Welcome to Monday, in which I’m looking for a few good dragons!!! Yes, it’s results day AND open season at our Dragon Judge Panel. Wanna be a Dragon Captain? Basic details below; find the judge app page here. Deadline’s November 10.
In Year Three (starting Dec 12) we’re taking a team approach to judging the stories.
- Instead of one judge per round, we’ll do teams of TWO. That means I’m looking for a panel of EIGHT judges this round; each team will judge once per month, for six months. I’m not spectacular at math, but I think that means you’ll each judge six times. 🙂
- Judging will still be blind (stories are stripped of all author info before you see them). NEW FOR YEAR THREE: Since judging is now completely blind, judges are eligible to compete all weeks except the actual week they’re judging.
- SPECIAL PASS: If you are a regular commenter at FF or a previous judge, you may bypass the regular judge app process. Contact me directly here with a note saying so and letting me know why you’d like to be a judge.
- Applications due by November 10 at midnight, Washington DC time.
Why judge? Ohhhh, so many reasons! It’s fun. Judging changes one’s perspective on what flash is and can be, and on the whole judging/submission process. It can strengthen your own writing. Judging with a partner means making new, close writerly friendships. And it’s a valuable, greatly appreciated, totally free way both to give back to the Flash! Friday community and help it grow even stronger. I couldn’t run this contest for a single day without y’all. Please consider joining the FF team in this new way, and thank you so much.
And now: on to this week’s results!
Judge Phil Coltrane says: Nemesis. How bitterly the word rolls off the tongue when spoken. Named for the vengeful goddess of retribution: she who destroys the prideful, and fells the haughty spirit.
Nemesis. No mere opponent, nor one of many foes, but the singular bane of one’s existence. That most formidable, unconquerable rival. That potential bringer of one’s downfall. God and the Devil. Hamilton and Burr. Sherlock and Moriarty.
Thus it is fitting that this week’s prompt involves the ancient game of kings itself: chess. A game of absolutes that faces player against player, move against countermove, mind against mind on a sixty-four square black-and-white battlefield.
With such a grand setup for this week’s prompt, I’m not surprised that there were so many wonderful stories to read, with nemeses of every variety, and conflicts both mundane and earth-shattering.
Let’s take a look at some of the standouts…
Brady Koch, “Hollow Bishops.” Though it starts innocently enough, the author quickly draws us into the horror of this main character, his ghoulish craftwork, and the fate of his opponents past and future. A welcome horror tale in anticipation of Halloween.
Josh Bertetta, “Internal s(word)s.” Flash fiction can be limiting, or it can be freeing. Here, the author takes full advantage of the word count limit and the available formatting options to present a story of deep-space conflict in an eye-catching manner.
Sinead O’Hart, “The Player.” A single episode within an ongoing struggle: the author teases the pint-sized nature of this nemesis throughout the story, fully revealing it in a memorable and playful double-twist wherein the narrator wins the game, yet loses the match.
Michael Seese, Untitled. It’s a competition between opponents as big as they come: Science and Religion. With the simple framing device of a conversation over a game board, the author makes a straightforward statement: Religion, by positioning itself as an evolving God-of-the-gaps, traps itself in a philosophical zugzwang, slumping inevitably towards checkmate. What impressed me about this work is that the author needs no elaborate language or complex plot to deliver. Instead, he fearlessly and earnestly delves into a contentious issue nearly as old as Western civilization, and delivers this modern-day morality tale.
Marie McKay, “The 1975 World Championship.” A dance-off and a chess match may seem as different as night and day, but the author humorously links the two through language, speaking of the dance competition in terms of “tactics that masquerade as courtesies” and “move… countermove” as they compete on the “chequered floor.”
The twist comes halfway through the story, when the author transitions from chess terminology to dance moves. In the end, the result is the same: a minor slip leaves the narrator vulnerable, allowing his nemesis to claim the victory. Lighthearted, yet cleverly related to the prompt by the author’s word selection, this story is a fun read overall.
Emily June Street, “Khanjluri Game.” Political intrigue, secret police, and murder loom large in this story, and the stakes are much higher than a simple game. This is a great example of using historical background as backstory, and the author also draws parallels between chess and politics: chess (and politics) as dance, and chess (and politics) as a game of assassinations. Much is going on in this story, and the author manages to tie it all together and keep it interesting.
THIRD RUNNER UP
Avalina Kreska, “The Opening Move: Fianchetto (little flank).” (Two versions of this story were submitted. Only the later version was judged.) Game summary: David as white opens with a conventional Spanish Game. Priscilla as black answers at first with the Berlin defense, but when David counters with Steinitz’s move, Priscilla responds with an unconventional move that clearly violates Article 12.6 of the FIDE Laws of Chess.
It’s interesting that the author managed to interweave some actual gameplay into the story. Anyone unfamiliar with chess is free to read the story as a straightforward tale of a seductress and her willing victim. What I find most interesting is that Priscilla — a femme fatale character who literally dominates her opponents — plays a defensive, draw-oriented opening on the board. Is this a subtle hint from the author of some hidden depth of character?
SECOND RUNNER UP
Pauline Creighton, “Game Over.” From the beginning, the narrator builds up his nemesis as “the thorn in my side… the competitor that pushed me to the limits of my ability.” We see the range of emotions that their game-time rivalry evoked throughout the story. The author’s descriptions bring to life the still image of the bearded gentlemen playing chess.
Despite all the frustrations that his nemesis caused him in life, the narrator finally manages, in the end, to call him “friend.” In a somber and touching subversion of the nemesis prompt, the author steps back from the game board for perspective, and finds there an even more beautiful story.
FIRST RUNNER UP
Sinead O’Hart, “Cornered.” In this story, the author skillfully combines several elements to create an uneasy feeling of uncertainty. The run-on sentence that comprises all but one word of the story gives us an impression of the narrator as rambling and desperate. Though the nemesis in this story is unfairly critical of the narrator, we must already question whether the narrator is reliable. This nemesis is inside the narrator’s head, analyzing and anticipating moves in advance, much like a chess competitor — or is this paranoid delusion?
Given the violent references to “spilling blood,” to finding a way out “whatever way I can,” and the loaded language of the title, “Cornered,” one wonders what drastic action this narrator has rationalized.
In another great example of an author’s style complementing the story, the author leaves us with more questions than answers — and an unsettling worry over what is about to happen.
And now: joining Betsy Streeter and Maggie Duncan as our only FOUR-TIME CHAMPS, it’s Flash! Friday
“The Geek Shall Inherit…”
There’s so much I could say about this story. High school can be an awkward time for anyone, particularly a socially awkward geek. Or so I hear.
Maybe this story spoke to me on a personal level.
Maybe it made me wonder what my teenage self might have been capable of doing.
Maybe I was disturbed by the thought of it.
From the beginning, the main character is no hero. “I took his head off cleanly at the neck and dumped the body. It was only Photoshop, but it felt good.” Clearly the main character is no murderer, but he’s probably an anti-hero, and he’s definitely frustrated. Had his Photoshop antics ended there, this would be simple catharsis, no more consequential than burning a photo of an ex, or tossing a suction-cup dart at a photo of a rival.
But this socially repressed teenager sees the world through the distorted perspective of an adolescent. Thus, posters of the “grand masters and science heroes” take interest in his personal life. A teenage crush becomes an object of devotion. A classmate and rival becomes a brutish nemesis, undeserving of that crush’s affections. Consequently, an act of Photoshop slander becomes, in this egocentric worldview, an act of righteous vengeance. “He didn’t deserve her, anyway.”
I like that this story can be read simply as a fun and unapologetic story of vengeance, or more deeply to contemplate the disturbing social implications of technology, its ethics, and its role in youth culture. This story has given me a lot to think about. Nice job!
Mega congratulations, Karl! Below is your FOURTH (sparklier than ever) stunning winner’s badge for the wall(s) of your choosing. Here are your freshly updated winner’s page and your winning tale on the winners’ wall. Please watch your inbox for your interview for Wednesday’s #SixtySeconds feature. And now, here is your winning story!
The Geek Shall Inherit…
I took his head off cleanly at the neck and dumped the body. It was only Photoshop, but it felt good.
Around the walls, the grand masters and science heroes glared down disapprovingly from framed posters. Well, all except Tesla; he looked like he got it.
I took Todd’s head and began the laborious task of pasting it into the photo from Becky’s party, so he was draped drunkenly across the birthday girl. It took forever to get the lighting right, and I regretted using the school’s ancient desktop rather than my tablet, but I needed to keep my ISP clear. Todd was as smart as a brick, but if he ever found out, he’d pound me even worse than that time in Gym.
I signed up to an anonymous webmail account, attached the doctored pic and thought about the subject line. I settled on “You need to know…” and added Jen’s address.
He didn’t deserve her anyway.