A short story

Each month the Queensland Writers Centre runs a short story writing competition. The theme changes each month but it’s not as simple as that!

On the first weekend of every month, you are invited to put your storytelling skills to the test in the ultimate writer-takes-all short story competition. Armed only with our simple brief, your job is to race the clock to come up with your best 500 words-or-fewer story and be in to win a tasty $500 – every single month.

Last month the rules were as follows: You must mention an attic or a basement, an insect, and use the words earth, wind, fire and water. Simple?

I wrote two stories. Here is the one I didn’t submit.

The bar is full, and it’s noisy. Jimmy’s in the Basement is a great name for a bar, but it had to move when they got flooded last year. It’s up on Eighth Avenue now and opens right onto the street. It’s still got those sticky carpets, and they blacked out the windows, so it still feels subterranean.

My mate, Edie, is up. How did I let her talk me into doing open-mic night? I’m queasy. I think of Eminem’s line, vomit on my sweater, already, mom’s spaghetti. Can I work it into my act?

The host calls ‘time’ for Edie. She gets some laughs, someone in the back wolf whistles. Edie’s been doing stand-up for months. She has some good stuff. The stuff about winding her mum up is brilliant. She’s so gullible, but she’s a good egg.

The host gives me the nod, and I stand to one side so Edie can get past. The host announces me, and I swear I almost bolt for the door. I look over at Carly and Edie and I get up on the little platform and grab the mic.

 ‘That was my buddy, Edie. Let’s give her another cheer.’ A few people holler and I feel the warmth of reflected admiration for a second. I’m yelling. I swallow and drop my voice down a notch.

‘Hey, I’m Jeff. I feel like I’m gonna puke. I’m a comedy in the basement virgin. Give me some love.’

‘Say something funny, virgin,’ a dude yells, and everyone laughs. Someone else yells, ‘Wake up, Jeff.’ Great. A Wiggles reference.

Every part of me is sweating. I shout my tight five into the mic. It’s a blur. I ad-lib a bit about how the basement isn’t a basement anymore and the blacked-out windows and the blocked fire exits.

‘It feels and smells like some kind of gimp-cave in here.’

I use all my best material, but they give me nothing. Crickets. The host calls time. Two guys at the bar are chanting, ‘Virgin, virgin.’

The guy on after me just storms the stage and grabs the mic.

‘I was on fire it was the audience that bombed,’ I say. Carly holds out a bottle of water for me.

‘I laughed,’ she says, ‘but it was really embarrassing.’

Then she says, ‘To be honest, I wished the earth would open up and swallow me.’

I can’t help but laugh. She pats me on the back as we leave. That’s her way of telling me she’s proud of me. ‘I think you should stick to teaching kindergarten,’ she says as I unlock the car. I nod. Where does she think I cut my comedy teeth? Four-year-olds are a tough crowd.

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