In 2018, I set myself the goal of writing more flash fiction and then I stumbled upon the Furious Fiction competition run by the Australian Writers’ Centre and it couldn’t have been better timed. Furious Fiction is a competition held during the first weekend of every month. The organisers provide a simple brief and writers have less than 500 words to craft a story.

It’s fun and a bit of a challenge, but I’ve completed the last 12 months now and have 12 short stories that I never would have written otherwise. In December 2018 I managed to get my first short-listed story! I do have to admit that normally they only have one winner and three short listed, but for December they bumped it up to 19 and one of those was mine!

The brief was the following:

  • Each story had to take place on Christmas Eve EITHER 50 years ago OR 50 years into the future.

  • The first word of each story had to rhyme with the last word of the story. (They couldn’t be the same word.)

  • Each story had to include the line “IT WAS GONE IN A FLASH”.

You can check out the other December stories (as well as my own) here, but I’ve included my own story below. I hope you enjoy!

“New Traditions” by Ferne Merrylees

“Believe it or not, but Christmas used to mean something different fifty years ago,” said the nanny-bot to the five-year-old clone.

“There were still presents, right?” Josie asked, flattening her pink paper jumpsuit, and patiently withstanding the nanny-bot’s attempts to tidy her hair.

“Well yes, but not how you think.” The nanny-bot’s metal neck plating flared and then settled reluctantly. “Presents were exchanged between family and friends, often beside a dead, decorated tree.”

“Like we’re family?”

“No little one. We’re not family. I’m programmed to keep you safe.?

“Then what about the other Josies? Are they family?”

“Not quite. Half a century ago, even as children marched in the streets and politicians exchanged the future for wealth, most people related by blood or bonds, would exchange gifts.”

“So everyone got something?” Josie looked confused. “Why?”

The nanny-bot sighed and lifted the child into its arms, heading towards the door to wait for it to unlock. It hoped it wouldn’t. Only once a year on Christmas Eve did the original Josephine select a clone to extend her own life. It was tradition.

“Because of love mostly.”

“Love,” Josie said, tasting the word in her mouth like it was a sweet. “Do you think this Christmas I’ll be chosen? To be a present?”

The door remained closed and for a moment the nanny-bot had hope. But then it heard the unmistakable sound of a pin pad beeping and the door slid open.

Josephine waited all sleek lines and sharp edges. Her smooth skin couldn’t disguise the years reflected in her eyes.

“J-23. You’ve been selected for harvesting,” the original Josephine announced, her lips a slash of red. “The greatest present I could give myself. Merry Christmas.” And she held out her arms for the child. The nanny-bot hesitated. It had raised this Josie from the moment she was sequenced, but it still couldn’t fight its programming.

It handed Josie over, cold fingers desperate to cling, to keep the child close. Josephine turned, Josie peering over the woman’s shoulder, and the nanny-bot found itself speaking.

“You don’t deserve her gift.”

Josephine stopped, her red heels striking together.

“Excuse me?”

The nanny-bot knew it should stop. It could be reprogrammed for such a slight or worse, disassembled.

“You heard me. What you’re doing is wrong.”

“Wrong? It’s Christmas Eve. Traditions are made to be kept. Without clones, how would humankind survive?”

“This tradition should be broken. The future belongs to our children.”

“Nanny?” Josie chewed her lip, squirming in Josephine’s arms and doubt flickered in the older woman’s eyes. It was gone in a flash.

“I am the future,” Josephine growled, tightening her hold and Josie squeaked in pain. The nanny-bot acted. Her first directive was to protect its charge and all it took was an instant.

“Come here, Josie,” the nanny-bot called.

“Am I no longer a gift?”

“No, Josie.” The nanny-bot hurried towards the exit, Josie’s small hand in its own. “It’s time we started our own traditions. It is Christmas Eve.”

What do you think? This is what the judges had to say about it.

What we liked: Equal parts poignant and chilling, this future isn’t very fun if your name is Josie - where you live to serve your original. Told mostly through dialogue, there is something cinematic about this scene and the Handmaids Tale-esque moment where nanny-bot breaks ranks and protocol is an uplifting relief!

If you’re a writer or want to test your writing chops, I couldn’t recommend this fun competition enough. I definitely plan to tackle each month’s challenge.