Flash.

Last month, I participated in Writing Victoria’s Flash Fiction. The premise of the competition is simple: Every day for thirty days, writers are given a different prompt to create a 30-word story. The theme for 2021 was ‘unfold’.

Last year was my first time participating, and it was the perfect tonic for dealing with Melbourne’s lockdown. Given I’ve been toiling away on my novel for 18 months solid (more on this later), it was a welcome pleasure to write bite-sized stories with new characters, genres and themes. Some worked – others bombed – but the next day always brought a new word and chance to try something different.

More than that, the competition introduced me to a whole raft of new writers (Hmm, not sure this is the correct collective; a coffee-shop of writers?). The clever arrangement of their words and the authenticity of their voices inspired me greatly; their stories made me want to elevate my own writing. As a result, I was lucky enough to be adjudged as one of the competition’s three runners-up with my Day 9 entry for ‘open’.

Thanks again to Writers Victoria for facilitating the competition and well done to the other runners-up, and everyone who participated. A special congratulations to @IncognitoKorps for his brilliant winning entry for the word ‘display’.

With micro-fiction temporarily done for now, I’ve returned to my novel. It’s at that stage where I’ve sliced 30% of its words away, and am seeing how it reads on my iPad as an end-to-end story (some parts were fine, while others I hated with the intensity of a thousand suns). Overall, I’m excited to share it with beta-readers and an editor soon.

I hope everyone is keeping well.

Matt

PS: My full list of entries for #WVFlashFic21 is below.


My entries for Writing Victoria’s Flash Fiction 2021

He stepped from the train. The war had swallowed the boy from the creek she’d remembered; his copper-colored muscles now replaced by a ghost in a creased uniform.

April 1st 2021, #creased

Cleaning out her wardrobe, he found their old camera. He drove into town for the chemist to develop the film but the kid behind the counter only laughed.

April 2nd 2021, #develop

He studied the gaunt faces in the beds near his. He’d spent a career crafting marketplace segmentation strategies targeting these people’s savings.

There’d been a mistake; this wasn’t his ward.

April 3rd 2021, #segmentation

She followed the dancing blossoms of the cherry trees down the Philosopher’s Path. Her katana felt light on her shoulder, the blade singing its sweet ballad of vengeance.

April 4th 2021, #blossom

Our jobs evaporated with the lake; minutes dragged on for years. Daddy says the Devil makes work for idle hands. If that’s true – the Devil became this old town’s mayor.

April 5th 2021, #hands

A corpse hung nailed to a post at the camp’s entrance. Its young face, robbed of eyes and illuminated under a ghostly moon, served as warning: the treaty was broken.

April 6th 2021, #illuminate

The first shot missed, smacking into an ironbark.

Idiot.

He squeezed the trigger like gramps had shown him. A whip’s crack and the roo crumpled; the boy’s dreams poisoned evermore.

April 7th 2021, #crumple

My family’s reaction to the divorce was predictable: Gail dichotomised my fuck-ups, Dad talked footy. Mum baked an unprecedented volume of cheesecake, forcing me to renew my gym membership.

April 8th 2021, #renew

We scratched and scraped our memories from the walls, hiding the darkest under lavender-coloured paint. The auctioneer opened the bidding low, though. A garden overgrown by weeds and rumours.

April 9th 2021, #open

Donna entered the stage.

The crowd howled at the sight of a pop-star contestant twice their age. She found Casey.

Her daughter mouthed the words she needed: “Go Mum”.

April 10th 2021, #pop

Amid the Botox and Moët, one might forget this was a heist. Granted, the Met Gala was more elaborate than a bank – but missteps led to the same cell.

April 11th 2021, #elaborate

After the morning sex, her bliss unravelled.

Now free of tequila and pent-up need, Olivia inspected his apartment: a museum of lava lamps and bobbleheads. How treatable was this?

April 12th 2021, #unravel

They’d vowed to keep proceedings civil, “respectful”. What manifested was neither.

As Tracey drove home from the court, Jacob played with a toy.

“Did you win the custard, Mummy?”

Christ.

April 13th 2021, #manifest

Another full recycling bin.

Sifting through the scrunched-up lives of the victims had broken him, numbed him. The burn of whiskey, the sole reminder he wasn’t dead too.

April 14th 2021, #scrunch

She finished reading the chapter and the old man turned to her.

“Sarah?”

Her eyes glistened; these precious flickers of consciousness always made her teary.

“Yeah, Dad – it’s me.”

April 15th 2021, #consciousness

The Audi revved its annoyance, but Mitali stood firm. She waits for the last child and blows her whistle; the car bursts forward.

Sirens immediately follow, then her smirk.

“Dickhead”.

April 16th 2021, #bursts

They moved into a dilapidated terrace that shook with each passing train. She learned his foibles – pineapple in pasta, Manilow’s entire discography – yet inexplicably, she stayed.

Love was perverse.

April 17th 2021, #learn

They lay in bed, breathless. Her fingers explored the scars covering his back.

“Diplomatic work looks dangerous.”

He pulled her against him, kissing her neck.

“Perilous”.

The champagne fizzed, untouched.

April 18th 2021, #explore

They were beautiful – orange gerberas this time – and she replaced the lilies in the vase. Her husband fondly mocked her tears, oblivious to the guilt his flowers revealed.

April 19th 2021, #reveal

“Press down.”

The boy’s folds were uncertain.

“Don’t think origami; feel it.”

As a girl, she’d only ever endured her grandfather’s lessons. Now, passed to her children, they were precious.

April 20th 2021, #origami

The police expanded the search. Local volunteers called Tommy’s name and fought through tangled knots of blackberry thorns. They found the body at dusk; his arms, the following day.

April 21st 2021, #expand

We smouldered for weeks; charred gums stabbed into the earth like expelled matchsticks. People drove past our turn-off, tutting our name. But in the spring, green emerges: resilient and hopeful.

April 22nd 2021, #emerge

She liked Chris, not just his job or dimples. She felt safe unfurling herself to him.

‘What do you look like?’ he eventually asked.

She uploaded a photo from Bali.

April 23rd 2021, #unfurl

“Are you courting with anyone?”

Gran’s generation had been foxtrots and love letters; less about grinding and nudes.

“Not really.”

“Have you tried the tinder?”

I blushed into my chamomile.

April 24th 2021, #letter

The flame’s light danced on Mick’s medals, unwrapped and pinned to his granddaughter’s lapel.

Later, as she wheeled my chair down Swanston, my fallen mate was still somehow helping me.

April 25th 2021, #unwrap

Blake stared at the display. After all, his sacrifices for acceptance into the program – he’d failed.

The sous vide was too warm, his trout ruined.

But first – an ad break.

April 26th 2021, #display

I lock the toilet door and curse my eyes: each hot tear, a stinging betrayal.

‘You deserve to be in that meeting.’

Breathe.

I wipe the weakness from my cheeks.

April 27th 2021, #betray

Mr Jiggles’ plan unfolded purr-fectly.

Humans pawed past their freedoms and downloaded his app. Overnight, their phone’s cameras had become his eyes; the microphones, his ears.

Cat-atonic™ assured feline ascendance.

April 28th 2021, #become

Folks said O’Dowd’s confession gave the town “closure”. Six years later, the victim’s faces still haunted Maggie’s dreams.

She re-opened the case, knowing the darkest truths were discovered – not volunteered.

April 29th 2021, #discover

Paul unfolded the new shirt; he somehow missed his orange ones. The halfway house was ok: no bars on the windows, but an 8pm curfew. Released, but still not free.

April 3oth 2021, #unfold

The Gift.

‘What is it?’
She stared at the glass bottle, resting on his cracked palm.
‘It’s your birthday present.’
The girl didn’t react, deciding whether this was another test. He moved his hand closer to her.
‘Go on.’
She eventually took it and held the bottle up to the brightest part of the ashen sky, peering at the clear liquid within.
‘What’s in it?’
‘It’s called perfume.’
The girl pulled off its plastic lid. ‘Can I drink it?’
‘You don’t drink it.’ The mask hid his smile. ‘Folks used to spray it on their necks or wrists.’
‘Why?’
‘To smell good.’
She lifted her visor and stared at him. ‘You said they’d find us if we smell different.’
‘Aint no raiders out here.’ He nodded to the dunes of ash stretching toward the grey horizon. ‘Besides, it’s your birthday, ain’t it? Try some.’
The girl eventually removed a glove and sprayed the perfume on her skin. She unclasped her mask and warily brought her wrist up to her nose.
‘Well?’
The smell made her gag. ‘It smells like chemicals. Why would people want to smell like chemicals?’
‘It was supposed to smell like flowers.’
‘Thought you said flowers smelled nice.’
Sometimes he forgot she hadn’t known the old world. He pulled out the lunchbox from his backpack and found the candle they’d discovered in the house by the dried-up lake. The girl watched him light it, and they sang the song he’d taught her. Aside from the anthem he’d sung when he was a boy, it was the only song where he knew all the words. With barely enough people to sing them, the world had little need for songs and anthems anymore. They finished the last note, and the girl remembered to blow out the candle.
‘Did you make a wish?’
Silence.
‘Well? Did you?’
‘What’s the point? They never come true, anyway.’
‘Sure, they do. Mine always do.’
His mask somehow made the lie easier. The girl had already lost so much; he couldn’t let her lose hope too. He took out another match, their second last, and relit the candle.
‘Try again. This time, close your eyes.’
She eyed the fickle flame before finally closing them.
‘Imagine the looks on the faces of the people around you when your wish comes true. Can you see them?’
She nodded.
‘You’re sure?’
‘Yes.’
‘Good. Now, blow.’
She blew the candle out. Its smoke rose to join the ruinous vapour pooled in the sky above them. A hot wind blew from the west, a continual memory of that direction’s sins.
‘Ready to find the others?’
The girl opened her eyes and nodded, and he turned to pack the lunchbox into his knapsack. He glimpsed the girl smell her wrist again, and this time, her cracked lips curled into the briefest of smiles before disappearing behind her mask again. He was thankful she couldn’t see the glistening of his eyes behind his goggles. Without the girl’s hope, he was lost.

© Matthew S. Wilson, December 2020

This piece was written for December’s Furious Fiction writing challenge, ran by the Australian Writers Centre. where entrants were given 55 hours to write a 500-word story, meeting the following criteria: each story had to include a GIFT of some kind;
the first sentence had to contain only THREE words; The following words had to be used: PALM, MATCH, ROSE.

Peer Pressure Test

Kieran strode toward us and placed the enormous plate in the centre of the judge’s table, his proud smile showing off a row of perfect white teeth.

‘Wow – look at this dish,’ exclaimed Geoff, the show’s longest-serving judge, and unofficial host. ‘Now, this is what cooking is all about.’ He’d said this phrase at least once a show last season, consequently making it the title of his last cookbook.

Magnifique, it looks so sexy’ exclaimed Jean-Pierre, who never missed an opportunity to remind the audience he was French, or overtly sexualise the food to appeal to his largely female fanbase.

Everyone awaited my praise, but I couldn’t stop staring at the plate: Kieran had served us a ham and cheese sandwich. Sure, he’d removed the crusts from the bread, served it with a few twisted sprigs of rosemary and scattered some exotic micro-flowers over it, but at its core, it was still just a sandwich. Even the herbed butter, which he’d carefully served in a quenelle next to it, looked kind of lumpy.

‘You’ve certainly cooked us something to eat,’ I said cautiously, remembering my agent had specifically warned me against being the bitchy new judge who thought she was above adjudicating a reality TV cooking show. ‘So, tell us what inspired you today?’

‘Well, it was probably my nonna,’ said Kieran, his brown eyes shimmering with tears. ‘And even though she’s gone now, she still speaks to me when I’m cooking.’

As the other contestants in the background wiped tears from their eyes, I imagined the producers adding in the heartfelt piano music later, oblivious to the fact the other contestants were merely upset someone else had beaten them to playing the “dead grandmother card”.

‘Oh I’m so sorry, when did she pass?’ I asked gently.

‘Oh, no – she’s not dead,’ clarified Kieran, ‘she’s back in Cairns now, and just always calls me whenever I’m cooking.’

Nonna was alive – cue the uplifting piano music.

‘Well, let’s see how it tastes,’ I smiled, quite certain it would taste exactly like a ham and cheese sandwich.

Geoff did the honours, cutting the sandwich into three, the camera zooming in to capture our pensive faces as we ate.

‘Well?’ asked Geoff, wiping his mouth with a napkin.

Ooh, la, la,’ said Jean-Pierre. ‘I feel dizzy, the way good sex can make me feel, it’s dripping with flavour.’

‘I tasted it, and immediately thought – Bazingo – that’s tasty stuff,’ agreed Geoff,  thereby announcing the title of his next cookbook.

Everyone turned to me, the bright red light of the camera second only to the dazzling brightness of Kieran’s perfect teeth.

‘When I first saw it, I was a tiny bit concerned it was just a sandwich,’ I started, causing everyone to frown; my last 20 years as a food critique flashed before my eyes. ‘But Geoff and JP are right – this is a modern take on a classic, and I absolutely loved it. Bazingo!’

© Matthew S. Wilson, August 2020

This piece was written for August’s Furious Fiction writing challenge, ran by the Australian Writers Centre, where entrants were given 55 hours to write a 500-word story, meeting the following criteria: The story had to be a comedy, and had to contain a sandwich.