Today, it will please you to learn, is National Read in the Bathtub Day. I inform you of this first in case your plans did not already include reading in the bathtub and you need to change around the day’s itinerary. If you’re looking for reading material — which bathrooms ought to offer anyway — and have not read all of this week’s compelling tales, allow me to recommend them to you. The stories our judges awarded Honorable Mentions and above to are directly linked. Don’t miss out!
Remember to join us back here tomorrow for the first part of our interview with Flashversary winner Maggie Duncan. And come back Wednesday for our second Warmup Wednesday feature: lots of fun writing and chatting. And, obviously, chocolate, which this week is brought to you by dragon captain Tamara Shoemaker, who came over to the lair this weekend (pic proof here; we’re joined by Margaret Locke & Allison Garcia) and taught us the proper way to eat Tim-Tams. (“Eat” being a rather generous term for the slopping/gnawing thing the event actually was.)
Finally, CONGRATULATIONS to everyone who earned the Ring of Fire badge this week. Please be sure to visit the Wall of Flame to get to know your fellow dragons. Note: if you earned the badge but haven’t requested it yet, please contact us here with the required info. Three stories in a calendar month, and the badge is yours to flash for that month!
Dragon Captains Tamara Shoemaker/Mark A. King say: Wow, did everyone make us live up to our position as ruthless judges this week! Ninety stories, and all of them so, so good. After anguished emails back and forth, we finally made our shortlists, only to discover that even with our shortlists, we still had more than half your stories in consideration. We culled, and culled again, and each time it was quite painful. When we hit 1st Runner Up and Winner, we liked both of them so much that we considered drawing straws to see who won. We didn’t actually do that (the Atlantic is a wide stretch to reach the straws), but there was an ultra-slim margin between our choices. So now you know that though the ones below are splendid examples of flash, so were most of the rest of the stories submitted this week. We hope that you still received recognition for your quality work in the community comments even if your story did not make it on this particular list. And now, without further ado, here we go!
Best Line: Deb Foy, “Life is a Curious Thing.” “Then, without trying, that single line got its perpendicular mate.”
Fantastic & Vivid Word Pictures: Clive Newnham, “Little Heaven.”
Unusual Twist on the Prompt: Sarah Miles, “Piece of Mind.”
Making-Us-Feel-the-Raw-Bite-of-War with the “unsexy shadows”: Brett Milam, “A Fallen God.”
Most Dance Steps in One Flash Story: Reg Wulff, “The Dance.”
Most Fleeting Moments in a Row: Charles W. Short, “Harrison Crosses Camphertown Square.”
MK – I feel it’s time to tell you about some of the discussions we had… I mentioned to Tamara that I had the utmost respect for great romance writers. It is, in my opinion, the hardest thing to get right. This was a great example of something I enjoyed. Fantastic description here, “sitting crisscross applesauce, and he picks at the hem of his brown t-shirt. My hands sandwich between my legs as I bounce my knees up and down against the grey-blue couch cushions—like a butterfly without flight”. I also enjoyed this, “My face lifts with warmth and I release the breath I’ve been holding” – understated, yet very powerful.
TS – Subtle, well-written romance that avoids cheese and goes straight to the heart is one of my favorite things to read. The author of this piece, I felt, captured that balance perfectly. I love how zoomed in we are at the start. The descriptions are really, really well written. “My hands sandwich between my legs as I bounce my knees up and down...” This is my constant position anytime I sit – I love how it’s described. Also, Mark was teasing me about my love of “story frames.” The repetition of the first line and the last line – the beautiful artwork inside those perfect ends – the emotional twist at the finish – this whole piece was just really well done.
MK – An incredibly sad story and one that removes us from the rain itself, as the story informs us from the very opening line, “There should have been rain.” What a great start. The follow-up line is incredibly sensory, with “black clouds, thunder, and the tick-tick of hail on roofs before the ice stings your skin as it falls and bounces on the black tar.” We have more examples later, with cicadas and bees, flowers and cut grass, all leading up to the day at the undertakers. Congratulations on a brilliantly executed and highly evocative take.
TS – I totally agree with Mark; this is so evocative! The sensory language flows so richly: “Perhaps it should have been autumn. Yellow and red leaves. The smell of fresh compost in the back garden. The rough bark of the apricot tree beneath my hands and knees as we scaled the branches.” I could feel myself sinking into such a world as I read this, could nearly smell the compost and the crisp autumn air. The final line drives that home with: “For a moment I smelled mulberries.” Horrendously sad, and even more emotional with the exquisite use of sensory appeal to underscore it. Gorgeous.
MK – Wonderful take on the prompt. Great line here, “alien skeleton”, to describe the umbrella. This was also lovely, and heart-warming (not knowing what was coming next), “The wistfulness in those two words makes your tear ducts tingle.” For me, the Point of View deserves a mention.
TS – Really enjoyed this. I love the fact that the main POV thinks they have the umbrella guy figured out three times before the final line, which swings way wide of what the original understanding was. I felt that this was understated and subtle, which shows a lot of writing finesse.
THIRD RUNNER UP
MK – I have to hand it to you all. I didn’t think about the office blocks or windows overlooking the scene, but many of you did. In this story we have the drudgery of office worker, Rich, staring out of the window. “Distracted he watched the rain, stared through the translucent patterns, saw the artificial light catch in the hypnotic molecules,” not only places the character, but creates beauty with the rain drops. There is a real sense of Walter Mitty about Rich, with many of the following lines, especially this, “Thunder cracked loud and invasive, office buildings all around, perfect for a sniper, for a single shot of death. Still the faceless man stood, relentless he was unmoved by the noise, by the torrential rain, pouring upon him.” We get the confirmation of daydreams at the end, by which time, we’ve been transported around the world and back again, back to Rich and his mundane office job. A very different take on the many office stories. Original and well written.
TS – The stream-of-consciousness style for this piece was a little different, but I thought it worked really well. The piece is a wrap-up of Rich’s daydreams, one thought colliding with the next as he stares at the man out of the office window, so anything less than stream-of-consciousness wouldn’t have felt as dream-like. “Heavy skies falling down,” “tears of the world,” “droplets dancing on the pane“… This is the kind of imagery that leaves me breathless and hypnotized. Beautiful story.
SECOND RUNNER UP
MK – I deeply connected to this as I thought it was the best example of a real-life character. Yes, I know it’s just a picture, but I can see, and more importantly, I can feel the fabric of the life this man lives and the life he has lived. It’s not mentioned, but I can taste the dust and concrete; I can feel his excitement and joy for living – and this is a truly wondrous thing to do as a writer. I adore the title. We’re more familiar with the word “sandstorm,” yet a “sunstorm” is something that conjures colour, heat and feeling. This really sets the tone, “Retirement is for old people, and I’m barely seventy years young.” We then have visions from earlier days, “When I was a child, this was all cornfields” and “…at night I dreamed about life in the big city”. My father is a builder, so I can vividly see this; but you don’t need to have lived it to appreciate the craft of the great writing, “…worked our magic across the landscape, metamorphosing horizontal agriculture into vertical architecture”. The writer gives us clear and joyous links between the practical work of construction site and the majesty of a storm. This was simply fantastic, “I see the sparks from the welding torches setting the girders into place. Thunder claps like the staccato rhythm of the riveters, and the bass rumble of the earthmovers.” Despite the great images, I still come back to the character, the life he’s lived and the life he’s still living. Bravo.
TS – This story does an excellent job of connecting the past fleeting moments to the present/current rainstorm/prompt. Rain slapping broken pavement connects to sparks of welding torches. Thunder equates with staccato rhythm of riveters. Lightning flashes with bustle and children laughing. Such a great interlacing of past and present images.
Also enjoyed the ring of fire in the sky; I wondered if it was a nod to the Dragoness’ Wall of Flame she’s introducing? I, too, loved the use of the word “sunstorm.” Such a vivid term, accompanied by lots of rich mental pictures in my head. Well done.
FIRST RUNNER UP
MK – This story has everything. It is a prime example of the art of flash conveying an entire novel in the space of 200 words. Indeed, I’ve read many 400 page novels that struggled to deliver a single percentage of this story. The opening is clear and simple – it gives us the backstory without any wastage. This is a great example of how to save those precious words for later. With this line, we have the hopes and dreams of both characters, ‘She had imagined greenery, a garden, goats. She had dreamed their children, eyes like his. “We’ll have a healthier life in Costa Rica,” he had said. “Rainforests and eco-living.”’ There is then clear transition to a new phase of the story, on in which we learn that all is not well, ‘She has tried and failed to make friends, to learn Spanish. “Gringa, macha,” men hiss when she dares to walk out—old-world sensibilities rule here. Men see her as loose if she ventures out alone. Women wonder where her babies are, why she doesn’t attend church,” this part not only tells us the human story, but paints a vivid picture of the new world. The line, ‘Once-easy love now strains,’ is just perfect. Despite attempts to build happiness from inside, it is impossible to do, as ‘Concrete stretches beyond her window. Leaving the city requires hours of driving in diesel-tainted air. There is no garden, no goats. Her neighbor begs for money to buy crack.’ A dream turned vividly to nightmare in a truly brilliant flash fiction story.
TS – So, so much story packed into such a small amount of space! Absolutely agree with Mark that there are novels out there with less story than what is right here in this little flash piece. Some of the phrases were delicious bites to feast on: “She had painted paradise in her mind.” “Happiness is between your ears.” “Once easy love now strains.”
The downward spiral is so heart-breaking. I’m pulling for the brilliant dreams that I see at the beginning, but with lines like “Down pours the rain,” and “Where is he?“, I can feel the foreshadowing, and am drawn in. A silent clock ticks time toward a dark resolution in phrases like “She sits inside, watching the rain.” “Afternoon rolls into dusk.” “He disappears for hours.”
In the end, that final line: “Water rises to the crack beneath the front door,” provides dark brilliance as we realize that the protagonist is drowning in a flood of grief and broken dreams. Exquisitely written.
MK – Stunning. Mesmerising. Layered. These are the sort of words that don’t fully do this piece justice. Near the start we have the word “petrichor”, a word I’m not familiar with, but on reading the definition, what a perfect word. The writer gives us this, “Her form shivers like the reflection in a wind-ruffled puddle.” Shortly followed by this, “What is a ghost but a dire event that ripples across the pool of time?” The first is a wonderful visual image, the second seems like philosophy given to us by powers beyond our comprehension. Yet it is more than that; it is an early glimpse of the story yet to be told. We have the heart-breaking vision of Cecilia about to be hit, “the tragic song by heart: her giggles, the staccato of her stamping feet, the squeal of tires, her mother’s ragged cry, the fade in and out of sirens.” The writer then combines beauty with the seemingly mundane, “a carousel whirl of colors. Red ladybug boots, yellow bumblebee raincoat, green umbrella. She stomps and hops and crows the magnificence of her splashes. The driver’s too busy balancing an apple pastry on his latte thermos to notice.” There are many more wonderful lines, but this deserves special mention, “The squeal and thud cuts my pantomime short,” as we get frantic physical action from the narrator combined with the accident itself, conveyed in a minuscule package of words. Then we get the reveal at the end, for the tragic events have cast a ripple across time that Cecilia’s grandfather saw before she was even born. A truly magical tale, told with the best very skills of a flash writer.
TS – I don’t know that I can add much more than what Mark has already said. This piece absolutely floored me. Some of my favorite phrases are the ones with layers upon layers (which were nearly all of them). I could keep unwrapping each phrase and stumble on some new gem or point of genius.
“What is a ghost but a dire event that ripples across the pool of time?” followed by its mirror image near the end: “The violent death of a child ripples both ways across the pool of time.” These two lines add such a stunning frame to the piece.
The author of this piece struck at this mommy’s heart with their description of the girl: “red ladybug boots, yellow bumblebee raincoat, green umbrella.” Her “carousel of colors” paints such a vivid mental picture that my heart lodged in my throat when I realized that the driver was too busy with his pastry and latte. Stunning detail. Fantastic imagery. Absolutely flawless story.
Congratulations, Nancy! Please find below the rights to a second heartbreakingly fabulous winner’s badge for the wall(s) of your choosing. Here is also your updated winner’s page and your winning tale on the winners’ wall. Please watch your inbox for interview questions for this Thursday’s #SixtySeconds feature. And now, here is your winning story!
Whenever rain spatters the Paradise parking lot, she rises from the pavement like petrichor. Her form shivers like the reflection in a wind-ruffled puddle. What is a ghost but a dire event that ripples across the pool of time?
Five years, I’ve watched shadows replay Cecilia’s last moments against curdled clouds. I know the tragic song by heart: her giggles, the staccato of her stamping feet, the squeal of tires, her mother’s ragged cry, the fade in and out of sirens.
Here she comes now, a carousel whirl of colors. Red ladybug boots, yellow bumblebee raincoat, green umbrella. She stomps and hops and crows the magnificence of her splashes. The driver’s too busy balancing an apple pastry on his latte thermos to notice.
I leap forward waving my arms. It startles her from her puddles. There’s a flash of recognition, but my snarling face chases her between the parked vehicles. Away from harm.
The squeal and thud cuts my pantomime short. Her mother screams.
I’d witnessed her death since before she was born, and hell if I’d just let it happen. The violent death of a child ripples both ways across the pool of time. The death of an old codger like me won’t – not even if he’s her grandfather.