I’ve been entering this competition by the Australian Writers’ Centre faithfully every month, and even got to be part of the Fan Club of writers who are regular participants. It’s a fun challenge. 55 hours, 500 words, and the criteria for March 2020:
- Each story had to include a PERSON IN DISGUISE.
- Each story had to take place in a PARK.
- Each story had to include a MIRROR.
In a month of madness, where reality sometimes feels like fantasy, I’m happy that this story made it to the shortlist:
The Funhouse Illusion
Step right up!
The Clown is on stilts. He wears colourful polka dots and a bright, green wig. The painted smile and lone, fake tear are incongruous, and oddly, make him appear devoid of emotion. He looks both silly and grotesque at once. Maya is hesitant. She has seen the darkness behind these disguises. There are no polka dots on the other side. Everything in her body tells her to turn and run. Yet, she knows that if she doesn’t face her fear, she will never truly be free. So, Maya walks through the arches of the amusement park and braces herself for the assault on her senses. The vibrant colours are laser beams to her eyeballs, the loud music roars through her eardrums into her skull, and the scent of danger makes her stomach lurch.
Take a look at this!
The Clown ushers Maya to the funhouse mirrors and takes his payment. She can see herself reflected in many ways, and not all are pleasant. Despite knowing the mirrors are rigged to distort, Maya does not like what she sees. The clown nods encouragingly. “This is how the world sees you,” he declares, towering over her. “This is who you are.” His oversized smile spreads to reveal gleaming teeth. Maya closes her eyes. This is not how she sees herself, but she does not know how to argue her reality here in the world of Clowns.
Candy floss, only three dollars!
Clowns present tricks disguised as treats. Maya pays to taste the fleeting sweetness on her tongue. It is familiar. She recognises this transient pleasure. A moment of bliss, just a moment, and then disintegration into nothingness, and she is left wanting. A recurring pattern. There are many Clowns, all with different tricks. All eager to show her who she is. All taking pieces of her as payment for the privilege.
Last call for the Ferris Wheel!
The Clown grabs Maya’s hand and leads her to the wheel. Maya knows the ride is exhilarating but she is not prepared to keep giving up pieces of herself. “No,” she says, and tries to pull her hand away. The Clown is still smiling, but his grip tightens. “How will you know who you are if I don’t show you?” he sneers. Maya shakes her head. It is time to leave the park for good. The Clowns will just have to amuse themselves from now on.
“I’ll take my chances,” she tells him, turning on her heel and running out of the park with the lightness of freedom in her step. The Clown gazes at her. He tries to force a tear out, but it doesn’t come.
©2020 Seetha Nambiar Dodd
The judges said….
What we liked:
Cleverly written and engrossing, this dreamlike sequence presents a metaphoric assault on the senses – a wonderland of colour and description. Maya has had enough of forced fun, empty promises and instant gratification in her life. Perhaps of social media and consumerism that looks bright and shiny but leaves her unfulfilled and misunderstood. Perhaps failed relationships or friendships? Like a funhouse mirror, the more you explore this story, the more angles and interpretations present themselves – not an easy thing to do in such a small word count. Dizzying, disturbing and deftly described – as stories go, it’s a step right up…