Furious Fiction July 2020 winner and shortlist

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To those who RSVPed to our invitation to this month’s Furious Fiction, we welcome you to the big day. If you thumb through the order of service, you’ll see that the following criteria are gathered here today:

  • Each story had to take place at either WEDDING or a FUNERAL.
  • Each story had to include something being cut.
  • Each story had to include the words “UNDER”, “OVER” and “BETWEEN”.

 

The judges were fine with stories that explored the fringes of weddings and funerals (before, after) as long as the occasion was still central to the story. And if you’re wondering which setting was more popular, we definitely received more funeral stories than weddings. However, the winning story was a happy occasion, penned by Ashleigh Mounser of NSW, Australia.

Congrats to Ashleigh on catching the $500 bouquet – you can read it below. We’ve also selected a handful of other stories as its bridesmaids. So, settle in to the table at the back with the relatives you don’t know, or make awkward hushed wake conversation and join us as we pay our respects while simultaneously throwing rice on this month’s selection…


 

JULY 2020 WINNER

BRIDEZILLA by Ashleigh Mounser

Despite marrying a vampire, Jessica was determined to have a midday ceremony.

“Vot if I catch fire?” Vlad asked nervously.

Vlad was an anxious man. It had something to do with his upbringing. Jessica had asked once, and promptly forgotten to listen to the answer.

“We’ll find a bit of shade,” Jessica said dismissively. “I’ve always imagined getting married on a glorious summer day.”

Vlad and Jessica were to be married on a family estate, which Vlad’s grandson rightfully should have inherited quite a while ago, only Vlad hadn’t died. It was a big green garden, with a pond filled with lily pads, and koi fish swimming peacefully under the surface of the water.

When the day finally came, it was very sunny indeed.

While Jessica was enhanced by a team of experts, Vlad flitted from shadow to shadow. He checked in with the caterers from the shade.

“So you are saying everything has garlic in it?”

The waiter nodded once again.

“Does it matter?” Jessica’s mother asked in a bored sort of way. “Aren’t you just going to eat one of the caterers anyway?”

Vlad sighed. “I do not eat. I drain ze blood.”

The waiter gulped.

“Not you,” Vlad said kindly. “Maybe zat tall one over zere.”

The ceremony was to be held under an enormous fig tree. As he waited for his bride with the celebrant, Vlad began to feel better about the whole situation. What was wrong with a nice outdoor ceremony? They certainly couldn’t have been married in a church.

The violin swelled – the bride was on her way.

Three tasty little flower girls emerged from the mansion, scattering imported rose petals this way and that.

Then, Jessica appeared, looking like a soft and fluffy meringue. She drifted down the aisle with her parents on either side, smiling beatifically at her guests. The videographer caught every moment of her descent.

Her parents gave her over, without much of a fight. They sat down.

“You look vonderful,” Vlad told Jessica sincerely.

“I know.”

“We are gathered here, in the sight of God –”

Vlad started. “God?”

“Yes, God.”

“I thought you vere a non-denominational celebrant?”

Jessica’s smile faltered a little.

“Jessica,” Vlad said slowly. “You didn’t hire a priest, did you? Zat was the one thing I cared about.”

“But … I always imagined getting married by a priest.”

A fig dropped from the tree, and a beam of sunlight reflected off the priest’s silver cross onto Vlad’s eye. Moaning, and growling, he staggered back between the aisles and into a bath of sunlight. As he went up in flames, he barrelled over the guests and towards the pond – but he was burnt to a crisp before he touched the water.

There was a long pause. Vlad’s grandson, and several of the waiters, looked thrilled.

Jessica leaned over to the videographer. “Can you cut that part out?”

“No problem.” The videographer shrugged. “He wasn’t showing up on camera anyway.”

What we loved:
Nawwww poor Vlad! This story is an enjoyable package from its cracker opening, corker characters, comedic ceremony and classic ending. Playing out like a film, the dialogue here is on point (complete with Vs and Zs!), propelling the story forward into the sunshine and hapless Vlad’s demise. Impressively, there is also a full cast of characters – bride, groom, parents of the bride, grandson of the groom, antsy caterers and deadpan videographer – each standing out without overcrowding the narrative or causing confusion (which can easily be the risk in flash fiction). We also love that each ‘bit’ earns its place – with a selection of vampire kryptonite expertly woven into the premise and delivering a giggle-worthy good time.


 

SHORTLISTED

SPONGE by Mm Bedloe, TAS

It rained the day they buried him. The town opened its arms to receive the weeping sky, and summer dust melted in silky pools of mud.

The woman had stepped carefully along the cemetery’s dirt paths, weaving between headstones in new, wrong shoes. Now she stood by an open grave under a pair of sheltering Moreton Bay figs. As a growing crowd of mourners quietly hemmed her in, she looked up into the branches and imagined the fruit bats that would come here later, feasting and singing and dropping their leftovers on the dead. Her father used to love watching them fly over his backyard at dusk, seeing the dark patterns they made against the purple sky.

The cemetery hummed with the memory of souls—long-dead gold miners and farmers, Chinese prospectors and Irish rebels, worn-out housewives, and tragic children. The woman felt their silent welcome.

Her whole family was here, some above ground, some beneath. Her mother and an infant sister whom none of them had met rested in the grave that now awaited her father. The woman looked at the sky, to stop herself thinking of them; the baby curled like a comma in her tiny box, her mother still wearing her favourite dress.

Yesterday, in a quest for memories, she’d searched drawers in her parent’s house and gave herself a paper cut on the cruel edge of a sheet bearing a recipe for sponge cake. In the familiar, lost handwriting, she felt her mother’s hopes for doing something new, her wish to make something light and delicate. She had been a woman of solid food—roasts and heavy biscuits filled with enough walnuts and dates to sustain you until dinner. The woman couldn’t remember tasting any sponge cake made by her mother.

She folded the recipe into her pocket. Her bleeding finger left a rusty print on the paper.

It had stopped raining. Everyone was still. Her father waited in his coffin, unseen and yet the only thing anyone could look at. The woman’s husband squeezed her fingers. Her brothers and sisters held the hands of their spouses too, and together they waited for things to be said and done.

The elderly aunts had been given chairs to sit in. Front row seats, three ladies in bright florals. Even now that they were old beyond count, even here with their dead brother at arm’s reach, two of them were cracking whispered jokes to each other and shaking with mirth. That’s how this family did it, and if her dad still had a voice, he’d be the worst offender. The woman looked at her aunts snorting into their hands and felt a surge of gratitude.

Later, the eldest aunt would host the wake in her house, where she would serve tea and cake. Victoria sponge.

The funeral director coughed gently. The woman looked down at her ruined shoes, and their red, clinging mud.

The fig tree shook free its rain, to fall softly on her hands.

What we liked:
A beautifully realised symphony for the senses, this story uses rich description to set the scene, personifying throughout from the town (opening its arms) and sky (weeping) to the cemetery (humming) and fig trees (shaking). In between, we are treated to elegant prose where even the most evocative lines (“the baby curled like a comma in her tiny box” or “the mourners quietly hemming her in”) are delicately handled. Relatable details abound, such as the “new, wrong shoes”, the whispering, giggling aunts and the paper cut on the handwritten recipe. And the final line cleverly echoes the sprinkling of icing sugar atop a fresh sponge cake – a fitting end to a quietly powerful piece.


 

SHORTLISTED

NOT TODAY by Latesha Randall, NZ

“Have you hidden the knives?” Mum whispers this subtly, but sternly, in my ear.

“Of course. You took care of the scissors, right?”

She nods, continues handing around mini club sandwiches. Smiling gracefully, accepting condolences along with used serviettes.

People say things like, ‘such a tragedy’, and ‘it was a real shame’ because they’re too embarrassed to mention what actually happened. Uncle Tom leaning too far over his fence in an attempt to poison the neighbours’ petunias (and thus ensure certain victory at the upcoming A&P Show), but instead toppling headfirst to his doom.

I never liked Uncle Tom that much to be honest – his kisses were whiskery and left behind the smell of beer.

But it’s not him we’re worried about today. He’s as good as six feet under.

It’s Mad Aunty Janice.

They had a pact between them, a Notebook-esque scenario where they’d pledged to leave this earthly realm together. Of course, Uncle Tom went and royally botched it up by planting his head amongst the petunia patch, and now Mad Aunty Janice is madder than usual.

She’s vowed she’ll cut her own throat before the end of the funeral, and that simply won’t do.

I have her in my sights now. Red dress. Yellow shoes. Blue hat. She looks like a box of crayons spontaneously combusted.

Uncle Bill is clasping her hand with the fervor of a young schoolboy. “Just terrible, terrible. Anything you need our dearest Jan, you only have to call.” I see her eyeing up his cufflinks and decide to swoop.

“Oh Uncle Bill, you’re so kind.” I firmly prise his hands off.

“Aunty Janice, the priest wants to speak with you?”

I scan for hazards while steering her in the direction of Father Graham. Misplaced car keys, pointy brooches, serving fork. Successfully avoided.

Mum catches my eye across the room, gives me a nod. We’re Bonnie & Clyde, Holmes & Watson, Ocean’s Two.

The hearse is ready. Everyone shuffles out to wave goodbye. As we gather in front of the coffin, I release a sigh of relief.

Too soon.

In a rainbow flash, Aunty Janice has leapt from the crowd and on top of the coffin.

There is a collective gasp from the crowd of respectable funeral-goers. They expected sausage rolls and soggy tissues, certainly not this.

“Family, friends. Tom and I promised ourselves to each other in life and death, and there’s no life for me without him. So, I’m afraid today I must bid you all farewell and join my darling Tommy.”

She whips a small bottle theatrically from her handbag. The crowd has frozen. The priest did not train for this situation in divinity school.

I can see, from a distance, the handwritten label in her distinctive cursive swirl.

Cyanide.

Aunty Janice knocks it back like a tequila shot and drapes herself over the coffin, ready for the end to come.

I turn to Mum in horror.

“Don’t worry,” she whispers.

“I replaced it with lemonade.”

What we liked:
We had our fair share of violent weddings and funerals, but this was an enjoyable (and far more relatable) romp of a mad Aunty Janice hellbent on making a memorable exit. Some excellent descriptions motor this story along as every object is a potential weapon, the story’s pace suiting this black comedy nicely. A great example of an active story, where the short paragraphs and punchy dialogue delivers a scene with interesting characters and just enough backstory to keep the reader entertained. Taika Waititi is surely in talks to direct this one (once he’s finished with Vlad’s wedding…).


 

SHORTLISTED

FAST FORWARD by Emily Roth, USA

When Cinnamon died, Alex tried everything. She bopped him over the head. She changed his batteries. She yelled into the black void between his eyes.

Finally, she called Marnie.

Marnie lived in the house behind Alex’s, their backyards separated by a patch of trees rather than a fence.

Marnie patted Cinnamon’s purple fur and tapped his orange feet.

“We’ll have a funeral,” Marnie announced. She had a way of deciding things that made Alex feel certain, when she otherwise wouldn’t be.

They dug a hole in Alex’s yard and laid Cinnamon to rest, tucking treasures around him. An eraser to play with. A grape to eat. Marnie cut a strand of her hair and coiled it between Cinnamon’s feet. “To remember me,” Marnie said. Alex followed suit, tucking her blonde curl under Marnie’s dark lock.

Marnie gave a eulogy. “You were a good Furby. Alex got you for Christmas. You liked to dance. You were learning English. If you had lived longer, I think you could have been fluent.”

Marnie always thought about the future. She longed for time to speed up, to become a grownup – an idea that terrified Alex.

“I’ll miss you, Cinnamon,” Alex said.

Marnie wiped away tears, but Alex wasn’t a crier.

The girls marked Cinnamon’s grave with dandelions and went looking for a new game.

And then, time sped up. The girls became adults. Alex moved across the country for school. Her parents sold the house, and a new family moved in.

When Marnie got sick, Alex tried everything. She bought Marnie a subscription for frozen smoothies. She put Marnie’s chemotherapy appointments in her calendar and texted during each one. She apologized for being unable to visit.

When Marnie moved into hospice, Alex sold her grandmother’s wedding ring to afford a plane ticket and arrived in time for the funeral. She watched the proceedings as if dazed, her chest heavy but her face dry. She still wasn’t a crier.

During the reception at Marnie’s parents’ house, Alex found a picture of herself and Marnie cuddling a purple blob between them. Cinnamon. A tickle grew in Alex’s throat.

When the awkward small talk finally ended, and the remarks about Alex’s calm composure finally quieted, Alex slipped through the trees into her childhood backyard, to the spot of Cinnamon’s burial.

Instead of the wilted yellow grass she expected, Alex found a beautiful rose garden. There were bushes in every color, from hot pink to yellow to mottled red and white.

Alex realized someone must have dug Cinnamon up long ago by accident. She imagined how surprised they would have been, when their shovel hit plastic and they tugged the fuzzball from the earth. She pictured them, bewildered, brushing dust from Cinnamon’s goofy face, and she started laughing so hard she had to sit down among the roses. She imagined Marnie laughing, and laughed harder.

Alex longed to fast forward to a time when she’d be able to cry for Marnie. But for now, laughing felt good.

What we liked:
Excellent opening and a lovely portrayal of a friendship over time, bookended by burials (which honoured the criteria in a creative way). Marnie is illustrated as a well-rounded character in so few words – and the split storylines, half in childhood, half in adulthood – is an effective mechanism to show a deep passage of time in a small word count. It’s the small, everyday details scattered among this narrative that build a sense of poignancy without melodrama. The gifts chosen to be placed with Cinnamon, the marked chemo appointments and follow up texts. Most importantly, the shared space that laughter and grief co-inhabit… deftly explored here with the light humour nestled among the sadder themes which come together and settle neatly in the final line.


 

SHORTLISTED

DARLING by Keti, Croatia

Frenzied hands under a dress. Silk stockings. Hot flesh. The nape of a neck. Her fingers between dark curls. Digging. Deeper. A warm mouth hovering over hers, a tongue licking the space between her lips. Of course she presses her body against a crisp new navy suit. Of course she tilts her head back and leans into the wet mouth with her own, slipping her tongue between teeth, sucking at bulbous lips. It was him. The musk of male skin, the mist of aftershave in her nostrils, the soft grate of stubble. Brown, veined hands kneading soft buttocks. She has been waiting.

Broken glass. Shouts. Bustle. A rattling doorknob.

Slick lips pulling apart. Passion-glazed eyes startled and alert. Hot breath on her cheek. Panting. Trembling. Limp hands slipping down a leg. A dress falls back into place. An Adam's apple bobs. A step taken backwards. Hands running through hair. A jacket adjusted. A face turned away. Unspent tears flickering on dark lashes.

And then he is gone.

“Darling are you ready?”

Music. Walking. White petals on manicured grass. A breeze. Faces. Smiles.

“Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to witness the love between these two people…”

Not his eyes. Not his lips.

“I do.”

What we liked:
No preamble here… the pace is rich from the get go and the language tactile. This unique approach throws the reader into the steamy scene and vividly creates an intimate interlude between two lovers. The paragraphs also nicely mimic the action – frenzied and long, passionate and full – then short, sharp breaks ‘ruining the mood’ but revealing the reality. Even the short word count (barely 200) feels perfectly matched to this frantic glimpse that we get. A great example of respecting the reader – there’s no need to spell out the who/what/wheres here, instead allowing the clues to be gathered from the ‘show’, not the ‘tell’ and the final beats resulting in a [mwah!] perfect ending.


 

SHORTLISTED

THE UNFINISHED EULOGY by Matthew Dewar, WA

I itched to be buried. The process of decomposition thrilled me as the excitement for my next adventure loomed. The earth had provided all I needed to grow. Every drop of water and every nutrient encouraged me to reach for the heavens. Now it was time to return.

The service began with a priest standing above me, lifting his voice to the heavens. Singing intervals broke up sections between his sermon, before family members took to the podium to read their very moving eulogies. Whoever this dead man was, he was loved and appreciated by all.

I couldn’t stop myself from wondering how my eulogy would read if anyone lamented my loss. My assistance went without thanks. My existence occurred without notice. But my impact was profound.

Millions of years ago my tough exterior provided an opportunity for claws to be sharpened in preparation for battle. Flying dinosaurs nested in my canopy, and under that my thick roots provided a safe haven from the predators that were always on the prowl.

When I fell, I was reclaimed by my mother who nurtured me and promised me new life. There was more I had to do.

We had the sun and the moon. It was as simple as that. And then man created the flames that licked at my skin. As my blackened ashes returned to the earth, I watched as man grew stronger.

I was shaped into smooth logs. Gigantic blocks of stone rolled along me. It was hard to imagine what the angry men with the whips were planning until the giant pyramids took shape. Once they no longer required me, I was cut into many smaller pieces and repurposed. I became weapons and tools; I travelled far and remained near.

Waves crashed against my hull in the race to find new land and conquer strange people. Other ships made it to shore, but a sharp reef tore through me and debris littered the ocean. For years I washed up on foreign beaches where my uses continued to morph and expand.

Heavy-laden dinner plates rested on me as a family ate together and shared news of their day. Books with the secrets to the universe lay on my shelves waiting to be explored. I created the sturdy structure from which a home could then be made from. Students leant over me, furiously studying and typing and growing. Children laughed as they played with me, building tall, colourful castles and whatever their imagination could conceive. Loved ones gathered to say their final goodbye, and my most important action on this earth was transporting their beloved to his final resting place.

My eulogy would be an epic. But a eulogy was reserved for death, and my new life was just beginning.

What we liked:
While we did receive a few unique takes on the story protagonist, this one stands out for both its creative approach and unrelenting commitment to flashing its life before its ‘eyes’. Solid opening and closing lines make room for the criteria to effortlessly fill the grooves within the story – as we are caught up in the current of this purposeful life and endless potential. Ultimately, we enjoyed it at face-value as a thought-provoking piece exploring the wonder of wood and the many ways it has served man and animals throughout the ages. In doing so, it also allowed us to parallel an uplifting way to view our own organic departure.


 

SHORTLISTED

HERE’S TO THE BRIDE & GROOM by Cheryl Nicol, NZ

There’s something oozing between her toes. She can’t look at him.

He’s tall and suave-looking in his suit and bow-tie, standing stiffly beside her. Just like Mr Darcy – the strong silent type, one guest remarked.

She’s very much the traditional bride – frothy dress, immaculate hair and makeup. Third time for them both.

She’s heard the tittering. Is she or isn’t she? Pregnant? No. A gold digger? Definitely not. That’s not what interests the titterers.

It’s her underwear.

So what, if she’s not wearing knickers. Why should they care?

She just wants it to be over. She’d run if she could, but they have to wait until they cut the cake. Then there’s that thing afterwards. Not the mutual smearing of cake in each other’s faces. Bad enough. It’s the other thing she’s dreading.

The first time it happened was a shock. The second time made her angry. It was undignified and unnecessary. And now it’s about to happen again.

She braces herself for the ordeal. The laughing. The grabbing.

She’d scream if she could. Her arms are pinned. She can’t struggle. A forcible wrench and she’s tipped upside down.

No, please. Not that. It’s humiliating. Her feet are being sucked by a stranger.

“Mmm… I just luurve vanilla frosting,” coos the real-life bride, unaware that she’s cut her tongue on something sharp.

Mr Darcy stares straight ahead, oblivious, just like he did the other times. No help at all.

His turn next, and he won’t bat an eyelid. He has no eyelids.

It’s a curse, being made of plastic.

What we liked:
This story was all about having fun, both with its execution and with its reader. As we often say, a great opening is a big part of flash fiction – and here it did the job of piquing the reader’s interest immediately. Soon after, we stay with it thanks to a well-placed hook – ‘Then there’s that thing afterwards’ which dangles delicious intrigue in its mirthful misdirection. Even the staccato rhythm throughout matches what you’d expect from a plastic figurine’s POV and the slurpy reveal is the icing on the cake! A timely reminder that you don’t always have to make the story about the invited guests… the real gold can lurk in the fringes; the hired help, the extras… or in this case, the people made of plastic.


 

LONGLISTED ENTRANTS

Congrats to the following longlisted stories this month. We received more than 1600 entries, so you’re still in the top 3% of everything that we read – keep up the great work. Next month it could be you walking down the Furious Fiction aisle!

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

  • BUTTONS by Dave Evan-Watkins, UK
  • PEW AND COFFIN by Dayle Fogarty, NSW
  • THE WEIGHT by Marc Howard, VIC
  • VOID by Amy Hutton, NSW
  • FLY AWAY by Alex Law, USA
  • FUNERAL by Ant Smith, UK
  • THE STOWAWAYS by Sue Wright, UK
  • TOPPER by Ilinca Oprea, Romania
  • GRIEF by Shelly Rye, Canada
  • APRON STRINGS by Clare Bonner, UK
  • GRANDMA PRUDENCE by S. Björk, Iceland
  • KISS THE BRIDE by Kenna Shaw Reed, ACT
  • UNTITLED by Amy Van Der Merwe, VIC
  • PASSED OVER by Lauren Ford, QLD
  • THE BIG DAY by Ian Gough, UK
  • THE FUNERAL by Charlene Mertz, USA
  • NO TIME FOR DITHER OR DELAY by Fran Tracey, UK
  • I DO by Briee, India
  • PERPETUATING MYTHS by Jane Connolly, QLD
  • UNTITLED by Jess, NSW
  • UNTITLED by Oluebube Anukam, Nigeria
  • WHAT SHE WANTED by Rob Mcivor, UK
  • ENDLESS by Zachary Pryor, VIC
  • THE BEST FUNERAL EVER by Ella Bailey, TAS
  • THE BELIEVER by Warren Benedetto, USA
  • THE HOLE by Catriona McKeown, QLD
  • BATMAN AND THE NINJA by Karlynn Sievers, USA
  • UNTITLED by Carly Mitchell, VIC
  • RED THREAD by Yves Clementine, Brazil
  • A DAY TO REMEMBER by Kasey Scott, NSW
  • MARTIAN MANNERS by Chris Targett, SA
  • UNTITLED by Udoejumunor Ojogbo, Nigeria
  • APART FROM THE LATE CAKE by Jade Raykovski, VIC
  • THE DEFENDER by Anna Winter, NSW
  • THE WEDDING by Tia Burke, QLD
  • THE TRAVELLER by K.L. Winter, VIC
  • THE MOTHER'S FUNERAL by Laura Cliss, UK
  • HER ONLYCHILD by Catherine Howard, UK
  • RISING LIKE SMOKE, SPARKLING LIKE A DIAMOND by Mike Smee, NSW
  • GARDENIAS AND GOSSAMER by Lauren Wesley-Smith, South Africa
  • TOMORROW by Jen Springfield, SA
  • THE HOLE by Bailey Green, VIC
  • FOR BETH- WORKING DRAFT by Laura McIntosh, VIC
  • THE FIRST CUT by Angela McCrann, UK
  • GONE by Meg Warrin, SA
  • EXISTENCE PART 2 by G.A. Hamilton, NSW
  • THE ULTIMATE WINNER by Si Su, Slovenia
  • UNTITLED by Tc Bingham, Thailand
  • HEELS by Julia Carpenter, VIC
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