Jenna Heller is the winner of the inaugural AT THE BAY | I TE KOKORU manuscript competition, launched in 2023, for a manuscript of flash fiction. Jenna’s collection, ‘The End of the Beginning’ – her first – will be published later this year.
We share Jenna’s NFFD 2020 winning story ‘Best friends’, included in her forthcoming collection, and we link you to her Kōrero with Flash Frontier editor Vaughan Rapatahana, here.
We rode with the wind at our backs. Cut across Mr Sandbird’s yard even as he yelled at us to get off his property. Gave him the finger and laughed and laughed. Then hurried down the dirt track that led straight into the heart of the wetlands. We humped our bikes through the ripe cattails, deep into a world of punks until our tyres sunk into the muck. Then we ditched them, let our sneakers squelch in the swamp water as we made a game of pulling at the cotton fluff exploding from the brown spikes. We busted all we could see, picking at the delicate seedlings, spraying them on the breeze. We chased each other through the marsh, the reeds slicing our arms and legs until we stumbled onto several silk caterpillar tents. We poked them with sticks and watched as the fisted larvae untangled and crawled into the sunlight, stood back as some dropped to the ground, squatted to see them squirm and slowly sink into the mire. We captured grasshoppers, as many as we could fit into our cupped hands. Felt their wings beat against our palms and shook them like dice before casting them as far as we could. We found a water snake and took turns holding it by its tail, swinging it round and round above our heads. But when we found a bird’s nest full of delicate eggs, the air between us turned sour. And when you grabbed one and squeezed it until the gooey guts of a baby bird spilled out, we fought until you had a black eye and I had a bloody nose. And then you grabbed the rest of the eggs in both of your fists, looked me right in the eye, and squeezed until you’d crushed them all.
Listen to Jenna read her story here.
Jenna Heller is an American-Kiwi writer living in Ōtautahi Christchurch, Aotearoa New Zealand. Her poetry and fiction appear predominantly in journals based in Aotearoa New Zealand and the United States, occasionally in Australia, Canada and the UK. She won the Aotearoa New Zealand National Flash Fiction Day contest in 2020, was runner-up for the Caselberg International Poetry Prize in 2021 and was shortlisted for the Text Prize for Young Adult and Children’s Writing in 2019. Her writing has appeared in the Best Small Fictions anthology in 2020, 2021, and is forthcoming in 2023. Her first collection of flash, The End of the Beginning, will be published by AT THE BAY | I TE KOKORU in late 2023.