A couple of short stories that failed to excite the judges for Furious Fiction this year. C’est la vie!
Furious Fiction is a flash fiction competition run by The Australian Writer’s Centre. Each quarter, on the first Friday of the month, the AWC announce the prompt which is usually quite complex, involving certain phrases that must be used, a word list, and other challenges. I can’t recall off the top of my head the exact prompts for these stories. All I know is that I have entered so many of these things without so much as a whiff of the long list! That’s not why I write, but it would be a lovely bonus.
Best Served Cold (March 22)
If I had my time again, I would have drawn the line at breaking and entering, but when your mum asks for a favour, you don’t think it’s going to involve burglary.
‘Hurry,’ she said through gritted teeth. Like I was hanging out of that window for fun.
I grunted, pulled myself through, and slithered into a heap on the floor. A moment later, there was a knock on the door. My first thought was to hide, but then I heard her on the porch.
‘Mandy, open the damn door.’
I crawled across the room, and she knocked harder. I knew no one was home, but I was freaking out. I opened the door. She flung herself through it and ran down the hallway. She was desperate for the toilet. I stood in the silent house, chewing my thumbnail. Minutes later, she was in the hallway, wearing her favourite cleaning gloves.
‘Mum, I think we should go…’
She held up one yellow rubber-covered finger. ‘Mandy, this dirtbag is going to get what’s coming to him.’
‘But, Mum,’ I started.
‘Shhh,’ she said in a fierce whisper. ‘Stop talking and start working.’
She opened her backpack. ‘You start in the kitchen. Here,’ she said, holding out a bag of white powder.
I stared at her. ‘Are you planting drugs?’
‘It’s chalk. For the sugar bowl. Toss the sugar under the fridge. I want ants everywhere.’ She spread her hands out.
I sighed and took the bag. She handed me a skewer.
‘Puncture every carton in the pantry. Ah, the stench it will make. And I want the can opener, the grater, the potato peelers, the plug… and every spoon and fork in the place.’
She pulled out a large bag of prawns and her good sewing scissors. ‘I’ll be in the T.V. room if you need me.’
‘Prawns?’ I nearly lost it at this point. Who knew my sweet little mother had such a talent for revenge?
She grinned and pointed at the air conditioner. ‘And there’s plenty for under the mattress.’
She skipped down the hallway, and I slunk to the kitchen.
We met in the hallway ten minutes later, the backpack jangling with cutlery. ‘Let’s go,’ I said, keen to be out of there.
She looked around one last time and nodded.
‘That was fun,’ she said, once we were on the footpath.
I shook my head.
‘I emptied his shaving cream, his cologne, all his little blue pills. There were two toothbrushes…’ She mimed lifting the toilet lid, dipping something in, and flushing the imaginary toilet then threw her head back and laughed. She hadn’t been the same since my dad asked her to move out and left her for that woman from Bridge.
‘I can’t believe he changed the locks,’ she said.
I laughed. ‘I think I can see why.’
Baked On (June 22)
‘It was intended as a joke. Sherry took it personally, as usual. A Bridezilla if ever there was one. The whole thing with the tin cans, the balloons, the shaving cream. Oh, God, the vegemite on the engine. That’s something you should never do, by the way. The smell. Phew! Look, we were all wired. It had been a very, very long day. I was a bridesmaid, and it was open bar. I’ll admit the car was a real mess; I saw the pics on Facebook. Sherry and I are no longer friends.’
‘Actually, at this stage, I’d say I have an actual enemy. Literally unfriended. I think that’s punishment enough, don’t you? It was quite funny though. When they saw how we’d decorated the car they laughed and thought it was great but when they took off and went over the speed bump on the driveway, the log we tied to the tow ball bounced up and smashed the back windscreen, wrecking the “Just Married” painted across it in peanut butter.’
I stopped talking and grinned but the guy wasn’t giving me much.
‘Apparently there was quite a bit of damage to the engine. That vegemite bakes on hard.’ I giggled.
He rolled his eyes and handed me the envelope.
‘I don’t give a toss, lady,’ he said. ‘I’m just here to give you these papers. Consider yourself served.’
Test Flight Sixteen (September 22 (I think)
‘Test flight sixteen, fifty years forward,’ Doctor Fromm says. She turns to the engineers manning the portal. ‘Dial in six September 2052.’
‘Yes, Doctor.’ The time technician punches in the information as the pilots climb on board.
‘Clear,’ the chief mechanic says.
The runway techs drag their anti-static brushes across the launch pad and climb the stairs to the exit.
‘Clear,’ the flight director says when the area is declared particle-free. ‘Vacuum seal, activated.’
The door to the launch zone swings shut and with a ‘ssshuck.’ Flight sixteen is underway. Doctor Fromm shoves her hands into her coat pockets and crosses her fingers. Tests ten through fifteen have been promising. The policies implemented by the World Council after the first nine journeys into the future seem to be reversing most of the negative impacts of climate change.
‘Launch sequence commence,’ the flight director says.
‘Five, four, three…’
As though the vacuum sucked the air from the control center, no one breathes.
‘Two, one, launch.’
The capsule shimmers and evaporates. Doctor Fromm turns to her people, risking a smile. The scientists take a collective breath. Some head for the bathroom, others for the break room.
Her assistant hovers, iPad at the ready. ‘Your thoughts, doctor?’
Doctor Fromm turns to Annie Lui, her latest graduate student, and nods.
‘Thank you, Annie. Our latest round of manipulation of the Armillaria ostoyae fungus, reforestation across North Africa, and the boom in the cultured meat industry leaves me quietly confident that climate change will no longer be a problem for our descendants.’ On a roll, Doctor Fromm takes a breath. ‘The…’
The emergency sirens wind up to their full volume signalling the return of the capsule.
‘Already?’ Fromm shouts at Lui.
Chaos erupts on the floor of the control centre. Technicians dash to their stations as the pod appears. The pilots have triggered the doors, but the vacuum seal in the launch area is still functioning. Lui throws herself at the release lever just as the first pilot stumbles from the capsule.
‘Stop, stop,’ the pilot screams.
Fromm rushes to the frantic man. ‘You could have been turned inside out,’ she says. She throws her arm around him and helps him stand. He turns to her suddenly and grabs her shoulders.
‘You have to tell them to stop,’ he says, sobbing.
‘Who?’ she says. Every eye is on them.
The second pilot climbs from the capsule.
‘What happened,’ Fromm demands.
He shakes his head. ‘Everything in 2052 is perfect.’
The first pilot wails.
‘As per protocol, we arrived at this site, in 2052. They were expecting. We ran through the checklist. Oceans, tectonic activity, extinctions, atmospheric conditions. All perfect. It was only when we, err, went off piste, so to speak, that we ran into trouble. I always ask about ski season. Seems like there’s plenty of snow, but…’ He shrugs.
The co-pilot cries, ‘I asked my usual question and when they said, “what’s a dog,” I knew we had to abort mission.’
I didn’t submit this story. The prompt was First sentence 12 words at least 5 words ending with ice something second hand bought/sold. It’s not often that I will “abort mission” on a story, especially for Furious Fiction, but I was in Bali and this was taking focus away from the manuscript I was actually supposed to be working on…
so here it is…oh it’s so silly but hey, it’s written.
Untitled (Unfinished and half-baked! DECEMBER 22)
My fiance, Alice, insists on going with me to the police station. Someone I trusted has taken our rings on the day before our wedding.
‘Thanks for coming with me,’ I say.
‘Where else would I be?’
‘I’m shocked she would do something like this.’
‘Who could resist all those diamonds?’ Alice shrugs ‘Everyone has a vice.’
‘You don’t,’ I grin at her.
‘Some would disagree,’ she says, one eyebrow cocked.
‘Where did you find them?’ I ask when an officer appears with the paperwork and our rings in a plastic evidence bag.
‘The pawnshop flagged it. High-end jewellery. It’s the law.’
I slip the rings into my pocket.
‘All part of the service,’ he says. ‘Did she take anything else?’
I shake my head. ‘She?’
The officer checks the paperwork. ‘The pawnbroker said an older man brought them in; big white moustache.’
Alice rolls her eyes. ‘That a fact?’
I sigh, feeling again for the rings in my pocket.
‘Let’s go pay a visit to my mother’s dim-witted accomplice,’ I say. ‘Then we’ll go get a nice big bit of chocolate cake.’
We pull up outside my mother’s apartment building and she’s on the balcony watering her plants. She waves and grins at us.
‘That’s weird behaviour for someone who’s just ripped off their daughter,’ Alice says.
‘Yoo hoo,’ she calls down to us. ‘I’ve just picked up my dress for the wedding.’
Alice and I glance at each other.
She meets us at the front door. ‘Hello, my darlings,’ she says, arms wide for a hug.
‘Where’s Charlie,’ I say.
My mother’s face is blank.
‘No idea. I haven’t seen your father since the rehearsal dinner last Sunday.’ Mum looks from one concerned face to the other. ‘What’s happened?’
‘Someone took our rings and my wallet and Charlie, with his goofy white moustache, tried to pawn them. Has this got anything to do with the advice you tried to give me last week?’
‘No dear, I’m all for this wedding now. I see how much you love each other. It’s just,’ she pauses.
Alice and I cross our arms.
‘Hear me out. It’s the name thing,’ Mum says. ‘It wasn’t my idea. Obviously, your dad took matters into his own hands.’ She holds it out to me. Alice rolls her eyes and I take her hand.
‘For the last time, no one is changing their name.’
‘I’m not being homophobic. It would just be so easy with you getting married.’
I take a deep breath and let it out slowly.
‘For starters, mum, it is homophobic and very hypocritical. You can’t handle the fact that I fell in love with a woman named Alice Best. So, guess what? On the way here, we decided we’re going to hyphenate. After all, it was you and my father who named me Alice Price so you can deal with having a daughter and a daughter-in-law both named Alice Best-Price.’