HURRAY, and welcome to the Results Show! I’m never sure which day of the week is my favorite. Getting to read your stories on Wed & Fri, or partying like mad with the winners, or smushing the champ under a microscope for an interview, or the cool new Tuesday thinggie where I get to hassle professionals in all parts of the writing biz. Who are we kidding; all the days are my favorite. Except maybe the long, depressing darkness that’s the weekend. Anybody wanna guest post, to brighten those days up? Just say the word.
Speaking of which: TOMORROW!!! We continue our Tuesday #Spotlight exclusive interview feature, this time with the founding editors/publishers at Crosshair Press. Want to know what The Other Side looks like?? Don’t miss it!
And then comes Warmup Wednesday, followed by Thursday’s Sixty Seconds interview with today’s winner. Then it’s back into the furious maelstrom of Flash! Friday!
Sinéad: This week’s stories shared many themes. At one point during the judging process, I did a search for the word ‘mother’, for instance, and was astounded by how often it appeared. Despite Nature’s caprices and cruelties, it seems as though the idea of it being a ‘mother’ is well-rooted and instinctive. Many stories took the idea of ‘mother’ Nature and its relationship with mankind, and two of our podium-placed tales feature the word in their titles; these two stories, it seemed to us, took a fresh and unexpected approach to the idea of Nature as a mother. We wanted to reward the stories which took side-swipes at the prompts, this week; many tales featured parched and bloody-lipped survivors, barely clinging to life as they battled their way through deserts both literal and figurative, but the tale we eventually placed as the winner is one wherein Nature itself is the narrator, in the voice of the sorrowful sea. In a week which saw tales of strange futuristic worlds of sand-burials and mechanical whales, as well as sinking ships, messages in bottles and at least one Monty Python reference (which made me chuckle), choosing winners, as well as Honorary and Special Mentions was a massive challenge. All credit to the writers who brought us to unknown and uncharted territory with every tale, and to our Dragon Queen for her inspirational prompts.
Pratibha: Another record-shattering week here at Flash! Friday! There were 83 shining, scorching, wave-crashing, sand-blasting stories that kept the judging team gasping for breath. Nature appeared cruel at times and apologetic at others. The wild varieties of the stories proved once again that the mysterious powers of Nature still elude the human mind, and yet the human spirit survives on sheer hope and toil. The ship, sea, sun, and sand took on various personas propelling the stories in sometimes unpredictable directions, sometimes humorous. I think we need a special champion category for humor.
I would like to bow to all the writers who tackled the whimsical prompt and spun the tales of conflict. It was extremely difficult to choose the winners in this round.
For Unique Acrostic Effect: Mark A. King, “Z – A of an Apocalypse.” This story deserves a Special Mention for its unique acrostic effect, reminiscent of a countdown to destruction. Striking images, like that of the oil tanker ‘rust[ing] on the sand dunes of London‘ gave it huge power and visual appeal. The images grow more and more disturbing as the tale continues, until the final devastating line – ‘Apocalypse is now‘. This was a stunning piece of work.
For an Interesting Premise: Chris Milam, “Saulė.” This story gains a Special Mention for its interesting premise. A shipwrecked man (we presume) who goes from raging at the merciless sun to feeling a grudging respect, and eventual affection, for his one-time tormentor, we thought this tale offered a fresh and interesting take on the idea of man vs. Nature. The image of the sun’s rays like ‘orange tentacles… loop[ing] around [his] wilting body like a flaming octopus‘ was particularly accomplished.
Sinéad: This story deserves an Honorable Mention for superlative narrative and literary effect. It was so stylish and accomplished that it invited me to read and re-read. I loved how the tale emerged as the words were pared away, just like the ship rusting in the desert (or even Nature’s attrition of humanity and all its futile constructs more generally), as well as how it encapsulated the idea of Nature’s power to give and take life with impunity. An amazing story.
Pratibha: I loved the author’s insight into grief and suffering and their degenerative effects on mind. The slow decay of bodies and minds of the couple is skillfully shown through the shrinking paragraphs.
Sinéad: This story deserves an Honorable Mention for its use of two aspects of Nature – mortality and Time – and how it weaves the visual prompt into the story by using it as a metaphor for loss and grief. I loved the personification of Time and its gentle regret that it cannot slow, or go backwards, and the character’s admission that even if he could be granted another minute or another hour with his loved one, it would never be enough. Poignant and unsettling, and told from a unique perspective, this story stuck in the mind.
Pratibha: This story is really powerful in the personification of Time. I loved the concept. I also liked how the author weaved in the dialogue with the second person point of view.
THIRD RUNNER UP
Sinéad: We were both struck by the topicality of this story, and the poignancy of the child’s realisation that the scientific advances that will save his or her unborn sibling will come too late to save him/her. The details here – the crumpled tissues and the bottles hidden in the laundry basket, and the child’s pretense at a smile mirroring the mother’s – gave the story an urgent poignancy and power. I was also struck by the mention of mitochondrial disease, which can be caused by problems with mitochondrial DNA (inherited from the mother), and how this means that both the child’s life and death have come from their birth mother, as well as ‘mother’ Nature. This story took an interesting and fresh look at the idea of mother Nature and motherhood in general, contrasting the ‘flawed’ mothers with an idealised, and impossible, ‘third’ mother, from which only life – and not the inevitable death – would come.
Pratibha: I think my partner has already said everything so brilliantly, that I might have said. So I will just say ditto.
SECOND RUNNER UP
Sinéad: This was a heartrending tale. It was another which stayed with me, and I was moved by the contrast between the expectant mother – who so loves and wants to protect her tiny child – with the seemingly impersonal cruelty of mother Nature (partly personified in the efficient, brisk and unfeeling nurse), who takes life as easily as she gives it, with no thought to what, or who, is left behind. The contrast to the winning tale was interesting, and I loved the harsh irony of the tale’s title and the nurse’s parroting of the platitude that ‘mother Nature knows best‘. Why do we assume this is true, we are left to ask? And what does ‘best’ even mean? The final image, of the woman on her hands and knees releasing a ‘feral howl‘, so reminiscent of the childbirth she will now not experience, was one I found particularly affecting.
Pratibha: Although this story refers to the photo prompt only metaphorically, the emotional punch of the story is powerful. Does Mother Nature really know what is best for the expectant mother? The story asks the question and makes the reader think.
FIRST RUNNER UP
Sinéad: This tale employs some beautiful language, particularly the line: ‘A lake shimmering bright in the desert, luring naive hopefuls to cast off their anchor lines and abandon reality for a vision‘, and its concluding note – that of mankind staking a claim on another day – just one more! – while knowing, at the back of it all, that their struggle will ultimately amount to nothing, was powerful. The image of the decaying ship, like a giant animal, being consumed not only by the sand, but also by Time itself, was memorable, and I enjoyed the interplay between the survivor and his plants, from which he ‘coaxes life‘, despite admitting they are tougher than he is. I enjoyed this tale’s defiant spirit, and although many tales took a similar perspective, this one stood out.
Pratibha: This philosophical story moves through the actions of Man and Nature trying to outdo each other in a wave-like motion. Any achievement by Man seems like an illusion because it quickly results in a counter-move by Nature. This idea is delivered through beautiful and rhythmic language. The real illusion is the Man’s belief that he can conquer Nature. But “Nature’s a patient enemy. It wears away the illusion.” Yet, Man remains defiant and hopeful. I loved the layers of the story. It is the story of a marooned man and on the higher level, it is the story of Mankind.
Sinéad: This story gripped me from the get-go. Narrated by the sea itself, which was an unusual and striking perspective, I was taken by the tale’s focus on the sorrow felt by Nature at the necessity of claiming an innocent life, and how – while it has no choice – it regrets the fact that a child has died, and the effects this event has on the bereaved family. I felt the conflict (humanity vs. Nature) was very well handled, and I loved the subtle working in of the visual prompt: ‘Ever after, she was a ship marooned in a desert ocean… The garden bloomed that year, small apology.’ I also felt the story handled the father’s grief very skillfully (albeit, it made for upsetting reading), and it was one of several tales which stayed in my mind, nagging at me, after my initial read-through. A powerful and deserving winner.
Pratibha: Several stories attempted to personify the forces of Nature, but this one stood out because of the brilliant execution. The complete story unravels in a sincere apology from the ocean that took a young life, but the ocean itself is subject to the Nature’s laws. “We’re bound by strictest laws; directives we dare not defy.” The conflict between Man and Nature takes on a deeper meaning at this point. Well-developed characters, human as well as ocean made this story rise to the top. Bravo.
Congratulations, Deb! Please find below the rights to your second winner’s badge for the wall(s) of your choosing. Here are 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!
What would I say to you, if given a voice? How to tell you, “I’m sorry?”
We’re bound by strictest laws; directives we dare not defy. Our ways and our wanderings set forth before time was.
What of those I robbed?
Your mother, Irish roots recently torn from grassy heights, and commanded to take hold in that strange soil. Ever after, she was a ship marooned in desert ocean. I watched over her, caressed her salty cheeks with zephyric fingers. The garden flourished that year, small apology.
And your father, coal miner by blood, bore the weight on worn shoulders. He had such plans for you! That day you went out, the dog paced the shore, calling in her guttural tongue, but you didn’t answer. It was a betrayal in his eyes. Why hadn’t she warned them? A week after he took out his pain on her body, unremitting blows until she lay still.
Your siblings? They didn’t understand. “Where’s Phillip gone?” They’d ask, with never a good answer.
My sorrow is nothing to theirs but when I remember you, clinging to that skiff, your boots dragging you down; as I relive that moment, filling your lungs, and 12 years of a soul, slipping from your body, it rains.