Wundor Short Fiction Contest 2018 Results

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Many thanks to everyone who entered our Wundor Short Fiction Contest 2018. We received so many fantastic entries, from striking and enigmatic pieces of flash fiction, to novellas that conjured whole worlds. Reading through the stories affirmed our sense that short works of writing can rival the novel form for depth and strength of character development, and often even surpass it in innovation.

 

In Bush League, our winning story, a green purse left on the back seat of a drowned man’s car acts as a gateway to a story of guilt and regret. Karen Lee Boren collects our first place prize of £300.

 

The Inaugural Iraq Garden Tour, by Camilla Macpherson, transports readers to Iraq in 1988. Ancient sites and beautiful gardens form the backdrop to social unrest and what initially appears to be a tour for horticultural enthusiasts, soon becomes something much riskier.

 

In Four Across, Six Letters, by Tazeen Said, a man sits on the same bench all day, every day. A chance encounter with a kindred spirit prompts him to tell his story...

 

Milly Weaver

Fiction Editor

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WINNER: Karen Lee Boren

Bush League

Lake Milfoil’s water level had dropped to record lows. I stood on the footbridge, watching Remy Lawson's crane haul a mud-caked Trans Am from its grubby depths. Sweat trickled over my ribcage. This summer had been relentless. It seemed to me, the people of Privy walked with their chins lifted toward the sky, lips parted like the beaks of baby birds hoping mother sky would drop rain down their gullets. Dry, scratchy, they swallowed hard. I swallowed hard as the putrid odor of dead sand pike rose along with the car. Parrot feather and coontail, greedy at the best of times, had choked out the pike. Kids goofing around with floating fish carcasses had found Tranny, as we used to call Morris's ride.

 After eight years, I wondered if my emerald clutch purse would still be on the backseat. Probably. Its shiny vinyl would survive the roaches. I should have gone with the ruby sateen pillbox. The cheap fabric and cardboard construction would have disintegrated nicely, and with it everything inside. Sometimes in my dreams, I still tore through alley garbage cans searching for that purse. All I ever lay dream hands on was oozy dreck.

 As a rusty bumper rose over Milfoil's surface, I thought, okay then, on your marks.

 I pushed my shoulders back so anyone looking at me wouldn’t see I'd been cringing. I shifted my glance from the car, which was now dangling from the crane's hook like a prize bass, to the paper birch forest along the shore. Morris loved to peel those white trunks, baring the pink flesh beneath. I informed him he was skinning the trees alive. He left the trees alone after that, only stripping fallen branches. That was Morris. He never meant to be cruel but he liked the process of it.

 From the bridge, I could make out the shape of the boulder where we all used to build bonfires, drink crap booze, and listen to the classic rock Morris loved. I could almost hear his voice, crisp as a glass of cold beer, singing, “. . . oh, no, Guadalajara won't do . . . .”  I shifted my gaze back to the retrieval operation on the dock.

 As Tranny was inched onto a flatbed, she shimmied and drooled mud. Was Morris still buckled into the passenger seat? I couldn’t see. I pressed my forearms into the spot on my belly where he'd liked to grab my fat roll and pinch. He'd have a lot more to pinch if he were here now. I wondered, eight years on, did his bones have any flesh at all left to pinch?

 I didn't want to see.

 I turned and walked off the footbridge, gaze on my sneakers, refusing to look at the other gawkers. A few people called my name and reached out to tap my shoulder as I weaved through what could be considered a pretty good crowd for a nothing town like Privy. Don’t touch me, I thought. But I forced myself not to wince. Get them on the scent, and it’s all over. Just ask Morris.

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SECOND PLACE: Camilla Macpherson

The Inaugural Iraq Garden Tour

The well-worn wooden canoe, the mash-huf, rocked gently beneath Penny. Around her reeds grew twenty feet tall, and green, so green - a relief after a day of arid desert driving and a night in a hotel that was little more than a concrete box. She hardly dared move, lest she disturb the delicate balance of the mash-huf or the rare peace of the moment. In the prow, a young boy was guiding the boat through twisting, narrow channels with a stubby oar, sometimes dragging the oar through the water like a rudder, sometimes simply running his hands through the rushes as if for the pleasure of hearing them sing against his fingers. Now, as he ceased all movement, the only sound was the rustle and splash of the jewel-bright king-fishers diving amongst the leaves.

‘You like them, the marshes?’ asked Amir.

‘I love them,’ she said. ‘We might be the only people for miles around.’

He smiled and called out in Arabic to the boy, who laughed, gap-toothed, and then cupped his hands and sang out across the water.

Amir put his fingers to his lips. ‘Listen,’ he said.

Sure enough, she could hear someone whistling back, then laughter again, then, very far away, the sound of a dog barking wildly.

‘See? We are not alone by any means. For me, when I hear these sounds, I know I am coming home. You understand?’

Penny nodded. Her London flat too had its familiar sounds at this time of year. There was the nightly creak and groan of the central heating in the flat upstairs clicking on, the sound of police sirens from the nearby road, louder at this time of year as the trees began to lose their leaves, and the regular crash of the front door of the block as latecomers came home. The sounds filled the silence, but they did not fill the cold space in the bed beside her, where David, the man she had thought she would marry, had slept for five years.

A little way behind came the sound of someone clearing his throat, unmistakably Professor Heinrich, who was sitting in the other mash-huf with the rest of the group. Penny considered him to be as dry as his permanent cough.

‘Oh, that man!’ exclaimed Barbara, stirring restlessly next to her. ‘He can hardly complain the air’s too dry here. If anything it’s too humid. Amir, put us out of our misery. When will we get to this mud-hif of yours?’

‘Five minutes, OK? You must be patient, no?’

‘I’m too old to be patient, Amir.’

‘No, no. Old is someone who sits all day in the corner of their daughter’s house and cannot chew their meals or see their grand-children’s faces. You are a long way from old, of that I am sure.’

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THIRD PLACE: Tazeen Said

Four Across, Six Letters

His shoes were always pristinely polished. The middle-aged man, tall and thin, sat on the same spot, on the same park bench every morning. His suit was always pressed, his briefcase placed by the foot of the bench, and a newspaper folded neatly next to him. A navy polka dot handkerchief was peeking out of his blazer pocket.

 He was there that morning, and he would be there when she walked past at the end of her day.

 

 

 She had first noticed him two weeks ago. She remembered the date as it was the day she had returned to work. Mark had felt able to go back straight away, but she needed more time. No, she had been told that she absolutely must need more time. Swept along by the soothing instructions and gentle reorganization of her life by those around her, she kept silent, and this silence was taken as agreement. Not that she had the energy to disagree anyway.

 She hadn’t taken them up on their suggestion of counselling. They meant well, of course they did. But she didn’t need to go over it again; to have some stranger help her understand what could be salvaged from this numbness. And anyway, didn’t that just fly in the face of trying to move on? She knew what she had lost. She knew why she had a constant gnawing feeling which didn’t let her rest. Why sometimes she felt something had reached into the depths of her- past her stomach, past her guts, pummeling further and further, as if it were searching for something. It always found what it wanted. She knew from the clutching and twisting pain that followed. When the sensation passed, washing over her like a wave, she was left with a vast void before her: time. With no means of being filled.

 There was something before this, wasn’t there?

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