Hurray!! Isn’t results day a blast?? Thanks to the hardy folks who ventured into the strange (and curiously chocolate-tasting) waters of Flash! Friday this week. It’s a great pleasure reading the stories of regulars & newbies alike. Here’s to a long future of flash fiction addiction together!
Speaking of NaNoWriMo (because if you’re a WriMo like me, everything you read in November relates in some way): this post would be a fantastic place to share your progress thus far. You can track my own journey in the little widget in the sidebar over there, but I’ll comment below too. It’s not pretty. But it’s fun.
YOU’RE RUNNING OUT OF TIME to throw your hat in the ring to be a judge in Year Three. We’ve got some heroes already, but not enough (looking for EIGHT). Will you please consider supporting Flash! Friday in this way? Details here.
Final (tragic) note: how to thank a judge like Aria Glazki, who has so faithfully and tirelessly sifted through your masterpieces for these past months? I can’t think of a way, other than to say YOU’RE AWESOME, ARIA!!!!! and thank you from the bottom of my heart. I can’t wait to read your own stories again! It’s more than ample consolation for losing you as judge. Thank you for everything.
Judge Aria Glazki says: What a whirlwind this experience of judging has been, in terms of both the emotional rollercoaster guaranteed from reading each week’s stories, and the unique combination of fear of making the “wrong” choices and pleasure of highlighting my favorites. This community is so strong, not only in your individual talents or even the sense of camaraderie and support, but also in your willingness and ability to learn from each other so as to grow as writers. The intimidation I felt when our amazing host Rebekah first asked me to serve as a judge has been replaced by an equal, or perhaps greater, sense of intimidation at soon rejoining you all among the ranks of writers. Nevertheless, it’s been a pleasure!
Now for this week’s stories. When I first saw the prompt, I had absolutely no idea what you would all concoct — and even still, you exceeded any and all expectations, in the variety of tones and in the imagination behind your premises. Social commentary wove its way into quite a few pieces, but without blatant moralization, provoking thought as great writing does. Ultimately, standout pieces captured emotions, claiming them and pulling them along for the duration of the story, manipulating and demanding responses as though effortlessly.
Margaret Locke (current judge panel), “Signs of Spring.” Often, extended metaphors falter, but this one was flawless, a seamless reflection of the detached devastation of this couple.
Annika Keswick, “Frozen.” Visceral descriptions and great imagery, such as: “Lashed by sound and color, I scan the gyrating mass swirling around me.”
Stella Turner, “Blind Faith.” This story is filled with layers and subtext right from the first sentence, which works as such a strong warning when seen in retrospect from the end of the piece. The solid social commentary was woven in subtly yet effectively, underscored by the regret of those last three words, “Wish I’d remembered.”
James Marshall VI, “The Elements of the True Faith.” The balance of solemnity (“sacred portal”; “intoned”) with such a popularly known “chant” created a nicely lighthearted piece full of humor.
THIRD RUNNER UP
Carin Marais, “Memento Mori.” This story managed to be extraordinarily creepy (capturing souls in speaking portraits!) while remaining heartbreakingly sweet. On the one hand, the thought of trapping a soul, preventing it from moving on, is eerie and disturbing, but Gerhardt’s concern — “She’s not in pain?” — makes it clear early on that the intent isn’t malicious, and the final image of this couple ascending to heaven together is touching (though possibly somewhat selfish). Overall, we’re kept off-kilter, bouncing between the two reactions, but in a way that encourages thought and further consideration. “Whispers cluttered the air” is also a fantastic image.
SECOND RUNNER UP
Tamara Shoemaker, “Blame Apportioned.” Talk about heartbreaking! The first line sets up a clear dynamic of a sinner (of unknown proportions) seeking redemption from the moral guide, setting the mysterious sin as the focal point. The misdirect of the familiarity — “I knew the concern that creased the corners of his eyes” — keeps us on this fairly standard path of confession. Then we get the shivers of cockroaches, and an avalanche of hints starts us on a different path — the Father’s knowledge of the secret sin could be as innocent as seeing it in action, and yet hints at the double entendre of more intimate knowledge; the “residue of kisses” (what a perfect phrase to show how unwanted the memory is) exposes the sin; the inability of the “sinner” to confess clinches it. Suddenly we’re turned around entirely, filled with dread the narrator ultimately confirms as the title of “sinner” passes from one to the other. This ability to guide our expectations and emotions through the text sets this story apart.
FIRST RUNNER UP
Holly Geely (second week as first runner up!!), “With Improvements.” This story took the prompt in a wildly different direction than the others, capitalizing on the holiday with the allusion to Dr. Frankenstein. The flippant dissociation of the doctor and his assistant from the atrocity that they have committed, the horror they have inflicted on this other life — “‘You’re welcome,’ Doctor Edgar said, and Buster served him a celebratory beverage” as the reanimated, patchwork monk huddles in tears — may be the most terrifying aspect of all. While the tone remains light overall, perhaps even humorous, the monk’s new reality remains clearly presented, demanding compassion from the reader where it’s missing from the other characters.
And now: for her very first time EVER (I love first time champs!), it’s Flash! Friday
“Seed of Life”
This story pulls no punches, dropping us right into the middle of a (hopefully) foreign situation wherein a monk is carving up a woman’s heart, and not only that, but the woman is conscious as it happens. But as soon as we think we know the monk is the villain — he does seem to be torturing someone, after all — we’re reminded not to judge the situation too quickly, as the “surgeon” expresses empathy for his victim. A sense of dark ritual is introduced with the rule that “her heart had to be flush and ripe with excitement, or this was all for naught,” then tempered by Mikkal’s frustration, not with the the ritual, but with having to perpetuate the pain of the woman. Our understanding is demanded even more strongly when we learn this entire ordeal is to breathe life into a generation of stillborn babies. And in the final, cruel twist, we’re left saddened and horrified by the information that this ritual requires repetition, all too soon. Ultimately our sympathies are claimed by the torturer, who (unlike his victims) is obligated to repeat this horror multiple times, and who therefore remains “silent amidst the celebration.” What a full world was built here, both ex- and internally to our narrator.
Congratulations, Brittni! Below is your super sparkly winner’s badge for the wall(s) of your choosing. Here is your very own, brand new, mega fabulous winner’s page and your winning tale on the winners’ wall. Please contact me here asap so I can interview you for Wednesday’s #SixtySeconds feature. And now, here is your winning story!
Seed of Life
The monk took another slice of the woman’s heavily petalled heart. She didn’t move. Her chin simply quivered.
Mikkal wished he could ease her pain. She had to be awake throughout this entire process. Her heart had to be flush and ripe with excitement, or this was all for naught.
He peeled away another layer, but still could not see the seed. Frustrated, he wondered how much more she had to sacrifice for the hearts of the nation.
Blood trickled down her arms from the shackles above her head. Her eyes fluttered. She was drowsy, but Mikkal pressed on.
Until finally, nestled between the last two slices of her heart, laid the seed. He slipped it in the mouth of the first stillborn child.
“Breathe!” He shouted. And it did.
They all did.
Silent amidst the celebration, Mikkal stared at the child with the seed. He did not look forward to their next meeting.