Flash! Friday Vol 3 – 31: WINNERS

HAAAAAAPPY Monday! A pleasure to see you back here for the medal party! Always exciting times here, finding out which stories struck our noble judges’ fancies this past round. And what a round it was! I’m STILL giggling from Brian Creek‘s “Chuck’s Five” with Chuck, Fat August, Indigo, Teller, and Pepper. (That’s Charlie, Augustus Gloop, Violet Beauregarde, Mike Teavee, and Veruca Salt in brilliant parodic form, of course), Geoff Holme‘s “Ian, Diana, Jonas and the Lost Dark,” and former dragon captain Eric Martell‘s untitled dialect piece (“‘e’s wonky, ‘e is”).  And clever J.M. gave us hungry adolescent dragons (!) with a craving for patricide in “It Will Change Your Life.” … And goodness, Clive Tern‘s richly dark twist on a ticket winner’s motivations (“I’m gonna mash their smug faces in, and win”), and Marie McKay‘s vivid take on synesthesia, both still follow me. 

Also loved srof2eeing bunches of new writers join us this week — and beloved old writers stop by (here’s looking at you, Karl Russell & Allison Garcia!). Reminder to all regulars, and those about-to-be-regulars (because we all know, SIGH, just how addictive the #flashfiction circuit is!) — don’t forget to track your participation here at Flash! Friday: if you write stories at least three Fridays in a month, your name can go up on the Wall of Flame. Each month you’re on the WoF nabs you a chance at the jackpot of prizes at year’s end. Details here!

{{Note: quick housekeeping reminder that parodies and derivatives of public domain stories (e.g. fairy tales) are allowed, but otherwise please use your own characters & world when telling stories; writing with copyrighted characters could get us all in a heap o’ trouble. Thanks for your cooperation!}}      

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Judging for us this round was Dragon Team Six, Steph Ellis & Josh Bertetta. Wish I could’ve heard some of those arguments! Though they didn’t send out for emergency bandages or chocolates, so perhaps we’re still all right…?? Thanks to both of you for your time & thoughts this week! Here’s what they have to say:

A real confection of wonderful tale-telling was tossed at our feet this weekend in honour of one of the greatest children’s books ever.  For a first-time judge in this dragon’s lair, this was a nerve-wracking event but one I thoroughly enjoyed.  It feels strange that I haven’t been part of Flash! Friday for a year yet, but here I am judging.  When I first discovered this site, I was somewhat overawed by the sheer quality of the writing – and, I must confess – I still am.  But the comments have always been kind and supportive and this has driven me on to try harder every week and I hope that those who are new to this site will find this true for them.  I have a reputation for darkness but your tales don’t have to involve blood and guts, they just have to be good stories.  And they were.

A big thank you also needs to go out to Deborah Foy and my [Steph’s] lovely (insomniac) daughter Bethan for ensuring that Josh and I received our entries ‘blind’.

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SPECIAL MENTIONS

Best Title: Geoff HolmeIan, Diana, Jonas, and the Lost Dark.” SE: Oh that wonderful title, and the sinister Germanic overtones which only serve to heighten the humour.  Mönions for Minions in particular was a brainwave.  Wonderful. JB: A wonderful use of dialogue to build tension—so much so that the action is quite incidental to the story. I read it as a parable about corporate exploitation of childhood hopes and dreams.

Best Use of Song: Mark A. KingSweet Muzak.” SE: For song-inspired writing, titles cleverly woven together to seamlessly form a story.  Bonus points for including one of my favourite U2 songs.  Lyrically lovely. JB: A delightful incorporation of numerous pop-culture references. I feel like I am on one a quiz show: can you name them all?

Best Homage: Mark Morris, “Wonkered.” SE: A true homage to Dahl, from character names to the idea of a moral delivered in a uniquely dark manner; the children literally are what they eat.  Terrific homage to a great author. JB: Tragic and ironic, here we have three human ourobori (or is it ouroboruses?) whose desire blinds them from the glaringly obvious.

Most Poignant: Allison Garcia, “Hershey’s Chocolate, Hershey’s Chocolate, Hershey’s Chocolate Woooorld.” SE: They say there is nothing greater than a parent’s love for a child and this story provides a perfect example, deflecting awkward questions in order to protect their son from harsh reality.  Delicate writing.  JB: A poignant expression of the suffering a parent holds deep in his/her breast to shield his/her child.

Best Huggable Programming: Phil Coltrane, “Manufactured Peace.” SE: Everything about Paxbot is programmed, from his emotive subroutines to his neural circuitry.  But Paxbot is more than code.  He has a sense of self-belief, he ‘yearns’ like a human to become called a child of God. I want to give Paxbot a hug. JB: One heck of an interpretation of the prompt, here is the story of a robot, who through programming is able to bring to humanity what it has long yearned. And still, there is something missing…

 

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HONORABLE MENTIONS

David Shakes, “I Don’t Like the Sound of That.” 

SE: Usually we are fed horrific stories about the dental health of the poor, whilst newsfeeds and pictures reinforce the perfect smiles of the wealthy.  However this norm is inverted in Charlie’s world, the ability to afford sweets being the privilege of the wealthy, as, bizarrely, is the resulting tooth decay.  The children of the rich go round happily displaying ‘gap toothed grins and bleeding gums’ because it shows their status; unlike Charlie who keeps his mouth firmly closed to prevent anyone noticing his poverty.  Pride is truly a strange creature.  A nice twist but a sad commentary.

JB: A terrific story of reversals of expectation symbolized in the teeth of the poor kids and the rich kids where the impoverished would rather hide his straight teeth than reveal his poverty. So desperately wanting to fit in, he would rather keep a straight face than smile; he can’t just be a kid in a candy store.

Craig Anderson, “‘What Goes Around.”

SE: Sympathies are immediately raised in the opening sentence with a reference to ‘the crippled kid’ but ‘He really looks the part’ is a telling sentence, cluing you in that all is probably not what it seems.  The tragedy is that the boy does become what he pretends to be when he gets run over, by, ironically, an ambulance.  The last sentence reveals the humanity of the other hustler, he can ‘no longer confront the kid in the wheelchair’, because this time the boy is truly a deserving cause.  Karma in action.

JB: Oh that karma is, a…well, you can fill in the blank, and what happens to the kid in the wheelchair is indeed tragic. I can only wonder—karma being karma—what, in addition to his own guilt, lies in store for the protagonist.

Clive Tern, “It’s All About Winning.”

SE: This is a story about someone prepared to grab hold of any and every chance he gets.  He looks down on those whose ‘mental arms are too short to grab the chances that flutter past their tiny little existences’.  They are not worthy, he however will grab a chance and wring out every benefit, even if it reduces others to tears, even if he has to offer violence.  Winning is all.  Winning is everything.  Well done.

JB: Oh, our competitive, dog-eat-dog society where those who lack the vision miss their golden opportunities (or in this case, tickets), while others, like this story’s protagonist (is he really?) has enough vision to see his opportunity—in this case, theft. You have to do what you have to do, after all, to get ahead — for ours is a society that loves its winners.

 

THIRD RUNNER UP

Jeff Stickler,Six.” 

SE: A life taken over by Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is no life at all.  This is the tragic conclusion that our character comes to as he struggles through yet another day where every action has to be performed six times.  Nights give him no respite, insomnia strikes as he dreads ‘another day of sixes’.  It all becomes too much and he does not count out his medication for the simple reason he has swallowed them all, there will be no more days of sixes, no more days at all.  Desperation has driven him to seek a tragic respite.  Thoughtful, though ultimately grim, description of a tortured soul.

JB: Painful to read, but exquisite to do so over and over again. Perhaps I read it six times. Here is the story of — what most would call — an individual with mental illness, the harsh reality of mental illness and the extreme measures some will go. I sense an element of social commentary here, which I appreciate, for this individual lives in dire financial circumstances and I, as the reader, in filling in the gaps in the story, wonder if his poverty prevents him from getting the help he needs, feeling, in the end, there is only one way out.

SECOND RUNNER UP

Mark A. King, “The Troll ‘Neath the Towers.” 

SE: In the daytime our troll is a normal person, smiling, charming, a pleasure to know but … in his home he becomes something else, hiding behind ‘proxy servers, fake identities and cloud accounts’.  Every day he casts his net to catch, latch, onto anyone who has suffered, anyone who has any ideas or beliefs, anyone at all that he feels he can abuse and insult in any way, inflict pain in more than fifty shades, delighting in the hashtag #AskELJames.  He is addicted and he knows it, pain ‘calls him like Meth’, soothes his dreams, keeps him content.  Even in his poverty, he is the kid in the sweet shop and you would never know him, he could be sat next to you now.  Definitely a tale for our times.

JB: Upon reading the title, I figured I would be reading about those good old trolls of folklore and myth, but reading—pleasantly (or perhaps unpleasantly) surprised, I read a story not about those trolls with which I am well familiar, but trolls much more sinister, those who hide in the cyber sphere. Here is an individual full of hate, seemingly choosing anyone and everyone, firing “insults at both sides” who, despite his apparent poverty spends “all his riches” on technology to spread his malice, malice born of pain, and for whom trolling the internet is an almost cathartic experience.

FIRST RUNNER UP 

Foy S. Iver, “Dr. C’s Freak Show.” 

SE: The poor girl has paid the price of youthful folly but it is wonderful to see how much hope she has for her premature baby and her desire for a future full of life.  She stands up to the midwife with her ‘righteous scorn’ whose God is a harsh God, subverting the message about loving all regardless of who/what they are.  There is no love or compassion in this midwife’s God, there is actually more in the girl herself, young though she is.  Her baby with its ‘fighting heart’ deserves a chance and she’s determined to give it her.  Tragic and inspirational at the same time.

JB: A surreal, carnivalesque, almost (in my mind) sci-fi, juxtaposition of a mother’s love for her child, her fight for her child matched by the baby’s own fighting heart. This in the context of a mid-wife who, despite claiming “God’s will is perfect,” condemns the young mother with her self-righteous indignation. Here is a woman with eyes of granite, who would rather fight over the baby—all two pounds of her—than act with compassion for arguably that which is most fragile in the world whereas the young mother, though she has nothing, relies on God’s help rather than resting upon dogmatic principles as does the midwife.

And now: welcome and whoop and holler for first-time

DRAGON WINNER

SYDNEY SCROGHAM!!!

for

The Choice

SE: Opening with the line “I’m no good for you”, you almost expect the rest of the story to be doom, gloom and disaster.  And yes there is some of that, but it is also an uplifting tale of the power of love to overcome all suffering.  Between this first line and the last the woman reminds herself why she is with him.  There is extreme hardship and poverty with their ‘shack outside the city’, the ‘dumpster diving for food’ and ‘stealing ibuprofen so our kid didn’t die from fever’ but she does not dwell on that as he speaks.  She shoulders those burdens willingly, accepts them because he is her soulmate, if she had not chosen him her ‘soul would wither away’ and that is something she could not bear – everything else pales into insignificance.  And in all this, her ‘poor boy from downtown’ understands the sacrifices she has made, recognises that she’s ‘the best thing to ever happen’ to him.  Fluent writing that tugs at the emotions.

JB: “The Choice” is a story of expectation, disappointment, relationship, love, economics, heartbreak — all in one of this week’s shortest (if not the shortest) stories. Here is a man feeling unsure of himself, his esteem and sense of worth rooted in his sense of poverty while his partner — through whose thoughts the reader learns of their dire situation — makes her choice based on feeling rather than reason. Love, the narrator lets the reader know, is, for all intents and purposes, irrational and when it comes to love such as this — a soul-love — there is really no choice at all. Chalk full of gut-wrenching images of poverty, “The Choice” reminds me of the times when things seem dire and there is a loss of hope, when love is in the heart, thinking and “common sense” are secondary.

Congratulations, Sydney! Here’s your brand new (DON’T SIT DOWN, PAINT’S STILL WET!) winner’s page and your winning tale on the winners’ wall. On a personal note, it’s a pleasure to see another one of my own magnificent Shenandoah Valley Writers on that wall!!! (Note for anyone who’s suspicious; judging is blind and done by the dragon captains, not me.) Sydney, please contact me here asap so I can interview you for Thursday’s #SixtySeconds feature! And now, here’s your winning story:

The Choice

“I’m no good for you.”

When he said that to me, I wasn’t thinking about living in a shack outside the city, dumpster diving for food, or stealing ibuprophen so our kid didn’t die from fever. I wasn’t thinking about torn jackets, sockless toes, or begging for a few laundromat coins.

I was thinking about how my soul would wither away if we really said good-bye right now.

I choose this lifestyle because I choose him. Every day. I open my eyes and the one poor boy from downtown stirs beside me, turns over, and whispers in my ear.

“You’re the best thing that ever happened to me.”

FFwinner-Web

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3 thoughts on “Flash! Friday Vol 3 – 31: WINNERS

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