Drum roll please…it’s time to announce the winning story and shortlist for October’s Furious Fiction! This month’s criteria were:
- The story’s title had to be “The Lost Hour”.
- The story had to include a sentence with three colours in it.
- The story had to include the sentence/phrase “it was lighter”.
We had a lot of different takes on what “The Lost Hour” could mean (although regrettably no story about a bunch of people simply watching an episode of the TV show Lost with confused looks on their faces). Many chose to keep with the Daylight Saving theme that had inspired our prompt, however it was those that sought out more original paths that shone through.
Congratulations to Estelle Owen of NSW Australia, whose story was judged this month’s winner. Estelle pockets $500 and you can read her winning story below, along with five other shortlisted stories.
Be sure to enter in November – whether it’s your first time or you’re a seasoned pro, it doesn’t matter – the best judged story takes home the cash!
THE LOST HOUR by Estelle Owen
Scrawled on a wall is some beige graffiti. I have never seen it there before, but then again, I don’t usually catch the bus.
My neck swivels to read it again.
Nightly nuns. What an odd thing to write on a wall.
So every night do they become nuns?
Or do the nuns just graffiti at night time?
Or is it a reference to girls saying no every night; when they have implied yes all day?
Do they swish their habits like capes like batman?
Cape crusaders of graffiti.
Are they women; these scrawlers?
Are they secretly doing good turns these wicked nightly nuns?
Do they anonymously pay random bills out of letterboxes?
Do they preach of peace and forgiveness as they buy yet another spray can?
It is… a lesson… in patience… catching a bus…
My shoulders deflect towards the window. I am intent on doing some serious thinking to make up for my lost hour. The bus heads off in an tangent away from the most direct route in the search for additional passengers. I am staring off in the distance, barely even absorbing the scenery.
We stop at the new housing estate.
My foot taps, anxious to be in transit. I listen into the travellers conversations.
“Most rich people are bad.”
“I know ‘a lovely young couple’ whose rent was illegally increased, so high, they were forced to move out.”
“They don’t even get a chance to buy these new houses; they all have five bedrooms.”
“What do you think the percentage of good people to bad people would be?”
“87% good.” she says without hesitation. “The good ones are quieter, almost invisible.”
My thoughts sprint. In my future I was building apartment blocks for singles; called “Eleanor Rigby’s”.
Grouped by age and interests. Quiet, Sporty or Garden lovers. Affordable living in a complex of like- minded, lonely people. Before you could move into a Quiet Rigby you provide proof that your interests may include reading books.
The bus jumped to a stop, a girl and her grandmother climbed aboard. They choose the seat across the aisle. The girl was only reading out the street numbers on my side of the bus.
“There is my favourite odd number, Nanna, number 87 and it's blue.”
The odd statement disrupted my intense pondering of whether nightly nuns would be included in the 87% of good people.
I angrily redirect my attention from its freedom outside because I could feel someone’s eyes assessing me.
The girl was regarding me with a smile, that acknowledges, you are one of us.
One of the 87%.
A Knightly None.
A play on words.
Sometimes… you just have to lose an hour… to gain a philosophy.
Looking back out the window I noticed, it was lighter. The heavy jumble of bold black words and beige nightly nuns had been circling around my head now turned into 87 pale blue wisps escaping into the ether.
What we loved:
In a sea of seriousness, we really loved the random quirky vibe of this month’s winning story. Just like a bus route, this stops at random places, compelling you to read on and conjuring up the oh-so natural pondering and weird places your brain goes during commutes. It’s a great example of a story that didn't need to shock or try to fit too many things in.
THE LOST HOUR by Lisa Yew
Amber sweeps the onions with her knife, into a satisfying sizzling oil bath. It's a relief there is no camera crew, or she might start using abominable words like ‘sauté' or ‘caramelise.' Matt would never let her hear the end of it. He'd chase her around the bench wearing that ridiculous Hawaiian shirt, and poke her under the ribs saying ‘what do we have here? A chef extraordinaire.' He thinks it’s funny. Amber had seen what he hadn't when he first wore the shirt at the crowded street stall: the buttons on the left side. She had only seen him in crisp suits or ironed polo shirts before, this daggy shirt was more… intimate, she couldn't ruin that. Eventually he worked it out and he only wears it around the house. Amber is secretly proud that he trusts her with his sexy dorky side.
It isn't like Matt to be late. Thursdays are the only days they both get home early. Their only day to cook together. Amber turns the radio on and dances into the living room. Of course Matt hasn't had a car crash. She grins as she plucks his Hawaiian shirt from the hook and waltzes around the room, collapsing dizzy on the lounge. Matt doesn't dance. Couldn't he be a little more risqué? Where is he? Doesn't he normally call?
She pulls the shirt down, and a hair catches in her mouth. A long red strand, burning against the brown of her hand; alien to Matt's clean-cut blonde.
It’s probably hers. She sometimes gets the odd red hair. Amber whirls through her tidying. Wiping dust, puffing cushions, and only after she swirled Domestos into the toilet did she allow herself to call.
‘Hello, Matt's phone,' a girl's voice. Then Matt's, ‘is that my wife?' The line goes dead. Amber ends up on her hands and knees. She's not looking for the hair- maybe it was lighter than her red ones. There is a rational explanation… for him being an hour late. She trusts Matt. Matt is dependable, bordering on boring.
She could ask him. ‘Honey, who was that on the phone?' No too accusing. ‘Babe, we should have your work friends over.' But what if there is a red-headed chick? What then? What if there isn't?
Stop it! There is no other woman, Matt. Loves. Amber. Period.
A key scrapes the lock. Amber dashes into the kitchen. She totally hasn't been combing the carpet. For the second time that night, she's grateful for the lack of camera crew.
‘So sorry I'm late, Blake's car conked out, so I gave him and his daughter a lift to netball, chewed through the flipping phone battery trying to get hold of the mechanic. That smells delicious. You weren't worried, were you?'
‘Me? Pffft. This curry though,' he was absolutely her reliable Matt, ‘is made with perfectly caramelised onions.'
Matt struts into the kitchen fingers flexed. ‘Caramelised hey? What do we have here then? A chef extraordinaire!'
What we liked:
There’s something so realistic about Amber’s at-home vigil as she cooks dinner and cooks up theories and possibilities – shading her beloved from Hawaiian shirted hero through to potentially dark and dastardly (and back again) all in the time it takes to caramelise onions. But what we especially love is the ambiguous note that we are left with. So, dear reader, in this “Matt finish”, it’s up to you to decide his innocence…
THE LOST HOUR by Aleesha McGrath
Our contracted courier attempted delivery of your order at 7:42 am on Thursday…
As there was no one available to…
… order has been returned to our warehouse. Please contact our friendly Customer…
Should be contacting me.
… seven days a week on 1800 40 2 5 8 8
“Welcome to SwitchedOn, so that we may direct your call to the appropriate team, please select from the following options.”
“For assistance in placing your order, press one. For help with an existing order, press two. For refunds and returns, press three. To hear -”
“- these options -”
I’m pressing two!
“- again, please press nine.”
“Thank you. To make a payment, press one. To change or cancel your order, press two. For shipping enquiries, press three. To -”
Shit! I meant three.
“- options -”
“- press nine.”
“You have reached Shipping and Delivery. Please note that our office hours are 8am to 5pm Monday to Friday. Please call back during these hours. Goodbye.”
Oh hell no.
1 8 0 0 4 0 2 5 8 8
“Welcome to SwitchedOn, so that -”
Okay. Not shipping.
“- assistance in placing your order, press one.”
Sales. There’s no answering machine in sales.
“- again, please press nine.”
Wait for it…
“- press nine.”
“Please be aware that we are experiencing a high volume of calls. Your call is important to us and we will be with you as soon as possible! Your estimated wait time is twenty-seven minutes.”
At least there’s time for the loo.
Lunch! Is there mayonnaise in –
“Good afternoon, this is Arianna, how can I help you?”
“Oh, hi! I’m ringing about my order which wasn’t delivered on -”
“I’m sorry I’m unable to help you with that, let me transfer -”
“No! Please don’t transfer me. I know this isn’t the right place but can you please just look into my account? I’ve been trying to speak to someone for an hour and -”
“Okay, let me take a look.”
“Thank you. The order number is, um… 6, 6, 0, 8.”
“Now it looks like there wasn’t anyone home to sign for it .”
“Yes. Well, no. I mean I was home at that time but… that doesn’t matter, I’d just like to arrange for redelivery.”
“I can do that. Oh, it says that the colour you ordered is out of stock -”
“- but there are some other options, now I see you wanted the Steel Grey… hmm… there’s the Charcoal or the Gun Metal.”
“The Gun Metal, thanks.”
“Ooh that colour was really popular; it was lighter… and sold out too! Charcoal okay?”
“Great! So I’ve organised that for you is there anything else I can help with?”
“Wonderful! Now I will just transfer you to Shipping and Delivery to confirm your -”
“- address. Transferring you now!”
What we liked:
There were a couple of stories in this vein, but this one really captured the “white space” and true time-sucking involved. There would be few readers who cannot relate to this experience, well-paced with believable dialogue and head-nodding true insights. The fact the issue still isn’t resolved before the end is rather appropriate too!
THE LOST HOUR by Lorraine Han
He took it away from you. He found you whole, happy, open. Naïve. You saw him first. He started slowly – he asked a question, you gave an answer. You asked a question, he gave an answer. Passing the ball back and forth in a long, easy rally. The crack in the door widened and widened to let him in. You let him in – only a little.
He took you to a park. Let you smell the flowers – let the fragrant flowers mask the poison he held. He took you to the beach; showed you his bright colours. You loved them – you did not know that brightly coloured fish are toxic.
You took him to the movies – laughed and cried while you watched the screen. He watched you. He did not buy a snack – he tasted you instead. You turned away at first – not yet. He tried again, and you froze. Just a taste, the tip of a tongue.
He took you out for dinner, reminded you of the start. He asked a question, you gave an answer. He asked a question, you gave an answer. You did not realise that this was not a rally – you served and served but he never hit it back. He took you for a drive. You watched the lights change. Green, yellow, red. He did not stop – kept driving further into the dark away from the safety of the brightly coloured lights. You asked to turn around. He turned around – reminded you that he cared, took you through the city. It was lighter – it made you feel safe.
He took you home. You let him into your room. He closed the door. He held you under his arm. You liked the warmth – it kept the cold away, made you want him to stay. You let him pull a thread, then another, and another until you unravelled, and he laid you flat.
He threw you open – open like a broken fence, a shattered window, barrelled through your last defence. He blew out the candles, touched you in the dark. You try to fight back. You decide that you don’t want him here, but too late. He has already dug his claws in, marked you as his.
He stops. You watch him leave the door wide open. You close it, lock it, bar it shut. You rearrange the furniture. You sit in the dark. This is the hour that you lost.
It was light here, once. You feel for the switch, find it gone. You search for something else. Don’t stop. You will find a twinkle, a string of fairy lights, a constellation of stars. Polaris. You will head towards it. Move forward, move forward, move forward, and don’t look back.
What we liked:
We take a more serious turn with this story – and while we did receive many entries that explored similar subject matter, the repetitive narrative device and restrained, metaphor-rich way in which it is told is powerful. Early on, we receive small symbolic clues (‘poison‘; ‘toxic') and the eventual paired use of the ‘light' prompt is cleverly woven into strong, equally-paced paragraphs. An affirming finish.
THE LOST HOUR by Peter Gilchrist
The hours were assembling after another night of reverie. It seemed darker than usual, but they reasoned that with the advent of the winter it was bound to happen. Things change with the seasons and as we move from autumn the sun is always a little later in the sky. But Two knew something was amiss and as it glanced forward, realised that Three was missing. There was no three.
The alarm at seven rang and surprised everyone.
Two wondered if anyone would notice during the day that Three was not there. Two peered into the distance and saw four but four was looking ahead, unaware.
Two whispered ‘Four, can you hear me?’ No response. ‘Four, look behind you,’ but Four was oblivious.
Of course, Four, even if it had heard Two calling, could not possibly look back.
The hands, at least the second and minute, moved around without worry but as the hour hand passed Two it called out, ‘Where the hell is Three?’
‘What am I supposed to do?’
‘Jump?’ said Two.
And as the second and minute hands drifted by, the hour hand jumped.
Four was caught by surprise when the hour hand yelled out that Three was missing.
‘How is Three missing? How did you get here?’
‘I don’t know, and I jumped.’
When the hour hand got to six, Six was concerned. Something was wrong. It was lighter than usual. Much lighter, and although the assumption of the effect of the change of season seemed sound, that it should now be this light made no sense.
When the light finally disappeared, the hours, instead of relaxing and pondering, started quietly calling and searching. The glow from the luminescent green hour-dots helped the hours moving safely around the grey face and with each pass of the black underbelly of the second hand, hope faded.
‘Stop! Listen!’ an hour-voice called.
The hours stopped. And listened. A faint regular click could be heard under the snoring of the people in the bed across the room.
‘Three is over here!’ Ten shout-whispered and the hours grouped around the date-display, peering in to see Three desperately holding on to the day-changer mechanism.
‘Three, what are you doing?’ called Nine.
‘I just wanted to slow things down,’ Three called back. “Lately I’ve been feeling a bit rushed and I thought that if I held back the days it would give me time to consider my options and come up with a plan, going forward.’
‘Umm, we have a problem!’ shouted the second hand, stopping overhead.
With all the activity, no alarm had sounded. The people in the bed had woken up, checked the time and realised that something was wrong.
The clock was picked up and shaken. The hours were silent. The second, minute and hour hands moved slightly, then froze as the big voice in the room said, ‘Must need new batteries.’
What we liked:
Sometimes it’s fine for things to just be silly. The key as a writer is to go “all in” and not get too self-conscious. In the absence of everything not quite making sense, this “Toy Story for clocks” manages to find a light-hearted dose of night-time tension in this by-the-numbers tale of learning to take one’s time.
THE LOST HOUR by Rose Wilson
Finally, Mark thought as the line shuffled forward, bringing him to the front.
“So, you’re Time, huh?”
“Actually, it’s pronounced Tim-e, like ‘Timmy’, but with an ‘e’ and one ‘m’.”
Mark stared blankly.
“I’m just kiddin’ with you!” Time's mood – it was lighter all of a sudden. He grinned a wide, toothy grin like that of the Cheshire Cat. Mark wasn’t sure if it was this that unsettled him, or the fact that this guy had, like, twenty bronze, gold and silver pocket watches hanging off of his tweed coat and either side of his pants. His scruffy top-hat also featured one around the band.
Mark would have deduced that he was speaking to a steampunk travelling merchant hobo, rather than an immortal, legendary figure.
Time clapped his hands together, a booming for miles around. “So, what’ll it be? C’mon, I don’t have all day. Wait – actually, I do, now that I think about it. I have all the time in the world!” He cackled long and hard.
But, then grew serious. “Be aware, there are limitations. I can’t just go letting you do whatever you want, now.”
Mark’s eyebrows furrowed.
Time noticed. “Been in the business for…” He flipped open one of his watches. “…Four-billion, five-hundred and forty-three years, and when it comes to time – what can I say? People just want it all to themselves.”
Mark exhaled. What kind of pocket watch tracks years? “Okay, I get it. What can you do?”
Time let his smugness do the talking. “Anything, really. I can send you back in time, pause it, erase it, send you forward, give you more, give you less, speed it up, slow it down…” he continued with his list until it seemed like, finally, he’d exhausted the options.
Mark opened his mouth, but Time raised a hand raised objectionably. “Now, don’t get any ideas now about sending your worst nemesis back to the stone ages. I do have a moral compass. In fact, it’s actually… uh, somewhere here…” hand rummaging through his back pocket, he pulled out a shiny round object that wasn’t unlike his array of watches.
Mark blinked, feeling he wasn’t going to get used to this character any time soon.
“I only wanted more time to study for my exam.”
“That all? Really? Kid, I can do so much more for you than that. I can also track time, kill time, keep time, save time, make time, beat time, time time, let time heal all wounds…”
Mark rolled his eyes and got up. “Forget it, I’m going home.” He looked at his watch, to see that he’d spent an hour there. Looks like this guy's only good at wasting time.
What we liked:
An enjoyable read to end on – and a vivid characterisation of Time itself. Some clever interplay between Mark and “Timmy” make for the kind of reading that keeps a smile on your face from start to finish – with believable dialogue and inner monologue thoughts from Mark. Bonus fun for those of us who carry our moral compasses around with us…