HO HO HO! Santa says he’s feeling conflicted about us going into his Big Week; some of the adventures you took him on he just loved; others he didn’t appear to understand, though I heard him whispering to the Mrs. that he suspected they may not have been intended for his youthful ears; still others, he says he is not sure how you got into his private diaries, but when it is convenient and if you are quite finished, would you kindly return them Whence They Belong.
A reminder that we’re forging ahead and will have yet another flash fiction snowball fight this week. Santa may take a break after the 25th, but one’s Muse Does Not. (Or should not? Muses can be so temperamental, and I don’t particularly care for the way mine responds to eggnog.) We are also gearing up for a fresh, exciting format change and some sparkly new dragon features after the first of the year. It’s almost TOO MUCH YUMMINESS, isn’t it!?
We knew we were going to be in for a wild ride when we first saw the prompt this week. Not only did you treat us to tales of a law-breaking Santa, but there also appeared stories of intrigue, danger, mild espionage, cheekiness, and even one very memorable blackmail letter to the jolly red elf. You took us on an adventure as we pored over story after story, and made our minds implode and explode by turns as we struggled to figure out how on this green earth we were supposed to narrow down our options among so many excellent choices.
Narrow it down, we did, however, amid lots of late-night and early morning emails back and forth across the Atlantic. Debates raged (in all the politest forms possible), and finally, we can offer up this winner’s list with sleep-deprived eyes and keyboard-ravaged fingers.
Kudos to every one of you who submitted a tale. There are many more winners than the ones listed below.
Tinsel-tastic Title: Margaret Locke, “Clause and Effect.” We had a number of great titles, but this one appealed to us both. Simple, fun, effective and clever.
Best Product Placement of LEGO in a Story: Annika Keswick, “Double Life.” We’re not sure if the writer was being paid by the famous brand, but we loved the idea of the story and all that LEGO.
Best Tribute to Clement C. Moore: Michael Seese, “The Watchman.” This was a very clever piece with clear links to the original. We both enjoyed this.
Best Use of Dialogue: Alissa Leonard, “Next.” Using entirely dialogue pieces can be risky. It worked well for this, as did the unique focus of the sequential numbering. We wanted to reward the originality of the story.
Best Use of an Annoying Toy: Casey Rose Frank, “We All Go a Little Mad Sometimes.” Poor Santa’s fall over the brink of sanity was fully understandable in wake of the references to the red-furred, laughing puppet that haunts both of our nightmares.
Steph Ellis, “All I Want for Christmas.”
MK: When I am looking through so many stories, the ones that are unique really jump out and scream “look at me”. For this one, the writer gives us a title that evokes the wishful dreams of a child, of sparkly Christmas trees, and of Mariah Carey (or is that just me?). However, we are drawn not into a world of tinsel and mulled wine, but pulled strings, the “Horned One” and “the fiery pit”. Do we really have sympathy for the Devil? Not me, but it was fun to think of his plight.
All done with tongue firmly in cheek. I salute you, dear writer.
TS: Out of all the connections I could possibly have made to the little Santa puppet of the prompt, I don’t think I would have ever dreamed up this one in my wildest imaginings. An interesting take and one that creates a bit of pathos for “poor Satan.”
I enjoyed the contrast of Santa in bondage to his strings compared to Satan, who had no strings, but was still in bondage to the “rules.” I actually felt just a teensy bit sorry for the poor devil (pun fully intended) at this line: “Once, just once, it would be nice to get something for Christmas, something wrapped in shiny paper and with a pretty silver bow.” Nicely done!
Brady Koch, “Hard Time at Xmas.”
MK: We were toying with a best “ho ho ho” award, and this would have won. But there is the fantastic opening, leaving no room for doubt about the story. It set the scene, gave us background and acted as a pivot throughout the story. The ending is fantastic, not just the use of reindeer jerky but the fact that Martha is happy getting festive while leaving Kris to “marinate”.
TS: What an attention-grabbing beginning! This is a different take, but one I thoroughly enjoyed, as I considered the relationship between Santa and Mrs. Santa. It’s a cheeky piece that pokes fun at the idea of dear old jolly St. Nick in prison, his sacrificial attitude–doing time behind bars for poor Rudolph who wouldn’t handle another run-in with the law–contrasted against the dark undertones of Mrs. Santa’s prolonged silence. I. love. that last line. What a great exclamation point for the whole piece. 🙂
Grace Black, “Inches of Insane.”
TS: An attention-grabbing beginning, followed by some beautiful interplay of words and meaning. I love the layered idea of decay that manifests itself in a sugar-rotted tooth, but worms its way in with the “ache of loneliness.” The phrase “an overly adorned, inflatable reminder of my single status” so neatly locks the festivities of Christmas into the phrase without even once saying it.
Other things: the contrast of the baubles, heavy as emptiness, light as leaping sanity—all hung on the tree and perhaps a mental noose, choking the life out of the narrator.
The single word at the end is a delightful punch in the gut (if there is such a thing) to wrap up the piece, nicely mirroring the first line with the attitude of the stare.
Plus, anyone who can work the word “tchotchke” into a sentence and wrangle sense out of it has earned my eternal admiration. Stellar work.
MK: I completely agree with all of Tamara’s articulate and insightful comments.
THIRD RUNNER UP
Grace Black, “Red Breath.”
MK: This had a wonderful opening, such a great use of words to set the scene. I liked the Beatle vs Elvis comparison and adored the phrase “dweller in sepia shades” (not only beautiful, but so descriptive). There were a couple of stories that reminded us that Christmas can be a difficult time for some and this one stood out due to the beautiful language and authentic voice. A well deserved placing.
TS: Oh, the imagery in this one gives me shivers! There’s something about the phrases that twist just a little off the normal pattern that catches and holds my attention. I loved the literary theme woven throughout, “…hidden in margins and bindings.” “A word affair.” “Readers of unwritten, between the lines…”
The relationship in this piece plays out like lyrical poetry, the give and take of tone and pitch matching the woven tapestry of this couple’s story. It deepens all through the piece up until that final paragraph where it halts in “varying shades of arrest.”
The heartbreak of the line: “You can’t un-think all the thoughts, and you can’t un-live all the life” is all the more crushing after the gorgeous build-up. I love this. Exquisitely done.
SECOND RUNNER UP
Sarah Miles, “Family Tradition.”
MK: This is an example of great Flash! Friday story. The response to the prompt has gone beyond the obvious, and we are immediately given a compelling background story with just the use of a title and opening line. By using ‘teenage bravery’ we are given the character age and motivation without redundant words. I loved the descriptive work here “glance over at his pointy little boots dangling from the bushiest bough.”
I also adored the statement “the furthest point she had dared travel,” as it is describing the optical tracking of a human eye on an object. Fantastic ending.
TS: This story hits on a childhood fear (my toys coming alive and wreaking revenge for their many grievances), and it ramps up the suspense nicely throughout the few paragraphs, the harshly mandated “NEVER directly at him” sending chills up my spine. Some powerful descriptions light up the piece: “…as though he was some festive Medusa.” “Teenage bravery” packs a whopping amount of emotion into two tightly resonating words.
I love the richness of the feelings, the fear, the trepidation, and then the near disappointment and relief after the climactic eye-stare. The final line is such a fitting end to the whirlwind, the antithesis of everything the narrator has just experienced. Stunning story.
FIRST RUNNER UP
David Borrowdale, “He Knows When You’re Awake.”
MK: Some stories are difficult to write and difficult to read. That doesn’t mean that they should be avoided. This made me feel incredibly uncomfortable (as was the intention). There are hints throughout this that there is more to the story, such as ““We’ll catch him in the act this year,” which are more powerful after a second read. The most chilling part was, “She felt his breath, sweet with sloe gin, as he whispered in her ear. ‘You better not shout.’“ It takes skill to write a story like this. It would be wrong to say that there was a satisfying ending, but one that brings justice.
TS: Wow! I have chills running rampant. There’s loads of skill in this one; I loved the layered lines that double as familiar imagery for all of us from childhood on up (“We’ll catch him in the act this year,” waiting until midnight, and then “You better not shout.”), while at the same time describing an incredibly uncomfortable, horrific situation.
The phrasing is phenomenal: “…banished to a flaccid airbed on the living room floor,” “She felt his breath, sweet with sloe gin.” Hope sparks in the last line, though you wish the darkness weren’t QUITE so dark before the dawn arrives.
Mark is right; this was such a difficult read, but some of the hardest stories to tell are the ones that are the most worth it in the end. I was blown away by this story.
And now: for his VERY FIRST win (I know, right?!), it’s Flash! Friday
“The Festive Season”
MK: From all of the stories, this one resonated with me the most. It will stay with me not just for today or tomorrow, but perhaps every Christmas. Christmas is a time for all of the things we see on television, hear in songs and feel in the air. Joy, giving, happiness, family, forgiveness – the list goes on. Many of us (perhaps) will take time or action to think of less fortunate such as the lonely, elderly or homeless. But, I have never thought of the plight of those like Wei.
The scene setting is simply stunning, “frenzy of factories churning out endless glittering baubles” and “scurried past LED workshops, wraiths tinkering with soldering irons in pulsing light”.
Then we have the letter to his future bride, so telling, so heart-breaking.
I could go on and on, but every word, phrase and deft use of visualisation and emotion made me wish I could write like this. The ending was perfect and twisted the knife into me just a little more. A story that is perfectly written and leaves a lifetime of thought is a magical thing to behold. Bravo!
TS: This is simply gorgeous and so well crafted, I was floored. The beginning line: “…wraiths tinkering with soldering irons in pulsing light” is nailed into place with the final line: “Whatever Christmas was Wei truly despised it,” creating a stunning, heart-breaking frame for the entire piece.
The contrast of the title with the work itself brings the pathos out in even more startling color. Vivid imagery works throughout, especially in lines like: “…his crimson fingerprints staining tear-soaked paper,” and then the color bled into the rest of the piece, “Scarlet jewel,” “Another mask, fingers stained crimson.” What a layered motif for a story of a bleeding, breaking heart!
The single-line paragraphs at the end serve as punctuation marks to the bleak, stripped hopelessness that Wei feels throughout the piece. Wei’s story is so well-described that it doesn’t feel like description at all; it’s a perfect web of emotion and verbiage that sinks into the reader’s mind without roughing the edges of thought.
Congratulations, Image! Below is your long, long overdue winner’s badge for the wall(s) of your choosing. Here is your very new (watch the wet paint) winner’s page and your winning tale on the winners’ wall. Please watch your inbox for your #SixtySeconds interview questions! And now, here is your winning story!
The Festive Season
The backwater that was Yiwu shook with the frenzy of factories churning out endless glittering baubles. Wei scurried past LED workshops, wraiths tinkering with soldering irons in pulsing light.
He was late, caught up writing a letter to his fiancé. Responding to her assurances that a smaller wedding was what she wanted, her pleas insulting his sacrifice.
The letter departed, his crimson fingerprints staining tear soaked paper.
The boss man tapped a manicured nail onto a watch that a thousand life times could barely afford. Wei bowed apologetically before grabbing a paper mask and the glue sprayer.
Five thousand polystyrene stars awaited on metal shelving.
Wei grabbed a star, spraying it with glue, before dipping it deep into the crimson glitter held within a battered oil-drum.
Lifting out a scarlet jewel, sparkling in the light of the bare bulb.
Grab, spray, dip.
Another mask, fingers stained crimson. Lungs hacking with shimmering dust.
Whatever Christmas was, Wei truly despised it.