay up and worry, would hate to see Pop sad. I keep awake this time, sit in the shadows and keep watch.

It lightens and Pop’s teeth still sit there. I don’t know what to do. I creep back into my room but don’t have any money, except for my Tooth Fairy coins.

I remember my Peter Pan book. I bought it after I watched the movie on TV and it’s my favourite. I hesitate then tear out the picture of Tinkerbell. It will have to do. I tiptoe into Pop’s room. He moves.

I hold my breath.

He starts snoring again.

I place Tinkerbell next to him and take the glass. I run to the rubbish chute, throw Pop’s teeth in, hurry back, leap into my bed and pretend to sleep.


This delightful piece is very clever. Not only does it give us a tooth popping out AND a Pop as a main character, but it also draws the reader in with a shared experience. We may not all have had acne or celebrated with champagne, but we have ALL lost baby teeth. (If you’re reading this and are yet to, we’re impressed!) What follows is a story full of whimsy and charm that appears to be heading for a happy, sleepy end. That’s what makes the child’s innocent ‘act of kindness’ so hilarious – and the payoff truly feels earned. We really want to be there the next morning!

DATE NIGHT by Ryan Klemek, USA

Draad shuts off the stove as the final few kernels burst into deliciousness. While the popcorn is still steaming, he adds copious amounts of salt and goat blood.

“I can't believe you've never seen It's a Wonderful Life,” he says as he plops onto the couch next to Zally.

“I'm not really into horror movies.” She swallows a fistful of popcorn in one gulp, then licks blood from her claws.

“But the angel doesn't even have wings or a halo,” Draad says. “He just looks like a normal guy.”

She shudders. “It's the thought of it. You know me; I'm afraid of my own shadow.”

She's six hundred pounds of muscle with fourteen-inch horns, so her shadow is rather intimidating. Draad keeps this thought to himself as he opens a bottle of 1996 Virgin Tears and pours two glasses.

“Well, thanks for humoring me,” he says. “It really is a classic.”

“Ok, but if I have a nightmare and murder you in my sleep again, you'll have nobody to blame but yourself.”

He laughs. “Fair enough.”

They toast and Draad starts the movie. The moment the camera pans up to Heaven, Zally leaps into his arms.

“Why didn't you warn me there was going to be praying?” she whispers.

Draad can't help but smile as he caresses her scaly back. This is why horror flicks are perfect date movies.


Short and sweet, this 220-word date-night romance is dripping with hilarious topsy-turvy energy – playing it straight with such a simple and fun flipped concept. After all, it’s likely that a monster’s version of a horror movie would indeed be something sweet and angelic. The double-take on the first reference (wait, goat blood?) swiftly moves to even more funny observations and it’s an idea that certainly doesn’t outstay its welcome. We especially loved the explanation of why Zally is likely to be afraid of her own shadow!

THE CLUB by Ruby Barber-McLeod, NSW

Her cherry had been popped. Her V-card renounced, she had ridden the pleasure train and decided it to be no different an experience to that of trying a mango. She didn’t feel very different, if anything a little contemplative over the slip n slide experience, over and done with in the span of 4 minutes. Which, she had heard, was pretty good for your first time.

She rolled onto her side and stared at the dude who had done it. He was snoring with a bit of drool dribbling down his chin. Rolling onto her back she stared at the ceiling, satiated yes at having ‘done it’, but rather underwhelmed at the physical and emotional side she had thought so long and hard about. There had been no sexy moans or any stream of dirty talk like all the books depicted, no naughty mention of any genitals in any form at all as a matter of fact. He’d taken one look at her breasts, in a bra mind you, and nearly passed out from excitement. It had taken all of 12 seconds for him to start acting like an over enthused puppy, left to its own devices humping the leg of a chair. There were no gentle kisses, no mention of sweet nothings whispered in her ear, only the banging of teeth against teeth and the frenzied biting of her top and bottom lip before he’d stumbled over the words ‘are you ready?’ And, barely able to contain himself over her nonchalant nod, began to ‘clean the pipes’. It was not the lusty pounding of bodies she had hoped for, she hadn’t thrown her hand against any steamy window to leave a trace of love behind. There had been no scandalous destruction of any bedroom furniture as she’d hoped, nothing like the sex in Twilight or Dark Shadows. Just a little bit of wiggling around, basically. What was with the hype? All the twitter comments of ‘yeah sex is cool, but have you ever…’ suddenly made sense.

Rolling onto her other side she eyed the bottle of lube, lying unused and forgotten on its side. The words ‘mango flavor’ were written boldly across its front, and she wondered aimlessly at what it tasted like. She sighed. She had been pegged, plowed, railed, and perhaps even deflowered, and she sure as shit was counting that as a successful leap into adulthood. Content with just that, she smiled smugly. She was in.


Ah yes, the popped cherry cometh, so to speak. And this piece chooses to take place in the awkward ‘afterglow’ of a first encounter. Our protagonist reflects on the card that has just been renounced and the inevitable fantasy-versus-reality that plays out as a result. In particular, the references to the “over enthused puppy” and other clumsy pawing descriptions are fun. Rolling out as a three-act stream of consciousness, what might at first seem like it’s building up to regret and anger actually plays out in perhaps a more realistic way. Welcome to the mango club!


She turned the key and leaned on the door before it yielded with a pop. That familiar sweet biscuity aroma filled her nostrils and in an instant, she had time travelled back ten years.

She had just made the leap into the world of flour, butter and sugar. Having traversed a progression of kitchens as a journey-woman she was lured by the emergent and significant reputation of her mentor to be, and shadowed her for a job.

Eventually she wore her down with her doggedness, nimble flattery and a well lobbed quote from the movie Babette's Feast. The homework she had undertaken on her quarry, had clearly paid off. She got the job and celebrated with a bottle of rum.

Stepping further into the room, the familiar shapes of the stainless steel, squared tiles and hard edges funnelled her through like trickling water in a brook, past the banks of crouched cooking machinery, resting between shifts. They quietly ticked and squeaked, cooling incrementally, catching their breath like race horses after a gallop. She ran her hand along the workbench as she passed. It was cold and she could picture the fat slabs of pastry being rolled into submission hours earlier. She considered the space, her eyes becoming accustomed to the dim, and could make out the ghostly footprints left in the fine mist of flour that remained on the floor. Evidence of the former artisan of this venerated space sent a thrill of anticipation through her and she deftly matched her stride to meet each tread. Her boots fitted neatly within the outline of her predecessor's print creating a halo-like effect that irritated her momentarily until her petulant feet scrubbed the floor of it.

As an afterthought, she ran a finger across another bench and examined the collected flour on it. ‘Thought it would be spotless?’ she said out loud almost daring for a response, her pretend bravado surprisingly imbued with a pinch of self-doubt and uncertainty, even after all this time.

The hum of the cool room beckoned and she followed its call into the next room. Shelves appeared, laden with all manners of sugars, flours and flavourings. In a corner by a tiled wall graffitied with a thousand sharpie numbers and notes, was a scruffy looking landline.

Above it, what looked like the most recent doodle read, ‘Get Beurre Boscs from Col, 0428629444’

‘I Love your BUNS Shellie!’ was scrawled across the coolroom door. She found herself smiling at the message despite herself. Everywhere she looked she saw the suggestion of her old mentor, her touch and her mark.

It’s my turn now, she thought.

Tomorrow will see a new custodian of this space. All the cakes and pastries that preceded her would be memories, just that. No memorial signpost, commemorative plaque or official ribbon cutting. Just a quiet baton change of ownership and a life of baking measured by flourprints that eluded the final sweep of the broom.


Sometimes locations themselves can be just as main a character as the people that inhabit them. Such is the case here in the gloomy half-light as our protege-turned-protagonist prepares to take the baton/apron and fill those flour-dusted shoes. The details of the kitchen and its contents not only give us an insight into the BTS workings of such a place (much like the lauded show The Bear has done), but act as a literal and narrative funnel through the story. Along the way, snippets of backstory are deftly kneaded and folded into the action and even the prompts melt like butter. A tasty offering, baked to perfection!


My parents popped in. That’s what they do. Perky, beaming.

They are serial popper-inners whose finely-honed instincts ensure they only come when there are dog hairs clumped around the table legs, last night’s plates sitting on sofa cushions, food on the floor in the kitchen and beer cans and empty wine bottles on the coffee table. Only then.

I knew it was them before the doorbell rang because I could see the car in the driveway. I should’ve leapt into action to get some of the rubbish out of eyeshot, but that particular day I literally could not be arsed.

Stuart muttered “Don’t fecking tell them I’m here” and shot out towards the office. I experienced almost pure hatred for the man I definitely loved, but it was a WFH day for him and if he came out they’d stay longer so …

Two shadows appeared on the hall floor in front of the glass front door.

So there they were. “Hello darling! Dad and me are on our way to see a movie. It doesn’t start till 11.30 so we thought well let’s drop in on Josie.”

Well let’s NOT, I thought in my murky headspace full of festering resentments that jostle with my better self. My mother’s eyes ranged over the detritus of life with two untidy adults and three children: my mouth joined forces with my better self and said “Sorry about the mess mum – late night.” Good job, better self. And she said “Oh no problem darling. We totally understand. You’re so busy. It’s just nice to see you!”

They don’t totally understand. They don’t even partly understand. And I’m not entirely sure it’s nice to see me, either. It’s convenient – on the way and the coffee is free.

But I smiled politely and made the coffee.

Then suddenly they were flapping around in a panic because they weren't sure it WAS an 11.30 start anymore and they couldn't check because it was an online booking and …

I checked for them.

“Mum … are you seeing ‘Thanksgiving’???” I asked politely.

Mum said yes, they’re so looking forward to it. Melanie Hopper (their neighbour whose husband is a tax accountant and they’ve got a new holiday house down south and their children are doing SO well at school they’ve got them all at private schools and she never has a hair out of place you know) told them it’s a comedy about a dysfunctional family who get stranded in a campervan over Thanksgiving and Melanie Hopper said it’s hilarious and the family tensions will resonate.


I hate Melanie Hopper.

I said, clearly: “11.30 is the start time, Mum. Enjoy.”


Melanie Hopper’s out of favour these days. She said she didn’t realise “Thanksgiving” was so violent, but anyway it set off my dad’s angina and he was in hospital for a week.

Did I know it was violent?


He’s fine now.

They still pop in.


Many of us will relate simply to the notion of parents ‘popping in’ – a fun use of the prompt and starter for this slice of life. We loved Stuart’s frantic disappearance (and the truth that even on a WFH day, you’ll probably not be in the office unless hiding!) and the familiarity that would usually be casual rudeness if draped on anyone else but family. Here, the film title also gets a big role to play, thanks to the erroneous recommendation of the title character. There’s also a particular authenticity throughout – even the grammatically incorrect dialogue of “Dad and me” are exactly what someone WOULD say! The bunny-hop time jumps at the end act as tiny but fun footnotes to this suburban encounter that many will connect with.

THE HORDE by A.M. Obst, UK

A loud pop next to my ear makes me jump, though I should have expected it. It is how they wear you down, turn you into a gibbering wreck.

I’m backed up against a wall, surrounded by a ring of hungry faces, young ones nearest with adults behind, egging them on. Teeth bared, eyes shining, their screeches a blunt knife across my frayed nerves.

I won’t let them see this is getting to me. I stretch my mouth into a smiling rictus, hoping it’s enough to hide my churning fear.

I barely stop myself from flinching when another one leaps towards me. Hands grab my trousers and shirt in pincer-grips, stopping me from escaping.

My fingers stray towards my pocket, where I’ve hidden a tiny bottle containing an escape from this living, writhing nightmare. No, I won’t succumb to the temptation. Not yet.

When I started this work, I loved putting myself directly on the frontlines, using my talents to preserve the sanity of others. But stepping into the breach over and over again with ever-diminishing returns has taken its toll.

Another object bounces off my head. I raise a hand to my temple, but there’s no blood. I think it was some kind of utensil; they’re improvising their weapons now, I don’t know what they’ll launch at me next.

At last, the arrival of other food distracts them, and I spy an opening among the furiously heaving bodies. I make my move while I have the chance.

As I dash past, a woman says, “Oh, this is marvellous, just like being in The Wiggles Movie!”

More like The Hunger Games, I think, but she doesn’t wait for a response as her attention shifts back to the mayhem in the living room.

At last I reach shelter and close the door, savouring my moment of respite in the oasis of the downstairs toilet. Hands shaking, I take out my hip flask and unscrew the top, but the sharp scent of gin brings me back to my senses. It would be a terrible way to end my long career.

I examine myself in the mirror. At least the makeup hides the shadows under my eyes. My red nose has been yanked to one side by one of the more ebullient children. I straighten it, ensure my wig is firmly on, pat down my bow tie with inbuilt water squirter.

“OK, you, get back out there,” I tell myself firmly. “Less than half an hour to go. The balloon animals didn’t work, so you need to try the next trick in your arsenal. It’s time to break out the kazoo.”


While this appears to start out as on some kind of Saving-Private-Ryanesque battlefield, the reader is pretty sure there’s something else at play here. Such is the specificity of the inner monologue of our weary narrator – stuck in the trenches and seemingly fighting for their lives. The fog (of war) slowly begins to clear with reference to The Wiggles and a conversation that places it more residence than regiment. The final pep talk is likely one that every birthday entertainer (or theme park costumed character, sports mascot etc) has had to have with themself at one point or another – and the decision to leave it there allows the story’s battle-hardened alter ego narrative to never quite burst (like a balloon animal) entirely.


Maybe I’ll regret it later, but in the moment it feels so good to jam the scissors down, hear the loud pop and feel the rush of air leaking out.

Maybe it’s petty. I’ll probably get in trouble. A lot of trouble. But right in this second, it feels damn good. The air hissing out echoes the shrill scream inside my head that’s been growing louder ever since I got here.

Maddison’s party. Maddison’s perfect party. 

Maddison with her perfect outfit, in her perfect garden outside her perfect mini-mansion. Maddison’s party has canapés and waitstaff. Maddison’s party has a roving close-up magician and a celebrity guest list. Maddison’s party has a frozen margarita machine. Maddison is turning four for Chrissake! 

Blake’s birthday party was last week. Suddenly our homemade Lego cake and backyard sprinkler party feel shameful and small. 

So yes, I took the tequila bottle from the margarita station, and yes I’ve been taking swigs from it since midday. I guess I won’t be winning Mother of the Year today.

A shadow descends as the jumping castle deflates. Little kids leap out of the way as a flaccid turret flops down from above. Maddison’s Pomeranian starts yapping and my brain plays the theme music from Howl’s Moving Castle as I edge away from the scene of the crime, hurriedly chucking the scissors into a perfectly manicured hydrangea as I go.

Blake rushes to me and hugs my knees.

“Let’s go, baby, this party’s a bust,” I say with an innocent swagger I certainly don’t feel. Blake looks up at me pleadingly, but then her face suddenly lights up with an idea.

“Can we go home and play in the sprinklers?!?”

I smile.

“Yes baby, yes we can.”


Another story, another kid’s birthday party! But here, we get the perhaps-more-relatable POV of a parent observing the lavishness and playing the comparison game. Faced with one of those mega parties where no expense has been spared, our protagonist decides to take out her frustrations on Maddison’s square garden attraction, the bouncy castle. (Fun movie reference too!) Small details sprinkled (or is that sprinklered?) throughout – pomeranian, hydrangeas, canapes and so on – tell us all we need to know. And this hissy-fit does indeed feel damn good!


First thing I see when I open the door is Mary, poppin’ a fistful of Percs. She’s trippin’ alright, over her own dress down the apples and pears, flappin’ her arms at me like a ruddy goose as I walk in. When she does land it’s right in me lap, slurrin’ and smearin’ lipstick down me pinstripe whistle and flute, sayin’, “Gi’us a kiss, Henry, ya sexy beast!”

I says to her, “No chance, love, I ain’t no Dick Van Dyk, and you can go fly a kite.” I dodge her uppercut but fall back over Barry, who’s drunk on his bottle and glass on the floor behind me. So I says to meself, “Right, this is gunna be one of them nights,” and fish around in me rocket for somethin’ to take the edge off. I dig out a thumbful of Bob Marley and shove it up the ol’ fireman’s hose, and now we’re bloody laughin’. Spit-spot, lovely jubbly.

But now Mary’s comin’ up behind me again, crowin’, “Gi’us a spoonful o’ sugar, would ya, Henry?” But I ain’t feeding this bird, so I says to her, “Cost ya more ‘n tuppence for a bag o’ this, love.” I leap over Barry and past Jamie, who’s enjoyin’ a leisurely slash up the chim chiminey, when I catch sight o’ Wendy, all on her Jack Jones havin’ a smoke by the Gary Glitter.

Now, Wendy’s practic’ly perfect, so I give her a wink, a double blink, and light us up a Jimmy Cliff, which sets her off about some bloke called Danny, who sounds a right James Blunt. But I never hear how it ends, ‘cause now Mary’s beltin’ Jamie up the Khyber Pass with an umbrella, yellin’, “Teach ya to take a Johnny Cash in me fireplace!” And Jamie counters with, “Yer lucky it weren’t a Richard the Third!” And me and Wendy are havin’ a right laugh at the two of ‘em, but the fact is me mind’s miles away, dreamin’ of Wendy’s thruppenny bits and raspberry ripples, and the sight of her Alan Whickers.

So, I says to Wendy, “Don’t mean to sound precocious, but how ‘bout we head down to yours for bit of a zig and zag?” But before she can answer I hear the loo flush and the ol’ trouble and strife comes out the Gary Glitter. She takes one look at Wendy, and one look at me, and her Chevy Chase says she’s heard everything. I know without a shadow I’m brown bread, so I hop out the window and take me chances in the alley.

So here I am, no Wendy’s Alan Whickers and not a bloody raspberry ripple in sight. Nought but a Barklay’s Bank in store when I get home. Chim chim cher-bleedin’-roo.


You’ll often hear about the importance of a unique narrative voice and for that alone, this one stood out immediately for its sing-song apples-n-pears Cockney vernacular. But rather than merely act as a conveyor belt of fun East End rhymes, this piece manages to not only sound great (painting a lavish picture dripping with Mary Poppins references) but tell a story too, complete with motivation, conflict and resolution. You simply can’t help putting on the accent (innit?) and playing the part, grabbing your persian rugs and having a bubble bath with this artful dodger. And that’s what makes it one of this month’s treacle tarts!


No one was sure which ruptured first, the aneurysm of the cerebral artery or the translucent lilo that came to drift just below the surface of the water. The bloated body was discovered floating face down in the newly refurbished swimming pool, naked except for a Rolex watch and a small ring attached to the nipple. I’m sure this wasn’t the way the deceased envisioned the final check out. Most people hope to pass away peacefully in their bed. Being found bobbing around bare-arsed in the shallow end doesn’t rank highly in the list of ‘top ten exit strategies’. It’s not a great way to go, and it doesn’t take a giant leap of the imagination to picture the flailing fear that accompanies such a violent end. However, in my experience, it is better to focus on the richness of a life’s journey, rather than the sudden arrival at a desolate destination.

He will be celebrated now. His friends and family will crack open a bottle of champagne and raise a glass in his honour. His life will be eulogised to the point where it bares only a passing resemblance to the life he actually lived. The character of the man will be championed to give him a hero’s farewell, when in reality he was as weak as he was bold and as self serving as he was generous. He was, like most people, an unruly mess of contradictions, driven as much by his emotions, as his intellect. On being laid to rest, the wrinkles of his existence will be ironed out in order to present a tidy facsimile to the world; one that can be neatly folded away for posterity.

He will be missed by those he leaves behind and his legacy will be the gift of a temporary enlightenment. People who knew him will savour life’s pleasures a little more intensely, knowing that it can all be taken away in the burst of a bubble. In time, the intensity of the feeling will fade, along with the memory of the man.

Perhaps I should confess that I was present at the time of his passing, arriving at the poolside shortly before the fateful ‘pop’. However, I did not intervene, it was not my place to do so. I waited patiently in the shadows and let nature have her way. After all, I was simply there to balance the books, to collect what was owed. A debt. No more. No less.

Brevity and efficiency are critical in my line of work, there is no time for the symbolic chess games of Bergman’s ‘The Seventh Seal’, nor a need for hooded costumes and primitive farming equipment, that is the stuff of celluloid nightmares. My job is to assimilate, to blend in until the time comes to square the ledger. At which point we can say ‘it is finished’.


The character of Death has featured heavily in submissions of the past, and it has to be said that if you’re going to personify such a well-trodden concept, you need to do so in a fresh way. And that’s what elevates this story – unfolding without the need to identify its narrator and relying instead on the simple observations of a particularly deflating passing. The second and third paragraph do a great job of showcasing the intricacies and complexities of remembering a life lived. It’s only then do we get clues to our narrator’s identity and the part they had to play. The reference to a dislike for “hooded costumes and primitive farming equipment” is a lovely touch – confirming at last who has come to square the ledger at the finish.

HOME SWEET HOME by Christy Hartman, Canada

The neighbour’s inflatable Santa taunted my deflated snowman with its incessant whirr and jolly wave. She, and the kids, left for good three weeks before Christmas. He’d driven away months before. Last year he’d draped me with tasteful white twinkle lights, and she hung a ribbon-laced holly wreath on my front door. I know she tried to hold on to me. Begging the bank to take a leap of faith. He let me go as if our years together meant nothing, walked out and never came back.

They were my first. My white walls a blank slate to create their perfect nest. They’d hung dusty rose and forest green wallpaper. My style is more contemporary, but their joy was infectious, so I absorbed the glue and hung tight to the flowery vinyl. Today, paper peels at the corners. When they stopped holding on, I did too.

The week he left she’d shared a bottle of wine with her sister. Admitting she didn’t know how it all fell apart. I knew how. I watched it happen.

The kids had needed her less, she’d returned to work. New challenges, new friends, new confidence. My days became quiet, the hum of the fridge replacing the television and sounds of dinner being made. Evenings were filled with arguments over dishes, laundry, and homework. I’d turn off the Wi-Fi, hoping to lure them to the kitchen, like the old days, when games of Candy Land and Uno had been a nightly ritual.

When I was busy settling my creaking bones, she’d whisper in the bedroom shadows that he needed to do more, be more. He’d agree, holding her tight. When the morning sun spilled through my windows, wet towels and milky cereal bowls erased the reassurances of the night before.

He’d started sleeping on the couch, blaming her snores and hot flashes. Peaceful midnight blackness was broken by cell phone glare. Late night texts turned to whispered complaints about how cold she was, how unappreciated he felt. I’d blown drafts through door jambs and windowsills, hoping to send him scurrying back to the warmth of their bed. He’d just add another blanket.

I saw the receipt before she did. It fell out of his navy blazer. There was nothing I could do. She confronted him after dinner. The kids put on headphones, drowning out another argument. He left before the sun had set. Hoping to draw him back to me I plugged the kitchen sink and tripped the fridge breaker. She handled it, he stayed away.

A moving truck pulled up today, followed by a red SUV. He opened the door and helped her out. A good sign. She glows with the exhausted beauty of late pregnancy; I worry my split-level stairs will be hard on her. He wants to replace the dining room wallpaper; she says it reminds her of Steel Magnolia’s and wants it to stay. He agreed to repair it. I miss my people, but this is my chance to try again.


So often we say, “if these walls could talk!” Well, here, they did – with the story choosing to ‘address’ a relationship breakup from the POV of an empty home pining for its former housemates and wondering (but also knowing) where it all went wrong. By embedding very human feelings within its walls – e.g. “I absorbed the glue and hung tight to the flowery vinyl” – the story makes us feel for this collection of building materials, so much so that “when they stopped holding on, I did too” has real impact. The choice to show the breakup of the humans from this same viewpoint (and their subsequent ‘break up’ with the house) is nice, including all the ways said house attempts to alter the outcome. Finally, a hopeful ending adds to the street appeal of this tightly packaged story.

FEBRUARY 14th 1999 by Tara Frey, QLD


Suitably deflated, I debated internally if I should laugh, cry, or get off my knee and race to stop the marching band due at any moment. Strangely, all I did was wonder what their refund policy was.


I snapped the ring box closed and rose, avoiding Valerie’s gape.

‘It’s only been three weeks!’

I slumped. They were right on time. It wasn’t cheap organising a band of seventeen on short notice to serenade the love of my life in the local park. On a Sunday. At noon. They weren’t great, but I had to commend them for their punctuality.

Valerie blanched. ‘Did you…is that…for us?’

I winced as the cymbals, just shy of hula hoop size, crashed together. I nodded.

‘Are they playing the theme song to Rocky?’

I shrugged and, again, I nodded. Our first date—movie night. It seemed so long ago now. Memories of our time together leapt through my mind. Holding hands. Snuggling in the mornings. Shadowing her on her daily errands. Just to be clear, she knew I was there.

We were attracting attention now. Frisbees ceased flying. Banter was quashed by the clangour and the park became an auditorium of gawking, dumbfounded spectators.

The photographer I’d hired crept from the shrubbery and gestured questioningly. A cringe plastered his expression. In hindsight, I shouldn’t have nodded, but my faculties had been interrupted and it seemed to be my default in the moment. I mean, who doesn’t want a record of the most mortifying moment in their life?

‘Stop. Just stop.’ Valerie shouted at the band and they clumsily dwindled to silence.

Never before had a park been so still. So quiet. The champagne bottle I had cooling in an ice bucket adjusted itself as the ice melted. That gravelly whisper, the only sound daring to emerge. That and the click of the camera zoomed in on my face.

‘Um. So, I’m gonna go,’ Valerie crouched to grab her purse. She took one last, swift review of the scene and walked, rather briskly, away.

The trombonist stepped forward. ‘Er…’

‘You can go,’ I said.

The photographer lunged awkwardly towards me.

‘You too.’

‘I’ll email the photos.’

‘Don’t.’ I was fairly certain I wouldn’t have any trouble remembering this. I wilted to the picnic rug amidst the array of canapés and cupcakes.

‘You put on quite the show,’ a haggard voice said. I looked up at an elderly lady standing before me. ‘Never before have I seen such an extraordinary example of poor judgement,’ she added.

I nodded. At least I was consistent. Foolish and consistent.

She motioned to the rug. ‘May I?’


With more ease than I expected, she sat. ‘You know what’s wonderful about poor judgement?’

‘What’s that?’

‘Regret.’ I considered that to be more brutal than wonderful until she added, ‘And that girl’s poor judgement will haunt her for the rest of her life.’

I smiled, sitting up a little straighter. ‘Cupcake?’

She smiled too. ‘Sounds wonderful.’


Nawwww, poor Marcus! We asked for something to be popped in the first sentence, and this simple “No” does it sublimely – performing double duty as signalling the popped question and also deflating an ego/heart. Choosing to begin here also allows the humour to unfold. We didn’t need any backstory – instead we get a literal parade of premeditated cringe as Marcus’s efforts are put on full display. (The ‘Rocky’ theme – brilliant way to insert the film reference!) No one is the villain here (apart from our narrator’s terrible ability to ‘read the room’ after just three weeks), which leads to a delicious array of dialogue and mayhem in between this couple’s awkward farewells. (“I’ll email the photos” from the shrubbery-stealth snapper is great!) Pacing is also on point, allowing us the final act to sit with the result (literally, on the picnic rug) and raise a glass to all the poor judgement choices we’ve made in our lives. Cheers!


Each month, we like to include an extra LONGLIST (approx 5-10%) of stories that stood out from the hundreds and were highly considered for the showcase (it was a close thing for many of these this month!). Remember, all creativity is subjective, but if your name is here, well done! And to ALL who submitted stories, don’t lose heart – we’d LOVE to see you smash next month’s challenge!

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

  • JUST ONE OF THOSE DAYS by Paul A. Freeman, Mauritania
  • ROMEO SIERRA TANGO by Greg Eccleston, NSW
  • SWISH by Becca J, NSW
  • BEN by Heather Maywald, SA
  • HIS BOTTLED HEARTS by Artemisia Allan, QLD
  • ANOTHER NIGHT by Vrishin Bhatia, India
  • UNTITLED by Reagan Ross, USA
  • BASIC, BETTER, BEST by R. M. Levi, ACT
  • UNTITLED by Joshua Kepfer, USA
  • LITTLE TOY GUNS by Connie Boland, Canada
  • LA DOLCE VITA AMERICANA by Hannah Andrews, USA
  • IS IT CHAMPAGNE? By Immy Mohr, NSW
  • LEAP OF FAITH by Suma Jayachandar, India
  • UNTITLED by Russell Roberts, VIC
  • NOW AND THEN by Punxsutawney Phil, VIC
  • CORPORATE DRAFT NIGHT by Cameron Burnett, NSW
  • THE FINE PRINT by Diane Lee, SA
  • THE ROOM by Emma Jane, QLD
  • THE BOY by Courtney Bayer, USA
  • LETTING LOOSE by Lisa Knight, NSW
  • IF YOU HADN’T by Patricia Q. Bidar, USA
  • THE RACE by Cathryn Girdwood, QLD
  • THE FAIRY GODMOTHER by Shayne Denford, NSW
  • BILLY’S CAR by Mark Gamtcheff, SA
  • TILL DEATH DO US PART by Carol Kirwood, NSW
  • SLIDING DOORS by Elizabeth Hilton, QLD
  • OLD MOTHER HUBBARD by Christine McCarry, NSW
  • UNTITLED by Sawyer Kuhl, the Quiet Dad, USA
  • BLOOD TO AIR by Asha Sands, Indonesia
  • WHODUNNIT by Chris Waterson, UK
  • SOMETHIN’ BIG by Ashlee Chester, WA
  • MOMENTS by Ingrid Fernandez, NSW
  • BEST FRIENDS FOREVER by Anushka S, India
  • UNTITLED by Michael Linggoputro, NSW
  • THE INFLATOR CREATOR by Cheryn Witney, SA
  • BURST by Dermott Fairfield, VIC
  • FERMENTING by Matt Goddard, UK
  • DATE NIGHT by Skye Abraham, VIC
  • MERCY by Inez Rivera, NSW
  • BAD SPIRITS by Gemma Ryan, NSW
  • 12 ITEMS OR LESS by Rachel Howden, NSW
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