A picture told 500 words this month as we welcomed back the infamous picture prompt to our Furious Fiction criteria club. The picture above was the image in question and the complete challenge for September went something like this:
- Each story had to be INSPIRED by the picture above.
- Each story’s first word had to begin with the letters SHO.
- Each story had to include the following words: SCORE, SLICE, SPRINKLE, STAMP and SWITCH (s/ed variations were allowed)
We loved the places you went this month (literally, in your boats) – from sedate ferry rides to luxury liners, whale watching tours, heist escapes and fishing vessels. The flotsam of such furious fiction was found floating in far flung waters including the Adriatic, mid-Atlantic, South Pacific and Sydney Harbour.
Of course, the image itself came with a “stern” reminder – that it could also be used purely as INSPIRATION, and to this end, many creative entrants didn’t even set foot on a boat at all during their stories. In fact, a few are featured in our collection below, and one of them belonged to this month’s winner – Sandrina Dorigo of Victoria, Australia.
Congrats to Sandrina for hauling in the $500 bounty from your fiction fishing efforts. You can read her story below plus a seaworthy selection of other shortlisted stories plus a longer list of highly commended stories. And of course, to all who sailed aboard the SS Storyteller this September, kudos for entering and we hope to see you back on the jetty in October for our next “voyage”!
SEPTEMBER 2020 WINNER
THE FISHERMAN’S WIFE by Sandrina Dorigo, Vic
Should this be the day that he returns, she is ready with the brightest red lipstick. The table has been set. She makes their evening meal. A week has passed since he was due, with no word. Yesterday, she saw the rails of the harbour wall washed out to sea. That evening she watched the windows bow and bend. The walls ticked, sighed and groaned as they bore each icy blast sent from the sea.
Dreaming, she carelessly misses the pot and salt hisses in the flame. An omen? She collects a sprinkle from the stovetop and flicks the little grains over her left shoulder to ward off what might travel in on this ill wind. Or for her sins, perhaps? She licks the salt from her fingers. Eyes closed, she leans into their kitchen table and feels herself burn. She can taste his tongue and the sea on his lips. She pictures her husband, thinking of her waiting by the window. How will she learn to be a good fisherman’s woman, when he is gone months at a time?
Sometimes, she would study the other wives. There was Mabyn, whose grace never grew thin in all her many years, waiting, praying. She carried her loneliness like a cross and taught her that all the women had a duty. In her loneliness, Mabyn found purpose and resolve.
She slices and chops the vegetables for the pot. She works with force, with her shoulders, her entire body. The blade scores the cutting block, and the blunt edge of the blade presses into the flesh of her palm. She remembers the way they were, her back pressed against the boards, his hands cracked from the cold and the rope, running the length of her body. She waits. How will she learn?
It is dark now. Heavy boots stamp out the black earth from the path that leads to her door. She knows the gait that carries those boots. Upon hearing knocking at her door, she is calmer than she imagines she ought to be. Each rap is timid, a question suspended in air. When she opens the door, he brings the sting of winter with him as he enters. There is no need for talk, and he knows the way to her bed. When she takes her lover’s face and brings his mouth to hers, she dare not switch off the light. For there, in the darkness, she cannot bear to picture her husband thinking of her waiting by the window.
What we loved:
Haunting and tightly packed with detail, this is a simple tale of a nameless woman fishing for her life’s purpose. The stripped back yet purposeful language paints a clear picture of the setting, the harsh weather and the grim domesticity – an authentic oscillation of thoughts and guilt, loneliness and love. The criteria is seamlessly woven like a net into the story, keeping the reader well immersed in each verse. In a sea of ship-based stories, this poignant vignette of a character left behind was refreshing and real. (With 80 words still left in the tank, it is also an excellent study in restraint.)
OUT ON THE WATER by Kate Reynolds, NSW
“Should you feel anxious at any time, please just let one of the staff members know. Yes, that’s myself or Maureen over there.”
Harold had been running these tours for close to fifteen years now. The safety briefing rolled off his tongue like a well-rehearsed monologue. Maureen gave a cheery nod to the nonchalant group. How was she always in such a good mood? She’d always been good with customers. It had been her idea to start the tour company.
“These are gentle creatures that we’ll see today, usually, so as long as we respect them and give them space, hopefully they will come right up to us.”
He looked around at today’s group. Two families, with youngsters looking bored. A younger couple, talking about how much warmer the weather is up north. An older voice was discussing the benefits of switching to a more protein rich diet. Harold returned to his memorised script.
“We must remember to remain at least 100 metres away from them, but they’re quite curious creatures, so they do often get very close.”
A murmur of excitement. This is what they were paying their money for. A close encounter.
“Now, some fun facts about these animals. Their meat can be prepared in many different ways. You can simply slice it and enjoy it raw, which is very popular in parts of the world. Or you can score their skin, in a criss-cross way, sprinkle with some salt, that’s a real delicacy.”
Harold had personally never tried it, but he had a distant cousin who had. Said it was more of a ‘every now and again’ dish, rather than a ‘have it each night for dinner.’
Not really Harold’s thing.
He looked around. The ocean looked empty. Their brochure ‘guarantees a sighting or your money back!’, but they’d already refunded four trips this week. They really couldn’t afford another no-show. He scanned the water for movement. After forty-five minutes and restless passengers, he was almost ready to give up, until he heard an unmistakable sound.
Harold cleared his throat.
“Ah, now, ladies and gentlemen, here we go! A sighting! If you’ll just look behind you, the humans are approaching us now.”
The gentle put-put sound of the boat rippled through the water. Harold gestured the group towards the incoming white hull, stamped with black letters.
H U G H ‘ S T O U R S.
“If you jump out of the water and breach right now, you’ll be able to spot them on their vessel. And on behalf of Harold and Maureen’s tours, we thank you for choosing us for your human encounter experience. Okay everybody, on the count of three… One… Two…”
What we liked:
Harold and Maureen seem like a nice couple, just making a few bob out on the water – and so begins this whale of a tale that if anything, underwhelms at first with its humdrum tour housekeeping and typical scenario. But once the cold water hits you and you realise that the author has decided to think outside the boat, it just keeps getting better and better. A truly original way to approach the brief and not afraid to have some fun with it. Definitely one that is enjoyed more on the repeat read – we loved the line about Harold’s distant cousin and just the silliness of brochures out there in the deep blue sea for human-watching cruises. A picture perfect ending to anchor this creative tale/tail.
STUCK IN TRAFFIC by Simon Shergold, UK
Shopping, you reflect, will be the death of your marriage. And, as you enter Ikea’s one way system for the fifth time that morning, it may well end up being the actual death of your husband in the next hour, unless he makes a decision about the bloody storage unit.
Re-joining the shuffling masses, herded by black arrows towards the hell of the checkouts you never make, you think back to Saturday mornings before you bought the apartment together. The joy of waking up in your own time, a slice (or two) of toast and coffee before driving over to pick him up. Long hikes in the country. Pub lunches where you only looked at the left hand side of the menu and ignored the implications of the right.
A thwack in the back of your thigh breaks the reverie, a stampede of kids swerving through the kitchen unit display to find a child’s bedroom to publicly vandalise whilst their parent’s muse over a light switch. Up ahead, you see him gamely ploughing on and you mentally keep score of the number of times he patiently rounds arguing families that stand oblivious in the aisles, rather than doing everyone a favour and knocking them over like ten pins. His kindness is what first drew you to him but this morning it is only prolonging your despair, fuelling your hatred of everything yellow and blue and plywood and plastic.
Bookcases. Rugs, Beds and bedding. You’d like to say all are a blur but you get to look at them in excruciating detail as your mind wanders to exactly what damage you might be able to do with a 100 pack of tealights. On Sunday mornings, you used to lazily make love, then breakfast well into lunchtime. Now, you try to let go of the grudges that Saturday accumulated. Unsuccessfully.
Oh God, the picture framing hall. Black plastic squares and rectangles, sucking the life out of all present like geometrically correct black holes. No sprinkle of stardust here, just the leaking of souls towards 100ft by 100ft New York City nightscapes designed for one-bedroom flats. Just before the purgatory of flatpack collection, you see it. Squeezed between Warhol photocopies and a sepia scan of Monet’s water lilies. Another stock photo. And in that moment, you know you must act. Your life, your best life, is receding into the distance and that orange hoop your only chance to escape and make it back. Soon it will be too late for you both, stamped down by routine and resentment into a never-ending following of arrows going nowhere. You elbow an old couple aside, hurdle a whining toddler quite rightly refusing to take another step, grasp his hand and lead him, against the arrows, towards the well-hidden sign that says ‘Exit’.
What we liked:
Another story that didn’t see any reason to take us out on the waves this month. After all, why sail the ocean blue, when you can ride the lazy river blue & yellow in home decor hell? We enjoyed this ‘outside the flatpack box’ approach to the picture prompt (with a gentle dig at its stock-shottiness, thanks!) along with the less romantic, but all too relatable walk down the aisles – complete with stampeding children and parents pondering light switches. A great example of a premise that’s easy to unlock (no allen key required) with just enough backstory without weighing down the narrative, and stakes just high enough to maintain the pace without needing to resort to death and destruction. Also, not a Swedish meatball in sight…
UNCHARTED TERRITORY by Carlie Slattery, NSW
‘Shocking view, Merv,’ Alice said, giving him a nudge. ‘Couldn’t you have found something a little more breathtaking?’
Beyond the ship’s rails, the blue water sparkled as though in on the joke. ‘Only the best for my girl.’
Merv wasn’t entirely happy with the situation. This type of accommodation made him feel claustrophobic and nauseous but Alice desperately needed it. She’d had a hard year. It was worth it to see her at ease.
He linked her elbow with his and together they watched the whitewater froth in their wake, propelling them to places they’d never been.
He breathed in deeply, trying to steady his nerves, the breeze on his face like a balm on a burn.
‘Do you remember the time we went night swimming in Cairns?’ Alice gazed up at him, her recollection a welcome interruption to the tidal wave of anxiety building in his mind. ‘It was so hot but you were such a stickler for the rules you wouldn’t let me in the hotel pool after dark.’ She giggled then, the only part of her untainted by time. His favourite sound. ‘So I stamped my feet and threatened to run through the hotel buck naked if you didn’t let me.’
Merv tipped his head back in laughter. ‘Oh yes, I remember that. You got your swim, all right. Then I evened the score by running buck naked back to our room!’
They stood smiling, pulling their memories tight around their shoulders like a well-worn blanket. It started to sprinkle; light spatters that blew in sideways with the breeze, carrying a chill that sliced through the skin.
‘Close the window, will you, love? I’m a bit cold.’
Merv slid the glass shut. ‘How about a rest, Ally Cat?’
She nodded and shuffled to the bed in the corner of the room. Laying down with a groan, Alice curled up on her side and closed her eyes. She was so impossibly frail. He wished with his entire being he could switch places with her. She was the strong one. She would cope so much better than he was.
A nurse appeared in the doorway. ‘Visiting hours are over, I’m afraid. I’ll take it from here.’
Merv’s throat tightened. The tidal wave surged. He reached out and straightened the frame of the picture he’d hung especially for her, the blue horizon beyond the ship returning to a straight angle. That’s better. He hoped she’d dream about that ship tonight, sailing into the sunset on the cruise they never got to take.
He walked to her and stroked her hair, bent down to kiss her face. Into her ear he whispered, ‘goodnight, my love. I’ll see you tomorrow’.
Outside, once he reached his car, the wave crashed ashore.
What we liked:
The picture prompt took entrants to many places this month, and sometimes it was the actual transportation that drove the story, such as was the case with this nostalgic nautical narrative. Waves of emotion swell around this piece and poignant lines like ‘pulling their memories tight around their shoulders like a well-worn blanket’ evoke this couple’s relationship and circumstances effectively. The misdirection of the boat scene is nicely handled and the eventual twist is soft enough so as to not overshadow the simple sentimentality of the story.
UNTITLED by James Inglis, Vic
Shower, shit and a shave and Ronnie was as ready as he would ever be. In the hotel bar, Fitzy had a slice of pie as big as his head and was nursing a pint. They made an odd pair. Ronnie was in his best Hawaiian shirt, new jeans and sensible loafers while Fitzy looked like a washed up country and western singer. On the table was a brochure about the Ebola Princess, the ship they were about to board.
“Listen to this,” Fitzy said. “It’s got a skydiving simulator, a zipline, a rock-climbing wall, water slides. 4D cinemas, 21 bars and a pitch and putt golf course.”
He stubbed his finger on the brochure. “This is going to be amazing.”
Ronnie was less enthused. “Still a floating prison full of old people and yobs.”
“Why’d you buy the tickets then?”
Ronnie’s determined-to-have-a-good-time-and-approach-the-cruise-with-an-open-mind-face clouded.
“Oh, that’s right,” said Fitzy, “Sheena. How could I forget?”
A cruise through the Caribbean was on Sheena’s bucket-list, and Ronnie being madly in love with her bought the tickets for what was going to be their honeymoon, but then Sheena stamped all over his heart by running off with a man half her age. As part of the separation Ronnie kept the cruise tickets, giving one to Fitzy, a man of dubious morals and a talent for drinking.
In the cab on the way to the dock, Fitzy turned to Ronnie and asked, “Are we keeping score?”
“What? At the pitch and putt?”
“No. Birds. We’ll be knee deep in them. Good looking roosters like us. Fighting them off with sticks.”
Ronnie looked out the window and tuned out. He was wondering whether the cat sitting at the bus stop knew where it wanted to go. While they were waiting for the turning arrow, a bus pulled over and drove off. The cat wrapped itself around the legs of an old man and the two walked off together. Ronnie smiled. He liked cats. Sheena got the cat.
“We could always do the old switcheroo,” added Fitzy, shifting his weight so he could fart.
Ronnie shook his head and wound the window down.
A gruff woman with an Eastern European accent checked them in and looked at them enquiringly.
“She was checking you out, Ronnie,” said Fitzy as they walked away, “You’ve still got it. Ok, your hair is sprinkled with grey and you’ve got a bung knee, but you’ve still got all your teeth. That’s what women want.”
A bellboy guided them to their cabin. “Welcome aboard. This is your outside cabin, with balcony and ocean views.”
“Ocean views? That’s a fucking relief given we are on a cruise,” said Fitzy as they walked inside and saw the queen sized bed they would be sharing for the next 15 nights covered in rose petals with a champagne cooler and two glasses on the side table.
There was a moment of silence before Fitzy said, “The birds will love this!”
Ronnie wanted to cry.
What we liked:
We cannot deny the eye-catching opening, yet it’s entirely appropriate in setting just the right tone of voice for this story. In fact, it’s the consistent and distinctive tone throughout that makes this a fun read and allows its characters to pop from the page. Ronnie’s subdued mannerisms and introspection are juxtaposed against Fitzy’s brilliantly observed crass demeanour and one-liners to great effect. The result is an original take on two cruise ship honeymooners and we are left wanting to read more adventures of this odd couple.
RING by Dominic Harris, UK
“Should anyone fall in the water, we throw you overboard,” said the Captain.
There was a slight pause. “I’m sorry?” came the response. The Captain repeated what he just said. Again, a pause.
“Right, I wasn’t told about this. I thought I was purely decorative. No one mentioned when I was installed that there was a possibility of me ending up in the sea.”
“Well I’m afraid that is your remit aboard this vessel,” the Captain sighed.
“Oh right! I see! I let it go that I was going to be strapped to these railings, dangling precariously over the port stern, but I believed I was merely aiding the nautical motif! Adding a sprinkle of seafaring charm to the ambiance! Now I learn I’m a functioning safety device that may be employed at any moment to be cast into the icy depths!”
The captain took a deep breath. “Look, there are scores of souls onboard! We need to have all crew members ready to do their duty to insure the comfort and safety of our passengers.”
“Well, do you have any positions in the galley? I could be part of an attractive wall display or perhaps a novel serving dish for slices of prawn quiche?”
The captain stamped his foot. “Absolutely not! You are the port stern life ring and that is your position aboard this vessel!”
“Look, I’m not unwilling to do my duty,” said the life ring. “But, I think this task just needs someone a little less sensitive than me. I see myself more as a background atmospheric piece; a prop in passengers’ photo opportunities.”
“That may well be, but you are also a life ring and here to aid in the unlikely event of a man overboard!” the Captain said, losing patience.
“What about the wheel?” said the life ring.
“What?” snapped the Captain.
“The wheel, up on the bridge. The steering wheel thingy. Me and him could switch! We’re both round.”
“No,” said the Captain, resolutely.
“Help me out here Captain!” begged the ring. “I’ll do anything!”
The Captain crouched down at the railings and whispered at the life ring. “Ok ring, I’ll do you a deal. I’ll get you off this railing if you give me an idea that will get me off this godforsaken ocean liner and into the confection industry!”
The life ring gave this some thought.
“Ok, Captain Polo,” murmured the life ring. “I’ve got the perfect idea for you.”
What we liked:
Rounding out this month’s selection (rounding out – geddit?), this light-hearted take is driven by dry dialogue and buoyant banter throughout. We thoroughly enjoyed the personality of the pompously perplexed life ring and the fun way the story showcased this crew member’s refusal to meet its job description while gently poking fun at the ‘token’ nature of its own existence. Appropriately, things come full circle with a touch of serendipity creating a truly sweet ending and the Lifesavers origin story we never knew we needed.
Congrats also to the following longlisted stories this month who each shouted “land ahoy” and emerged from the fog as the judges shone a light on them. Okay, this metaphor is getting troublesome now – check out the list before we run aground…
THIS MONTH’S LONGLISTED (in no particular order):
- BLIND DATE by Amy Torino, SA
- PIRACY ON THE HIGH SEAS by Tommy Berne, NSW
- UNTITLED by Tiffany Vitti, United Kingdom
- TITANIC: THE MUSICAL by Loueze Harper, VIC
- UNTITLED by Aidi Owala, Kenya
- WHAT LOOKS BACK by Aj Hartson, United States
- SHO by Natalie Potts, SA
- UNTITLED by Charlotte Winter, SA
- UNTITLED by Lydia C. Lee, NSW
- SEAPHOBIA by Jeff Taylor, New Zealand
- FIRING DETAIL by Jerrome Yong, VIC
- THE HEIST by Molly Holding, SA
- NOT SURE by The Genie., NSW
- OCEAN TEMPEST by Robyn Grayson, VIC
- JERKY by Jayron Gray, QLD
- HIJINX ON THE HIGH SEA by Sally Eberhardt, QLD
- CHAOS IN THE CARGO by Saffy Ossa, SA
- SHORTBREAD by Kate Gordon, TAS
- DEATH ON A FERRY by Tim Loos, QLD
- A SIREN’S FINAL EXAM by Stephanie Lester, New Zealand
- UNTITLED by Amelia Novakovic, NSW
- THE VOICE by Michanette, South Africa
- SLICE OF PARADISE by Tessa Mudge, ACT
- WISH YOU WERE HERE by Carly Mitchell, VIC
- THE PENMAN’S LIFEBUOY by Rob Tuckerman, ACT
- MOVIE NIGHT by Lauren Loos, QLD
- MURMURATION & MIGRATION by Jack Cottrill, United States
- BARELY AFLOAT by Kate, NSW
- A LETTER TO ME by Morm Nacdonald, VIC
- FOR NEVERMORE by Nathan J. Phillips, ACT
- A BIRD IN THE HAND by Amanda Robinson, VIC
- A FAMILIAR VOYAGE by Gabriel Robinson, NSW
- THAT DRESS by Louise Pieper, ACT
- SHOW ME THE WORLD by John Maygrove, NSW
- STORIES FOR BREAKFAST by Nirvana Dawson, QLD
- CHECKING OUT by Jared Hansen, NSW
- BIG BERTHA by Sinead Waterson, VIC
- BACKSTORY by Hannah Whiteoak, United Kingdom
- ELEMENTARY by Tom Middlebrook, VIC