Furious Fiction June 2021 winner and shortlist

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It was a descriptive June this month at Furious Fiction.

These were the story criteria:

Each story had to include (word for word) the following SEVEN descriptions at any point in the story body:

  1. THICK AS HONEY
  2. SILENT AND STILL
  3. GOLDEN GLOW
  4. HEART-SHAPED
  5. DELICATE PERFUME
  6. SOFT AND DOUGHY
  7. RAZOR-SHARP

And so, the honey did flow as we welcomed more than 1500 descriptive delights. We’re not sure if it was the combo of “soft and doughy” alongside “razor-sharp”, but we certainly got a fair share of murderous stories this month. And bakeries. But one unlocked our judges’ heart-shaped box, and that story belonged to Robert J Boland. Congratulations Robert – you’ll soon be enjoying the golden glow of $500 for your efforts. 

You can read Robert’s story Under the Windows below, along with five other shortlisted stories from this month plus a longlist of entrants that made it to the judges' table session. If your name is here, congrats! If not, banish the delicate perfume of disappointment and join us for July’s edition THIS Friday 2 July. We can’t wait! In the meantime… we’ll be silent and still while you read this month’s collection. Enjoy!


 

JUNE 2021 WINNER

UNDER THE WINDOWS by Robert J Boland, NSW

It’s cold out in the garden.

We used to spend hours here, days, before, hands in the soil, haloed in the sun’s golden glow, tending to the plants that grew like our life, vibrant, intertwined.

At night, we’d retreat to the warmth of the house, fold into one another, our love as thick as honey. After, we’d talk and dream. The future was ours. Possibilities stretched before us like the corridors of infinity.

Careers first, of course. Get set up. Invest, make good choices. Pay down the mortgage. Then children. Two. A pigeon pair, boy first. Tall like him, bright like me. The little one daddy’s angel.

The careers came but the children didn’t.

Time and work and expectations pressed in, the heat of love cooling to friendship, then companionable silence, then, slowly, to something else.

He sunk deep into the couch, took root, gut turning soft and doughy. His skin grew pallid, bathed in the flickering blue light of the television. I returned to the garden, became lean and sun-bronzed, nurtured it like a loving mother.

The plants grew rich and verdant but our love withered.

It’s cold out in the garden, under the windows.

Suddenly things improved, out of nowhere. A second wind. He was working more but the spark rekindled in his eyes. He started going to the gym, bought new clothes. Work kept him later and later. Phone calls came at odd hours. A new password on the laptop.

A promotion brought travel and conferences, never with me. When he returned, we made love, of a different sort. Exciting at first, then rough. Dangerous. The flowers he came home with after every trip couldn’t quite hide her delicate perfume.

He was too guilty to confess and I couldn’t bring myself to ask. I was afraid of the truth. He spent more and more time at the office. I went back into the yard.

It’s cold out in the garden, under the windows, beneath the soil.

He was careless, elsewhere. We fought, over little things, at first. The big things couldn’t be said. The dishwasher left open, red clothes in with the white. It got worse. He got worse. It was easy to hide the bruises. At first.

Then I found a heart-shaped pendant hidden in the bottom of his drawer. It wasn’t meant for me. I ran downstairs. He was making dinner. I threw it into his face. He looked down at the knife in his hand. It was razor-sharp, like his smile.

He went into the garden again then, in the dark, for the first time in years. He took me outside. She took my place.

She’s inside now, in the house. I can hear her laughing.

I used to laugh. When I was warm. Now everything is silent and still, except for the worms.

It’s so cold out in the garden and it was so warm in the house.

I want to be warm again.

I think I will go inside.

What we loved:
Cleverly mimicking the growth of a plant, the story begins and lays down the roots of how this relationship sprouted… full of promise and potential, a joint venture together. The language then effortlessly illustrates the seasonal qualities of a couple in love – a glorious growth spurt, followed by a gradual withering when things turn cold. And as an unsettling sensation begins to form within the reader, as some darker details are upturned, juxtaposed with false hope, and ultimately revealing a tragic and cutting conclusion. A great example of a concept that swerves around cliché territory and instead entwines motifs and symbolism to spread a deeper message. The unique POV is revealed slowly with a deft touch, (almost “Lovely Bones-esque” in its narration), leaving us with a chill as we join the protagonist in her garden (death)bed and immediately grasp why the garden is so cold. Well crafted, well planted. Well done.


 

SHORTLISTED

HOW THINGS COME TO US AND HOW THINGS GO FROM US by John Adams, USA

When Greta is 94, she thinks of Maeve for the last time. Silent and still in her favorite chair in the activity room, she catches a whiff of the nurse’s delicate perfume, a note of an old song on the radio, a flash of heart-shaped polka dots on a visiting granddaughter’s coat. Maeve had worn perfume like that. Maeve had loved that song. And had Maeve once worn that style coat? Greta cannot remember.

After that, Greta does not intentionally not think of Maeve again. But in her remaining months–some good, most not–nothing triggers memories of her long-ago friend. This is how things go from us, not through intent but circumstance.

When Greta is 68, she learns Maeve died months earlier. Car accident. Greta nearly topples over in the grocery store. The church friend who shared this sad news gushes apologies. She assumed Greta already knew! They were always so close!

Over the next 20-odd years, Greta thinks of Maeve, often at first, then less frequently. Sometimes, her memories are sweet and thick as honey. Other times, they pierce with razor-sharp stings. In particular, Greta thinks of Maeve in the months following her diagnosis. She remembers wiping tears from Maeve’s cheeks when Maeve’s mother faced the same prognosis. But when Greta’s doctor says the word ‘remission,’ her thoughts of Maeve are less pungent, less enduring. For Greta has just been gifted a future she thought robbed from her.

And she just learned she shall be a grandmother again.

And she is hosting that fundraiser next week.

And…

And…

And…

Her pile of ‘and’s grows daily.

When Greta is 57, she and Maeve see each other for the first time in months. Maeve is moving across the country. But of course she’ll be back–and often! They both believe this.

When Greta is 52, she and Maeve quarrel bitterly. Years later, Greta will hazily recall they fought over politics. Or family. Or perhaps the weather. Who can say? This, too, is how things go from us.

When Greta is 45, she and Maeve relax under the golden glow of the Antigua sun–a well-earned prize for divorcing their louse husbands.

When Greta is 32, she gives birth. Caressing those soft and doughy cheeks, she names the girl Maeve, ‘Mae’ for short.

When Greta is 14, Miss Farmington introduces the new student who has just moved to town. “Class, this is Maeve.”

And when Greta is 4, while vacationing at Disney World, she catches a flash of heart-shaped polka dots in the spinning teacup beside her. When the ride ends, Greta stares at the girl, overcome with a familiarity she cannot describe. But her parents are impatient and drag her along to the next attraction, leaving behind the girl Greta will meet again many years and many miles away, the girl who will, at least for a time, become integral to Greta’s life. This is how things come to us, in ways we cannot predict, ways we can never fully understand.

What we liked:
We applaud the creative structure of this piece, rewinding through time and losing us at first (as it must) before achingly illuminating the tale of these two women, piece by piece Memento-style. The pile of ‘Ands’ are effectively placed mid-narrative, spiralling the story down to where the friendship began to fray and unravel. Platonic relationships are often overlooked as a central theme in fiction, and this story serves as a relatable reminder that friends can indeed puncture our lives like great loves, and be lost just as easily.


 

SHORTLISTED

SATURDAY GIRL by Jane Hodgkinson, Qld

I knew Cheryl blamed me for Mrs Seth's death, from the look she gave me across the salon. As a 15-year-old Saturday girl, I'd learnt the art of shampooing and the science of mixing tints. But I hadn’t mastered the craft of keeping all the clients alive. It wasn't my fault, but Cheryl had to blame someone. Her business projections assumed all her clients would live for another twenty years.

Mrs Seth was not Cheryl's oldest client. But it has to be said, at 97, she was pretty old, even if we were trying to be polite about age. So rightly or wrongly, Mrs Seth's death immediately made a hole in Cheryl's future revenue.

That day Mrs Seth had come in for her usual ‘golden glow' tint. After shampooing her, I offered Mrs Seth a cup of tea.

“No sugar,” she had barked.

“No sugar,” I announced when I handed her the tea.

“How dare you?!” she shouted.

Everyone looked and Cheryl smacked my arm: “What did you say?” she hissed, “Apologise!”

“I just said no sugar.”

“No, she didn't,” said Mrs Seth, “she said I was fat!”

Pardon me for sounding ageist but I had no idea a 97-year-old could move so fast.

In seconds she had me in a headlock. Her arm, wrapped around my neck, felt soft and doughy like one of those stuffed draught excluders you lay along the bottom of the door. I struggled to breathe. It wasn't helped by her scent – a combination of Charlie and several Avon variants. She wasn't famous for her delicate perfume but up close it seemed as thick as honey.

On top of that, Mrs Seth had somehow acquired Cheryl's razor-sharp scissors and was waving them about in the other hand, cursing me.

I thought that was my end, that was how I was going to die. Those things are lethal.

Well, to cut a long story short, she stabbed me twice in the neck. There was blood everywhere, which made things worse because Mrs Seth thought it was her own.

“She's maimed me, she's maimed me!” she kept shouting.

And then she had a heart attack and died. We laid there, for several moments, silent and still with her cold, floppy arm wrapped round my face, blood pumping from my neck.

Cheryl screamed and two ladies ran out of the salon in curlers and floral capes.

When the ambulance arrived, they patched me up and took away the late Mrs Seth.

Cheryl's look told me I was sacked. Thank God, really. Of course, she docked Mrs Seth's invoice from my final pay.

Years later, I have a heart-shaped scar on my neck serving as a reminder. A reminder to never underestimate your boss's lack of business acumen. And, importantly, to always put sugar in a lady's tea – regardless of what she asked for.

What we liked:
And now for something completely different, one of the few stories that went with a lighter tone this month. We appreciated this venture into the absurd – a salon scene that plays out like a skit, with a youthful narrative voice injecting wisecracks into the drama. The premise is preposterous and simple, from its eye-catching opening and a classic 3-act structure. You sense the author is having fun with the short fuse of Mrs Seth, and the poor Saturday Girl up to her neck in grief. Yes, it’s true, we did see many stabby stories this month (actually every month!) but we enjoyed that this one trimmed back the grim and opted for a silly style that turned heads.


 

SHORTLISTED

FRANK’S CHAIR by Kate Gordon, TAS

The space he left, when he died, was not small and neat and heart-shaped.

The space he left was as big as the ocean and torn at the edges, rent by razor-sharp claws.

It was everywhere. It was all he saw – an ocean-shaped, claw-torn hole.

The space he left was thick as honey, but nothing of it was sweet.

The space he left was not soft and doughy but harder than bones.

He would not let them take his chair.

The nurse with the black hair had asked. She had been nice about it, but he had said no, nonetheless.

The nurse gave him a funny look. He wondered if she knew.

He struggled to care anymore.

What a waste it had been, the hiding, the sneaking around, the pretending.

Why didn’t they just come out and say it?

I love him. He loves me.

The air in the home was silent and still and scented, always, with bleach and lavender.

“Ahh,” he used to say, inhaling deeply, “the delicate perfume of imminent death.”

They giggled, behind their palms.

They were always laughing.

The other residents were none the wiser. Perhaps.

Perhaps they had always known.

What a waste, all that sneaking.

Frank had been married, for forty-two years.

Lou was a bachelor.

He had a son. A brief, confused affair with a woman who had, sadly, loved him. He tried not to break her heart, but each time he caught her brother’s eye, the lie became harder …

His son, George, was a lovely boy. A teacher. He was very proud.

Frank had four daughters. One of them lived in Greece. The others came to collect his belongings.

He had wanted to say something but it got stuck in his throat.

What a waste.

At the funeral, he sat with three other residents. Millie fell asleep. He tried to hide his tears but it couldn’t be done.

“It’s hard,” Arthur whispered, “when one of us goes. Reminds us we haven’t got long, either.”

“Yes,” said Lou. “That’s it.”

It was so quiet, without him.

His tomatoes stayed on his plate. Frank had always eaten the tomatoes.

And there was nobody to watch the silly British programs with. Nobody to roll his eyes at, as the thousandth inhabitant of that small, sleepy village was mysteriously murdered.

It was cold, at night, without Frank’s body beside him.

They were so good at sneaking.

Perhaps they had been terrible.

Perhaps everybody knew.

What a waste.

In the golden glow of morning, he sits in his chair, Frank’s chair empty. He watches the sky turn every colour, the sun rising over the ocean.

“Beautiful, eh?” he says to Frank.

He wonders if they’ll think him batty now, talking to himself.

Or if they will know.

If they’d always known.

The space he left was as big as the ocean.

It was all he saw – an ocean-shaped, claw-torn hole.

He looks at the chair beside him.

Frank’s chair.

He’ll never let them take it.

What we liked:
A poetic piece that flits between grief and regret with an authentic inner monologue underpinning its quietly sombre turns. This story uses its setting convincingly in order to add an extra layer of emotion – the smells and sounds of the home, the empty chair, the everyday activities and meals that will be forever changed for a heartbroken Arthur, left behind with a favourite piece of furniture to remember one who was more than a friend. A powerful message that we can waste so many precious moments worrying what others may think.


 

SHORTLISTED

ETUDE by Peter Jarrett-Schell, USA

He sat, silent and still, screaming inside. The contrasts were exquisite and painful.

A reek of burnt coffee mixed with the delicate perfume of wintergreen on her breath.

The tones of her voice soothed: sweet and thick as honey. The words she spoke cut: razor-sharp.

Everything she said was true. He would have torn down mountains to make it false.

The sun on her cheek blurred into a golden glow through welling tears, while shadows fell across his own face.

She stood and left. Her after-image remained: a heart-shaped hole in his mind.

He sat alone: a soft and doughy man, in a hard and crummy world.

What we liked:
This may be a controversial pick. After all, every month, we get short entries – some serious, others tongue-in-cheek taking the idea of “furious” rather literally (often received on the Friday night within five minutes of the criteria being published!). However this month, this 107-word piece stood out for both its simplicity – seven stanzas built seamlessly around each of the criteria – and the fact that it actually told a story (a break up where it’s clear one is more devastated than the other!) that made sense and had real emotion to it. It’s the shortest story ever shortlisted, and if you take anything away, it’s a timely reminder that sometimes less can be more.


 

SHORTLISTED

WE BECOME ONE by Lucinda Carney, Spain

I thought I’d picked a classy pub. But as I survey the décor from my corner table, I see that St Valentine, patron saint of red helium-filled balloons and all the heart-shaped objects known to man, has left his mark. There is a single red rose wilting in a champagne flute in the middle of the table. A petal detaches itself and plunges into my glass of wine, committing floral suicide.

And that’s when I see her. She’s wearing a burgundy beret, the same one she wore on her first day at the office. Her long black fringe brushes the tip of her nose and she flicks the hairs out of the way with a hand clad in a black leather glove.

She takes my breath away.

‘Well, hello Gary from Accounts!’ she says, holding out the gloved hand.

I offer her my clammy palm.

‘Lovely. Soft and doughy. Just how I like it!’ she purrs, her voice as thick as honey.

‘How can you tell with a leather glove on?’ I pull my hand back and wipe it on my trouser leg.

‘Just kidding! Seducing you with my razor-sharp wit!’

She sits down, takes the beret off, flicks her fringe and holds out a glass. ‘You gonna pour me some wine, or what?’

I scramble for the bottle, almost knocking it over. ‘So, Callie…’ I say.

She waves her hand and takes a sip of her wine. ‘Hey! I want a petal in my wine like you!’ She plucks a petal off the wilting rose and dunks it in the wine.

‘Listen, Gary, I’ve had my fair share of dates so let’s skip the small talk. You’re a nice guy. We’ve chatted at the coffee machine a few times and we built a cardboard boat together on team-building day. It’s obvious there’s chemistry. You’ve made a real effort tonight. What’s the cologne? Dior? Yves Saint Laurent?’

She sniffs the air and closes her eyes like she’s inhaling some delicate perfume. She’s breathing part of me in too, locking me deep inside her.

‘Let’s fast forward. We have a few drinks tonight. Go back to your place. We make love and in the silent and still moments that follow, we bask in the golden glow of the best sex you’ve ever had.’

I spit out a mouthful of wine. She hands me a serviette.

‘But after a few dates, when reality sets in, when you see me without my makeup and I smell you without your expensive man-perfume, when I break your favourite mug and you leave stubble all over my sink, what then?’ she asks.

She looks straight at me, defiant.

‘I dunno…’ I say, fishing the petal out of my wine while I search for the words that will change everything. ‘But I don’t use mugs and I’ve always fancied growing a beard!’

I lean across to her and in the second it takes for our lips to meet, we become one.

What we liked:
This humorous interaction between giddy Gary from Accounts and ‘cuts-to-the-chase’ Callie is extra enjoyable with its descriptions of the sickly sweet decor and snappy dialogue. No high stakes or heartbreaks here as the two well-portrayed characters spring from the page and the story rolls out in real-time, keeping the reader along for the feel-good ride. No one dies (except the rose petal), the criteria are expertly woven, and we’re left with a golden glow.

 


 

LONGLISTED ENTRANTS

Congrats to the following stories who caught the judges’ eyes this month – you were in top 3% of all entrants this month, well done!

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

  • FIRST HOMICIDE by Raelene Chatten, NSW
  • THE SMELL OF FREEDOM by Tamara Childers, NSW
  • A HIDING PLACE by Courtney Louise, WA
  • MEMENTO MORI by Fabian Fox, ACT
  • MOTHER, MOTHER by Lilly Ryan, QLD
  • THE PROMISE by K.S. Deville, NSW
  • TOGETHER by Bianca Lukey, QLD
  • THOSE FEW SMALL HOURS by Marion Langford, QLD
  • THE HEART OF ILMEDUN by The Mind Chaotic, Bulgaria
  • NOBODY by Mar Louie Vincent Reyes, Philippines
  • THE MUSE by Richard Gibney, Ireland
  • BUTTERFLY by Glen Wade, Poland
  • OFFICE CRUSH by Laura Stubbs, QLD
  • FOREIGN RELATIONS by Hannah Koskinen, NSW
  • IMMORTAL LOVE by Matthew Dewar, WA
  • REMEMBER by Gail Bird, NSW
  • IN THE ENCHANTED FOREST by Nina Kiriki Hoffman, United States
  • HEART-SHAPED AND BROKEN by John Crawford, VIC
  • BEST SERVED COLD by Madeleine Pelletier, Canada
  • TOURIST TRAP by Thea Veloso, Philippines
  • THE ARRANGEMENT by Anna Harris, WA
  • THE ARTIST by Nicole Kelly, VIC
  • MOTHERS by Amrita Khadilkar, Singapore
  • CONTRACT by E.G. Nesbitt, NSW
  • THE BIRTHDAY PARTY by Lisa Jose, ACT
  • UNTITLED by Zoe Cottew, QLD
  • JACOB'S LAMENT by Ian Warren, VIC
  • SLUMBER by Raphael Cheng, United States
  • FIVE SONGS YOU SHOULD NEVER, EVER GOOGLE (SOUNDTRACK OF THE INNOCENT) by Mandy Savoie, Canada
  • FORTY-TWO by Tamantha Smith, QLD
  • THE PROMISED LAND by J.R. Mellor, WA
  • JUST ANOTHER MISSING GIRL by Artie Kuyper, United States
  • THE CHOCOLATE TEST by Jane Brown, QLD
  • THE TIGER HUNTER by Crystal Corocher, VIC
  • THE HARVEST by Jenni Mandeno, New Zealand
  • #POPULARITY by Naomi Gruneklee, VIC
  • UNTITLED by Amelia Novakovic, NSW
  • ERIN by Katie Gisbon, VIC
  • UNTITLED by Sean Fallon, VIC
  • SUITABLE TOPICS OF CONVERSATION FOR SUNDAY DINNER WITH THE PARENTS by Hannah Whiteoak, United Kingdom
  • PUDDLES by Brenda Campbell, QLD
  • UNTITLED by Frances Turner, New Zealand
  • CREAMY ASPARAGUS CHICKEN by Magali Boizot-Roche, Switzerland
  • WAVE by Troy Henderson, QLD
  • THE HUNT by James Kable, NSW
  • BIRD by Jo Withers, SA
  • HEART-SHAPED HOLES by Paula Wescott, United Kingdom
  • YOU AND I by Nikhil Mathew, NSW
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