Happy Monday once again! Thank you for continuing to speak to me despite the (gasp) FORMAT CHANGE!!!!! (gasp). Once we break it in, I think it’s going to be a riot. We’ve got some more freshening up to do here at FF, but have no fear: that was the biggie, and there’s a lot more (less painful) fun coming. The next one’s coming this very Friday, in point of fact.
So, a reminder of how the new format works: there are two elements to include in your 200 word entry: (1) a photo AND (2) a story element. The story elements will rotate through a list of character, setting, conflict, and theme. These are required elements to be included in your entry. PLEASE be sure to ask for help if you’re lost. We’ve got four teams of dragon captains* AND myself at your disposal. ❤
* The captains serving this round even set up their own Twitter account: follow them at @DragonTeamTwo.
Dragon Captains Mark A. King/Tamara Shoemaker say: We are incredibly excited to be given the opportunity of judging the first week of the new format. It is fair to say that we found some teething issues (where did all those teeth come from?).
We mention the things below to hopefully make you feel only our love and support and to give you the best chances of winning in future weeks:
* There were a few that missed the new word limit (which has been raised to 200), several that misjudged the character remit, and a large number of very similar and literal takes on the photo prompt.
* Our advice would be to follow the rules, use the new story element as a central part of your story, and use the photo as a guide to drive a unique story.
The tales this week were incredibly dark, powerful and moving. It was a very difficult decision, but Dragon Team Two have an almost psychic bond, and we came up with the same list, in exactly the same order. Thank you for creating your stories and entrusting them to us.
Fantastic Visual Imagery: Emily June Street, “Cheap.”
Great Opening Line, Services to Plumbing, and Visions of Wreck-It Ralph: Holly Geely, “Origin of the Mighty Broom.” “If a plumber like Mario can save the world, why not a janitor?”
Great Take, and Most Dangerous Use of a Cigar Since Bill Clinton: Liz Hedgecock, “After Hours.”
Using the Prompt to Get a Game Show (which was very authentically written) and Fabulous Structure: Marie McKay, “American Gladiator.”
World-Spanning Conspiracy Theories and a Great Use of a Janitor to Clean Up Dirty Items: Geoff LePard, “The Sweep of History.” “
(MK) Before we got to the incredible sadness, I thoroughly enjoyed the mention of the Byzantine coins (and Buddhas, Chinese jades & Pyramids).
This was a hauntingly powerful piece, this entire paragraph is equally distressing and sublime “I have been assigned to clean so many things. It’s the wars that are the worst. Gettysburg was bad, but Auschwitz nearly broke me. I piled up the shoes and the glasses, the teeth and shattered dolls. Later, I left the shadows at Hiroshima, the dirty water at Chernobyl. I left traces at the Twin Towers, too.”
The ending is thought-provoking and open to interpretation. Fantastic work.
(TS) This was a harsh take, but so brilliantly written. I love the idea, “cleaning up after the end of the world”, a Janitor of Death.
I cringed as I read about Gettysburg and Auschwitz, Hiroshima, Chernobyl and the Twin Towers. They are reminders that send most of us painful associations of some sort, but again the author wields a masterful paintbrush with: “I piled up the shoes and the glasses, the teeth and shattered dolls.”
The final two lines were stunning: “It may be vanity, after all, this desire to communicate. See, I have this need to miss a spot.” There is so much that could be interpreted in these lines, but nothing that says the reader must view it a certain way. I love the possibilities.
So, so good. Excellent.
I thoroughly enjoyed the world-building of this piece. Here is a good example: “As dawn broke over Cascade City, the midtown skyscrapers were aglow in blue lights and flooded with activity.” With very few words we have an entire vision of a city akin to Blade Runner. We have the Coliseum used in a very different context. This not only had a clear futuristic setting, but it also had elements of noir detectives and superheroes. I loved the use of the janitor superhero as Captain Sanitation stood proudly in his bright blue cleanroom costume and filter mask, conspicuous against the stone walls of the landmark building. Great take – well done.
This has a light, tongue-in-cheek tone that made me laugh. Oh, the horror that Captain Sanitation must have felt upon seeing mud tracked across his nice clean floor! Vile creatures!
With so little seeming effort, the author has created a world that’s different from ours, and he has done it in such a small amount of space. As a fantasy novelist, I’m always struggling to build my worlds, and chapters and chapters are usually dedicated to the subject. This is a brilliant take that captures a different way of life with such a gorgeous sparsity of words.
Bonus points for the name of the city. Loved this one. 🙂
THIRD RUNNER UP
A great example of showing and not telling. In so many stories of blood, it was nice to feel the sense of calm in the library (even though it was about to be shattered).
Subtle, yet highly effective scene setting within the opening lines: “Lennie started his day the same way he had for the last six decades: A bowl of cereal and the morning newspaper.” There is an overriding sense of being out of place in a world that the character does not understand or appreciate: the library was a relic in the modern era with its small frame, small bookshelves and small books. Great line here too: “allowed himself a deep intake of that old book smell; the familiar aroma that snuggled his nostrils and had comforted him for years.” I love my Kindle, but this is so true.
I loved this story. One of my favorite places to be is a library, and the older and dustier it is, the better I like it. The line, “the familiar aroma that snuggled his nostrils” resonated with me completely; I feel the same every time I enter an old library.
I loved the correlation between Lennie and the library. Lennie’s feelings of outliving his usefulness (“Alas, Lennie wasn’t spinning at the same speeds the world now did”) is exactly mirrored by the ancient, dusty building that’s been marked for demolition.
It’s because of this connection between the library and Lennie that the final line releases a burst of pain. It’s an understated line that shows a lot of mastery; it’s really hard to get just the right tone to finish off such a piece, and the author of this one nailed it.
SECOND RUNNER UP
I absolutely adored this piece. I am naturally drawn to darker tales, but this was a beacon of light in what was a very blood-stained and brutal week for stories. Probably my favourite interpretation on the prompt picture. A first line that totally hooked me in. The description of the gods was hilarious and well executed. As for the janitor – Fabreze, the Goddess of Janitors – it doesn’t get any better than that. Brilliantly conceived and expertly crafted. Thank you, dear writer, for putting a very large smile on my face.
Perhaps because I’m an ardent fan of Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, this piece struck a chord with me in an I-totally-get-this! kind of way. I loved the tongue-in-cheek approach, the hilarious brawling of the gods: “Apollo then broke a chair over Mercury’s head, because no bar-brawl is complete without someone doing that”, the almost slapstick comedy as gods tumbled and bumbled and “the windows fell out. Bacchus fell over.”
Fabreze, Goddess of Janitors, was the crowning jewel in this story. I was laughing heartily by the end. It’s not that often that a funny piece rises to the top spots, but the combination of stellar wit and rock-solid knowledge of the Roman pantheon placed this piece right where it deserves.
FIRST RUNNER UP
For me this was a perfect example of how to use the photo prompt and critical story element in a unique way that makes the story stand out from the crowd. The title gives us the story before its starts. The opening line hints at the clumsiness of the character, the self-conscious lack of poise, the critical self-voice. Which was a great start. It was then reinforced by “Was it my fault they hadn’t secured that skeleton well enough? Or that I tripped over an extension cord and knocked down the entire Powhatan wigwam?”
“The Dead Belong to the Vulture”
On original reading I found this to be something that I connected with immediately. The language was simply stunning. That gnawing will push you to chase the warm winds, letting them sustain you as shadows stretch – here we have a highly visual and sensual image of the hungry vulture soaring on the currents of warm air, wings outstretched, casting shadows on the landscape, looking for signs of death: until below, spirit separates from carrion.
Here this gives us context to the ‘character’: Other beasts, ambling along the road, will take interest, and try to steal away your prize by brute persuasion but that emptiness shackles you to the corpse, bestowing unnatural boldness.
We then transition, simply, to a new place, the Coliseum. A place of the incense of a 100 rotting bodies, some white and blue with lividity, others gray and bleeding fresh – fantastic use of imagery and smell. The next line gives us contentment, safety and certainty.
The use of the prompt and character were very different but I have to say I had concerns about the use of the janitor. But this is a tale that is layered and the layers revealed themselves on second and third read. The vulture invokes powerful feelings in us. It is the supreme janitor of nature. In the story, like the vulture, no matter what we pretend, we are all driven by our basic needs for survival above all other needs. Congratulations to the writer on a magnificent piece.
What a great interpretation of the janitor character! It was certainly unique, as there was no other vulture-as-janitor take in all the stories. I loved it.
Some of the imagery in this blew me away (“Men, hiding pink flesh inside blinding armor”), and the frame of this story gave me shivers. The title, “Lord of the Spoils” evokes such a strong image in my head–a carrion bird sitting atop his meal, surveying his realm, because as the story so nicely puts it, no god gave anyone power to deny the “janitor” his purpose.
This was beautifully written with the author’s strong grasp of language, turning a phrase so that the meaning twists after the first read-through, and a second, third, and fourth reading bring out new layers each time. “I knew hunger was not a word spoken in the shade of this Coliseum.” Perhaps this was not intentional on the author’s part, but I loved the idea of the “shade” as the ghost of this graveyard, this Colosseum, guarding the carrion from the Lord of the Spoils, following up a moment later with the men who originally tried to drive away the caretaker before allowing him to fulfill his purpose.
Exquisite work. Absolutely brilliant.
Congratulations, Deb! Below is your rapacious, carnivorous winner’s badge for the wall(s) of your choosing. Here is your rottingly brand new winner’s page and your winning tale on the winners’ wall. Please contact me asap here so I can interview you for this week’s #SixtySeconds feature. And now, here is your winning story!
The Dead Belong to the Vulture
I know a hunger that compels self-preservation to bend before it. You think it a lie, seeing me this way, Lord of the Spoils.
That gnawing will push you to chase the warm winds, letting them sustain you as shadows stretch, until below, spirit separates from carrion. Then the descent begins, slow, patient, allowing the sun to soften flesh, and the insects to perform their first rite of oviposition.
Other beasts, ambling along the road, will take interest, and try to steal away your prize by brute persuasion but that emptiness shackles you to the corpse, bestowing unnatural boldness.
So was my life before this place.
How could I not stay? When first I caught the incense of a 100 rotting bodies, some white and blue with lividity, others gray and bleeding fresh, I knew hunger was not a word spoken in the shade of this Coliseum.
Men, hiding pink flesh inside blinding armor, poked at me, wishing to drive me away from their slain.
For a time, I would retreat only to circle and come again. They wouldn’t eat it. What god gave them power to deny me my purpose? Persistence and convenience won them over.
Now they house me here, fat and full, Lord of the Spoils.