Winners of the February/March Flash Fiction Challenge
In our February/March writing challenge we asked you to write a scene in which your character does something they know is wrong or seems out of character. We wanted to know what motivated them, and how it affects them in the moment.
We had a deluge of responses from you. Not easy to pick the best from the good, but here is our winner and the runners up:
First, for her chilling vignette of an encounter between a woman and her tormentor. Marion Low kept the tension going until the very end, when the revelation came like the proverbial bucket of icy water. Well done, Marion, your prize is a choice between a literary assessment on 5000 words of writing worth R 2900 / £ 170 or a voucher to the same value to use on one of our courses or programmes. We’ll be sending you the details.
Runners up, in no particular order, are:
Caroline Steenekamp for her mischievous piece on a schoolteacher who celebrates her freedom at the end of an arduous term by doing something quite eccentric but entirely understandable.
Linda Ravenhill wrote a lovely piece about a deception that people around the globe must be committing every day of the year. We would suggest cutting the last line – but even with it the story works very well.
We’d give the same piece of advice to the next runner-up, Hannelie Victor, whose scene was written with admirable restraint. The final paragraph, though, could easily fly, we thought.
Celia Fleming’s scene conjures up an awful possibility, averted by the stubbornness of her protagonists. But it’s the last line that really wins Celia her place in this parade.
Mitzi Bunce van Rooyen is a regular – and with good reason. Her scene this month is exuberant and energetic. We thought that the chewing gum was going to end up in her antagonist’s luxuriant hair – but Mitzi confounded that expectation. I’m not sure whether her resolution, or its alternative, is the better one.
I watch him shuffle into the room through the one-way mirror, one slippered foot at a time. The once-round belly now hangs flabbily on his bony frame. I swallow a mouthful of bile. The nurse helps him into a chair and stands back.
“You found him on the border?” I stall.
“Hitchhiking with a van of stoners.”
I step up to the mirror to get a closer look. His sharp snaggle tooth is yellower than I remember, his oily comb-over thinner.
“And he didn’t have an ID on him?”
“No ID, but his fingerprints are a partial match for John Delano.”
His blue eyes are rheumy and confused.
“He looks sick.”
“Cancer. Bowel. Dementia too.”
“Is it him?”
“Ask him to say something. Ask him to say “Come here, Peach.”
The detective barks into the intercom, and the old man croaks out the sentence.
Memories crash down. I am six, hiding in the broom closet. I can see his shadow coming closer. He finds me. His tooth is sharp on my lips, his belly is hard against my body.
“So? Is that man John Delano?”
I shake my head.
“Are you sure? If you say no, he could go out and hurt others.”
I glance back at the shadow of my tormentor hunched in the chair. That man was capable of unspeakable horrors. This husk isn’t.
“I’m sure. That’s not my father.”
She is sweaty, even under the small curve of her breasts. Her lower back aches. She stands upright reaching for the shelf to steady herself, as she sees tiny sparkles dancing before her eyes.
She sees the shelf of drawers, as if for the very first time. She yanks open the top drawer and empties the dustpan into it. She sweeps in every last morsel with the little hand broom. It is quite unexpected, not pre-meditated. Just a decision made inside of a split second of months of irritation.
The dustpan is half full with dust, little particles of sand, tiny bits of paper, pieces of sharpened pencils, dried-up glue and glitter, even a dead gecko and some insects that have been trapped on the splintered ledge. She feels enormous pleasure when she forcefully
shuts the drawer. Giving an extra shake to well and truly spread the debris in amongst all the nice things that don’t belong to educated her.
Nobody will ever know how the dirt got into the drawer. In a room filled with children everyday – anything is possible, anything at all.
She wipes the dustpan out with a damp rag, tucks the hand broom into the slot and hangs it neatly on the hook. She fixes her doek on her head, smiles inwardly and closes the door behind her, skipping joyfully down the steps.
She won’t be back, well, not until next term when she returns to the same dull dustpan and hand broom.
Damn Mary Margret from Melbourne and her 45,000 steps. She’s not fooling anyone. I hate this challenge; I hated it last year and the year before that, and I hate it now.
Despite the cheery “Congratulations on making it to Day 10’, I feel judged.
I scroll through the log: Douglas 32,000 steps; June 27,000; Sandy 35,000. On and on it goes, this list of liars.
The familiar flush of anger starts. I don’t even know these people, yet I despise them intensely. For a split second, I entertain the possibility of feeling guilty because the most I’ve done in weeks is running around the office and climbing the two steps to my front door.
Nope, that’s not it. I’m many things, but I’m not a liar. I can’t abide dishonesty.
2,400 steps I’ve walked, and 2,400 steps I’ll log. A loser but an honest loser.
I click the mouse and type: 24,000. Urgh, finger trouble.
I’m about to correct myself when it occurs to me how interesting it is that just a comma stands between being a winner or a loser. I mean – 2, 4 and a couple of zeros: the basics are all there. Who would ever know? Just ask Mary Margret. And in the grander scheme of things, does it matter? I mean, it is just a comma.
I entertain this thought for a moment longer, then click Submit.
24,000 steps logged.
I feel remarkably upbeat. Just a humble comma. Who would have thought it?
Kristina knew the best hiding places in the campus garden. The small purple flowers of the bush she crouched under smelled like sweet berries. Thomas would never find her here. She smiled as she moved the soil at her feet with the small gardening fork she had brought along. She looked up when she heard footsteps. Shiny, black shoes stopped in front of her hiding spot, before moving along. She peeked through the green leaves and saw a man walking up to Thomas and kneeling. She couldn’t hear what the man said to Thomas, but he shook his head and ran. Two long strides and the man reached Thomas. One arm wrapped around Thomas’s body lifting him; the other hand clasped over his mouth. Thomas kicked the air in vain. Kristina felt fear ripple through her, as the man headed back in her direction. Her hand tightened around the fork. The man was two steps away when Kristina jumped from the bush and swung the small fork down. It stuck in the man’s thigh and Kristina wrenched it back out again. A spurt of hot blood hit her in the face. She blinked. The man gasped. He dropped Thomas. Kristina dragged the howling boy to his feet and ran.
“I’m sorry, mommy, I had to do it. He wanted to take Thomas,” she sobbed, hugging her mom. Somewhere behind her in the small office she heard Thomas crying unconsolably in his own mother’s arms.
Ruth is still in her pyjamas when the hooting starts outside. It gets louder, a door bangs, feet run down the corridor. “Ruth?” It’s Ben. “Ruth! It’s time to go! We’re in the car. Why aren’t you dressed?”
Ruth picks dirt out of her toenails and glances anxiously at Ben. “I’m not going.”
Ben blinks, the implications thudding wildly through his head.
More frantic footsteps, a second person at her bedroom door. Mom. “Ruthie? Are you sick?”
“Nope. I’m fine.”
The hooting has stopped. Heavy footsteps now. “Ruth! What the CRAP is the hold-up?” Dad shouts. Ben stifles a shocked giggle. Dad said “crap”?!
Ruth looks at her bewildered family. “I’m not going anymore,” she says tightly. “I’m old enough to choose.” She does not mention Father Aubrey’s lustful leering. They wouldn’t believe her anyway.
Mom backs away, stunned. “Let’s just go,” she snaps. “We’re going to be LATE!”
To be late: a Most Grievous Sin. Ruth thinks, and dares to say, “What fiery punishment will fall if we aren’t in our pew by 9am?”
The room is still. She holds her breath.
“We will talk, girly. Later, we will TALK!” Dad jabs a furious finger at Ruth and storms out the room. There is a frenzied scuffle as the others follow.
In seconds, the house is silent. Shakily, Ruth breathes out. Gabriel the cat prowls in and purrs against her leg. “Well, Gabe,” Ruth says, “on the bright side, I didn’t go straight to hell.”
Mitzi Bunce van Rooyen
Flights of Nostalgia
The girl’s luscious locks cascade over my screen as she tosses them over her seat. I catch a whiff of mint shampoo.
She laughs and her chair vibrates, producing shock-waves through my feature. I’m watching ‘Scream’ in the hopes that the on-screen horror will distract me from the real-life horror. Her arms riot as she shoves forcefully against her chair, wallops her knees with delight. Red wine sloshes over the rim of my glass, river-runs along my tray and dribbles onto my white slacks. A dubious pink stain blossoms in my crotch. I dab it with the airline towel, but the damage is done.
In with pink, out with blue. Just breathe, Becca, breathe. How could this passenger possibly know the havoc she’s causing in my cramped world? Only two more hours, Becca. You got this.
Two minutes of relative peace ensue before her seat reclines – as far as it will go – and along with it come lashings of hair.
I nudge around the airplane floor, hook the strap of my bag with my toe, lure it into my hand. Where is it? I always squirrel a piece away for just such occasions. Ah, there it is. I chew and chew and chew, all the while eyeing the marvellous mane. The mastication-rhythm lulling and cathartic.
With care, I plant the sticky seed deep within the airline towel, remembering the old me with a little nostalgia. It smells minty, like her shampoo.