HOWDY and welcome to the Flash! Friday results! Another fabulous turnout of particularly stirring tales, a fitting tribute to the ending of slavery in the British Empire then, and a beautiful marker of our shared hope of the end of slavery around the world today. (And a quick plug here for FF first-timer (yay!) and my dear friend Elisa, who works toward that very thing, particularly in the area of trafficking. To learn more, check out her blog The Average Advocate.)
And to everybody: thank you so much, especially given your busy lives and myriad commitments, for sharing your time with us here in the lair. And a special thanks to all of you who read & commented on the other stories. That right there?? total awesomeness. What a profound difference a few encouraging words make in the life of a writer. Thank you!
Judge Craig Anderson says: Well, thanks you lot, I barely slept a wink last night! It wasn’t (just) the responsibility of determining the winners that was weighing on me, it was the combined emotional punch of your stories that kept the sandman at bay. There were tales of dark deeds, unhappy outcomes, evil people and general all-round bad luck. You painted such vivid pictures that I was afraid to close my eyes, lest I open them to find myself on the banks of a river facing that most ominous doorway.
Thankfully there was light to combat the darkness, with many of your protagonists escaping their miserable existence to find a life of simple happiness. Let’s hope they all live happily ever after!
As usual you were all fantastic and I had the difficult task of deciding whose stories to write about below. The dragons circling overhead suggest it’s time for me to make up my mind, so here goes.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to Google pictures of puppies dogs and rainbows to send to Rebekah for my next turn as judge…
Ellie, Jeff, and Crystal: It was really great to see these young authors join the fun this week, and what tremendous talent they displayed! Ellie and Jeff clearly inherited their mothers gift for storytelling. Their tales contrasted wonderfully, with Ellie’s dragons living happily ever after and Jeff’s evil dragon Challice getting his just desserts. Crystal’s hero endured terrible hardship, being whipped and forced to eat worms (yuk!) but thankfully earned her freedom. All of these stories were highly enjoyable and I look forward to reading their future entries. 🙂
Rasha Tayaket, “Steeping the Queen.” This story was a nice contrast to some of the darker, more harrowing tales. The image of a Queen floating off downstream like a giant tea bag really tickled me. Bonus ‘Brit points’ for including both the Queen and Tea; the only thing missing was a quick game of football (aka soccer for those countries that bizarrely believe that football is a game played with your hands…)
Marie McKay, “Dear Aunt Agony.” I really enjoyed the tone of this piece, being written in the style of a letter sent to a newspaper advice column. The whole story is light and funny, with the fiancée’s frustration really shining through. Is her future husband just a terrible builder, or maybe – just maybe – he’s dragging his cold feet a tad?
Karl A. Russell, “The Getaway.” This had a fun, adventuring vibe, and an inevitable betrayal from the valet (never trust the butler!). The final act of revenge from Michael brought it all back around to the prompt, stranding our heroine in a ‘dawn of time rathole’.
Brian S. Creek, “Deportation.” I really enjoy it when someone takes the prompt and runs in a completely different direction as Brian did here. The opening line immediately sets the scene, letting us know whats going on. The matter-of-fact dialogue helps to establish the ferryman as a regular guy just doing his day-to-day job. There’s no mystical or magical undertones at play; he’s just intrigued when something out of the ordinary happens. It’s left up to the reader to decide if the Ferryman knew all along, or if he figures out along the way that it’s actually Death making a run for it. I found myself wondering what Death would do with himself in the land of the living!
Sarah Miles, “Heading Upstream.” I loved how this piece started out; I found myself chuckling at the line “looking across to the plantation that Trip Advisor had called ‘Isolated, but charming’.” The enthusiasm of the other tourists was a nice contrast to the grumpy indifference of Pam, who was quickly established as one of those people that just loves to complain about things. This helped us to understand how George could just walk away at the end. I loved that the ending was ambiguous as to whether Pam fell in or was helped on her way. I don’t think anyone would have blamed George if he’d given her a little nudge!
SECOND RUNNER UP
Pam J. Plumb, “Swimming Against the Tide.” Pam does a wonderful job of quickly establishing a scene of utter panic, with lines such as “getting tangled in river weeds, getting nibbled by things unseen“. There’s a real sense of scale; I pictured thousands of people fleeing and clambering over each other to reach the other side and what kind of chaos that would create. Our protagonist is the only one not swept along in this tide, his reluctance stemming from a hesitation to believe that life will indeed be better on the other side of the river. There’s a subtle hint that he may be ‘institutionalized’ and is trying to convince himself that he’s better off where he is. Just as we are left wondering if he will turn back the story switches focus to a young girl in trouble. Her salvation finally convinces him to join the escape, which is beautifully captured in the final line “He smiled. The water was warm.”
FIRST RUNNER UP
Rachael Dunlop, “Dutchman’s Trinket.” First of all, bonus points for a great title that immediately establishes the main characters place as a possession. There was some powerful imagery used throughout, “coffee-coloured skin and work-strong thighs” immediately painted a strong picture of the main character, and “under the floorboards, dust and spiders and no air to breathe” conveyed the nightly trauma she had to endure. “Sometimes he forgets to let her out again” is a great line and tells us that he is vindictive as well as possessive.
The language changes in the second paragraph, the use of words like shakes away, loosened, softly and gliding all work together to convey her new sense of freedom. This shift creates a great contrast and highlights that her life is changing for the better. The final line seals this: she’s no longer his trinket because he’s taken her place under the floorboards – a fitting end!
And now: for her very first time (at loooong last!), it’s Flash! Friday
“Passing the Torch”
Every time I read this entry, new details and layers jumped out at me. It starts with such powerful imagery, with the sluggish river and lingering clouds setting the scene. I enjoyed how Pattibha conveys a sense of this place by focusing on the smallest of details, the priest’s muddy worn-out shoes, his aching bones and the faded brass lamps. It’s a brilliant example of the old adage ‘show don’t tell’ and allows the reader to form their own unique interpretation of the old run-down temple.
The young woman is quickly introduced and she immediately bows her head, a gesture that can be interpreted as respectful or submissive. This is further reinforced by her taking the broom from the priest to continue the sweeping. Do the experiences of her past life make her feel obliged to do this, or is it a calculated ploy to earn his favour? The fact that either option is plausible is testament to depth of the story.
The next section is equally complex. The tragedy of the mudslide is only briefly touched upon, but for the woman it was not a tragedy at all, finally freeing her from a past that is only hinted at. This contrast is emotionally jarring and forces us to think about how bad her life must have been for this new life to be considered a relief. The final revelation that she is pregnant is also left ambiguous: was the baby from a loving relationship that was lost to the mudslide, or something more sinister she is glad to leave behind? Much is left up to the reader to decide, and that is what makes this such a powerful and personal story.
Congratulations, Pratibha! After handfuls of honorable mentions and various runners-up badges, and in addition to your serving as a FF judge in the past, it’s with enormous joy I present you with your very own winner’s badge for your wall. Here also are your winner’s page and your winning tale on the winners’ wall. Please watch your inbox with questions for this week’s #SixtySeconds interview. And here is your winning story:
Passing the Torch
The river moves sluggishly, barely a ripple on the thick brown surface. The heavy gray clouds linger around like grief.
At the first light of dawn, the priest begins his daily trek to the temple. Mud clings to his worn-out shoes, and his bones creak in the damp weather. These days he cannot bring out the shine of the brass lamps. The floor is covered in soot. He sighs!
Something stirs behind the temple. He squints his eyes and spots a young woman. She bows her head.
“God bless you, my child!” he says.
Her swollen eyes remain hidden behind the veil.
He begins to sweep the floor, but she takes the broom from him. He nods approvingly.
Here, she can remain free, from the memories of the village swept away by the mudslide, from her past, from her caste!
The temple bells peal. “Bless my child, the future priest.” She touches her belly and whispers to her unborn baby.