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Furious Fiction October 2021 winner and shortlist

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Another month and another chance for entrants to flex their creative muscles with our ever-changing selection of Furious Fiction criteria. This month, we invited you to play, using the following rules:

  • Your story’s setting: a COURT of some kind.
  • Your story must include a character who measures something.
  • Your story must include the words BALLOON, ROCK, UMBRELLA. (Longer variations were accepted as long as original spelling was retained.)

As predicted, we were presented with a variety of different courts. Judges presided over courts of law, umpires presided over tennis courts, three-pointers were sunk on basketball courts, while figurative courts of public opinion and the afterlife and romantic courtships jostled for our attention. It was hungry work – but luckily there were plenty of food courts to keep us well fed! Well done if you chose a particularly creative or ambitious ‘court’ as your story’s setting. 

As long as more than half of the story took place in the court setting, our judges were satisfied. And while many chose to make the court the centre of the action, others simply used it as set dressing – including our winner Kate Goodheart, for her story Ragamuffins. Kate’s story ‘court’ our attention and netted herself $500AU. Well done!

You can read the winning story below, along with four shortlisted ones, plus our longlist. And if you were one of the 1200 who entered this month, well done for presenting your case to our judges for measuring. It can be scary putting your work out into the world – whether you shortlisted or weren’t listed at all, you’ve lifted your creativity that little bit higher this month. All rise…


 

OCTOBER 2021 WINNER

RAGGAMUFFINS by Kate Goodheart, USA

Kelsey sat on the empty tennis court, poking at the tiny red bugs that tried to crawl on her bare legs. They squished easily, leaving tiny damp spots behind. A balloon wandered overhead from the birthday party behind her, where happier children yelled and splashed in the pool. She wanted nothing to do with them. The people in her book were much more satisfying.

Humidity frizzed the brown hair that clung to her neck and she wished for a hair tie. Home wasn’t far, but her parents were probably still fighting.

“What do you want?” Kelsey snapped at the boy who peered around the gate in the tall chain-link fence. He was smaller than her, with a mop of pale hair and a mischievous smile.

“What are you doing?”

Through the fence she could see his scabby knees and ragged cut-off shorts above dirty bare feet. He reminded her of Dickon from one of her favorite books and she softened.

“Reading.” She buried her nose in the worn paperback and waited for him to go away, but he didn’t.

“Wanna play?”

“Yeah, okay.” She stood and he skipped through the gate. They looked around the derelict court, sizing one another up whenever the other wasn’t looking.

Kelsey kicked a rock so it skittered across the cracked clay of the court, stopping a handbreadth from the torn net that sagged across the center, black with mildew from the frequent summer storms. The boy kicked it back, beginning a game that ended when he scooped the rock up and threw it over the fence. It splashed into the pool and they both ducked.

Cries of disapproval rose from the adults on the pool deck and the boy giggled. It was contagious. Kelsey’s giggles burst from her like a rain shower as they ran to hide in the summer-sparse woods.

“I'm Puck,” the boy said.

“Kelsey.” She hesitated, caught by the wild in his bright green eyes. “Where do you live?”

“Not far.” He pulled an apple from his pocket. It was everything an apple should be, red and gold striped skin protecting pale flesh that crunched between the boy’s slightly pointed teeth. He chewed, smiling open-mouthed, and offered it to her. “Want some?”

Her belly squirmed, empty beneath the paperback pressed there. Stories flickered through her mind, poisoned apples and fruit that was somehow sin incarnate, don’t take food from strangers being one thing her parents agreed upon. Puck wasn’t a stranger though, just another lonely neighborhood kid. She took the apple and hummed happily as the sweet juice slaked her thirst.

“I’ve got more at home. Want to come?”

Kelsey thought it over. This was how adventures began, but she usually left those to the book people.

Her parents searched for her in the dark that night beneath the shelter of a shared umbrella, their fight forgotten. Her book lay in the damp needles beneath the pines, its pages soggy with rain in the beam of their flashlight.

What we loved:
It’s a joy to discover stories that invite new interpretations upon each reread. Kelsey’s infatuation with books provides a lovely scaffolding to this whimsical piece. And with the appearance of the wild and mischievous Puck, the story begins to release a subtle folklore flavour – with small clues deftly woven throughout; a Secret Garden reference and the apple used to great effect. 

At first, this suburban scene has an innocence about it – two lonely kids finding friendship on an equally neglected tennis court. The balloon, a souvenir sent skywards, unattainable like the life it represents. But the final paragraph takes the story to another place, leaving the reader nicely mystified as it casts a new light on Kelsey’s whereabouts, Puck’s intentions, and whether this new friend even exists at all. It’s a neatly wrapped narrative with a healthy dose of intrigue – props also for the cute title.


 

SHORTLISTED

POST PLUCKING by Deborah Henley, NSW

“Come under here lucky one, you’ve survived the plucking.”

“Where?”

“Hurry!”

The hatchling wakes from a warm, cosy shell hugging him, to a nightmare forest of mousey brown pillars. A sea of frothy, foaming white is ballooning in the distance.

“Where are you?” the hatchling calls into the darkness, following the voice. The young one stumbles on his new legs. Sunlight piercing fresh eyes. Toothpick legs wobble forward.

The foamy sea has blind snakes dancing amongst it. Pushing it closer. The young one searches for the voice. A rich burning smell. Eucalypts and tea-tree. A wave of nausea splashes from the hatchling's belly to his brain.

The rescuer is spotted. Her figure see-sawing. She grabs a young leg. Pulls him under a pale, flaky rock.

“I see you’ve smelt the venom.”

He can’t focus on her wise eyes. “It’s spinning.”

The old one pulls the rock down. They sink into darkness. A storm rages war outside their hole.

“Here little one, drink.”

Refreshing warmth. Sustenance. Healing. Life.

“Thank you,” the young one murmurs.

“It’s not over. We must wait for the examination and the drowning.”

The young one nods. The flaky rock sits like an umbrella, protecting them from the noxious damp white.

“I’m so glad I found you. Our race must survive. Covid has been hard on us,” she says with determined eyes.

Black teeth scrape past, pulling the white. Looking to eat all life forces they encounter. No pillar left unturned. As the teeth leave, the old one lifts the protective flake.

The old one points to a pillar. “Soon we’ll hold on tight, the drowning is coming. 20…19… 18…”

The young one has bulging blow fly eyes.

“Sweetie, 15… I’m measuring the time. 12… Soon take a deep breath. 10… hold your breath and grab a pillar, 7… “

The young one is stunned. The old one fears the fumes have already gotten to him.

“3….2…1 Go!”

Lungs fill with tangy air. The poison smell lingers. Not deadly but scorchingly potent.

Drenching rains from above. Old and young claw onto the pillars. The torrential tsunami pounds and pulls. The old one starts slipping. Her grip is not what it used to be.

The young one hears a new, booming voice, “Courtney, that’s today’s lice treatment done.”

What we liked:
This is a story that wasn’t afraid to push the creative boundaries – both with its nitty gritty characters being headhunted and the interpretation of a ‘Court(ney)’ setting (not revealed until the final sentence). Right from the start, a gripping pace bewitches the reader, with something clearly not quite right in this world. Descriptions of an almost dystopian environment and references to ’the plucking, the examination and the drowning’ offer a menacing undertone. In fact, it’s seemingly like quite the head-scratcher until we cinematically “pull out for the reveal” and are finally treated to an excellent (and itch-inducing) ending! A clear example of going all in on an idea that stands out from the rest.


 

SHORTLISTED

CUT YOUR LOSSES? by Daphne Briggs, VIC

Gavin had seen the huge tough-looking man earlier, in the carpark. Now the fellow’s intimidating closeness and body odour was behind him in the queue, and Trish had left him to look for a table.

On rainy weekend days, his wife invariably dragged him from his newspaper to the shopping centre. This morning they’d spent three hours traipsing tiled walkways while she searched for the perfect ensemble to wear to the accounts department Christmas party, in three months’ time. Gavin had watched numerous change-room doors, waiting for the red circle on the lock to turn green. He’d nodded and smiled as she paraded and then rejected dress after dress. Now, his phone was almost flat, his back ached and he felt the fuzziness of a headache coming on. Gavin was hungry, thirsty and over it. He’d also dressed too warmly for the overheated centre.

The food court was busy; its general humdrum punctuated by crying babies and a flickering light above. It would have been cheaper, and probably a lot quicker, to go home and make a sandwich, but Trish wanted sushi… There were still six people before him.

The young couple ahead kept changing their minds, about the evening’s plans and their lunch order. Caught off guard, Gavin turned to a passing waft of hot chips. His eyes were then drawn upwards as the man behind’s cheeks ballooned in an audible sigh. Tattooed face, filthy beard and leather jacket told a story Gavin didn’t need to know. He looked away again, quickly.

At last, tray in hand, Gavin joined his wife, and sat down on a chair that didn’t move, next to a tall potted umbrella plant. She brushed aside a few granules of sugar from the table. He laid out their lunch, including the four plastic fish full of soy sauce. He was just about to bite into his California roll, when a branchful of shiny oval leaves moved beside him. The bearded man’s face appeared through the gap, his glare hitting Gavin like a rock between the eyes.

‘You know you got the last tuna and lettuce with brown rice up there, mate?’

Gavin gritted his teeth, and clenched his butt. Though this was now his third encounter with the man, ‘mate’ was definitely an overstatement.

‘Did I? Sorry.’ Gavin knew very well he’d been lucky – the tuna and lettuce had been for Trish. She refused to eat white rice these days; brown was so much healthier.

‘Yeah you did mate, and actually, I wanted that one. I had to get the white rice instead.’

Gavin gulped, stealing a glance at Trish. She frowned and shook her head – who knew what that meant?

The inked crosses on the man’s fingers elongated as his knuckles tightened over the branch.

Gavin measured the tuna roll with his eye. ‘Well, it was for my wife… mate, but how about I give you half?’

‘Nah, just kidding buddy. You left your phone at the counter. Here you go.’

What we liked:
Poor Gavin. Many-a-partner will relate to the endless parade of shopping mall fitting rooms and the resulting exhaustion. But ultimately, this is a good example of how to strip back a story to a flash fiction-sized premise.
With a vividly feeble central character Gavin and his humdrum weekend antics, the intimidating tattooed presence in his periphery provides some comical story stakes. In its essence, it’s an effective (albeit somewhat sad) character portrait of a man lacking any assertion, used to appeasing everyone’s whims but his own.


 

SHORTLISTED

RED-HOTS by Sophie Casarico, USA

It was supposed to just be a summer job. Something Kara quit as soon as the tourists trickled out of Norfolk and the mall returned to its usual, zombie-movie barrenness. But Sam was still here. So she was still here.

They slung hotdogs together at Frank’s Weenie Hut, a stand that amounted to a red and yellow striped umbrella affixed to an aluminum cart, tucked in the corner of the food court. A month senior, Sam had been saddled with training Kara, who was a vegetarian and couldn’t muster any enthusiasm for beef dogs. He didn’t hold that against her. Most of the mallgoers didn’t venture past the Chinese buffet or the Wetzel’s Pretzels anyway.

Every day, to stave off boredom, they swapped riddles, surreptitiously completing the crossword Sam smuggled into his apron. Using only their hands to measure, they guessed the hotdog capacity of the cart (Kara just edged out Sam, which kept her smug for the rest of the shift). They played a word game where you’d have to continue with an answer that started with the last letter of the other person’s answer. Usually, they did rock bands.

“Genesis.”

“Steely Dan.”

“Nirvana.”

“Aerosmith.”

“There aren’t any bands that start with ‘H,’” Sam conceded, bun crumbs and spicy mustard tumbling from his mouth.

“Heart,” Kara countered. She was a sore winner.

Sam was a part-time student at the local community college, majoring in philosophy. He dabbled in magic: card tricks, smoke bombs, balloon animals. He played didgeridoo and the sitar, and he’d never watched a tv show made after the 1980s. His grandma didn’t get cable, so he grew up on videotapes of MASH and Gunsmoke.

Kara wanted to go abroad. Where, she wasn’t certain. “It has to have a lot of old cemeteries in it,” she’d once declared to Sam. She was obsessed with serial killers, liked embroidering skulls and gravestones onto the frayed cuffs of her jeans. “Maybe Transylvania.”

“Or Korea,” Sam suggested.

Every day, they vowed would be their last. They complained incessantly of the burns they sustained from the fetid boiling hotdog water, their feet that blistered from eight hours of standing, and the anthropomorphic hotdog mascot, Frank, that leered from atop the plush hats of their garish uniforms. Yet today, like every other day, they found excuses to stay.

“They’re getting new dice at the tabletop gaming shop,” Sam said.

“I’m thinking about Canada now,” Kara offered in turn.

She watched him as he refilled the ketchup squeeze bottles, admiring the way his callused fingers, coated in black nail polish, played a little rhythm tapping the slow red sludge out of the industrial vat.

“You’re supposed to let me do that,” she said. “I’m still not fully trained. What if you miss a day?”

“I won’t miss a day.” He dug the folded-up crossword from his apron and uncapped his pen. “Four down, six letters: capital of Portugal.”

“Sam, do you want to go out with me?”

“Yeah.” Then he said, beaming, “Lisbon.”

What we liked:
Here, we’re treated to a double whammy – a food court courtship – extra evocative thanks to the specificity of its descriptive details. This tale is awash in nostalgic coming-of-age vibes – taking place as if through a tinted lens and familiar to anyone who ever had a summer job. The tightly spun narrative depicts an authentic relationship between Kara and Sam, avoiding cliche character traits and delivering crisp dialogue and an easy camaraderie that conveys a real sense of comfort and familiarity between the pair.
Each is clearly tethered to the hot dog stand by their growing companionship, hopes for the future mixing with the trivial – and it’s this simplicity of a concept that ultimately rings true.


 

SHORTLISTED

THAT MOMENT WHEN by Andrea Barton, VIC

Tamara Hanes
5 hours ago
That moment when you realize the wedding’s off @Jimmy French.
Image: a man and a woman sitting side by side in a restaurant booth. His arm is around her shoulder. She is facing away from the camera. He is kissing her cheek.
#rat #cheat #soangryIcouldscream
Angry emoji 83 Care emoji 51
29 comments

Amy Rand
Is this for real? Who is she?
  Tamara Hanes replied
  Yes, for real.
  A trusted friend sent the photos.
  Don’t know the woman.
  Can’t see her face.
    Amy Rand replied
    I’m so sorry @Tamara Hanes.
    Thank God you found out before you tied the knot.

Bobby Hanes
Sorry, sis! Next time I see @Jimmy French he better watch out.
  Tamara Hanes replied
  Hands off, I’ll deal with him myself.

Sally Stevanovitch
Omg! You poor thing. A month before the big day? What an arsehole!
  Tamara Hanes replied
  I know. I’m a mess.
  It’s only 27 days before the wedding, but who’s counting?
     Sally Stevanovitch replied
     On my way! Will bring supplies: Tim Tams, vodka, icecream.
        Tamara Hanes replied
        How about a gun? A rock? Any weapon to inflict blunt force trauma?
          Sally Stevanovitch replied
          I have an umbrella. You could shove that where the sun don’t shine.

Dennis Duval
Have you spoken to him? Maybe there’s an explanation? Give him a hearing before the court of public opinion delivers its verdict.
  Tamara Hanes replied
  @Dennis Duval Look at the photo ffs!
     Sally Stevanovitch replied
     @Dennis Duval typical!
     Don’t make excuses for him just because you’re the best man.
     He’s lip-locked with another woman.
        Dennis Duval replied
        It’s a peck on the cheek.
          Sally Stevanovitch replied
          @Dennis Duval He’s about to be MARRIED.
          I bet you lined up strippers for the buck’s night.
            Dennis Duval replied
            Too right!

Moira Hanes
I never trusted that man, and it’s been such a whirlwind romance. But don’t be too hasty. Your father wasn’t always perfect, either, and he turned out alright. Why aren’t you picking up your phone?
  Tamara Hanes replied
  Mum, people can read this. Can’t talk right now. Gutted.
     Moira Hanes replied
     Oh, can you show me how to delete this?
        Bobby Hanes replied
        Wtf! Mum, call me.

Cindy Lee
Oh @Tamara Hanes. Hugs! Does this mean we won’t have the dress fitting next week? (My waist has dropped 2cm) lmk, I need to rearrange my schedule.
  Tamara Hanes replied
  I’m cancelling everything: hens night, reception centre, cake, photographer,   the freaking balloons.

Jimmy French
@Tamara Hanes we need to talk. I’m at the door.
  Tamara Hanes replied
  @Jimmy French I’m too angry to speak to you right now.
     Jimmy French replied
     @Tamara Hanes Please let me in.
        Tamara Hanes replied
        @Jimmy French No.
          Jimmy French replied
          @Tamara Hanes That woman’s my sister.
          Flew in from Sydney last night.
          I wanted to surprise you.
            Tamara Hanes replied
            @Jimmy French What? Oh thank God! I’m so sorry. Coming now…

Cindy Lee
Does this mean the dress fitting’s back on?

What we liked:
In a sea of flash fiction, an experimental piece will often stand out. The unconventional format pays off here, not only due to its commitment to the delivery, but in the extra care it takes to convey the Russian-doll-like feeling of an online forum.
As it turns out, this is the perfect way to portray the ‘social media effect’ – acting as the court of public opinion, often before all the facts are known. There are indeed 29 comments – which concertina below in an all-too-familiar comment thread cascade.
It’s a clever satirical look at the indulgent melodrama that often plays out for the world to see (and comment on), supported by a cast of great characters and distinctive voices. We especially enjoyed the appearance of ‘mum’, who quickly had to request IT assistance. The daughter scolding her for putting comments out for all to see is also delicious irony. We even get a satisfying conclusion, where our mystery morphs into misunderstanding. 

An ambitious idea that paid off. “Like”.

 


 

LONGLISTED ENTRANTS

Well done if you made the ‘longlist’ for this month – there were more than 1200 entries, so your story did something to catch the judges’ attention. And if you’re not there, who knows, the ball could be in your court next month!

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

  • MISSED OPPORTUNITIES by Alan Grant, United Kingdom
  • THE FIG TREE by Sarah Lumsden, WA
  • BASED ON A TRUE STORY. by Jb, NSW
  • DETACHED by Leanne Chan, Malaysia
  • UNTITLED by Jack Cannon, VIC
  • DOUBLE ARM BURN by Nathan Taylor, QLD
  • THE KING'S COURT by J. A. Knight, QLD
  • OUT! by Dave Evan-Watkins, United Kingdom
  • A NIGHT OUT by Michele Burnlar, WA
  • RULES FOR SURVIVAL by Juliet Goulet, Canada
  • ORDER by Chris Kok, Netherlands
  • IDENTITY CRISIS by N.E. Rule, Canada
  • PACK by Amy Neufeld, Canada
  • A CLEANER WORLD by Geoff Benstead, NSW
  • THROW THE BOOK AT HER! by Dominic Harris, United Kingdom
  • HUDSON COURT by Juliette Salom, VIC
  • UNTITLED by L-J Du Heaume, WA
  • POST LIFE TRIAL by P.V. Andrews, VIC
  • A HISTORY OF SHAME IN 450 PERIODS by Katie Holloway, United Kingdom
  • WILLIAM ARTHUR TUTTNALL by Andrew Harrison, NSW
  • NUMBER 8 by Cath Krejany, VIC
  • THE RAINING KING by L. McCree, United Kingdom
  • THE ‘BURBS ARE MY GHETTO by Matthew Lamb, ACT
  • JUDGE & JURY by Julia Dawn, NSW
  • UNTITLED by Irene M A Davy, NSW
  • UNTITLED by Joanne Vanr, NSW
  • CLOSING STATEMENTS by Caitlin Forsyth, VIC
  • THE THRESHOLD by Danielle Barker, NSW
  • SHUFFLIN' THROUGH by L.E. Ohman, VIC
  • CLOSEST TO THE JACK by Simone Bowers, VIC
  • THE EXCURSION by Nicole Butcher, VIC
  • ANOTHER GAME WITH THE RACKETEER by Christopher Hart, QLD
  • FOOD COURT by Melissa Balick, United States
  • THE PRINCESS AND THE UMBRELLA by Vita Luna, Netherlands
  • GAME OF LIFE by Vicki McCracken, VIC
  • PRUDENCE by Lani Crooks, NSW
  • SERVING FOR YOUR LIFE by Andrew Kennedy, NSW
  • COODFOURT by Lydia Evans, WA
  • UNTITLED by Muskaan Brar, Canada
  • PRIME CRIME TIME by Jenny Baker, VIC
  • THE GAME OF LOVE by Rananda Rich, NSW
  • DIVORCE COURT by Charla Rallings, NSW
  • THE ORANGE KING by Rachel Borthwick, NSW
  • A MATTER OF CONSCIENCE by Malwina Strutt, NSW
  • A PIECE OF YOUR PAST by Jo McClelland-Phillips, NSW
  • THE ARTIST by Sabina Malik, Canada
  • MIRROR, MIRROR ON THE WALL by Warren Miller, WA
  • ARRAIGNMENT by Katie Battaglia Delay, France
  • JUDGEMENT by M Mews, NSW

 

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