Flashversary: Top 10 Finalists

Welcome to Day Two of careening madly toward the grand and glorious and very, very noisy finish line! It’s a tremendous pleasure to be able to introduce to you these ten stories and their writers. These tales stood out for us for their originality, their punch, their fresh takes on the prompt–and–just wow.

In the top ten we have a grim office worker dreaming of dragons but defeated by ennui (A Story); a hardened pilot seizing an extraordinary opportunity to work peace (Anything With Wings); a child whose dragon-wrangling ultimately works her own salvation (Clara’s Dragon); a dragon-slayer whose greatest triumph goes (for now) unnoticed (Here); an oppressed girl freed by a long-dead soldier (Richard Thornton); a boy who tirelessly fights his love’s demons (Summoning); a man who escaped from dragons only to face true horror through his son (The Craftsman); an adventurer’s singleminded mission for notoriety (The Dragon’s Fire); an old soldier’s confrontation with his past (The Dragon’s Gaze); and the hidden world of the magnificent Queen of Dragons (To Dream of Legend). 

Here. Be. Dragons. AND HOW. Congratulations to these ten writers for their extraordinary work.

Join us tomorrow for the unveiling of the champions, the Haunted Waters’ Press award (have you followed them yet?), and Flash! Friday’s brand new, sparkly outfit for Year Two. The first Flash! Friday contest of Year Two will follow this Friday, Dec 13, with the first judge of Year Two, M.T. Decker (if you love her stories, you’re gonna adore her judgery!).

♦♦♦♦♦

Here are the #Flashversary Top 10 finalists, in alphabetical order by story title, followed by the stories themselves (posted in the comments section, so you can leave feedback on the individual tales; they are numbered here only to make it easier to navigate their stories in the comments).

# 1 – A Story, Jonathon Ryan

# 2 – Anything With Wings, Ruth Long

# 3 – Clara’s Dragon, Von Rupert

# 4 – Here, Dragonsflypoppy (aka Elizabeth Savory)

# 5 – Richard Thornton, Kristen AFC

# 6 – Summoning, Karl A. Russell

# 7 – The Craftsman, Stephen James Lock

# 8 – The Dragon’s Fire, AJ Walker

# 9 – The Dragon’s Gaze, Dan Radmacher

# 10 – To Dream of Legend, Jacki Donnellan

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16 thoughts on “Flashversary: Top 10 Finalists

  1. #1. “A Story.” By Jonathon Ryan.

    Motivational shouts echoed throughout the factory, along with footfalls on metal as managers made morning rounds. Deb took a swallow of coffee and placed her mug in the little space beneath her conveyor belt station. She thought about a movie opening in theatres that weekend and wondered if she could get anyone to see it with her. She decided she probably could; she imagined taking a date to the movie, then remembered when she with old classmates, laughing, were kicked out of a matinee for throwing Skittles.

    “You alright?”

    Deb saw her manager, tablet in hand and headset on head, staring from across the idle conveyor. She offered a standard workaday reply: “Livin’ the dream.”

    “Good, ‘cause we got high volume today.” The manager resumed strafing the assembly line. “Remember, guys, work safe, keep your areas clear of tripping hazards, use two-point visual inspection before assembling…”

    An alarm sounded, lights switched from red to green, and the conveyor lurched to life. Deb glanced down the oncoming belt to the chute from which limbless figurines would spill. She saw the first wave of colorful monsters and didn’t doubt their horde was inexhaustible. Up the line people (some she knew, others she hadn’t seen before Monday) attended to them quickly and without speaking.

    It was impossible for Deb’s mind not to wander as she snapped in arms and legs. She recalled how getting hired at the toy factory had been exciting in a quirky sort of way. Friends thought it was neat—calling her “Elf” in her yearbook—even after she’d made it clear the job was no longer glamorous.

    Deb used to like monsters. Now even the grandest from myths were lame. Years ago she considered writing a story about the behemoths that patrolled the edges of the world, how from loneliness and surroundings of never-ending stone and sea they laid down and died, so that when explorers finally came they found skeletons with sadly-snarling skulls. But it wasn’t a very good idea, and she knew she could just spit it out onto a computer if she ever changed her mind.

  2. # 2. “Anything With Wings.” By Ruth Long.

    One minute he was flying, the next he was falling, and after that, the floating blackness enveloped him. Only it wasn’t loss of consciousness. That would have been of some comfort. As opposed to the claws that had him in their unrelenting grip.

    There he was, strapped into the cockpit of stalled F-16 skimming across the sky under the power of scaled wings. Telemetry shot. Wings sheared off. Would have given his left testicle for a shot of whiskey long about then.

    About puked when he saw where they were headed. Rocks and water on either side of blacktop strip. No way he was going to make it out of his alive. But he did. Damn beast set him down as gentle and precise as a porcelain teacup.

    Busted up his knuckles trying to get out of the smashed door. Got the wind knocked out of him when he saw the surrounding area was littered with Spitfires, Mustangs, and Tomcats.

    Beyond the mangled metal fighting machines, massive fire-breathing behemoths moved restlessly, tails twitching and wings fluttering.

    A voice behind him said, “They’ll not harm you, soldier.”

    He tried not to stare but there was no helping it. She was covered in scars that laced her skin like intricate techincolor tattoos. “What is the place?”

    “The Halong Island. Not of your world or time. Not ours to take but you were falling and we had need of you. ”

    If not for the rumble of dragon voices shaking the ground beneath his feet, he’d have thought it all a dream. “I don’t understand.”

    “We are instruments of peace in a time of war. You understand how to fly, how to fight from above. I have brought you here to teach us, to lead us.”

    “Lady, I appreciate that you saved me but -”

    “Not just you, Captain. Your entire squadron. They were under attack. ”

    His gut knotted up. “All of them?”

    She held out her hand. “Yes. Come. They’re waiting for you. Your men. My dragons. We will win, yes?”

    Oh hell yes. Because he could fly anything with wings.

  3. # 3. “Clara’s Dragon.” By Von Rupert.

    Clara’s mother found her in the gift shop. “Sweetie, you know better! Dr. Lou says you’re not strong enough to leave the floor.”

    “Gramps told me about the dragons. I needed to see them.”

    The dragons watched from a shelf. The tiny amethyst one spoke first. “I want her.”

    The tallest dragon, carved in jade, shook his head. “You’re too young, and she’s far too gone.”

    “Don’t say that. I see much life in her eyes.”

    The black onyx dragon replied last. “The child will choose. We shall comply.”

    Clara studied the figurines. She wished she could hold each of them, but her fingers trembled, and the dragons were too precious. “I want the purple one.”

    “Are you sure? Its face is frightening. You’ll have bad dreams.”

    Clara’s hands fisted. She had nightmares every night, but her family didn’t like to hear about them. Skeleton wolves ravaged her dreams. Their razor teeth ripped skin from her bald head and tore the veins from her arms. “I want the purple one!”

    Her mother grumbled, but bought it for her.

    #

    After everyone had left, Clara snuggled in the blankets holding her dragon. It purred with warm static. “You’re magic, aren’t you? I’ve smelled toasted marshmallows since I met you downstairs. Will you help me? I can’t fight them alone anymore.”

    The dragon glittered to life and filled the room. Clara was not afraid. Dragon wings caressed her scalp, a lullaby encircled her, and she fell asleep. For the first time in years, the wolves were gone.

    The next morning, Clara’s family surrounded her bed. The doctor explained, “She’s sleeping so deeply, I wanted you here. It might mean something. “

    Clara’s dragon cradled her to sleep every night. In one final dream, the skeleton wolves returned. Their bones fell to the ground like rotted limbs. Clara crushed them beneath her feet.

    One month later, Dr. Lou spoke to the family. “Take Clara home for the weekend.” When Clara’s mother began to cry, he hugged her. “Sometimes it happens like that. The immune system suddenly grows stronger. She’s definitely turned the corner.”

  4. # 4. “Here,” by Dragonsflypoppy.

    It had to be here. Here is where it all began.

    Every contour of this jagged shoreline is etched into her very soul. She stands looking out to the horizon desperate to catch a glimpse of a time that will now never come.

    Though she cries, her lips twitch into a small, bittersweet smile as waves of memories flood through her. Carefree games of hide and seek beneath the watchful gaze of the boulders standing proud on the headland. Clandestine meetings under the stars and an awkward first kiss full of clumsy adolescent ardor. An exquisite proposal on the water’s edge, met with tears of joy.

    I remember them all too. Especially that day. When I promised to be her companion for life, her protector. I placed the ring upon her finger and swore to be her dragon slayer, her defender. Until my dying day.

    She pushes the wooden boat on to the lake where the moon casts a milky sheen over the ripples. Her ivory skin reflects the silver light, her beauty simply captivating, as she allows the boat to drift slowly out into the waters.

    I kept my promise. I fought the demons of self-criticism and dragons of self doubt that dwelt deep within her, counselled her through troubled times, took care of her. And in return she bestowed upon me the most beautiful love a man could hope to know.

    And now we are here again and she must do what she came for.

    Her tears fall silently. She removes the lid, and in one swift movement a cloud of dust is scattered into the night….

    ……and I become everywhere; the breeze upon which her hair dances, the water that is all around her, the current that pulls her safely back to shore.

    She hugs her knees to her chest, fearing that by setting me free she has lost me.

    But I surround her. I protect her once more. I am complete.

    And what she doesn’t yet know is that she is not alone. For in the soft, imperceptible, curve of her belly, I live on.

  5. # 5. “Richard Thornton.” By Kristen AFC.

    I stole a name from the wall. I said, “Richard Thornton,” like I uttered it all the time, like I whispered, “Richard,” in dark back seats on Friday nights.

    But they were pressing me again, teasing me, asking, “Have you ever even kissed a boy?”

    I hadn’t. We were on a class trip, standing in front of the Vietnam memorial. I looked up and my eyes found him. “Richard Thornton,” I said. “I met him at a mixer at Kennedy Prep.”

    They didn’t believe me, those girls with their peach skin and shiny lips, the curls that fell in perfect ringlets, like they were drawn by an artist. They walked away then, and I stomped my foot, took my soda cup and threw it at the wall.

    The passers by glared at me, their eyes wide and angry, so I hurried to pick it up. That’s when I noticed the lady staring at me.

    “Sorry,” I said. “That was so rude of me.”

    I used the sleeve of my sweater to wipe the drops of soda from Richard Thornton.

    “Sorry,” I mumbled again.

    I was walking away when she spoke.

    “He was mine,” she said.

    “What?” I turned back.

    “Richard,” she tapped a slender finger gently against his name. “was my high school boyfriend.”

    “Oh God, I’m such a jerk. You heard me?”

    She nodded her head.

    “I didn’t mean to,” I said.

    She laughed then, even though her eyes were sad.

    “I think he would’ve gotten a kick out of you using his name.”

    I took a step toward her.

    “Yeah?”

    “He would’ve said, ‘don’t let those gals put you down.’”

    “Was he a good guy? Was he sweet? Romantic?”

    “He was a boy,” she said. “He could’ve been all those things, but I never really found out. He sent me a picture once, of a statue of a dragon by a beautiful body of water. I wrote back, but, well, you know.”

    “I’m sorry,” I said.

    She squeezed my hand and walked away, following the length of the wall, which seemed to stretch on and on for miles.

  6. # 6. “Summoning.” By Karl A. Russell

    Fiona went down to the water to pray, and like always, I followed.

    “This time, Nick. This one.”

    I looked over the bay, wondering how many times she’d said that, how many of her beautiful pieces lay charred and lost in those unforgiving waters. I’d long lost count, but Fiona never even tried; keeping track was too close to admitting defeat.

    She opened the cap of her Da’s battered hip flask, took a deep swig, then spat it into the foaming waves at her feet, shouting, “You like that, you great lizardy gobshite? You fancy another taste?”
    Her prayers were unconventional, but no less fervent for it.

    The sacrament was followed with an offering, a long line of paintings or sculptures all destined for the relentless tide. This time it was a wooden carving, long as her arm, at least a month’s work; it too received a benediction of warm whisky, straight from those full lips, then into the flame and onward to the foam with it, turning a graceful glowing arc as she hurled it towards the skeletal remains of the oil platform.

    It disappeared beneath the waves with a faint hiss, like her Da when he leapt from the rig.
    We waited in silence for a reply, but still none came, and eventually we sat on the wet sand. Her ritual over, mine began. I comforted her, holding her as she sobbed and raged, stroking the tattooed serpents which coiled around her smooth arms, brushing her molten red hair.

    I know what they say about us in town, the dragon girl and her daft besotted tagalong boy, but I don’t care. I know what Fiona says she saw, and I know what all the teachers said, but who’s to say that it couldn’t be a helicopter and a dragon? Maybe the right people can see the world that is and that should be all at the same time.

    Maybe that’s why I see a world where she stops thinking about what she’s lost and notices what she’s found.

    But in this world, we start planning for next time.

  7. # 7. “The Craftsman.” By Stephen James Lock.

    The Craftsman swung his mallet one last time. A final chip of oak floated to the ground, leaving behind a perfectly-formed scale on the head of the beast. He set down his chisel and stood back to inspect his work–it was perfect, and dreadful. An exact likeness of the one haunting his memory; the ship that came and took everything away.

    The Craftsman looked at his son, the Warrior, and called him over with a nod of his head.

    “It is finished?”

    The Craftsman nodded.

    “Excellent! This will carry me to glory, Father. When I return, they will love me. The slaves, the women, the treasure I will bring, they will love me for all of it.” He smiled, and slapped his father on the back. So proud.

    The Craftsman nodded again. He wished he could tell his son what he really thought. He wished his tongue had been the only thing he lost all those years ago, when these people ripped him from the bloody embrace of his mother.

    “Father, what is the matter? Are you not pleased? This is most fierce! It will put fear in the hearts of all who see us emerge from the mists.”

    The Craftsman dropped his eyes to the ground. The Warrior reached out and lifted his chin, looked him square in the eye. “Your gift will bring us glory, Father. Your work will be the last thing they see in this life. And those who live, will never forget it. That honour is yours!”

    The Warrior returned to his men and ordered them to prepare for the morning. The Craftsman watched him go, wishing the stump in his mouth could do more than groan. He took one last glance at his creation, then could bear to look no more.

    He lifted a wooden box and went around collecting his things. As he put away each tool, hammer, chisel, scraper, gouge–the implements of his beloved art–his heart sank further, weighed as heavily as the box.

    Despite his vow of so many years, he had just turned each of these tools into weapons.

  8. # 8. “The Dragon’s Fire.” By AJ Walker.

    September

    1st
    Since I first heard about the dragon I’d anticipated this day. It has surpassed all expectations. The dragon is real. A true giant standing proud on a table mountain, lording over the jungle.
    Nothing prepares you for the night when you first see the dragon’s fire, a scarlet flame shooting across the sky.

    2nd
    The expedition left later than planned due to my oversleeping – local hooch last night, which I’ve inevitably christened “Dragon’s Fire” – Beware!!
    Still, progress was better than I could have hoped. The village men seem keen to deliver me quickly to the base of the mountain – they have families to return to (and some of my money).
    Made camp in a spot where the dragon could watch over us.
    Kept away from the hooch.

    3rd
    The jungle thinned out as the terrain became rocky and we made fine time. I agreed that the men could go home – away from their cursed mountain.
    I camped alone comforted by the noises of the jungle and the dragon’s glow.

    4th
    Climbing. Climbing. Climbing.
    It was a day of nothing else. Hard work but good progress. This trip seems blessed, this dragon benevolent. No sign of a curse.
    I could not see the great dragon, nor its flame from my tent – but I dreamt of it.

    5th
    Climbing. Climbing. Walking.
    I made it up unscathed. Tomorrow I will touch the dragon. Touch the fire. Take it.

    6th
    Today I touched the dragon’s fire!
    I put my arm down the mouth of the dragon and touched it. As I suspected it is an unrivaled ruby. There is some sort of light behind. A trick of geology or biology? Whatever, at night it is the ruby’s light that makes the fire from this ancient dragon.
    My arm is now trapped by some devious stone mason’s device. I know I’ll not leave here until my body has withered, the dragon snapped and my bones blow to dust from this mountain.
    Please let it be known that I (signature illegible) was the first recorded person to reach the dragon and touch its fire.

  9. # 9. “The Dragon’s Gaze.” By Dan Radmacher.

    The old man gripped his wife’s hand tightly as he stared at the stone dragon out in the bay, the chill of the Vietnamese morning sinking into his bones. He sucked his lower lip into his mouth and bit down on it as his heart thudded in his chest.

    The irony of the situation didn’t escape him. When he was 18, his tour of Vietnam was a nightmare that he had tried everything to avoid. Forty-five years later, he and his wife considered it the trip of a lifetime. They had spent a large chunk of their retirement savings to come here.

    They’d met up with two other couples, squad-mates he’d kept in sporadic touch with after the war and their wives. Over beers, they’d told the old stories, made richer by their location. He’d watched his wife while some of the more harrowing tales were told, and saw in her eyes the concern and empathy that made him love her.

    They’d even managed to find one of the meaningless hills their squad had held at great cost for no reason other than their orders.

    It had been the trip of a lifetime. But now, staring at the dragon, holding his wife’s hand, other memories flooded the old man. A girl’s faced stared back at him from the depths of time. She was young and beautiful in that exotic way. The Kansas farm boy who’d barely left his county before he got shipped halfway around the world was thunderstruck. From her first shy smile, he’d never had a chance.

    One weekend morning, much like this, they’d rowed a small boat out into the bay and tied up in the shallow water by that very dragon. They’d made love. His first time, and hers. The dragon had guarded the encounter, seeming to give their union his blessing.

    They’d never returned to that spot, but he would always remember it. Forty-five years later, every moment was etched deeply into his brain and his heart.

    He felt his wife return the squeeze of his hand, and he wondered if she remembered it, too.

  10. # 10. “To Dream of Legend.” By Jacki Donnellan.

    No matter what happens, they never look up.

    The water draws them downwards, without our help. It mesmerises them, with the flipping and flicking of a tail here, a rising head there.

    And if ever the water should break and thrash, they may glimpse what they swear is reptilian skin, gleaming and rolling beneath the foam.

    And they chatter of the rising and surfacing of what must have been the Monster, picturing her surging up from the deep for a brief, playful gasp of pure Scottish air, and then submerging, to swim once more along the murky loch bed.

    They do not look up. They don’t pause, for a moment, to replay in their minds that strange, swift javelin of wind, moments before. They fail even to imagine an invisibly fast, joyful dive, straight from the clouds.

    We play our part, of course. It is in our interests, too, to keep their attention focussed on the loch. We gather them around it and sell them our tartan landscape, woven of underwater caves and elongated prehistoric necks. And we take them out onto Loch Ness itself, where they clutch binoculars, and shortbread, and a growing hope, staring down into the opaque black water as if persistent eyes might penetrate what light does not.

    Back on land, we’ll add soda to their Scotch. Water onto fire. Beside roaring flames, we’ll bid them relax, and think themselves brave- to contemplate an animal that has swum against the tide of evolution!

    But we will not feed them the courage to dream of legend.

    We will not carve her pearled, glistening scales on the wet, smooth skin in their minds, nor paint the glint of talons and the arc of wings onto clumsy flippers.

    And we leave, uncorrected, the convenience of “Monster.”

    We will look up, always, when her soaring presence circles and scorches the skies. And we will forever distract the crowds with weak, watery myths, whenever she desires to plunge and swirl her fiery form through the cool, onyx waters of Loch Ness.

    She is more magnificent than this world could ever bear.

  11. Well done on your fantastic stories and your success in the competition. I reckon getting into the Top Ten is a ‘win’ regardless of what happens now. Good luck for tomorrow anyway!

  12. Oops! Posted in wrong place above. Well done on your fantastic stories and your success in the competition. I reckon getting into the Top Ten is a ‘win’ regardless of what happens now. Good luck to everyone for tomorrow anyway!

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