Furious Fiction June 2019 winner and shortlist

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Near-record entries came flooding in for June’s Furious Fiction this month (more than 1000 stories across the weekend!) – which means our fans well and truly came to the PARTY. We put that word in caps just then for a reason – because that played a big part(y) in this month’s criteria…

This was what was required for JUNE:

  • The story had to take place at a PARTY of some kind.
  • The story had to include a BUTTON.
  • The story had to include the following sentence (which was to be completed with one or more words): The air was thick with _______.

The air was thick with parties of all shapes and sizes – political parties, divorce parties, search parties, birthday parties and many more crazier still. Buttons were pushed, they popped loose and they were stitched on. It was a fun set of prompts, and the quality of the stories reflected that.

Thanks to ALL who entered (it’s not easy to put your work out there) – and extra big congratulations go to this month’s AUD$500 winner and our first overseas winner in the history of Furious Fiction – Aisan L. Afshar. You can read Aisan’s story below, as well as a selection of 10 shortlisted stories and a further longlist of entrants whose stories were right up there in contention. Congrats to all!


JUNE 2019 WINNER

TOO EARLY FOR LOVE by Aisan L. Afshar

Cupid relished the feeling of cool crispy grass tickling his bare feet as he landed, gradually taking his corporal form. His feet were always the first victim of human’s sense of touch. Looking up at the sky, he sighed, then scanned the crowded lawn. With practiced grace, he manoeuvred his way around the unassuming mortals. He even snagged a frosted cupcake off an oblivious adult in passing.

Cupid reached into his pockets, annoyed to find a loaded Nerf gun instead of his beloved bow. He hated it when they messed with the bow. Fiddling with the toy-gun, he looked around the sunny field. Ribbons, balloons, and a giant chocolate cake with a bunch of gifts…birthday party then.

He might stay longer for the cake after he was done.

He tapped his earpiece. “Where’s my bow?”

“Try the new one in your pocket,” the voice said proudly. “Much more effective than bows.”

“I’m comfortable with the bow.”

Cupid felt the young god shrug. “Sorry, the big guy insisted.”

“Well, he’d better tell me next time there’s an upgrade. I have no idea how to work this thing.”

“It’s a Nerf gun. There’s only one safety button,” Junior deadpanned.

Cupid sighed, munching on his cupcake as he surveyed the crowd. The air was thick with a syrupy childishness that he found frustrating. There was even a piñata hung up, and the majority of the mortals were small toddlers. This place wasn’t usually in his line of work.

“The name?”

“Annie. Auburn hair, brown eyes, dimples.” Cupid gazed over at the huge banner installed above his head, nodding. “It’s the birthday girl.”

He pocketed the love gun in his pocket and headed for the big table, noting the abundance of toddlers gathered in the area.

This Annie had to be one of the mothers then, probably sitting at the head of the long table with her kid.

His jaw clicked and his eyes narrowed as he finally found her, seated at the head in a green summer dress and a birthday crown, smearing frosting all over her face and the boy next to her. Rolling his eyes, Cupid tapped his earpiece again.

“I found Annie.”

“Great-”

“She’s five.” Cupid cut him off.

“What?”

“Annie, Auburn hair, wearing a birthday crown. She’s five and the boy she likes is probably three.”

Junior went mute on the other side.

“Maybe you just got there a little early?” Jupiter Jr. finally said.

Cupid’s eyebrows rose above his hairline, his nose scrunched, molding his face into an unflattering expression. For once, he was glad to be invisible. “By how long? Fifteen years?”

The sound of shuffling and papers rustling came from the other end as Junior grumbled. The rustling stopped. “Ugh, sorry, the files must have gotten mixed up again.” They both huffed.

“Pete’s new; the moron must have confused the dates.”

Cupid groaned.

“You’re coming up?”

The love god threw a longing glance at the cake.

“No, I might as well stay for the cake.”

What we loved:
Amid many stories this month about regular humans who didn’t want to be at their respective parties, this story cut through with great effect – playing off a beloved character (see what we did there?) and playing out in vivid fashion, much like a movie scene. Thanks to the tight narrative and excellent details (Nerf gun, earpiece, clicking jaw, silly Pete with the sloppy paperwork etc), this was a joy to read as we could picture it so clearly. Basically, the moment Cupid became a field operative, we were hooked, with punchy, often hilariously deadpanned dialogue peppered throughout.


SHORTLISTED

UNTITLED by Sarah Jane Justice

Brent was still getting to know Sally when she invited him to the dinner party. At least, he referred to it as a dinner party before being forcefully corrected.

“It’s a soirée. A gathering of minds. Don’t call it a dinner party.”

He still wasn’t entirely sure what the difference was, but being grateful enough that Sally had trusted him to accompany her to such an event, he decided his best bet was to listen and follow her instructions.

At the soirée, the air was thick with the kind of tightly clenched formalities you’d expect from people who gather to celebrate a royal wedding with desperate envy in their collective eyes.

“Button mushrooms?”

Brent saw the plate of buttered fungi being offered towards him and knew that he had the option to simply accept it in silence. He knew that he could keep his mouth shut and continue to absorb the paralysing dullness of high-brow conversation. He also knew that he was absolutely not going to do that.

“I guess that’s what you’d call a… passing of the button? Hey?”

The man opposite Brent stared blankly back at him, still holding the plate of mushrooms without saying a word.

“Don’t worry we don’t need to relay that to the rest of the group… butt-on another note…”

Brent gripped his champagne glass with the grace of a blindfolded toddler and grinned into the deadpan abyss that was still staring back at him.

“Brent-”

Sally seemed to be making a subtle attempt to get her date’s attention, but Brent was far too bored and just tipsy enough to pretend he hadn’t noticed.

“You know you could put that plate down now fella… although I guess… there’s not mush-room left on the table… is there…”

Sally’s lips were tightly sealed, but Brent could feel her jaw clenching from a full seat over. Slowly, the murmurs of polite conversation were fading as people started to notice that an interruption was taking place.

With a pointed clearing of his throat, the man who was still staring down his nose at Brent with a plate full of button mushrooms in his hand decided to speak.

“I’m sorry. Who were you, again?”

Sally looked like she wanted to answer on his behalf, but Brent had decided to go all in.

“I was Brent. Still am, in fact.”

Given that no-one else was laughing, Brent decided to take it upon himself to start cackling raucously at his own comedic genius.

“I would tell you who brought me along tonight, but this last pun’s all I got…. S’all I… kinda sounds like Sally… if you…”

Apart from Brent’s own laughter, the room had reached a hush so deep the silence itself seemed to be echoing. Feeling like he had done enough, he stood up, collected his things and began heading towards the exit.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, I have been Brent,” he called over his shoulder without turning around, “Tip your waiters and try the mushrooms.”

What we liked:
Humour was out in force this month, and this story unashamedly dished out the cringes with the grace of a blindfolded toddler. Along the way, we were lured in by strong opening paragraphs which succeeded in setting the scene nicely. Brent clearly enjoys a pun or three when he gets on the sauce, and who are we to deny him his fun. Fantastic descriptions and a cautionary tale for us all!


SHORTLISTED

ODE TO THE MORNING AFTER by Amelia Warren

Tonight I will go to a party, and tomorrow morning I will burn. I will wake up with my lips on fire, dusty red, to be licked the rest of the day. It will feel as if ash covers my tongue and has been blown behind my eyes. I won’t be able to see past the well-placed glass of water beside my bed. It will be full and large, and the sun will peek at it through the thick curtains, highlighting the greasy fingerprints around the rim. The whole day, I will fight to go back to sleep. I will fight the sun and the rattling daytime of the room. I will fight my family elsewhere in the house whose noises will threaten me unmuffled, like the sounds of a loud cartoon. I will fight the smell of sweat that will begin to cling to my blankets, I will fight my oiled skin and my stripped throat. I will fight the thoughts of what I was meant to do that day.

When I am brave enough, I will sneak up to the mirror and stumble with pretend horror at my reflection. I will marvel at it. The deep black lines filling the crevices of my eyes, the mysterious dirt smeared beneath my freshly-chipped blue nails. The rancid taste of my breath. I will look around my room, in the dim heat and dirty light. It will look as if it is being seen through an empty beer glass.

I will long for food I never have wanted. Eggs, fried, slithering across white bread. Burnt bacon. Too-sweet tea. I will remain in whatever pajamas I managed to cling onto during the night – all the buttons will be done wrong. My path towards the kitchen will be attempted with bare feet. They will flip across the tiles with flat indifference, and collect the crumbs of the morning floor. I will rush towards the fridge with uncritical eyes. I will welcome its ingredients with the eagerness of a mother welcoming sleep. My stomach will be thickly oiled. It will prevent me from turning my head too quickly, or rolling over in sleep, but it will allow me to enjoy food with an open heart.

I will be angry. I will open my arms to a grumpy sun-hating disposition for the rest of the day. The trail of fallen clothes will guide my feet like a downy carpet back to my bed, and I will feel a strong affinity for those who are also loudly suffering this morning – who will swear that they will never do it again and yet throb with the desire that they will. We will all lie in a long line and laugh at those who can bear to look sunlight in the eye.

The air was thick with silence as I turned off the light, wishing that I had a party to go to, wishing for a morning after.

What we liked:
Visceral and wonderfully descriptive (the details here will seem very familiar to many!), this is an incredibly evocative piece – engaging so many of our senses as it proceeds through the fallout of the night before that wasn’t. The story’s unusual take – regretting a hangover that never happened – was particularly inventive and worked extremely well as told in this intimate way.


SHORTLISTED

FRIENDSHIP SOUP by Dean MacAllister

Recipe for Friendship Soup:

-Open package holiday and take out 3 couples
-Add 6 plane tickets and 12 over-packed suitcases
-Mix with 2 babysitters and a cattery
-Sprinkle with sunglasses, itineraries and exchange rates
-Add a liberal splash of alcohol
-Stir with shared histories, embarrassing secrets and a forgotten indiscretion
-Pour into hot water and allow to simmer

“Come on, guys. It’s my birthday! Can’t we just play nice this trip?” Rebecca implored.

The air was thick with steam and resentment. The spa jets hummed away.

“I’ll tell you what, I really needed that massage today. I think a year’s worth of stress was squeezed out of me,” Barry said, changing the subject.

“Must be hard work sitting in that air-conditioned office of yours all day,” Mitchel jabbed, still twirling his moustache. “Actually, your massage seemed to take longer than ours for some reason …”

“You cheeky bas-”

The lights in the room went out and the conversation died. The spa jets went quiet. The green light of the exit sign flickered and came back on. They sat in silence, waiting for the power to return.

“Maybe someone should see what’s going on?” Cynthia asked.

“It’s okay, babe. It will probably come on in a minute.”

The exit light died. They were now in complete darkness.

“Great!” Keith said. “Aren’t those exit lights meant to have batteries?”

“I think so. Maybe they’ve never been changed before,” Mitchel said.

“So, what do we do now?” Jennifer asked.

“Wait I guess,” her husband suggested.

Minutes passed. The water began to splash rhythmically.

“What’s that?” Cynthia asked and then squealed. “Hey! Who pinched me?”

“Ouch! Someone stepped on me. Was that you Barry?”

“No. I’m over here.”

“I really need to use the toilet!” Jennifer whined.

“You’ll just have to wait, honey. Whose hand is that?”

“I can’t hold it any longer!”

More splashing noises. Wandering fingers, exploring toes and other appendages intentionally and accidentally ended up in places they didn’t belong. Grunts of pleasure and pain. Apologies and curses. The darkness seemed to last an eternity. Names were called out without response. Fingernails dug into backs. Tongues found ears. A giggle was heard as a moustache tickled an armpit. A large slap rung out, echoing off the walls, just as the lights came back on. They stared at each other in surprise. They had all switched places. The light exposed everything. The water had changed colour from a multitude of secretions, a sort of dirty soup they had created.

Horror filled the faces of all in the tub, except Keith, who leaned over and pushed a button.

“No!” the others yelled out. But it was too late.

The spa’s jets restarted.

Recipe for Friendship Soup (Cont’d):

-When friendships are done, gently remove couples from hot water and allow to cool
-Separate into 6 individual portions
-Season with conjunctivitis, an infected piercing and a pregnancy test
-Garnish with spicy accusations and a restraining order
-Serve with divorce papers
-Enjoy

What we liked:
This one made us curious with its attention-grabbing start, before getting everyone into hot water with a fun and somewhat seedy scene of underwater Twister, book-ended with a scandalous soup that yields laugh-out-loud results. Another good example of thinking outside the box to find a new way to tell a familiar kind of story.


SHORTLISTED

SOMETHING IN THE AIR by Nero

Jack Withers fiddled nervously with his top button – I mean seriously, what was wrong with a t-shirt? He was still tired and definitely out of his comfort zone. It was meant to be his party, but nobody had consulted him on the decorations, the food, and especially not the guest list – if another middle-aged woman tried to pick him up, he was out of there. This party was a waste of time. 

He surveyed the room and spotted somebody closer to his age and more his type, but he couldn’t catch her eye with all those admirers vying for her attention. 

“So you’re awake?” Suddenly Jack found himself face to face with his father. “It’s about time – there are some people who can’t wait to meet you.” There was only one person Jack was interested in meeting, but at least this might get him closer to her.

As they weaved their way through the crowd, she came in and out of his view. Yes! They were headed right for the group of oldies she had been entertaining. The air was thick with oohs and aahs – and just a hint of polident – and he now found himself smack in the middle of it. She was finally within his grasp. 

“Jack, this is Emily. Emily, Jack.” He leaned in to kiss her on the cheek, but she turned suddenly and he somehow grabbed a chunk of her lovely curls instead. She let out an almighty scream – which did seem like a bit of an overreaction – and he pulled his hand away. Unfortunately, he was still holding her hair tightly as he did so. Unsurprisingly, she screamed again, but this time she screamed so hard she threw up. And then she was gone. 

Jack searched the room frantically – this couldn’t be the end. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw that she was headed for the bathroom and he knew what he had to do. Jack pushed as hard as he could and the air was suddenly thick with something quite different.

“Ah – I see somebody needs a change.” Success! 

“So sorry about that,” said his father as he lay Jack down on the change table and unzipped the nappy bag. 

“Not at all,” said Emily’s mother. “They must be almost the same age – we should organise a playdate.”

Jack smiled. This party hadn’t been a waste of time after all.

What we liked:
We love a good twist – not always easy to achieve in flash fiction but done to great effect here. What at first seems like a tightly written story about a man trying to catch a woman’s eye at a party (including good use of the “air was thick with oohs and aahs”) suddenly catches a whiff of something different altogether. One of those stories that’s funny to re-read – where middle aged women trying to pick him up takes on a whole new meaning! Something in the air indeed.


SHORTLISTED

BETTER THAN A KNITTING CIRCLE by Keely Fleming

The air was thick with goat’s blood and buttercream. This was not atypical for a Friday night in Irving although usually the blood arrived in a resealable butcher’s bag, not in one that, until a minute ago, had been bleating and attempting to eat their robes. Ethel eyed the still dripping knife dubiously.

The problem wasn’t the blood, per se, even if the goat might have felt differently about it. The problem was that blood-letting hadn’t been observed this… accurately for about fifty years. Irving had the distinction of having a long, proud history of Satanism in the same way that some towns have a long, proud history of cheese-making. Here, Satanism was a hobby that got you out of the house every Friday. Most of the town showed up to these little parties; everybody brought snacks, threw a smidge of blood around, said an incantation or two, then had a gossip around the snack table. In truth, Satanism without malicious intent is about as dangerous as a knitting circle and just as wicked. However…

“Well met, Coven,” intoned the High Priest.

The issue with the new High Priest wasn’t just that he believed in the rituals, but that he wanted them to succeed. Specifically, he wanted to summon the Big Guy Below. Ethel didn’t believe in the rituals, but she wasn’t about to go around spouting the S-Man’s name while blood cooled on a pentagram either. That was just asking for trouble.

Around the circle people’s eyes gleamed bright and fervent under black hoods; for once they looked like the witches they claimed to be. This was the other problem with the High Priest; he made others believe too. Ethel’s fun little gatherings had become weekly rites, and she was not pleased with the change. She looked at the snack table, empty but for her contribution, and considered.

“Now, Unblessed Children-” The High Priest began, and was interrupted.

“Before we start, does anybody want a cupcake? Nothing worse than hungry witching!” Ethel exclaimed brightly.

“Cupcake?” Asked the High Priest, confused.

“Cupcake?” Asked her neighbour Dora, covetous.

“Cupcake!” Ethel said. “I made red velvet!”

With murmurings of appreciation the group began to gravitate towards the tray, bypassing the increasingly annoyed High Priest. Just as Ethel reached for the first cupcake, he spoke.

“Coven, was I mistaken in thinking you desired to be taken seriously? Did you not want to be respected for your wickedness and daring?”

They looked at each other uncertainly. Did they want to be part of a real cult? One the world would respect and, far more importantly, that other, boring, towns would envy?

“Oooh, they have little chocolate buttons!” Someone exclaimed.

Sold!” Said Dora and just like that the townspeople had decided.

“There are no cupcakes in Satanic cults!” The High Priest yelled, a lot less high and priestly when being ignored for baked goods.

“There are in this one,” Ethel said firmly.

“Bloody good cupcake, Ethel!” Someone called.

“Yes,” she laughed, “They’re positively wicked!”

What we liked:
As we said, this was a month for humour and this story had us smiling right from the first sentence. Quite a lot of entries began with ‘The air was thick with…’ however this one was unexpected and intriguing enough to grab our interest. In particular, we enjoyed Ethel’s penchant for a cosy catch up with a side of Satanism and her hilarious interplay with the High Priest. A positively wicked “CWA meets 666” scenario, wonderfully told.


SHORTLISTED

LOST FOR WORDS by Ian Orchard

The girl in the corner was looking at him. Twice, three times now. She was talking to her friends, but her eyes kept flicking his way. He should ask her to dance. But what if she said no? All the others had. Girls would rather sit on a chair against the wall than dance with him.

She was pretty though, as far as he could tell when the flashing lights lit up her face. The sort of girl you’d like to know. And the more he looked, the prettier she became. If he didn’t ask he would regret it. 

Their eyes met, and he looked away, mortified. 

He thought she might have smiled at him.

He should go now, before the end of the song. But he didn’t move, and the music began to fade. So he had to wait, because what if the next song was a slow one? That would be too awkward for a first dance. 

It wasn’t. It was Mr Brightside, one of his favourites; he could really get down to that. Go now.

But hesitation doomed him.

A guy in a maroon suit (I mean, how uncool is that?) was there, probably her boyfriend, she was bound to have one, and led her by the hand on to the dance floor. He pretended he was cool, that he wasn’t watching the way her dress hugged her body, or how her bare shoulders and arms moved to the music, or how her dark hair brushed her neck. No one was fooled. He hated the guy, who was leaning towards her, saying something while gyrating smoothly, lightly touching her arms. “I just can’t look it’s killing me”; the words of the song taunted him.

The music stopped. She said something, then went back to her friends. 

She was free.

He surprised himself by pushing off the wall and dodging through the throng towards her. The next song began, and he knew he was cursed. He hated rap, you couldn’t dance to it, although it didn’t worry anyone else. Couples rushed to the dance floor. Strobe lights flashed, a haze machine began to blow smoke, and he felt like he was walking in slow motion, that he would never get to her. 

Her friends saw him, said something and giggled. He felt clumsy, ugly, smelly, wished he hadn’t spiked his hair up with wax, but it was too late now, she was looking at him. 

“Hi I’m Peter would you like to dance?” he said, commas arriving too late to be of use.

She said, “Yes, but I hate rap. Can we wait for a song that I know?” but he couldn’t see her mouth move because the air was thick with fog and he was fumbling for the button on his hearing aid which he had turned down because the music was so loud, and which he only found in time for her last word.

So all he heard was no.

What we liked:
A well-paced, well told story of hear-sitation (see what we did there? Brent from that early story would be proud…). Great use of the button and ‘air was thick with’ line to introduce the story’s twist. And while the story had a heartbreaking ending, it did warm our hearts to see the effective use of short and long sentences, natural rhythm and an authentic protagonist for such a short story.


SHORTLISTED

ONE HUNDRED by Charlotte Greene

The button was less than ten metres away, which would make things tricky.

Judith made the expected pleased noises when the nurse presented the cake to her, ooh-ing over the sickly yellow icing and ahh-ing at the plastic monstrosity perched among the candles. It read ‘Ha py irthda’ after years of being shoved with forks and butter knives through the dishwasher.

“Happy birthday, Judith!” said the nurse, Sarah, who was still fresh-faced and not yet disillusioned with working in the industry.

Judith played along. “It’s my birthday?” she asked, as though the banner declaring just that wasn’t hanging over the door to the rec room. Even if she had managed to miss the garish bubble letters with her poor eyesight, the balloons littering the floor around her favourite chair certainly gave it away.

“That’s right! The big one-hundred! What are you going to wish for?”

She pretended to think about it until Sarah set the cake on the tray table in front of her and turned away to find some paper plates. This was her chance, and she knew exactly what she was wishing for.

Behind Sarah’s back she caught the eyes of the other residents, all of whom gave her a grim nod. With trembling hands that ached from decades of arthritis, Judith plucked out the glowing candles and dropped them one by one into her lap.

Judith had lived a century now. She’d been born to an emotionally vacant mother and drunk father, dropped out of school to run away with her childhood sweetheart at sixteen, raised five children, retired, travelled the country and then the world, become a widow, and lost the rest of her family one after another to either death or distance. She’d landed in the ‘assisted living facility’ back when they still called it a ‘nursing home’. Apparently that was un-pc now, as one of dear Marty-down-the-hall’s grandsons constantly liked to remind her.

Judith had lived a long time indeed, and she was well and truly over it. She’d promised long ago that she’d go out with a bang, but when you were stuck in a home you found that options were limited. What better than your own one-hundredth birthday party?

When the flames started growing, the main challenge was keeping poor Sarah from running those ten short metres, pulling back the glass cover, and slamming the button to trigger the fire alarm. That’s what the other residents were for. Marty tripped her with a well-placed cane, while Cheryl, Josie, and Frank blocked her path with their walkers. Herman and Lisa had already barred the doors.

The air was thick with smoke when Judith finally told them to let Sarah make her escape. They weren’t monsters, after all, and by that point the damage was done.

Judith smiled and leaned back into her chair.

“Good work, folks.”

Her eyes were starting to sting from the heat and smoke, so she let them slip closed. It was almost time for her afternoon nap, anyway.

What we liked:
Surprisingly, there were a lot of planned deaths in the party stories this month – make of that what you will! But this tale of Judith’s expertly planned departure from the world just after bringing up her century was entertaining and well laid out, with a good dollop of black humour. Great closing line.


SHORTLISTED

SEARCH PARTY by Ellen Wrin

I was sorted into group seven of twelve. I rubbed my thumb over a button inside my jacket pocket and watched the organizers move down the line. When it was my turn, I gave the button one last familiar rub and held out my hands. I was issued a torch and a glossy photo of a freckle-faced redhead in a green wool peacoat. Search party organization at its finest. Of course, Cordelia Harris was the mayor’s daughter, so only the best would do.

The photo was flat and unmoving. There was no way it could show Cordy’s eyes darting around, looking for an exit whenever her mother walked in the room. If I looked hard enough, though, I could see the fear behind her brilliant smile.

Mayor Harris’s voice crackled out of the bullhorn, “Alright, people. My daughter has been missing for twenty-seven hours now. Each team search their part of the grid carefully, but quickly. I want to bring my girl home.” Her eyes narrowed ever-so-slightly, and her lips tightened.

No one else seemed to notice the white-knuckled fist hanging at her side.

My group started at the southern border of our grid and swept east and north. When we reached the edge, we’d sweep back west again, always moving vaguely northward. Our grid skirted the old mill road on the right, but forest filled the bulk of it. The air was thick with the smell of leaf mulch and wet earth. The rain had finally stopped, but every so often the wind shook droplets out of the trees to remind us that it was autumn and the reprieve would be short-lived.

We were sweeping back west, almost at the northern border of our grid when a shout came out to our right. The wind whipped up again, and raindrops ran down my neck like a dead girl’s fingertips. We ran toward the shouts.

Scraps of green wool peeked out of the fallen leaves, shredded as if an animal had dug through them for a fine bit of meat. I faded back into the background as the searchers began looking for poor Cordy’s remains.

Not that they’d find her. Hecate would honor my bargain and keep me hidden. I had certainly paid the price.

This hadn’t been a search party – it was my going away party.

I pulled the green button from my pocket, dropped it at the center of the crossroads, and faded into the fog.

What we liked:
Proof that not every party needs to involve a cake, a crowded room and music. The idea of a search party is a good one, and in particular this was a great example of short storytelling that doesn’t need to give all the answers. We’re right there, feeling the tension, as this part crime/thriller, part mystery/magic tale unfolded and faded into the night. Bonus points for giving us two types of parties! (We’re kidding; there are no points, calm down.)


SHORTLISTED

LUST by Daniel Murray

David Bowie didn’t like it. Neither did Elton John. Darth Vader he couldn’t tell.

He edged away from the bottom of the stairs, conscious now that he’d stared a little too long at the derriere of Britney Spears as she climbed the stairs in her tiny skirt en route to the bathroom. He gathered his choice of apparel had something to do with it.

Mother had warned him, ‘you’re not even spiritual.’

But it’s topical and ironic, he’d argued. People appreciate that. Now he wasn’t so sure.

He’d relocated to the bottom of the stairs after deflecting dagger-like glares from the Kardashians as he hovered over the buffet table. He’d bundled his plate with as much food as he could carry inflaming their anorexic scowls. But as he left, he realised in horror the subject of their concern was the children at the end of the table not the breaded drumsticks.

The outfit was supposed to be an ice breaker. Perhaps he’d run into a naughty nurse or a flirty French maid and they could re-enact the Benny Hill skit, then he’d bundle them into the cupboard and demand their sordid confessions.

The air was thick with lust. Impotent lust. It cost him $50 to get here in a taxi. He was painfully sober. Painfully alone. He took a swig from his glass.

“Supping the altar wine, are you Father?”

He let out a giggle. A painful giggle because it clogged in his throat and caused him to splutter. He took a wide gulp of his wine. Almost as wide as his eyes when they perused the buxom young Viking in front of him.

“Daenerys,’ she said, ‘Y’know mother of dragons.”

“Oh,” he nodded, a little hot under the collar. He had absolutely no idea what she was talking about.

She spoke. He listened. For over an hour. Harry Potter and Bono looked on enviously. For the first time it felt like a hell of a party.

“’Ey yoo!” Three large fingers butted his shoulder. Towering above him was a bearlike Braveheart, kilt and all, staggering in drunkenness. Braveheart’s shadow painting him in fear. “I cannae stand priests.”

“Hmmm?” He had no idea why he turned into Jeeves every time he felt threatened.

“Don’t giv’ me al’ that religious mumbo jumbo.” He growled. “I wassan’ altar boy – yoo nothin’ but a pedo.”

Sitting at the bus-stop after being asked to leave he cursed the outfit. In the melee he’d lost a button meaning he’d forfeit the costume deposit. He straightened his collar and scowled; he was sober as a…. it was then he had an idea.

Blue flashing lights illuminated the windows of the hall as he pointed out the culprit to the Sergeant.

“That him? We’ll let you get back to your party, Father. Fundraiser is it?”

“Hmm? Orphans.”

The cop handed over a $50 note.

“Bless you,” he said.

In the doorway the beautiful Viking held his shirt button. 

And bless you, he whispered, to the heavens.

What we liked:
Any story that manages to bring David Bowie, Elton John and Darth Vader together into a believable opening scene is going to make you want to read on! This use of the fancy dress personas works incredibly well upfront here (“Darth Vader he couldn’t tell” is wonderfully observed) – bringing the setting to life and involving a playful narrative voice throughout. Loneliness, danger, deception and lust – this had it all, rolled together in one party package.


SHORTLISTED

UNTITLED by Darlene Thomson

Like always I walked straight into the “old’s” unlocked house. A throwback from the war days when they’d had to rush out to an air raid shelter as quickly as possible so never had time to fiddle with a lock.

Every week when I visited the noise of the six o’clock news pumping out of their old box TV greeted me. In fact I could hear it before I stepped inside so loud was it. It’s volume meant we often had to converse using body language. But no blaring news accosted my eardrums tonight. Instead the sounds of full bodied laughter was echoing from the kitchen.

The air was thick with an unusual smell that was familiar, yet I couldn’t quite place it. It over- powered the mustiness that usually assailed my nostrils in this aging house. The laughter grew more boisterous and was now accompanied by playful splashing sounds so I quickened my steps and threw open the kitchen door.

There, doing the freestyle, on a soapy, wet floor I found my grandparents in nothing but their birthday suits.

“What the…” I began, averting my eyes to the other side of the room where I saw the sink overflowing. Automatically I raced over to turn off the tap.

“Oh hello dear,” Gran giggled, flopping onto her back. Grandad immediately took advantage of her new position and slid along beside her. “Time to practice my breast stroke!” he roared happily.

Gran gently pushed his probing hands away sliding him into the coal range which resulted in another round of hysterics.

“Come join us dear. We’re having a pool party.” Gran explained matter-of-factly.

“Twisting, twisting, twisting by the pool.” Grandad sang, holding the scrubbing brush as a mic while wiggling his ample bottom back and forth on the slippery lino.

Searching the room for some clue to my grandparents’ bizarre behaviour I spied half finished meals. From them wafted the aroma that I’d noticed before.

Joining in the laughter now I asked “What did you have for dinner Gran?” She backstroked her way under the table.

“Can’t you see Silly. Mushrooms on toast. Looks like you need Grandad’s swimming goggles.”

Grandad joined us holding a water glass to each eye. “I’m not really sure they improve my vision. There seems to be 4 of you now.”

“Where’d you get those mushrooms?” I probed.

Finally clambering up onto a chair Gran said, “It was a stroke of luck you know.”

“Stroke, stroke,” Grandad sang, once again freestyling in the water.

Ignoring him Gran continued, “The shop didn’t have any button mushrooms. Downhearted and empty-handed on my walk home I befriended this kind, young man who told me where I could find *positively cosmic mushrooms* nearby. And they didn’t cost me a cent!”

With a slight tilt forward and arms outstretched Gran dove off the chair to join my obviously excited Grandad.

I waded back across the saturated floor to exit the kitchen before my grandparent’s began a private synchronized routine.

What we liked:
Well, just like our stunned narrator, we were certainly not expecting that. But this ridiculous scenario is incredibly endearing thanks in large part to plenty of laugh out loud imagery, dialogue and explanation. When we come up with these prompts each month, we like to imagine what strange corners people might venture to – and the sheer nonsense of this indoor pool party is one such enjoyable corner! A great way to end an excellent set of stories.


LONGLISTED ENTRANTS

Congratulations also to the following entrants whose stories were in the top 2% or so and definitely in the mix this month – spoken about in hushed tones within the hallowed halls of Furious Towers. To you – and all others who entered – keep it up! Any creative competition is always going to be subjective, and we salute all those who enter.

JUNE 2019 LONGLISTED (in no particular order):

  • SWEET SIXTEEN by John Rosley
  • STUFFED by Angela Armstrong
  • UNTITLED by Laura Gunn
  • PARTY EXPERIENCE by Phillipa de Wit
  • UNTITLED by Molly McGill
  • THE SECRET by Johanna Skinner
  • PARTY OF ONE by Sam Errity
  • BEADY-EYED by Nicole Whyte
  • THE RITUAL by John King
  • HER MOTHER’S SMILE by Holly Rae Garcia
  • PONY PARTY by Angela Teagardner
  • UNBEARABLE? By Lisa Knight
  • BUTTON EYES by Renee Boyer
  • SUGAR AND SPICE by Bernadette McSherry
  • QUEEN OF THE CASTLE by Anna McEvoy
  • BREATHE by Regan Puckett
  • FISH DON’T SMOKE by Elinor Clark

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