Furious Fiction May 2020 winner and shortlist

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May was another huge month for our spritely little Furious Fiction competition – with our second highest entries ever (highest was last month!). It just shows what great word of mouth and marketing–cough cough lockdown pandemic cough— can do!

Being the fifth month of the year, or maybe because we just miss high-fiving you all, we gave everyone FIVE as the first word of their stories this time – along with a few other intriguing requests…

    • Each story’s first word had to be FIVE.
    • Each story had to include something being replaced.
    • Each story had to include the phrase A/THE SILVER LINING

Entries arrived thick and fast in bunches of fives, all offering a silver lining in these uncertain times. And our bright, shiny winning story belongs to Taya Reid of WA, Australia. For her efforts, Taya takes home the cash prize this month, and you can read her story below, along with a shiny bunch of shortlisted entries and the also-noteworthy longlisted entrants.

If your name is below, congrats! But if it’s not, replace that frustration, scoop up the silver linings into your playbook and add it to your body of work. We’ll be here again in June – we hope you’ll be (silver) lining up to take part!


MAY 2020 WINNER

THE SKYLIGHT by Taya Reid, WA

Five weeks after we agree to a divorce, the skylight shatters in a crackling shower of glass. I run up the stairs, following the sound. You emerge from the bathroom, towel clad, toothbrush hanging out of your mouth like a cigarette. We are taking turns with the nice bathroom. You were meant to move out over the weekend but it’s Monday again and here you are.  

“Shit. That was loud.” You sound muffled and a bit dumb with your mouth full of toothpaste. I feel a pang of affection for you. 

There’s ice and glass all over our bed. Neither of us have slept there in a month. You made up a swag in your study like the martyr you are, and I’ve been swapping between the daybed and the spare room. I can’t sleep anyway. No one dared to claim the marital sleeping zone, and now it’s a hazard. 

You go away to spit and rinse and return with a bucket and dustpan. We do the work silently. The air coming in is jarringly cold.

 “You’ll have to stay, call someone to replace it. I have a meeting.”

Your work has always been more important than mine. I don’t feel like arguing, we’ve only just settled back into silently seething rather than screaming at each other.

“Fine.”

“Get someone decent, it shouldn’t do that.” The fleeting affection I felt is gone. 

 “Okay.”

The frosty morning turns into a bright, crisp day. The glazier is efficient, it’s all done by lunch time. I don’t bother going to the office, just tap away at emails on the kitchen bench while chopping garlic and rosemary.  

I make the bed up with some old linen that’s gone extremely soft and inviting. You find me lying there when you get home. You dwell in the doorway and glance at the skylight. 

“Thanks for staying. The house smells amazing.” 

“Lamb casserole. Been on for hours.” I study your face for the first time in weeks. You look tired. “I’ll let you have some. We can sit at opposite ends of the table and look at our phones.” 

When you smile I know we won’t eat separately tonight. We’ll curl up on the lounge with bowls in our laps on tea towels. You’ll talk at the news, stabbing your point in the air with your fork between mouthfuls. You like saying outrageous things to make me laugh.

“May I?” 

You lie next to me and look up at the new glass. It’s so clean and clear that all we can see is sky. 

“What sort of clouds are they again?”

“I don’t know, cumulonimbus?”

“The ones with the silver lining?”

“Must be.”

What we loved:
This quiet domestic study is beautifully nuanced – clear, smooth and illuminating much like the freshly installed skylight. Its metaphorical shattering opens the story with purpose and while nothing else about this day-in-the-life is newsworthy, we remain engaged by the authentic descriptions of their home, the dialogue and this broken relationship. The use of second person POV draws you into their world – one of unspoken ambiguity and a genuine warmth more relatable than any divorce-cliched shout fest or melodrama. And almost imperceptibly, without suffering from schmaltz, this becomes a story of hope. The marriage may have shattered but they are quietly attempting to pick up the pieces. A worthy winner that showed further restraint in leaving 50 words in the tank.


SHORTLISTED

THE HOBBYIST by E.G. Nesbitt, NSW

“Five hundred. Plus part and labour, of course. I can see at least three bits that need replacing.”

“If parts and labour are extra, then what is the five hundred for?”

“Call-out fee.” He radiated smugness.

I sighed. “I don’t have a choice, do I?”

“Nope.” He popped the ‘p’. If he’d grinned any wider, the top of his obnoxious head would have fallen off.

I signed the agreement on his annoying little electronic tablet and left him to it.

The only bright side, the silver lining to a very odiferous cloud, was that he had to stay in there with the mess and the stench and actually fix the machine. I could go out into the fresh air and not think about it for a while. Not think about it and especially not smell it.

I should have replaced the ancient thing ages ago. That was the problem with a hobby, though: it could be your true calling, it could dominate your life but it didn’t pay for itself. Money was what you put in, your vocation was what you got out. New equipment was a dream.

Even the repairs to the old clunker were going to require a bit of budget-juggling. Nothing to be done about it, of course. I needed that machine.

I’d just opened my laptop when the grating tones of talk radio jolted through the air. He’d turned it up loud, so he could hear it over his clattering and banging.

My headphones drowned out the worst of the racket as I concentrated for a while on my bill-paying day job.

After an hour or so, I headed back in to check his progress. “Any luck?”

“You must work this old girl hard. Do you ever do maintenance?”

I gritted my teeth. “Yes. After every use, as per the manufacturer’s instructions.”

He sniggered. “They must be written on stone tablets. This thing is older than I am.”

He pulled himself to his feet, leaving filthy handprints on the counter-top.

“Anyway, it’ll do for now, especially,” he smirked, “for a hobbyist.” He looked at me expectantly. “I could really go for a cuppa. How about it?”

I managed a tight little smile.

“Certainly. I have a special tea blend that I think will be just right for you.”

We settled the bill while the kettle boiled. I shrugged at the item ‘making good’, given the debris he’d left behind. He obviously had no intention of tidying up after himself.

I made his cuppa.

Later, as I was putting his carcass through the newly repaired meat-grinder, I wondered what I could add to my special tea blend to make things easier for the machine. Maybe there was some herb that softened bodies as they died? After all, the task of removing irritating people was never-ending. It might only be a hobby but, still, the grinder had to run smoothly. And it might be hard to find another repair guy.

What we liked:
What starts out as a seemingly innocent and relatable handyman story (face it, we’ve all had a tradesman like that in our homes!) rather abruptly takes a gleefully gruesome turn – on its head – in the final paragraph. The matter-of-factness with which the twist is delivered rather fittingly grinds the narrative to a halt, as we realise the grubby man who liked to pop his ‘p’s (a great line) was actually repairing the device of his demise! A great title, vividly painted scenario and authentic dialogue that had us fooled and has us wanting to read more about this meaty subject.


SHORTLISTED

GO ON, THEN by Ashleigh Mounser, NSW

Five months along and Angela was still deciding what to do about it all. On one hand, she was nauseous all the time and her feet were swollen to the size of newborn kittens. On the other hand, she rather liked the little kicks in her belly – light but firm, like a butterfly raging to heavy metal.

At eight and a half months, she went into early labour.

“It’s much too soon,” she told the midwife. “I haven’t decided if I want to have a baby.”

The midwife handed Charlie to her. With his little red face scrunched up, he howled.

“Oh, that’s very loud,” Angela said thoughtfully. “It’ll be distracting if I ever decide to write my bestseller. Maybe we should put him back.”

Beside her, Charlie’s father, Seth, sobbed. “I want you to marry me, Angela. I love you so much.”

She frowned, looking from him to the baby. “I suppose I’ve grown fond of you too.”

When Charlie was one year old, he was the best man at their wedding.

While her mother fixed a veil to Angela’s neatly coiffed hair, she looked apprehensively at Charlie. As her father walked her down the aisle, Angela murmured, “I’m just not sure I want children. Do you think it’s too late to be an Olympic pole-vaulter?”

When the priest asked if she would take Seth to have and to hold, she hemmed and hawed for so long that Auntie Marie took out her knitting needles and finished a scarf for Uncle Bernard.

“Go on then,” Angela said eventually. ‘Go on, then' was her solemn vow.

When Charlie was six years old, Angela delivered him to his first day of kindergarten. She stood with the other mothers, watching friendships form and Lego towers rise.

“Which one is yours?” one of the other mothers asked, but Angela shook her head. “Maybe none of them – I haven’t decided.”

The days fell into one another, and little-boy Charlie was replaced with gangly-teenager Charlie.

At his eighteenth birthday party, Angela worried loudly if this meant it was officially too late to consider adoption. “I just haven’t made up my mind,” she said.

While she made up her mind, Charlie went to university and got married and had three children of his own.

Confined to a hospital bed, Angela thanked Charlie for visiting. “I’m glad you’re here,” she said. “There’s so much I want to do with my life. The silver lining to all this is that I finally see clearly. I want to own a restaurant and serve homestyle Italian. Or I want to live in Paris and paint all day long. Or maybe I could get a great big plot of land and farm orange trees in the winter. Or…”

Charlie held her hand and said goodbye.

“I don’t think I want to say goodbye,” Angela said, not sounding quite sure. “I think I’d rather do something else.”

What we liked:
A truly original take on the joys and sacrifices of motherhood – following the impossibly indecisive Angela and her inability to read a room! Well paced, with each section driving our timeline on in episodic fashion, this whimsical narrative takes us on a bumpy yet enjoyable ride through maybe baby Charlie’s life. Using his mother’s uniquely unfiltered decision-making lens, we recognise common fears and regrets many feel in life, as if floating on a lazy river they cannot control – with things becoming clear all too late.


SHORTLISTED

HER STORY by Alysha Bell, Vic

Five years, we’ve been here. She crawls on all fours, pushing a floor wipe up and down the length of the room. There’s a small rubbish bag beside her filled with eight other wipes. She suddenly sneezes so violently that her hand slips out from underneath her and her chin hits the floor.

I stand against the wall, watching her. I’m going to be totally upfront with you: I’m her mattress. Yeah, this is a story told from the perspective of an anthropomorphised mattress, because she’s not able to tell it herself, to be honest.

She swears loudly and rolls onto her back, and I look down at her silently because I am actually a mattress. She takes a few deep breaths and stares up at the high ceiling. She remembers the first time she walked into this place, dripping with sweat and choking down chilled corn tea that she hated–

She sits up suddenly, to stop herself thinking, and drops the wipe into the rubbish bag. She grabs the corners and ties it shut twice, from all sides, so that it is sealed away completely. She stands and exits the apartment, headed for the disposal area across the road.

Now that we’re alone, let’s have a look around what’s left. There’s not much. She’s really strict on herself when she’s doing a clearing. Down the hallway via which she just departed is the kitchen, a small nook set into the wall. It came with a small fridge but the old stains made her dry retch so she replaced it herself almost immediately without even telling the company. Across from the kitchen behind a small sliding door is the bathroom. The only thing she was ever lazy about in this place was sweeping up her own hair. Hard as she initially tried, it just always seemed to reappear. Out in the main room, where I am now, used to live a whole lot of friends. All shapes, all sizes, not well-matched, hastily gotten, but perfectly functional. None of them talked, and they did their jobs without much fuss or issue. Her kind of…furniture.

The last area of the 1R is the loft, which was my home from about two weeks after I arrived, when she finally figured out how to get me up there on her own. It wasn’t pretty. The area itself is surprisingly pretty, when the morning sun is shining in, bouncing off the silver lining of my seams and pissing her off at 4:30am. I remember the day she fell in love in that loft, and the day two years later that she wiped it away.

The door to the apartment opens suddenly and she enters. The look on her face says it’s time. She walks over and finds the handles on my sides, then pulls me down the hallway along her raw floorboards and out the doorway.

What we liked:
We often talk about the importance of a strong opening paragraph, but this story also has a killer second paragraph! No beating around the bush or twist here – just a straight-talking mattress who wants us to know upfront who’s doing the narrating. From that revelation, it’s tour guide time, as we flop comfortably into the inner springs of this quirky scene with a surprising amount of depth, emotion and descriptive detail. This could have been told in third person, but that extra narrative tweak makes for a memorable smile as you read. (Reminding us a third time in as many sentences, “because I am actually a mattress” is comedy gold.) It definitely Sealy-ed the deal for us…


SHORTLISTED

TRAUMATIC by Dominic Harris, UK

“Five? Five whole people?” asked the detective.

“Well they were whole before the incident, sir,” replied the pathologist. “But we’ve managed to organise the, um…pieces…into these five individuals.”

“Right. Good job, Smith,” winced the detective. He hated this part of his job.

They approached the five bodies. “Like a sort of morbid puzzle, Smith?” said the detective, ignoring his nausea.

“I suppose so, sir,” answered Smith.

The detective examined the bodies closely. “Are you sure you have this quite right, Smith?”

“Yes, sir. Given the truly horrific state of these individuals, it's not been an exact science, but I stand by my work.”

“So this one? This was a young boy?” asked the detective.

“Yes, we believe he was around eight.”

“Right. Rather large, long arms for an eight-year-old boy?”

“Yes, sir. But I surmised that he was into weightlifting.” said Smith.

“Yes, it’s a possibility I suppose. Doesn’t quite explain the thick arm hair though. Or the tattoos,” the detective mumbled. “Might have to rethink that one, Smith.” He moved on to the next corpse.

“Seems to be an issue here as well, Smith. The legs.”

“The legs?” Smith looked nervous.

“They’re different lengths!” said the detective, making exaggerated pointing gestures.

“Yes. This body only had one. So we retrieved a spare.” Smith bounced on the balls of his feet with pride.

“A spare? Where from??” The detective was getting agitated.

“We’ve always got spare parts round here!” laughed the pathologist.

“Well where’s his original leg?”

“Sorry?”

“His leg! The leg originally attached to his body! Where is it?!”

“He was an amputee,” said Smith calmly. “He never had that leg.”

“So why did you give him that one??”

“Well I thought since we had one kicking about, we could replace his missing leg for him,” shrugged Smith.

“Smith. He’s dead. He has no further use for the leg he had! Why stick a random leg on him?”

“Well, he’s been through a lot today, so I thought it was something nice out of this ghastly situation. Every cloud has a silver lining, sir!”

The detective stared at Smith and then resolved to move onto the third pile of body parts before he lost his temper.

“Smith. What are these?”

“Er…they’re breasts, sir.”

“Yes. And what are they doing there?” asked the detective, his hand over his eyes.

“Breasts tend to be located in the chest area, sir.”

“Smith, this person has a full beard,” whined the detective, turning away.

“Takes all sorts these days, sir!”

“Let’s leave that thought there shall we, Smith?” The detective turned towards the pathologist. “I’ll also look over the fact that this rather stocky, well-breasted man seems to have the arms of a child.”

Smith sniffed and stared at his feet.

“So, with that all in mind, Smith,” the detective went on “what’s your professional conclusion? What happened to these people?”

Smith looked up and confidently pushed his shoulders back. “Some sort of violent trauma, sir.”

What we liked:
Poor Smith – his assembly skills are pathologically diabolical in this hilarious scene that plays out like a British comedy sketch (no surprises to subsequently learn that the author is from the UK!). The interchanges between the increasingly frustrated detective and Smith, our earnest clueless pathologist, are skilfully driven by a blend of witty dialogue, comic timing and the ongoing parade of more and more ludicrous discoveries. The final line caps it all off brilliantly – this story an excellent example of comedy done well.


SHORTLISTED

THE MERRY WIDOW’S CLUB by Carmen Condon, WA

Five was the perfect number of book club members, Maeve had always felt. When numbers swelled to six it was easy for quiet individuals to get lost in the mix. Alternately when membership dropped to four, women could too easily pair off against each other. It was for these reasons Maeve wanted balance restored and Alice, may she rest in peace, replaced tonight. She smiled graciously at the ladies gathered around their usual table, slipped out her handbag hook and secured her Burberry.

Blythe watched her highness Maeve flutter about, nesting on her favourite chair. As the first member to arrive, Blythe had considered securing the seat for herself. Tonight, however, was not the night for passive aggressive retribution; their focus needed to be kept firmly on the new recruit. The size of their book club didn’t bother Blythe, so much as the marital status of the members. One didn’t like to dwell in the past, but relations had proved smoother once widowhood had become a membership requirement.

Anna’s fingers worried away at the paperback cradled on her lap. She noted that it was the only copy present tonight. Love in the Time of Cholera if anyone was interested. Which they weren’t. Anna would have preferred a more active book club. Say, one that actually read and discussed the nominated book? But she owed these women. Normally she went with the flow of these gatherings, but the fact that Gloria did not currently meet widow status set her on edge.

To Maggie’s trained eye the wine looked substandard. After swirling the raised glass above her head, she took a small sip and gave an exaggerated grimace. She could see Maeve flinch in her peripheral vision and gave Blythe a conspiratorial wink. If twenty years of friendship didn’t give you the right to push each other’s buttons then what was the point of it all? Anna was the newest member of the group so Maggie tended to go easier on her, but tonight she was as nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs. This Gloria had better be worth the effort.

Gloria was greeted by exceedingly awkward conversation over appetisers, before Maeve got down to business.

‘We are honoured you would consider joining our little group, dear. But there is the small issue of your husband …’

‘Yes, I heard, well, I mean … I was told you might be able to help me?’

Gloria knew immediately she had made a misstep. The shocked faces around the table said it all. Her breath froze in her chest for several moments before the women collapsed in peals of laughter.

‘We are the merry widows, not the black widows, my dear!’ Blythe exclaimed, patting Gloria on the back.

‘Try the Silver lining book club,” Anna whispered as Gloria gathered up her things and dropped notes on the table.

As she hurried away from them, she heard a last muttered comment:

‘Definitely not worth the effort.’

What we liked:
“Five” is not only the first word in this story but apparently the perfect balance for this club according to the first of four hilariously well-rounded perspectives in anticipation of the new arrival. The idea of a book club is ripe ground for flash fiction and this one cleverly manages to weave multiple points of view into its small word count, allowing the reader to get a glimpse into the motivations and psyche of its elite members. The author has done such a good job that we challenge anyone to say they’ve never met at least one of these characters in real life!


SHORTLISTED

CURTAIN CALLS by Clare Efron, Vic

Five orgasms was probably too many to fake in one night. He was just so earnest and enthusiastic that she felt he deserved positive feedback; but now she was worried she had set an unreasonable precedent. Was five the new normal? Was she going to have to match this level of supposed euphoria henceforth so that he didn’t feel inadequate? “Great,” she thought, “now I not only have to worry about the state of my pubic hair arrangement with this guy, I also have to dust off my theatrical skills”. She wasn’t Sally Field for God’s sake. Although she had often been told she had the comportment of a performer, her career as a working actor had peaked with a small part in a student film over twenty years ago in which she had been directed to passionately make out with a fellow “actor” in an ice cream shop. The scant direction issued was to ensure that onlookers were made to feel uncomfortable. It was so long ago that she couldn’t recall if they had been successful, although they probably had been. The only remembrance left of that shoot was the visceral recollection of the glass casing of the gelato fridge vibrating behind her butt while her counterpart’s tongue flailed and whirled around her mouth like it was under time pressure to find something important. The silver lining of the unseemly affair was twofold. The first was that she had made a quick $20. The second was discovering how adept she was at feigning desire. Performing an artistry that had been serving women for centuries felt like an induction into womanhood.  

Now his hand was moving up the inside of her thigh again; surely six was too many curtain calls to expect, even for Sally Field. “Had Ms. Field even acted on stage?” She mused silently as he mumbled some words against her breast, “I mean, had she ever had to do curtain calls at all?” So as to not appear indelicate, she resisted the urge to reach for her phone. After all, there was a man’s finger inside her, decorum dictated she google Sally Field facts later. She looked at him now. His eyes ablaze with the confidence of a madman finally vindicated. She sighed, arched her back and leant in for the “sixth”. Once again her abiding hospitality had led a man to believe he was among the world’s greatest lovers. She felt a familiar guilt as she ran her fingers down his back, but somewhere between that and calling out a mélange of words like “yes”, “more”, “baby” and “harder” she had replaced the feeling of guilt with self-congratulations. Sure, she hadn’t had an actual orgasm all night, but she had certainly done wonders for her guest’s confidence. “I am a good person,” she thought, “and an excellent hostess”. With renewed purpose she enacted a series of moans and shudders worthy of a standing ovation and wondered if Sally Field was a good hostess too.

What we liked:
Let’s face it, if you want a great way to kick off a story (and a strategic way to stand out from the pack), this is a good way to go about it! Now that it had our attention though, it needed to back it up, and this story did just that with a constant flow of introspection that dishes out equal parts humour and backstory. Channelling the likes of Fleabag and When Harry Met Sally (not to mention ahem, reality), this cheeky story plays excellent hostess to the reader, appropriately shuddering to a satisfying conclusion. (By the way, to save you any awkward googling later, Sally Field has indeed acted on stage – in the 2017 Tony-nominated stage play The Glass Menagerie…)


SHORTLISTED

STAN by Zoë Richards, NSW

Five thirty, and we are on the park bench in the last of the watery winter sunlight. The Kerr Street bench is cast iron, covered in graffiti, and in prime position across Brunswick Street from the Evelyn Hotel bottle-shop.

Stan laughs, a wet rasp-rasp-hack ending in a wheeze and, with yellow fingers, takes another drag of his cigarette. He blows the smoke out through his stained teeth. 

Stan collects butts of Brunswick Street and rerolls them. “Street-Side Virginia” he calls it.  

‘If I’d known it was from you, I wouldn’t have freaked out.’ He picks a clump of tobacco off his tongue and takes a swig from his bottle. It's in a paper bag, but I know from experience, and his stained lips, that it’s cheap port from across the road.

‘Sorry, Stan. I just wanted to see if it would get here. See if the postie would bother.’

‘Yeah, I freaked right out. Didn’t know who was after me.’ 

‘Shit. Yeah sorry.’ The letter had seemed a great idea after a few drinks a few weeks earlier. ‘Still got it?’ I ask.

Before he can answer, another cough takes over, ending with a sound like a dog destroying a rubber chicken. 

He raises the last wet drag of his cigarette to his mouth with a shaking hand, scrabbling in the pocket of his old leather jacket with the other. He smooths out the crumpled envelope and hands it to me. It’s grimy and damp from his pocket. On the front it says:

Stan
The Park Bench on the corner of Brunswick and Kerr Street
After 12 Noon
(You know, near Grill’d)

I slide the letter out. It’s more of a ransom note really, cut and pasted from the newspaper: StAn yOU Owe mE 15 BuCKs. 

‘Should’ve known it was you.’ He pauses. ‘I would’ve, if it’d said twenty bucks.’ 

‘Huh?’ I ask.

‘Yeah. It’s twenty.’

‘Really?’

‘Here.’ He pulls two fives and a ten out of his jacket and hands them to me. I shove them into my jeans pocket.

Stan tilts his head back, draining the dregs of his port. His Adam’s apple bobbles in his chicken neck. He winks at me and pulls a wine sack from the inside pocket of his jacket. 

‘I’ll be dancing with the silver lady tonight,’ he wheeze-laughs again, steadying his bottle between his thighs. He squeezes the sack. The port comes out in a hard jet, filling the neck of the bottle with froth. 

‘Ah well, every goon-box has a silver lining, eh?’ I say.

He doubles over in another soul-destroying cough. The force of it dislodges his teeth. He pulls them out, wipes them on his shirt, and replaces them.

He fishes an ancient zip-lock bag out of a hole in the lining of his Tardis jacket, and pulls a tailor butt apart with his black fingernails.

‘Nah, Stan. Here. Have a real one.’ I hand him my tobacco. He smiles, wrinkles deep around his bloodshot eyes, and rolls.

What we liked:
In fewer than 500 words, we are introduced to Stan – a fully-fleshed (yellow fingers and all) character. The description game is top notch here, bringing Stan to life (albeit barely) so that you can hear, smell and see him clearly thanks to the details in the narrative. From the wet rasp-hacking to the brilliant “dog destroying a rubber chicken” cough and final teeth-dislodging wheeze, the grime and damp tobacco-stained decay coats every sentence. This story may have been addressed to this park bench on this corner, but as a slice of life it succeeds in painting a scene that could play out anywhere.


SHORTLISTED

EVIE’S MURDEROUS MISSION by Lindy Gibbon, UK

Five murders in two weeks. That was going some, even for Evie. She was addicted she realised; to the planning, the red herrings laid out so carefully to lead astray the hapless police officers, the pitiless choice of victim and then the execution, the gorier the better. She had become inured to the crime itself. Worse than that, she even gloried in them. She no longer gave a flying fig how monstrous, cruel and wicked the actual murder.

Early on she had perhaps recoiled a little when she reflected on the deaths, but by then the deed was done and it was too late to halt the inevitable progression toward yet another grieving family member having to steel themselves to view the corpse lying in the morgue on the unforgiving slab of cold steel. Back then, she could empathise, put herself in their shoes. She could visualise her victim’s parent, spouse or lover as an affirmative was made to the procedural question necessary to gain positive I.D. of the victim. She’d imagine their sobs, the hand pressing against their trembling lip as the DCI replaced the sheet over the victim’s body and then gently escorted them away, murmuring words of solicitude.

Nowadays, if Evie felt anything, it was merely to wonder whether some suspicion may be cast over them. Her quick mind explored hypothetical scenarios, how their despair could be turned against them. It wasn’t personal; just her devious mind recognised how she might inveigle them in the murder, thus further distracting the DCI from the truth staring him in the face. A silver lining derived from their anguish and grief; though not for them, obviously.

She paused, wondering now if she could stop. Her answer came together with a powerful adrenaline rush as she tightened the ligature around the neck of Cynthia Lomax. Cynthia had put up quite a fight; there would be skin beneath her fingernails which forensics could analyse for DNA later. Evie was just debating whether to give her nails a scrub when she heard someone outside. Mid-strangulation, she froze. Looking wildly around, checking her watch, then with a surprising degree of speed for someone her size, she leapt towards the door. Cynthia remained; twitching and with a distinct petechial haemorrhage, evidence that murder number six, although interrupted, was almost a done deal.

“Hello, darling. You’re back early.”

“Hi, sweetheart, sorry, have I interrupted you?”

“That’s alright. I’d more or less finished up what I was doing. What’ve you got there?”

“I thought you might be hungry, so I picked up a few things for supper.”

“You angel! I’m famished. Shall I open some wine?”

“I’ll do it. You’ve been hard at it all day. How many murder victims are there now?”

“Six. Well, actually Cynthia’s still twitching, but she’ll be dead before much longer and I think DCI Palmer’s driver is going to meet a grisly end in the next chapter.”

“And Palmer’s still clueless?”

“He’s got his suspicions, nothing concrete yet.”

“Excellent! Cheers!”

“Cheers!”

What we liked:
Look, we’re just going to come out and say it. Every month, we get a LOT of stories about killers – killing spouses (popular), killing innocent victims and so on. And at first, it looks like Evie is up to the same thing – matched nicely with a killer opening stanza that has us intrigued by this careful addict. As things unfold, Evie’s perspective is engaging as she outwits the law while also contemplating her own fixation on murder. Then, after four paragraphs of delicious third-person build up, the dialogue sees her exposed – but not how you think. Worthy of a second read immediately, the dastardly writer vibe makes sense and crime and thriller writers everywhere will perhaps relate to this well-portrayed double life!


LONGLISTED ENTRANTS

Congrats to the following top 3% of stories this month – you can proudly say that you caused the judges many headaches! Keep doing what you do…

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

  • GLORY DAYS by Louise Tigchelaar, NSW
  • FOR SALE by Raja Ummi Nadrah, Malaysia
  • REFLECTIONS by Evan Quail, WA
  • UNTITLED by Brad Campbell, NSW
  • A HERO’S JOURNEY by Nathan J. Phillips, ACT
  • THE MAKING by Alex Hutchins, Vic
  • REGRETS by CJ Goodwill, Vic
  • THE TOURIST by Matt Crichton, Vic
  • THE LONG HAUL by Alana Faigen, Spain
  • A RUSH OF GOLD by Marc Gijsemans, Ireland
  • THE HOUSEPARTY by Jetha A, India
  • THE DARE by Jessica Mansour, NSW
  • ALL IN HIS HEAD by Laura Besley, UK
  • FIVE LITTLE INCHES by Susie Morgan, UK
  • MAKING NEW FRIENDS by Patrick Arulanandam, NSW
  • EGGS PLEASE by Rob Sutherland, Qld
  • MAURICE AND THE MANY BEARS by S. J. Alnaghy, NSW
  • ME TIME by Samuel Ogborn, ACT
  • A WALK IN THE NIGHT by Marc Howard, Vic
  • CAPTIVE by Tracy Davidson, UK
  • A FINE AND PRIVATE PLACE by Paul Rouse, UK
  • NO PRESSURE THEN by Leigh Garrahy, Qld
  • COUNTDOWN by Monissa Whiteley, Tas
  • THE CONTEST by Carl Newby, Qld
  • FIVE by James Karantonis, Vic
  • FIVE DEAD by Cherie Mitchell, NZ
  • FRACKIN MALTESE by Russell Fox, SA
  • UNTITLED by Ash Tudor, WA
  • STOLEN TIME by Zoe Crowest, WA
  • THE CONCRETE SMILE by Kaynan Paige, Qld
  • CHOICES by Lisa Green, NSW
  • UNTITLED by Rebecca McCorriston, NSW
  • BLOOD, SWEAT AND TEARS by Kathleen Brand, NSW
  • THE FINAL COUNTDOWN by Amber Gaston, NSW
  • THE SILVER LINING EXPERIMENT by Tamantha Smith, Qld
  • THE ASSIGNMENT by Cheryl Nicol, NZ
  • BUSTLE by Mandira Pattnaik, India
  • FIVE BLIND MICE by Ellen McMahon, Qld
  • STARDUST COURAGE by Nikki J B, Vic
  • WHAT A FRAGILE WORLD by P.M. Greece
  • PRIDE OF PLACE by Paula Siddle, Qld
  • FRANTIC FICTION by Brennan White, WA
  • FIVE SECONDS by Mitch Cooper, Qld
  • UNTITLED by Emily Parnell, USA
  • LEST WE FORGET by Jane Connolly, Qld
  • UNTITLED by Sam Darcy, NSW
  • KNIVES IN THE DARK by Benjamin Graham, NSW
  • ORANGE GLOW by Kate Hamill, NSW
  • LAST BREATH by Jo Skinner, Qld
  • MISSING PIECES by Nina Peck, WA
  • WHAT BIG HANDS by Jane Brown, Qld
  • THE BIG REPLACEMENT by Gabriel Hansberry, USA
  • THE SHERIFF by Henry Neilsen, Vic

 

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