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.
THIS MONTH'S CRITERIA
It’s 40 degrees in the shade, and feels like 90% humidity. I look around at my co-workers peeling off jackets and loosening ties, flapping paper in front of their faces, willing a breeze. About an hour ago, we were shivering in Arctic-like conditions with a new air-conditioning system that no one can operate. Police cars with flashing lights are parked in the middle of the street which is closed to traffic, but seemingly open to evacuated employees. As the office block empties, workers of all shapes, sizes, colours and ages jostle and bump into each other, vying for a skerrick of shade. A teeming horde of humanity.
I’m standing next to Ed and Mel. They’re discussing a true-crime series on Netflix. “It’s always the ones you least expect,” says Mel. “It was the boy’s mother all along, even though she’d rung the police and given the TV interview and everything.”
Sandra is crying. A kind police officer is comforting her while pressing for information. It was Sandra who opened the first threatening letter last week, and the ‘suspicious package’ today.
“But why?” She is now a blubbering mess. “Why would anyone want to send such a thing in the post? And at this time of year, too?”
The police officer answers her questions with more questions. What time did she receive the package? Had she seen any unusual activity in recent weeks? Any suspicious visitors or workmen? The police officer seems stressed, clicking his pen and looking intently at Sandra. I give her a sympathetic smile. She’s worked for the company since it started 29 years ago. She’s the one I’d least expect.
“Yeah,” continued Ed. “She was in the search party too. When they interviewed her later, she said she felt unseen. She wanted to be noticed. What a sicko.”
I look around.
Josh was playing Candy Crush. He was always a bit of a loner. A bit odd. Does he yearn to be seen?
There’s a surprise reunion of school friends unaware until now that they worked in the same building. Or is it a surprise, really?
Doug’s not coping in the heat. Sweat pours off him, sizzling on the footpath where it lands. Is it just the heat that’s making him uncomfortable?
Jemma and Sarah sip on designer water bottles and huddle over their phones, probably uploading minute-by-minute updates. They’re always craving attention.
An early finish to the day. Harried mums seize the moment to catch the end-of-year Assembly, or pick up the little one from child-care early, or do some Santa shopping before school pickup. Do they feel unappreciated?
There’s a faint sound of Christmas music with brutal cheeriness and jingling bells. Someone shouts “Christmas drinks!” and there’s a roar of approval. The someone is suddenly very popular.
The crowd disperses.
Sandra’s now with Bob, my boss. I give them both a wave as I move away. They don’t see me.
I turn back, feeling oddly satisfied, and face the police officer.
“It was me.”
Grateful to the Australian Writers Centre for sparking creativity each month with the Furious Fiction competition.