Furious Fiction September 2022 winner and shortlist

How does one celebrate FIFTY editions of Furious Fiction? Why, just like our previous 49 – we dish out some creative criteria for the world’s collective imaginations to do their thing in 500 words or fewer. Here were the September criteria:

  • Each story’s first sentence had to contain the word FIFTY.
  • Each story had to include a four-legged animal.
  • Each story had to include the words EMERGENCY, BRUSH and BOARD. (Longer variations were accepted as long as original spelling was retained.)

We received more than a thousand stories (thank you!) and plenty of imaginative ways to include FIFTY – from ages and years to street addresses, speeds, money, countdown clocks and even a bet each way on fifty-fifty odds! Then of course, it was a veritable Noah’s Ark of animals entering the judging room two-by-two, only to be swept away by all manner of brushes while playing board games on a surfboard during a board meeting.

And don’t get us started on the emergencies – some big, some small, some fashion, some passion, some cat-up-tree, some downward-dog. Ambulances, fire engines and best friends came from all around to assist. Quite the spectacle!

But one story emerged from the emergencies to claim the top prize – and that story belonged to Tess Allen! Well done Tess – ten crisp fifty dollar notes ($500AU) are on their way to you (actually, it’s a bank transfer; we just wanted to say fifty one more time).

You can read the winning story below, along with some other shortlisted ones, plus our longlist of entries. Thanks to all who entered, and we hope to see you all for the final 2022 round in December!



UNTITLED by Tess Allen, WA

The stolen car was only doing about fifty when Derek “Dodgem” Daniels realised he was in deep trouble.

“You’re not Mummy,” the voice said matter-of-factly. He was so focused on the task at hand, it took Derek a moment to register.

Derek adjusted the rear-view mirror. He gasped as his eyes met the girl’s dozy stare. She looked about the same age as his daughter. Three maybe four.

“Are we going to the vet?” she asked, her short, blonde hair flickering in the sunlight as they zoomed along tree-lined streets.

“Um… no. Not right now,” he blinked through stinging eyes. His hairy, tattooed fingers tightly gripped the steering wheel.

Of all the cars. He should have just gone for a banger. Not one of those shiny, new SUVs. But, he had standards. It was just sitting there. Engine on. How could he not?

His mind ran through what Bates had instructed. It was simple enough. Find a burner car. Get to the warehouse on time. Get the goods. Even you can’t screw this up.

Dammit, he needed this.

“Where are we going then?” she asked.

“I needed to… borrow the car,” rubbing a watery eye with his hand. Damn hay fever. “It’s an… emergency.”

“Oh, it’s nice of Mummy to share,” she said, glancing out the window. “Mummy says it’s good to share.”

“Yeah,” he said, nodding. “It is good to share.” He tried to clear his throat, blindly fumbled with the fan controls as he brushed a bead of sweat from his forehead. Bates is going to kill me.

“We’re going fast,” she said, clapping her hands together. “I like to go fast.”

He scratched at his neck. In the distance, the familiar wail of police sirens loomed.

“Is that a mam-bu-lance?”

He had to get to the warehouse. Where the hell could he offload the girl? Derek began to feel wheezy. His chest tight.

A thumping noise from the back startled him. “It’s okay, Fluffy,” the girl said, looking sideways.

Derek adjusted the mirror, focussing on a cat cage on the backseat.

“What have you got there?” Derek asked gingerly, sniffing. He hated cats. Avoided them like the plague.

“Fluffy. He’s going to the vet.”

The exit he needed came into view. A long line of cars snaked away from the lights, blocking the lane. He braked. Maybe he could pull over here.

“I want to go home now,” the girl said, crossing her arms.

Derek’s tongue felt fat, foreign. Like a dry, rolled-up flannel.

“Thoon. I juth need to-” Derek coughed violently spraying saliva over the dashboard. He clutched at his throat.

The last thing he remembered was rear-ending the stationary red sedan.

Derek opened his puffy eyes on the wheeled stretcher. He felt cold metal encircling his wrist.

“I knew it wouldn’t be long, Daniels,” a man in police uniform said.

Derek touched the oxygen mask with his free hand but didn’t remove it.

The policeman looked down smiling. “What’s the matter? Cat got your tongue?”

What we loved:
A winning story needs a strong opening to draw you in, and this one hit the accelerator (literally) from the start – taking the reader for a ride. That opening sentence alone reveals an action, intriguing character, and invites you to read on, all in one swift move. From there, the story unfolds – revealing crucial details piece by piece in a deliciously cheeky mix of dialogue, internal discourse, and clear, vivid descriptions. In fact, it’s a great example of balancing narrative elements – as well as a confident display of tight storytelling and the power of a simple premise.
Unlike Derek’s delinquent scenario, you feel in safe hands throughout thanks to a steady hand at the wheel of the story. The conversation between driver and passenger in particular plays out beat by comedic beat, enhanced by their gestures. And even the required four-legged animal plays a starring role, delivering the clever twist that saves the day!




WAITING by Katie Ess, USA

I’d counted at least fifty different ghosts during my time working in the emergency room.

Most of them came and went, passing through as though looking for something they’d lost. But Lucy had been there every day since her death. She sat in the corner of Trauma Bay 1, curly grey hair perfectly coiffed, purse in her lap. I knew her name because…well, because.

Using my doctor’s badge to open the emergency room doors, I took a deep breath, steeling myself for the shift ahead. I waved to the elderly security guard, Max, then brushed my hand over the head of his German shepherd, Rookie. Max had taken the job after losing his wife to a drunk driver, saying he needed something to pass the time. He brought Rookie with him instead of a taser or gun because patients reacted better to animals than weapons.

“You’re not supposed to do that, doc,” Max chided, rolling his eyes. “Rookie’s working.”

“You tell me that every time,” I grinned.

“Because you never listen,” he grumbled good-naturedly as I strode to my desk.

There were twenty patient names on the oversized screen that had replaced whiteboards years ago. Twenty people, surrounded by ghosts that only I could see. Lucy stared at me from her usual spot, looking as though she wanted to tell me something I couldn’t quite hear. I nodded at her and went to work, falling into the rhythm of my job. Treat ‘em and street ‘em. Be efficient and detached. Ignore the ghosts of those you weren’t fast enough, skilled enough to save. Remember that apologizing doesn’t make them leave. Vow to be better this shift so you won’t create more.

I didn’t know all of them. But the ones I knew, like Lucy, were a punch in the gut. A reminder that mistakes here have consequences.

I heard Rookie bark and whine, and turned to see Max crumpling to the floor, hand clutching at his chest.

“Quick,” I shouted, and the nurses helped me carry him to Trauma Bay 1. We called cardiology, performed CPR, but in the end we couldn’t save him. His ghost joined Lucy’s in the room.

Max had lived alone, with no known family, so there was no one to notify. One of the security guards took Rookie home, promising to bring him back for his shifts in the future. Once all the loose ends had been tied up, I returned to Trauma Bay 1.

“I’m sorry I couldn’t save you,” I whispered. I looked at Max, then at Lucy, who had risen from her usual spot in the corner. “Either of you.” Lucy’s ghost approached me, and I closed my eyes, waiting for her condemnation.

“It’s not your fault,” Lucy said – just a whisper in my mind, but clear and certain. Startled, I opened my eyes and saw her embracing Max joyfully.

“I kept trying to tell her I was just waiting,” she said to Max.

“I know,” Max replied, smiling. “She never listens.”

What we liked:
Of course, stories don’t need to involve a car chase to make an impression. This is an example of a quietly contained short story – one setting, minimal characters, restraint in backstory, and a gentle twist. We don’t need to know why or how the doctor can see dead people. We also do not need to know where things go from here. It’s a snapshot and these work particularly well in the world of flash fiction.
Where many stories may have overindulged in the ghostly details, this one wisely chooses to keep apparitions matter-of-fact and a mere everyday occurrence here in Trauma Bay 1. In particular, the interaction between the “I-see-dead-people” doctor and security guard is fleeting yet authentic – further solidifying the story’s emotional impact in the final closing lines.



SLEEPLESS by James Kay, WA

Fifty minutes since they went upstairs to sleep.

Thirty minutes since he gave up and instead stared up at the buckled plasterboard of the ceiling.

Only thirty seconds since he was startled upright by the thud of heavy footsteps above him.

He shook his wife awake.

“Trudy,” he hissed. “Trudy, did you hear that?”

She groaned from under the covers.

“The sound of your incessant squawking? Yes, I hear it quite well, unfortunately.”

He continued to shake her.

“No,” he said. “The footsteps, do you hear the footsteps?”

She slapped his prodding hands away,

“I told you,” she hissed. “You’re only to wake me if there’s an emergency. Is the house on fire? Are you on fire? No,” she pulled the covers up over her head. “So go back to sleep.”

Trudy,” he tugged the blankets away. “How do strange footsteps not belong under the classification of an emergency? We should be calling the police. Or someone with an extensive range of weapons.”

“Chuck Norris?”


Her groan followed her upright.

“Fine,” she said, unable to brush him off any longer. “I’m up. Now what do you want to do about it?”

“Call the police,” he said promptly.

“We can’t call the police on the basis of your imagination,” Trudy argued. “Why don’t you go and check it out?”

“And die?”

She shrugged.

“If that’s what it comes too,” Trudy said.

Above them the whole ceiling shook as more heavy footsteps hurried across.

“What was that?” Trudy yelped, clutching his arm in a vice grip.

“That’s proof enough to call the police, that’s what that is,” he said, and keeping one hand on Trudy, he reached for the phone.

“Wait,” she pulled him backwards. “Wait. There’s no way we can call the police,” Trudy said, rubbing a hand across her face. “What if they get here, guns out, and it’s just a possum or something?”

“Counter point,” he took her hands and stared into her eyes. “What if it’s a murderer, and only thanks to my quick fingered dialling for the police, do we survive a double homicide?”

“You go check it out first,” Trudy said, impatient hands shoving at his back. “Not so that you’ll die,” she soothed at his stricken face. “Just enough that we don’t look like fools.”

“I’d rather look foolish than dead.”

“Fine,” she muttered, throwing back the covers. “I’ll go check it out.”

“No,” he lunged, pulling her back to the safety of the bed with one swift motion.

“Let’s just sneak outside and sleep in the car tonight,” he suggested. “Suitable for a quick get away,” he added.

Trudy watched the ceiling, all was quiet for now.

“Fine,” she agreed. “But you have to lead the way.”



Once in the car, they watched the upper windows of the house carefully. “Do you see anything?” he asked.

“Only the reflection of two fools,” she answered. “What a way to spend Christmas Eve.”

What we liked:
When you have a natural “ear” for dialogue, it pays to play to that strength. And here, the spooked couple’s banter bounces back and forth with believability. (We expect MANY couples have had similar “you go – no YOU go!” conversations about things going bump in the night.)
The idea is simple and effective. Noises at night. Debates about who should investigate. Yet this story is less detective, more defective – choosing to focus on our couple’s suburban-style panic than solving the mystery at hand. Both characters have distinctive voices and mannerisms (a must for any narrative). And we particularly enjoyed the ambiguity of the “four-legged” animals that featured.
It’s a pleasure to read a story that taps into human behaviour, while maintaining pace, intrigue, and real-time action perfectly suited to short-form fiction. And yes, there is finally a lovely hint at the very end as to who the culprit might just have been. To all, a good night!



KEEPSAKES by Robert J. Boland, NSW

Mary was fifty-eight when her youngest moved out, leaving her with an empty house and an emptier life. She wandered ghost-like, quiet as longing, haunting each room.

She’d hollowed herself out like an embalmer removing the organs, packing the cavity with her children instead – their dinners, after school homework and social engagements, with Sarah’s 3 a.m. breastfeeds, Ryan’s many trips to Emergency and Jack’s interminable cricket matches.

Mary bought a cat to fill the void, sleek and grey but aloof, prone to wandering. One day it too left and never returned, leaving her alone, again.

She returned to the crafts she’d enjoyed in youth. The house filled with paint brushes, clay and bags of yarn but it wasn’t the right kind of full, just a different kind of empty, and at night it was too quiet.

The children's visits dried up like desiccated skin. Jack was always working, Ryan travelling god knows where and Sarah with a new girl every other week.

One afternoon, as the sun died over the yard, she sat in the shade of the gumtree she'd fertilised with her late husband’s ashes, fifteen years gone. There she opened her box of keepsakes – first clothes; locks of hair; every baby tooth. It occurred to her that if she had made her children before, spun them whole from nothing, then she could do it again.

Night and day she worked, cutting and stitching fabric, wool and bark from the gumtree for the batting, buttons for eyes. From the keepsake box the hair and finally, the teeth – so hard to get right but worth it in the end.

When they were done, Mary took the doll children to their beds and tucked them in, read them a story and gave each a kiss, whispering, ‘Good night, my loves.’

That night Mary slept, content, and thought nothing of the creak of floorboards settling in the old house.

Next morning, her angels were waiting in their beds, so well-behaved, such beautiful smiles. They went everywhere with her, day after day, kitchen, lounge room and yard. Such good listeners, so patient and kind. She told them everything about the other three, the first ones, every scrape, adventure and fight. But some nights she remembered they weren’t her children, not really, and she wept.

Don’t you love us? they asked.

‘Of course,' she answered. ‘It’s just, you aren't them.’

But we have their hair, their smiles. Is that not enough?

Mary shook her head sadly. ‘A child needs more than that, my loves.'

What more? they asked.

‘Hearts and brains,' she said, ‘to love and live and even sometimes to forget.'

We understand, they said.

That night Mary slept. The floorboards creaked but she did not stir.

Later, in their own homes, Mary’s first children awoke, hair at nape on end. Had that been children giggling? The patter of tiny footsteps? Surely just a nightmare, nothing more.

First Jack, then Sarah, then Ryan saw their smiles, and there were so many teeth.

What we liked:
A change of pace with this one – delivering a creepier type of ghost story to the earlier hospital-based pick. Here, the reader is at first beckoned closer with a spoonful of empty-nest nostalgia – clever misdirection that threads its path right until the spine-tingling, hair-raising, teeth-baring end. (Also a good reminder that such items are a rather macabre thing for parents to collect and hold onto!)
From the beginning, we see an excellent portrayal of the lonely main character Mary, channelling her crafty skills into some familiar company – while subtle foreshadowing is eerily revealed upon each reread (“desiccated skin”, “wandered ghost-like … haunting each room”, “removing the organs”).
Along the way, we pick up wonderful uses of “the rule of three” throughout (go on, and count 'em) that weave in the elements to create a memorable story … just one we may not choose to revisit after dark.



CENTIDOG by Richard Gaynor, WA

Everyone used to agree that fifty legs were too many for a dog.

When a lovely couple brought home their adorable little dachshund, it only had four. But the next morning, it had two legs too many. It was cute in a silly way, like a poorly made caterpillar cake, or a children’s drawing. But when their pet awoke the day after with four extra legs, they grew uneasy.

The vet had seen nothing like it, and tried everything to discover the problem. They checked its teeth, shone a light in its eyes, and scratched its butt. Then, when they looked the other way, another leg squeezed its way out of it. It hobbled for a moment, before a leg popped out opposite, rendering it stable once more. The vet made a few emergency phone calls in a hushed tone that spelled trouble.

Neighbours soon wondered why half a dozen inconspicuous vans had parked outside the couple’s house. When one neighbour knocked on the front door, one of twenty ‘cousins’ greeted them, informing them they were having a private family event. The neighbour pondered why all their family members wore suits and shades and had earpieces, which the cousin responded with by slamming the door, making a note to deal with nosiness.

The dog had reached thirty legs. It yipped at a cousin in the kitchen, whilst its tail wagged in the living room, sending ripples through its sausage body like an angry hose. The cousins pondered what to do with this special beast, whether it needed quarantining, experimenting on, or reassurance that it was a good boy, despite its flaws. The couple ignored the cousin’s ramblings, choosing to pamper their perfect pooch with brushes and pets and smooches.

When it reached sixty legs, a conglomerate circus asked ‘how much’? The idea of their baby/test subject becoming part of a freak show mortified the couple and cousins. And as word caught on, other big businesses wanted in on the latest celebrity, desperate for them to review dog food, model the latest in collar fashion, and sign the autobiography they’d definitely written. The dog lapped up the attention, new legs sprouting with each stroke of the ego.

By ninety legs, the dog became an influencer, showing up on talk shows to preach the good word of surface-level kindness. They gave a touching speech about how it didn’t matter how many legs one had. We’re all just humans on the inside.

Then, at one hundred legs, it died suddenly in an unfortunate elevator accident after a drunken night of wine and charcuterie boards. The couple, the cousins, and the world mourned the greatest dog known to humanity, who had touched every soul with its waggy tail, boopy nose, and wiggly body. At its funeral, everyone agreed on one thing.

The next dog had a lot of shoes to fill.

What we liked:
A palate cleanser to end (we simply couldn’t end on scary dolls!). And here, the pace is reminiscent of something Dr Seuss might have dreamt up.
While judging is done fast and furiously, an intriguing title and first line are always a surefire one-two punch at catching our eye. And with an opening line like that, we know we’re already dealing with a story not afraid to lean enthusiastically and unapologetically into the absurd – and is all the better for it.
Not only does this leg-sprouting dachshund provide a whimsical structure, each paragraph takes an unexpected direction (no easy feet feat) to heighten the enjoyment factor. Similar to a children’s book, the mixture of alliteration and quirky imagery provides a great tale that benefits from out-loud reading.
Most of all, this not-so-shaggy dog story provides a wonderful reminder to end on – that you are only limited by your imagination. If we ask for a four-legged animal, that can simply be a starting point for something far more unusual to expand on!



If you made this month’s longlist, congratulations. It’s a sign that your storytelling effort made an impact on our judges – nice work! And even if your name isn’t here, you already achieved something amazing by creating a story from scratch. This whole competition is a celebration of creativity, so we’d love to see your work again.

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

  • THE HUNTER by Shannon Farrelly, WA
  • WAKING by Nicole Butcher, VIC
  • COOPER by Michael Centeno, VIC
  • YOU TURNED FIFTY by Scott Hoffman, QLD
  • MOMENTS by Nicole Frazer, VIC
  • UNTITLED by Judi Broad, VIC
  • A LESSON ON INCLUSIVITY by Matthew Dewar, WA
  • BEGA by Nikolas Karageorge, VIC
  • RED by Angela Farquhar, VIC
  • UNTITLED by Alysia Norris, NSW
  • WOOL GATHERING by Kelly Lyonns, QLD
  • WORTH A SHOT by Mark Fitzpatrick, VIC
  • HAIR RAISING by Tina Baker, NSW
  • THE DARKNESS by Sarah Haggett, United Kingdom
  • THE RAILWAY BRIDGE by Ana Mairata, WA
  • HIDE AND SEEK by Zacharey Jane, NSW
  • QUEEN BEE by Saffy Ossa, SA
  • CHEATED by Danielle Barker, NSW
  • HOPE FOR MAGIC by Ariel Stephenson, SA
  • CHARLI by J.S. Stinson, NSW
  • HERDING CATS by Anthea Jones, QLD
  • BUSH by Stephen Mccarthy, NSW
  • VOID by Claire Stewart, WA
  • HEADS OR TAILS? by Baska Bartsch, NSW
  • UNTITLED by Liz Irvin, VIC
  • WHAT ARE THE CHANCES? by Jude Anison, NSW
  • ONLY A NUMBER by Matt Goddard, United Kingdom
  • UNTITLED by Greg Roughan, New Zealand
  • LUNAR TIDE by Johani Maree-Moens, Andorra
  • FORTY-EIGHT, FORTY-NINE, FIFTY. by Jibriil Ibrahim, VIC
  • UP ABOVE by G. Keane, Germany
  • FIFTY TO FIVE by Lilith Corvade, VIC
  • LEGLESS by Kate Anderson, VIC
  • FAIRY TALES HAPPEN IN CASTLES by Sarveen Murugan, Malaysia
  • CHARCUTERIE FOR TWO by Kimberley Shiel, Canada



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