Just for Fun: THE DATE

Formica da pic-nic. CC photo by Pietro Bellini.

Formica da pic-nic. CC photo by Pietro Bellini.

 

The Date 

by Rebekah Postupak

 

“Little did we realize that the peace and quiet of our country afternoon picnic was soon to be rudely shattered. We had no idea whatsoever that our painstaking, thoughtful plans of the past weeks would, in a single moment, plummet to the ground in a terrifying display of—”

“Shut up,” I said. “It’s just an ant.”

“JUST an ant, she says. JUST death and mayhem. JUST tragedy and despair.”

I rolled my eyes. “I’m fairly certain the integrity of your sandwich is still intact.”

“We must read different medical journals. Do you have NO idea what sorts of diseases those things tromp around with their tiny little buggy feet?”

“There’s disease, then there’s disease. Ant germs are not a threat I find concerning.”

“Remind me to forward you the article. You’ll change your mind fast.”

“I don’t consider blog posts from Paranoia Panoply ‘articles.’”

 “Daily Disease Digest.”

“Whatever. Same thing. Alarmist. Hyperemotionalism, not facts. Show me a peer-reviewed journal, vetted by scientists with degrees in actual science, or published by the Higher Learning Commission, and then we can talk.”

“You say ‘whatever’; I say the picnic’s spoiled.”

Something’s spoiled, all right.”

“Heeeey now. That wasn’t nice.”

“Sorry,” I said, not sorry.

He stared unhappily at his sandwich. “I just can’t eat it now.”

“Sorry,” I said, even more not sorry.

“You shouldn’t eat yours either. It’s too great a risk.”

“Don’t worry,” I said. “I’ve lost my appetite anyway.”

“This isn’t how this was supposed to go. I’ve been planning for ages. I mean, look at this place.” He made a sweeping gesture. “Perfect vista. Perfect time of day. Perfect menu. And you couldn’t be more perfect. Your eyes! Your–”

“—You’re spot on with the view and day. I’m glad to be introduced to this place. What’s the name of the mountain?”

“Firetop.”

“Well, it’s nice and I’m grateful.”

“See? Here I am, destroying blind date clichés left and right.”

I looked across the bonfire at him, paunch bellied, whisker-chinned, vinegar breath, pale, wrinkled wings, misshapen spine, grey smoke limping fearfully in circles around his head. His sandwich lay miserably at his feet; the knight or maiden or whatever it had been didn’t even look thoroughly cooked.  Nausea curled in my belly.

“Yeah,” I said, mentally packing my lair and applying for a new one leagues away from Firetop the first chance I could. “Destroying clichés left and right.”

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402 words, written for the weekly flash fiction contest Finish That Thought, which posts Mondays at 10pm ET and runs through midnight Tuesday. The story begins with the required opening sentence.

Flash! Friday Vol 2 – 40: WINNERS!

Howdy, and welcome back to a (surprise!!!) EARLY results post! Special thanks to our judge for slaving over many a candle to pull off this incredible feat. (Over seventy stories judged in well under the deadline?! SHOW OFF!) Thanks so much, dear, valiant Margaret!!!  

Second: thanks to y’all for your (once again) over-the-top amazing tales, EACH of which spurs all of us to write better every day.

And finally, thanks to those of y’all who made a donation this week to support the Flash! Friday community. This contest will always be free, but it takes a lot of time and effort to keep it going. We’d also love to offer more in terms of tchotchkies and prizes. Your financial support is very deeply appreciated.     

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Judge Margaret Locke says: Wow, people. The sheer numbers of the stories alone this week is enough to make this judge feel like she’s run a marathon, which is a feat in and of itself, since I. Don’t. Run. Add to that the intensity, the poignancy, the brilliance of so many of the entries, and I tell you, I feel as if I’ve run the gamut of emotions, as well.

You don’t make it easy. But you make it worth it. Two things I want to note before delving into the winners: 

  1. If on any given week you don’t make it into the top whatever, don’t give up. While excellent story writing always shines through, there’s a great amount of subjectivity to this here judging gig. I agonize and I worry and I wonder if I’ve made the right call. I have to pick what speaks to me most, but frankly, I’m just a fellow writer myself, and I know my picks may vary from other judges’ picks, or what you yourself might have chosen.
  2. However, as I said in my judging guidelines, presentation counts. PROOFREAD. Proofread again. I have had to rank stories lower than I might otherwise because of typos, grammatical errors, missing punctuation, and the like.

It also really does catch my eye when authors search for a unique take on the prompt. There were numerous stories depicting the main character’s physical experience of running, numerous tales of people running from destruction, a number of stories incorporating illness as part of war. There’s nothing WRONG with that, of course, and well-written stories that follow familiar or obvious themes are still accolade-worthy. I’m just noting that the ones that break the mold do snag attention.

OK, enough of that! Onto this week’s winning stories!

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SPECIAL MENTIONS

TITLE: “This is Suicide (But You Can’t See the Ropes),” by joidianne4eva frames the story well, and is so arresting in and of itself.

HUMOR: “The Battle of Marathon,” by Mark A. King. The title is wonderful, playing off history and then the contest of the story, but I particularly loved the line, “Today this, tomorrow we’ll be saying elevator, faucet and spelling things without the letter U”. Made this American Anglophile laugh out loud.

RHYTHM: “The Enemy Within,” by Rachael Dunlop. A number of stories wrote about the personal experience of running, but this one made me feel as if I were running along in rhythm to the story.

LINE: “Refugee,” by Van Demal. “Insurgency. It even sounds like a disease.I just loved that – went back to read it numerous times.

LAST LINE: “Oracle,” by Nancy Chenier. “In war, truth is the first to perish.” Brilliant line – so emotionally evocative, and yet so factually succinct.

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HONORABLE MENTIONS

Jacki Donnellan, “The Winner.” I so appreciated bits of humor injected into what was otherwise a large number of depressing stories (no wonder, given the photo and the word prompt). This story amused me with its irreverence, its cheekiness, its use of the phrase, “Completely Non-Competitive Games.” This reminded me of some of the “sports teams” my children have been on, and I enjoyed the main character’s flippant war against this overly P.C. way of life.

Catherine Connolly, “Silent Struggles.” Of all the stories chronicling battles against illness and/or against the self, this one spoke to me the most, with its rich, poetic imagery, including fabulous phrases like “pared me to planes and edges.” I even like that I’m not quite sure what the main character is battling, but given s/he says, “I will not rush to get there. I know how this race ends,” suggests to me it’s someone who knows they’re facing death, but who is carrying on anyway, even if slowed from a run to a crawl.

David Shakes, “Photojournalist Hits The Wall.” Talk about opening a story with a bang! What a layered, loaded question. I simply loved it. A photojournalist as main character was a unique perspective, as well. I enjoyed the plays-on-words with “ran” and “snapped,” the varies uses of which pulled the lines into (pardon the pun) sharper focus. The poignancy of the last paragraph, and then the shocking last line, in which the photog’s focus seems to be less on the victim he helped, but more on the fame he lost, really struck me and stuck with me.

Brett Milam, “Death Throes.” Oh, that opening line. Those opening paragraphs. Visions of suicide bombers from recent news reports flashed through my head, even though we discover, of course, that this is not a current events story. Still, it haunts because of the modern parallels, and because it mixes moments of childhood in with an awful, terrifying situation in which we hope children would never be involved. The line “War was always egotistical” is horrifying accurate.

THIRD RUNNER UP

Michael Seese, “At War.” This story snagged my attention more on the second and third read-throughs than the first, because after knowing the ending, I could appreciate how well-crafted the beginning was. The vocabulary that echoes the language of war, the repetition and yet variance of body parts mentioned in the first paragraph; both of those uses of language drew me in. And then comes the line about “The Olympics is war without guns,” a line echoed at the end. Such a strong – and true in many ways – statement, and how well it contrasts with the ending, in which, indeed, no gun was used to win, but it was clear it was all-out war, with brother killing brother. 

SECOND RUNNER UP

JM6, “Report From the Front.” When the first story hooked me right away, I wondered if it could hold its own against the stories to come. It did. The dead-pan announcer giving the play-by-play as if it were all a game, a horse race to be run, was surprisingly effective at emphasizing the true horrors of war – and how, from a safe distance, many of us watch, merely spectators to repeated atrocities. The humor in lines such as “Others perished from sniper fire by belligerent separatists unable to field a team of their own” magnified the absurdity, and again the horror, of war. The last paragraph, so succinct, echoing newscasters and sportscasters from days gone by, drives home the sense of futility about it all.

FIRST RUNNER UP

Eliza Archer, “The Great Race.” First of all, I love the double implication of the title, referring to both the literal footrace, but also to the human race, which often sees itself as invincible. And then comes the opening line. What? A brontosaurus in a story about war and marathons? I knew this one was going to be different, and funny. Vivid descriptions, such as “huge purple tongues of fog,” enhanced the story, and I loved the rather tongue-in-cheek delivery, especially in lines like, “A stegosaur was willing, but there were fears he would forget the message by the time he arrived.” Just when I wondered if the author was going to tie the story back to the prompts at all, they did, moving from dinosaurs to hairless apes, and delivering that marvelous last line, “Death is what is chasing you.” Well done.

And now: taking the crown for her first time at Flash! Friday is

DRAGON WINNER

TAMARA SHOEMAKER!!!

for

“Vain Race”

Oh, the poetic language of this story grabbed me from the start. I’m a sucker for the emotional punch rendered in rhythmic and/or poetic language, and this story knocked me over. The set up in threes, each part repeating and yet differentiating itself from the one that came before, worked. The echoing in the lines “Nightmares / A bullet / Cancer crosses the finish line first” was simply fantastic. The richness of the language throughout the story set it apart – such vivid imagery, such emotionally evocative turns of phrase, made me feel as if I were running along with these suffering souls. Such a sad tale, but wonderfully rendered. Well done, Tamara! Well done!

Congratulations, Tamara! Below is the breathlessly sparkly winner’s badge for your wall(s). Here also please find your winner’s page and your winning tale on the winners’ wall. Please contact me here asap so I can interview you for this week’s #SixtySeconds feature. And here is your winning story:

Vain Race

One runs from fear, the monsters of his past slavering at his heels.
His father’s fingers press against his throat,
Anger distends his features, twisting, purpling, panting—
Daddy’s familiar face the scene of a monster.
Death from fear or flight to freedom? Nightmares cross the finish line first.

One runs from love, tears and kisses shrouded in but a memory
The taste of her lips haunts his dreams,
Shivers across the flesh of his arms.
Mea culpa, my Father. I have sinned in the arms of a married woman.
Death from vengeance or flight to freedom? A bullet crosses the finish line first.

One runs from death, the Reaper’s cold breath shimmering in the darkness behind.
The pain creeps into his lungs, pulsing, aching.
He inhales, and a knife slices down deep inside.
He coughs, wipes the blood that bubbles past his lips, speeds his pace.
Death from bleeding lungs or flight to freedom? Cancer crosses the finish line first.

 

FFwinner-Web

 

 

Flash! Friday–Vol 2 – 40

SO HAPPY TO SEE YOU!!!! Thank you so much for coming back to throw your writing skillz into the fiery ring of competition here at Flash! Friday. I sure miss all you people the other days of the week! And I’m counting the minutes til all your juicy tales are in our grubby little hands. (Margaret rolls her eyes and says, Speak for yourself; my hands are soft and smell of roses.

We’re now moving into the wonderful fall marathon season here in the US. I’ve never done a full marathon myself, unless you count the two halves…? heh. Anyway, I love running, and since today in 490 BC is the date usually noted as the Battle of Marathon, well, you see how I had no choice this round for both prompt and dragon’s bidding. And I hope y’all will appreciate with me the irony of a long, difficult endurance race as the theme of one of the world’s quickest, briefest writing contests. Isn’t it just yummy??? 

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It’s a pleasure to have as judge today beloved and familiar writer Margaret Locke.  She begs you to pack in the emotion in your stories and make her feel things. Go beyond the obvious. (Dragons have wars! Martians have wars! Dystopians dream of wars!) Write cleverly, dear ones, as you always do, and win the battle of this judge’s story-hungry heart.

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Awards Ceremony: Results will post Monday. Noteworthy #SixtySeconds interviews with the previous week’s winner post Wednesdays.  I (Rebekah) post my own unbalanced writings sometimes on Tuesdays or Thursdays. We are currently reworking the weekly schedule, but occasionally you will also see our feature #Flashpoints, in which one of your stories gets munched on (think chocolate, not vampires).  

Now, grab your Asics and let’s get to it!

Word limit150 word story (10-word leeway) based on the photo prompt.

HowPost your story here in the comments. Include your word count (140 – 160 words, exclusive of title) and Twitter handle if you’ve got one. If you’re new, don’t forget to check the contest guidelines.

Deadline11:59pm ET tonight (check the world clock if you need to; Flash! Friday is on Washington, DC time)

Winners: will post Monday.

Prize: The Flash! Friday e-dragon e-badge for your blog/wall, your own winner’s page here at FF, a 60-second interview next Wednesday, and your name flame-written on the Dragon Wall of Fame for posterity. 

***Today’s Dragon’s Bidding (required element to incorporate somewhere in your story; does not need to be the exact word(s) unless instructed to do so, e.g. “include the name “Artaphernes'”):

war

***Today’s Prompt:

1896 Olympic marathon. Public domain photo by Burton Holmes.

1896 Olympic marathon. Public domain photo by Burton Holmes.