One of the great things about Furious Fiction is that for one weekend, writers all around the world are working on the same brief at the same time – and this month, they did so with a full moon out the window. Here were the criteria:
- Each story had to include someone/something being caught.
- Each story had to include the words: OBJECT, WOUND, BAND, ELABORATE. (ed/s variations included)
- Each story’s final two words had to be THE MOON.
Being caught and “the moon” did give rise to a large number of werewolves and fishing stories, while the ambidextrous required words had us perusing bands of gold, music bands, flesh wounds, clocks wound back, mystery objects, people who object and so on!
So, with such a flexible set of rules, what shiny stories did we catch in our silvery web? A wondrous variety, making picking a winner a tricky process. But rising like a full moon to shine brightly was this month’s winning story Firefly (below) by Warren Benedetto. Congratulations Warren – $500AU coming your way!
Of course, there were plenty more winners this month – namely everyone who entered a story or felt inspired to create a piece in some shape or form. Below you’ll find a selection of notable shortlisted stories, along with a longlist of entrants who turned the judges’ heads. We hope you enjoy, and thanks again for flying to the literary moon with us this month!
OCTOBER 2020 WINNER
FIREFLY by Warren Benedetto, USA
Missy caught the firefly in mid-air, cupping her hands around it to form a tiny, dark cave. She could feel the insect's delicate footsteps tickling her skin as it wandered across her palm, searching for a way out.
“Got you!” she whispered, victorious.
It was almost dark. The sunset was nothing but a burnt orange smear on the horizon. Usually, at this hour, her back yard would be a brilliant starscape of twinkling golden lights. But tonight there was just one lonely firefly hovering around the garden.
Missy lifted her hands to her face and opened them just enough to peek inside. A soft yellow glow spilled out, reflecting in her pupil like an ember.
“Hey, there,” she said. “How come you're all by yourself? Are you lost?”
The light brightened, then dimmed.
Missy looked around her yard for something she could use to hold the firefly. A jar, maybe, or a glass that she could turn upside down on the table. Something she could keep her newfound friend in, so it wouldn't fly away. She wanted to show it to her sister, Helena. She had to.
Helena was sick. She wore a silk scarf with an elaborate pattern of colorful swirls wound around her head, and had a special plastic band on her wrist that told the doctors what medicine she could take. She had been in the hospital for a long time, but the doctors finally sent her home to rest. Once a day, a nurse came in to check on her. No more doctors though. She didn't need them anymore.
Missy wasn't allowed in Helena's room. It was too full of tubes and wires, and machines that hissed and beeped all night. Missy snuck in anyway. She would bring in flowers, or pretty speckled rocks, or whatever objects she could find that might brighten her sister's day. She would leave them on the nightstand for her to find when she woke. If she woke. Sometimes, she slept all day.
Missy glanced over her shoulder at her house. The whole place was dark, except for her sister's room. Missy could see her mother inside, framed in the bright light of the window. Her face was in her hands. Her shoulders rose and fell in sorrowful waves.
Missy heard the back screen door squeak open. Her father's face appeared in the dim circle of illumination cast by the porch light. His cheeks glistened.
“Missy? We need you to come in now, okay? We –” His voice hitched in his throat. “We need to talk.”
“Okay, Dad!” Missy called. “One second!”
The screen door squealed shut.
Missy opened her hand and looked at the firefly.
“You can go,” she said quietly. “I won't keep you.”
The firefly walked to the tip of her finger and perched there for a moment as if considering whether to fly away. Its glow pulsed once, in silent farewell.
Then it took flight, rising skyward until its light became one with the moon.
What we loved:
The best short stories usually linger for a few moments after you finish reading and this twilight tale does so in a quiet, moving way. Hovering in the children’s fiction genre, this is a delicately handled story fuelled with symbolism and emotion. Missy’s childlike POV is clearly portrayed and the story’s simple premise and vivid descriptions allow the reader to easily visualise both the backyard scene and the poignant moment taking place inside the home. This is an accessible story to many – both in its language and themes – and its restraint and words left unsaid are deftly managed.
UNTITLED by Gita Bezard, Vic
The band plays until eleven on the dot and then the drunken uncles take to the stage to DJ the hits of the ‘80s and relive their glory days. The oldies hit the dance floor while the young ones cluster near the bar looking as mortified as the elaborate floral centrepieces the groom has insisted on.
The twins (the city twins, not the estranged twins) start a dance circle in order to show off their old jazz routine, more than a little worn by decades, fashion and knee surgery. A shout erupts and a second cousin napping by the present table jerks awake to see a conga line has wound its way around the room and onto the balcony.
Sometime during the limbo competition she sees him. She has volunteered to hold the stick, her limbo days long behind her thanks to a slipped disk that comes and goes like an old and very painful friend. He’s standing by the dessert buffet eating a profiterole, watching the line of people getting lower and lower to the floor. Feigning tired arms, she surrenders her job to Auntie Helen and makes her way towards the red velvet cupcake tower, large enough to obscure her from view. Peering out from behind the sugary monolith, she watches as he begins on a raspberry tart. She closes her eyes for a moment and breathes in the scent of sugar, taking the moment to enjoy the nostalgic pounding of her heart, which seems to think she’s still twenty two and hopelessly devoted.
A voice from behind interrupts her wandering mind.
“Well what are the odds? June Connolly. What are the odds.”
And there he is. Staring at her with a smile that lights up this dim corner of the yacht club turned wedding venue.
And there she is. Caught hiding behind baked goods with red wine teeth and icing in her hair.
“You haven’t aged a day,” he says.
“And you’re still a wonderful liar.”
He’s twenty years older with a potbelly and a suit bought for slimmer times. He has the distinct air of the suburban nightmare they had laughed about when they were different people. But he still makes her flutter like a teenager.
“Do you want to dance? My moves haven’t improved but you didn’t used to object.”
Uncle Ray has put on ‘something for the kids’ and it’s cleared the dance floor. She takes him by the hand and walks him from the reception with an ease that twenty years can’t remove. They stand outside in the car park and put their arms around each other. They still fit. They sway and smile and talk and time travel. Summer. Beach bars. Skinny-dipping. Bad hair. Bad skin. Bad jobs. Bad with money. But who needs money when you’re young and free and full of sugar, dancing in a car park under the light of the moon.
What we liked:
Every month, we get a large number of “meet cute” or romantic stories – and it can be a tricky tightrope to not descend into cheese or cliché. But here, realism is on full display in a scene we can probably all relate to, as cheese is replaced by cupcakes. This wedding reception glows with authentic details, nostalgia and a dash of romance. The narrative voice is intimate and playful – immersing the reader into the celebrations like they’re one of the relatives. Repetition is used cleverly to craft the story as well as super-short sentences and simple, character-rich dialogue to control the pace.
TO LIVE AMONG THE STARS by Sharon Boyle, UK
She worked in the cinema booth, sitting on the swivel stool on the lookout for Mr Lucky Charm. Two things made her job bearable. The first was that unlike the jealous girls in the munitions factory, she could gussy herself up.
‘I see it as self-advertising, Ma. Becoming famous is my actual job.’ On seeing her mother crick a sceptical brow, she elaborated. ‘Takes time. Lauren Bacall wasn’t discovered overnight.’
The second was that unlike the judgemental girls in the munitions factory, she had power. If anyone gave lip or she just didn’t take to them, she refused entry. Stoney-broke customers especially repulsed her. It was a given that everyone wanted out of this grey town with its greasy canal but that was no reason to chip at the price of a ticket.
‘No concession for an ex-soldier?’ one customer asked. His accent was foreign – down south somewhere, possibly London, but not the Queen’s London, more a dirty dialect that strangled vowels.
She studied the slight hollow to his cheeks that gave him a tragic air, swithered, but eventually said, ‘Not today, sir.’
He gazed at her with a wounded air before tipping his hat and leaving.
The next evening he returned and slouched against the glass partition. She shifted on her stool and was about to fetch the concierge when the man said, ‘You’re the main feature, love.’
She blinked, unsure whether to be flattered.
The man nodded. ‘The Oscar-winning dazzler that follows the B-movie.’
She tried to drum up a line worthy of the rasp-tongued Bette Davis but he left before inspiration formed.
On his next visit, he placed a small, golden object on the counter. It was a foil-wrapped chocolate bunny moulded into the shape of an Oscar figurine. Her mouth twitched but she stopped short at smiling.
On the fourth evening he asked for her autograph, saying he’d better get it now before she was snapped up by some bigwig with big ideas. She dashed off a practised signature.
He turned the paper towards him. ‘Lola Day? Is that your real name?’
‘Will be when I’m acting with Hollywood stars.’
He smiled and asked her to please, please go out for dinner before she got too famous and wouldn’t even look at a Regular Joe like him. This time she did smile.
Susan Brown (aka Lola Day) became famous overnight when her picture made the papers. The jarred and jittery girls in the munitions factory agreed it was a sheer waste. Susan Brown was pretty enough, they said, and, if lucky, could’ve met a decent man and starred in her own homespun movie. Instead the undiscovered Ms Day, caught short by false charm, was discovered floating face-up in the canal, her throat banded with bruises, her glassy eyes reflecting a starless night that was empty of everything but the moon.
What we liked:
With a nod to the play on words in the title, we enjoyed this cinematic tale and its surprising turns of phrase (as well as its surprising turn). The rough location and era are established early and efficiently, as a budding box office romance appears to bloom before our eyes – flirting with film references along the way. But this is the type of overnight fame no one seeks. The final paragraph sees our protagonist’s true name and tragic fate deftly revealed, with a clever call back to the gossipy girls and munitions factory from the opening.
UNTITLED by Vicki McCracken, Vic
‘Yes, thank you, Nancy, you’ve mentioned the dismembered bodies, but I need to speak to you about the missing food; the biscuits in particular.’
Nancy cocked her head to one side and considered the aged care facility manager.
‘I’ll tell you the whole story, Mary. It started with a virus.’
‘No, no. no, Nancy, not another of your stories. I just need to know what happened to the custard creams; the other residents are waiting for their tea and supper.’
‘Yes. But the answer starts with a virus. It was all because of Tom.’
‘I’m going to need you to elaborate, Nancy – Tom, the gardener? Why would he take the biscuits?’ Mary leaned in and narrowed her eyes.
‘I don’t know why you’re getting so wound up about this, love. Tom brought the virus in. From his kids most likely. Germy little things. How many does he have? Seven, I think. Catholic, he is.’
‘And? He was hungry? He never comes inside the residences.’ Mary just wanted to serve the residents their tea and biscuits before bed. She could still make The Bachelor if she hurried.
‘Oh, but he does – you should ask Shirley about that.’ Nancy gave a conspiratorial wink.
‘Shirley? In 14B? Even after the hip replacement?’
‘Especially after the hip replacement,’ Nancy went on, ‘but that’s neither here nor there. He gave the virus to Shirley, who gave it to Vernon, who gave it to Bessie, who gave it to Martha.’
‘So, everyone’s had a cold lately. What does that have to do with the biscuits?!’
‘Nothing to do with a cold. But it wasn’t a cold.’ It was Nancy’s turn to lean in close, glancing towards the door. She dropped her voice to a whisper. ‘It caused werewolfism.’ She raised her pencilled eyebrows as high as they would go.
“As in, Tom, Shirley, Vernon, Bessie and Martha are now werewolves? Is that what you’re telling me?’
‘No,’ said Nancy, ‘not just them, me too.’
Mary closed her eyes and took a deep breath, touching her index and middle fingers to her furrowed brow.
‘And you have evidence of this, of this band of werewolves stalking the halls at a full moon?’
‘Well yes. They’re the answer to missing objects.’
‘So, it’s the werewolf residents of this facility who’ve stolen the foodstuffs from the kitchen?’
‘Any younger and they’d hunt the living, just like Tom did. The bodies are in the garden shed, by the way. It’s just that steaks and bikkies and mashed potato are a much easier prey when you have dentures and walking frames.’
‘Nancy, can you please just tell me what happened to the custard creams?’
“Of course I can – I ate them. Softer than a Montecarlo. Oh look, the moon.’
What we liked:
As we said earlier, plenty of werewolves came out to play in the moonlight this month, but we couldn’t resist the mischievous quirk of this piece where an aged facility prioritises missing bikkies over bodies. In these times, the presence of a virus in a retirement village seemed a worrisome subject at first, but instead proved a cheeky misdirect to keep the reader guessing as naughty Nancy revels in storytelling mode and the odd bit of gossip. A fun take on the genre – citizens, lock up your custard creams!
PANDEMIC FROTH by Rosie Francis, Vic
Saturday 22 Aug.
New cases – 116
Days since I’ve seen Jess – 40
I keep thinking about the days before the world ended. One day in particular. It was the day Jess caught me staring at her. She was banging the espresso thingy down like she was trying to kill a cockroach, and I was pretending to admire an object on the counter made of rubber bands wound into an elaborate tip jar. But really I was imagining those biceps wrapped around my neck. She smiled. I smiled. She laughed.
Then Victoria was locked down.
Saturday 2 Oct.
New cases – 7
Days since I’ve seen Jess – 81
Still locked down. I haven’t written because I have too much time.
Here’s the thing, if I’d known that the world was about to turn to shit, I would’ve asked Jess for her number. Now the cafe’s on half-staff, and not the good half.
In other news, Mum says I can paint my room, and any colour I want. Apparently Dave has colour swatches I can look at. She’s being nice because I had another melt-down yesterday and she thinks that having a project would help.
Sunday 3 Oct.
New cases – 12
Days since I’ve seen Jess – 0!!!!
Something AMAZING happened today! I went to pick up the swatches from Dave’s letterbox (which turned out to be 15 different shades of white – wtf?). Anyway, I still had time in my 2 hours, so I walked past the cafe. And there she was! JESS!
My entire body went warm, like when you get off the plane onto the tarmac in QLD. My knees even wobbled. Heat crept up my legs and stomach, and rose like mercury in a thermometer to burst onto my cheeks. All I can say is thank GOD I was wearing a mask (COVID pro: 1, con: 19,325,988).
I’m embarrassed because all my thoughts of Jess since August have been of her naked, cupping a hot stainless steel milk jug, moving it slowly up and down that hissing rod. I’d transported us from acquaintances to full-cream frothy lovers, and now here she is. IRL. Cute gingham mask, smiley eyes, and saying: ‘It’s good to see you. How goes it?’
I can’t remember how I replied. Possibly a shoulder shrug, which is COVID for ‘what can you do?’.
I pumped the hand sanitizer for a third time and ordered.
‘You painting?’ She nodded at the colour swatches.
‘Yep.’ Pause, shrug. ‘Can’t decide between the eggshell and ecru.’ Another pump of sanitizer.
She smiled (I think) and started frothing milk. I was about to look away when she said that she’d just painted her bathroom white, and had researched light and reflection, and she’d be happy to write down the best shades.
I nodded, trying to simultaneously lean in and socially distance.
Then she handed me my coffee. And the piece of paper that would change my pandemic:
0401 423 198 x
Go with the ‘navajo white’ or the ‘moon’.
What we liked:
Very much a story of the current times as well as a call back to all our teenage days, the author here delivers a strong YA voice which is further heightened through the simple diary entry format and hormone-driven fervour. (Yes, that is indeed four exclamation points in a row!) This, of course, is key for a story of this kind – creating a world and character (with a strong goal) that feels true to life. A consistent tone throughout and a creative use of ‘the moon’ prompt combine nicely here with some acute observations of romance against the backdrop of a pandemic. And possibly the most relatable line of the month belongs to: “I haven’t written because I have too much time.” So true!
NOBODY by Danielle Baldock, NSW
It catches my eye as I read the morning paper on a cold winter Saturday, balancing the paper on my knees. I look again while I crunch my buttered toast. The advert calls for a Nobody. I fit the bill. Once it would wound me to think so. I would object to being crammed into a word so small, so pale and unremarkable. But now, older, wiser, I relish it, a bookish recluse that no-one would look at twice in the street.
I’m always happiest at home, feet in socks, and book in hand. Cup of tea at my elbow, and the sun lighting up the room, shadow trees creeping up the white walls and dancing golden in the afternoon light. The window beside my chair is bordered with an elaborate band of stained glass; I can tell the time of day by the colour of the oblong of light that falls onto my pages. Green for the cool clear mornings, when magpies sing and swagger in the yard, and schoolchildren laugh by on their way to the bus stop. The Red square trumpets lunchtime, a cheese sandwich and a chocolate biscuit, trying to keep the crumbs out of the cushions. Yellow glows with mid-afternoon, time for fruit and a strong black coffee. But my favourite of all is the Blue, the one that heralds the long cool shadows of the evening. I love to sit in the pool of light from the gooseneck lamp beside my chair, the blue glow on my feet, the twittering of birds and saucepans clattering and the warm conversational noises of families bubbling through the air. I listen, and I absorb the warm human spirits, flowing and twisting through the sky, humanity alight and glowing in the shadows of the night.
I circle the ad with a red pen – ‘Nobody Wanted’. Wondering what they could need a Nobody for, what they thought a Nobody could do for them.
I hover my fingers over the phone, nervous to speak into the faraway ears of a stranger. At last I dial, listening to the phone dial spinning, the shrill ringing, imagine the phone calling out into the silence. No one answers for a long time. I listen to the neighbour’s dog barking, think about what I’ll make for dinner, wait.
At last, an answer, a voice uncertain and soft. Hello?
Hello, I say, breathless.
Who is it? the voice whispers.
It’s Nobody, I say, quiet.
Hello! I can hear them smiling now. There’s nobody I’d rather talk to! I’ve been waiting for your call.
A sudden warmth flows through me, I can feel my cheeks stretching with a wild smile.
Let’s talk, the voice says, and we quietly and happily swap words in the cool evening silence, two Nobodies together, two halves that meet and join to make a whole.
And outside the coloured windows, over both our separate, newly joined lives, there is the slow rising dance of the moon.
What we liked:
From the first word, this story caught our eye. In particular, some lovely descriptive details that bring this vignette to life, such as the use of colours and lucid settings, revealing a lot about the protagonist – a vibrant ‘nobody’ with an yearning for human connection. The four criteria words dissolve effortlessly into the early sentences and later the snippets of dialogue are delivered in an unorthodox yet effective way – without confusion or complexity. Ultimately, the story has fun with the premise without spinning into gimmicky territory, creating a quiet, heart-warming piece that’s surprisingly relatable.
WOLF AND CUB by Denver Grenell, NZ
“Grandad, can you read Red Riding Hood again please?”
Lily’s Grandfather perched on the edge of her bed. He gently stroked her forehead with a wrinkled hand. “I fear it’s a bit late in the hour for stories.”
“Just skip to the part where the wolf eats the Grandmother. That's the best bit.”
The old man winced. “It’s a bit frightening.”
Lily made her ‘silly Grandad’ face – one he was well accustomed to. “Yeah, but the woodcutter saves her remember?”
“Oh, I remember. I’ve only read the story twenty bleeding times today.”
“Watch your language,” Lily said with mock outrage. “Or I’ll have to wash your mouth out with soap.”
The old man chuckled. “Sorry love. Your grandmother always said I had the mouth of a sailor.” A sad look crossed his face and stayed there.
Lily placed a pale hand on his. “I miss her too. Sorry about the wolf eating Grandma stuff.”
“It's alright. It’s just a story. Unfortunately, real-life can be a touch more elaborate and doesn’t always have happy endings.” He rose and switched off the bedroom light. A small Jack O’Lantern night light glowed on the bedside table, casting the room in warm orange. “Now if you don’t object, the moon is full. Best leave tales of wolves and the like for another day, I think.”
He kissed Lily softly on the forehead. “Sleep tight.”
“Don’t let the big bad wolf bite.” Lily grinned.
“Silly me, I thought it was bed bugs.”
“Goodnight,” Lily said sleepily.
The old man waited until Lily was asleep, then he left the room and moved swiftly through the house. He removed his gold wedding band as he walked. Stepping out onto the front porch, silver moonlight washed over him. His body lurched in response. Locking the front door, he placed the key and the ring in a small bowl by the front door. The exposed skin of his ring finger felt raw like a wound in the night air.
The old man walked across the front lawn. Beyond the back fence lay wide green paddocks. He sniffed the air. The scent of rabbit was strong. Plenty of food out there for an old wolf. By the time he reached the fence, he was on all fours. Thick grey fur had sprouted from his elongated face and his limbs had lengthened and bent forward at the joints. He leapt the fence and raced across the moonlit grass. Ahead, a hare bolted with fright. With a hungry growl, the wolf pounced, pinning the hare beneath his large claws. The old wolf looked to the moon and unleashed a triumphant howl that echoed off the nearby hills.
Lily stirred and turned over in her sleep. Her hand went to the silver cross that hung around her neck. She settled once more bathed in the glow from the night light and, creeping through a small crack in the curtains, a sliver of white light from the moon.
What we liked:
Despite the abundance of ‘lupine literature’ on display this month, this one did have us fooled until the final few paragraphs. That’s because what unfolds are some sweetly observed interludes between a grandfather and his granddaughter – revealing much about their relationship and characters through well paced and realistic dialogue. When the wolf reveal becomes clear, this also makes for a fun reread (particularly Grandad reading the fairy tale!), although it does prompt some questions to rise to the surface. Namely, was the real grandma’s fate the same as the one in the book?
And that seems an apt place to end OUR stories for this month – lights out, go to sleep children!
Sure, the moon might be the brightest thing in the night sky, but there are plenty of other stars twinkling away (it’s a metaphor, just go with it…). Shining out of the darkness, they caught our eye this month – representing the top 4% of all entries received. Well done!
THIS MONTH’S LONGLISTED (in no particular order):
- THE CAMEO by Bianca Millroy, QLD
- CHASING THE MOON by Cheryl Ferguson Bernini, Italy
- WALK TO THE MOON by James D'Cruze, VIC
- CAPTIVE by Gael Bell, United Kingdom
- UNTITLED by Anne Woodward, United Kingdom
- A KILLER MEETING by N.E. Rule, Canada
- TO THE MOON by Elyse Harrison, VIC
- THE COLLECTOR by Joanne Gilmore, SA
- THE WEREWOLF CUB by Richard Gibney, Ireland
- THE FISHERMAN by Lucy Robertson, QLD
- A DEVIL OF A ROMANCE by Amy Hutton, NSW
- RENDEZVOUS? by Sarah, VIC
- TWO THOUSAND YEARS OF PROGRESS by Judy Dungey, VIC
- CELESTIAL SNIFFLES by Michaela Hatfield, Singapore
- THE GOD & THE MOON by Jade Raykovski, VIC
- UNTITLED by A. Daddo, NSW
- THE MAN IN THE MOON by Daily Ghost, United Kingdom
- TINY PARTICLES by Denise Mills, NSW
- DISPATCH by Jen Riley, ACT
- HUNTING IN THE DARK by Marcelo Medone, Argentina
- THE MAN, THE MINNOW, THE MOON by Patrick J. Source, United Kingdom
- NEVER CAUGHT BUT RUMBLED by Joe Cushnan, United Kingdom
- TWO TATTOOS by Janet Laugharne, United Kingdom
- THE HUNT by Rachel Harding, NSW
- TELESCOPE by Yolanda Aay, QLD
- UNTITLED by Kate Rooney, VIC
- THE GREATEST SOLUTION by Amber Gaston, NSW
- UNTITLED by Oliver Bailey, VIC
- A LETTER HOME by Hannah Whiteoak, United Kingdom
- ENOUGH by Glenda Janes, VIC
- ADRIFT by Ben Gooley, NSW
- SIGHTSEER by Lucinda Carney, Spain
- WORK OF THE WEARY WEAVER by Vanessa Eastwood, Germany
- HEY DIDDLE DIDDLE, A MODERN EXPOSITION. by Michelle Dickins, VIC
- ONCE IN A BLUE MOON by Y.Lee, VIC
- OPPOSITES ARE COMPLEMENTARY by Fayegw, WA
- GLENORA HIGH SCHOOL CONFESSIONS by Toria Wills, NSW
- BYE DIDDLE DIDDLE by Natalie Devlin, NSW
- GIDEON by K.L. Mcgown, VIC
- LUNA by Emily Codling, VIC
- THE BURNING CITADEL by Shubhankar Reddy, India
- WORKER ZERO by Angela Lloyd-Jones, NSW
- UNTITLED by Immy Mohr, NSW
- THE SUNSET by Darren Heerema, WA
- BUZZ AND NEIL by Matt Crichton, VIC
- WHAT'S IN A GENRE? by Jo Mularczyk, NSW
- A LETTER TO THE SUN by Mel, Austria
- UNTITLED by Hashinee Weraduwage, VIC
- A VERY TROUBLED PRODUCTION by Thomas Coates, NSW