Furious Fiction: September 2023 Story Showcase

Welcome to the September Furious Fiction story showcase – our monthly spotlight on our community’s creativity and the opportunity to have YOUR OWN story featured or acknowledged. Here were this month’s criteria:

  • Your story must start and end with the same sentence.
  • Your story must feature something being inflated.
  • Your story must include the words FLAG, FLAME, FLASH and FLATTER.
    (Longer words are okay if original spelling is retained.)

We saw plenty of balloons (party and hot air) being inflated, along with tyres, bouncy castles, egos and an assortment of camp mattresses. We also enjoyed seeing how the flexible words were used in their various meanings. Did people fly a flag, flag something down or perhaps flag with exhaustion? Was the flame the fiery kind or a lover? Did the flash blind with light or nakedness? And finally, did flattery get us everywhere or was it that camp mattress getting flatter during the night? So many combinations!


This month, we wanted stories to start and end with the same sentence. This is all about repetition – a super effective narrative technique in flash fiction. It might seem counterintuitive when you have a limited wordcount to work with, but intentionally repeating a sentence can add weight and meaning, or even a new perspective.

  • Ending on the same thing as what you started can provide a clever bookend or callback to give your finish more weight.
  • Often the same sentence can start off meaning one thing, but by the time it is repeated, it means something different.
  • Short impactful sentences can work very well for repetition – adding a strong open and finish.
  • Check out the showcased stories below, which all use the repeated lines in a variety of powerful ways.

Congrats to all those featured this month and we hope to see you lining up for the next Furious Fiction challenge on Friday 6 October!


FOUR WORDS by Kylie Kajewski, QLD

Four words I never thought I’d say.

Where the flame once was has now been replaced with a dull glow. I want to believe that glow is the light at the end of the tunnel, except I would only be holding out in hope that things were going to change.

Change. Believing in change would only get my hopes up, inflating my ego, making me think I wasn’t about to take this journey. Mustering up the courage that it takes to go down this rocky road and waving the white flag to surrender is a thought so terrifying.

Terrifying is saying those words I’ve thought about out loud. They’ve flashed through my mind briefly during heated moments but they’re words that when uttered, you cannot take back. What is it worth?

Worth. What is my worth? Do I accept that this is my life, or do I want more out of it? Who am I anyway? Someone's mother, sister, aunty, daughter, wife. But who am I, and what am I worth to me? There’s got to be more to life than being something to someone. Maybe I just need faith.

Faith. Do I have enough faith in myself that I will be okay? Do I have faith in the powers that be to guide me to choose the right path? Do I take the flatter path and keep walking the road I am on now? Where will it lead me, and is it the right thing to do? I am at a crossroad and I am lost.

Lost. I am lost in my thoughts, lost in my direction, lost in my life. I want to be free, free from obligation, free from pain, free from choices. It’s my life, it’s my choice. Choose to be happy but know there will be a long road to get there, or choose to stay on this path and believe things will get better. Have faith, or have self worth?

“I want a divorce”.

Four words I never thought I’d say.

Who doesn’t love a good mystery? And with this story, we are teased from the first line about what these four words (aptly titled) would be. What follows are a series of paragraphs that link the final word with the first word in a daisy chain of exposition – slowly revealing our narrator’s motivation and internal justification before all is revealed. The repetition hammers it home.

THE GREEN MAN by Melody York, USA

She will always wake up to see him in the morning.

They set him up 10 minutes before opening. She arrives at 7:50. She watches the show, connecting his green lifeless body to his fan, and in a minute, he is inflated and moving like a flag waving through the strong winds that the nearby beaches blow in. He bends in all directions, no warning given to those who come here to be swindled by a posse of smaller men, acting like a pack of wolves waiting for their prey. These men laugh and point at the green man, making fun of his awkwardness.

She is sitting on a bench that is close to the green man, entranced by his dance. A wolf sees her, and she can see his brain wrapping around what tactic will be best for his prey.

“Hey! Are you looking for a new car today? You know, we have a beauty right over here. It will match your pretty green eyes.”

Flattery. Typical. She ignores him. The wolf persists.

“Hey, are you looking for something? Or do you already know what you are looking for?”

Annoyed, she stays looking at the green man dancing, but answers.

“Yes, but let me think it over, it is a big decision, you know?”

“Understood m’am, you can holler at one of us when you are ready.” He finds his way back to the pack, huddled together and oblivious to what is around them.

She waits until the wolves have forgotten about her, then it is her turn to strike. They have something she wants, and while they are distracted, she walks. She starts slowly towards the fan that is plugged up and knows once it is unplugged, she only has a minute until someone notices the green man’s dance is done.

She unplugs the fan, like blowing out a candle’s flame, and the green man starts to fall. It is time to act fast; she wraps up the cord, picks up the fan, and starts to run. With the fan and cord in one hand, she tries to subdue the deflated green man with the other.

Her passenger seat window is rolled down ready for the green man to occupy the seat. She looks back to see the wolves too far behind to make any difference. She throws the green man and the fan into the passenger seat and in a flash, she is in the car, driving away from the wolves.

While driving the hour back to her house, she gathers up the deflated green man and rolls the window up. Once home, she introduces the green man to a beautiful pink woman and tall blue man, all dancing the same dance the green man was earlier.

She places the green man next to the pink woman, plugs his fan up, and watch as all three of them dance in her yard.

She will always wake up to see him in the morning.

There is something satisfying about this heist – the way our protagonist covets not the shiny automobiles being peddled by the ‘wolves’ of used-car street, but instead the folly that promotes them to passersby. Describing the ‘green man’ and his ‘dance’ is delightfully observed and the whole thing is delightfully absurd.

UNTITLED by Carol Phillips, NSW

I lied.
But truth is not always powerful, and somewhere deep within me a primeval instinct prevailed.
Yes, I chose acceptance, stopping just short of raising a white flag.
Yes, I inflated the truth, flattering the would-be antagonist rather than fan the flames of hatred that threatened to burn; a flash fire that when activated could have destroyed my inner world.
Whatever my reasoning, whatever my excuses, looking back is never an easy task, honesty is often blurred by time. But in the end, only one truth prevails.
I lied.

In just 90 words, this miniature story reads as half confession, half manifesto – and proof that you can still pack a punch with a truly tiny word count. Generic in details, this is also its strength – as many will relate to the emotions being expressed here.

THE WAVE by Michael Yates, WA

With a sense of ambivalence, I watched the wave in admiration and fear.

An unrelenting body of water crashed into the sand over and over again. The wave cleanses the beach but also smashes the shore with strength. Pounding from all directions, with water mixing, causing a white foam cover. If you listen you can hear each tiny bubble popping like small cries for help. Most people don’t notice, but when you have been one of those bubbles, you become in tune with the noise. Empathy for what they are going through.

I remember being a kid, inflating a blow-up ring to help me float. Without it, I’d sink to the bottom, unable to swim, wondering whether I’d survive. Once older, you no longer have floatation devices to keep you safe. The memories of how they kept you safe when you were young are all you have to feel secure as an adult. That reassuring feeling that everything will be alright. But what if you can’t remember ever feeling safe when you were young? Can you ever feel safe as an adult?

Boys generally don’t care for flattery. We don’t worry about what you think of our hair. We don’t tuck in our shirts. We are not fussed if you think we are a good boy. We search for the next silly thing to do. Even when we know that another wave will come crashing down on top of us.

We are always told to swim within the flags and that a lifeguard will protect us.

Instead of remembering moments of joy when picturing the house I grew up in, I can only see the house in flames. The support services got there too late, with no knowledge of how the fire started, with no follow-up on whether it was lit intentionally and the chances of it going up in flames again. They just kept coming and either asked the wrong questions, or no questions at all.

Visiting my father in the old aged home only a half hour ago brings on a flash recall of growing up in a household where I was frightened of him. The man I was supposed to admire. The man who was meant to make me feel safe. His unrelenting anger kept me in constant fear, uncertain of when I would receive my next beating and whether I’d keep my head above water.

I am still visualising the old man, in his eighties, oblivious to the damage he has caused, waving goodbye as I drove away from the care home. I decided to go to the beach. I have no bathers, but I’m considering jumping into the water, and letting the current take me to the bottom of the ocean. Maybe then I won’t feel afraid. Still picturing my frail father waving farewell in the rear view mirror.

With a sense of ambivalence, I watched the wave in admiration and fear.

Sometimes, a repeated line can take on a completely different meaning to the original. That’s the case here, cleverly exploiting the double meaning of WAVE to take us from recollections of a bulletproof boyhood by the sea through to a more sober recollection of an unsafe upbringing, a mix of drowning and burning. When we arrive at the final line, we are back at the beach, but the wave hits differently with its new meaning. Powerful language wielding!

UNTITLED by Caitlin Francis, ACT

“Don’t flatter yourself.”
Georgie glared at Nick as she struggled to unfold the inflatable mattress. “What’s that supposed to mean?” she snapped.
“I just mean that not every guy who speaks to you is desperately in love with you. Statistically speaking of course. Because clearly most men are, because you’re hilarious and beautiful and interesting.” He poked his tongue out as Georgie playfully hit him in the arm. Nick had been her best friend since High School and she could always count on him to talk her up and bring back down to reality.
“Thanks, Nick. I’m not so naive that I think every man is in love with me, despite being incredibly hilarious, beautiful and interesting.”
“Hey, I never said ‘incredibly’.”
She hit him again. “Seriously though, I was definitely getting vibes off him the other night.” Nick didn’t immediately respond, instead fiddling with the ancient air pump. “He’s dating our friend, Georgie. Do you really think he was hitting on you? Did you want him to be hitting on you? I get it, you and him are old flames, but that was years ago.”

Georgie didn’t say anything, instead focussing her attention on the now unfolded mattress. “Pump please.” She said, holding her hand out to Nick. He passed the pump, searching her face carefully for any signs of how she was feeling. Georgie was one of the most confident people he knew, yet when it came to men she was a mess. She was a ‘red flag magnet’ they liked to joke, except the closer they got to 30 the less funny it was.
As Georgie pumped air into the air mattress she thought about what Nick had said. She knew he was right, she couldn’t just assume that because her and Tom had a thing five years ago that he was still into her. They’d had a brief, but passionate relationship which ended, not in any big flash of sparks or a heated argument, but in a Woolies carpark on a Sunday afternoon when Tom told her he was moving back to Tasmania. She had been devastated. Like stay in bed all day listening to The Cure on repeat kind of devastated. Then last week at Friday drinks, Millie announced her new boyfriend would be joining them and who should walk in but Tom bloody Jacobs.

“Look, maybe you’re right,” she said carefully. “It’s been ages and we haven’t spoken in five years. He never reached out to me and I never reached out to him. But, I did feel something between us and before you say anything, I get how bad this is and I’m not about to go and ruin his and Millie’s relationship or anything, but just, I don’t know.” She shrugged at Nick and he reached out and took her hand. “If you say you felt something then I believe you. I get it, the guy’s a babe. Hell, maybe I felt something.”
She smirked.
“Don’t flatter yourself.”

Filled with authentic dialogue and interplay between the two characters, this slice of sleepover life caught our eye for the relatable ‘romance radar’ vibes that we often get and discuss with friends. Using the mandatory words with ease, this piece revels in the ordinary – including the brief relationship ending ‘not in any big flash of sparks or heated argument, but in a Woolies carpark on a Sunday afternoon’… These realistic touches endear us to this very believable exchange – “hashtag friendship goals”.

UNTITLED by Angela Schumann, VIC

Flatter her all you want: you’ll never get the real Margot Tremain.

I’ve been at her elbow for eight months now, shadow to the icon. I play hat holder, secretary, confidante. Her granddaddy’s pockets inflated after the Great War, and with it her family’s fame. She was raised to be one of New York’s fashion icons, and even starred in a couple of films (with middling talent, granted, but a pretty face pardons most sins, and a full purse the rest).

Last year she had a whirlwind marriage—as all celebrities must—to the dashing billionaire, Evan Klein. The flame didn’t last as long as the caviar, or so people are fond of saying.

I’ve followed her through countless corridors of flashing cameras, and seen our miniature heads, movie-star blonde and bottle-brunette, captured in infinite regress in the facets of a chandelier. Our driver, in his mirror, once said we looked alike. My nose did look like hers before it was broken. “Same dress size – that’s all men notice”, she purred.

About a week ago we pulled up beneath the Plaza’s dancing flags. We’d met Marylin Monroe here, once. And Norma Jean. I infinitely preferred the latter.

We waded through hordes of adoring men thrusting pencils and proffering photographs. “Miss Tremain! Miss Tremain! Miss Tremain!”. Something about them reminded me of the men I’d once seen outside a bank when I was a very little girl.

Those inside were more canny: less like seagulls, more like sharks. They circled at a distance, sending flowers and champagne. But they had met their match. Beneath her lashes and in the corners of her ruby mouth she made all kinds of promises. She mesmerised them with her golden jewels and silver laugh. One by one they fell at her feet, and one by one she sent them away hungry.

At half past eleven I was given a note addressed to Margot Tremain. We both recognized the stationery. She tried to snatch it away, but I had seen: “I will hunt you down. Evan Klein”. The room turned to ice. Hand in trembling hand we marched to the door. I watched in awe as she strutted through the room with even breaths of cold command, her blazing eyes saying, “I was born to greatness, and I dare all”. Truly, she is the finest actress in New York.

Safe in our rooms, I fingered the great, hard diamond I had so briefly worn. I flinched and felt the tug of scars I had yet to grow accustomed to.

“We need to dye your roots again,” she said gently. “Do you think they–”

“No, no,” I waved a hand reassuringly. “People only see what they expect.”

At that moment there was a knock on the door: a gentleman had come to check on Miss Tremain. He pushed right past me, assaulting her with elegant praise.

For the first time in weeks, I smiled.

Flatter her all you want: you’ll never get the real Margot Tremain.

This story deftly transports us back to the golden age of cinema – turning phrases with sharp precision as we are introduced to a movie-star and her narrating ‘hat holder, secretary, confidante’. But all is not as it may seem – as if distorted in those myriad chandelier facets. Our famous actress is indeed an impressive actress and the gravity of the repeated line slams hard once the true Queen-Padme-style switcheroo is revealed. Beautifully written, with sparkling observations throughout.

AFTER THE WAKE by Rowan MacDonald, TAS

They were his. Cardboard boxes stacked high like past games of Jenga. Chopped wood lay outside, witness to therapy. Rain pummelled the tin roof, echoed throughout. Small leak in the corner. The shed was nothing flash, and just like the house, had seen better days.

“So much junk,” she sighed.

Cobwebs wrapped themselves around everything. He opened a musty box, disturbed layers of grit.

“Careful,” she said. “Something could be living in those.”

He placed the boots on the concrete floor, retrieved a dusty Premiership flag, misshapen football, trophy without its head. Moved onto yellowed, dog-eared magazines, balanced in piles.

“What are you doing?” he asked.

He watched her deliver CPR to something, whooshing sound mixed with water running from the spouting. She turned around, held up the shrunken football and pump.

“Wonder if there’s life in the old girl,” she grinned.

He nodded, bent down, attacked another box, wondered what it contained. Suddenly gasped, lifted a small item into the air. Wooden hot rod, flames painted along the sides.

“Check it out,” he said. “Can’t believe he kept it!”

“Ah, the first car you worked on,” she laughed. “Start of it all.”

“Worked on this together,” he smiled. “Thought it was lost.”

Passing shower stopped; crack of light appeared. He knelt, opened a green suitcase, airline tags still attached, and then he saw them. They were orange corduroy; rusted type, corroding like the old water tank in coastal air, relics of a past life. He slipped his legs inside.

“God,” she moaned. “Not exactly flattering!”

Hands immersed themselves in loose pockets; time travelling, forever basking in memories.

“Please,” she begged. “Tell me you’re throwing those out!”

“I can’t,” he explained, voice-wavering.

“They were his.”

The title does the job of setting the scene here, without ever needing to mention death – and at first it takes a while for the reader to get accustomed to the murky light and cobwebs of this shed of memories. As our unnamed couple pick through the remnants of a life, we see glimpses of its highlights – short stabbing sentences matching the choppy chronology. And finally, items that also hold a special place for the living. Gentle, authentic storytelling.

UNTITLED by Chelsea Allen, India

She squinted at the stranger beside her.
He’d asked her how she'd met the love of her life. Strange as it was for someone who'd known her for mere minutes, sitting on that park bench, to ask, she thought it over for a while. Remembered vaguely being flattered by a spontaneous man like that, and chuckled. Blast it, why not? Her grey hair flagged in the cool afternoon breeze.
“Oh, it was years ago.” She regarded the green patches of grass flashing from underneath the dead leaves. “His name was Ted. Met him on a plane to Florence. A perfect stranger, just like you.” She tipped her head towards him jokingly. His jaws stiffened the slightest, but his gaze stayed on her.
“And wouldn’t you know it,” she continued, “it was his first time flying.”
“Heh. Yeah, never flown before. Was dead scared of it.”
She paused, trying to dislodge a stone lodged in the damp soil with her shoes.
“Why was he flying now?”
“Oh, his sister was getting married. There, in Florence … I remember the flight. Every second towards takeoff inflated his anxiety like a balloon—he described it like that later. Heh. And I was so terrible at comforting people. But then, out of nowhere, I found myself talking to him about all the bad dates I’d had. I bet I was annoying, but it worked. He was surprised he'd missed the takeoff.”
“I bet you weren’t annoying.”
She regarded his features—the afternoon sun, like the flames from a fireplace might, softened his wrinkles so he appeared somewhat younger. “He asked me to be his date to the wedding, and—Where have I seen you before?”
His chest heaved when he inhaled abruptly and slid his gaze from her to the ground.
“You met him again after the wedding?”
“We—we roamed across the city for the weekend.”
“And then?”
“I don’t know.” Her voice was small, almost disappearing into the rustling leaves overhead.
His gaze shot up to meet hers. A shiver ran down her spine as she searched his eyes and it came, like water that trickles through gaps between stones and then you remove the stones and it comes gushing out. She gasped.
“Oh, Ted!”
Her hands flew to her mouth as she shook her head. Tears pooled in her eyes. Ted took his wife’s hands into his.
“Oh, Ted!”
“It’s okay, Sara. It’s alright.”
He draped his arm across her shoulders and caressed her hair when she collapsed on his shoulders and silently wept. It was obvious he’d recited those lines over a thousand times now.
“Know,” she snif​fled, and his hand stilled on her head, “that I'll always love you.”
He swallowed the lump in his throat. “Yes, Ma’am.”
She chuckled, sniffling. Wiped at her eyes and sat back up. Before them, the sun quietly dipped behind the trees.
Under a pink sky, a voice broke into her thoughts. “Let’s head home.”
She squinted at the stranger beside her.

What starts off as a park bench conversation soon takes us back in time, told in a back-and-forth of dialogue and meet-cute nostalgia. As the reader, we catch on before Sara does, such as it is, as her husband comes into view once more, always beside her – reminiscent of The Notebook. For a brief moment, the sun shines fondly on their reunion, but the final line brings the realisation that Ted is once more a stranger and the fog has descended yet again. Poignant storytelling.

If you’re caring for someone living with dementia and need support, call 1800 699 799 in Australia, 24 hours a day.

FIRSTS by Katie Ess, USA

And then we were three.

You came in a burst of sweat and fluids, and when they laid you on my chest, I’d never loved something that was covered in my own blood before. You cried for the first time and I cherished you with my whole heart – my beautiful, perfect first child.

There were so many firsts to commemorate. It was easy to remember the big ones – first word, first birthday, first steps. I wanted to keep track of them all, but there were too many.

Like the first time you found someone’s chewing gum on the sidewalk and ate it before I could stop you. Followed by our first trip to urgent care. Your dad paced while a doctor suppressed a chuckle, reassuring us there was nothing that could harm you in a piece of used chewing gum.

Your first fireworks show, you waved a tiny flag as you stared, entranced, at the flashes of color in the night sky. I’d worried you’d be scared by the noise, but you didn’t even flinch when the rockets boomed.

The first time you blew up a balloon, after all those failed attempts. Your success startled you so much, it popped out of your mouth and flew around the room in little sputtering circles. But then you giggled and jumped and cheered for yourself, and I cheered too. You re-inflated it again and let it fly, with the confidence of a child who knows he can do anything he sets his mind to.

The day we told you that you’d be a big brother, you replied it would be fine, as long as we didn’t have the gall to bring home a sister.

And then we were four.

Now there were double the firsts to remember. The day your brother learned to crawl was the day you made 100% on your first spelling test. Our first power outage, where we played board games by the flame of a candle, was the day your brother learned about dice. He wanted to roll them, again and again, knocking down our plastic pieces so the game was unplayable. Finally you just rolled the dice for your brother while he laughed and said “again.”

As you got older, the firsts came faster.

The first time you were too old for me to walk with you into school. The first day you asked for clothes instead of toys for your birthday. Your first crush, when your friend taught you how to flatter a girl to get her attention.

Our first tour of a university campus.

The first box I helped you pack, to move to the dorms.

The first hoodie I unpacked, hanging it carefully in your new closet. Remembering when we bought that hoodie on a chilly day during our first trip to New York.

The first time we hugged you goodbye. You smiled and told me you’d be okay, and we drove away, leaving you behind.

And then we were three.

Using the repeated line to great effect, this story is a snapshot of childhood – told in 2nd-person POV from parent to child. From the excitement and anticipation of two becoming three, we see a life of milestones and memories, all tied together by firsts. The addition of a younger sibling also cleverly allows us to end with the repeated line – this time with tones of subtraction, not addition. For anyone that has seen a child grow up and leave home, this ‘it-goes-by-so-fast’ tribute to ‘firsts’ is bittersweet – as once they’re all-grown-up, they can also feel like ‘lasts’. Powerful stuff!


It's just temporary.

That's what she kept telling herself, lining up with the rest of her neighbours, the mood growing flatter the further you went down the street. The line snaked around the block, different to those early days after the first invasion; then, it was just an elderly man or woman who might line up, or maybe a family who were always trying to make ends meet even in the time Before. When there was no minority and majority. There was only the desperate.

Anna clutched her token card, remembering that day there had been that young guy – crazed look in his eyes, she could almost see a flame in them, burning – who had randomly jumped her cousin. Grabbed her card. Ran off before anyone could stop him. The card was worthless to him in the end, of course; he thought he’d try and hack the system, try and re-assign the card to his own food bank. It didn’t work. And in the meantime, her cousin’s kids ate only one meal that day. Her cousin ate none.

The token cards were the only thing of value many of them had now. Inflation was soaring; everyday food items were now quadruple what they cost before. Anna’s bank account was meaningless. The currency now cast aside and quickly replaced with the tangible, tracked, and easy-to-lose tokens.

Suddenly – a siren. Anna’s head whipped around, almost simultaneously with that of the man next to her. They saw the flash in the sky just seconds after. Too far away for them to really worry.

Anna turned back around to face the front, holding her tokens even firmly now. She shut her eyes tight for a moment. If she scrunched them hard enough, she started to see lights explode and then dim again. Another explosion, another flash. Like the one in the sky, although Anna saw those ones much more often.

She was nearly at the front now. The guards flanked the door, standing underneath the striped flag, flapping in the breeze. Anna looked up at the flag now. Once something she was so proud of. Her country. Her home.


Now, just a series of explosions. Bright lights. Sometimes far away in the sky, sometimes closer.

Anna reached the front of the line. She held out her wrist for the guard’s scanner, heard the beep as it registered her implantation.

She told herself, one day there’d be no more lines. No more token cards. No more violence lighting up the sky.

It’s just temporary.

A dystopian future (hopefully not too soon) plays out here for Anna, as she waits in line and looks back at how it all got this way. The personal details and hardships are specific, but the conflict remains intentionally vague – a series of lights and explosions on the horizon; a multitude of possibilities for the reader to insert. The repeated line here works powerfully as something to keep telling yourself to stop from succumbing to the realities of this new normal.

TRY AGAIN by Grandma Smillew, Poland

I enter the chamber, close my eyes, and pray it will work this time.
I'm back at the Nobel Prize award ceremony. It was supposed to be an evening of flattering compliments under the flashes of the international press, the best day of my life for me and my inflated ego.
But it turned into a nightmare when I killed my wife.
People keep telling me it was an accident, one of these statistically improbable quantum effects. There was nothing I could do.
But I know it's my fault.
I couldn't save her that time, but I should try again. It's what a loving husband does. If I could invent a time-traveling machine, I should be able to find a way to save my wife.
I take out my notebook. I'm always following the scientific approach. I don't know any other way. Life is a chaotic system. A small change in initial conditions can quickly ripple into a tsunami. Or the death of a loved one.
Instruction for iteration #233: Touch the flag pin on your suit before lighting up your wife's cigarette.
“Here you go, honey.”
My wife draws closer to the flame, takes a drag, and before she can exhale the smoke, a giant cockroach materializes and bites her head off. It has a yellow rose painted on its abdomen. I've never seen that color before. A small change in initial conditions can also ripple into an inconsequential change in the result.
I press the emergency reset button before the cockroach turns into the usual giant tiramisu.
I'm back at the lab, ready for iteration #234.
I enter the chamber, close my eyes, and pray it will work this time.

This one’s for the methodical scientists out there – a mix of time travel and elimination experiments as our guilt-ridden narrator attempts to change history Groundhog Day style to stop a tragedy occurring. After 233 attempts however, things aren’t looking promising for this precise method (we assume the Nobel Prize was for quantum physics or something similarly world-bending!) and we’d suggest giving up on this tsunami of tiramisu and perhaps just killing baby Hitler instead and hoping for the best!

LIST OF LIFE by Jennifer Adams, QLD

‘I really like our life,’ Billy told Susie as he held her hand softly.

The end of the first anniversary dinner with Susie resulted in a list of everything they would never do as a couple. Drawing on conversations of how they would never ‘be that couple‘, or ‘do those things’, they had a collective flash of brilliance and started a list of the behaviours and habits they determinedly believed would never be part of their life. The top 5.

1. Staying in on both Friday and Saturday nights
2. Weekend Bunnings trips
3. Talking about gardening to friends
4. Owning a Thermomix
5. Giving up their lifestyle for children

The list grew for three years, with each of them flagging a relevant event or observation that made them roll their eyes. Then Susie fell pregnant and three months into the pregnancy, number one was crossed off. There were still over 30 items listed – they felt okay.

Susie’s sisters insisted they have a gender reveal party – farewell #19. Susie and Billy had to pop random balloons from the enormous bunch that’d been installed as the centrepiece in their garden, until one of them released a plume of pink dust. Then one of Billie’s brother in laws engaged him in a conversation about his lawn maintenance. Farewell #3.

#5 went up in flames by the beginning of the third trimester. The baby shower swept #4 out the door when Susie’s friends pooled their money to buy a Thermomix so she could make her own baby food.

Sitting at a restaurant for anniversary number four, they pulled out the list. The Moleskine notebook into which they had plotted and predicted their future was worn around the edges. The pages from the first night were splashed with red wine and the writing was scrappy, capturing the early enthusiasm of their commitment to each other to remain young and vibrant – so sure of how their life would be.

They crossed #12 off the list: going to a restaurant before 7.00 pm, and #48: playing games on their phones while out at dinner – although Billy tried to argue that Wordle didn’t count.

Baby Kim arrived the next week. #32 was no ‘olde worlde’ made up, or ‘rich people’ names; must be single syllable. Billy put an emphatic tick next to that one and smiled.

‘Don’t flatter yourself’ said Susie as she crossed off #53: always have private health cover, from the shared room at the local public hospital. One income sucked.

When the cleaning was finished after Kim’s 3rd birthday party, with Fred growing strong in Susie’s belly, Billy pulled out the notebook as it was their anniversary and this is what they did.

The number of items added over the last year were fewer, and the items being crossed off increased.

‘Do we need to keep doing this Billy?’

‘We’re growing up and life’s just happening. Is it that bad that we don’t get to control everything? Are you happy if we skip the list this year?’

‘I really like our life,’ Billy told Susie as her held her hand softly.

Ahhh yes, we all love a good list, and this story plays out beautifully – starting with the overly-smug couple as they wallow in their ‘thou shalt nots’ of coupledom, passing judgement on all they see around them. Of course, as the years pass, the forbidden items start dropping like flies in hilarious fashion and by the time the final line arrives, it has taken on a new meaning that so many will identify with. A light-hearted look at life’s many twists and turns and the ever-changing definition of happiness.

MINE by Sarah Lazaris, WA

This is my body.

Mine. I occupy it, I own it, I possess it entirely. It is mine to use, control, and dominate. I get to choose.

And I do.

I choose the grams and the macros, the calories in versus calories out, the minutes spent exercising, and the appropriate heart rate and intensity level. I choose the kitchen scales, which so confidently tell me just how much is acceptable. I choose perfection. Control. Denial.

And then, the scales. Oh, the scales. My alarm went off (at the controlled wake time of my choosing). I used the bathroom, stripped, and stepped – the morning ritual that grounds all other decisions for the day.
I got off the scale. I got on the scale.
The previous day flashed through my mind.
I dived for my phone and opened the app, scrolling frantically to pinpoint the culprit.
Shame ignited into flames of fury at my lapse.
“Not today,” I told myself.
No carefully measured half cup of iron-fortified cereal. No 8-9 almonds (depending on how many equalled 10 grams). No coffee.
Well, maybe coffee. Black.
No lunch out with the girls – I had a big breakfast. No lunch at all, if I could get away with it.
On the scales. Off the scales.
Log every bite.
Yes. Yes..
My stomach was flatter already.

Staring blankly at my desk, I registered the ‘ping’ of an email. HR. An appointment.
“Your workmates have flagged some concerns.”
This is my choice.
“We’d like you to take some leave”.
This is my body.
“These services are free and confidential”.
It’s mine. It’s mine. It’s mine.

Another day, another appointment.
On the scales. Off the scales.
An increased calorie limit.
On the scales. Off the scales.
An inflating waistline.
On the scales. Off the scales. Out with the scales.
A meal out with friends. Lasagna.
Delete the app.
Some days salad, some days ice cream.
It’s my choice.
Watch the sunrise. Sleep in. Eat the birthday cake. Drink the wine. Dance with abandon. Giggle through yoga. Cry in movies. Read the novel. Love. Love. Love.

This is my body.

Told mostly line-by-line as a series of actions, observations and realisations, this can be a difficult read – all-too-familiar for so many who have an unforgiving inner monologue or have known someone in a similar situation. The short sentence format feels appropriate for what starts as a laundry-list of loathing, each jaunty journal entry craving control in pursuit of perfection. Mercifully however, it turns  a corner as our narrator learns to mine the good things in life – acceptance over denial and the joys of imperfection. Once more, it ends as it starts – and just like our parents in the previous story, the sentence now takes on a different, healthier meaning.

HOW MANY TIMES by Harrison Dale, NSW

How many times must you inflate one’s heart before it bursts?
In the dark and infinite chamber of the man’s chest, a balloon lies flaccid on the dusty floor. The man sits staring at an empty page and he calculates a plot line as though it were an equation.
‘What will entertain them? What will shock them? What will please them?’
He writes a word. Then a sentence. And as if a single breath were blown into the balloon, it begins to grow.
He lumbers through the work. Writing, rewriting, rewriting, always with the audience’s pleasure at the front of mind. With every sentence, the balloon swells and rises until he ties it off with a triumphant full stop. The balloon bobs around the roof of the cavern, amongst a hundred other balloons he has blown before. He drapes colourful flags around the ceiling and he turns to his audience and says, ‘Aren’t my balloons pretty? Aren’t they fun? Shouldn’t we celebrate them?’
Yet no one notices. No one praises his balloons. They simply stare through the dark cavity in his chest and out the other side into the bright lights of life.
Over days and weeks and months the balloons wither and fall and lie like a hundred leeches upon the floor.
The man looks at the mess he has made and gasps and chokes and finds himself puffed. So he takes his leave and goes about life. He takes deep breaths and inhales the world around him, the bitter tastes of suffering and the sweet zests of fortune. Then he sleeps and in dream his thoughts and feelings and desires are brought to life and moulded into vivid forms with faces and voices and stories of their own.
He wakes and thanks his muse. Then he sits and he writes and without thinking the words flash forth from his chest to the page. He writes out of gratitude and pain and all the emotions between. He writes what is true to him.
Inside his chest, the balloon has grown so large that he questions deflating it. ‘What will people think?’ he says.
But spurned by the mess on the floor of the cavern, he ties the balloon off and hoists it with little thoroughfare. But as the balloon kisses the ceiling it pops and from it bursts light and warmth. His audience turns to him and they are drawn to the aura like moths to a flame, comforted in its glow. And as they hover around the small star, they see themselves in its reflection.
The audience thanks the man and they flatter him and say, ‘I understand now.’ But the light wains and the warmth fades and the audience turns away once more toward the bright lights of life beyond.
Alone again in the dark, the man sits in his suffering and gives thanks for his fortunes. He takes a deep breath and begins to write.
How many times must you inflate one’s heart before it bursts?

Okay, so this might take the cake for the most ‘meta’ showcased story ever – but even without the rather on-the-nose writerly comparisons (possibly even to entering into flash fiction challenges, ahem), we were impressed by the use of language and metaphor to set the scene here. Rejection is arguably a bigger part of writing than success, and this deals with it in a visually inventive way. We just hope the repeated question at the start and end is truly rhetorical – because it’s different for everyone. Or it’s 42.

ABBY IN THE GARDEN POND by Jane Claire Jackson, France

Abby drowsed in the balmy afternoon, resting against green wrought iron flag irises. Lulled by distant birdsong, her mind drifted as her breathing slowed.
“Hey, Sleepyhead! Why’re you wasting time sitting there?”
Abby peeped through heavy eyelids, searching for the caller.
An enormous goldfish leant against the flagstones surrounding the pond, staring at her with beady eyes, round mouth blowing bubbles.
“Come for a swim! The water’s lovely and warm.”
Abby felt herself slipping into the pond, her body melting into the liquid environment. She hated swimming at school, but now found herself submerging to explore the depths with ease. Aquatic plants formed a sort of labyrinth and round every corner were fish in various shades of orange, white and black. The goldfish who’d spoken to her was back in the water when she resurfaced, his body flatter and more streamlined.
“I knew you'd enjoy it!” he gloated.
Abby's spotted tabby, Poppy, peered over the pond’s edge and all the fish instantly disappeared. Poppy tentatively reached out a paw towards Abby, who shouted as loudly as possible, “No, Poppy! Bad cat! Shoo! Shoo!”
Turning away, Poppy spotted a fat collared dove strutting about the lawn. Abby had retreated to the centre of the pond and could just see it pecking at seeds fallen from the birdfeeder. She watched Poppy crouch, inch nearer and finally pounce, but the dove vanished, and Poppy walked away pretending nothing had happened.
Abby muffled laughter. She didn't want Poppy hearing and returning to the pond.
An iridescent blue dragonfly flew overhead and Abby noticed another pond inhabitant, wearing a green and black striped waistcoat, sitting on a waterlily pad, watching it with mild interest.
“You've as much chance of catching that dragonfly as Poppy had of catching the collared dove!” Abby said aloud.
“Yeah, well, I'm not really hungry,” the frog retorted, its throat inflating and deflating as it spoke.
Abby felt a little wary of the frog, who was twice her size, but she was weary from treading water and decided to risk climbing onto the lilypad near him. Struggling with the leaf, which kept dipping into the water under her weight, she felt something wet grasp her around the waist, then hoist her into the air before depositing her unceremoniously onto the floating pad. Turning to where the frog sat, she witnessed the long end of its tongue flash back into its mouth like a retreating flame and squirmed at the thought of what had just happened.
Remembering her manners, Abby thanked the frog for his help.
“Don't mention it,” he replied as Abby wrung water from her hair and clothes.
She lay back, exhausted, her eyes closing.
Abby drowsed in the balmy afternoon, resting against green wrought iron flag irises.

With dreamy fairytale vibes reminiscent of Alice and her looking glass or the Secret Garden, we are introduced to a forest-clearing of friendly characters splashing in the pond or playfully frollicking nearby. It’s the kind of scene that feels familiar – from Hundred Acre Wood and the wind blowing through the willows to the best of Disney and the forest of the Gruffalo, complete with talking animals. The repeated line suggests it was all a dream (by the way, how good is the verb ‘drowsed’!) – but our money is on Abby’s hair being still damp when she wakes.


The world is a barren wasteland, and the man and the boy wander through it.

The sky is grey, the sun a mere memory, buried beneath layers of heavy clouds. Their faces are cloaked in dirt and despair. Their footsteps are slow and measured, as if every movement is an effort.

As they trudge along the desolate road, the boy spots something on the horizon—a flash of colour in the sea of grey. It is a flag, tattered and torn, but still defiantly waving in the wind. The boy tugs at his father's sleeve, his eyes wide with wonder.
“Daddy, look!” he says, pointing to the flag.

It is a rare sight, a beacon of hope in this unforgiving world. They quicken their pace, drawn towards the flag, but the man remains alert.

As they approach, they see that the flag marks the entrance to a makeshift camp – tents and shanties surrounded by a leaning wall of salvaged metal and wood. A group of survivors huddle around a flame, their faces gaunt and weary. They regard the man and the boy with wary eyes.

“What do you want?” one of them grumbles.

“We saw your flag,” the man replies. “We're just looking for a safe place to rest.”

The survivors exchange glances, then reluctantly allow them inside. They are given a meagre meal and a corner of a tent to sleep in.

The man and the boy settle into their new life at the camp. The survivors share stories of the world before, tales of a time when the land was fertile and the sky was blue. It was a world the boy had only heard of in whispered legend.

The leader of the camp, a charismatic man named David, seems too eager to have them stay. He showers them with praise, his words a constant stream of flattery.

“You're a valuable addition to our camp,” David says. “We're lucky to have you.”

There is something in David's eyes—a flicker of greed, a hunger.

One night, as the man and the boy huddle in their tent, they overhear a whispered conversation outside.

“We’ll end them”, David says. “They're inflating our numbers, taking our resources.”

The man knows they must leave, to escape the twisted web that had ensnared them. They pack their meagre belongings and slip out in the dead of night, leaving behind the flag that had once symbolised hope.

As they disappear into the darkness, the boy looks up at his father, his eyes filled with fear.

“Where are we going, father?” he asks.

The man pauses, his heart heavy with uncertainty. He knows one thing for certain – they are better off alone, than with people where the promise of safety is a mirage.

“We're going home,” the man whispers, his voice a truth, in a world filled with lies. They walk on, their footsteps echoing in the darkness.

The world is a barren wasteland, and the man and the boy wander through it.

Another dystopian styled entry – perhaps The Road meets The Last of Us – this tale caught our attention for its commitment to the world it creates, without ever specifically wasting words on backstory. While it doesn’t hide the fact that this is a father and his son, the harshness of the landscape means that they walk together, alone – always referred to as the man and the boy. The repeated line works well to first introduce them and then, following an encounter (good use of ‘inflating’), returns to send them on their way again and reaffirm the environment they occupy.

MY SPEECH by Robert Fairhead, NSW

I'm getting too old for this.
My speechwriter's pulse quickens as the PM mounts the flag-decked stage, flanked by senior ministers and mining industry executives, to announce her government's green coal plan. Panned by environmentalists and scientists, polling suggests it could be a vote winner … if the PM nails my speech.

“The flames of climate change are raging,” she begins, with a hint of Churchill in her tone.

I'm momentarily distracted, musing whether I should have written, “We will fight global warming on the beaches” instead of the line the PM delivers next, “Now is the time for climate action, from the ground up.”

I've always loved words. My earliest memories of writing are of devouring Enid Blyton's Famous Fives and filling a school exercise book with my Blytonesque short stories, The Sand Island Adventures.

“Our future, our children's future, and our children's children's future is green coal.”

The PM's words, my words, wrench me back to the present. The younger journos and TV commentators are angling their phones to record the speech, which they'll upload to AI apps to parse my prose, cross-reference the quotes and churn out stories, hopefully for human proofreading and final edits, but typically nowadays, published directly online and straight to print.

As a former journalist, I prefer the old-school hack's approach of scribbling shorthand notes for well-crafted articles composed at the office or, as likely, in a hotel room or on a beer-stained table in a bar.

“This will be a partnership between government and industry.”

The mining industry executives are smiling. The PM's speech, my speech, is a state-sponsored blank cheque to dig more mines and inflate company profits and executive bonuses. No wonder environmentalists and climate scientists are furious, given the murmurings of backroom deals. However, I'm not an investigative journalist.

I wanted to be a writer, but my father said I should get a real job. So I studied journalism, paying my dues at regional rags and climbing the pressroom ladder to become the senior political reporter for a leading national daily. The next rung in my career was to be an editor. But I loved words and writing. And in a flash of inspiration, I became a speechwriter.

“We are at a pivotal moment in history.”

I've worked for countless high-level bureaucrats and ministers and several PMs. And if I felt inclined, I could publish a tell-all memoir. But I'd rather write the bestselling novel that's been building inside me since I was a kid, making up stories about Sand Island.

“With green coal, we will tackle climate change and secure the future.”

I suppress a groan as the PM and entourage leave the stage. Her Churchillian oratory descended into meaningless tripe, my tripe. But no one seems to have noticed. Ministers and mining company executives congratulate and flatter the PM. And she's pleased, looking over and thanking me with a silent nod for my speech.

Writing that bestseller is growing more tempting.
I'm getting too old for this.

Wonderfully observed with a clever framework built around a PM’s speech, the real action happens backstage with our speechwriter (the real heroes of any politician’s profile – yes even Obama had people writing his words). As jaded as the green coal being proffered onstage, this writer reminisces on how they got here and the kind of writing that actually inspires them. The intermittent snippets of the campaign speech interplay beautifully with the narrator’s growing dissatisfaction – each building to a climax of sorts. The ‘too old for this’ line was made most famous by Danny Glover in the 1980s Lethal Weapon movies, but here it feels equally memorable – instantly relatable for anyone who has ever written words for others!

SMALL BOATS by Mel Francis, Netherlands

“It's deflating.”
I'd been given the job of pumping up the long tube that would take me and 40 others across the sea. “We need a new one, this one’s leaking.”
“It’s this or nothing.” The smuggler’s voice was disinterested. We were just business to him.

We'd been waiting many days in the dunes for the call with the coordinates of the rendezvous. I have to reach my uncle in England. My last promise to my mother. We've paid dearly for our berth. It cost me more than money.

My journey started with my mother after my father and oldest brother were taken by the Taliban. I don't blame the foot soldiers. They've had the flames of zealotry fanned by old men who unite the young behind a flag that means less to them than the power it brings.

Bobo never reached Europe. We were attacked in Libya. The women and younger children were separated from the men. I was 14 then. We were sold and bartered in another lawless country. The womenfolk were kept there. They had a different value to their captors.

The smuggler threw me a puncture kit. “Here! Hurry up. The cops are probably on the way.”
Others joined me from the shadows. Together we tried to patch things up as best we could.
“Maybe Allah is looking out for us tonight.” I muttered into the darkness.
“Don't flatter yourself. God abandoned us at home, or we wouldn't have had to make these terrible journeys.” The words crushed the last of my hope.

“It's deflating. Yalla, please yalla.” A desperate voice in broken English, on the phone to the British coastguards. We'd been at sea for about 8 hours. The sun had expanded the air in the rubber tube, and the boat had a slow puncture. A child wailed fearfully.

The boat wasn’t seaworthy. Paper-thin plywood that flexed with every single wave was the only thing that kept us from the water. It was starting to swell with moisture, and I was terrified it would break. Many of us tried to scoop water out with our hands so we could keep afloat. The small engine wasn’t big enough for this many people.

Night came again. All we could do was watch in anguish for the flashing lights on the ships. No help came. We’d called the coastguards until all our phones were dead. The child had stopped wailing. The desperation was still and palpable.

A loud splash. Had someone fallen in? More splashes followed. A cry went up. We'd hit land.

I allowed myself to dream of a place I belonged. Where I didn't have to fear. It was amazing to dwell there, to believe I was safe.

I soon learned that Britain was not this place. We’re prisoners. We'd fled danger and wanted to come to family in Britain, where we could belong. Instead, told we’re a flood; dirty water where it shouldn't be. Here, we're treated like criminals and told we're illegal.
It's deflating.

We end with once more the power of double meanings – a simple two word sentence taking on a completely different role from start to finish. Along the way, it’s a very topical scene of displacement as refugees make their way from unrest in their homeland towards the perceived safety of a country and a concept that becomes a conceit. The senses are brought fully into play as the boat makes its perilous journey, but ultimately it’s something else that knocks the air out of our travellers. Powerful, heartbreaking, and sadly, based on too many true stories to count.


Each month, we like to include an extra LONGLIST of stories that stood out from the hundreds and were highly considered for the showcase. Remember, all creativity is subjective, but if your name is here, well done – and we hope to see you ALL next month!

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

  • UNTITLED by Raphie Jay, QLD
  • JULES by Jacqui Constable, QLD
  • JACK O’LANTERN by Ella T. Holmes, QLD
  • VERY FIRST, VERY LAST by Ylva Ve, Sweden
  • A GAMER’S GUIDE TO GIRLS by Byron Jordan de Borja, NSW
  • TAKING TURNS by Kylie McCorquodale, NSW
  • DON’T FLATTER THE DEVIL by Peter Jordan, WA
  • THE CAPTAIN by Jackson Judd, WA
  • UNTITLED by Victor Dilks, VIC
  • MY WORLD by Phoebe Rogers, VIC
  • UNTITLED by Amy OReilly, WA
  • THE BUTTON by Phil Margetts, UK
  • INCENTIVE by Zarah Virtanen Windh, Sweden
  • NOBODY HOME by Doug Jacquier, SA
  • FREEFALL by Tamra Palmer, NSW
  • THE SUIT by Angela Huskisson, UK
  • WHEN YOU ARE THE OTHER WOMAN by Masha Petrovic, Serbia
  • FLYING TOO HIGH by Jessica Southern-Reid, NSW
  • LADYBIRD by Megan Howden, VIC
  • LIFEGUARD – A DAY AT THE BEACH by Karen Uttien, WA
  • HURTS LIKE HELL by Anna McEvoy, QLD
  • OBSTACLE by A.J. Lourey, QLD
  • THE AISLE by Isabelle Comber, NSW
  • THE CARER by Janet Mell, WA
  • UNTITLED by Connie Boland, Canada
  • SCHEDULED FOR LOVE by Marc Howard, VIC
  • EGO by Dennis Callegari, VIC
  • UNTITLED by M^h, Zimbabwe
  • US AND THEM by Wes Hawkins, WA
  • THE MIRROR by Vicki Neele, VIC
  • FINDING DORIS by Kelli Johnson, USA
  • RETURN TO PARADISE by Sharon S. Summervale, UK
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