Announcing the winners of our Vienna Flash Fiction competition.

Thank you to everyone who took the time to take part and create a brand new piece of writing. You are all brilliant! We’re thrilled so many writers submitted their stories and poems and feel in awe of the fantastic and fabulous ways you’ve been inspired by the two images from the Albertina Museum.

The judging was very tough. In fact, we ended up in a tie-breaker situation, with too many favourite pieces vying to be our top three prize winners. So we drafted in a third judge, anonymized the texts to be certain there could be no cries of foul play, and asked for help. Thank you to Jasmine Fassl for her expertise and judgement.

And now (drum roll please) for our top three…

In no particular order, HUGE congratulations goes to Caroline Stevenson, Jennifer Cornick and Eithne Bradley.

We genuinely loved reading everybody’s entries but these three nudged themselves over and above. If you’re not a winner this time around, please do keep in touch with us here at Sunday Writers’ Club for more writing initiatives in the future.

For now, however, get comfortable and enjoy the three winning stories.

Must Not Giggle

By Caroline Stevenson

Write 200 times: I must not giggle in class.

I must not giggle in class.

I must not giggle in class.

What, never ever, Mr Thornberry? Even though you begin each class by telling the same joke without fail and you believe it to be just as funny as the first time you ever told it? Am I not supposed to giggle then, even if it is just to humour you? Even when the consequence of not giggling is that you’ll tell either me, Lucy or Christine to lighten up?

I must not giggle in class.

Toby can giggle. Alistair can belch. Rupert, meanwhile, can use his phone in plain sight to Google the answer to every question.

But I, Angelica, must not giggle.

I can’t help but notice that the temperature is much more agreeable out here in the corridor. It’s a strange phenomenon that classroom 17 becomes a sauna specifically at 3pm on Tuesday afternoons. No wonder all the girls in the class take off their blazers. All the girls except me. I know what you’re up to. At least out here I can comfortably keep my blazer on without soaking in my own sweat.

I must not giggle in class.

Yes I am grinning at you, Mr Thornberry. The sun is shining and I am no longer in the same room as you, so why wouldn’t I grin? It’s no good scowling at me through the window panel of the classroom door. Dennis is doing a terrific job reading Macduff, you should listen out for when he has reached the end of the passage. Don’t get caught off guard again. The class has been kept waiting expectantly for your analysis on a number of occasions now, only to be left dangling in suspense because you have slipped off into a daydream and your eyes, though vaguely focused in Christine’s direction, have glazed over. In a couple of instances drool could even be seen dripping out of the corner of your mouth, a blob of which would land on your shoulder and sully your shirt after you shook yourself out of your reverie. Must try harder.

I must not giggle in class.

I’ll let you into a secret, Mr Thornberry.  Do you want to know what it was that made me giggle and cut you off mid-sentence? You had just executed your signature move: walking over to a girl’s desk and then suddenly needing to correct the position of your glasses on the bridge of your nose. So of course you needed to lower your head and, lo and behold, you copped an excellent view of pubescent cleavage before lifting your head again.  And I couldn’t help but giggle because you are still under the impression that you are the master of subtlety. I’ve always been one to appreciate dramatic irony. And then the funniest image popped into my head; I imagined a giant me stomping over to classroom 17 via the lawn, smashing my fist through the window and picking you up, with only your head remaining visible within my grasp.  Then, to heighten the drama of the denouement, I imagined that the giant me was naked, my breasts on display for everyone to see and not just for your own private viewing pleasure. Oh, the empowerment you would surely feel. The real me in the classroom giggled, but the giant me didn’t just giggle, she laughed heartily in your face, so much so that your glasses blew away before I flicked you over the high-rise buildings to obscurity, your rightful place.

Of course I wasn’t going to tell you that in the classroom, even when you demanded I explain to the class just what was so amusing.  I didn’t want to shatter your fragile ego in front of everyone. I don’t belittle people who have nowhere lower left to sink. Instead, I choose to rise above them.

I must not giggle in class (you know the sad thing is I bet you will actually check, double-check and triple-check whether I have written that sentence 200 times. I might even include an intentional error just to make things more interesting for you, so do keep your eyes peeled. That’s one of your strengths though, so I hardly need to tell you that).

I must not giggle in class.

I expect you’ll feel obliged to tell my mother about my transgression this afternoon, but know that if you do, I will feel equally obliged to tell her about that time – those multiple times – you were hanging around the girls’ changing rooms for no plausible reason. Consider that a promise.

I wonder what my mother will consider to be the greater misdemeanour: ogling or giggling? Incidentally, you misspelled misdemeanour on the whiteboard last week. It was only once cherished Rupert pointed it out that you suddenly regained the use of your ears. Will wonders never cease?

Now, where was I? Ah yes:

I must not giggle…

Swing

By Eithne Bradley

The camera is too heavy around your neck, as if it knows you aren’t used to handling it. The grey light fills the studio, stacked with junk you picked up from the flea market to populate the empty, draughty space. Still, it’s yours. No more squabbling with your sisters over the best chair. You left that behind when you got on the train to the city, along with your dull clothes and your strict haircut and your old name.

You’re a student now. An artist. In your spare hours you wander the streets. You photograph worn-down women outside bakeries, mid-way through their century, and you snap mini-skirted legs in the park.

There are flashes of colour here. They spill out of shop windows and bars and ateliers, where the chairs are all bubbles and curves like ripe fruit. They burst out of the greyness of the city like noise out of silence.

Your four o’clock comes clattering up the stairs. You had not remembered him as striking, but he is:  solid and sweating, wafting smoke, in a suit striped in orange and green. Even though you’ve set your studio up to be stylish, it dims around him.

You ask him to pose. Stand by the plant. Smoke, reclining on the sofa. Sit sideways on a chair, a touch of Keeler in his face.

You are inspired. Every shot seems to frame itself. Every picture has a perfect focus: on his hands, his face, his presence.

Just a few months ago, you had only seen men like him in magazines. They seemed a fiction, these men. Cut from a different cloth. These men so bright that the world around them seemed dull, they promised something else: another way of living. Freedom. It is a word everyone knows, but nobody agrees on what it means, and that’s half the excitement. You can feel it thrilling in your chest as you click and wind and click again; it is art, and life, and physicality. It is youth, finally something to envy.

Every word he says seems better than anything you’ve heard before. You find yourself agreeing with everything, astonished that you’d never thought about the Rolling Stones being too mainstream, or whether there should be jazzy coloured filter papers.

He leaves, and it as though someone switched off the light. You go to the darkroom and develop the pictures in that chemical darkness. The pictures are stunning. You feel a surge of pride in your chest.

You sell them to a magazine for young men about town. They offer you a sum which seems incredible to you, but you nod and take it as if you are used to it. Your first commission.

You know what you will spend it on. You’ve seen it every day of the past two weeks, shining out at you from that shop window, like the sign on Carnaby Street. It’s a lime and yellow suit, bright like a sunburst. If you have it, you’ll be in. You’ll be one of them. One of the men that stands out amongst all this grey.

In the shop, the assistants greet you casually, like a friend. There’s none of the formality you remember from visiting the tailor’s with your mother, who hovered anxiously as the man measured you and addressed you as if you were fifty years old. In fact they slouch and laugh and disappear for minutes at a stretch, leaving you alone amongst the piles of brightly-coloured corduroy and lace, silk and sateen.

As soon as you slip on the jacket, you stand a little straighter. The face in the mirror under the reddish mop of hair looks different, brighter against the glow of the fabric. You are someone, it seems to say. You’re not a nothing boy from a nowhere town. You’re one of them. People want to be you now.

You read in the papers about the protests. Apart from the other students who agitate in their scruffy shirts, they hardly affect you. They ask you to join, but you gesture at your suit as if to say, really? With these threads? You look at the photographs of the milling crowds and think, I could do better than that.

Then you walk into a protest on the way home after a party. Crowds of long haired students surge and scuffle on the street outside Parliament. The police beat them back, but lazily, as if they could do this all day.

You stop, hand to camera. A perfect scene arranges itself as the crescent of students sweeps into the half-moon of police. You click and click, wasteful of film. It’s the same rush you had photographing him, that man who filled up the room. You are sure a newspaper will buy your pictures. Then you’ll really show them. Mum and Dad will have to accept your new name, when it comes with this image blazoned above it. You’ll show them, with all their talk of getting a real job instead of messing around with cameras.

There is a shout. A policeman has noticed you.

“Hey! No photographs!” he yells.

You freeze. You have perfect photographs, you think.

You only have a moment.

You’re that man now. You don’t need authority. You don’t need rules.

You run. Behind you you hear:

“Catch him! Yeah that little oik in the ugly suit!”

Run, run, into the grey crowd. You are enveloped in grey and black and brown, the colours of a generation still mourning a war. You have no war to remember. You’re free. You can have colour, and life, and pictures that make you weep, if you want.

But you are all too easy to spot. If you had still worn grey, or if you’d worn dull black shoes, you might have made it. But you shine too brightly in the crowd, and the police wrestle you to the ground.

At least it’s only the film they destroy.

Living Philosophy Experiment

By Jennifer Cornick

The door was shaking in its frame by the time Violet decided to get up from her chair and answer it.  She only opened it because she heard a flower pot crash as someone hurriedly searched for a spare key. 

“Assuming I keep it under a flower pot,” Violet said to the back of the door.  “I hope that wasn’t the nasturtium I heard crashing, I had plans to make it into a salad later this week,” she called out before pulling the door open. 

“Oh, thank whatever god atheists pray to in their hours of need,” her friend Oscar pushed by her.  He was wearing a blue, yellow, and coral stripped suit.   Violet found it jarring as he passed by because everything was irregular, from the spacing of the stripes to the width of the everything.  He looked a bit like a couch from the seventies, or maybe curtains.  “Thank you, my girl, I am just going to make use of your special cabinet, as it were.”  He dashed up the stairs, his yellow soles flashing at her. 

“What’s going on?” she called out after him. 

“I might have slept with Simon’s daughter and he may have taken it poorly,” Violet heard the click and slide of the hidden panel in her game cupboard.  “And he is definitely chasing after me with an ax with homicidal intent.”  Oscar’s voice was muffled by the panel sliding closed.

“I told you that flirtation would get you in to trouble when you started it,” Violet called out.   She knew he could hear her but would refuse to answer.  And so, she was left to clean up yet another of Oscar’s messes.  It had become so commonplace in recent years that she just accepted it as inevitable. 

She sighed and reached out to twitch the white sheer curtains back in the front hall window, the slim one on the left side of the door.  Simon appeared in the small square in which her house was situated, his bulk obscured by the fountain in the center.  He was, indeed, carrying an ax.  Violet shrank back from the window, pulling her hand instinctively towards her chest, almost as if she had been shocked.  She couldn’t remember if Simon knew where she lived and it now caused no small amount of anxiety that a passing acquaintance could remember her address or friendships.  She remembered meeting him once, at one of Oscar’s cocktail parties.  She drew further back into the house; not willing to give him cause to knock on the door. 

She reached for her phone, to call the police, and she warily watched Simon’s outline as he wandered the square.  His long legs devouring the space between houses, not even trying to hide his interest.  Or his ax.

Her fingers were surprisingly steady as she stabbed at the numbers on her phone’s screen.  She would have anticipated them to shake just a little but maybe she had more backbone than she was led to expect.  She hoped he couldn’t see her as she spoke to the operator at the other end of the line.  She gave her details, Oscar’s predicament, and Simon’s description.   They would be here soon; the operator assured her and then rang off.  Violet looked at the phone slightly stunned. 

There was nothing left to do but wait.  And watch.  Violet walked back to the door and pulled the curtains slightly.  Oscar was pacing one side of the square.  Deciding if he should start knocking on doors. 

“Who would let him in while holding a blunt ax? That is more of an invitation to trouble than most people are willing to issue.”

However, the wheels in her head started turning, as she went back to her chair in the front room.  She picked up her book, an account of a Titanic survivor for which she was named, or so her mother claimed.  She couldn’t concentrate and make herself appear nonchalant as a potential ax murderer paced the street in front of her house.  “I mean, what I am I to do if he should knock?” she asked the empty room.  “This feels like the worst sort of philosophy class, sitting here, waiting for Kant’s esoteric example to knock on my door.” She huffed and turned the page in her book with restless fingers.  She hadn’t finished reading it but needed something to do. 

“If he knocks, I am just going to have to let him in,” she thought.  She would like to say this was out of concern for her own personal safety; that she would not like to have the dull blade of the ax take too many passes at her neck.  This was not the truth.  And she acknowledged that, somewhat begrudgingly.  In reality, if Simon knocked on her door demanding entry, she would let him in.  This was an unexpected living philosophy experiment.  The trolley problem or the fat man she had always thought to encounter and her answer was ready.  This one now required some thought.  She wasn’t fully on the side of the deontologists, and certainly did not support the virtue ethicists for what she regarded as absolute flippancy with respect to moral relativism.  Afterall courageous act for one person could be something foolhardy for the next.  And she did not have the time to perform the calculus required to determine if this would fall on the side of the greatest good for the largest number. 

“It is just simpler to let him in,” she said to herself, flipping another unread page in the harrowing account of the sinking of the Britannica, the ship the Titanic survivor found herself on after her first maritime disaster.  “After all, Kant does say not to lie, even in this specific situation.” 

The police would be here soon enough, she thought as the door seemed like it was going to break from its frame for the second time this morning.   She rose to answer the door.

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