At this year’s Digital Writers’ Festival we ran a microfiction challenge in conjunction with Swinburne University of Technology and Seizure. Each day of the festival, budding writers had 24 hours to submit a story of up to 500 words responding to a daily prompt. We were overwhelmed with the quality and sheer amount of entries – over 900 in total – and the judges had an impossibly difficult task selecting a daily winner for publication in Seizure.
Out of those daily winners, we’re thrilled to announce that the overall winner of the DWF17 Swinburne Microfiction Challenge is Rosie McCrossin for her story Mudflat Summer. Rosie takes home $1000 cash thanks to Swinburne University. You can read her story below.
I suppose I didn’t notice it was ending. Everything was painted yellow. Sunlight and mangoes broken into fleshy chunks on the bitumen. The bikes fallen over on grass thickened by prickles. Walking from the corner shop, where the immigrant family with their raincloud eyes stare out at us. Technicolour lollies in bright white paper bags. Our feet are bare and browned by sunburn and dirt. Strong against the burning bitumen. At the park, we sit on swings and talk about our world. It is a small one, but there is always something to debate. The heat invades our bodies and forces us under the platform of the playground, where we are printed with patterned shadows. The smell of the fresh bark is heady and sweet. Your tongue, stained by strawberry clouds, glows in the afternoon light.
We are so far out now that the horizon has turned to shimmering waves. The water hovers, tepid and unafraid, around our calves. The toadfish and crabs, with their sharp wariness, make broad circles around us. You find a moon snail. Hold him by his shell. We wait. We can be very quiet. The mudflats are infinite, and the ocean an insipid plain. It is hungry for the heat. It eats it up and lies warm and comfortable around our feet. Perhaps it is saving up for the night when the wind will come and whip its shallow waters into cracked, white waves. The moon snail opens its timid body onto your hand. Its eyes venture out. We stand for a long time, the warm breeze flicking our hair, as the fleshy white flower blooms and closes, again and again.
The boat has been there for a long time. It is a ghost boat. When you look inside it is filled with rats and brokenness and people’s things. Photographs and an oven, bedsheets. Men on motorboats make their way noisily between the gaps in the trees. They shine and shift like ghosts. You kick the boat and the fibreglass crumbles. The emptiness of the mangrove forest eats up our voices and vomits them into symphonies of reverberation. I step into the dirty water. At the bottom, I can feel the too-soft floor, antennae of the mangroves separating my toes. My skin is thick with mud. We crouch in the shade. We are quiet. The shadow shifts like a mother, hiding our squinted eyes from the sun.
Sometimes, I will wake up in the middle of the night, retracing the map again and again in my head. Now, the creek is crowded in by golf courses and modern metal houses and warehouses for supermarkets. The mudflat coast is a tourist drive and they have built picnic tables. They renovated the playground. A man came in to poison all the prickles. It took us a long time, learning how to avoid prickles in the grass. We could teach people. It is a terrific skill. Even now, I remember.
Words by Rosie McCrossin. Image by Gorkie, our resident Instagram artist for DWF17.