Furious Fiction July 2018 winner and shortlist

It’s time to announce the winning story and shortlist for July’s Furious Fiction! We received more than 700 entries, all working off the following criteria:

  • The first sentence had to contain a question.
  • Each story had to contain the words JAM, JACKPOT and JUNGLE (or an applicable “s”, “ing” or “ed” version).
  • The story had to end with BANG. Literally. The final word had to be the single word sentence BANG.

Some great entries this month – and many creative ways to play with the criteria, which the judges loved! (Remember, if you want to stand out, think of what most people will do – and do the opposite!)

Congratulations to Emma Hughes of Vic, whose untitled story was judged this month’s winner. She pockets $500 and you can read her winning story below, along with a bumper crop of SIX other shortlisted stories.

If you entered and missed out on being featured, chin up – the standard was very high this month, and next month’s awesome challenge is just around the corner!


JULY WINNER

(UNTITLED) by Emma Hughes

Is that it? The grubby silver lands heavily in my plastic cup and I fight the urge to mutter. Then I see the shoes. Kids shoes. Laces straggling. I jerk my head up and try to focus. The glare of light punishes me.

‘Why are you sleeping here?’

I look around for the boy’s mother but she isn’t hovering nervously like they usually do.

‘Got nowhere else, mate.’ I wipe the crust of the pavement from my cheek and wish I looked a little more impressive.

‘Don’t you have a mum?’ He shifts from foot to foot and I bite back the truth. He doesn’t need to have his white pickets shattered.

‘No mum.’ I want him to stay. I want him to leave.

‘Oh.’ He looks puzzled, concerned. ‘Here, have this.’ It’s half a piece of toast, with strawberry jam. A bite is missing. He chews thoughtfully on the other half. I take it. What else can I do? The butter is still warm, dripping onto the cracks of my tongue. It tastes like….home, like mornings, like love, like her… like the f*&king jackpot. I nod my thanks. He sits down beside me.

‘It’s a jungle out there.’ I feel like I should make conversation. It’s been a while. Words rasp like sandpaper.

‘I like jungles.’

‘Me too, mate.’

A screech in the distance. Tyres burning, smoke snaking through the morning crowd. Heads turn as one, horror meeting curiosity, flint to flame. Phones are wielded like barriers, distancing, disconnecting them.

‘Listen, where are you s’posed to be?’ A flash of… duty? It sits oddly. He regards me, again. It feels like a reckoning.

‘Mum said to wait here. I guess she’ll be back?’ His smooth forehead creases. He keeps chewing. ‘Is that what yours said?’

‘Something like that.’

Screams echo. The car careens now, mowing down bodies like sticks. It’s coming now. A rocket. Steel, blood, tar oozing. He looks up at me. Butter on his chin. I grunt. There is no choice, really. I leap – a curved, corrupted shield. Limbs unfurling, sweet strawberries sticky on my outstretched fingers. It is the final blessed dance of freedom.

BANG.

What we loved:
As short stories go, this one is shorter than most. But in quick time it manages to draw you in to this fleeting moment between two humans occupying the same personal space. We loved the authentic dialogue; the perfect balance of hard-edged uneasiness and youthful innocence. We also loved the tight narrative and efficient use of sentences. Every word pulls its weight. An ultimately tragic slice of street life.


SHORTLISTED

KNOCK KNOCK by Louise Burch

“Who’s there?” said Sarah.

“The interrupting sheep,” replied Joseph.

“The interu….”

“Baaaaaaaaa.”

“Oh, ha ha,” said Sarah.

“What will we do now,” asked Joseph, “I Spy, Scrabble, sex?”

“We need to find some candles.”

“So, sex it is.”

“Joseph, be serious, it’s getting dark and they say the power might be off all night.”

“Well let’s have a cup of tea.”

“We can’t, kettle’s electric.”

“The stove top is gas.”

“Oh yeah, but it needs a spark.”

“Or a match?”

“Where are the matches?”

“With the candles?”

“Where are the candles; dear Joseph, dear Joseph?”

“Try the kitchen, dear Sarah.”

The big black cat had been sitting by the window; basking in the late afternoon sun. Now the sky was black and churning, rain slapped at the windows, lightning and thunder raged, wild winds had blown trees onto the power lines and it was getting chilly.

The cat stood up, stretched and strolled across to Joseph’s lap and some substitute warmth. Any port in a storm thought puss.

“You could help look as well.”

“Sorry Saz, look, cat’s on my lap. We’re pet sitting, must look after the cat. What’s that on top of the piano,” added Joseph looking through the gloom.

“Beethoven’s last movement?” asked Sarah. “Oh, a candelabra with candles. Yay! Hit the jackpot there. Matches?”

“Try the kitchen, fourth drawer down,” offered Joseph.

“It’s dark in there.”

“Use my phone, it’s still got 5%.”

“Ah ha!” Sarah called out from the kitchen. “Found a matchbox. There’s only one match left.”

“Light a gas jet, boil some water,” called Joseph.

Sarah put a saucepan of water on the stove then lit the gas jet. The flame lit then went out, the gas kept flowing. The saucepan hid the lack of flame. Sarah was concentrating on keeping the match alight as she walked back to the lounge.

“Should take the candle to the match not the match to the candle,” said Joseph.

“Yeah, yeah, well they’re alight now,” said Sarah as she carried the candelabra to the coffee table.

You look quite nice in candlelight, come here I feel like…”

“A game of Scrabble?” said Sarah taking the Scrabble box from the coffee table shelf.

With the board and racks set out, she offered the bag of letters to Joseph.

“D,” said Joseph.

“L, you go first.”

Joseph took out, ULNEGJS.

Sarah took out IIIUUUA.

Joseph put down JUNGLES.

“112.”

Sarah made GI.

“4, seven vowels! I should have swapped.”

“Ah the old irritable vowel syndrome eh?” said Joseph. “What about some tea and jam sammies, water should be boiling.”

Sarah looked at the cat on Joseph’s lap.

“I’ll get it,” she said taking a candle.

The next few seconds explained the 18 small but deep holes in Joseph’s thighs, his blood-curdling yell, the shredded curtain and Sarah’s non-life threatening singed eyebrows and hair.

The raging storm had suddenly gone quiet; it was an eerie silence.

At the kitchen door, Sarah turned the handle. She stepped in.

BANG!

What we liked:
This playful power-cut piece revels in the chemistry between its two characters – with effortless, almost Sorkin-like wit bouncing back and forth in the darkness. A great display of dialogue not needing the extra “he said, she saids” that writers so often feel obliged to include. The result is a natural scene played out in an enjoyable style – a real blast! (Especially at the end…)


SHORTLISTED

HEIST by Julian Ledlin

“You ready?” The words came out of Lloyd like we were about to change the course of history.

I pulled down my balaclava. “No.”

He let out a wry smile, “We’ll be fine. Let’s go.”

We sprang out of the stolen sedan and charged into the bank. Neither of us were prepared for the shrieks that followed. What were we thinking? We’re supposed to be the good guys; Social pioneers. Deforesting the jungle of human greed. The activism jackpot! It wasn’t meant to be a trauma-inflicting exercise. And why were we wearing tuxedos? This was clearly contributing to the fear in the room. “It’ll be a distraction,” Lloyd had said. We’ll appear dignified, rich. We’ll be mankind’s obsession with success. The media will devour it.”
       
Now, in the thick of it, we just looked like a couple of nerdy psychopaths. Unhinged and unpredictable.
       
The plan seemed straightforward: Rob a bank. Get away with it. Anonymously return the money. Highly ambitious for a couple of art students whose biggest crime until now was evading the odd train fare. Now we were bank-robbers hellbent on changing the world. Looking around at the terrified people lying facedown, global reform was the last thing on my mind.
       
Lloyd jammed the bandit screen with a steel frame he’d had welded especially and tossed a backpack at the teller. All the while our guns wave menacingly. Sourcing these two guns was the trickiest part of this hair-brain scheme. That was my job. You know your life’s taken a turn when you’re googling: “how to buy a gun”. Facebook to the rescue, Mark Zuckerberg would be proud. Lloyd insisted on real bullets, I however didn’t want a potential murder charge on our hands. We argued long and hard over this. In the end I pretended to cave and loaded the guns with blanks before we left. What he doesn’t know won’t hurt him.
       
Sirens. Time to leave. Lloyd barks at the teller one last time and we flee. We head to nearby bushland, hide the car and change clothes. Calmly, efficiently, silently.

At the end of an overgrown track, beside a secluded bay, a small, gentle rowboat is waiting patiently. In it, fishing gear, some beer and a cinderblock that will escort all evidence to the harbour floor.  Lloyd rows steadily out as I prepare the incriminating package. Sirens wail ever closer.

“Give us your gun Lloyd,” I say. He stops rowing. I look up. The barrel’s pointing at my face.

“Stop mucking ‘round you idiot. Hand it over.”

Lloyd’s eyes harden. “This is where it ends,” he says, “No-one beats greed. Sorry dude.”

“You’re serious?!” Thank Christ for the blanks, I thought, saved by my own pacifism. But this isn’t going to end well for Lloyd, the greedy, murdering bastard. I let him continue on his downfall.

“One last thing,” he scowls. “I knew you wouldn’t bring real bullets you gutless sack of shit. So I brought my own.”

BANG!

What we liked:
Well, what have we here? A bank robbery gone smoothly, but an aftermath gone very bad indeed. From the first couple of sentences, we were in – ready to follow our never-named narrator and Lloyd on this social pioneering heist, wherever it may lead, such was the engaging pace. With excellent self-aware humour along the way, we actually think they’ve got away with it too, until… Cracker ending.


SHORTLISTED

(UNTITLED) by Jessica Gross

‘Are the police here?’ The boy asked quietly.

‘They’re out front.’

The boy sat in his father’s armchair. Swallowed by the cushions. He was fourteen. Smaller than he should have been. His younger siblings played on stained carpet. The house was a jungle of leaning junk, a jackpot of neglect hopelessness. It was cold. Leaking. Bursting with bitter memories.

‘I don’t know what to do.’ He said, his hands tucked under his knees.

‘It’s hard, I know.’

‘I didn’t think he’d actually do it.’

‘I know.’

‘He always said he loved her. He always stopped in time.’ His voice shook.

‘You need to call them, if you want him to be seen by a criminal psychologist.’

‘Will they be more lenient then?’

‘I don’t know.’

The boy’s neighbour, Kevin, had been with him since the incident. He’d heard the screaming, the smashing of the house. The ringing silence afterwards.
He’d heard it all as he was walking by. It was nothing out of the ordinary, but he’d decided to take a look.

Too late.

The boy flinched as the locked door behind them rattled in its frame. Raw throated screams punctured the air, violently loud in the near silence.  

He looked at Kevin. ‘I don’t know if I can do this.’

‘I’m sorry that it’s fallen to you. You should never have had to deal with this.’ He ran a hand through balding strawberry-blond whisps. ‘God, you poor kid.’ He said more to himself.

The police sergeant finally came in. He was followed by four more in severe uniforms and similar faces.

‘Through there?’ he nodded towards the room adjacent. The pounding on the door ceased immediately. As though its occupant knew what was about to happen.

The boy nodded hesitantly.

The officers got to work. The screaming started again.

‘He’s jammed the door, sir,’ one of the boys called over the racket.

The door crashed open and a man was dragged from the room. He looked at the boy, eyes latching on like a lifeline.

‘Luke! Don’t let them do this! Lily! Declan? Come on! It was an accident, you know it was. I didn’t do this!’

Luke looked at the man in front of him, struggling against the cuffs. The broad-shouldered policemen dragging him through the door and to the van out front.

He looked deranged, spittle flying, whisky still lingering on his breath. Blood on his hands.

But Luke just looked on, watching his father struggle.

When it was quiet again, the Sergeant came back.

‘Is the body in there?’ He asked as gently as permitted.

Luke nodded. The sergeant looked at Kevin.

‘The mother?’

Kevin nodded.

There was a lot of movement, a lot of questions, a lot of nothings that blurred together.

Luke just stayed in the chair, hands under his knees. All the while, a reel of his father pulling a gun and pressing it to her throat played over and over behind his eyes.

BANG.

What we liked:
A tragic scene told through the aftermath, slowly peeling back the full nature of the situation, layer by layer. At the centre of it all, a boy in shock. The pace feels just right, almost respectful to the situation at hand. There is no hyperbole here – the story feeling painfully real and told without over-dramatisation.


SHORTLISTED

TOUCH THE SKY by Sarah Jones

“It’s a bit windy today, isn’t it?” said Blue.

He shivered.

“A bit,” agreed Rose, pressing in closer to him. “But we’ll be alright here.”

“I want to go HIGHER!” cried little Sunny, bouncing up and down. “I wanna touch the sky!”

“Settle down,” warned Rose. “Stop bouncing or you’ll hurt yourself.”

“I hate this spot,” said Blue. “I’m not fond of plants.”

“The wheels on the cart are jammed,” said Rose. “It can’t leave the jungle exhibit until it’s fixed.”

“I love zoo animals!” Squeaked little Sunny, jumping as she tugged on the cart rail. “Especially the birdies! They can fly!”

“Stop that,” warned Rose. “I mean it.”

She slid away from Blue and moved closer to Sunny, keeping watch.

“I don’t like the cart driver,” Blue whined. “Always in that striped shirt and ugly makeup.”

“Leave him be,” said Rose. “He’s good to us.”

“I bet he would let me fly!” Little Sunny said. She bounced again. “The sky is so pretty! So big and blue!”

“Shh,” soothed Rose. “Patience.”

“It’s windy,” Blue said. “I feel I’m going to blow away.”

“You always complain,” Rose sighed. “We’re safe here. The man is nice, this is a nice place, we meet lots of nice people. We’ve hit the jackpot, really.”

“I like the little ones!” Little Sunny giggled. “I like it when they run! I want to play!”

“I don’t like them,” said Blue. “They’re careless. Very irresponsible.”

“You’re full of hot air,” Rose said, tired of his static attitude. “Just enjoy the day.”

“Here comes the driver!” Little Sunny bounced. “He’s back!”

John ambled over, his shoes two sizes too big, and face tired beneath layers of white and red paint. He leant against the cart and dabbed at the sweat forming on his hairline with a tissue.

“Slow day,” he breathed. “Only thirty minutes to go.”

“Oh good,” Blue sighed. “I’m bored.”

“Shh,” chided Rose. “Be grateful.”

“Oh look!” cried Sunny. “A little one!”

John stood up straight and smiled as kindly as he could. A little girl skipped over to their cart, beaming from ear to ear. She came from the tiger’s enclosure and gave her best impression of a roar.

“Wow!” John said encouragingly. “So ferocious! You’re very good.”

“Not that good,” whispered Blue.

“That’s rude,” hissed Rose.

“Would you like a balloon?” John asked the girl.

“Yes please!” she nodded. “Can I have a yellow one?”

“Of course!”

“YAY!” Sunny squeaked with glee as John untied her string. “I want to play!”

“Be safe,” Rose said, deflated.

John handed the string to the little girl. She skipped away. Sunny bounced and giggled in her hand, glowing in the afternoon sun.

She bounced too much. The girl’s fingers slipped.

“YAY!” cried Sunny, shooting into the sky. “I’M FLYING!”

She floated higher and higher.

“No!” screamed Rose.

“Sunny!” cried Blue.

“I’m gonna touch the sky!” giggled Sunny.

“Come back!” Rose cried.

“Someone catch her!” sobbed Blue. “If she goes too high she’ll—”

BANG.

What we liked:
There’s a lovely sense of fun in this story of a balloon family. It works well with the ending, it works well with the cute character names and ultimately it’s just a reminder to think outside the box when you’re rummaging about for characters and scenarios. Poor Sunny – but hey, she ‘banged’ doing something she loved… Jimi Hendrix would be proud!


SHORTLISTED

GERMANS by Russell Fox

“Don’t you know?” Her hands slammed upon the table, disturbing the floral print china, causing the cherry on the jam cake to slip from it icing-like hold. “The Germans are already here.”

He frowned at her and ran his finger down the crease of the linen napkin. “We live in Adelaide, darling.”

“But they’re here. I spoke to one today.”

“Where did you speak to a German?”

“At the butcher. He sold me the sausages. His name was Bauer…”

He closed his eyes and rubbed his temple with one finger. There’d be no wireless tonight.

“Darling, Hans Bower has been here since I was a boy. The closest he’s been to Germany is when he pours himself a beer in a stein.”

“He’s German…” She prowled about the room, her ear cocked, as if she was listening for them in the woodwork. “He’s been planted…”

“Planted eh? Probably out the back in that jungle of a garden of ours.” His moustache twitched as he reached across for a sausage. “Will he start in Adelaide selling us poisoned sausages, then make his way up the east-coast?”

“Poisoned?” She reached across and grabbed the plate, spilling the meat. They bounced across the table leaving brown grease stains before falling to the floor.

“For heaven’s sake, that’s my dinner!” He was angry now. He had always indulged her paranoia, even stoked it when the mood took him, but now this was going too far.

She ran to the kitchen and he heard the bin lid slam. She returned in a rush with a dripping cloth, smelling of carbolic.

“Well, what am I going to eat now?” He stood and put his hands on his hips. “That was a waste, that was.”

She lurched up and threw her arms wide. “I’ve just saved your bloody life?”

He grabbed at the cloth and took it from her, throwing it across the room. He swept over to her and grabbed her arms.

“This has got to stop.” He gave a small shake. “This morbid obsession…”

She pulled herself free. His voice slowed as she started a long low laugh. She glided away from him and rested against the side-board. Her nails dug deep into the mahogany stain. She cocked her head back and looked down her nose at him.

“You’re one of them aren’t you?”

“I’m what?” His voice split the room.

“You’re a double-agent…” Her fingers clambered about the handle on the drawer and she tugged, tinkling the cutlery inside. Her fingers drifted among the handles. Jackpot.
She pulled the carving knife from the drawer and thrust it toward him.

“Stay back!”

He fell back at her attack, his eyes wide with horror. She had really lost it this time. He sighed. She threw open the linen closet door.

“Get in. I’m calling the police.”

He did as he was bid. Another evening playing prisoner.

She raised her finger and thumb at the closed door. Another one captured. She dropped her thumb.

“Bang.”

What we liked:
For a story about the Germans invading Adelaide, we loved how REAL this story felt – told with such authentic enthusiasm that we could completely picture this believable suburban scene playing out. We never learn the names of this couple, but as he climbs into the closet for clearly not the first time, we see it for what it is – a harmless yet bittersweet tale of misplaced memories and growing old. Well-crafted dialogue throughout.


SHORTLISTED

DECISIONS DECISIONS by Michael McGoldrick

“Jam on your toast?”

“That would be divine, thank you.”

The dollop landed with a plop on the bread, then evenly spread, right to the edges. No gaps. Consistent thickness.

“So, how should I go about starting all this?” He ran his hands through his flowing grey hair. “It’s driving me bonkers?”

She placed the plate in front of him, a cup of Earl Grey beside it, then pulled up a chair.

“I’m not surprised you’re getting stressed,” she said rubbing his shoulder. “You’ve been at it for an eternity.”

Instinctively, he reached for her hand, running his gnarled fingers across it.

“What about in a jungle?”

“A jungle?”

“No, wait…I have nowhere to put one of those. I’m getting way ahead of myself.” He picked up the toast, “Apple jam is it?”

“Oh, I’m sorry, dear, it wasn’t clear what fruit was in it.”

“I like it. It’s tart.”

She smiled warmly, “Come along, Father, this has gone on long enough. You need your rest. How about you spend a week just getting on with it?”

“What do you mean?”

“Start big, then do the fiddly details later in the week.”

“Seven days?” he tugged the end of his beard. “No, it needs to be bigger…longer…”

Her brow wrinkled.

“Aha, jackpot!”

“Oh?”

“The BIGGEST of the big…”

“Ooh!”

“…and…right NOW!”

“Goodness…”

“But, how should I do this…clap my hands together?”

She nodded, placing her hand on her chest, “I think that sounds just splendid.”

“Okay then, time to create the Universe, hold on to your socks. my dear…3…2…1…”

BANG

What we liked:
It seems fitting to end with the biggest BANG of all, and this reimagining of the creation of life we thought was a clever, fun ride. Once again, great dialogue and an efficient feel-good slice of pre-life. Like they say, behind every great god is a goddess with tea, jam toast and a manageable deadline!

 

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