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2023 National Flash Fiction Competition

By: Franklin Writers Group

Winner of the Franklin Writers Group short story competition:

Heather McQuillan from Christchurch


We hug our knees and search for the wishing star far beyond the white puffs of our breath. Thick grain sacks protect our bums from the frosted ground and our shoulders are caped with old blankets; my brothers and I beneath chequerboards of stained pink and green, while Philip and Maggie share mouse-chewed grey. Philip told me that at home he’s called Piripiri, like the biddy-bids that cling to my socks, but you’re not allowed to say it at school. Everyone knows he’s the biggest fibber in Standard 4. We were supposed to stay in the truck but how could we when the sky is cluttered with constellations and one is a wishing star?

‘That one,’ Philip says.

My brothers argue over which star he’s pointing at. ‘That little fulla,’ Philip says. ‘Hiwa-i-te-rangi.’ The name leaps from his mouth like a spell and the faraway star glints as if answering his call.

Maggie slaps him, soft though. ‘She’s not a fulla. She’s the littlest sister.’

A burst of voices escapes from the meeting hall as a man walks round the back to the dunnies; his cigarette tip glows pink. The air nips at us with the essence of chewed grass and things beyond our reach.

Philip tells us that the hall and the rugby paddock – our farm too, our pastures and gullies – was once his family’s. He says the bones of his ancestors are buried here and their blood is soaked into the stolen soil. He says he’s wishing on Hiwa-i-te-rangi to get it all back. My brothers’ laughter punches into the stratosphere. Hā. Hā. Hā.

But that star, she blinks a little sister code to say it’s all true. I wish for Philip.

‘Piripiri,’ I whisper, and ‘Hiwa-i-te-rangi.’ My brothers slap me, hard.   Second place:

Laura Pendergrast from Ngaruawahia

As You Fly Away

Even as a baby, Peter loved the stars. I would take him outside on those nights when he wouldn’t settle, holding him while I paced our backyard. His crying would still as soon as he noticed the lights, turning his face to study the heavens.

As he got older, I would often find him laying on his back outside, instead of tucked up in bed. I started telling him stories about the stars. Stretching my imagination, I wove him a world set in the inky sky.

Peter was enchanted with the characters, and constantly peppered me with questions, asking for more details about their world.

‘Tell me again about the rivers of starlight mum,’ he would ask, his eyes bright as he snuggled under the covers. One day Peter got sick. The doctors said there was nothing they could do and sent us home. That night I saw him sneak into the yard.

I could see his mouth moving, so I crept outside to listen to his earnest words.

‘It’s me, Peter.’ He whispered, ‘I won’t be here much longer. Can I fly to your world one day soon?’ I walked away, leaving Peter to his conversation, my heart breaking with his childlike desire to live with the stars. Soon we came to stay at the hospital. The nurses put Peter by the window so he could still watch the stars. He was brave as I lay beside him, holding his hand as he faced the night sky. ‘Tell me about the stars mummy.’ Choking back tears, I told him a story. The story about a little boy named Peter who loved the stars so much that they answered his wish, taking him to swim in rivers of starlight, living forever as a bright spark in the night sky.

Third place:

Sherryl Clark from Whangarei

The Perfect Birthday Present

Rod glared at her over the toast rack. ‘That would have to be the stupidest birthday present you have ever given me, and God knows, there have been some doozies.’ She ducked her head, pressed her lips together hard and carefully spread jam on her toast. Just once, she’d like some acknowledgement of the time and effort she spent on his birthday gifts. OK, he didn’t like this one either, but would it kill him to say thank you?

‘I suppose this was Deirdre’s idea,’ he said. ‘Typical. She’s probably paid to have a species of jellyfish or something named after her.’

‘No, this was my idea.’

‘Well, it’s a complete waste of money.’ Rod shoved a large piece of toast dripping with butter and marmalade into his gaping mouth. As usual, his thick moustache ended up with marmalade stuck in it. He chewed with his mouth open. ‘Can you get a refund?’

‘No, dear.’

He made a rude grunting noise. ‘That’d be right. At least then I could spend the money on a decent bottle of scotch.’ More toast shoved in.

She wondered how much more butter it would take to cause a coronary. Probably several kilos, all at once. She sighed.

‘I mean,’ he went on, ‘what is this Star Registry anyway? Bound to be a scam.’ He sniffed and pulled the toast rack towards him. The Star Naming certificate, which he’d barely glanced at, slid from the table and ended up by her feet. ‘Any more toast?’

‘I’ll make you some, dear.’

Later, she retrieved the certificate and smiled. She’d frame it and put it on the wall in her sewing room. The beautiful colour picture of the night sky, the location and number of the star, and underneath, its new name. Dickhead Rod.   First Prize for Franklin Entrants:

Terry Carson from Pukekohe

Living Dangerously

Jack sipped his morning long black. It was so hot it burned his throat. It was so strong it set his teeth on edge. It was just how he liked it. Two minutes and he would have to go back to the office. He had got reading the local rag down to a fine art. Ten minutes was all he needed. As he got to his feet, he did his final routine before throwing the paper in the bin. He checked his horoscope on the back page. He didn’t believe a word of it, but always read it.

Pisces: Today, take extra care or you may have an accident.

Great, he thought. Yesterday it told me I would have unexpected good luck, and that didn’t happen.

He slowly walked down the street towards the office. About a hundred metres before the doorway a woman was up a ladder washing a window. The ladder was at the prescribed angle to remain stable. There were five red witches’ hats on the footpath. Two on either side of the ladder, set two metres away, and one further out from the bottom. Health and Safety gone mad as usual, he thought. Go on, be a devil, live dangerously, a little voice whispered in the back of his mind. Tempt fate, prove that the horoscope is nonsense. Jack stepped over the red cones and walked with precision between the ladder and the wall. ‘Hey, don’t be an idiot,’ he heard from above him.

Jack half turned and looked up, flashed his best smile, and fell over a red cone on the other side of the ladder. He landed heavily on the pavement. He lay there, dizzy. ‘My horoscope said I’d meet a new man today, but didn’t say how,’ said a female voice.

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elocal Digital Edition – September 2023 (#269)

elocal Digital Edition
September 2023 (#269)

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