On the first Friday of every month, the Australian Writers Centre reveals a new set of story prompts. Writers have 55 hours to submit their best 500-word (or fewer) story.
“Marvellous! Marvellous!” Vincent James clapped his hands together. He looked around the old, battered conference table.
Sandy was scrolling through her phone. Matt, trying to disguise a yawn, bumped his glasses so they lay crooked across his face. Jayne was gazing at bowls of Minties and marshmallows, torn between ‘being good’ and needing a sugar hit. (At that precise moment, Greg grabbed a couple of handfuls and basically scoffed the lot.)
The girl making the presentation was a sour, overly-confident 20-something with intense eyes and bright pink hair who had arrived in the town following a bad break-up. She missed the city where stuff actually happened, where there were skyscrapers with marble flooring, cafes with decent coffee, criminals and news-worthy stories, and fast-talking, passionate colleagues.
“Thank you so much, Tess.” Vincent was gushing over his newest recruit, desperate to change the fortunes of the small newspaper before retiring. “I really think that there’s a big market for feature articles. After all, it’s fairly sleepy around here, eh? So. Feedback for Tess. Greg? Thoughts?”
Greg flapped his arms around, his mouth full of sugar, and nodded in Matt’s direction.
Matt sat up quickly, straightened his glasses and smoothed his hair. “Oh, ummmm, thanks Tess. Could you please go back to the main picture? Right. Ummmmm. Not sure about the red phone booth?”
Tess bristled. There was something about Matt that she found infuriating, but couldn’t quite put her finger on it.
Jayne piped up. “What text will go with the image? I mean, I heard what you said about…” (checks notes) “the juxtaposition of the abandoned jetty with the red phone booth referencing Superman…? But, what’s the key message?”
Tess inhaled and exhaled loudly through her nostrils. “The key message, obviously, is about finding your inner strength when you feel totally alone. That’s the whole point.”
Jayne’s hand instinctively grabbed the last marshmallow.
Vincent realised he needed some inner strength himself. This meeting wasn’t going to plan.
“Coooyeeerite.” Everyone looked at Greg who was struggling with a Mintie. “Copyright. Won’t be able to use the red phone booth. Superman reference and all that.”
Tess looked crushed. Vincent looked concerned.
Matt looked relieved. “Mmmmm, that’s what I think I meant, maybe?” he said, somewhat unconvincingly.
“Oh my God!” Everyone had momentarily forgotten Sandy was even in the room. “The jetty! A daytripper is sinking at the jetty!” Everyone’s phones started pinging.
Vincent was overjoyed. “A story! News! Something’s actually happening! Wonderful! Wonderful! Matt – go with Jayne to the jetty.”
“Can’t this time, Boss,” he said, striding across the room. “Tess should go. She’s the best writer on the team.”
Tess was surprised. Matt seemed different somehow.
Matt had loosened his tie and undoing his top button as he reached the door. He took off his glasses and looked directly at Tess. (Was that blue and red lycra under his shirt?)
“The feature article was great, but no-one uses red phone booths anymore.” He gave her a wink. “Gotta fly.”
Grateful to the Australian Writers Centre for sparking creativity each month with the Furious Fiction competition.