Furious Fiction May 2019 winner and shortlist

“Mayhem” was one of the words we required of storytellers in May, and combined with the mix of other criteria it was probably an appropriate description for our list of must-haves this month! That said, we had our second biggest ever response as nearly 1000 stories vied to be mayor of this town we call Furious Fiction.

This is what was required for May:

  • The story had to include the words MAYBE, MAYHEM, DISMAY, MAYOR and MAYONNAISE.
  • The story’s first word had to be an 11-letter word.
  • The story, at some point, had to include someone or something RUNNING.

Never before has Google seen so many searches for lists of 11-letter words in such a short space of time! Jackhammers rubbed shoulders with pickpockets, lumberjacks, knick-knacks, photography, cappuccinos, chimpanzees, Shakespeare, marshmallow and sexologists! And if we weren’t downloading, we were vanquishing, bamboozling, backpacking and outdazzling the rest! Thanks for all your imaginative suggestions… (and don’t even get us started on the various uses for mayonnaise!).

Big congratulations to this month’s $500 winner, Anna McEvoy of Queensland. You can read her story below, as well as a selection of shortlisted stories and for the first time, a further longlist of entrants whose stories made it to the steps leading up to the podium. Don’t give up!


MAY 2019 WINNER

“S” ON MY CHEST by Anna McEvoy

“Pickpockets operate in this area.” The mayor had warning signs posted at hotspots throughout the city, much to the delight of local thieves. Tourists walking past reflexively reach for their wallets, telegraphing their exact location. Tourists just like me.

I don’t notice my wallet is missing until it’s my turn to order. The bored cashier blinks slowly as I perform the holy sign of the lost wallet. Left pocket, right pocket, trousers front and back.

‘I’ve been robbed,’ I say. I have no idea when, though. On the train, or maybe at the station? Or any number of places in the crowded plaza, I realise with dismay.

‘You want me to cancel your order?’

‘But, I’ve been robbed!’

She shrugs. ‘Happens all the time. They have signs, you know.’

‘Just because there are signs, it doesn’t make it okay!’

She blinks again, so slowly this time I think she might be taking a micro nap.

The line grows restless behind me. ‘Fine,’ I say. ‘Can you at least tell me where the police station is?’

Another shrug. ‘You could try asking a cop, I s’pose.’

‘Thank you,’ I say with so much sarcasm I might finally be speaking her language.

‘Next,’ she calls, before I’ve even moved away.

I take stock of my situation by the condiments. Travel insurance will cover the stolen wallet, but it’s the indifference towards big-city petty crime that has me riled up. I accidentally swipe my hand through a discarded ketchup packet. Bloody brilliant, I think, who needs a wallet when they can have a handful of sauce instead.

A handful of sauce, eh…

I tear open random packets and furtively squeeze the contents into my top left jacket pocket. It holds five ketchups and a lone mayonnaise.

I may as well have an “S” on my chest and a cape as I step back out into the badlands of the crowded plaza. My revenge will be sweet, and also mildly unpleasant on the fingertips.

I eyeball a nearby pickpocket sign and overtly tap my top left pocket. I consult a tourist map for good measure. Beside me, another tourist steps onto the street after checking for traffic in the wrong direction. A car honks and he jumps back, making a narrow escape. He staggers into me and I trip over a rubbish bin, landing heavily on my back and sending the metal lid skittering across the plaza.

‘Was that a gunshot?’

‘Oh my god, she’s bleeding!’

In the ensuing mayhem I cannot speak up, I cannot explain that it’s ketchup not blood, because I’m winded and I can’t draw breath.

‘I’m a doctor, let me through.’

The good Samaritan takes my pulse and offers comfort until eventually I’m able to sit up, sauce on my chest and pain in my lungs. I wipe the ketchup running down my neck and turn to thank the doctor, but the doctor is gone.

And so is my gold watch.

What we loved:
This wasn’t the only story about pickpockets this month, but it stood out for how it was seamlessly executed from beginning to end. Often stories start out strong, but get wobbly near the end and struggle to “stick the landing”. Not so here, sure-footed throughout with lovely turns of phrase, believable exchanges and a comical revenge act that landed solidly on the final line.


SHORTLISTED

DOWN by Dean MacAllister

“Confronting, isn’t it?”

Tania gasped, stepping back against the wall, away from the edge. She hadn’t noticed him sitting there, his legs hanging, as if some sort of relaxed gargoyle. He didn’t look at her as he spoke, he just gazed out over the city, taking in the view.

“How long have you been sitting there?” she demanded.

“It’s a really long way down,” he continued, ignoring her question. “You could scream twice before you hit.”

“Sorry?”

“This is pretty much the only building in this city that still has windows which open. I think you can guess why.” He ran his fingers along his moustache and leaned forward. She followed his gaze.

Despite the early hour and gloomy weather, there were still pedestrians on the street below. Hungover people stumbled home from excessive nights, whilst masochistic joggers in singlets ran along side-walks, getting their exercise in before work. Her head spun at the height.

“Love can be a bit like mayonnaise.”

“What are you talking about?” she asked, frowning.

“It can be nice at the start, but when it expires you really need to throw that shit out.” He looked up at her and pointed to his eye.

Absent-mindedly Tania touched the bruise under her own and felt anger rise up inside her.

“That’s really none of your business!” she said. “Why don’t you go away and leave me alone?”

“Well technically I was here first, so if anyone should leave it should be you.” He looked up at the sky. “But make your choice quickly. This stonework becomes slippery when wet and rain is on its way. The decision might accidentally be taken away from you.”

A cold breeze raced through the streets and both of them pulled their jackets in tight. The man held his hat firmly to his head, waiting for the wind to die down.

“Don’t try to talk me out of this.”

“Look, there’s a thousand reasons why you shouldn’t jump. Such as causing mayhem with the morning traffic, or pissing off the mayor. Also, you’ll make quite a mess that some will have to see and others will have to clean up.”

Tania’s shoulders began to shake as tears of dismay escaped.

The man stood up and walked towards her. She stepped back against the wall, afraid. He took her hand. His hand, like his eyes, felt pleasantly warm. A kind smile appeared across his face. He pulled her hand gently and she stepped forward, standing next to him at the edge.

“I’m not going to stop you from doing what you came here to do. But if you are going to step off this ledge, I don’t think you should have to do it alone. I’ll tell you what, we’ll go on the count of three.”

He took a deep breath. “Ready? One. Two.”

“Wait!” Tania shouted.

The man looked at her, one leg still in the air.

“You’ve done this before, haven’t you?” Tania asked, shocked.

A mischievous grin appeared.

“Maybe.”

What we liked:
A compelling (and disturbing!) setting for a story, this one grabs the reader and keeps them on the edge (ledge?) throughout. We particularly liked the original use of all the creative criteria elements and how it ultimately leaves details up to your interpretation. (Who do YOU think the mystery man is/represents?) A nice double play in the title.


SHORTLISTED

JUST ANOTHER WEDNESDAY by Nathan Taylor

“Astronomers must never be trusted. Say it with me now class…”

The class of six-year-olds chanted back, harmonizing like a stuck cat.

Mr Gurn smiled. His peers back at the FEF (the Flat Earth Fellowship) would be proud. He gave them a thumbs up. “Very good. Tell me, why we don’t trust astronomers?”

Myriad tiny hands shot up.

“Yes, Evan.”

“Can I go toilet?”

A pang of irritation surged through Mr Gurn. “Yes, Evan, quickly. Someone else, Amanda. Why don’t we trust astronomers?”

“What’s an astro-mayor?”

Mr Gurn shook his head in dismay. “No, no. As-Tron-O-Mer, people who study space.”

“But sir,” piped Joel from the back. “We must never trust astronomers!”

“I know, Joel…” Mr Gurn took a calming breath. “Maybe we’ll start again. Astronomers-”

THUD.

Evan, returning at speed, had run straight into the door. The class erupted in laughter. Mr Gurn rushed to blanket the mayhem. “Quiet, please. Boys and girls. Please be quiet!”

Evan, somewhat dazed, entered and returned to the mat. The class, like a disturbed glass of water, slowly settled. Mr Gurn opened his mouth.

The door opened to a mop of red curls. It was Marianne from the front desk. “Sorry, Mr Gurn, but…” she paused, perhaps to punctuate her confusion, “the Mayor… is here to see you.”

“Mr Gurn?” Joel called out. “You’ve gone all white!”

“He looks like mayonnaise,” Amanda giggled.

Mr Gurn ignored them. How had he found him? The Mayor was his brother, Edwin. Edwin’s claim to fame was some bogus trip to the International Space Station. His mother called him a hero. Mr Gurn knew he was a fake. Edwin had stalked him relentlessly since he joined the FEF, afraid he would expose him for the fraud he was.

A tall, balding man with piercing eyes pushed past Marianne and into the room.

“Edwin, please, I am teaching.”

“Teaching what?”

Mr Gurn went beetroot red. Edwin turned to the class. “What are you learning today?”

A hand shot up.

“Yes, lad?”

“I need to go toilet.”

“Evan, you just went.”

“But I didn’t poo.”

Mr Gurn sighed and nodded.

Edwin continued unfazed. “Boys and girls, my name is Mayor Gurn. I was an astronaut. I have been to space, seen the curved Earth, and I promise you, it is round. Whatever this teacher says to the contrary is a lie.”

“What’s a contrary?”

“It’s a bird!”

Mr Gurn shook his head. “You’re thinking of a canary, Amanda.”

“Regardless,” Edwin interrupted. “The Earth is curved, not flat, got it?”

The class nodded and the Mayor turned back to his brother. “I will be talking to your administrator Henry. You’re not qualified for this role.”

He strolled out, leaving Mr Gurn to face his class. They watched him inquisitively, waiting. Mr Gurn bit his lip and tested the waters. “So… Do any of you believe him?”

The students looked sideways at one another until Amanda raised her hand.

“Of course not. Astro-mayors must never be trusted.”

What we liked:
When you’re judging flash fiction, it cannot be stated enough how important a good opening line can be. This one had that – in that it challenged convention and made you want to find out why this character thought that way. As it unfolds, we enjoyed the giggle-worthy dialogue and descriptions from the students, and the solid way in which it ended, tying the whole scene nicely together.


SHORTLISTED

UNTITLED by Jade Joynes

Immobilised on the kitchen tiles, wrists knotted behind her back with a tartan tie, Rebecca Warber was as confident as ever. Plum jam was smeared down her cheek. Her stocking-covered legs were folded beneath her like the wings of a bird.

I squared my shoulders and tried to appear as threatening as I could with mayonnaise in my hair. “I thought food fights were below you, Warber.”

She snickered. “It wasn’t really a fight, I’d say. More of a slaughter.”

Looming behind her and stinking of soy sauce was Sarah Sutton, captain of the swimming team and Wattle Girls High School’s tallest fourth-year. She yanked Warber back by the ponytail.

“No need to be so brutish,” Warber said, which only made Sutton tighten her grip.

“My daddy’s not the mayor,” Sutton said, gesturing at her stained shirt, a casualty from the earlier mayhem. “My family can’t afford to buy a new uniform every time the East Dorm messes with us.”

“It’s not my fault you’re poor.”

The kitchen door burst open. A weedy first-year leant on the door-frame, pink-cheeked and panting, coated in a thin layer of flour.

“Principal Birdy is checking all the rooms. She’s giving detentions to anyone that’s covered in food.”

“Did someone from the East Dorm tell you that?” I asked.

The first-year shook her head. Her twin plaits whipped around her cheeks, leaving faint marks. “No. I saw it myself.”

Sutton dropped Warber. “Fuck. I have a swimming meet this Saturday. I can’t get detention.”

Warber fell onto the grimy tiles without anyone to hold her up. She laughed again, a soft sound like chiming bells.

“What am I supposed to do?” I said. “If Birdy catches me with the Mayor’s daughter tied up—”

Sutton shrugged her massive shoulders. “You’re the one who wanted to question her. This is your problem.”

I watched with dismay as the pair turned and ran for the safety of the dorms.

I looked down. Warber beamed up at me. Her jam-streaked face, her mussed ponytail, lopsided from Sutton’s bruising grip, her skirt doubled-over to reveal the bottom half of her thighs—she was so pretty. It infuriated me.

I seized Warber by the upper arms and dragged her to her feet. I marched her towards the pantry.

I shoved her inside the dark space. She was crammed against the shelves, her tied wrists squashed against cans of beets. When I closed the door, we were left alone in the black.

“I could scream, you know,” Warber said conversationally.

“You want to be caught like this?”

“Not particularly.”

There was a rattle of cans as Warber moved, and then I could feel the long length of her body pressed against mine. I could feel her breath on my face, the faint smell of her perfume atop the musk of stored vegetables.

“Will you ever learn how to flirt like a normal person?” I wondered. “Food fights are so messy.”

“Maybe,” Warber said, laughing, “but what would be the fun in that?”

What we liked:
This story uses description very well – right from the bound, kitchen-tiled beginning. And the entire scene plays out in a very visual way, with effective dialogue driving the narrative without being expositional. Along the way, we get some lovely bird similes too!


SHORTLISTED

DRAGONS EVERYWHERE by Angus Ledgerwood

Destruction.

Or maybe mayhem.

At the very least, it’s not going to be a pretty sight. But we go in anyway, because that’s what warriors do.

We stand on top of the hill, all five of us. We are shrouded in a golden light, metallic-purple blood dripping from swords and breastplates. It’s been a long battle.

‘Oh come on!’ Bree whines, entering the room, ’MUM! They’re still playing!’

On the live-feed screen, we are huffing collectively, and below us there are even more Zhonrs and even more shrieking. Mum will tell me to turn the noise down, I know it, I swear to God –

‘Con really! Your sister is meant —‘

‘Yeah ten more minutes! We told her ten more minutes!’

We did no such thing.

‘MUM!’

‘Come on Bree, come help me out…’ Mum calls from the kitchen in a tired voice.

Now we’re running down the hill full pelt. The defensive charm is up, so the lightning arrows bounce away, pathetically.

‘I’ve got the —‘

‘— dragon yep and I’ll hit up the warlord.’

‘We need back up!’ Raymond yells to no one in particular.

Our headsets are screwing up – Bree using all the internet again — so I hear only crackly murmurs of agreement from other players.

‘I WANT A TURN!’ Bree yells from the kitchen.

It’s only because we’re using something she wants — the TV, to watch her bloody Mermaid Princesses crap — that she’s kicking up a fuss.

The warlord’s wrinkly face looms over the entire battlefield; he’s using some sort of spell.

‘Much to my dismay, you all shall perish. Such a waste. Such a waste!’

His voice lowers as the thunder clouds collide above. We’ve only got until the enchantment wears off to split up, distract the warlord’s dragon and hurl the golden staff at the geezer. We can all see the shell-like protection charm cracking, splintering.

Jim’s sprinting towards the dragon. Raymond’s trying to line up the aim while the mini-Zhonrs are crawling all over him, sucking out his life energy. The dragon’s opening up its mouth!

Mayonnaise. That’s what is now all over the screen. Like a fucking Jackson Pollock painting. Not just one line: Bree’s little hand flicks spoonfuls onto the screen, turning her aim to us on the couches.

She wears her stupid Mayor of Mischief shirt that she got from a showbag. Her face is lit up with demon energy.

‘TAKE THAT’ and she flicks the goo at us. Into my hair, into the controller sets, across my glasses. I launch at her but she’s already dodged out of the way. Naturally I shout that I am going to kill her.

I look around the room. Most of my warriors are still stuck to the couch, in shock.

We’re red-faced, huffing.

We’ve …. we’ve been defeated.

What we liked:
The heightened drama in this battle for living room dominance is an all-too familiar siblings-at-war scene brought to life gleefully here. The criteria were blended well into the action, especially the use of the ‘mayonnaise’ juxtaposed with the dragon scene. The overly dramatic ending makes complete sense!


SHORTLISTED

BRILLIANT DISGUISE by Seetha Nambiar Dodd

“Springsteen? Yeah, I know his music.” He took a sip of water and glanced around the restaurant.

She was relieved. A good start. She raised her wine glass to her lips and tasted the Pinot Noir. It was smooth, like Springsteen’s voice in I’m on Fire.

“He is a bit miserable though, isn’t he?” He shot her a quick look. “All those songs about struggle and loss?”

The Pinot caught in her throat and she coughed. He looked up from his menu with raised eyebrows.

“You disagree?”

She did not like his tone. It was too nonchalant. This was a highly important topic. A non-negotiable.

“Well,” she began, carefully. “He sings about the hardships of everyday life. And about his dismay at the contrast between dreams and reality. But he…”

“Like I said. Miserable.”

She bit her lip. This was not going well. Still, she would persevere. After all, Bruce had been telling her for years to look for that human touch, that two hearts are better than one, and most importantly, that faith will be rewarded. She would have faith. This one even looked like him. In the dim lighting of the restaurant. If she squinted.

The waiter arrived. They ordered the seafood platter for two.

“Hold the garlic mayonnaise though,” he said, with a wink that she deliberately ignored.

“I don’t think you understand,” she frowned. “Springsteen…his music helps us escape the misery and the mayhem of this complex world we live in. He believes in a better future, in the real possibility of happiness!”

He looked at her, bemused. “You’re a proper fan then?”

“I am his biggest fan,” she emphasised, realising with every passing moment that, once again, her suitor was unsuitable.

This one was also oblivious. “I know they bestowed upon him a title of some sort. What was it? The King?”

She shook her head in disbelief. “That was Elvis.”

“Oh, right. Was he a Sir, then?” He seemed to be chuckling to himself and she wondered how someone so ignorant could also be so arrogant.

“You’re thinking of Elton John.” You idiot, she wanted to add.

“Mayor, perhaps?” He would not give up. She was running out of patience. Time to put herself out of this misery.

“Boss. He was The Boss.”

“Ah, right. Silly name.”

Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea, she thought. The rest of their dinner was peppered with small talk. She was already planning her escape. As they stepped outside into the cool autumn air, she held out her hand to avoid any human touch beyond a handshake.

“Thank you for tonight,” she said. “But I don’t think we’ll see each other again.”

“That’s cool,” he said, squeezing her palm. “If there’s no spark, there’s not much you can do.”

She was about to nod in agreement when she caught the glint in his eye as he continued.

“My dad always said you can’t start a fire without it.”

What we liked:
This was a fun first date scene that manages to do what many fail at – find a good balance between the external action and internal dialogue. Well-paced and sprinkled with humour, it saves a little in the tank for an ending that delivers a dose of intrigue. Simple storytelling, effective in bringing this tale of hungry hearts to life.


SHORTLISTED

RESIDUE by Angela Armstrong

Decorations wilt over time; tinsel sheds, balloons shrivel, streamers fade. But that’s not all that’s left behind in our village hall after a celebration. There’s a story written all over the hall if you know where to look. The staples on the rafters? Those once held corflute signs touting candidates for mayor – the staples stayed when children came and liberated the signs for a second life carrying their asses down the dunes at Sandfly Bay. The coloured spots on the wall above the kitchen servery? Places the paint’s pulled when Blu Tack was yanked at instead of rolled off when banners were removed – so now you can see what’s beneath, what went before the neutral new.

Those paints spots tug at me hardest. You’d think wiping congealed mayonnaise from the benches would do it – seeing pews I carved one at a time in my shed – now in the hall, being used to catch birthday dribble. Or maybe you’d guess it’s the proof of mayhem I mop, scrub and sanitise away after a 21st – you might guess that gets to me. No, none of that bothers me too bad (though I do think the pews were best left in the church and the church was best left standing, but they’re being used and that’s something).

The paint spots pluck at my chest because they’re cornflower blue. My wife picked that colour from a box of crayons – she drew the crayon right out with her eyes closed, then opened ’em to read the name on its paper wrapping, declaring that the colour our new hall should be. It was new then. Everything was – life between us, the village, the pews.

So the hall got painted blue. With every stroke I thought of her face and her neck and other parts besides. I proposed in that box o’ blue after taking her to see it was finished and she lifted her legs when I hugged her while she sobbed “Yes!” into my neck and collar. We danced our wedding three-step in that cornflower blue and when I see those paint spots the tack’s pulled up I can smell her hair again.

But I won’t tell them that, no, no. It’s easy for the snow-sliders and the mayo-dribblers to think me a cantankerous caretaker, and easier still for me to let them. Easier than it is for me to stop them running, squealing and living long enough to attempt to explain what this building means to me. Only time will teach them how one place can hold joy and dismay both in its belly, like an unending ache. I greet that mismatched pair every time I pull on my overalls, feel them tangling together when I roll up in the ute to check the hall gas is off, the fridge is unplugged, the outside drains are clear. I don’t mind, I’m quite used to the tangle, and I’ll take it, because it takes me back and Lordy, do I miss her.

What we liked:
Buildings have history and can evoke such strong emotions from those who have been a part of them. In this gently narrated story, we see those layers of history as actual layers on the walls of this village hall – revealing past guises and the memories of a lost love. A nostalgic piece about how people and places are often entwined – even as time moves on.


LONGLISTED ENTRANTS

Congratulations also to the following entrants whose stories were definitely in the mix this month. 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 have the courage and creativity to put their work out there…

MAY 2019 LONGLISTED (in no particular order):

  • COMMERCIAL BREAK by Anya Coossa
  • UNTITLED by Julie Meier
  • CARDIAC ARREST by Matthew C. Lamb
  • TIME’S UP by GCS
  • A CITY TOUR by Mat Ward
  • UNTITLED by Rebecca Howarth
  • PUTTING THE “US” IN TARTARUS by Melanie Harding-Shaw
  • ALARMED by Marion Langford
  • CRACKED by Kelly Hunter
  • UNTITLED by Immy Mohr
  • POMEGRANATES by Johanna Skinner
  • DATE NIGHT by Barry Charman
  • UNTITLED by A. Daddo

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