Michael Fennis wins this round of the Creative Writing Competition with a story of friendship between aliens.
We talked to Creative Writing Competition judge, Cass Wood, about his thoughts on this competition, what he expected to see, and the winning entry, ‘Skateboards’.
The little blue ship dropped from the sky and circled around the tiny airport, leaving behind a small trail of white steam.
As it slowed, tiny metal legs stretched out and the thrusters reversed, letting the ship drift down slowly towards the pad. It touched down with a gentle bump, and the captain nodded to himself. Or rather, did the alien equivalent, as the captain resembled a toad without a movable neck. Croaking slightly, the captain hefted himself out of the seat and hopped down to the belly of the ship, where six passengers lay in cryostasis. Hitting the release button, the captain spluttered as the chambers decompressed with hissing gas.
“Awright, transfer time, m’hearties,” the captain said. “We’ve just reached tha’ lovely planet, Naturilus, and it’s curren’ly—” The captain checked his watch, a large, golden loop that constantly slipped around on his skin. “—nine o’clock! And, don’t mind if I do, but it is wunnerful weather out there! I would make tha’ most of it if ya can.” The captain spluttered again and hopped back out to go handle the baggage.
In the room, all but one passenger hefted themselves from the chambers, groaning slightly as they awoke from the forty-year trip. Jason, a sweaty, nervous octopus, lay back in his chamber, stock-still. He listened as the rest of the passengers made their way to the exit. Just please all go, he thought. I can’t get out now. I’ll trip over. One of them paused by Jason and peered in. It was an oversized badger.
“You alright, pal?”
“Oh, yes, fine, thank you!” Jason clasped his tentacles together in a worried fashion. “Just enjoying the view!” Jason forced a smile so wide that he gave himself jaw cramp.
The badger blinked once, then twice, before moving on without saying anything. Jason let out a huge sigh, which prompted his slime reflex. His skin immediately became slippery. Oh no, Jason thought. Now I really am in trouble.
Inside the airport, after making the difficult manoeuvre from chamber to ship floor, Jason pulled his baggage across the floor. It was a black pull along with a cute pink flower on the top, attached by his mum. Jason glanced at it, and went pale. What if it makes me a target? he thought. His skin shone with a slimy sheen. He glanced around, and huddled into a corner, nervously watching the other passengers. Luckily, the airport was fairly empty. Naturilus was one of the outer by-planets in the Taurine system, lush and forested, but too far away from any of the major planets to be heavily populated. Instead, it was a waypoint for travellers going to the quieter systems on the small cryo-ships, or visiting the more rural side of the Taurine.
Jason felt calmer as he watched the few people mill around the inside of the airport, musing over small gifts in the shop and watching the antiquated noticeboard for their flight. Reaching for his bag, he pulled out a small, brown package, wrapped in red ribbon. A present from his mum before he left. He knew what it was, but he wouldn’t open it until he got to the Lazarus system. Why spoil it for himself now? Jason smiled, held it close, then put it back in his bag. His stomach started to rumble, panging with hunger. I haven’t eaten in forty years, Jason thought. I should be starving! Jason tugged back on his bag and made his way over to the shop.
The shop was fairly small, stocking mostly notebooks, crime fiction, and some salty snacks. It was empty as Jason entered, who began to browse the snack aisle, weighing up the advantages of crisps versus peanuts.
As he became lost in the argument of crispness versus crunchiness, Jason failed to notice a gentle buzzing enter the shop. It wasn’t until the aisle got knocked that Jason blinked and looked up, coming face to face with a giant bee.
Immediately, Jason went cold. The bee stared back at him, then broke into a huge smile.
“Hey there, buddy! I’m Michael. How do ya do?”
Jason stuttered, unable to say anything. He backed away, knocking into the aisle behind him. Bees were his fear. His greatest fear. Some of the notebooks fell off the shelf behind him.
“Whoops!” Michael laughed. “Hold on there, lil’ buddy. Lemme just get that for ya.” He buzzed around to Jason’s aisle and reached for the notebooks. Jason’s skin pumped out slime at an incredible rate, allowing Jason to push himself across the floor and away from the bee, like some multi-armed slug. Michael said nothing at first, then burst into laughter once more.
“That’s a neat trick, buddy! You gotta teach that to me one day. Oh hey, you forget this?” Michael bent down and picked up a brown package with a ribbon.
“T-That’s mine!” Jason gasped out, his voice too high. He made to go take it, but tripped over his trembling tentacles. Michael leant forward and caught one to steady Jason. At the touch of the bee’s spiny hand, Jason yelped and slid out of his grasp. He grabbed the package and slid out of the shop, the salty snacks abandoned on the floor.
Michael stood, watching him go. As Jason disappeared around the corner, Michael gave a small sigh, and picked up the shop items.
“Really messed that one up, Michael,” he whispered to himself.
Out in the lobby, Jason dabbed at his package with a tissue. A pile of them had built up beside him, the tissues absorbing more of the slime on his skin than from the package’s wrapping paper. Jason sighed to himself, the breath shaky. He just couldn’t handle bees. They freaked him out too much. The buzzing just sent him into a cold, blind panic. He once had such a scary nightmare about bees, he ate nothing but coffee grounds to keep himself awake for a whole week. In the end, the coffee grounds gave him a stomach ache, and he had an even worse nightmare when he finally fell asleep in Math class.
But, it’s okay now, he thought. There aren’t many bees here, and if I can just avoid that one in the shop, I’ll be fine. Besides, my ship leaves in about an hour, and there aren’t any bees where I’m going. That’s why I chose it.
Jason glanced back at the noticeboard, then back down at his tentacles. He wished he’d been able to buy those salty snacks.
“Please may I have your attention? All passengers going on the cryo-ship towards Lazarus, please be aware that your ship has been delayed. I repeat, your ship has been delayed. There is no current estimate as to when it will be able to take off. I will update you when there are further details.”
The ship to Lazarus? But that’s my ship! Jason fretted. He got to his tentacles and made his way across the floor towards the customer service. He came up to the desk and placed a single tentacle on top.
“Excuse me? Is anyone—”
“How may I help you, sir?” One of the attendants rose up from behind the desk. Yellow and black. Buzzing. A bee.
Jason squeaked, then slid away, pulling his suitcase behind him. He huddled back into the same corner from before, compressing himself into a small space. His limbs shaking, Jason berated himself. Come on, Jason! You have to get a grip on yourself. You need to ask what’s happened. But he couldn’t unwrap himself, and before long, he was completely tangled up in his own tentacles. Resigning himself to his state, Jason gave another sigh, and settled back. Before long, he dipped into a dark, anxiety-induced nap, twitching occasionally.
When he awoke, it was night. The airport was gently lit, and now completely empty, apart from the bee attendant at the desk. Jason started to panic. Did I miss anything about my flight? Did I miss my flight? Am I going to die here, alone? Jason glanced at the desk. Oh god, I have to ask her. Using his slimy skin, Jason unwrapped himself, and made his way towards the bee attendant.
“Excuse me…” he murmured, not looking in her direction.
“Hello, sir. Can I help you?” She buzzed, the noise making Jason tremble.
“Has… The flight to Lazarus… Has it left yet?”
“Let me just check that for you, sir,” the bee attendant replied brightly, tapping away at a nearby computer. “Looks like it’s still parked for the moment, sir. You should be leaving in a few hours.”
The bee attendant looked back up, but found she was speaking to no one. A few meters away, Jason propelled himself across the floor towards the exit.
Sat in the carpark, Jason sighed. A few more hours? What was he going to do till then? He took his package back out and looked at it, thinking about pulling off the ribbon. No, Jason! You have to keep it till Lazarus, otherwise you’ll spoil the surprise. But, I already know what it is, he thought. Mum did tell me not to, though.
A noise from across the car park startled Jason. It was the bee from before, Michael. Oh no, Jason thought. I’ve got to hide! He glanced around and saw a large skip, which he hid behind. Michael buzzed around in the car park, following no direction in particular. What’s he doing here? Jason thought. Why can’t he just leave me alone?
Michael soon came to a stop, then glanced around him, as if to check no one was watching. Once, twice, he looked behind him, then slipped a bag from off his back. He zipped it open, and drew out a long object. It wasn’t until Michael placed it on the ground and tested it with an unsteady foot that Jason realised it was a skateboard. He gave a small gasp.
He watched as Michael glanced around him again, looked forward, then pressed forward on the skateboard foot. His large, rotund frame wobbled, the wing buzzing to give him balance, before he went head over heels and crashed onto the tarmac. Jason heard a distinct ‘ooof’, and cringed. Michael got back to his feet, tried again with the other foot, but fell once more. He tried with two of his four remaining legs, but all resulted in the same sight: a giant bee, tumbling off a skateboard with an ‘oof’ noise.
Jason felt the small stabs of sympathy. He looked back at his package, and untied the ribbon. Slipping the contents out, he found the trading cards. X-Line Pro Skaters trading cards. His favourite since he was three years old. Wrapped around them was something else. Jason unfolded it. It was a photograph of young Jason, crumbled on the ground next to an old skateboard. ‘Keep on trucking, honey!’ was written across the top in large, looping letters. Jason heard another crash and another ‘oof’. He looked back towards Michael, then back down at the photograph.
Michael was just about to push off again on his right foot when he heard someone trip behind him. He turned to see the octopus from before, staring at the ground, but occasionally shooting him nervous glances.
“Oh hey, buddy. From before, right?”
The octopus nodded slightly, switching his stare to the skateboard. Michael coughed nervously.
“You… you wanna have a go?”
The octopus blinked, then looked at Michael fully.
About the author.
Michael Fennis is a second year Creative Writing student who enjoys long walks, French Fries, and the spirals on snail shells.
Some of Michael’s favourite genres of creative work include romance and surrealism, including the collection of Borges’ work and the film ‘Un Chien Andalou’.
If Michael Fennis had to go on a celebrity date, he would choose Spongebob Squarepants.