A writer (you've probably never heard of) once said, “all the world’s a stage” and in this round’s Furious Fiction challenge, all of the entrants were indeed merely players. Here were the criteria:
- Each story had to begin with a sentence containing exactly SIX words.
- Each story had to include something being served.
- Each story had to include the words STAGE, WIRE and LOG. (Longer variations were accepted as long as original spelling was retained.)
So, what did 1100+ entrants serve up for us this time around? There were tennis courts and theatre productions, divorce papers, tightrope walkers and ice cold revenge. Oh, and a lot of delicious chocolate logs. The judges also noted the variety of six-word sentences that kicked off each story. (Special mention to the loophole finders who began with the two-word sentence “Six words”!)
At the judging stage, logging the winner came down to the wire. But Evan Hammersmith’s story was ultimately the piece that served up the goods, winning him the $500AU prize – congratulations!
You can read the winning story below, along with some other shortlisted ones, plus our longlist of entries. Thanks to all who entered, and we hope to see you all for the next round in September!
JUNE 2022 WINNER
THE WALK by Evan Hammersmith, TAS
Tonight he was dining by himself. The room was a cavern, so quiet he could hear the buzzing of the halogen lights overhead, the ticking of the wall clock. Twenty minutes ago, the cook himself had stood before him and taken his order, a privilege reserved only for the most loyal of customers. A steak with gravy, medium rare. Hash browns. Toast. Pecan pie and a glass of orange juice. Nothing fancy. Plus, the pecan pie tasted just like the one his grandmother used to make when he was a boy.
The cook had nodded solemnly, his pale face unyielding, carved from stone. Fifteen years of eating here, and now they had finally met. But despite the occasion, it had been strangely anticlimactic. Neither man could think of anything to say, and so they had only stared at one another until in the end the cook had simply turned and trudged away. The echo of his footsteps had long since faded from within the room and yet still reverberated within the bones of the man seated at the table.
He waited for his meal. Was he hungry? How could he be hungry? He decided that yes, he was indeed hungry, and he wondered if there was something wrong with him in feeling the hunger separate from the nerves and the tension. After all, the stage was set, this was the Big Show, the Grand Finale. He could not see them and he could not hear them, but he could feel the vibrations from the crowd as they waited for him to make his entrance. Their energy penetrated the walls and charged his body. His hairs were filament wire. The sweat percolated from his pores and gathered in beads on his forehead and top lip. They were waiting. His supporters and his critics. His family and his friends. The press. The officials. The women he had never met but who each claimed they loved him more than any other. Every single one of them softly and silently cradling their own wishes, hoping to have them fulfilled tonight.
It felt good to chew the steak, the action of his jaw helping to relieve the tension. And as he chewed he again contemplated what he would say to them, as he had many times leading up to this moment. But just as before, the words circled in his head like vultures over a corpse, and he knew then that anything he said would mean nothing to them, and the sound of his voice would be swallowed up by the magnitude of the spectacle they had come to witness.
He was mopping the puddle of gravy with a piece of toast when the buzzer sounded and the heavy steel door swung open. Two guards stood in the doorway. It was time to go, they told him. Draining the last of his orange juice, he stood and ran a hand over his freshly shaved head. He was ready for the walk.
What we loved:
From the outset, the scene here is set effortlessly. And while the premise is dark and foreboding, the beauty of this piece is its commitment to bringing to life the smallest of details. The empty space; the awkward silence; the vibrations from the waiting crowd – each compounding to conjure a notably authentic scene.
This is textbook pressure-cooker writing – a big story contained in a tight narrative. The author wastes no words on the how and why. Instead, we’re thrown into the cavern with our unnamed protagonist, and a deep POV that connects us to him despite knowing very little about his crimes or his personal circumstances. All this is achieved by the active writing, vivid descriptions, and clear, natural inner discourse surrounding this final course. (Kudos for using ‘log' in ‘halogen' too!)
And just like some of the biggest moments in life, the choice to base this story around its food (and let the drama surround the meal) gives it the chef’s-kiss touch.
THIS IS A LOVE STORY by E.G. Nesbitt, NSW
Marvin never really clicked with women.
“Marvin,” his mother would say, in tones of fondness that varied with her mood, “has never really clicked with women”.
There was no clear reason for this lack of clicking. Marvin liked women. He was clever and charming and kind. He was easy on the eye. He did not, as his mother once accused, sit like a bump on a log at parties. He had no obnoxious personal habits.
His mother had no trouble in stage-managing meetings with women who were willing to go on dates with Marvin. All reported that they had a wonderful time and that Marvin was lovely but that they didn’t quite…
“Click” sighed Marvin’s mother. “I know.”
And she would go and ask another neighbour if they knew of anybody with a daughter who might like to meet Marvin.
“I don’t understand,” Marvin’s mother confided. “He’s met so many nice women. Why don’t they click?”
Marvin’s contemporaries paired off two by two, a Noah’s ark of gift registries and over-priced flowers and chicken-or-beef served ‘alternate drop’ style.
Marvin made friends easily amongst his colleagues, his sporting team mates, people he met while on holiday. None of these relationships blossomed into romance.
“But,” whispered Marvin’s mother, “what about you know?”
She need not have worried. Although he would never dream of discussing it with his mother, Marvin was always able to find partners for no-strings-attached you know when he was so inclined.
The break-through came after a power outage caused the niece of Marvin's mother's hairdresser to miss a date with Marvin.
“I can’t understand why she didn’t plan better,” Marvin’s mother fretted. “And it was very inconsiderate of those electric wires to make you miss that concert.”
“Oh, I didn’t miss the concert,” Marvin replied. “I saw it by myself. It was fantastic.”
“You’ll spend your whole life alone!” shrilled Marvin’s mother. “Is that what you want?”
“Oh” said Marvin. “Oh.”
He was silent for quite a long time. Then something finally clicked.
“Actually,” said Marvin, “that would be perfect.”
And so it was. Marvin lived a long and happy life, blissfully alone. His career was fulfilling, he travelled extensively and he was loved and respected by his friends and his peers. After his peaceful death, his memory was held with affection by a wide net of people, some of them the children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the women with whom Marvin had not clicked in his youth.
In short, Marvin lived happily ever after.
This was a love story.
What we liked:
From the comic repetition in the opening lines, the reader immediately knows they’re in for a treat with this unorthodox tale. There’s an easy pace about the piece, despite it spanning large tracts of time – thanks to the wry tone maintained throughout, which perfectly frames the structure and nicely illustrates the characters of Marvin and his meddling, match-making mother.
What elevates it in particular are some of the language choices – casually crafting lovely turns of phrase (“A Noah’s ark of gift registries…”) and delivering the “click” repetition with – fittingly – an oh-so-satisfying click. It’s a cocktail of moods, both uplifting and dry humour, relatable and wise. Like all good love stories.
CLARA’S PIE by Karen Wasson, VIC
It was a crisp September morning. The 7:06 train to the showgrounds was on time and Norman was on board. On his lap sat a cardboard box. Inside the box, resting on a wire cooling rack, was Clara’s pie. The top of the box was open, he didn’t dare close it. The pie was still warm and Clara’s instructions were clear.
‘Don’t cover it while it’s warm! It will sweat and the pastry will go soggy.’
When the train pulled into the station, Norman exited the carriage with great care. A small child, bundled in a puffy coat bumped into him. The mother grabbed the child and muttered an apology over her shoulder. Clara’s pie remained safe in its box.
Norman joined the line for exhibitors. He presented the paperwork to a brusque woman who checked it over.
‘Would you like us to deliver it to the pavilion?’ she asked, hands proffered.
‘No, no,’ replied Norman, clutching the box. ‘I’ll take it myself. Please, just tell me where to go.’
Norman followed the directions and made his way through the growing crowds. The pavilion for arts, craft and cookery was located on the other side of the showgrounds. Norman channelled the tortoise from the fable he often read to the grandchildren. Slow and steady.
At the pavilion door, Norman received further directions and made his way to a small stage with a number of plastic chairs arranged in front. He approached an official looking woman. Once again he presented the paperwork, then delicately removed Clara’s pie from the box, placing it where the woman had indicated.
The first category in the live judging was Best Yule Log. Clara had made a yule log once, but she hadn’t enjoyed it.
‘Too fussy,’ she had pronounced.
The judges flitted about the stage for a good fifteen minutes. Eventually, winners were decided and prizes awarded. Norman clapped politely, perched on his plastic chair.
When the category for Best Apple Pie was announced, Norman kept a close eye as Clara’s pie was taken to the judges’ table. One by one, the entries were portioned and served. The judges nibbled and discussed, they whispered and compared. Norman’s hands that had remained so steady, now started to shake.
Clara had always loved baking. In the 62 years they had been married, Norman had watched her carefully select the sweetest apples, lovingly prepare the pastry and teach the children and then the grandchildren, how to crimp the edges.
When Clara died, Norman was bereft. Until he'd discovered Clara’s recipe books. He figured out how to weigh the ingredients, followed her handwritten notes and as the weeks went by, he taught himself how to bake.
The 12:42 train from the showgrounds was on time and Norman was on board. On his lap sat a cardboard box. Inside the box on top of a wire cooling rack, was a blue rosette and a certificate that read Best Apple Pie – Norman Strumfield: Clara’s Pie.
What we liked:
It’s not often that you can accurately account for the exact time period of a story, but the bookended journeys here make it easy to award a rosette to this particular five hours and 36 minute slice of story pie.
The character of Norman is portrayed deftly throughout, with precise mannerisms, limited dialogue and close observations. It’s a good example of bringing a protagonist to life with a delicate hand – fully-fledged; never half-baked.
The scene is familiar and sweet (like a warm apple pie), presenting a watercolour of a bustling local fair laced with tradition (and a judging panel not unlike that of a writing competition!).
When the soft ‘twist’ ending arrives, it serves merely as a gentle crimping of the edges, still leaving the reader with a heartwarming glow. You can almost hear the quaint closing soundtrack begin as the train departs into the hills.
Sometimes, all you have to do is follow the recipe…
UNTITLED by Bee, ACT
Rachel cared for three things exactly.
- The lovely children who cheerfully waved hello every morning
- The plants, cramped in their pots on the kitchen windowsill
- And never, ever getting caught
Currently, 3 was in danger. And when 3 was in danger, so was her entire life.
She hurried around her studio apartment, haphazardly stuffing her backpack. She’d planned for this day to come but now, that plan was slowly melting under pressure. How much cash should she bring? How many bottles of water? Did she even need to bring bottles of water?
There was one thing for certain though. Her favourite blue dress would have to be left behind. It was, after all, what she wore when she visited Ian.
Showing up on his porch two hours ago, neat and prettily dressed, Ian had let her into his house with little more than a bat of the eyelid. He’d apologised for smelling like smoke and made a halfhearted attempt at blaming the fireplace, sitting unlit, filled with stale logs. He didn’t smell like fire. He smelt of cigarettes, pushed into the armpits of children.
Rachel shook the memory out of her head, throwing the blue dress aside. She’d burn it if she had time. It’d smell like smoke, just like Ian had. She’d pack another dress instead, delicate and innocent for if she ever had to stage another special operation.
If. Now that was a hard thing to think.
No one ever suspected Rachel, the school nurse at the local primary school. With a kind smile and meek demeanour, she always flew under the radar. No one suspected that murder had ever crossed her pretty little mind.
But there’s only so many bruises and burns you can look at before you lose your mind, only so many calls made that never changed the outcome. And Rachel had witnessed too many to not take matters into her own hand.
It was exactly this that drove her to Ian Richmond’s house. She’d sat in his kitchen, pulling out fake papers under the pretence of discussing Riley’s schoolwork. Rachel always volunteered to make tea, a self-proclaimed fussy drinker with her own recipe.
She always served the tea in the same way, one with sugar and one with her special concoction; an untraceable poison made from the plants, cramped on her windowsill. She always left, shortly after it’d begun its work, taking the wire mesh tea infuser with her. Always quickly and always unnoticed.
Except for this time. This time, there’d been another child, maybe 15 years old. He’d seen her leave, wide eyes following her down the street.
A knock on her door drew her out of her fevered packing. A quiet knock, not one the police would make. She cautiously made her way to the door and looked through the peephole; an empty corridor; there was no one there. But under her door was a note and scrawled on it in child’s print were two words.
What we liked:
With every story already delivering a punchy six-word opener this month, it needed an extra something to catch attention. This brilliant opening immediately draws the reader closer, imparting a trio of clues without ever revealing its hand.
The “heat” of the story bubbles under the surface – always refraining from spilling into macabre territory – but ever hinting at an undercurrent of danger, from the frantic packing, smokey antagonist, and burnt memories.
Compact paragraphs and punchy one liner introspection helps simultaneously build the tension and peel back the layers of what is happening – sticking the landing with a subtle yet effective closing line, calling back to the opening where Rachel’s care for children is paramount. A great story that demands an immediate re-read.
If you made this month’s longlist, congratulations! It was a big, snarling pack and you managed to separate yourself from it. Even if you entered but missed out this time, that’s another badge of honour in this crazy, subjective world we live in – wear it with pride because YOU put yourself out there and created something! Keep learning, keep imagining, keep smiling.
THIS MONTH’S LONGLISTED (in no particular order):
- UNTITLED by Anthea Phasey, QLD
- WOMAN OF STEEL by Heather Haigh, United Kingdom
- BITS AND BOTS by Sarah Haggett, United Kingdom
- THE CONSCIOUSNESS by Tim Blomfield, NSW
- SUNDAY ROAST by Bethea Donoghue, VIC
- “BULLSEYE.” by Teagan Howell, WA
- THE NOT-THANKSGIVING DINNER by Sharon Aruparayil, United Arab Emirates
- SUE CHEF by Anne Freeman, VIC
- RED EARTH GIRL by Peter Fitzgerald, NSW
- THE PROCRASTINATOR OF THE YEAR AWARD by Leigh Garrahy, TAS
- UNTITLED by Robyn Yeh, NSW
- THE BORDER CONTROL OFFICER WHO WAVED LITTLE BROWN HARE THROUGH WITH A CHIPPER ‘WELCOME TO THE COLONY’ WITHOUT READING LITTLE BROWN HARE’S INCOMING PASSENGER CARD HAS A LOT TO ANSWER FOR. by Michelle Dickins, VIC
- BREAK POINT by Simon Shergold, United States
- DYING FOR YOUR ART by Melanie Ifield, NSW
- DEAR READER, by Scout Easson, VIC
- I'M THE POTTER by Alison Knight, VIC
- A TRAIN PASSES THROUGH by Dead Carcosa, United States
- ‘THE PIRATE OF HILLCROFT NURSING HOME – LANCASTER, UK’ by S.L Stratton, NSW
- NOWHERE AND EVERYWHERE by Margaret Bloch, WA
- FOOL'S MATE by Elissa Moss, ACT
- GRIEF WILL NEVER GET SMALLER BUT YOU WILL GROW LARGE ENOUGH TO BEAR IT. by Yisabel Garcia, NSW
- IN PLAIN SIGHT by J M Norris, VIC
- SHOW TIME by Lucy O'Sullivan, VIC
- THE FENCER by Phil Barry, QLD
- THE PACT by Mitch Lindsay, QLD
- SOMETHING WRIT-ED THIS WAY COMES. by Lilla Kirkpatrick, Malaysia
- THE SIMPLE MATHS OF BREAST CANCER by Jan Brown, United Kingdom
- UNTITLED by Ed, NSW
- CONSIDER YOURSELF SERVED by M.S. Mazza, VIC
- UNTITLED by Lois Hibbert, Canada
- THE ROBOT COSTUME by Mea Matero, Finland
- GRACE by Alison Bernasconi, NSW
- THE LAST SHOT by John Minnery, QLD
- IMAGINE A TREE by A K Scotland, NSW
- SNAKE IN THE HOUSE by Priscilla Ametorpe Goka, Ghana
- WINTER by Nina Wilson-Razzell, United Kingdom
- ABOUT ARTHUR by Elissa Mcdonald, VIC
- HAND-ME-DOWNS by Emil Čolić, WA
- REVENGE by Meghan Douglass, SA
- ARIEL AND THE POST FAIRY-TALE WORLD by Seetha Nambiar Dodd, NSW
- TIME by Paula Wescott, United Kingdom