Welcome to May’s Furious Fiction story showcase – a monthly celebration of our community’s creativity and the chance to have YOUR OWN story featured or acknowledged. So, without further ado, let’s remind ourselves of what May’s criteria were:
- Each story had to include a character who was BEING CHASED or doing the CHASING.
- Each story had to include the words BOIL, FRINGE and JUMP. (You could use longer variations as long as the original spelling was retained.)
- Each story had to contain at least THREE CREATIVE SIMILES.
And so we received hundreds of breathless stories this month – chasing dreams, chasing criminals and chasing love, to name just a few. Temperatures and dinners boiled, people with bad fringes ended up on the fringe of society, all while jumping into cars, jump-starting cars or simply bungee jumping off bridges!
Descriptive language such as SIMILES can help readers visualise what you are describing quickly – making them ideal for flash fiction. Similes will typically use “like” or “as” to make an actual comparison, although it’s best to avoid cliches like “white as snow” or “slept like a log” in favour of more creative options.
CREATIVE SIMILES THAT MADE US SMILE
You’ll be reading plenty more in the story showcase below, but here are 10 extra similes that stood out to us this month:
- “As packed as an overhead locker on a budget flight” – Alison Newitt, QLD
- “Night licked at her heels like a pair of ill-fitting boots” – Ruby, TAS
- “Shivering and trembling… like a half-drowned cat cowering in a drain” – Phillipa Rohne, Thailand
- “As stubborn as soap scum in an old bathtub” – Laura Mortensen, USA
- “Our bodies pressed together perfectly… like a USB cable being plugged in the right way, the first time” – Greg Eccleston, NSW
- “Stranger than an ice cream coming out of a microwave” – Samina Molyadi, India
- “With a note of discord, like an untuned lute” – Jan Samuels, NZ
- “Screeching like a chorus of second-rate sopranos” – Leonie Needham, VIC
- “She was shaking like a nervous chihuahua” – Janet Achilleos, VIC
- “My defences are like the windows of a 1972 Torana – it takes some work to lower them, but once they’re down, everything pours in” – Ian Harrison, NSW
And before we continue with our showcase/chase of stories, a special shout out to 7-year-old Davie Freeman-Rabinovich, who delighted us this month with a story filled with time-travelling, dinosaur riding fun. (Stay tuned for a kids challenge in the future, Davie!)
Congrats to all those featured below and we hope to see you lining up for the next Furious Fiction challenge on Friday 2 June!
APULIA WAKES ONE MORNING by Julia Ruth Smith, Italy
Like a tired cat lying in the shade of an olive tree, Apulia wakes up and stretches her long coastline, from the rocky cliffs of the north coast to the Greek-fringed beaches of Salento. It’s been a long winter and her children are ready for the frolicking months of summer.
It’s a clear morning and from her kitchen window she can see that Albania is up and moving too. She raises her hand in greeting; Albania waves back enthusiastically. They share so much, yet are so different. Apulia prepares a breakfast of firm cherries, popping them in her mouth, holding them between her teeth, spitting the stones as far as she can. The taste is exquisite like sparkling joy on a thirsty tongue. Soon she will have more fruit than she knows what to do with – soft peaches, cheeky apricots, the deep sensual sighs of figs.
When she flings open the door of her stonework trullo, the heat is rising. Unless she gets to work on a north wind, by lunchtime it will be boiling. For now she rests on the low wall surrounding her property and watches vibrant flowers unfurling. The smell of the terracotta earth swirls through her mind like tradition and she has to stop herself from jumping to her feet and dancing a tarantella.
For a second she is reminded of the darkness that sometimes sweeps her land, how she hears gunshots in the dark of night. She remembers cars careering down her simple country lanes, good men, bad men, men so poor they had no choice, other men falling choking onto beaches, half-dead from their journey speaking no tongue but their own, tired and hopeless, a tumbling into alleyways and needles and mothers crying in lonely houses. She’s reminded that where there is beauty there is almost always despair. Clouds form on her horizon. Apulia – beauty and despair.
She’s up and running then, chasing the clouds away, blowing gently on the twinkling sea until it ripples like turquoise promise. She’s gaining speed now, rustling over vines and olive groves, brushing through Mediterranean scrub, startling egrets and waders, weasels and voles. Lizards scamper in the undergrowth like naughty children up to mischief. She chases the clouds as far as the forests at the furthest reach of her outstretched arms.
She is exhausted now. Her bosom rises and falls with the effort. Neighbours fling open their blinds and exclaim that it’s a beautiful day. She smiles ruefully. If only they knew. She wonders how long she can keep going. The answer comes swifty. As long as the sun rises on her hard-working fields, as long as there’s wine on the table and the sea laps on her bountiful shores.
In a month of metaphor, this story goes one step further by making the main character an entire chunk of Italy’s south-eastern coastline, waving at Albania across the Adriatic Sea! As fantastical as it seems bringing this geographic boot-heel to life, it somehow flows effortlessly as we witness the daily life and full personality of this special place’s personality. Such evocative descriptions – this bountiful and beautiful piece is surely a new kind of tourism campaign.
DRUG BUST UP by Tiana Skinner, QLD
“Mr McPherson, please.”
“You’ll never catch me alive!”
“You’re in a mobility scooter.”
It took Ron McPherson a moment to come to this discovery. His grip tightened on the potato sack like an eagle’s talons.
“What’s in the bag, Ron?”
Ron had forgotten to turn up his hearing aids.
“I said-oh never mind.” Muttered the tired constable. “Ron, I’m coming up to chat!”
The constable – an older fellow on the fringe of retirement – had better places to be than the Sunnyside Retirement Home. He’d become well acquainted with a certain resident who was about as sneaky as an elephant behind a tree.
In climbing the stairs to the balcony above, a very distinct call rang out. A song to signal the reversing of a mobility scooter. One could almost say a beeping like a broken record.
“Ron!” The constable was not in the mood for such shenaniganry.
The high-pitched hum like an electric bike was the only response. Perhaps consuming six iced donuts and a large cappuccino was a mistake. How Ron had managed to manoeuvre his contraption up or through to the fourth floor without the elevator’s assistance remained a mystery to the detectives as equally as it confounded the staff.
As to what the potato sack in his shrivelled fingers held this time was another mystery entirely.
The constable burst through the doors to the fourth-floor landing.
“Ron! Ron! Ron?”
“He went that way darl.”
The constable jumped at the voice, glancing at the wrinkly finger pointing down the left hallway.
“He’s trouble isn’t he? It was quieter before Ron. But at least now we’ve got you as a regular visitor.”
“Thanks Glenys. I’ll be back for tea and bickies once I catch him.”
A deep raspy voice resounded further down the hall.
“Oi Ron, what’re you doing?”
“That sounds like Victor Carlton, room 402, first left, take a right, it’s the second door on the right.” Despite never leaving her room, Glenys knew the layout of Sunny Side better than the staff. It was alarming how well she remembered the route of the air vents.
“See you soon Glenys.”
“Yeah love. I’ll just boil the jug. You have fun now.”
And so our hero set off at a brisk walking pace in the direction of room 402.
However the scene unfolding in the doorway wasn’t quite as expected. Ron’s familiar expression of defiance peeked through the knitted sleeve of Victor. McPherson held in a tight headlock.
“Here, Sir. He tried to get to my medicine cabinet. But he don’t stand a chance against world champion wrestler Victor Carlton.”
“Now then Ron, I doubt you’re carrying potatoes in that.”
The constable reached forward, snatching the bag from the arm of Ron’s scooter. Peeling back the lip of the bag to reveal…
“Sir, that’s his dementia medication.”
“Ron, I’m proud to say this is the first drug bust up at Sunnyside.”
Ron still hadn’t turned up his hearing aids.
Hilariously slow-motion and filled with the lowest of stakes, this drug bust plays out in real time as the residents of Sunnyside push the constable to his boiling point. It’s not hard to picture Ron in his scooter, beep-beep reversing his way into the hallways and oblivious to the chaos thanks to his hearing aid malfunction. A humorous scene with great dialogue from start to finish.
SHE WAS MADE OF EVERYTHING by Brian Parisi, USA
She was made of ideas:
She was Buttercup, Leia, Ripley, Xena, Troi, Dorothy, Daria, and a thousand others that only existed on paper, or images projected upside down onto my ignorant little eyeballs. She certainly wasn’t real, but she wasn’t exactly fiction.
She was made of light:
That first night I chased her across Clark Street into the park, where carnival lights and the sounds of cartoonish rayguns twisted upward, rising through us into the boiling August air. We huddled together behind the festival in a broken-down bumper car, the silly childish sounds of that place just at the edge of hearing. We were young and the trees were getting old, planted there, like us, feeling everything in the half-light beyond the fringe of where we were allowed to be.
She was made of silence:
She sat in the passenger seat of my mom’s car and held the pregnancy test while I read the instruction leaflet like it was a cipher decoding the future. The test result needed no clarification. I pushed the silence out of the humid air with the wrong words. My hand looked like a damp, crumpled-up napkin, wrapped around her hand atop her trembling knee. I worried I’d suck all the moisture out of her and leave her a desiccated husk with a baby inside, like a chrysalis hanging on a branch at the end of a savage winter.
She was made of wind:
I remember the three of us running through the airport, feeling too far behind to make it. Our son, laughing like a maniac, was too young to consider it anything other than a game. She let go of our hands and rode the crest of his contagious laughter through the terminal. A phantom symphony playing in my head drank the air out of our chests as we crossed the jet bridge.
She was made of water:
I saw the April sunlight playing in her as she flowed clear and cold. It danced around in the rocks that she’d spent most of her forty years wearing down until they became smooth, antithetical to turbulence. When I touched her, I still felt the current; alpine cold; the push and pull that had eroded the rocks over so many years. I wondered why it hadn’t eroded me. I would have been OK with that. Just a set of smooth bones, picked clean by tiny fish, bleached by the sun, laying contentedly beneath her, together watching the autumn leaves pass overhead, spinning in the eddies.
She is made of dust:
When they ask me if I’m going to grieve forever I want to dip three fingers in oil and roll them in her, so I can streak her on my cheeks, under my eyes, like some neolithic warrior, ready to jump out of the reeds, chanting dirges in some dead language. Watch me try.
With a beautifully repetitive framing device, this story traces the milestones of a life in memorial – part eulogy, part mantra. Throughout, we share in the big moments and small, deftly woven into the narrative and captured in a single changing word – ideas, light, silence and so on. The past tense of it all clues you into the final stanza, but even then it lands powerfully. The final italicised sentence says it all.
A SHORT VISIT by David Wilson, VIC
I know what you’re thinking.
You’re thinking I’m trouble.
That a man can’t change.
You might be right.
Howabout this, though?
Would you look at this car?
You’ve done well.
Oh, yes you have.
Go on. Get in.
I’m not gonna bite.
Jeez man, you OK?
You’re about as calm as a worm on a fishing trip.
Chill, would ya?
You’re making me tense.
It’s funny, the things that keep you going.
They say your mind gives up before your body does.
But I never gave up.
In 15 years.
Oh, we were good, back in the day.
Remember when we did the Old Colonial?
That was us.
In and out before you could boil an egg.
And the Western?
Look at this, hey?
Look at us!
Behind the wheel again!
Fifteen years inside.
Recklessly causing serious injury.
There’s a bit of truth to it.
Swinging in the breeze like a Himalayan prayer flag, they left me.
Billy Choo and Lin Ling.
It was all teamwork, of course.
But they left all the heat for me.
And do you reckon I heard anything from them?
Not a bloody peep.
This is a day to celebrate.
Today I’m out of gaol.
Today I get to start again.
A new start.
Back to the river.
There’s a couple of things I want to chase first.
And then I’ll start chasing the rest of my life.
A bit of catching up to do.
Fifteen years will do that.
People to see.
No, I really appreciate it, man.
No, I’d like you here for this part.
It does feel very good to drive again, I have to say.
Thanks for sorting this car.
And jeez, it looks good.
Yeah, yeah, I know.
No, there will be no speeding, I can assure you.
Can’t afford a single infringement.
Yeah, a bit further.
Yeah, little town.
Would you look at that sunset?
Big horizon, man.
It’s a big country.
You could get lost out here.
Here we are.
It’s around here.
So I’m told.
Oh, you’ll see.
Here we are.
You can stay here if you like.
No need to come in.
Just going to pay a short visit.
But truthfully, I do feel like I have changed.
Did you get that other thing we spoke about?
In the boot.
No, you stay here.
You’re a bit jumpy.
I’ll be back soon.
Oh, this is a lovely knife.
Yeah, I did change in there – like a red bellied black changes its skin.
Mr Billy Choo and Mr Lin Ling.
I’ve been looking forward to this.
Just a short visit.
Still with us? Yes, that WAS under 500 words, but the pacing and spacing has you thinking it’s simply so much more. That’s the clever thing about this style of one-sided pseudo dialogue. As a reader, you are quite literally along for the ride, having the information filled in with each new thought. “Swinging in the breeze like a Himalayan prayer flag” is a great simile – and important in understanding the revenge-fuelled motivation for what is about to happen, itself a great loop back to the title.
LOST AND FOUND by Emma Tinning, VIC
When Kathryn’s daughter, Alice was small, her favourite game was chasey. The rules were simple – Kathryn was to count to five, then run after the child and swoop her off her feet. The game had begun when Alice was tiny – in the park at the end of their street, she would take off, wobbling like a newborn foal, shrieking with anticipation as Kathryn came after her and collapse in her mother’s arms when caught. Kathryn would clutch her daughter, stroking her downy hair and breathing in her warm, bready scent for as long as Alice would allow.
“Enough,” Alice would announce, and Kathryn would drop her down onto the grass.
“Again,” Alice would command, and the game would begin anew.
Alice’s enthusiasm for chasey was boundless, over time, Kathryn’s less so. Sometimes, exhausted, she would steer her daughter to the swings, but Alice would jump off after a minute and away she would go.
“Catch me, Mummy, catch me,” she would shout, her toddler legs like pistons as she tore across the park, leaving Kathryn no option but to race after the determined little girl.
Still, Kathryn’s heart would surge as she caught up with her increasingly speedy daughter and she would clasp her until Alice pronounced “enough.”
On Christmas Eve, when Alice was almost four, Kathryn had a miscarriage, her third in three years. She had lost the baby late, just when she had begun to clear out the spare room and pick paint colours. That summer, they rarely visited the park. Instead, Kathryn would force herself out of bed, turn on ABC kids in the lounge room and retreat to the cocoon of her doona. She would doze for hours, then emerge to make Alice lunch and drag out the craft box. Lying on the couch, Kathryn would shut her eyes and murmur encouragement as Alice painted and pasted all afternoon, the breeze of the fan scattering glitter like fairy dust across the room.
One morning, in autumn, Kathryn and Alice returned to the park.
Alice pulled her mother’s arm.
“Chasey? Please, Mummy, please.”
Still foggy headed, Kathryn nodded reluctantly. “One…two…three…four…five.”
Looking up, she saw Alice had made it all the way to the trees at the park’s edge. Kathryn dashed across the grass but in an instant her daughter was gone. She began to sprint, darting through the trees, shouting “Alice!”, her body awake with terror. She had no idea how much time had passed.
Breathless, Kathryn paused and heard a rustle behind her. Emerging from a pile of autumn leaves like a miniature avenging angel, Alice was boiling with rage.
“You didn’t try hard enough, Mummy! You didn’t even try at all!”
Kathryn seized Alice and sank into the leaves. She rocked the angry little girl in her lap and cried and then cried some more. They sat entwined in the damp until Alice began to squirm.
Brushing the leaves from Alice’s fringe, Kathryn gave her one last squeeze.
“Enough?” Alice asked.
“Enough,” Kathryn agreed.
Kids can sometimes be the most tone-deaf people on the planet. And then there are other times when they simply understand. In this gentle (but brutal) story, we meet Kathryn and Alice and see the bond they share. We also meet a repeating pattern of tragedy and its aftermath. The moment of terror in the park, for someone who has lost so much already, hits hard – but as they lie amongst the autumnal pile, it feels like a new leaf is turning. A lovely title.
THE ARC HUMANITY by Neil Zimdahl, WA
Night’s dark felt thicker than the darkest molasses, and its sounds were fuel for all sorts of imagined creatures. Donny’s restlessness had him hit the bottle hard pushing him into the dream world. Dreams of colours, shapes turning into forms everchanging, and in that moment the night had become as serene as a lake at sunrise.
Restless again it was Donny’s legs that slithered in his bedding, but it wasn’t the lion’s roar, the bear’s growl, the rattle of the snake, but a sharp pain when he rolled over that woke him. The pain in the small of his back escalated, circling outwards, pulsating like a radar screen, but always beginning with a rattle sound sending his imagination wild.
Could he have been?
Was he now in mortal danger?
He needed help now, right now, he cried out, sharp urgent cries. Donny’s cries cut long through the night, expressing his pain like the lead singer of a metal band wailing, until Donny heard her foot fall on the nursery floor, recognised her aroma, and heard her familiar voice.
‘Click.’ A soft light illuminates his crib.
‘What’s wrong baby?’ her voice soft and comforting, and her image in a soft light was the last piece of the puzzle that is their language. A language of ingredients stirred combined formed with heartbeats from conception to birth. A language of the senses only known mother to infant, a connection unseen only felt.
‘Ah, baby, no wonder you can’t sleep, you're lying on your rattle.’ She says removing the rattle.
She lifts him freeing her breast for him to latch on, and his little eyes catch hers knowingly. Sitting in her feeding chair mother and infant in tune to nature’s wonder, only seen by Ted bear, Leo the lion and Jeremy the jumping kangaroo from their positions in the room.
As he feeds they are bathed in the quiet of the night, until a moth circles around the light reflected off Donny’s face, and she chases it away with her hand.
‘Donny, it's Christmas day and in the morning when you wake we’ll go to your Aunt Sylvia’s for Christmas lunch and your uncles, aunties, and cousins will be there. Aunt Sylva will serve her pot roast that your father says tastes like a boiled old boot. MasterChef she’s not but he promises not to say anything as it's Christmas. One look at you with that long fringe and Hippy Cousin Billy will impart his wisdom with his ‘the seed has a sense of what it’ll become’ speech. Under the Christmas tree there will be presents for all, story books and toys for you. Donny this is your story, a part of my story, a part of humanity’s weave and your next step awaits. Ah you’re finished my hungry boy.’ She wipes his mouth and readjusts her nightgown, placing him back in his crib with a kiss.
‘Sleep tight Donny.’
Light switched off she moves with the quiet of a silent movie towards the door.
Okay, we didn’t see the change of tone coming AT ALL. Whatever tortured scenario occupies the first half of the story, we’re here for it though – the stakes seem high and the pain is pulsating like a radar screen (love that!). And then, bait and switch. A monologue of mum-and-bub sweetness. Of a life to be lived and you-ain’t-seen-nothing-yet recalibration of things to scream about. Clever storytelling!
THE CHASE by Angela Schumann, VIC
Ollie Baker is in two of my classes. I'm not doing well in either, and it's because I can't seem to think about anything except her.
I haven't talked to her yet, but I know a lot about her. I know she's an only child, like me. I know she's the second fastest girl in year 10, and that she's an amazing drawer. I know that she's popular, and pretty. I think she might be beautiful, actually.
On my first day at this school, two terms ago, I saw her in the corridor. Our eyes met for a second, and I froze, like a criminal caught in the floodlights. Then she smiled. And in that smile I recognised something. I saw what I had been aching for all my life.
Since then I've been dying to talk to her. To ask if maybe she felt the same thing. I've been chasing her round the school trying to catch her alone, but it hasn't exactly been easy.
She's in the middle of things, and I'm on the fringe: the quiet, loner new boy. I've tried jumping into a conversation with her clique, but I'm like a glob of oil in a bowl of water.
Ever since I learned that Ollie Baker existed I've been dying to talk to someone about her. But the only person I have is Mum, and I couldn't exactly tell her. Not yet, anyway.
The person I really want to talk to about all this is Ollie.
“So do it, Jay”, I tell myself. “Just do it”.
It's a drizzly Thursday morning when I see her in the carpark. She's jogging to get under cover.
I give chase.
“Ollie!” I call, and she turns around, tiny droplets of water beading her hair.
“Hi,” she says, and then waits.
This is it. I try not to think about the pimple on my forehead that right now feels like an enormous boil.
I've practiced this so many times. What if she's angry? What if she laughs at me? What if she storms off? I'm so scared of what she might do, but it's the loneliness that finally gets me to speak.
“This might sound crazy, but I have something to tell you”.
“Yeah?” she asks nervously.
My voice is shaking badly, but there's no turning back now.
“You know my mum and I just moved here, but I was actually born in this town.” I swallow. The rain picks up. “I never knew my dad, but I know his name… John Baker”.
Her eyes widen.
“He and mum were only together for a bit, and he was married. Dunno if he ever told you.”
She stares right through me. I'm so afraid.
And then in a flash she moves. Before I can flinch I feel warm arms around me.
“I always felt like there was something missing”, she whispers, and starts to cry.
“I felt it too. Sis.”
And we stand there, hugging in the carpark in the rain.
Another nice bait-and-switch twist here, with the ambiguously named Jay hinting that this was more of a kiss-chase story than a climb among the branches of a family tree. In fact, we’re all the way there with Jay, remembering our own awkward high school crushes, right up until the nervous question. An unexpected, yet thoroughly satisfying ending. Tell it, sister.
UNTITLED by Andrew Paradiso, USA
Police saw him jump over the “fifty-one flavors” ice cream counter like a flying fish escaping a hot wok. Blood boiling, they lumbered around the fringe of the witnesses and gave chase like desperate lions chasing a lioness in heat. Recklessly, they fired at the ice cream thief. Bleeding witnesses went down like shattered, bowling pins filled with cherry juice. It was horrific. As dogs licked up the mess, the police wondered why anyone would steal a pint of tuna and pickle-infused vanilla ice cream when the pricey trout, onions, and Ghost Pepper chocolate cones were as close as sardines in a crushed tin.
The cops followed the creamy, melted trail to an abandoned container and its oozing, fishy contents with no sign of the thief. It was a frustrating and useless theft that satisfied no one but the dogs.
Proof that you can hit all the required notes and still tell an entertaining story in minimal words! The pace doesn’t let up and before you know it, the thief has disappeared and you’re left as unsatisfied by the outcome as the cops, yet oddly laughing because as a reader, you too were duped by this narrative (and ice cream) thief!
NOT A HORROR STORY by CJ Dee, VIC
“This feels like we’re in a horror story,” Jess whispered.
“It can’t be. Horror stories don’t often do well in public competitions,” Jack whispered back.
Jess glared at her twin for breaking the fourth wall so early then turned her attention back to the mansion. It was lit by only the glow of the full moon and a yellow porch light that flickered like a seedy neon sign.
“Have you got the key the lawyer gave us?”
“Yeah,” Jack held it up for Jess to see, “Did you even know Grandpa John had a brother?”
Jess shook her head as she took the key from Jack and jimmied it into the neglected keyhole.
The door creaked open. Jess and Jack gaped at the enormous crystal chandelier hanging in the middle of the foyer.
“This humidity has me sweating like a Kardashian in Walmart,” said Jess, “I need a nice long shower.”
“You sure do,” said Jack.
Both twins screamed in surprise at the baritone voice that greeted them.
“Terribly sorry to startle you. I am Baxter, your Great Uncle Malcolm’s house manager.”
“House manager?!” Jack exclaimed, grasping his chest dramatically as though he were a mime needing to relay emotions through exaggerated gestures, “I thought you were a frickin’ ghost, man. Where did you even come from?”
Jess rolled her eyes and looked to Baxter, “I’m so sorry we screamed at you. Our Great Uncle’s lawyer mentioned staff but we figured everyone would be gone overnight. I’m Jess. This is my brother Jack.”
“Quite alright, Miss Jess. Myself and Miss Angela, the head housekeeper, live at the manor full time.”
Jess smiled, not sure what to do in the presence of her first butler – sorry, house manager. She looked at Jack who had returned to studying the chandelier and was no help at all.
Fortunately, Baxter took the lead, “If you allow me to take your bags, I can show you to your rooms. I am sure your trip has been quite exhausting.”
Several hours of being chased around the mansion and fighting to survive later, Jack dropped the key on the front door that lay blown off its hinges on the porch.
“Shame the word count didn’t let our reader experience everything that happened in those several hours,” Jess sighed as she plucked brain matter from her fringe and threw it onto the furry creature that used to be Baxter but was now a bloodied mess impaled by the chandelier.
Jack jumped over what used to be Miss Angela and was now several puddles of purple liquid that was as thick and gooey as boiled jello.
“That’s flash fiction for you. It was a heck of a ride. The Scooby gang would have been proud.”
“Scooby Doo Scooby gang or Buffy Scooby gang?”
“Both. And what do you know?” Jack smirked, slinging his arm around Jess’s shoulders as they walked down the driveway with the sun rising behind them, “It was a horror story after all.”
Fully self-aware and poking meta fun at this very competition, this story still takes the time to lay out the breadcrumbs before snapping the reader into its devilish time-jump mischief. It’s very easy to get stories in this style wrong, but this one threads the needle just enough to keep things wry rather than awry.
DEADLY PURSUIT by Ace Baker, Canada
The horde of zombies shuffled through an abandoned Melbourne, eyes fixed on their prey.
“Brains, need brains!”
As they moved slowly towards her, Mia moved like a whirlwind—spinning arms, a hurricane of hair—legs racing forward like a wildfire out of control, going wherever the full force gale of undead pushed her.
She looked back and the line behind her seemed wider than ever—they were spreading like bacteria, gaining in size and number with every intersection she passed. How could there be so little distance between them? They clung to her like a cloak of shadows.
She could hear the moaning and groaning, a symphony of horror. She could smell the putrid stench of death emanating from beneath grey, leathery skin stretched over emaciated frames.
“Brains, need br—”
And she was looking back too often now, not watching, not planning her route—
And that’s when it happened.
She turned into an alley. Dead end. Dead all right—she likely had seconds, not minutes, and those images started flashing through her mind. Child, teen, adult, family and friend memories. Focus on the positives. Think of a better place.
And they turned the corner and filled every space behind her.
“Brains, we need brains!”
And she dared to open her eyes and see the zombie leader raise one skinny arm, flesh hanging, fingers spread wide.
And the zombies all fell to the ground and pulled out notebooks and pens.
“Teach us!” their leader shouted. “We need brains!”
The ending had us laughing at its absurdity. But before that, it was hitting all the tropes of a classic zombie chase – danger mounting as Mia navigated the city and ended up at the inevitable dead-end (haha) alleyway. And yet, just when you think all hope is lost, it turns out they just wanted knowledge all along. Hilarious – and figuratively similar to smart-phone-staring zombie students arriving at school each morning to be taught!
THE RISK OF CHASING HAPPY FAMILIES by Tim Law, SA
The train hurtled down the mountainside as if the hounds of hell were snapping at its caboose and heaven’s salvation awaited at the next station. The circus was late; the families of Adam’s Vale would already be disappointed. Ringmaster Andrews hated to disappoint anyone, least of all the families.
“Faster! More coal!” he urged the driver, a clown named Pete.
Even through his make-up, Pete gave the ringmaster a look like he had been told his favourite puppy had been run over. Pete and Wuff-Wuff were a double act, and the stars of Andrews’ and Fielding’s Circus Extravaganza. That dog was the clown’s whole world.
“We’re already too fast for the tracks,” Pete exclaimed, but the ringmaster refused to listen.
“Nonsense!” shouted Andrews. “We have to get to the bottom of this mountain, and nothing is going to stop us.”
Just then the train jumped its tracks. There was a squeal like a whole pen of pigs had just discovered one of them was a wolf. Sparks flew from the blurring wheels, metal meeting metal again, the train returning to earth after a moment of flight.
“We have to slow down,” pleaded Pete.
Again the ringmaster shook his head.
He handed the shovel to the driver and pointed at the coal, the black rocks promising to push the steam train just that little bit further, that little bit faster, that element of risk and danger increasing, the payoff, happy families and more money in the ringmaster’s pockets.
Beyond the locomotive, tempers were boiling. The strongman rubbed his aching shoulder where he’d banged it on the bars of the ape’s cage. Rebecca Fielding, the ringmaster’s wife, had found Bruno and the great gorilla in some jungle village. Rebecca had such a knack for languages and negotiation that she had convinced both giants to join the troupe. Since Rebecca had passed on though, loyalty had been like a waning moon, a thin crescent that threatened to vanish entirely. This trip down the mountain was far from helping.
The ape grunted, the strongman nodded in reply.
“The moment this train stops, I’m breaking us out of here,” Bruno vowed.
Further down the carriages the near derailment had caused the monkey cage to burst open. Primates of all shapes and sizes chattered excitedly as they swung from light fittings and rattled windows. Freedom was so close they could smell its sweet scent.
A fringe of trees jutted forth from the white blanket revealing Adam’s Vale was only a mile away. The train flew past at such a rate Ringmaster Andrews almost missed the natural sign. He was clueless of the chaos occurring along his train too; a mutiny waiting to explode. That was until the train finally slowed to a stop.
As the crowds gathered excitedly upon the platform, that euphoria turned to fear. A menagerie of magic escaped en masse, quickly becoming chaos. Ringmaster Andrews sadly watched the dollars he chased evaporate like a candle’s flame in a wild windstorm, snuffed out, gone.
A cautionary tale sure to do PR damage to circuses everywhere, this little-engine-that-couldn’t appears to be racing towards ‘next stop, chaos’. Not that the moustache-twirling, money-chasing Ringmaster Andrews seems at all aware of the impending mutiny (and surprisingly detailed backstories!). We usually only hear about people running away to JOIN the circus – well, this one should help balance the ledger!
THE LAST ONE by Athena Law, QLD
Dawn held no promise of beauty in these streets. The early light of the day only served to illuminate the truth of Whitechapel, where filth and sadness clung to each cobble and brick like a foul miasma. It pleased me to pull the front door closed upon it, to shut out the chill of early November, and to muffle the sound of the city beginning to stir.
Savouring for a moment the welcoming stillness of my hallway, I closed my eyes and inhaled deeply. It had certainly been a long and intense evening, and at the very thought my hands trembled as if I were a jumpy, callow youth in the first flush of love. However, a deep fatigue threatened to engulf my bones, perhaps my very spirit, yet there was still work to be done and time was of the essence.
The kitchen had been prepared in advance; a sink of fresh, boiled water, a new cake of soap, and an empty sack waiting on the floor. Carefully shrugging off my overcoat and laying it over a chair, I began to remove my gloves. There was a delightful crackling resistance as I peeled off each one in turn, the fine leather catching on the not quite dried blood liberally covering both hands. As a reward to myself I pressed the gloves to my face and savoured the scent, an intoxicating aroma of tanned hide, cheap perfume, and the very essence of Mary.
Time to bid them farewell. They had served me ably, however the risk in keeping them was too great. Dropping them into the sack, they were followed by my boots, breeches and felt hat. My formerly pristine dress shirt and waistcoat I briefly displayed upon my table in order to admire them now, the bloodstains like a lavish bouquet of crimson and russet blooms.
From the pockets of my coat I retrieved two knives, which I placed into the suds. A small lock of blonde hair, snipped from her fringe, neatly folded in a clean handkerchief, was transferred into the pocket of my new greatcoat. And now, time to wash myself clean, a ritual I found I much enjoyed, watching the water turn pink whilst reflecting upon my endeavours.
By the time the clock struck nine I was stepping from my threshold once more, this time a dapper gent briskly joining the workaday throngs, carrying a suitcase and a sack. It was but a short stroll to the docks, and but the work of a moment to release my heavy burden into the Thames, timeless keeper of secrets.
As I strode up the creaking gangplank of the ship I could hear the noon bells clanging, and closer still, many voices shouting in cacophony:
‘Another one! The Ripper has struck again! They say it’s the worst yet! They’ll get him this time!’
I smiled like the sun rising over an idyllic tropical paradise. Do your best, Peelers. Let’s see if you can find me in Australia.
And so we FINALLY learn what happened to this most famous of slashers! The descriptive language and effortless use of the similes draws you into this dark and mysterious world – filled with cobblestones of filth and bloodstain bouquets of crimson and russet blooms (love that). Artfully told, and perhaps even based on a true story of a Brit sick of the same-old dead-boring routine, looking for a change on the other side of the world.
THE WISDOM OF WILDFLOWERS by Jenna Treloar, WA
The roses growing near the front door were as crimson as the flags that waved on their first date. The wildflower trail was Derek’s suggestion and Anna was enticed by an online Prince Charming. She was a successful executive manager by title, and a hopeless romantic at heart.
She arrived on time at the address he provided. Derek dragged himself from the steps of his mother’s house like a reluctant child headed home from the playground.
‘Just a bit hungover, big night with the boys,’ he grunted as he fell into her passenger seat.
No worries, of course, she liked to have fun. And paint. Not that he’d asked.
Anna had earlier lost an hour selecting the perfect outfit. She waxed all the places where hair shouldn’t be and covered the spots that no one should see. She carefully straightened her fringe, making sure the wispy runaway curls were aligned. Sometimes, suggestive under attire was required if she wanted to capture her audience completely. If only briefly.
At thirty six, she needed to make certain accommodations. Her biological clock ticked louder these days. Better to chase down my dreams than to wait. Even if it meant lowering her expectations a little.
‘I forgot to grab my wallet,’ he moaned as they sat down at a quaint Wheatbelt café.
‘That’s fine, I’ve got mine,’ ever prepared, indulgent Anna replied.
He wanted a better job, but his records were as muddy as the crabs of Shark Bay. Just drink driving he indignantly proclaimed, and minor theft. His grandmother had liked the wildflowers in September, but he never had time before she died.
‘She mostly looked at brochure photos from the resource centre in town, the old hag,’ he laughed to himself.
Derek almost ticked the boxes if a bit unconventionally. Nearly handsome and I’m almost forty. Her white picket dream was escaping faster than a champion thoroughbred released from the gate. She was tall for a jockey but held tight, hoping for a win.
She wandered alone along the roadside, marvelling at the magic that sprung from the dirt. A red wreath bloom, she’d read, grew best in disturbed or burnt areas. She wanted to share its drought resistant magnificence and he jumped awake when she pulled the car door open.
‘They’re just flowers, what’s so special?’ he queried, keen to return to his nap.
She agreed in most cases, eager to please. Silly old flowers indeed.
It occurred to Anna that they grew where they wanted and were adored, simply for existing. They needn’t pursue or settle for second rate spectators. She loved them more to make up for his disinterest.
Anna stepped from the shower later that night, taking a moment to admire her wet curls. She slipped into her favourite flannel pyjamas and tucked the lacy negligée into a bottom drawer. The resting place for old connection cords and broken glasses. She pondered the wisdom of wildflowers as the kettle boiled in the kitchen.
For a story titled with flowers, it is of course Anna that does the true growing in this piece – a humorous but sadly authentic snapshot of dating in a small town where the gene pool is rapidly becoming a muddy puddle. The four words to describe herself are wonderfully free of explanation – the context says it all. And the picket fence jockey metaphor is priceless. Later, it’s those wildflowers that provide her the epiphany she needs, not hopeless Derek. A nice moral to this story!
THE CHASER by Kat Element, QLD
He didn’t stand a chance, not this time, not against this guy. Beastie versus the underdog. Always root for the underdog, Angel’s dad used to say, but Angel had gone above and beyond, promising to honour, to love, in sickness and in health, no matter how many times Jonas had his nose smeared all over his face like a squashed strawberry jam sandwich. Tonight, Angel feared Jonas would lose his looks for good, his life if he wasn’t careful. But Jonas wasn’t good at being careful: he had Angel for that.
Angel sat in the audience − front row centre − the sound of her heart drowning out the call to arms, the crowd baying for blood, bloodlust: a dirty fighter even when the odds were even.
‘Are you insane? Keep your head down baby, keep your dukes up,’ Angel cried, but Jonas was on the attack, chasing Beastie around the ring, jumping clear of his opponent’s fists, weapons like two Hammerheads making themselves at home on dry land, the twinkle in Jonas’s eye riling Beastie to boiling point.
‘The bigger they are, the harder they fall, hey Bestie Boy?’ Jonas taunted, exhilaration, desperation in his eyes as he tried his new strategy on for size. He had to win this time, the prize money, forever unreachable, like a lottery borne of pain and suffering.
Round three and all was well. Beastie was too riled up to hit straight, seeing red was blocking his view, shortening his steps, his fight response like that of a drunken sailor with four days R&R under his belt.
If Angel was happy, she was the only one, on the fringe, on the outs. The crowd was on the warpath, like an online scam demanding satisfaction. But the Beastie couldn’t hear them, couldn’t be bolstered along by their unwavering loyalty, his head full of night and day, of frustration, of hit and miss and ready to bay at the moon.
‘Let’s get this show on the road!’ The crowd was riled, ripped off.
‘BEASTIE! BEASTIE! BEASTIE!’
The crowd had come to see a fight, not one guy in short shorts chasing around after another guy in similar garb.
Angel was on the ropes now, all rules gone out the window, the referee oblivious to everything bar the spectacle playing out before him.
‘You like my new strategy babe?’ Jonas cried out, catching sight of Angel from the corner of his eye as he chased the Beastie down. Angel hesitated. She had the white towel in her hand, a surrender flag, a back-up plan…
‘Float like a butterfly sting like a bee?’ she said.
‘You got it!’
But the dance couldn’t continue forever. Something had to give. Beastie buckled first, tripping over himself like a man who’d suddenly found his two left feet. The look on his face, pure astonishment.
As Beastie went down, the crowd went wild. ‘CHASER! CHASER! CHASER!’
A new stage name?
Jonas and Angel beamed.
The crowd had spoken.
In this story, our chase takes place within the confines of a boxing ring – where the underdog becomes the overdog simply by out running the opposition. Nice use of time jumps in the narrative keep the action going and advance the story to its ultimate triumph. A squashed strawberry jam sandwich? Ouch.
CATHERINE AND THE BANDIT by Danielle Hrapoonov, Canada
It felt like God's AC broke, and the hot air blew instead of a pleasant breeze. Catherine stepped outside. Yep, it was muggy, as she suspected. She carefully jumped over a pool of mud at the bottom of the stairs, a liquid memory of the massive storm from last week.
Catherine remembered Mom talking on the phone with Uncle Jerry, saying, “It's raining cats and dogs here!”
Catherine never fully understood that expression. The image was so strange…
Suddenly, in the corner of her eye, she noticed a slight movement. Catherine turned her head and spotted Roger. That boy has been shamelessly stealing carrots from their garden for a few years. Last year, Dad, boiling with anger, swore to Mom to stop Roger, who, time after time, dared to claim their heirloom treasures. However, the seasoned criminal got away every time.
Catherine knew that the time had come to make Mom and Dad proud. She was ready to spring into action like a morning toast inside the hot toaster.
“You are not getting away this time, you pathetic loser!” yelled Catherine. “Don't worry. Mom. I got it!” she added enthusiastically.
Like a bullet train that pierces time and space, she sprinted toward Roger. Realizing he got busted, the thief ran towards the fence, hoping to escape. As if it were an invisible villain from those sci-fi movies Dad watched all the time, the heat was using its magical power to slow Catherine down. Her eyes were burning, making the chase incredibly challenging.
She saw Roger running through a fringe of moss around the tree. Oh, that was not good; the fence was right there. A second later, the bandit was on the other side. Catherine couldn't jump; the fence was too high. She also couldn't squeeze into the tunnel Roger escaped through: It was too narrow.
Defeated and exhausted, Catherine walked back home. Mom was standing on the porch, smiling gently.
“Catherine, I heard you screaming before and came out to see what was going on. And then I saw you going after Roger,” said Mom lovingly. She kissed Catherine on her forehead. “Don't worry, love; we'll get that cheeky rabbit next time. Let's go inside now; I'll get you some tuna, my little tiger.”
If you’re going to start with a simile, make it a good one – and God’s AC on the blink sets the scene perfectly. What follows are some nicely observed moments and a chase that feels human but actually both Cat-herine and Roger Rabbit have simply been framed as such. Maybe next time the bandit will get caught, and Roger might have to change his name to Stew-it…
WHEN THE WIND IS REALLY TO BLAME by Natalie Locke, WA
A man chased his hat down the road. It’s not a great start to a story, but it’s what actually happened and I’m a stickler for chronology. The wind tipped and jerked the hat along the gutter like a second rate circus clown had attached fishing line to it, while he lurched after it comically. So, that’s why I was laughing at first. Schadenfreude and all that.
But then Juniper lunged for the hat. And I don’t know if you’ve ever witnessed a dappled dachshund attacking a fedora, but there was a lot of unnecessary aggression, given the hat wasn’t actually putting up a fight. But dachshunds like to be dramatic about a lot of things including errant headwear. Suffice to say, the owner of the hat was unimpressed with this chain of events. Specifically, the many, many bite marks.
And here’s another problem. I have difficulty appearing contrite when I have a big fat smirk on my face. Yes, Juniper’s behaviour was appalling. And yes, technically I’m sorry for the hat’s demise. But a dachshund with a mouthful of fedora is hilarious.
So his anger started to bubble and fester and boil until an eruption occurred. Like a cyst being squeezed by Dr Pimple Popper, the hatless man exploded with fury and indignation. I was called a lot of names. Juniper was called feral, which seemed a little harsh given she was wearing a lilac knitted turtleneck at the time.
“I think you should be angrier at the wind, sir” I suggested helpfully, at which he jumped towards me. I mean, literally leapt from a standing start, like he was a yet-to-be-discovered hopscotch champion. Are there championships for such things? I’ll have to Google it. Anyway, there he was, this furious man, right up in my face. Juniper was yapping. The wind – the same, culpable wind that started this whole business – was blowing my fringe around madly and then it happened. He placed his big angry hand on my forehead to stop it. Yep. He physically restrained my hair.
I wasn’t expecting that, I’ll be honest. Who would? Who could ever conceive the scenario whereupon an outraged stranger places their hand on a young woman’s head to stop her hair flying about so he can continue to castigate her about her dog’s hat chomping antics?
So I just stood there and let him do it.
It was surprisingly intimate, you know. His vexed face was about a foot away, contorting and writhing as he continued his tirade. Tiny droplets of spittle launched from his face every time he said the word “people” and he said it frequently, because apparently “people” like me have a lot to answer for. His eyes were narrowed and dark and I was unnaturally distracted by one grey hair in his eyebrow that was considerably longer than the rest. I had an overwhelming urge to reach across – he was less than an arms length away, remember – and pluck it out. One ear lobe hung lower, too. Was it just the lobe? Or was his whole ear lower on his head? I couldn’t decide, but it might explain why he couldn’t keep a hat on.
I don’t know if you’ve ever had someone place their palm on your forehead, but it’s remarkably soothing. His hand was soft, and warm in spite of the chill factor, and large. Retired farmer’s hands, I decided. Big and capable, but softened by city life. And I know I shouldn’t have, because he was still very irate, but I leant in. The warmth and heft of his palm on my forehead was like a weighted blanket on my face. I closed my eyes, momentarily, and I would like to say that the man calmed down too, but this just seemed to make him angrier. He wrenched his hand away and I almost fell into his dyspeptic chin.
“I’m sorry about your fedora,” I stammered as I regained my balance, and corrected Juniper’s lead as she prepared to pounce on his ankle.
“How dare you!” The man screamed even louder. “It’s a trilby!”
And he spun on the spot and marched away, yelling “It’s a trilby!” at a passing bus.
I looked at Juniper and Juniper looked at me. “It was a trilby,” I whispered as I picked a piece of felt off her upper lip.
A dachshund with a mouthful of fedora? Okay, that’s quite funny. But a trilby, well that’s just so much better. A delightfully silly exchange but one that allows us plenty of time for similes, boiling, jumping and mad fringes.
THE DREAM by Roger Leigh, NSW
Have you ever had that dream where you’re running? Running past distorted landmarks you almost recognise; and trees with twisted limbs fringed with moss, and people with faces that look like they’re woven from fog. You can’t stop; you have to run. You’re running away from something; or running towards it. And you have to run faster. It would all be okay, if you could run just a little faster. Because something is out there. You can’t see what; not clearly, but you know it’s there. So you run faster. It’s behind that tree or that wall perhaps, or that Daliesque table. There’s two, three, four of them. You see their eyes. Just keep running; perhaps you’ll get away. They’re dropping back. You breathe. Then feel the breath; their breath on the back of your neck. Run. Run faster. There’s more of them than you can count, a hundred, a thousand; a boiling mass. You run faster, but the ground ahead comes alive with vines. Your foot gets tangled. It won’t come free and the creature’s huge jaws open like something that’s swallowed the moon and the sun.
Is that a safe place ahead? A door. It’ll be safe there—just a bit further; just a bit faster. Almost there. Your hand can almost reach the handle; just another foot; just another inch. You’re running, but the door never gets closer. You jump for it. Too late, because you aren’t fast enough; weren’t fast enough. You run on. Now a broad plain stretches away—the horizon as close and as far as tomorrow. Nowhere is safe; the creatures are just behind you. Twisted claws grasp at your clothing, tearing, and pulling. Run. You hear something. A voice at the edge of hearing. “This way. Run. Over here.” But you don’t know where. You run. The wrong way, but running is all you can do. Just a little faster and further. Tired now. There’s a forest surrounding you. You’re running through trees and shrubs. They’re covered in sharp thorns. You run on anyway. They scratch your arms and legs leaving deep dark red scars like the veins crisscrossing the eyes of the creatures. A branch pulls you back. You scramble forward. Can’t stop. Run. Because they’ll get you. You can smell them. Just behind you. Don’t turn around. Don’t see how close they are. Don’t slow down. Too tired. Keep running or they’ll catch you. Must run. Run fast and faster.
Have you ever had that dream where you’re running?
Purposefully told as big blocks of narrative, the claustrophobic nature of the text has you running, running, frantically searching but never falling. The words guide you on, perhaps further down the road – perhaps to finally see what is over the crest until… the repeated first line. And there it is. Pure futility distilled into a story as the dream becomes a nightmare.
A SINGLE SERVING by Fru Flower, SA
We are driving through the burned-off hillside, to another family event neither of us wants to attend.
‘Who’s birthday is it again?’ You ask over a toke of your cigarette, cruising smoothly over the speed limit.
‘My uncle Roman’s.’ I say patiently, seasoned in providing the subtitles to our life together.
‘Is that the handsy one?’
‘No, that’s his brother Clive.’ I say with a sigh, resisting the urge to reach for the Marlboros. Instead, I finger the rubbery Nicotine patch under my sleeve and proceed with the breathing exercise my therapist taught me. In for three, out for four.
We follow the noise up the street and emerge in a typical backyard barbecue scene. Uncle Roman looms god-like over his BeefEater 2000 grill, turning snags with a second nature. His exposed belly beneath a translucent plastic apron is a surreal juxtaposition against the surrounding stacks of cling-wrapped meat.
With a shudder I am reminded to keep my vegetarian politics to myself. And the miscarriage. And my anxiety and depression; the only cocktail in my medicated life.
‘Claudia! Mitchell!’ he booms, jumping straight into the unsubtle reconnaissance of our private lives. Questions about impending nuptials and the pitter-patter of footsteps send me spiraling. I zone out, becoming acutely aware of the discordant sensations coursing through my body like an orchestra of monkeys abusing brass instruments. I feel my temples thumping beneath my sweat-sodden fringe. The salivary glands in my mouth are suddenly fountainous. My heart is like a thrashing lobster, boiling alive in its own shell.
Stumbling to the nearest table, I absently pick at a plate of abandoned finger-food. You appear beside me and say we need to talk. I search the corners of your mouth for hints of what you aren’t saying. A piece of yellow cheese sits dumbly in my open mouth.
We seek the privacy of the fence beside the discarded sandpit.
You say the timing sucks but this really can’t wait.
There’s a ringing in my ear.
You’ve been feeling this way for a long time and this really shouldn’t be a surprise.
A chorus of hydrangea heads nod their ascent.
Bile rises in my throat.
We should take a break, you say, starting immediately.
Your words cut me with surgical precision. The lump of wax-yellow Babybel swirls in my mouth like a load of laundry stuck on the rinse cycle.
I turn my head to fight the sea of tears threatening to fall and never stop. A single shirt hangs listlessly on the hills-hoist in the neighbor’s windless backyard. No lawn, no outdoor furniture. Barren, just like me.
The squeak of the gate signals your absence and suddenly nothing makes sense. I race up the driveway, but you’re already jumping in the car up the street. I chase the exhaust fumes before collapsing in the gutter beside a crumpled cigarette butt. I finally let the tears roll as I stroke the filter of the Marlboro Light, discarded from your lips.
There is something delightfully real about this backyard break up. No dramatics, no fireworks or skywriting planes – just a family gathering that nobody wants to be at – and a relationship that seems the same. FIlled with delightfully unique observations (“an orchestra of monkeys abusing brass instruments”), this afternoon delight is nicely paced and passively purposeful throughout. The words trick you into thinking this is all just random, but it’s actually a story of surgical precision.
THE THIN PINK LINE by Danielle Barker, NSW
I’d killed her. I saw that now as she sat, legs curled under her, staring out of the window at a garden littered with discarded toys. She should have looked beautiful, fringed as she was in the golden afternoon sun, but it only highlighted her dark eyes and permafrown. I took her mug from her hand, still full, long since cold, and she juddered to life, like a robot taken off pause, “Hi,” I smiled, “bad day?”
I winced at myself, but the kids cut off her reply as they barrelled down the stairs to greet me. I chased them out into the garden in a flurry of giggles and watched as they tripped and jumped over the plastic obstacles like a mob of drunk kangaroos. I smiled at the sight of it. She did not.
Instead, she moved into the kitchen to check the oven and put some carrots on to boil. She poured herself a glass of wine and stared into it. I poured myself one and downed it. Its red warmth reminded me of long forgotten lazy Sunday afternoons in the park when we’d watched harangued parents chase escaped toddlers, their picnics in disarray.
“Let’s not be those people,” she had said back then, thrusting her glass in the direction of the young families that surrounded us, “it looks…hard.” I had clinked her glass in silent accord, all the while secretly plotting to convince her otherwise.
Years later, when she held up the plastic stick with its solid pink lines, I ignored the fear in her eyes, and chose to believe she’d finally come round. The day I realised she never would, was the day I returned home from work, having left them alone for the first time. Her words, “your turn,” and the baby both thrust at me like daggers, ripping a hole in my gut. One hole had quickly become three when the twins mistakenly arrived.
“Three under two,” everyone whistled, “that’s got to be tough.”
Not as tough as seeing your wife’s hatred grow little by little every day, until it stood like a tall impenetrable wall blocking all views of the woman I once knew. I swallowed another gulp of wine; its bitterness coated my mouth. I had tried to hate her back, but found I only hated myself more.
The oven pinged and the pan lid rattled, bringing her back to the room again.
“It’s done,” she sighed.
I took a deep breath. If I’d killed her, the least I could do was offer a resurrection.
“No,” I said, my voice breaking, “we are.”
She looked at me sharply, grey lifeless eyes narrowed in question. I nodded confirmation and saw a small spark from long ago.
“You need to go,” I conceded quietly.
Later, as she left, she pressed her cheek to mine. Our tears merged briefly in a final act of union, and I tried to pretend that loving her didn’t hurt more than hating myself.
The killer opening sentence invites you in as much as provides a warning of what is to come. And while the killing is figurative, the corpse, along with the home, is barely warm. Concise storytelling follows, yet nothing is spared in describing a tether that has reached its very end. No excuses or apologies, just silences and understanding. It’s simply how it is. How life played out. Brutal and authentic, expert in its restraint. Not all stories have happy endings.
AIRBORNE by Bill Boyd, NSW
There’s a moment in every boy’s life when theoretical physics becomes applied physics. When space-time, mechanical physics and quantum theory create hyper-awareness in the boy’s neanderthal mind. Usually involves a steep hill, a bicycle, a bucketload of bravado. An act of self-destruction beloved by small boys.
Take one small boy — let’s call him Joe. Four foot nothing of energy, bad haircut, boils, cuts, bruises. Chasing dreams. An optimist in a gang of four-foot-nothing optimists. The owner of a small bike. A hand-me down with history. Rusty and rattly as a tin-full of old nails. No gears. One brake. Battle-scarred as a medieval knight. Bent as a London copper.
Joe chases dreams of running, jumping, flying. High energy, low thinking dreams. Anything with speed and adventuring. Any dream ending up in scuffs, scrapes and bandaids. The four-foot-nothing gang must have adventures. Only after someone has done the dry run. ‘Proof of concept’, they’d learn later. For now, it was just one challenge after another. Beat you to the bottom of the hill. Bet you can’t jump the creek. That sort of thing.
And so Joe found himself at the top of a steep hill, surrounded by the four-foot-nothing gang. They knew what Joe had to do. The hill was well known to them. Ditches and old walls hidden in the grass. Humps and bumps perfect for take-offs. Perfect for disaster. Ideal to challenge the best four-foot Evel Knievel. And a long, long slope down to the old canal, a hollow of earth, grass and brambles, with a bank on the other side. An inviting bank, excellent for take-offs. Dreams of flying!
Yes, the gang knew all about it. In theory. Sam got half-way down once, crumpling his bike on a pile of bricks. Jack nearly got to the bottom, chickening out before the canal. Others had tried. Others had failed. Bent wheels, bruised knees. No-one ever made it over the bank.
But they all knew how to do it. Oh, yes, they were all experts. And Joe knew the secret to success. You just had to do it. Simple.
So Joe chased his dream down that hill. Egged on by enthusiastic compadres. Technical advice to die for. Go on, ya chicken. The top-of-the-slope push off. Encouraging cheers. Pedal fast enough but not too fast. Wriggle round hidden obstacles. Crunch over stray bricks. Peering through his fringe, he hung on for dear life. Fear of failure overrode fear of cuts, bruises and full-face dirt. He’s on the home run! Heading straight downhill. Straight. Keep straight. And … into the canal. The brambles can’t stop him now. He’s in heaven … up the side of the bank. Pulling up the handlebars. Lifting the front wheel. Airborne! Yeeehaaa!! Small boy nirvana! Flying! Yes, flying!! Up, up and away … Easy. Oh so easy … Victory in his tiny mind. The world was his! Up, up … and … down … down …
Falling, they say, is easy. It’s just the landing …
From the very first sentence, this story invites the curious to see what might be involved in this coming-of-age tale. Accompanied by pithy use of alliteration (a bicycle and a bucketload of bravado!) and metaphor, we watch engrossed to see if Joe is destined for greatness among his four-foot-nothing peers. We all had some kind of childhood challenge only the foolhardy would try. This story tells its version brilliantly – narratively sticking the landing, even if its protagonist does not!
THIS MONTH’S ‘LONGLIST’
While this isn’t a competition, we still like to include a LONGLIST of stories that stood out from the hundreds and were highly considered for the showcase this month. If your name is here, well done – and we hope to see you ALL next month!
THIS MONTH’S LONGLIST (in no particular order):
- SCHOOL by Christabel Yew, NSW
- FIRST CONTACT by Tracey-Ann Palmer, NSW
- THRILL OF THE CHASE by Emma Milde, SA
- THE TOURIST TRAP by Bruno Lowagie, Belgium
- UNTITLED by Paul Dunn, NZ
- BECAUSE THAT’S WHAT GROWN-UPS DO by Megan Hazlett, NSW
- MISSING COWS by John Gibson, USA
- GENEALOGY by Elizabeth Spencer Spragins, USA
- OLLY, OLLY, OXEN FREE by Margaret Kelliher, USA
- A MATTER OF TIMING by Jacqueline Hautot, VIC
- AND THEY CALLED HIM THE STREAK by Samuel Foster, VIC
- CHARGING THROUGH CHORES WITH THE DEVIL ON MY HEELS by Arpad Nagy, Canada
- CLOSURE by PW, NSW
- KISS CHASEY by Robyn Knibb, QLD
- NON-HEIR by Joshua Beer, NSW
- I HAD NEVER EATEN HONEY BEFORE, AND THE BEES WERE PISSED, Lars Rogers, TAS
- THE PREDICTOR AND THEIR PREY by Geoff Benstead, NSW
- THE BEAST by Larissa Hansford, QLD
- CHASE THE GINGERBREAD MAN by Belinda Casselden, NSW
- HOW TO BOIL A FROG by Kate Gordon, TAS
- ELYSIUM by Alison Knight, VIC
- SCHOOL WATER-BALLOON WAR by Sheree Matheson, VIC
- CORONATION DAY by Ian Gough, UK
- RISOTTO REIMAGINED by Meg Taylor, VIC
- I ONLY EVER WALK BRISKLY by Seren Everingham, NSW
- FRED ARRIVES by Jacky T, VIC
- A TALE OF REGRET by Immy Mohr, NSW
- A CHANCE I HADN’T HAD BEFORE by Dianne Pulte, USA
- CHASING A DREAM by Merinda Young, TAS
- INTO THE DARKNESS by Kate Monahan, NZ
- HUNTED, STARRING ME AND CLINT EASTWOOD? By Thomas K Slee, VIC
- LEOPOLD THE LIBRARY LOG-HORN by Isobel Pitt, WA
- BY THE FIREPLACE by Seán McNicholl, Ireland
- HORROR MOVIE KNOWLEDGE by Kristin Anderson, Netherlands
- UNTITLED by TJ Edwards, NSW
- UNTITLED by Sally Pitts, VIC
- OF MALICIOUS NIGHTMARES by Symphony Hale, USA
- UNTITLED by Mel Francis, Netherlands
- TO BE ABLE TO MEND by Chelsea Allen, India
- THE COLLECTOR by Ben Wakefield, Malaysia
- HONEYCOMB BULLETS by Samantha Saunders, NSW
- CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS AND THE OPPORTUNE THEFT by Sophie Dwyer, QLD