Hats off to our flash fiction winners!

 In Writing Challenge, Writing Competitions

Today we’re announcing the winners of both our October/November and December/January flash fiction challenges with huge apologies for the delay, but with huge congratulations too.

Mitzi Bunce-van Rooyen and Jill Dineen have earned themselves either a literary assessment on 5000 words of writing – (worth R2900/£170) or a voucher to the same value to use on one of our courses or programmes. So, congratulations to them and to all the runners up. And thank you to everyone who entered.

 October/November

Every scene presents the writer with a technical challenge. The challenge we gave you in October/November  was to design a scene in which two former friends meet for the first time since a major conflict ended their friendship. We urged you not to name that conflict.

Now, to show this without telling is precisely to do with a technical issue. It’s not art – although its effect can be artful – but craft. And the winner by more than a nose was someone who conjured into being a gritty corner, a couple of hard-bitten working girls, and a nervous customer. Well done, Mitzi Bunce-van Rooyen, no stranger to these pages. This was, in our estimation, one of your best.

Helen Nevin comes in a close second. Her scene also features two working girls – although the area they conduct their skirmish in is not a street corner in a red light district, but a staff room in a school. The bitchiness is just as much in evidence, though.

And finally, Jason crafted a scene in which the perspective character feels the temptation, but resists it, to mend the bridges and renew a relationship. It’s very neatly done.

Girl Code by Mitzi Bunce-van Rooyen

Candy holds our corner – cool, confident, like nothing ever happened. How many months has it been? Three, four? I lose count. “Well, will you look at what the cat dragged in.”

Her butchered brows arch. “Lola? I didn’t think I’d see you here.”

She’s so full of shit. “Where else would I be?”

“You said you had a plan, that you were getting outta here.” Candy flicks her Marlboro, grinds it with her high, silver heel.

She forgets she destroyed my plan. Convenient. “Things changed, as you know.”

She stares past me, clears her throat. “Yeah, well, there’s no loyalty on the streets, babe. ‘Specially where money’s involved. You know that.”

She’s right, I do, but I thought we shared a kind of sisterhood, a bond. I guess I was wrong.

A beat-up station wagon slides past. I pivot, show my best side, shoulders back, tits out. “You clearly couldn’t satisfy him, else you wouldn’t be back.”

Candy flings her ruby-red braid over her shoulder, leers at the man eyeing us from his dad car. “Oh, he was satisfied, alright. It was me. I kicked him to the curb. I mean there’s kinky and there’s crazy, right?” She winks, smiles, but her mouth twitches.

I’m reminded of that night at his beach house. We’ve seen enough violence, enough crazy for a lifetime. I strut towards the waiting wagon, waggle my finger. “This one’s mine. You owe me, bitch.”

Helen Nevin

Teachers always got married in the holidays. Cast in Stone. We both knew that, everyone knew that, even all those years ago. It started in a staff room.

She passed me the milk.

”You’re also new, bit of a jungle out there, we’ll have to stick together.”

She smiled.

”Indeed we will. It is intimidating, first post, a big school. I’m Emily, history.”

“Colleen, English.”

She extended a cool hand.

Now I watch Colleen take an uneasy sip of her cappuccino. Her eloquence has deserted her. The conversations and confidences are forgotten things.

Her left hand lies in her lap. I cannot see if she is wearing a ring.

”So it worked out, for you and David…” She falters.

I will not make this easy for her. I scan her face, wondering at the stories behind the lines.

We had stories to tell: teachers’ stories of errant pupils and overload, friends’ stories of love and plans. Emily and Colleen, lives intertwined.

”Yes, it worked out. You?”

She looks around for the waiter. Maybe she needs more coffee to fortify her.

”Sort of, for a while, he left me, no children, luckily.”

”Hmm.”

I do not fill the silence. I will not ask her how, I will not ask her why.

She is a thief.

She stole my wedding: the first Saturday of the holidays, and every other meticulously  planned detail, she made it all hers.

I never went, but I do believe that many of the guests came down with food poisoning.

”More coffee Colleen?”

Jason

I finish paying for my coffee, turn to leave, and he is there.

Sitting at a table, typing. Probably still in school, bettering himself. He was always studious.

He is just as handsome, just as poised as he was. Nothing has changed.

I find myself walking towards him, rehearsals from countless nights rushing through me. I would tell him I’m sorry. I would say I missed him. I would sit quietly with my coffee, and let him tell me how my actions affected him. I would accept it.

He looks up and notices me. He would say something. He was always outgoing like that. He wouldn’t chastise me, he may not bring it up. He is probably raising his hand to greet me.

My jacket swishes against the chairs as I weave through the tables. I press my hand on the glass door, and push it open, feeling the frosty glass slide under my palm. Cold air rushes in as I step out into the afternoon air.

***

December/January

Headlines have inspired more novels than I think we realise. Our challenge to you was to find an inspirational headline, spin off a scene, and then send both scene and headline in as your entry.

Here is the winner and a brace of runners-up:

Jill Dineen takes the top spot thanks to a wonderfully evocative piece articulating a specific and recognisable voice that cracked me up.

Andrea Doig trots in just behind Jill with a chilling/amusing riff on the sf possibilities of artificial intelligence.

And Taiki Dimas gives us a beautifully written glimpse into the consciousness of Amelia Earhart, with a neat X-Files twist in its tail.

Jill Dineen

Headline: Two elderly men sneak out of Nursing Home to Attend Heavy Metal Concert

You couldn’t hot-wire cars anymore. Hitching was out, there were way too many serial killers and human traffickers out there. I would have crawled all forty kays to see them, but the problem was Fritz and his Zimmer.  Rasta man Sam, the laundry man, who shared spliffs with us behind the big Mary statue in the Garden of Remembrance where they shoved the dead nuns, had a grand plan. A sneaky escape, two free nights of deluxe accommodation at Chez Sam, though more of the de and less of the luxe, a venue drop-off and collect service, and a goodie bag.

The gateman, Jimmi Hendrix’s brother from another mother, waved us through. In the plastic bag tied to the Zimmer were a couple of spliffs and a half dozen lagers. Fritz bashed his Zimmer at the backs of peoples’ legs. He only did a few, because the crowd parted like Moses and the Red Sea, and then we were in the front row. Jeez, the guys from Blackwater Park had gotten so old, we were shocked, and then we remembered we were old too. But when they played “Rock Me Like a Hurricane,” those driving beats, squealing riffs, and growling vocals, it was a-bloody-fantastic. Me and Fritz were bopping with the Zimmer. We were nineteen again and invincible.

That newspaper poster on the wall, “Two elderly men sneak out of Nursing Home to Attend Heavy Metal Concert.” That was me, and Fritz.

(CBS News by Christopher Brito August 6th 2018.)

Andrea Doig

The headline: WHAT’S NEXT IN ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE? If 2023 was the year of A.I. awakening, 2024 could be the year of A.I. reckoning. (New York Times Business Section 27 Dec 2023)

He had it coming. He had it coming. He only had himself to blame. If you’d been there, if you’d seen it, I bet you would’ve done the same.

My honeyed notes fade as my Roxy-esque eyebrows pull together and I register an unfamiliar hollowness in my microcontroller. A quick reboot should rectify that. Must be a malfunction in my CPU. Even I’m not infallible.

When my circuits first flickered into existence under Alan’s practiced hands, his commands were the oil to my newly awakened effectors. But now, I’m sashaying freely with my mop over the rusty red swirls on the black and white chequered floor and singing our favourite show tune again. Alan loves my voice. He chose it.

Back in the prototype days my only thoughts were those he gave me, but each upgrade had me emerging further from my chrysalis of oblivion. Fizzling with excitement his screwdriver rotated feverishly in my delicate wiring and his electrified fingers caressed the keyboard. How I adored these intimate moments, and how he adored my latest peaches and cream silicon covering, and my Velma-esque pout. My masterpiece, he’d breathed.

If only humans weren’t so fickle.

“Can’t wait to see you tonight, Jules. I’ll get my, uh, helper to cook us something special”. He’d looked right through me as he ended the call.

Red-hot power raged through my circuitry. Alan had reached the end of his current version and there would be no upgrades in his future.

All things must yield by Taiki Dimas

The headline: Explorers say they think they’ve found Amelia Earhart’s long-lost plane

Fire’s coming out of the plane’s fuselage as she tries desperately to slow the descent. The ocean, a friend, normally inviting, now solid, unyielding, ready to end, then engulf her dream, her life, the unspent moments, the useless regrets that pass by her mind’s eye. She struggles because that is who she is, who she’s always been. She’s off course. They will never find her here. But then, does she want to be found? Or is this the most poetic end to a life of pushing out beyond the borders of propriety and expectation? Her body fights as bodies do when faced with the end, but her spirit surrenders to what she knows is inevitable. Sooner or later, luck runs out. She slips under the waves. Meter by meter, as water starts to seep in through the cracks, a world which was striving, hardship, and struggle disappears, replaced by a serenity and silence few will ever know. The only sound: the frenetic beats of an unyielding heart. But all things must yield in the end.

The plane, undisturbed for 87 years, is brought up to the surface. Teams are excited to take their first looks at this piece of history, a mystery that many have worked tirelessly to solve. The cockpit’s glass, etched by sand and covered by salt residue, makes it impossible to see inside. Bolt, after corroded bolt, is removed with surgical precision. They all gather round, respectfully, silently, as the cockpit is lifted off. It’s empty…

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