Most of you didn’t know Beth Peterson, my sweet friend and former Flash! Friday writer & judge who passed away a few days ago. But it occurred to me today, when thinking about what I wanted to say to you, that in many ways Beth was just like many us. Her physical struggles with various disorders were tremendous, but she suffered them in silence. The last story she wrote here (link) was for the 1984 prompt, a tale about conniving to save the world. I can tell you, since she never would, of the great pain tormenting her on a daily basis, and what it cost her to write even this little story.
A lot of you are in pain too. You share your amazing stories here, but you can’t always talk about your illnesses, or addictions, or what you’re going through. Clearly that’s a limitation/disadvantage of a public forum like this in which we’re (rightly cautiously!) getting to know each other.
So today’s winners’ post is dedicated to you. Thank you for sharing your hearts and brains and awesome senses of humor here. Thank you for daring vulnerability. Thank you for your support of each other, your beautiful tributes to Beth, your love expressed so generously to me. Thank you for making Flash! Friday the wonderful family it is. I am in your debt.
Join us tomorrow for another fabulous Spotlight interview, this time with our own Pratibha, who will be chatting with us all about her latest venture, the lit mag The Literary Nest. You won’t want to miss it! Not to mention her interview is very interesting timing, as you shall soon see.
Finally, heaps of thanks to Dragon Team Six, Josh Bertetta & Steph Ellis, for their hard work this round. How on earth they managed to choose winners is beyond me! Steph shares their opening thoughts today:
Oh, what a wealth of stories this week. The elements that could be incorporated seemed to strike a chord with so many of you, particularly the image of a besieged city. We had warriors, refugees, beauty, death and loss. And I will admit now to those that wrote their own personal tributes to the late Beth Peterson that I was freely resorting to tissues. To make someone laugh or cry, groan or shudder merely by putting pen to paper is real power. This shows the power of words, of your words. Thank you for sharing them with me.
Once again many thanks to my daughter Bethan for her efforts in getting the stories to me.
Most Dangerous: A Beautiful Face-Off by Brian S. Creek. SE: From the dizzying heights of world adoration this year’s model falls into an abyss as she is supplanted by a younger, prettier version. Initially you feel for her, admire her raising herself up again; but then that final sentence packs its punch, she’s ‘going to take that bitch’s face away’. JB: Vanity, envy, pride all wrapped up in this fast moving piece about the perception and influence of beauty in a consumer culture. And then that delicious little end, when the title takes on a whole new meaning!
Best Metaphor: Combination Lock by Charles W. Short. SE: Describing the woman in terms of a fortress dressed in cotton and lace and with the main tower a ‘tapestry of ebony locks’, its deadlights her eyes, was cleverly done. Many had assailed her, only to be defeated by words, looks and more physical means. To mount a successful invasion required ‘courage, commitment and self-sacrifice’, this was her combination lock. JB: Have to give two big thumbs up for the best use of metaphor this go around, from the physical description of the most beautiful woman in the world to her psychology. Love and war wrapped up nice and tight.
Best Farewell: Supersouls by Firdaus Parvez. The second tribute piece we have placed this week. Such a sad image of a defeated writer kneeling, ‘head bowed over a broken wooden sword and a tattered paper shield’. Yet I need not remind anyone here that when no more words can come, what has already been written remains for us still. The band on her hand, her Ring of Fire, sends her dragon flying, sets her free. Lovely farewell.
Best Victory: In Passing by Tamara Shoemaker. JB: Is this a tale of war and siege, or is it a tale of overcoming some inner turmoil, of “man against himself?” SE: Although this was not directly mentioned, I have read this story as another tribute piece to Beth. Depicted purely in terms of a dying tower, every single line can be seen in terms of the knowledge of loss, of the pain of parting. Elegant, subtle and once more, beautiful. And this is the line I will finish my judging comments on; after all, there is nothing else to say:
Fast, fast into the rising light you go, a chariot on the wings of the dawn.
SE: When one light at the top of a tower block goes out, all light is extinguished ‘leaving rows … of blind eyes’. An introduction that immediately tells you something is wrong. Those who can see, look up; they do not want to ‘observe the carpet of corpses’. A family is trying to survive. Thankfully the baby is quiet. This is the imagery of an apocalyptic future caused by panic and doom mongering, not by anything tangible. A grim warning for us all.
JB: A poignant piece for the point in our human history when so much fear mongering abounds. The baby sleeps, the baby is at peace, for the baby knows no fear. Fear is created, says the author. Fear is used by others to convince and control. It is not something outside oneself—not the guns, not the disease, not the undead—that brings our end. It is what is inside of us, fear. Fear, the opposite of love. And with so much fear spewed forth from those in power, those in the media, and those out on the campaign trail, I can only hope that this piece is somehow not, in some sense, prophetic.
Eliza Archer, “Immortal Beloved.”
SE: Beauty can fuel many an obsession and the narrator of this story is utterly in thrall to the object of his desire which he intends to obtain at ‘any price’. Friends try to deter him but he will not be dissuaded. Throughout, he repeats how he has to have this woman, will brook no failure, it is fate, it is his destiny. You know this man is already lost, even before his friends, his job and his liberty all vanish. Yet despite this he had one hour, he had his ‘Mona Lisa’ smile. Nicely done.
JB: Here’s a piece of flash with the classic twist at the end. You sit there, reading, following along, figuring you have an idea where the story is going and when that end comes, you sit there and maybe, like I did, smile, much like the subject of the twist itself.
SE: A gently misleading start to a story that eventually packs a powerful punch. Sunlight and dust motes paint a peaceful picture, but she ‘eases’ herself to the bathroom. Something is wrong, there is pain there. ‘Today will be a good day.’ Who tells themselves that except those who are suffering and trying to turn their lives around? The man, excused by her need for money to buy the drugs indicated by the needle. The repetition about becoming a better person indicating she will change, she has ‘no choice’. But does this mean she has no choice but to change or will the drugs give her no choice but to continue – you decide.
JB: There is an elegance in the imagery’s simplicity here and it puts me right there in the story. I can see all of it as it unfolds. They story of a young woman whose life up to this point has, how shall I say it, not been all that…healthy. But she stands there, dialoguing with herself, becoming stronger as she realizes what she must do she must do only for herself.
Richard Edenfield, “Helen of Troy and the Anti-War Love Song.”
SE: This story was pure poetry. A lyrical telling with so many gorgeous images evoked in such an extraordinary manner. In particular : ‘Body of her water joined like a record album rippling out in grooved seance. Not science. A turntable of air you balance on and sing. Sample lovers with a kiss, food for potential devouring. I wait turn at soft guillotine.’ Those two paragraphs alone are perfection.
JB: Recalling the reason why the Greeks went to war with the Trojans, this little story, chalk full of poetic metaphor (each a story in its own right), turns the Iliad’s reason for war and tells us that mutual recognition is the way to peace.
THIRD RUNNER UP
SE: I loved this very moving tribute to Beth Peterson, sadly a lady I was never able to compete against (being a relative newcomer) but who, it was clear, stood tall, both in the real world and our flash universe. How else to say goodbye, to describe the final parting except via the medium of flash? It was the poignancy of the analogy between a besieged city and a failing human body that tugged at my emotions as did the continuing dialogue between the friends and family at her side as they accompanied her on that last journey. They told stories, played music, talked to her, wrapping her in their love whilst inside her body’s own defences slowly failed. I don’t want to discuss in detail the imagery used – except that it was expertly done – it would make my comments too clinical, too analytical. Now is not the time for that. Now is the time to pay tribute to a true testament of friendship. Warm. Touching. Beautiful.
JB: The inevitable is on in this, to me an almost psychedelic tale, conjuring a myriad of images from medieval to modern times. A chaotic piece (from jazz to funk to electronica) for a chaotic time yet there is a stillness in it brought about by the one constant voice, a reassuring voice. It is the calm of the hurricane for which the violence about them cannot disturb.
SECOND RUNNER UP
SE: A story telling a truth that only a heroic warrior knows – the real price of Glory. To the world ‘Glory’ is when stories of his deeds are told, mothers name their children in his honour and he is lauded by the gods. This is the veneer of Glory. But as it goes on, what the warrior suffered to achieve this status, what lies beneath the heroic veneer, is slowly revealed. Through repetitive use of those first opening sentences at the start of each subsequent paragraph, the writer has created the perfect framework and a steady rhythm for the warrior to develop his tale, to tell his truth, reinforcing as it does the contrast between the external gloss and the internal ‘mortal suffering’. Slowly his Glory is weakened, first by Pain, then by Fear, until at last Death arrives; the bell finally tolls for him and Glory no longer has any value. Lovely writing.
JB: While there is no plot (I myself don’t require plot in flash), here is another great piece where the larger story is behind the story, where the “story” is simultaneously built upon and deepened with each subsequent paragraph. From Glory in the first, to Glory and Pain in the second, to Glory and Pain and Fear in the third, each addition nuances what precedes it; we move from simple hero worship, to the hero’s actual experience, that which celebration of the hero tends to forget and neglect: pain and fear. Pain and fear, two experiences all human being share. Whereas heroes may be celebrated as something other, something beyond pain and fear, our forgetting that they too experience pain and fear makes us miss what it means to be a hero. Pain and fear equalize us, and in the end of our story comes the greatest equalizer of all.
FIRST RUNNER UP
SE: Oh, so beautiful and yet so world weary! She treats being the most beautiful woman in the world as a job almost – ‘somebody has to do it’. Throughout this story there are some terrific uses of imagery, all adding up to complete the picture of a jaded beauty. She is tired of being admired, regards herself as a ‘slab of beef in the marketplace’, just another commodity to be examined, perhaps purchased. She is tired of their singing, their dancing, their mandolin playing – sounding like a ‘chicken that squawks with each tug’ (loved the humour of that image). Yet she feels separate to their courting, they are not quite the ardent suitors they proclaim to be, none ‘scale the walls’ to be with her and she can only listen to their laughter which ‘tickles the air’, witness their comradeship which carries on below. The warmth of the atmosphere amongst these men is in stark contrast to the coldness of her place up on her pedestal. But it is not just the men who have put her there because of her beauty, she is there because of her own vanity, ‘there is only room for one in the mirror’. Initially she made herself out to be a victim because of how she was perceived by others but in reality it is she who is keeping herself separate. Very tight writing to produce a perfectly penned portrait.
JB: The stories detached tone underscores the protagonist’s aloofness as she sits alone resting on her balcony. The author’s choice of metaphor—likening the woman to a slab of beef in the marketplace—and one of her suitors—a chicken that squawks—dehumanizes the story’s nameless players. I found in “Cold Comfort” a tale not simply about vanity, of which the beautiful woman accuses herself, but a poignant commentary on social values. Is vanity the “fault” of the vain, or is it something else? Is vanity likewise the result of social values as it appears when the woman’s suitors dance and sing for her and she grooms herself for the masses? When society values the beautiful and puts beauty and image on a pedestal, what becomes of relationship? Our author tells us those who seek the beautiful for the simple sake of beauty become shadows, losing, again, what makes us human.
And now: for her second time, but first since August 2014, it’s faithful FF writer & litmag editor,
“The Pink Dawn“
SE: Words cannot always adequately express what is happening in our world today. Report after report has filled newspaper columns with their focus on economic migrants battling authorities in Calais to get to the UK or from Greece to Germany causing much disquiet in these countries. Yet amongst that flood of people were the refugees whose story was being forgotten – until the recent tragedy of the Syrian child whose body was washed up on a Turkish beach.
Like the photograph, this story brings home the horror of the current situation in a fresh way, opening jaded eyes and, perhaps, jaded minds to the more terrible aspects of this modern day exodus.
Told in a child’s voice, the narrator’s continued innocence of what is going on around her, contrasts strongly with the horror of her situation. The child asks questions and is hushed, she and her sister are held ‘warm and snug in Mama’s hug’. They are not told who the rebels are or why things are happening. Their parents are still trying to keep them children, still protecting them, so much so that throughout this story you sense how completely loved and secure that child feels. The world is her friend, she delights in that first blush of dawn, the warmth of her mother’s arms. She is safe, feels no threat – until they get into the overcrowded boat.
In those last few sentences, all the safety, all the innocence is finally lost. She is noticing all the people around her, the pushing and shoving, the feeling of water beneath her feet, seeing her sister floating in the water. She doesn’t know her sister is dead, but we do. Just as when the child says she is ‘ice-cold’, we know what will happen to her. There is no need to add anything else; use of stark, simple language without falling into the trap of sentimentality make the ending more effective, packs a more powerful punch. A topical tragedy written with the lightest of touches.
JB: We’ve probably all seen the pictures of the refugee child dead on the beach and in this topical piece. Recalling much more than it tells, this heart-wrenching tale takes us from the comfort of being held by mother, to hope and the future with school. But here is an innocent child, ignorant as a child can be of larger social/political/religious processes outside him/herself over which s/he has no control and yet the child’s life (and what remains of it) is determined by those very processes. Much too sad, much too real.
Congratulations, dear Pratibha! Please find here your freshly updated, super sparkly winner’s page. Your winning tale can be found there as well as (shortly) over on the winners’ wall. Please watch your inbox for interview questions for this week’s Sixty Seconds feature. And now here’s your winning story:
The Pink Dawn
“Papa, it’s too dark. I can’t see anything.”
“Just hold on to Mama. Quick. The boat will leave without us if we are not there soon.”
I clutch Mama’s dress, and she pulls me up. I am propped on her hip and Sheena is snuggled against her chest in a knapsack. We are warm and safe in Mama’s hug. Mama isn’t crying now. Her face is stern like when she wants us to focus on our homework. The school is closed. Mama says the rebels took over it. I don’t know what rebel means. She just hushes me if I ask.
Mama and Papa walk for hours in the dark, and then the dawn opens her eyes, and they are all pink. It’s nice! I am warm in Mama’s hug.
I’ve never seen so many people. They push and shove.
Water’s under my toes. Is that Sheena floating? I’m ice-cold.