Join the fun. On the fourth Friday of the month join our monthly writing challenge Flash Fiction Friday.
This monthly challenge is open to all NSW Writers. Each month a shortlist will be announced with the winner receiving a mystery prize each month and entered into the Hall of Fame – see below. To be part of this challenge you must subscribe to our newsletter – Write Now below.
Flash Fiction Friday open at 5 pm on the 4th Friday of the month.
HALL OF FAME
August 2021 Winner
I dreamt I was a microphone
I had to go to Darwin, and I booked myself a flight
On a Qantas Frequent Flyer to arrive on Friday night.
To get to Darwin from where I live takes almost half a day,
As you stopover in Sydney or in Brisbane on the way.
My trip took me via Sydney, and the Sydney-Darwin flight
Was fully booked so seating in the cabin was quite tight.
I had a middle seat and found young ladies either side,
Each of them with babies on their laps, both bleary eyed.
We settled in, with small talk, and I said long, long ago
That I’d also flown with children – it’s a challenge that I know.
But the babies were quite cheerful and were pampered by the crews,
So I relaxed, deciding it was time now for a snooze.
I dreamt I was a microphone, up before the crowd.
On my left was Jimmy Barnes, screaming very loud;
On my right, Joan Sutherland, shrieking fit to burst.
I really was uncertain as to which of them was worst!
Was this a competition or a very strange duet?
Two champions of song, to see how loud that they could get?
I feared that I would blow a fuse when Dame Joan hit top D,
But Jimmy’s great vibrato was what really finished me!
An announcement from the crew then quite abruptly woke me up!
The baby on my right was calmly feeding from a cup.
His mother then leaned to me, said “I must apologise
For the pain you must have suffered from my son’s excessive cries.
He’s got a pair of lungs”, she said, “would put all else to shame;
His idol is old Jimmy Barnes – I think that he’s to blame!”
And then the lady on my left, tapped me on the arm.
She too said sorry for her child, for causing me such harm.
Her child had also screamed throughout the trip, as in a choir,
Only, she was somewhat younger, so her vocals were much higher.
“I’m surprised that you could sleep at all, with all that dreadful noise”
She said, “It’s hard to keep her happy here without her little toys!”.
I’m sorry too for all the mess – the vomit on your coat.
I tried my best to clean it up, not perfectly you’ll note.
I scrubbed it with the towels in the toilets and some soap,
But the stain’s still there, you’ll let me pay for cleaning it, I hope?
“No, No”, I said – “it’s no big deal, that jacket’s past its best.
I was thinking of replacing it, so don’t get too distressed”.
I told them of my nightmare; how I was the microphone,
Between the thunderous voices of Jimmy Barnes and Joan.
The plane flew on. The next I knew both mothers nodded off,
In sleep borne of exhaustion – they had suffered quite enough!
So there I was, with babies playing quietly on each thigh,
Vowing to get earmuffs before the next time I would fly!
Chris Durham – Shortlisted
This was nothing I could do. I had searched everywhere in the dark but it wasn’t there. I even managed to silently slip my hand into the one next to me, stealthily navigating the tiny gap between the seat in front and the gigantic legs of my fellow passenger so as not to wake him, but to no avail. My fingers explored every inch but there wasn’t one there either. As a last resort I thought about undoing my belt, sliding backwards up the seat to a crouching position doing a 190 degree double twist followed by a choreographed trapeze movement swinging my left leg over his bulging belly, then closely shaving the top of his head with my right leg, all the while balancing with precision like agility to not end up with my crotch in his face. It was a manoeuvre I could have easily performed on a balancing beam with my eyes closed but that didn’t involve a sleeping 350 lb scary Russian.
I tried to swallow it back down, choking and spluttering loudly. The sleeping giant snorted, then flung his arm onto my chest, pinning me down with no way to escape. I did the only thing left that I could. Being double jointed I used my toes to grab hold of the wire to make a wide opening, stretched my hand back and with a sudden jerk I catapulted my head in a forward direction, mouth wide open.
The vomit gushed out with such force it quickly filled up the pocket. The angle of projection was perfect, I managed to not get any on myself or the Russian. The stench was putrid but it didn’t seem to wake him or the other sleeping passengers. I badly wanted to rinse the aftertaste out of my mouth, but I wasn’t about to put my hand in that pocket to get the water bottle out for all the tea in China or press the button for the crew to bring me water. I stuffed some tissues up my nose and went to sleep. Tip, if you want to avoid getting a stiff neck, don’t sleep head down on a Russian.
The cabin lights were still dimmed but when the breakfast announcement came and the Russian started to stir, it was now or never. I took my changes and leaped over him before he even had time to open his eyelids.
When the flight attendant put the breakfast tray down at seat 35B she noticed an overpowering smell. She gagged, dry retched and then puked all over the Russian. The attendant then let fly at the Russian, angrily waving a handful of paper bags in his face and telling him to clean it up. He protested profusely in Russian but ignoring him she snatched back the breakfast and left him covered in her vomit.
As I ate my breakfast from the comfort of seat 33C I thought to myself, if only I’d used the toilet before we took off!
July 2021 Winner
Girls and boys, thank you for you News. Now we are going to have your favourite. Story Time after your snack. So, when you are ready, I need for everyone to get comfortable on the floor in front of me here and we will start.
All the children, sat down in front of the teacher on the floor and the teacher started.
This is a story about a six year old boy who reached out and made a friend.
Are you ready for the story?
Yes, said all the kids.
Ok, here we go!
It was a new school for Stephen, his mother had brought him to school, she held his had as they walked through to the main office.
There were lots of children around in the playground, they were playing ball, some girls were skipping with their skipping ropes and other children were sitting down and talking.
Stephen looked over towards the fence, there was a little boy standing there all on his own. There was no one else around him. Stephen thought the little boy looked different from all the other kids.
As Stephen’s mother spoke to the ladies in the office, Stephen stood outside and watched.
It wasn’t long before the bell rang and all the children stopped what they were doing and went to line up for class.
Stephen, again noticed the little boy who was on his own, he did not join the other kids, he stayed near the fence on his own.
Stephen heard the lady in the office tell his mother what class he was going to be in and said that she would have someone come to get him to take him to class.
When Stephen’s mother came out to talk to Stephen and to say good bye, Stephen, spoke to his mother about the little boy he saw near the fence.
Stephen, thought this little boy looked about the same age and asked his mother if she could ask if he was his age.
When the lady from the office returned with someone to escort Stephen to class, Stephen’s mother asked the lady about the little boy that Stephen had noticed.
The lady said, that the little boy was the same age, and had only just started school today as well and he was in Stephens class.
When Stephen heard that, he asked if it was ok, if he could go and talk to him and perhaps walk into class together.
Stephen’s mother mentioned it to the lady and they both agreed that it was a lovely idea, and so Stephen walked over to the little boy and introduced himself.
Stephen learnt that the little boys name was Ash and they both walked into the classroom together.
They sat next to each other and as the day past they learnt a lot about each other and shared their things. Ash and Stephen decided together to ensure whenever a new kid started school they will ensure that they are Never Alone.
June 2021 Winner
A Very British Show
Vienna is renowned for its culture and its style, and to get a posting there is such a treat.
The history of the city, the opera, the arts; the food and wine and people that you meet!
So, I was overjoyed on the news of my appointment, as a diplomatic officer trainee.
To represent Great Britain and experience all of this – well, I’d have to say I’d do it all for free!
Amid my more mundane tasks was quite important stuff, and projecting British culture was a must.
The Embassy would host, for instance, British shows and bands, and I was there when these things were discussed.
With Christmas soon approaching, the committee asked for views as to how the Embassy could contribute.
I’d suggested, p’raps, a play – maybe Shakespeare sort-of stuff, its Britishness could not be in dispute.
But all the Shakespeare companies were fully booked for years, so we had to come up with a new Plan B.
And I suggested, half in jest, (I SO regret it now!) what fun a Pantomime would surely be!
And here we are, the Cast, with the theatre lights now dimmed, the stage is now as silent as a tomb.
Our Cinderella, handsome Prince, her ugly sisters too, and both halves of the horse sit in the gloom.
Not merely a disaster – a catastrophe perhaps! A clash of cultures certainly! A flop!
We’d invited all the Diplomats, the Ministers, the Mayor – in fact the people at the very top.
And they came in all their finery, in top hats and in tails, the ladies with their diamonds head to toe.
But this audience, accustomed to Puccini, Brahms and Liszt, just never understood our Panto show.
Polite applause was offered as the actors took the stage, and the panto horse raised something of a laugh.
But they took the ugly sisters – those villainous drama queens – for real, and too seriously by half.
They gasped as Cinderella’s Fairy God-ma came on stage, noting she was just a dressed-up bloke,
And when the evil witch came out to scare poor Cinderella, the audience didn’t understand the joke!
My colleagues in the audience tried to save the situation – “Boo! Hiss! Look out behind you!” cried out loud!
And this, of course, would quite conform to Pantomime tradition – understood by every normal British crowd.
But in Vienna it’s just not done to interrupt a play – the Mayor felt he had to intervene!
“Will you kindly keep the noise down! We’re trying to understand the twists and turns of every single scene!”
So, the play went on in silence, despite the actors’ pleas, and all the hamming up went on in vain.
It’s a very British humour, full of slapstick and bad jokes. I suppose it’s just a little too arcane
And when poor Cinderella had finally won her Prince, the crowd filed out, bewildered, to their cars.
But the cast members, deflated by the lack of audience response, could only drown their sorrows in the bars!
“Here she comes, the drama queen from hell.”
Michael’s whispers do not go unnoticed by Eloise.
As she walks past the ogre, she smiles sweetly.
“Jealousy does not become you, Michael dear.”
Eloise proceeds to the right side of the stage, ready for her grand entrance. This time, she does not hear the snickering her passing by has caused.
Eloise fluffs her hair, straightens her bodice and carefully dabs at her lips. The wig is heavy, so is the costume, but she knows she looks glorious.
She is Maggie Smith and Judy Dench all rolled into one wonderful character. It is the role that Eloise has been waiting for all her life.
A clatter behind her intrudes her thoughts and she quickly turns to the startled light technician who is standing behind her fluttering his hands.
“Keep the noise down.” She wants to add “stupid fool” but he is the light technician after all, and they can either show every wrinkle on your face or bathe you in golden colour.
Eloise would prefer the latter, so she turns back to the stage ready for her entrance.
The theatre is quiet now. They are waiting for her grand entrance.
After all, they all know Eloise is the star.
Eloise has been busy reminding the whole world that she is the star since she won the part and the cast have not been given a chance to forget.
The whole advertising campaign also began to let Sydney know that the famous “Eloise Carpenter” from New York was the central actress of the wonderful “Who Dun It “comedy.
She feels the first flicker of nerves.
Ridiculous really. Nerves cannot play a part here. Eloise must cover the inadequacies of the other actors whilst on stage. It is her role that will carry the whole play and Eloise takes her responsibility seriously.
Michael is her lover in the play and Eloise hates him with a passion. If only she could ignore him, but it is impossible. She has to admit that he is a good actor. Unfortunately he knows it, and vies for attention both on stage and off.
Tonight she will show him. She will outshine him from the moment she enters on stage. Give him no quarter.
Eloise stands perfectly still, as the stage light slowly moves across for her entrance.
Now is her moment to show the whole cast what acting is really about.
Eloise enters and struts to the centre of the stage.
Michael enters and she turns and faces him.
Laughing. The whole cast and Director are laughing.
She turns around as Michael comes close and gently pulls her costume at the back.
The toilet paper he then hands her comes with a smile and words that she will never forget.
“Pride comes before a fall Eloise.”
Eloise then dramatically faints into his arms.
Now everyone is clapping.
She looks up at Michael.
“I hope I am not too heavy for you Michael.”
May 2021 Winner
How Now Brown Cow
A small cardboard box rests on the kitchen table where a little girl sits and eats her cereal.
“What’s in there, Grandma?”
“We’re going to make some art today.”
“What are we going make?”
“We’re going to make the kitchen beautiful.”
The girl pulls out a sample pot of paint, then another and another. She holds one up. “What colour is this one?”
“Betty Blue, I think.”
The girl laughs. “Really! Is that what it’s called?”
“It is now.”
“What about this one”
“But the sky’s not orange,” argues the girl.
“It is at sunset. What do you want to call the last one?”
“What does the writing say?”
“What about Sour Puss. That’s what daddy calls me when I’m cranky.”
“Can you guess what the recipe is for green?”
“Colours don’t have a recipe. Only food does.”
“Don’t they? Just watch. One part Betty Blue, let’s put that into the dish. Now add one part Sour Puss. Mix thoroughly”
“Green!” The girl jumps up and down.
“It’s quite bright. Let’s call it Cut Grass.”
The girl watches closely as her Grandmother blends blue and orange in another small bowl and asks what it should be called.
“Brown Cow,” decides the girl.
“Brown Cow it is.”
The girl picks up the bowl and asks it “how now, brown cow?”
They look at each other and burst into laughter.
“Wait a minute.” The woman goes into the lounge and slides her compilation CD of Mozart, Vivaldi, Strauss, and Rossini into the stereo. She looks around the kitchen. “Let’s start on this cupboard, it’s the biggest.”
An orange sky begins to bloom over a sea of cut grass, soon dotted with rotund brown cows and frowning yellow cats. The music picks up and they drop their paintbrushes to waltz around the lounge room, wave arms and point legs and creep across the carpet chasing each other.
By afternoon a blue girl with huge roller-skates dances on the door to a smaller cupboard and a choppy sea carrying a wobbly boat has flooded another. The drawers have become inhabited by birds in trees and suns, moons and stars. Fairies flitter about in the corners of the room.
“Grandma! I’ve got paint on my dress.”
“On your dress? You should see the rest of you. A real wild thing. Let me get a mirror.”
The girl makes a huge ‘O’ with her mouth when she sees orange and yellow tiger stripes through her hair, blue petals on her cheeks and a forest of green on her arms. She looks down at the flaking brown paws of her hands and frowns. “Mummy’s going to be very angry.”
“Don’t worry; you’ll look like an angel again by the time I’ve finished with you.”
The growl of a motor interrupts their cleaning, followed by the inane chatter of a radio D.J. echoing from the carport, then silence.
“Mummy’s home!” The girl runs to the kitchen door and opens it onto her mother, loaded with shopping and folders.
The younger woman’s face drops. “What the …! Mum! What have you done with my new kitchen!”
May 2021 Shortlist
Eleanor Sharman – How Now Brown Cow
The judges comments…
How Now Brown Cow which draws the reader into a world of colour and humour. At first, the judges were concerned about the use of a cliché, but the author uses it to unite the two generations. Both the grandmother and her granddaughter recognise it.
The short story addresses the contemporary issues of play, aging and childcare as well as the curiosity of a child. The dialogue pushes the story towards the conclusion. This is a story that is worth extending so the reader discovers what happens next.
John Walker – The Omelette
The judges comments…
The author of The Omelette introduces tension early and demonstrates the protagonist’s attempts to minimise the conflict, and her frustration. The use of rhyme is an interesting tool and adds some humour.
The in-laws arrived in Australia, and at first they camped down at our place.
Though we had two small kids, there was still a spare bedroom – the problem was never the space!
The problem, in fact, was that mother-in-law was trying too hard to be nice.
And she’d cook the kids’ dinners while we’re out at work, but she’d never include any spice.
Always meat and three veg and some gravy – your typical Pommy cooked meal,
And she’d boil the shit out the cabbage; well, you probably know how we’d feel!
We gave her some hints and some recipes, in the hope that she’d soon realise
That our kids went for curries and pizzas, and even some spicy meat pies.
But that didn’t work, so we had to change tack; we thanked her, but said we’d prefer
That she left it to us to cook for the kids, and she’d cook for just him and for her.
We said, in full truth, that we wanted the kids to wait till we’re home for their dinner.
So they’re eating with us, and we hear all their tales from school – and that was a winner.
It’s so easy to sour a relationship, and that was never my intent.
And, to her great credit, mum-in-law said that she’d understood just what I meant.
And I like to cook, I relax after work, and especially to cook for the kids.
It’s quality time when we dine all together, and I wouldn’t miss it for quids!
So I cooked for us, and they cooked for themselves, and never the twain would meet.
But one Sat’day lunchtime the in-laws declared that they’d found a house in a near street.
A quick lunch was needed, so they could attend: – the auction was scheduled for two.
So I volunteered to cook for us all, and they agreed a cheese omelette would do.
Can’t go wrong with cheese omelettes – as Pommy as chips! – I got down to work on the grills.
Just eggs and some cheese – how boring – what a waste of my great cooking skills!
I chucked all the eggs in a blender, but it needed more flavour, I knew.
So I cut up a few spring onions, and tossed them all into the brew.
I grated the rind off an orange, just to give it a bit of French flair.
And served it up with alacrity, knowing we’d have no time to spare.
Father-in-law was the first to comment, as he carved the omelette into slices.
“What did you do with my lunch – it’s green – I hope you have added no spices!
I’m sorry, I said,– it’s spring onions, I’m sure you’re familiar with those.
But I sniffed as I said it, raising his fears that this green stuff had come from my nose!
I admit it was gross – but – dammit – I feel I was not guilty this time.
Just take care if you’re feeding your in-laws – and remember this terrible rhyme!
April 2021 Winner
Slaughter by Salad
‘She’s been poisoned!’ my father shouted, knocking over his wine glass in haste.
‘You’ve got to be kidding,’ I whispered under my breathe. It took great effort not to roll my eyes.
He leant over my new mother’s body. She had fallen, face first into her salad.
‘Were there nuts in that salad? She’s highly allergic! You’ve poisoned her!’
He was gesturing widely, as if he really cared. He should have used his talents to be an actor rather than a serial killer.
For that’s what my father was.
This was the third wife I could remember. He could have had more before that. I was twelve and had no idea what happened to my own mother. He once told me my mother had just left us. Perhaps that’s true. Perhaps it wasn’t. You never knew with Father.
I wondered if the police would cotton on after this one’s death. Surely there had to be a limit to how many wives can die ‘accidentally’?
Father picked well off ladies, never too rich, people cared more about what happened to really rich people. These ladies were all kind and trusting. When their wills were in Father’s favour they died.
This mother had lasted longer than the other two. I’d hoped maybe I was mistaken that Father was a serial killer.
‘Quick get an ambulance,’ Father shouted at the nearest waiter.
‘Yes of course!’ he said, racing off.
My new sister, just a baby, reached over in the highchair and pulled at her mother’s hair. I felt sorry for Abby. It wasn’t going to be easy.
A new mother would be found soon enough. The idea filled me with dread. I didn’t want another mother dying. I wondered if the police would believe me if I told them I thought my father was a serial killer. I was only nine last death and could barely believe I’d lost another mother. She’d died on a hike with Father. But Father had been shouting at her before they left and he’d had that look, like when the first mother died.
I had no proof. Just the occasional odd comment, a glare, a feeling he was evil.
I looked at my latest mother, saw her back move slightly, and felt a burst of hope. She was alive! I prayed the ambulance would get here in time and she survived. I really loved her. I scooped up Abby as she began to cry.
My father shot the baby a look. Abby’s crying got on his nerves. I didn’t want her added to the list of victims.
A man had rushed from another table in the restaurant.
‘I’m a doctor,’ he said, pulling out a medical bag.
Father ran his hands through his hair. Now he really was distressed.
My new mother would survive. I felt a surge of confidence in that thought.
I would speak up this time.
‘Poisoned was an odd word to choose Father.’
April 2021 Shortlist
Jackie Mohr – Slaughter by Salad
Luke Evans – Unintended Consequences
Eleanor Sharman – Criminal Justice
He looked up as the man reached his table. The newcomer looked like… well… a Norse God… all muscles, strong jaw, blond ponytail. No smile.
“Tee!” the sitting man exclaimed. “Great to see you!”
“Pest. What do you want?”
“C’mon,” the man admonished, indicating the free bench, “don’t be like that.” The giant didn’t move. “You want a salad?”
The titan rolled his eyes, reluctantly sitting down. “No.”
“Don’t do that.”
The big man shook his head. “This isn’t what the arrangement is for. It was supposed to be used to prevent us from fighting each other.”
“And I will, when that happens. Meanwhile…”
Tee frowned and leant across the table. “Have you no respect?”
“Don’t be a baby. What I have is the need for certain things to occur the right way… gods’ willing.”
The big man grunted, looking away. “Unbelievable. You summon me to this… what do you call a place like this?”
“A family restaurant.”
“There’s a woman dancing on a table over there.”
“Yes. She has a family too. Three kids that have to eat. Her name’s Destiny. Don’t be so judgey.”
“It’s not like wine-houses were better back in your day.”
The giant grinned. “They weren’t like this.”
“Anyway,” said the Pest. “I need a favour.”
“You have got to be kidding!” Tee boomed. Other patrons turned. Destiny missed a beat, but, being a consummate professional, quickly recovered.
“This attitude’s not helping,” the Pest remarked. “I assume you’re familiar with ‘Set’?”
“As in ‘to set the table for dinner?”
“As in the Egyptian god of chaos … and storms?”
“Oh,” Tee mumbled. “Him.”
“Yes,” his host replied, whispering conspiratorially. “Word has it he plans to disrupt a fundraiser for underprivileged children tomorrow. Throwing up the mother of all storms.”
Tee’s eyes widened. “Bastard!”
“Never liked him. Anyway… I was planning to stop it… for the kids.”
Tee frowned, shaking his head. “He doesn’t like interference. None of us do.”
“Ah.” The Pest looked away, feigning sadness. “I wonder if Aeolus is available?”
The colossus scowled, his eyes suddenly as dark as winter storms. Thunder cracked in the distance. “Don’t do that, Godpest. I’m warning you. I will not be manipulated.”
The Godpest held up his hands innocently. “Thor. I wouldn’t, honestly. Look… there is a storm coming…”
“Unbelievable,” growled the Odinson. “This isn’t what the power is for.”
“If it rains, we can’t play golf and if we don’t play, we don’t raise any money. For the kids.”
“Golf?” repeated the Thunderer. “I’ll rip out your eyes and hit them into the furthest hole I can find.”
“Later. First, I need a weather update. Sunny skies, with a chance of a light drizzle after four?”
The Godpest smiled, calling a waiter over for drinks. “You’re my favourite, you know?”
Thor, Son of Odin, Prince of Asgard, smiled reluctantly. Flattery always went a long way with the gods.
“Did you really call Poseidon to get your keys out of a lake?”
“Happy Birthday Natasha” Anya reached over the table to clink glasses with her sister.
“The parole Board had a meeting the other day; Joseph has been given early release. He’s coming out next month.” Natasha couldn’t suppress her smile.
“Already!” Anya leaned back, “doesn’t he have to go to half-way house or something, first?
“God no! That’s only for serious criminals,” Natasha laughed.
“He’s still a criminal”
Natasha rolled her eyes.
“Where’s he going to stay, then?”
“At home, of course.”
“What,” Anya’s eyes widened, “at your place?”
“I thought you guys had agreed to split up.”
“Well,” Natasha shrugged, “I thought he’d be in for longer. And it was less complicated to get the Single Parenting Payment for Emma. Otherwise I wouldn’t be able to cover the rent and everything.”
“So you’re still deceiving the government.”
“No, I’m not deceiving anyone,” she levelled her eyes at her sister, “and I never did.”
“So you really didn’t know what he was doing?”
Natasha shrugged. “Sure, I knew he was working all that time, but I didn’t know it was cash in hand and that he wasn’t declaring it to Centrelink.”
Anya lowered her fork. “So he does lie. I don’t know why you’d want to be with someone who lies to you.”
“He didn’t lie, he just neglected to tell me.”
“No it isn’t.”
“Yes it is.”
“Let’s get another bottle of wine. Where’s the waiter gone?” Natasha scanned the stripped timber walls dripping with potted ferns and fairy lights.
Anya raised her eyebrows. “Shouldn’t you have water instead? Aren’t you breastfeeding?”
“Not much anymore. Do you want some more salad? I’ve had enough. “
“Are you eating enough greens? You look tired.”
“Of course I’m tired. I have a baby. I’m going to the loo.” Natasha stood up. This was a mistake, she decided as she pushed open the door to the Ladies. Facing the mirror she pulled the same silent scream face that she used give her sister when they were kids and laughed at the thought of doing it to Anya now. That wine’s gotten to me already, she realised as she wove her way back to their table.
“So, Anya, how’s the business going?”
“We’re both really busy, can’t keep up with the orders. We need to up production.”
“That’s good, isn’t it? That you’re finally making money? Weren’t you going to try to have a baby this year?”
“Well…yeah,” Anya looked down and played with her food, “but it’s too much for Terry on his own, even if I still work part time.”
“Perhaps you can take on someone else, a casual.”
“Yeah, we’ve talked about that. We could probably afford it if we didn’t have to cover tax and Super and everything, if we can find someone willing to work for cash-in-hand.”
“Oh? I know someone who’ll be desperate for work, soon,” Natasha grinned.
“Oh yeah? Who’s that?”
“Joseph, of course!”
A look of confusion passed over Anya’s face. “You’ve got to be kidding!”
“Of course I’m kidding. But what about you? Who’s the criminal now?”
March 2021 Winner
Kate loved the zoo after dark. No noisy tourists. Just her and the animals. Apart from the skunks and foxes who roamed the night, most of them would be deep in slumber by now. Not for the first time, Kate wondered if they dreamed. She checked the lions. They were tucked up tight in their cages, so too the hyenas, but when she reached the elephant enclosure, her heart did a double flip. There were supposed to be three elephants. She could only count two.
‘How goes it Kate? Everything all right?’
Kate jumped at the crackle of the radio and Ed’s voice in her ear. She pictured him leaning back in his chair, feet up on his desk, the smooth contour of his arms.
‘Kate? You okay?’ A wary edge to his voice.
She must stop thinking about his biceps.
‘Yes. No. I…’
She knew his chair would be firmly planted on the floor by now, and he’d be on his feet, ready to run, sensing an animal in trouble.
‘What about Eleanor? What’s happened?’
Kate hesitated not sure how to answer. She took a deep breath. ‘It’s more like, where is Eleanor?’
Ed was there in five minutes staring at the sight of Josie asleep on the ground, Oscar, her calf, curled up beside her. But no Eleanor.
‘How the hell did she get out?’
Kate felt the blood drain from her face. ‘The gate. I taught her to open gates.’
‘I’m sorry, I wasn’t thinking. I didn’t…’ Kate turned away, close to tears.
Ed took her by the shoulders. ‘Hey,’ he said. ‘Look at me. It’s okay. We’ll find her.’
Kate nodded, not trusting herself to speak, aware of the warmth of his touch.
Night casts a different light on the world with sounds both muffled and amplified, the forest canopy merging with the sky. Kate headed south, her torch and the moon chasing shadows down the path so that she couldn’t tell what was real and what was imagined. She thought about Ed heading north. What if they couldn’t find Eleanor? What if she’d escaped?
She heard the elephant before she saw her. A low rumbling sound. ‘I know where she is,’ she said into the radio, and took off at a run
Kate and Ed sat on the rocks and watched Eleanor wallow in the water.
‘Isn’t she beautiful?’ said Kate. She turned toward Ed, a wide smile on her face.
‘Yes, she is,’ he said.
Kate’s mouth turned to a soft oh she realised Ed meant her. Then he was leaning into her.
Eleanor submerged a few more times, then, when she was done, waded from the pool and headed home.
Kate barely spared her a glance. She was intent on some wallowing of her own, wrapped in Ed’s warm biceps. She hoped the elephant remembered to shut the gate.
March 2021 Shortlist
Leonie Harrison Night Games
Kelli Dragos The Zoo
Robyn Hatherly A Night in the Zoo
“This nightclub is a zoo,” said Rita, reading my mind. “I guess that explains the name” I quipped back. I had heard whispers of strange goings-on here, of party-goers coming in for a Friday night shimmy and reappearing, disorientated, the following Tuesday in the distant town of Port Macquarie.
We fronted the bar and I noticed the barman had an elephant tattoo on his pinky finger. It was the same as Eleanor’s. “Hey mate, where is Eleanor,” I asked? “Never heard of her,” he said in a strangely singsong tone. That’s odd, Eleanor sat in the cubicle next to mine and often regaled me with stories of her weekend job at The Zoo.
I noticed an elderly man who vaguely resembled the Speaker of the House, dancing in a cage above the stage. Zoo was right alright, I thought with a zing of interest. Looking further into the dimness I noticed a flowered path leading further into the club. Strange I hadn’t seen it before, now that I looked again it was obvious.
“C’mon Rita, I’m curious about this place. It looks like a mix of Sergeant Peppers and the Hellfire Club. I want to check it out.” The barman looked at me and passed across two shots that glowed with a pearly luminescence. “They’re our house cocktail “Shut the Gate Mate”. You’ll be needing them,” he said. “On the house.“
We shot the shots and looked at each other. Nothing happened.
As we pushed our way forward further into the Zoo I noticed I could see the music in colours and patterns. When I thought of a word I began to taste it in my mouth. “Let’s dance” immediately conjured the taste of meringue in my mouth and my eyes widened. Swirls of turquoise, blue and gold engulfed us as Florence and the Machine soared through the club. I looked at Rita and tasted Juicy Fruit chewing gum. Feeling faint, I disappeared.
As the world surfaced again I was conscious of a brusque bearded man in green hospital scrubs. “You’re in the Port Macquarie Base Hospital. You were found in disarray on Town Beach.”
The words “beach” conjured the taste of salted green beans. I could taste the word. A distant radio played and swirls of yellow and green washed through the room.
“We’re testing you for synesthesia. You’re the forty second person to be found in this condition at Towns. All have an Elephant tattoo on their pinky finger and all claim to taste words and see music. The synapses in your brain that control your senses have somehow crossed over and you washed up here.”
The yellow and green swirls began to mix with silver and purple swirls as the song changed. Thinking of the song caused my mouth to taste a crispy potato scallop with plain salt. It was a new world. “Where’s Eleanor” I demanded!
A Night at the Zoo
The trumpeting scream washed like a giant wave across the zoo.
‘What the hell’s going on?’ roared Bruce the lion.
Across the path and into the crocodile swamp his roar echoed waking Beryl the crocodile.
‘Oh no. Poor Geoffrey the elephant. Are you Ok darling?’ Beryl sashayed her hips, purring to Geoffrey.
Wally, the chimpanzee scratched his backside, yawned and lisped ‘He’th lothst Eleanor again. Why dothen’t he look after hith toyth? And you can thtop flirting Beryl. It’s embarrathing.’
‘I saw a kid duck through Geoffrey’s gate into his cage as the zoo was about to close.’ Bruce growled. ‘Pesky kids, always getting in the way. I know how to deal with them!’ He shook his mane and bared his teeth.
Wally cowered against the tree trunk ‘I don’t like it when you do that Bruthe. Do you think the kid took it?’
‘Hey Geoffrey.’ Bruce roared.
‘Where is Eleanor? Have you got her, you nasty piece of fur? You know I can’t sleep without her.’ Geoffrey stamped his right foot which landed squarely on a large watermelon which shattered into a million pieces.
‘Hey, who are you calling a nasty piece of fur? You’re nothing but an enormous dried out old prune.’ Bruce pushed his face against his wire cage, forcing his cheeks through the gaps.
Wally chattered away, jumping up and down ‘Don’t fight. You’ll have the ranger come out and go mad on uth. Beryl, Beryl! Where did you go Beryl? Don’t tell me you’ve dithappeared too. I think we might have a portal opening up and thingth are being taken into thpace never to be theen again.’
‘Portal! Are you crazy you silly baboon?’ Bruce roared.
‘I’m not a baboon, I’m a chimpanthee. You moron.’
‘I’m over here boys.’ Beryl blew her breath seductively out of her nose. ‘Now just stop fighting and think how we are going to settle poor Geoffrey down. Perhaps I could sing to you Geoffrey. Would you like that?’
‘I want my teddy bear! I miss her cute face and ripped ear. I miss her cuddling up to her at night.’ Trumpeted Geoffrey.
‘Don’t you dare start singing Beryl. What if I tell you a story?’ Bruce licked his paw.
‘Yeh, the one about Daniel in the Lionth den. I love the ending to that thory.’ Wally screeched as he jumped from one branch to the other.
‘I don’t want a story, I don’t want singing and you Wally can just shut up. Your screeching is driving me crazy.’ With that, Geoffrey lifted his foot (not the one smothered in watermelon) and was about to smash it onto the ground when he noticed two beady eyes looking up at him. ‘Eleanor!’ He grabbed hold of her in his trunk and brought the very dirty, dishevelled teddy against his cheek. ‘I thought I’d lost you.’
‘I think he’s crying.’ Bruce growled disgusted.
‘Oh, he’s so sweet.’ Beryl cooed.
‘Now leth all get some thleep!’ Wally demanded.