Unveiling the winners of our December 2020 to January 2021 Flash Fiction Challenge

 In Writing Challenge

The thought of magical transformation clearly unlocked inspiration in many of you. Covid, not unexpectedly, played a role in some of your entries. But for us, the winner triumphed for her playful and deeply inventive (not to mention spell-binding) exuberance. (I also like her take on speech markers!)

So, first prize, and congratulations, to Heather Joyce. For your literary prowess: A literary assessment on 5000 words of writing worth R 2750 / £ 150 or a voucher to the same value to use on one of our courses or programmes.

Then the runners up. It was impossible to establish a ranking, so we’ve listed them alphabetically. First, for his mad, loose baggy monster of a spell (and story), Peter Bode’s tale about Basil… Next, Alison Bradshaw whose piece was sweet as honey but with a little astringency thrown in to avoid more than glancing sentimentality. Third up, Sal Carter, whose fable featured a quite M Night Shayalan twist in its tail. Jill Dineen earns her laurels for her lovely witch, her convincing spell, and the lesson she offers to all wannabe dabblers in black magic. Clare Fermont deserves her mention for the felt intensity of her protagonist’s emotions, while Katoji le Roux rounds off list of champs because we loved the darkness of her vision. This was one of those entries that wouldn’t have worked as well without Covid 19.

And thank you, as always, to all of you who entered, and have not been mentioned here. Keep ‘em coming, is all we can say.

Read the winning entries below, and click here to check out our February/March challenge – which is currently open for entries!

Heather Joyce

Gaspard was on form. « And for anyone out there looking for love, remember, I’ve got the…
« …hot line to Cupid… » Everyone groaned. The annual Hootenanny had begun.

Gaspard had put his phone down; it glowed. Unlocked! Isabelle Brisé grabbed it and slid into the corner, scrolling through his contacts. There it was: Cupid’s Hotline.

A puff of lurid pink smoke; a portly man squeezed into red lycra appeared before her. His quiff wobbled dangerously and he smelled of Gitanes.

« Sorry love, I don’t do minors, » he said.

« It’s not for me, » she pleaded. « It’s my Dad. Look. »

The room around them had frozen. Benjamin Brisé was caught mid pint, mouth open, dead eyes drooping.

« Al-riiiiighty! » said Cupid. He twanged his bow. « Hmmm. Might need more than an arrow for that one. »

Sprouting little silver wings, he zoomed daintily towards the bar.

« Tequila, cointreau, lime. » He downed a quick Margarita and smacked his lips. «Where was I? Ah yes, the magic five for the perfect love potion. Though it usually worked better for lust, rather than anything permanent »

« That’ll do. »

They quickly assembled lemons, passion fruit juice, rose petals and…

« Pork scratchings? Really? »

« You’d be amazed the difference it makes. »

« What’s the fifth ingredient? »

« Ahhhhhh. The Tango! »

Isabelle was puzzled. « I’ve got some Sprite. Will that do? »

« No no! He must dance! »

« My Dad? Dance? »

A clarinet wailed into the stillness. With the tango’s opening bars, the room jerked back into life.
Benjamin Brisé had a rose between his teeth.

Peter Bode

Basil 

Basil hated his name, hated himself. In junior school he was nicknamed Pesto; in primary school, Pestolential and high school, well, when he hoped to finally beat off bullies, he was Ba-a-a-asil. A bleat issued from behind every pillar, echoing down corridors, a book rack or from the bust of the school’s founder as if a ventriloquist had thrown his voice into that block of sculpted stone. Who were these loathsome tormentors?

Even on a cricket field, where solemn faces, focused on that red polished orb, a B-a-a-a-a-asil came stuttering forth. No mouth ever seen moving. It was then that a trembling rage broke free, “Fookamental-Pestolential-snot-and-puss-infect-your-bollacks-and-render-eunoclentials-of-ye-all.”
Did I say that? Really ME?

21 boys and an umpire (the mathematics teacher in another role) froze like the stone visage of the founding father. The first to move was the batsman who reached into his underwear to adjust his protective box and assure himself its content had not turned to snotty ooze. Each head in turn, turned towards Basil. 21 pubescent bullies had witnessed the Basilisk discharge from Basil’s lips; a fury that screamed: ENOUGH!

Basil unwittingly had learnt to conjure spells to bring to games of draughts and darts, pubs and clubs: Zookaletial-Pestolential-minced-flies-and-maggot-stew he used to liven up a backstreet brawl. The fearsome Basilisk, coiled within, shot from Basil’s mouth like a striking serpent. Piddle-dribble-strum-n-fiddle-bring-consensus-to-this-board-o’-bores he would one day spit to end a boardroom impasse. Crusted-Vulture’s-vomit-drizzled-with-essence-of-Crocodile-poop…

But these lay in his future. For now…

“Can we continue,” demanded the umpire. “Next bowler!”

Alison Bradshaw

A spell for a loved one

Digging in my old sewing basket I found a small square cake of soap wrapped in blue paper. The day before my wedding Mum told me one day I might need this. I could just make out the faded writing on the wrapper. I headed for Mathew’s study and retrieved his fifty-year old running vest, shorts and a pair of moldy old trainers.

My husband lay pale against the pillow breathing softly. For months he’d been feeling tired, he didn’t have any energy and ached all over. I woke him gently and ever so slowly, he stood up and walked to the bathroom. I lay out his ancient vest, running shorts and shoes on the bed.

The coffee machine purred. I heard someone whistling. Most unusual in this house. I turned to get a teaspoon from the drawer.

“Hold mine for me please dear. I’m going for a run.”

A beautiful young man with startling blue eyes and dark hair damp from the shower stood in the doorway in his running gear. Strong, muscular and sun-tanned he was bouncing with energy. Mathew ran out the door, eager to feel the wind rush past and to hear his feet pounding on the pavement.

I re-read the instructions. I had indeed used all the ingredients as stipulated. I looked at my own age-spotted hands. Could it work for me? Regrettably there was no soap left but the fifth ingredient, true love was plentiful and that would suffice for now.

Sal Carter

Witch’s brew for someone I hate

I’m sorry, but you have let me down just one time too often. This is the end. My witch’s brew will make sure of it.

Sulphurously I smear spite wherever I can, because so often I had to push you.

With passion I’m pouring in red hot anger for the embarrassment you caused.

With fervour I’ve flung in fury for the frustration I endured.

With delight I’ve diluted the brew with fear, I often felt with you.

Finally, I’m sprinkling a smidgen of sweetness for the fun we once shared.

If this works as I hope, all that will be left of you is a black patch on the garage floor where you once were my pride and joy.

Jill Dineen

Lorna pressed the buzzer. She noticed the besom propped haphazardly against the door.

‘Yaas.’

Tall and big bosomed, with circumflex pencilled eyebrows, the witch in a leopard print house-coat, looked her up and down.

‘I’m Lorna. I phoned.’

‘Come in. You lost your lover, hey.’

They sat at a round, rickety table.

‘Have you got a photo?’ A waft of stale ginny breath.

‘What’s his name?’ Her chipped, red nail polished, talons wrapped around the picture.

‘Nev.’

‘Hmmm,’ She licked her lips, her bosom heaved. ‘He’s divine.’

Lorna scrabbled in her bag and fished out the spell ingredients.

They placed the fresh, red rose petals on the photo and wrapped it around the candle tying it with a narrow, red velvet ribbon. Lorna had to keep a rose quartz crystal in her bra under her left breast day and night until the rising of the waxing moon.

The candle was lit and Lorna and the witch held hands across the table and they chanted ‘I command Aphrodite to return Nev to me in the name of love.’ until the candle melted away.

‘Thanks Lorna. That’s three thousand rand. Nev will return by the waxing moon.’

Nev never returned.

Lorna revisited the witch.

They sat at the round rickety table.

The bathroom door opened. A billowing steamy cloud of familiar citrusy fragrance floated across the room. Nev emerged, a towel wrapped around his hips.

‘My new paramour.’ said the witch. ‘divine, isn’t he?’

Clare Fermont

“Please mum”, I whispered. “One last chance. Just five minutes. We won’t have to speak. Just come. Please.”

The phone clicked dead. My body sank.

One minute to go. I examined the table one more time. My throat tightened.

The loose paving stone on the path clunked. I ran to the door. I saw her tired, blank eyes and felt the pain of shame. I led her in and pointed to the chair by the table. She sat down, keeping on her familiar green woollen coat.

I took a deep breath and lifted the first cloth. A picture of her holding me as a baby.

I started the old chess clock we had used so often. I waited as its tick tock counted down a minute’s silence.

I lifted the second cloth. A purple pincushion childishly embroidered with a misshapen heart.

I lifted the third cloth. The ticket from the coach that brought her to rescue me in France.

I lifted the fourth cloth. A photo of the man, ripped in half across his face. I felt her slight recoil.

I lifted the fifth cloth. A bowl of spaghetti bolognese, the meal I made her every day for a month after dad was killed.

I stopped the clock. The room was silent and still.

Tears slid down my face. I looked up and there were her eyes and there was love in them. She stood up, turned around and silently left the house.

Katoji le Roux

It came to me in a dream as I tossed and turned.

Suddenly I sat bolt upright, the sheets around me drenched in sweat. It had to work. Surely it would!

Could it?

I swung my legs out of bed, grabbed my nightgown and bounded down the stairs. My pulse quickened with each step. I could not keep track of the thoughts coursing through my mind. The excitement was overwhelming. All I knew at that moment was that I was on the verge of an unimaginable breakthrough. And it had to happen.

Whatever it took.

Down in the basement I stood in the doorway and for a moment watched him as he lay on the bed, chest heaving up and down, arms wreathed with tubes. The ventilator did most of the breathing for him. Soon it would be a thing of the past. I sat down at his side and held his hand in mine and against my cheek.

“I have it figured out, Walter,” I whispered, “The last piece of the puzzle…who would have ever thought…” Indeed, the last piece held all the strings together.

I could not help but smile a confident smile. A relatively low heart rate. Right level of sedation. The right brain state. Control. And the final piece, tele-hypnotherapy. Who could imagine the influence on the brain waves?

Monitoring the EEG pattern, I waited until it was the right time and then I began to manipulate the electrical brain waves…

He would love me again.

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