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Flash Fiction

For Students

Competition

A Young Man with a Notebook

As part of the 16th International Conference on the Short Story in English, we invited students to submit their best flash fiction on the conference theme of Diversity of Voices: A Global Storytelling History.


 

Flash Fiction Contest Winning Entries

 

Congratulations to all winners!

First Prize
 

If time stood still

Liu Shengyu

Dunman High School

 

Welcome to the tea menagerie. Interesting choice to work here.

Will you stay? We shall see. I shall show you around.

Take in the scents of the tea lining the shelves all across the shop. Moroccan mint and its freshness spilling from its tin, bright lime matcha being ground slowly, round and round and round. Herbal, flowery tea of every colour among the muddy blacks and browns and greens.

Today, you will be preparing Chai. Grind these cinnamon sticks, please.

A young girl enters. The chime dings pleasantly as the door swings open and close. She sees us and shambles over, taking a seat on the wooden high chair that creaks. The white blouse and black skirt of a school uniform are dotted with rain.

 

She needs a warm cup of Chai. On the way, miss.

 

She looks forlorn. Some ancient emotion hides behind her youthful features. She bends with the wilt of something old, strange on her youthful form.

 

What ails you, child?

 

"I'm tired," she says. "Everything is moving so fast, and I feel so lost. They say, you are grown. You should know. But I know nothing." She rests her forearms on the countertop, her whole body stooping and shrinking.

 

Now, add these cloves and cardamon pods. Don't forget the peppercorn and sugar. It is needed.

 

An old man hobbles in. His cane makes a constant tapping noise on the dark wood. He collapses into a chair in the corner. A different type of fatigue rests in his soul, one aged in the vat of time. He looks up at us. "It's gone," he croaks. "All I know is gone. And there's these things that people stare at, these places that people keep going to. They come and go, and I scarcely remember their faces anymore."

 

Add the ginger, if you please. Perhaps the Chai will calm his soul.

 

Ding. Them again. They come in throngs, go in throngs, never stopping. They down their tea in a second and then they are gone, faces buried in their bright devices. They are like flies in the summer heat, festering round dead carcasses, buzzing, always buzzing.

 

You are lucky to have escaped them. You are lucky to work here.

Pass it here, I will brew the water. As the smell pervades, watch them change. She looks so peaceful, in the moment, feeling her breath, the warmth, the clinking of small metal teaspoons on delicate porcelain. Of the trickle of warm water and the murmur of conversation. He closes his eyes and listens to the music which he wishes could bring him back to then, to when even time was still.

 

Stay here, if you wish, brewing tea in this little tea shop. Drink. Feel the strength seep back into your bones, filling you with steadiness, surety, and a certain readiness.

 

Remember to breathe, and be still.

 

So, will you stay? Or will you go, taking the scent of tea with you, back to what is still awaiting you.

 
 

Second Prize


Bright Turquoise Walls

Reanne Mak

Bedok South Secondary School

 

 

I imagine her seated in a corner of her heavily Peranakan-furnished shophouse, needle in hand. The bright turquoise walls seem to seep into her embroidery. A set of four ancient teak chairs, slowly eaten hollow from within its Indonesian wood, circles a round and unbreakable marble table. The tiles that lined the kitchen doorway are small, pink, square and perfect. They bloomed green peonies while her fabric grew orange ones. Their florals draw out Chinese motifs - deer, and occasionally fish, that prance and swim along the edges of the fabric, wishing me longevity and good health. Her fingers fly as she stitches, like painting on a canvas. She could churn out a hundred butterflies, fragile, delicate wings and all, if she felt like it. Gold and silver threads are twisted into silk yarns, and tiny glass beads I can barely pick up weave themselves in place. Right across the room sits a pair of globular teapots. On one, a blue dragon. On the other, a blue phoenix. They would seal a harmonious union between my grandparents, whose lips had pressed against the palm sized teacups to taste red dates and longan for a sweet start to their journey together. She liked to watch as rows of white clouds appeared as she worked, the same flat streaks the celestial couple danced upon. I know she still dreams about that day. Her secret smiles tell me there’s a lot more I don’t know.

 

All of that going through her head, but she always worked her needle quietly.

 

 


Joint 3rd Prize

 

Cargo Cults

Amber Cheng Yan Yu

CHIJ St Nicholas Girls’ School

 
 

They came from the skies. For what reason, we did not know.

First came these items, landing gently from the sky, almost like a miracle. We had never seen these before.  Food in cylinders of metal. Long weapons that made loud bangs.

Then came the people. We had never seen them before either. They were paler than us, but with black hair. They spoke an unknown language. These people cleared long strips of land and soon strange birds started flying down on the cleared area. We had never seen these.  They were huge, with three sticks joined in the middle at the front that spun rapidly. Wings that remained in the same position all the time. They ran down the cleared land and took off. Some of the foreign people also came out of those birds.

Soon the foreigners started building structures. They were tall, their legs like crisscrossing bars of metal. These foreigners sat at the very top of these structures, where it was like a room, talking with these headdresses on. Two circular things covering the ears, and a band to join them above the head.The foreigners were polite. They shared these strange objects with us. They taught us how to use them, and how easy they made our life.

Not too long after, these foreigners left, fled, possibly. Yet a new set of foreigners came along. They brought the same things, the same food cylinders, the same unknown birds, used the same structures. These people looked different than the previous batch, some with yellow or brown hair. They were even paler, too. They also spoke a different tongue than the previous. Our lives were as easy as before this batch came, and we couldn’t care less.

Another period later, these foreigners left too. They took most of their things with them. They took their food cylinders, their strange birds. These items made our lives so comfortable, yet we never knew where they were from.

Soon, people started saying that it was a miracle. These items had been sent to us by our ancestors! Those foreigners were connected to our ancestors, our deities who sent us those items. We made wood versions of their structures, their headdresses. We lit signal fires on the cleared strips of land and those towers they called ‘lighthouses’. “One day, they will come back, with more than before,” said our leaders. Every day, we looked to the skies for riches to rain down on us.

They never did.



Joint 3rd Prize

 

wifi

Sumana Lim De Rui

Raffles Girls’ School

 

 

the wifi is down.

 

but you don’t know that yet; your fingers continue to waltz across 26 letters/ endless possibilities. the curtains are drawn and the fan is going at it in the background, with pangs of slimy humidity lathered on your oily clogged face- an acne breakout waiting to

 

explode, and the thought of little blackheads and white zits falling from the sky, planting themselves in your epidermis makes you shiver instinctively, but suddenly missiles and bombs and nukes landing on the surface of Ukraine slither their way into your mind. you shake your head, what is it that they say? an idle mind is the

 

devil’s workshop- you glance at the blank Word document; on the chinese project due tomorrow, you type in meaningless jargon then jam your finger against the backspace button. you try to still your mind but bombs landing on Kyiv going “POW POW POW” followed by a faceless child crying for their faceless mother fill up your thoughts; now your fingers move of their own accord they

 

punch the close tab button, your blank Word document disappears from the screen. the faceless child’s cries ring like tinnitus in your internal jugular vein. Lord knows what an internal jugular vein is, but Lord does not know what the child’s name is. you really need to finish that chinese project by tomorrow, but you open another devil’s workshop, another tab anyway.

 

type, release, sink down in your seat a little more. your fingers hover above the 26 letters. you hesitate, visions of bloody hands trapped under rubble seep in through the cracks; fingers outstretched & clamoring to hold on to one another. they keep slipping on their own blood and piles of hands stack on one another, hands of little boys and girls and soldiers and parents and friends and

 

eventually you type in “Russia-Ukraine war” and hit the search button, but i think you may have forgotten that your wifi is down. you stare at the dinosaur game, eyes glazed over.

 

confined 5,357 miles away from the nukes, you feel helpless. the world isn’t your oyster, darling. in fact you feel lost and disconnected from the near future; who knows what the headlines might show tomorrow?

 

//

 

You call the guy at Singtel to fix your wifi and hold your breath, waiting for the ringtone to go through.

 

The world must have held its breath too; what else explains the sudden tension in the slimy humidity? So we all dangle our feet on the edge, not daring to play Orpheus and glance back at yesterday’s pain/lessons, not daring to face the grief/hope that tomorrow will bring.

 

But this too will pass, and now your wifi is on again.

 
 

Commendation 1

 

Brood of War

Amihan Davidson

Bukit Panjang Government High School

 

I am a compound.

Heritage is a ligament in the way it binds bone to bone. It is the tenebrous terror lying just west of your field of vision.

Intangible? Perhaps. Omnipresent? Undoubtedly.

I spark vitriol in the gentlest of men. I am what’s left after online polemics and death threats go for the eyes.

I am the child of two nations at war.

Where peace breathes tolerance like water flowing beside levees, comfortable and taciturn like the hands of a friend, war is its antithesis.

War? War breeds doubt and fear like blood filling a wound.

The lumbrical muscle is for the hands that strike. The brain stem is for the intrinsic need to hate anything— even the child, lost and alone. The risorius is for smiles bereft of joy. The body is for battle.

“You’re a freak!”

“What are you?”

“Your parents are pigs.”

The words of the schoolchildren sting the most, I find.

They object to my fallow skin and bowed lips. They detest my prayers. They see my poured tears, a libation to a hope for kindness, and find fault in each drop.

I remind myself that they are but children, whose execrable avowals could have been naïve smiles in a different existence. Their comfort sours to contempt without warning. Their heels pound on my exposed ribcage, heel-toe heel-toe in fusillade.

The smallest boys abhor my simple leaping and learning and living. The bravest girls are a convocation of sanguine carrion birds, pecking at my bones and waiting for my surrender to death.

(Sometimes, I wonder if they want my death. My end might just be another thing that I have been denied.)

It is a war that might as well have been two— one of men and one of minds.

The minds cut deeper, for pen trumps sword when it is poised at a throat.

I watch a flock of cumulus clouds drift overhead as the air clears after the heavy rain. I see bomber planes in the chiffon shapes of sky. Distantly, a goldcrest cries for worship.

The heavy tang of soil that has stopped weeping mingles with asphalt and sweat. The wind has arisen.

Am I not… human?

Beneath the infinite blue, I feel too small to be anything but.

I want to breathe. I want to rest. I want to live. I want far too much not to be a human being.

We are sedentary as the Earth turns beneath us, pinned between flight and fall. Between us all is the in-out-in-out of breathing. Take a deep breath, and you will feel the impartiality of the air.

I am a product of two worlds. I am born of love that dared defy the borders my peoples have drawn of crimson and ash. I know their religion and logic, their pride and glory, their vicissitudes of fame and fortune and blind men’s dice.

The gale shudders like it is saying welcome home.

I am proof that wars end if people will it.

 

Commendation 2


2K

Tammy Lim Yu Han

Bedok South Secondary School

 

 

“1 JANUARY 2000, IS THIS THE END? “YEAR 2000 WILL TURN MACHINES AGAINST MAN”; newspapers, magazines snatched from the racks; prepare the horrors of when it flashes 01/00; shut your computers down; withdraw from the bank; protect your assets; the alien conspiracist has a new sign board, a new tin coin box too; the survivalists await an apocalypse while the Christians have a laugh; twenty, thirty, fifty percent off!; grab all you can: frozen produce, tins and cans; the shelves are empty; hundreds of people here on a day that is neither black nor Friday; shopping carts, baskets and arms, loaded with supplies; who would've ever guessed tuna cans would sell out; there isn’t any chicken noodle soup left; at school, the teachers took leave; external events canceled; gloom clings to the walls, even more so than usual; classes have been filled by substitutes who assign self-study; the corridors look empty, hollow and winding; my classmates ditched school—can’t say I was surprised; Kiêu was pulled out, whisked back to her homeland; “được an toàn bạn của tôi”; (be safe my friend); I hope she comes back soon, it’s getting lonely these days; I don’t understand, where did everyone go?; to think i studied for this week’s history quiz; my mother tells me to wash my clothes; do my homework; clean my room and vacuum the floors; she keeps checking the mailbox, the news and reports; flipping through every channel, each telling the disasters of the day; the television is turned off; she visits the lady with the headache-inducing perfume next door; from her we borrow sugar and a CD; the CD plays as we fold stacks of laundry; there is a red shirt folded among the white—something is bothering my mother; “I’m home”; my father is quieter than usual; his shirt is wrinkled; there's a frown etched on his face; after dinner he sighs and pours himself a generous glass of plum wine, his favorite; he sits on the deck outside; I sit with him; tomorrow we’ll go grocery shopping, grab what we can; tomorrow we’ll have a cart of frozen produce, tins and cans; a couple fruits; we should stock up on dried foods too; there won’t be any chicken noodle soup so mushroom will have to do; tonight my parents withdrew from the bank; we unplugged the computer in the living room and the one in the office room as the anchor advised we do; my parents wish me goodnight; tonight I lay in bed; the large calendar looms; October 1999, bold and red; someone tell me, what will happen, where will I be, come 2000?

 

At a Glance

Student writers are welcome to interpret the theme in any way, including but not limited to the following:

  • Diversity in stories and voices

  • Diversity in culture, place and tradition

  • Stories about the globe and/the planet

  • Identities

  • Youth cultures

  • Re-tellings of myths/legends/fairytales

  • Stories about travel and friendship

  • Place, history and storytelling

  • Personal and familial histories


Submissions open: 1 December 2022

Deadline: 1 April 2023


Prizes

Prizes will be awarded to the top three entries. Prize-winners will also each receive free admission to the Conference and a pass to one conference workshop of their choice. Their flash fiction entries will be published on the Conference website.

All specially commended entries will also be published on the Conference website.

We regret that only prize winners and writers of specially commended entries will be notified.


**Note: Students do not need to attend the conference to enter the contest**

Submission Guidelines

NOTICE:

  • Students who have previously submitted their entries in 2022 should email icsseflashfiction@nie.edu.sg to confirm their submissions for 2023.
     

SUBMISSION INSTRUCTIONS:

  • This competition is open to all students between 13 and 19 at secondary schools, junior colleges, international schools and polytechnics in Singapore. Students must be currently enrolled in a school in Singapore on 1st April 2023.
     

  • Entries should be an unpublished, original and creative piece of fiction of between 150 and 500 words in length.
     

  • Participants may only submit one entry. 
     

  • Entries should be in English.
     

  • Entries must not have been previously published online (includes personal blogs, etc.) or in print.
     

  • The Conference reserves the right to utilize stories in support of the Society or Conference in any way deemed appropriate.
     

  • Writers retain copyright to their works, and after the Conference, are free to have their stories published elsewhere.
     

  • The organizers reserve the right not to award the prizes if, in their opinion, such action is justified for any reason.

 

How to Submit
 

  • To submit your flash fiction, send an email with your entry attached to icsseflashfiction@nie.edu.sg
     

  • Subject of the email: Flash Fiction Competition
     

  • Include your name, school, contact details and title of work in the body of the email.

  • Attach a copy (JPG) of your student ID, with IC number blurred or blocked out.
     

  • Your attachment must not bear any identifying information in the text or file name, and should be in word doc, docx, or .rt formats.

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