Below are the five best short stories entered for the Short Story Category of the 2017 Crocodile Prize Competition. The numbers of the short stories entered for the 2017 Crocodile Prize Competition was low compared to the previous years. But the quality has been outstanding. The story lines and characters were better developed. The stories were better organised so the build-up to a climax were deliberate and entertaining. The emerging writers have also come from a more diverse background. Electricians to carpenters and Literature students of the University of Papua New Guinea and more. Several of these are first timers who do not identify themselves as writers. The following titles below were the selected short list of the winners after the long process of filing, culling and judging. Only one more process is left, that is: Selection of the overall winner among the 5 winners as identified by the judges.
The Tasmanian Oak, is a robust, proud and resilient tree.
Years of wisdom engrained; it stood tall amongst trees of heights and sizes. Fibres of complexity, the oak tree held gave it presence.
Guarding at a gateway, the oak remained alert at all times.
When it stormed, travellers sought refuge under its wide, branched embrace where other travellers often stop. But they all braved the gateway – seeking better life. Many stories were told and left behind, under the oak.
While the tree was secretive, and always remained in silence, the Tasmanian Oak absorbed and collected these stories, one at a time for many years and became a tree of knowledge. The stories were; wisdom of great learned, adventures and lives torn, and tried and forgotten escapades. Some of these stories were of sad and glum kismet. Then one day, it stormed far away. The rains brought an unusual traveller, an exotic wild orchid. Delicate in nature, soft in physique and with light form, the orchid floated by the gateway in the rough tide. Brief glimpses and words were exchanged between the Tasmanian Oak and the orchid.
After the orchid’s journey far beyond the seas, tides changed and
once more, the gateway passage became a meeting place for the tree and the orchid. This time, the orchid floated too close and was caught by the root of the oak tree.
Days went by and the orchid clung on for safety, and unable to free itself, it grew roots. The oak remained tall, aloof and on watch and unaware of the life growing at its ‘feet’.
The orchid grew beyond the gateway canopy and above the shadows. It loved its new place and wanted to say thank you to the oak tree. Where the sun rays played and the birds greeted each other warmly the orchid grew into the Oak’s hollow. This place was warm and dry. As days turned to weeks, the orchid felt warm and safe and finally where the oak tree felt the softest, the orchid budded and flowered. In gratitude, the orchid continued to offer the the tree with its beautiful offerings of bloom, one season after another.
At first the Tasmanian Oak was intrigued and enthralled by the beauty of the orchid’s flowers. It felt proud that it could provide a safe haven for the orchid. More days slipped into weeks and months.
The Tasmanian Oak once more became fully engaged with the travellers and their stories. With all effort, the orchid rooted in the tough stringy bark and climbed higher and held on with all its might. It tried to grow new shoots after the flowering but the bark became harder to get close and grow into. The oak tree could not see the orchid anymore as its branches also grew and eventually covered the sunlight and stopped rain water from falling through.
One day, the winds blew and became very strong. It grew into a big storm. It shook both the orchid and the tree. With its delicate nature and roots not planted well enough into the Oak’s bark, it was too hard for the orchid to hang on. The orchid tried to grab onto the bark, branches and even the roots of the Oak tree, when it fell, but the winds were too strong. Once the winds ripped and threw the orchid back into the rough tides, torrents quickly tumbled and washed the orchid away from the tree. And once more, the orchid was swept out into the open seas leaving the Tasmanian Oak, at the gateway.
Here is one of my earlier short stories that I published on this blog in 2014. I have not been writing much, but painting and drawing. I have to finish some old projects. I hope you enjoy “Where My Eyes Are From”.
I turned to face the door and sat down in the centre edge. It was the softest part of mama’s large queen-size bed. I ran my large grey eyes over the bed. They never miss a thing. Papa had built this bed. The bed was rustic but sturdy. Because of the many years in the timbers, the bed talks like an old man when you are on it. Right now, the bed is not talking because I am not moving. The white cotton sheets were crumpled and warm. I wanted to climb into the sheets, make the bed talk, like mama and I used to when we would read together and play, but I could not.
We had buried mama at 3pm. The day had been long and tiring.
The few friends and family returned to our small two bedroom cottage on the edge of town in the hills of Mt Crosby, Queensland. The offering of sweet tea and cake to the mourners wrapped the day. However, the sweet tea did not sit well nor change the taste in my mouth. Soon, they left papa and me. We sat together on the old small veranda and did not speak. The old swing did the talking to the slight breeze. At 15, I knew half of papa was buried with mama this afternoon. I could not think of anything to say to papa.
The day hurried past. Soon, it burnt orangey into dusk. The ambers from the remains of the daylight pierced through the small white cottage.
“You can go to her room” Papa had said close to 5pm.
I saw the small clock on mama’s bedside as I sat down. Mama’s room smelt like vanilla with faint coffee. I had tried to shut out the noises with the door, but I could hear the puppies. All five of them ready for their milk. They needed their mother. A sharp pain went through me.
My hand felt under the pillow slip and I found it. The small white envelope mama promised before she took her last breath. I gazed back at the door. I waited. My heart started to race.
Through the gaps in the window I caught the late breeze approaching carrying bush smells of gum and acacia. I could hear my father humming “Gershwin’s Summer Time” and rocking in the old chair. The chair squeak was rhythmic and soothing. It re-assured me of his location. I did not want him to come in.
The house seemed to mimic Papa’s humming and suddenly I felt the sadness heavy in my chest. Papa was a real sweet man. Not only did he lose his woman, but his best friend.
I sat still and held mama’s envelope; firmed by the content of its small card. In this envelope was something mama wanted only me to know. My stomach did not feel right and I knew it was something I do not wish to know.
The room held on to the last of day light. In this dim light I read my name written neatly across with dainty curls. Mama always made a point of making big long tails in letters ‘y’ and “g”. My name was Margaret Meadows. Mama shortened it to “Maggy” with a “y” instead of an “ie” like in other Margies which was short for Margaret.
I brought the card closer to my nose. It smelt of vanilla too. This made me smile and my eyes salted. I felt that weight in my chest move up to choke me. I looked at mama’s photo of us in a white frame by the bed. Tears rolled down my eyes. Slowly, I pinched the corner of the white envelope and slit the end through with my index finger. This forced the white envelope open to reveal a small red card.
I eased back on the bed. The old man-bed groaned softly. I felt I needed some support and security before I opened the red card. I let my shoes drop on the wooden floor. I stared at the door; hoping papa would not come in. I need to be alone when I read this. That was what mama wanted.
“My Love Maggy,
You were born a beautiful baby of glorious soft honey skin, pink lips, fair hair and long arms and legs. You were a fairy with piercing eyes. I swear if you had wings, you would have flown away. Your eyes always had a mysterious twinkle. When you were little, I often wondered if you were worried or just curious about your eyes because you asked me many times why your eyes were different from your father’s and mine. As you know, we both have brown eyes.
I need you to understand that Paul Meadows loves you like his own daughter. There is not a single person that loves you more and not a single reason to be ashamed of who you are.
Your grey eyes came from a man named Peter Sullivan who was once your father Paul’s best friend. Last year, I found out that he died in a car accident while driving back to Brisbane from New South Wales.
This is my contribution to Mondays Finish the Story. This flash fiction challenge requires up to 150 words excluding the first sentence provided by Barbara Beacham. Barbara also provides the image. This image inspired several stories, but I decided to go with this one. I hope you enjoy the story.
“The Cold Lazarus” – JK.Leahy short story
“Few knew about the castle hidden inside the island.” Jezebel climbed carefully over the fragile, sunburnt coral.
As her tender arches gripped for support, she reached out to push the hanging vines apart. Crushed coral dust and tiny pale branches fell off her feet and into the deep blue ocean a few metres below her. A boat approached. Beyond the gentle hum of the breeze, there was a splash in the creek at the opening. Jezebel hesitated before high strident, piercing screeches shocked her as a swarm of black scrawny bats flew at her, ruffling her wispy golden hair. She gasped for air. Suddenly, it dawned on her. The note on her window that led her here; was that really a note from James, her sweetheart? Or was it from Lazarus, James’ evil twin? Ice flooded her veins as she saw his towering, hefty silhouette come into view at the castle entrance. Where was James?
THE night was still and dark. Dogs did not bark. The wind blew gently.
Children and babies had stopped crying and laid their heads to rest. Even the night birds were silent around the coastal Morobe village.
Below the whistle of the gentle breeze, Kalem heard a song. It was soft, beautiful and so sad it almost made her cry. It sounded very familiar.
Lying still on her woven pandanus mat that grandma made for her, she searched through her memories – where has she heard this song? Her grandma had passed away last year. She missed her. After tossing and turning for what seemed like forever, Kalem knew she had to find out.
She picked up her mother’s torch. Beside the torch was a piece of hard shell, a turtle shell she found on the beach. She kept it for good luck. Suddenly she remembered – the song! It was the song of the turtles. Their nesting time happens near Kalem’s birthday, but they have not come to her village for a long time.
Tonight, something was wrong. Grandma said only the mother turtle sang the turtle song. No one in the village knew that song except her grandmother, mother and now her. Grandma sung and taught the song to Kalem while they were fishing. “Who is singing it now?” Kalem wondered.
Afraid but excited, Kalem headed to the beach. As she walked, she remembered Grandma’s words: “Our people are connected to the ocean, we fish to survive but we must respect the lives in the ocean. We must never kill for nothing.”
Not many people can connect to the animals and fish, but grandma said their family had a special gift because their ancestors came from the sea and are tied to the ways of the sea. Kalem walked quickly along the beach as she listened for the song.
“If you ever hear the song Kalem, you know, Mother Turtle needs you”, her grandmother told her. When Kalem was born in the turtle season, grandma told her mother – “this girl would one day meet Mother Turtle”.
Kalem followed the song out of her village and along the shores, further and further away from her house. Her heart beat faster when she arrived at the river where the villagers washed. Where the river met the sea, villagers set fishing nets along the shoreline. Kalem heard a loud splash. She slowly stepped forward, flashing the torch.
Tied to a large driftwood stump on the beach was a long, green fishing net. On the calm water surface, a big red buoy floated just offshore, and at the end of the net.
Something had been caught in the net. The thing splashed again. It rippled and frothed the seawater in a circle. It was large, dark and nearby the shore. It did not look like any fish or crocodile Kalem knew.
When she flashed the torch at the dark shape, she was shocked to find a very large sea turtle tangled in the net. It was so large, Kalem was sure it must have been the mother of all turtles. Kalem flashed the torch on the water.
She could see smaller turtles floating about, their heads bobbing in the water. The turtles circled the net. They were all making strange noises like they were crying too. The mother turtle was bigger than Kalem’s ten-year-old body, but Kalem had to try save to her.
Even with no strength left, the mother turtle kept singing her song. Weakly, her tired flippers hit the net and her voice faded to almost a whisper. Kalem’s tears flowed down as she waded through the water quickly and tried to set the turtle free. After struggling with the net and the weight of the turtle, Kalem ran back to the village and woke her mother.
“Help, wake up!” Kalem cried. “It’s Mother Turtle – we must help her”.
Kalem’s mother was confused. Often she thought her daughter was a daydreamer. After Kalem calmed herself and explained, she grabbed her mother’s arm and led her back to the beach. They took a knife and cut the net to set the mother turtle free. The large turtle swam up to Kalem and her mother. She bumped them with her nose before she and the other turtles disappeared into the deep, dark waters.
Kalem remembered grandma telling her about the life of the mother turtle. Grandma said it took many years before the turtle was ready to make babies. Every two or three years, the mother turtle leads her group to her own nesting beach, where she was born. Sometimes she travelled long distances to get there. Usually she would lay over a hundred eggs, but only a few survived.
Other animals, people and large fish eat the eggs and baby turtles. Kalem’s people loved eating turtle eggs and meat. Their village was once a nesting ground for turtles. Lately, less and less turtles have come to lay eggs. Standing silently in the dark with her mother, Kalem thought of how scared the turtles were tonight.
“They might never return…we must teach our people to protect the turtles”, she whispered to her mother.
“I am so proud of you Kalem. The turtles will head to a safe place to lay their eggs. Maybe this was not the right place for them, but they will find a perfect home some day”.
Her mother held Kalem close as they headed back to the village.
This is a unique flash fiction challenge where Barbara W. Beacham provides a new photo and the first sentence of a story each week. The challenge is to finish the story using 100-150 words. This challenge runs from Monday to Sunday.
Black feet peeked from under and two green eyes pierced through the curtain. It was a dog. We didn’t have a dog, and neither did Jessy.
My mind went back to yesterday.
“I don’t want you to play with Jessy”
Why not mother?”
“You are eight and he’s 16, and there is something weird about that boy”.
“Like what mother?”
“Those large green eyes – when he grins, I cringe”.
“That’s not fair mother!” I yelled and ran to my room.
Today, my parents went to dad’s work party. Aunty Anne was coming over, but she was late. Jessy stopped by. We played video games and then I went to the toilet. When I returned, Jessy was nowhere to be found…
Mondays Finish the Story is a unique flash fiction challenge where Barbara Beacham provides a new photo and the first sentence of a story each week. The challenge is to finish the story using 100-150 words, not including the sentence provided. This challenge runs from Monday to Sunday.
At first, it looked like an ordinary marble, but it was far from it. Magda got to it, reached down awkwardly and picked it up. It was big and heavy.
Years of factory work damaged her back. Magda longed for an easy way to survive. The ball was larger than a cricket ball yet smaller than a soccer ball.
“Perrr-fect!” she smiled to herself and wiped off the red dirt.
This was a sign. She closed her eyes in prayer. She has seen it done in the markets with no truth in it and told Chek. Besides, who would know? Her husband Chek died last year.
With her gypsy olive skin, a pair of wild gooseberry eyes set against her greyish black hair, Magda was ready.
She pushed her Coles trolley to Brisbane’s West End markets. Already she could predict her own future. Her years of struggle are about to end in a few hours when she starts her new career – predicting people’s futures.
Zeus was not having a good day and he made sure everyone knew it. Mack was a mess as soon as Zeus got going.
“Get me a cleaver…”
“Nooooo! Pleease! Oh god – I’m sorry!” Mack sobbed and gurgled as I ran to boss’s collection for a blade. I almost dropped it; my legs could barely keep up.
As Zeus’ knuckles tightened to white around the knife handle, I desperately avoided his predatory gaze, leering at me through the lightning bolt tattoo across his right eye.
“Now, get out” he growled. I didn’t linger.
Mack had hidden Zeus’s package as well as the money. He lied. I warned him that Zeus would not buy it. The kid messed up.
I wondered why you’d risk losing some fingers for a few bucks, and then I heard a chop. Mack’s screams battered the walls of the warehouse, and the echoes shook my bones. I guess you never quite get used to working for a psychopath.
Are Australian short story writers an endangered species?
I found this review by Geoffrey Dean, an accomplished Tasmanian (Australian) writer quite interesting especially while editing some of my short stories for competitions recently.
I enjoy writing short stories, ranging from “Mondays Finish the Story” (Barbara W. Beacham) flash fiction challenge of 100-150 words to stories I have written in 1500 to 3000 words in our Creative Writing Workshop with Isabel D’Avila Winter. In short story competitions, the limit to the number of words you are required to write can really change a story, as I have found recently while reducing one of my 1500 word short stories to 1000 words for a competition. I have felt in the past week that I probably could have spent less time and written a better story, if I wrote a completely new story. On the other hand, I found it much easier to increase the number of words of another short story from 800 words to the required number, 1000 words. The additional 00 words may have slowed the phase of the story, but it is work-in-progress.
Submitting to literary magazines also calls for a fit. You have to write to specific requirements with type and paragraphing or head-lining, but the main challenge is the number of words to fit a page or a column. So how can you fit into the system? Can you be less descriptive or reduce the number of characters without taking from your plot or could you do without long passages of back-stories without killing the story?
In the following review, “Are Australian short story writers an endangered species?”, see how author Geoff Dean writes about his process of creating a short story and his discussions on the steps that took him to the end where the answer about short stories and their lengths are quite clear. As Dean writes, one must always aim to write a good short story first and foremost before trying to fit the story “into the system”, i.e., the magazine page size or competition requirements…in other words, to hell with the system, I am going to write my story my way and eventually find a place for it.
Geoffrey Dean has published 80 short stories. The Tasmanian Writers’ Centre (TWC) in conjunction with Island Magazine and the Geoff and Elizabeth Dean Foundation have just launched the Geoffrey Dean Short Story Competition which is now open to Australian writers.
Born in Hobart, Tasmania in 1928, Geoffrey Dean (Geoff) had his first short story published in the mid-1950s. Scores of his stories have appeared in eight collections of his work (Mysteries, myths, and miracles; Under the Mountain; The Literary Lunch; Strangers Country and other stories; Cold Dean Monday and other Australian stories; Summerbird and other stories; Over the Fence; and the Hadlee Stories), as well as magazines, anthologies and collections in Australia, the UK, USA, Norway and China. He won many literary prizes and awards, including the State of Victoria Short Story Award and the Arafura Literary award. His story, The Town that Died was made into a TV drama and broadcast by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation in 1986. Geoff died in August, 2011.
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“The only residents remaining in the small town of Miners Hill are spirits.” Uncle Joseph said.
A tear rolled down his wrinkled tired face. The Eastern Belt explosion left several hundred dead last week. The town was evacuated. I watched another tear form and my eyes salted.
“My first thoughts were Josepha, Maria, and Antonia”.
“Where were you?”
“We sat for dinner. I went down to get a bottle of wine from the cellar – only minutes away”, he covered his face with bloody bandaged hands and wept.
My 50-year-old uncle cried as I rubbed his shoulders.
“I…I heard a single explosion, it sounded so far away. I thought it was the daily blasting at mine site. I should have come up. Antonio wanted a Carménère to celebrate Maria’s first communion. I couldn’t read the labels…suddenly I heard the crumbling, screams upstairs and everything went black”.
“Don’t cry, please uncle. They are with God now”, I whispered, as I cried with him.