Unveiling the winners of our June/July Flash Fiction Challenge
This round our guest judge was Michele Rowe, an award-winning novelist (Hour of Darkness and What Hidden Lies) and screenwriter. Michele, along with Richard Beynon, runs our screenwriting courses.
As per usual Michele judged the competition blind. This is what she had to say about the entries:
‘I believe the writers were given the setting of a university, and I was impressed by the intriguing variety of stories and situations they brought to the exercise. Each was entirely original, and markedly different to the others. The tone of the entries ranged from the macabre to the humorous. Academics and students featured strongly as characters, as one would expect given the setting. However, the stories ranged imaginatively wide, from a disturbing dystopia (science featured strongly in the entries) to gay erotica, and romantic scenarios. All were marvelously entertaining, with impressively strong writing. But there can only be one winner even in a talented field.
I chose the entry by Rahiem Whisgary as the winner for the thoughtful, and chilling piece on the theme of religious bigotry and academic freedom. I found it to be a well-written piece, conceptually strong, with a powerful message, and haunting atmosphere. ‘
Congratulations, Rahiem! You win a literary assessment of 5 000 words valued at R2 750 – which you can also, as you know, use as part or full payment on one of our courses.
The runners up, in no particular order, are: Mitzi Bunce–van Rooyen for an amusing and macabre take on a murder victim. Yageshree Moodley for a humorous tennis lesson that makes the most of double entendres. Patricia Groenewald for a marmoset that saves the blushes of a would-be suitor, Jenny Alence for a disturbing glimpse into a dysfunctional father and daughter relationship, and Bindi Davies for a frog’s peculiarly satisfying revenge; and finally another one from Rahiem Whisgary for their pregnant Russian student who contemplates abortion as she recalls her lover’s visit to the site of the Romanov massacre.’
Read all the winning entries below. And, check out our August/September Challenge, currently open for entries!
Academic Inquiry by Rahiem Whisgary
The crowd has dispersed, though I am still on show. The wind is strong; I cannot fight it, as it slams into me from the side. From this height, the city must look marvellous; buildings laid out like toy blocks, fading off into the horizon. Pretty clouds of soot appear purple in the late-afternoon sunlight. Below me, people weave passed one another, on their way home. I am calm. Resting. The trip to the top, at midday, was deadly, but now all’s set right. I should be here for another day or two, swaying in the wind.
I am here as warning, more than punishment. To be honest, I don’t actually know how long I’ll be here: My family won’t want to pay for the noose and the usage of the crane. My family won’t want to lay me to rest. They’d rather I’d disappear. More than a sinner, I’m an embarrassment. And there’s nothing worse than that.
The law I warn you to uphold is God’s law. It is indissoluble. There are no allowances for academic inquiry: The one who blasphemes the name of the Lord shall surely be put to death (Leviticus 24:16). I was scared, I’ll admit; my knees buckled. I did plead, lest it make a difference. But it wasn’t God that judged me, so there was no forgiveness. If God existed, he would’ve intervened.
Microscopic Matilda by Mitzi Bunce–van Rooyen
Matilda sat all prim and poised like she always had. My nemesis. I thought I’d gotten rid of her, but she was alive, albeit very tiny; waving and smiling up at me through the microscope. Like a teeny-tiny thorn in my side.
It had been exactly this time last year when I’d aided her rapid descent down the stairs. I couldn’t deal with her perkiness any longer. Her jibber- jabber. Her know-it-all-ness. So, in the midst of her explaining to me how cells divide, I gave her a little nudge.
She tumbled – head, bum, then head again, finally landing at the foot of the stairs in an awkward jumble of arms and legs. Her cashmere skirt flipped over her face, revealing perfect white knickers. I was not a bit surprised.
There hadn’t been much of an enquiry. I swore she had tripped, while displaying the proportionate amount of grief and shock.
Now here she was again, fighting fit and taunting me in botany class. Like the world’s smallest comeback kid. Matilda pointed to the cells she sat amongst. She brought her freckled hands together and drew them apart, then brought them together, then drew them apart.
Matilda smirked, and as was her fashion, wagged a disapproving finger at me. “No dummy, the cells are dividing, precisely as I said.”
“Try holding lower.” Aparna’s skin was soft, but her grip was hard. Andre coaxed her hand down, away from the shaft. “There…”
“I suck at this. I told you – me and balls…”
She was making fun of herself, innocent of the sexual innuendo. Andre groped for a clever response. If he laughed, what if she thought he was laughing at her?
Aparna stepped to the baseline. The sun was setting behind her, and it outlined every curve of her petite frame. She brought her arm up and around, just like he’d shown her. With a satisfying smack, the racquet made contact. The ball cleared the net and…
“Yes!” Andre bounded forward, wanting to lift her. He stopped short. Her smile was blinding. He raised both hands, shielding himself.
She high-fived him. “Finally!”
“Yeah, wow. You… I mean, for your first time, holding a racket…”
“You’re a good teacher. Next up, Spanish.” She described backpacking through South America. “But first, I’ll have to graduate. So,” she gathered her things, “I’d better get back to studying.”
Aparna moved with short, quick steps. He would walk her back to Fuller, but that was the busiest part of campus. It was now or never. He twisted, reaching down to cup her chin. “Eres hermosa.”
He bit the inside of his bottom lip, until he could taste metal. She strode ahead, babbling about something. Peru. That melodic voice had a cruel undertone. He wished someone would sock him, right in the stomach.
Her door was closed. Papers shuffled. He knocked. The sound stopped.
“Who is it?”
“Er, it’s Dom. I saw your light was on…um.”
The door opened. Something shot towards him from a bookshelf. Dom flung up his arms.
“You’re lucky he was aiming for my shoulder, or he’d have missed,” Lisa commented.
Dom peered at her shoulder, then straightened.
“Part of your study?”
“Not intentionally, he’s my sister’s. Come in. Feed him a mealworm and he might not bite your ear.”
“I’ve been hiding him all day. You won’t tell, will you? I realised that having an actual animal will really help with the model I’m developing.”
A mini obstacle course made entering difficult. A camera on a tripod stood in one corner.
“How is your project going?”
She laughed, “You know asking about a PhD is taboo, right? Here, give him one of these.”
He was surprised by how firmly he had to hold the wriggling grub. Before he could move his hand, the marmoset sprang to it, grabbed the mealworm, and leapt back to the security of her shoulder.
“You’re good with code, aren’t you?” she walked back to her desk, the marmoset swaying slightly.
“I s’pose,” Dom fidgeted with a note inside his jeans’ pocket.
“Would you have time to look at mine sometime? I can pay,” she added hastily.
“Yeah, and… don’t worry about… I’m happy to help.”
That night he tore up the note. Relief? Yes, definitely relief.
It was in the 80’s. I was 22 or so and wearing a bright pink sweatshirt. It probably wore me, because I was plain and make-up was frivolous back then, on account of the struggle. And if you strove to be one of them, which I did. They were so clever, those students, so hugely righteous. In committee. In protest. In the canteen. In each other’s beds. How they held forth, as I could never imagine.
And yet I had grown up in such a clever house. Ruled by a Professor of Law. We had to call him Dad. Had to. A swallowed choke, every time. Otherwise there would be thunder and you might pee in your pants, right there under the dinner table as he menaced and boomed, “Please. Pass. The. Salt. WHO!”
Over time it got so that it was a bit normal in The Lounge, where we were allowed to sit after supper. There, of an evening he had said to me, “Good point”. My insides swelled and I was alright and glowed.
Now, years later in my bright pink sweatshirt, I sat as one of his students and I had a question. Hours in the composing so that I even knew the answer, actually. I asked, steady and fluent. He was stumped. But he handed it to me. In front of the whole lecture hall. SUCH A GOOD QUESTION.
Those were glorious seconds and are seared into my soul. But the word Dad. Makes me sick.
Experimental Revenge by Bindi Davies
The frog lies splayed, its legs pinned to the board.
“Professor?” I raise a hand, armpits prickling. “I think it’s still alive.” The zoology lab reeks of sweat and formaldehyde.
The frog twitches, its brain mashed with a scalpel.
My breathing’s ragged and I wonder if this is worth the risk. But I can’t get the image of Holly’s face out of my mind. Just a month ago, her eyes squeezed shut, cheeks blotched with embarrassment, as she lay shivering on the granite slab. The faceless class looking on, a collective breath held. Professor Allen, swivelling between the diagram on the wall and her prostrate body, lips twitching as he ran a hand up her leg, pointing out the thigh muscles, the gluteal muscles. Prodding with stubby fingers.
I should have done something. We all should. But it’s too late now. She’s not coming back.
Professor Allen glides over to my bench, his hair white and woolly, like a halo. Anyone might think he was some kind of angel, not a bully at all. He bends over the dissection board, purple veins on his forehead pulsating mere inches from the throbbing frog.
“The heart’s beating of course, dear boy. But it’s brain-dead.”
I know this. We all do.
We also know that its legs are too loosely pinned. As the class draws closer, I flood the drip with adrenaline.
The frog leaps free, its slimy legs tangling in Professor Allen’s beard.
He screams and the class titters.
For you, Holly.
Occupied by Rahiem Whisgary
Anna stumbles into the stall and tries to lock it behind her. Her fingers fumble, but the door bolts shut. Her head lolls, dizzy and drowsy. She turns and leans back against the door. The toilet lid is up, the seat down. The walls are vomit-yellow, the floor littered with pages ripped from a textbook. A bullet has pierced the back wall, above the cistern, leaving a hole lined with soot; it makes Anna think of the basement at Ipatiev House. Her knees give in, so that with her back pressed against the door, she sinks. In the stall, Anna isn’t alone.
Vlad has visited the church that stands in place of Ipatiev House. He spoke of the monolithic white exterior and the mosaic panel depicting the last Tsar and his family as saints in the spot they were murdered, laughing. ‘The mosaic is intricate, the reverence stupid,’ he’d said. Vlad is cynical and irreverent. He travels the world, scorning culture and patronising the pious.
Anna hiccups, and the rush of bile subsides. She’s already missed too many classes to care. Her fingers link together, cradling her belly.
Vlad is gone.
Anna cannot support it. She doesn’t want it. But she cannot bring herself to do what’s necessary. It’s too medical, too official, too wrong. Murder is wrong. But if it happens to die inside her… If the environment inside her is too hostile… She hauls herself up, smooths her clothes and unbolts the door. Time to down another drink.