WELL, aren’t y’all looking spiffy this fine Monday (especially Stella, fast asleep in her dragon-sparkled jammies)!!!! So very grateful, as ever (except one week more so), to all of you who pushed up your dragonsleeves to write another round of outrageously stunning stories. You took our dramatically unhappy Anna Karenina places even she hadn’t dreamed of going: she wound up with Vronsky, Karenin, alone, or under Engine, Engine, Number Nine, sure — but also variously on other planets, with dragons, in boxing rings… OK, who are we kidding, mostly she wound up DEED, poor thing, in the very picture of wonderful irony, as she died in stories shimmering and humming with life. How do you do that?!
Btw, COME BACK TOMORROW!!! as we celebrate previous Flash! Friday winner Sydney Scrogham‘s launch of her novel, Chase! It’s another super exciting #Spotlight interview, complete with a chance at a FREE COPY! Don’t miss it!
A marvelous, cotton candied privilege having the captains of Dragon Team Five, Foy Iver & Holly Geely behind the engine this week. Only their second go, and they’re already settling into a comfortable routine. I know this, because unlike dear Anna, they are both still quite alive. And chatty:
HG: This week, tragedy abounds; exactly as I suspected when the choice of main character is “unhappy socialite.” Congratulations, friends, you have tugged at my heartstrings, broken them, mended them, and broken them again. I had so many feelings that I almost had to resort to writing poetry (and trust me, no one wants to be burdened with my poetry – I’m worse than a Vogon). Honestly, folks, well done – I’m in awe at the skill of this community.
FI: In true Flash! Friday dragon fashion, you’ve slain your scores, woven poetry into familiar fabric, and sent this captain into fits trying to cut down a not-so-short list. (C’mon, people, couldn’t you be a little less amazing!?) Winner and First Runner Up switched places a few times, fighting ink and quill for that champion crown. I would’ve forged a second crown in Hephaestus’ fires but apparently there are rules about that, so the decision had to be made…
Thank you, thank you to Steph Ellis for sending her beautiful Ddraig Goch straight from Cymru with your stories safely stripped!
The “Oh-Snap I didn’t see that coming but I love it” award: Sarah Miles, “Social Status.” In today’s world, this main character is in for a rough time after their announcement. Love it – gave me a great chuckle.
The “Come drink the Shenandoah waters” award: Mark A. King, “The 4:15 Train from Shenandoah Valley.” I loved this story from the start for its ambitious use of heavy eye dialect. Then the S.V. nod cinched it.
HG: Ouch. A tale that’s all-too-familiar (but hopefully becoming a thing of the past). Powerfully done, particularly the “I do.”
FI: Another story on the winner’s list to end on only two words. But, goodness, how much weight they carry! Through a more modern perspective, “Cold Feet” took the idea of obliged marriage and made it its own. Deftly, the author provokes that rising dread how many millions have experienced standing by false affection for tradition’s sake. Whether “I do” is spoken in that moment, or, later, when it’s too late, isn’t said but I like to hope that those cold feet were bold enough to run.
HG: I’m with Grandma on this one, the idea of becoming software is disturbing. The story made me uncomfortable and made me wonder how far I’d go to stay with family; it’s a well-crafted look at a future I fear.
FI: Strong world building was recurrent this week (one of the reasons our job was so difficult. Looking at you “Superiority”), but “Virtual Ties” created a universe that was both foreign and familiar. Though technology pulls us into the future of new bodies and 200-year long life spans, the strength of familial bonds holds, tying us eternally to those we love and the need to remain connected.
HG: This one reminds me of old stories of the Fates and how they weave our destinies. In only a handful of paragraphs, the vastness of entropy bears down upon the reader. Fantastic.
FI: I loved this one for its removed feel (and probably because first person POV, present tense is one of my all time favorite narrative techniques). Much like the voice shown weaving its prescribed pattern, the conflict threads in and out, pointing to where entropy and man work against themselves unintentionally. Short. Beautiful. Unique.
HG: I wasn’t familiar with the lore so I looked it up – and I’m impressed. This spooky tale hints of tradition gone wrong and there’s a haunting feeling of longing throughout.
FI: High, high praise for the author of this gem! Latvian folklore come to life was the last thing I expected to read from a Tolstoy prompt. Original, gripping, and worlds-deep, each sentence harks back to the domovoi and a thousand other questionable traditions we humans cling to out of habit, affection, or fear. Can I request a novel out of this?
THIRD RUNNER UP
HG: “Less than twenty inches separate us. A gulf of a thousand miles keeps us apart.”The story of a love gone stale, and two hearts separated; a familiar story that affects many every day. A heartbreaking tale that puts light at the end of the tunnel; the closing line is especially beautiful.
FI: So often we read stories about passion starved and fading, but this author paints Love as a journey, with intimacy and distance both. When that chasm opens wide, “Journey” whispers that “touch is a ten-year bridge,” able to heal the deepest wounds. As someone who thrives on love expressed physically, I was happy to see its power represented here in such poetic prose.
SECOND RUNNER UP
HG: The main characters unabashed declaration of “It is who I am” sold this one for me. Here is a woman who has no shame in being a woman. Perhaps society has come a long way – but there is much room for improvement. A fantastic study in feminism and it made me feel powerful.
FI: Oh, how I love this one! Many of the stories showed us women either submitting to the place society assigns them (Grace Black‘s “Just Chicken” – So. Good.), or violently rebelling (Pattyann McCarthy‘s “Hush Little Baby” – a powerful piece). The voice in “Daughter of Eve” instead has a quiet confidence. She knows she’s a woman. She owns it. And what began as an insult (“you’re a woman”) becomes a quiet declaration (“Yes. I am.”), making me proud to say it aloud with her.
FIRST RUNNER UP
HG: This story breaks my heart. There are many layers here, a tragedy presented in an almost nonchalant way. I can imagine the speaker shrugging one shoulder as they wait for the train; I can imagine someone crying for them, though they don’t believe anyone should care. In a few words in each stage of this person’s life, you can see how hard it must have been, and you understand why they’re waiting for “until.”
FI: This is the perfect example of why flash fiction deserves its place in the literary world. In only 150 words, a whole life plays out in snap shots: childhood to teenage years to adulthood. Every read through reveals new layers of meaning becoming more complex rather than less, as it’s unwrapped. The structure, too, is phenomenal, guiding the reader through each tragedy with a gentle hand before leaving us standing in the narrator’s shoes in front of those tracks, wondering if now is our own “until.” Where parents should have provided the strongest tie, years of neglect and disinterest have left this individual with only memories and a longing to join that patched-together family.
And now: magnificently battling to the top AGAIN, it’s TWO-time
MARK A. KING!!!
“The Boxer and the Butterfly“
HG: “The butterfly is trapped in a body that doesn’t belong”/”The boxer is ready.” The two different but achingly similar tales of two different-yet-the-same characters is a gorgeous glimpse into the chosen theme, “social progress.” They have both taken a bold step to the future, and have both decided to be true to themselves – perhaps in some cases at the risk of their safety, especially for the butterfly. I wonder, is it a butterfly…or is it something more? Beautifully done.
FI: Wow. It would be easy to get lost in this one, wandering between words succulent and soul-catching, waiting for the next sliver of imagery to carry us away, missing the heart of why “The Boxer and the Butterfly” show cases champion writing. But time spent reading and re-reading, tearing the mind away from stunning phraseology, and looking instead to meaning, is well spent. Because why write if you don’t have something to say? Here, the author examines social progress through two dissimilar characters, their desires and what society desires for them. They are not content to be what others say they must and it is this timorous bravery that seals it. Sometimes the bravest things, are done by the smallest and most fearful of us. A worthy winner.
Congratulations (again), Mark! Once (again) we are TOTALLY MADLY LEAPING ABOUT THE LAIR in honor of your win. We’re updating your winner’s page (again), and your winning tale’s (again) going up on the winners’ wall. Please keep an eye on your inbox for interview questions (once more) for Thursday’s #SixtySeconds feature! And now, here’s your winning story:
The Boxer and the Butterfly
The boxer imagines the soft, dry powder of talc soothing roughened knuckles of pain. White dusted on criss-crossed burgundy fissures—a snow-capped mountain of scars.
The butterfly is trapped in a body that doesn’t belong. Society dictates the mundane caterpillar appearance—dragging the butterfly down.
The boxer imagines the weight of the gloves, the torsion of biceps, the dancing of feet on springy canvas. The boxer imagines the bloodthirsty collective din of the audience as glove connects with face.
The butterfly is beaten, derided and punished for being something it should not be.
The boxer is ready. In the locker room she kisses the picture of her children, ignores the banners telling her place is at home and she enters the arena.
The butterfly is ready. He covers his injuries in majestic kaleidoscope-colours and walks the streets of Russia with tentative, watchful steps.