Happy Monday (or what’s left of it), and welcome to a brand new week! Macbeth, curse him, carved us out a tough prompt; thanks to those of you who steeled your noble hearts to write a story or two. I also loved seeing an enthusiastic bunch show up for Saturday’s second episode of #Pyro: a fun story offered up for reading, and y’all came up with a hearty round of suggestions for the writer. Thank you!
Looks to be a fairly quiet week this week, but — as I often say — don’t get comfy: we’ve got #Spotlight interviews (including one with a well-known YA book blogger!) coming up in the weeks ahead that will leave you breathless. We’re also just a couple of months out from #Flashversary (December 11). We need your help with the prizes: (1) your financial support of Flash! Friday is how we pay for many of the prizes (you can donate here; thanks so much to those who are able!), and (2) this year our grand prize will include copies of books written by the Flash! Friday community. Would you be willing to donate a copy of your book to our massive grand prize basket? If so, please email me here.
Speaking of #Flashversary, remember there’ll also be a prize for one of our Wall of Flame members. Did you write for three or more Flash! Fridays in September? Only two more chances (Oct & Nov) to earn Ring of Fire badges before the drawing. Details here.
Thank you also to the marvelous judges of Dragon Team Six, Josh Bertetta & Steph Ellis, for their hard work sorting through your nefarious plots to find winners. On behalf of Team Six, Steph says:
There were many different takes on the play that dare not speak its name this week. I enjoyed reading them on one of the last days of an Indian Summer in sunny Southampton – unfortunately rain is forecast this week.
Tragedy, whisky and broad accents abounded although no one included a deep-fried Mars bar (now that would be a tale to tell). As always a thank you to Bethan for sending the stories all the way downstairs to myself and thence to the USA. So without further ado, here – in good old Eurovision fashion – are our results:
Best Tribute: AJ Walker, “Our King in the North.” SE: Not quite sure of the author of this particular story. A tribute(?!) to our very own FlashDog Mark King, currently rolling in the gutter, ready to meet his maker or is this something darker, a sneaky way to get rid of the competition? Great fun but steer clear of the North and the Cavern, the Pois(on)ed Pen may get you! JB: A humorous ode to Mark of FlashDogs perhaps? Have done something similar too myself (eh hem Rebekah P) and can’t help but enjoy such a humorous tribute to one of our community’s finest and most dedicated.
Best (Superstitious) Revenge: Becky Spence, “That Scottish One.” SE: Oh as someone who works in a school (and with yr 11s!) I loved this. That little sip of brandy, the shout out of the dread name of Macbeth, the crack and the scream. Definitely the caretaker’s revenge! JB: Some things change, some things remain the same. Our porter here (one of the latter) is not the only constant though, for what transpires is unfortunately all too familiar.
Best Poetic End: Bill Engleson, “The Fog and Filthy Air.” SE: I love a narrative poem and this had terrific rhythm and flow. And that last line “And I,” I gasp, “for all I’ve been/a King; a Cuckold, I am died’, hilarious end. JB: Typically I shy away from narrative poetry in flash fiction, but I found myself attracted to this one particularly with its use of language, and then there was that great line at the end, which got me in my own “mortal zone.”
Best Speech: Jenn, “I’d Like to Thank the Academy.” SE: Deliciously devious wife. Manipulative and oh, so clever. To deliberately use an acceptance speech and leave herself out of it to get her own way, she must really know her man. JB: Great ending! Again, the theme of ambition here in the realm of celebrity where desire for fame and prestige legitimize cunning, manipulation, and guilt.
Richard Edenfield, “Citizen King.”
SE: Gorgeous use of language in this story about a faded film star right from the start, ‘The hillside in leaning light wore a castle like a crown on a head’, a ‘golden pulse of dreams’, ‘the pleasant aroma of an insatiable abracadabra’. Solitary in his later years, he yearns to return to a more innocent state reflected in a poignant last line where he wants a ‘sled that could fly like a snow angel around the cold contours of his blackened heart’.
JB: Really enjoyed the take on the prompt — one of America’s most famous films, loosely based on one of the country’s wealthiest men, William Randolph Hearst. I’ve been to Hearst Castle and remember it quite well. I think of the audaciousness, the pomposity, the grandiosity. Here the author takes the very same notions, suggesting that all that “Citizen King” build and achieved is, on retrospect, a façade — built to cover up that which was lost, that that which was lost was lost in the very process of building the façade itself.
SE: A modern day crucifixion only this time on a metal cross with their ‘Jesus’ wearing a crown of an ‘electromagnetic field’. Televised worldwide, crowds controlled by guns under nonexistent gun laws, still the cult was one of ‘love and peace’. This martyr was a machine who cried tears that ‘dripped from the strict manicure of his eyes’. And that last line ‘Then they went to commercial’, condemns us all for the materialists that we are.
JB: Gosh darn, what a future world the author has created here where human and robot live as one because they all made up of the same stuff. A world where an apparent Savior’s castigation is viewed by the masses who are there not to experience the event they’ve come to see, but to immortalize it on their phones. Is this a future world? No, it’s a mirror world—reflecting our own where image (the photo) is more important than experience (the actual witnessing)—a fundamental absence in presence, marking experience as essentially shallow and meaningless, the ability for experience to encourage change incapacitated. Why? Because money trumps all. Money is Lord.
Betsy Streeter, “Lady M.”
SE: Dark, as dark as Macbeth itself. I would urge the author of this piece to discard the self-doubt. The image created, of the ‘queen’ with her ‘matted wet and bloody hair covering her face, strands of it pulsing in and out’ was extremely powerful. She is facing the annihilation of a fiction, there is no pretend murder here. Terrific phrasing as the ‘person and a drama’ collapse in on themselves. An excellent example of the macabre.
JB: What is fiction? What is non-fiction? Is there really such thing as non-fiction? The “Stage” is a cliff, an edge—it is a boundary—it is a fiction. It is a story. What was only a “prop” is now “real.” The pretend, that is, the fiction, is made real—that is, non-fiction. So we might think. But the boundary has collapsed. What is fiction? What is non-fiction? They are one and the same, and neither is what we make them out to be. Non-fiction is a fiction, just another story.
AV Laidlaw, “The General and the Sea.”
SE: A general inspecting the tragic aftermath of a battle in which he lead ‘bonnie boys’ to war and to their deaths. He has blood on his hands, broken ships are ‘flotsam’ and he in one man he sees the ‘ivory visage’ as one of ‘ten thousand masks left discarded on the shingle’. Filled with regret and remorse he continues to hunt uselessly, hoping to see ‘anything other than death’. Wonderful use of language describing the general almost as a father who has lost his sons.
JB: Overwhelmed by wind, overwhelmed by water, overwhelmed by death. So goes the character. I, on the other hand, am overwhelmed by the absolutely gorgeous use of language. Basically rendering me wordless. Damn, I don’t know what else to say. Maybe that’s enough.
THIRD RUNNER UP
Mark A. King, “Joint Accounts.”
SE: An aspect of twindom I’d never considered before. The womb, usually regarded as a place of untainted innocence carries the ‘sour taste of embryonic liquid confinement’ – right from the start all is not right. A life of permanent competition has just begun. To everyone else, they are a ‘joyous wonder’, ‘beloved and blessed’ yet their reality is completely different. They yearn for freedom from each other but even when they achieve it, they cannot sustain it, ‘for to be too different for too long is painful. It is the rusty amputation of healthy limbs’. Forever destined to be together even as they desire to be apart, a terrible paradox.
JB: The theme of twinness has had strong mythological connotation throughout time and across culture. For some, it was a symbol of a fundamental dualism; others saw it as an expression of the fundamental ambivalence of the universe. Two is often a number of conflict and confrontation. Such themes are present here as well: there is the ambivalence of what each child wants and what is destined to be. There is the conflict of the wish versus the reality—what hope of what could and the reality of what could not be. It was a conflict destined to be from the moment of conception—an inborn conflict engendered in the desire to be free. We want to be individuals, yet we yearn for community.
SECOND RUNNER UP
Michael Seese, “Collections”
SE: Beelzebub comes a’calling. I loved those first few lines … well actually I loved all of them. Great monologue by someone, apparently homeless pushing his ‘luck down the street in a rickety shopping cart’, his pretend insanity acts as a buffer and keeps others away from him. He sees those that pass by as ‘empty human casings’, all carrying their own demons, the devil they know. They have lost their souls, lost their faith, like ‘spare change in the couch cushions’. They do not realise that the devil is amongst them and ‘walking down the street in their midst’. He is watching, he is the man pushing the cart, picking up the good intentions on a road that desperately needs paving’. City folk are soulless and already follow the path to Hell. Excellent interweaving of devilish references.
JB: A poignant snapshot of a modernity awash in constant flux, constant movement, where people “scurrying through life circumnavigates” that which they, in their self-absorption (preferring “their lives, their demons over mine”) miss what is in their midst. As much as this piece is full of wonderful lines and images, it is precisely that word “circumnavigates” which, quite appropriately, keeps the whole thing together in a coherent, unified whole. “Circumnavigate” implies a center — it is the center that holds the space — allowing for the possibility of circumnavigation in the first place. The people in all their scurrying and their circumnavigating seek what they’ve lost only when they’ve lost it, suggesting they took for granted what they lost. The road to hell is paved with good intentions goes the old saying, masterfully reworked here — but the devil is already present. The devil is at the center and the heedless people don’t even see it — modernity and all its preoccupations a living hell.
FIRST RUNNER UP
C. Centner, “Observations and Wishes.”
SE: Powerful diatribe against war and the form it is taking that resonates so strongly against the backdrop of the world’s troubles today. Battles are fought by other people’s children, not those of the people in power and if not by people on the ground then by others from a distance. Targets can be hit at a ‘2000 meter slant range’, ‘you’ll win’, language reminiscent of a video game mentality especially as weapons are fired by youths. This removes the closeness of death and war becomes impersonal, almost virtual. Death from a distance means nothing.
And those who give the orders, the ‘great generals, fearless before the danger of eyestrain or paper cut’ get medals, promotions and money, glossing over dirty details in stark contrast to the veterans who are left to wander ‘from hospital, to street, and back again’. When the man who has lost his child says ‘I hope he hears the screams of my child when he’s alone at night’, he is asking if the man responsible for the orders that killed his child has a conscience. Something I think we all wonder about today when we see such scenes on the news with all too increasing frequency.
JB: A pointed criticism of a war in a war-soaked time where war is no longer confined to the singularity of “place” (i.e. no battlefields) and instead is relegated to an ubiquitous “space.” And in that space, those who direct the war, those who “lead” are comfortably separate from the war they command from a place removed. The nameless versus the named, the grunts no one will ever know versus those whom the world will know. Those who will continue to suffer in wandering from hospital to street to hospital; those who fight over words. What I particularly appreciated about this story was the staccato pace, which reminded me of Jimi Hendrix’s “Machine Gun.” The phrasing and the structure of the piece recalls the chaos and war, amidst all the “noise” that are the words themselves.
And now: for his FIFTH time — no surprise — join me in congratulating the massively talented
SE: Oh, the fickle hand of fate reverberates down the centuries; terrific idea translating Macbeth into JFK, the whole story fits the themes perfectly. The first paragraph introduces us to someone of importance, who travels round in limos and jets, ‘kissing babies’, ‘kissing ass’. No need to state this is a powerful politician and a jaded one at that fuelled by scotch and pep pills, he is weary of the performance he must put on.
He is waiting, alert to an assassin on ‘This day’; the one line paragraph being a pivotal moment in the story being as it was the day that shook the world. Further clues are given to JFK’s identity, still without mentioning anything explicit – saving the world, the beautiful women, the moon. We have all guessed by now who it is and only then are we given names and places. I particularly liked the way that a slightly tarnished image of JFK was given rather than the golden boy usually portrayed. It adds a realism to a time that is often portrayed as a fairytale; something matched by the title of the piece. Naming this story Camelot, the castle of another doomed king as well as one that is part of the JFK legend was another little perfect touch.
JB: Taking a story most of us probably know and gives us a haunting “insider’s” view in a piece that not only works with stark juxtapositions—the tall still towers/movement, the energy provided by the pep pills/dead-eyed handshakes, the most powerful man in the world reduced to a drunk in his underwear—but plays with image versus reality. I enjoy what I call “iceberg stories,” where what we read is the tip of the iceberg, the “real” story remaining unsaid and behind the scenes, in the spaces between the words as it were. This is an iceberg story of another sort, as it illuminates (with the author’s poetic license) that which is hidden (the reality) underneath the tip of the iceberg (the image). Here is a story about (in part) wealth, power, prestige and while some may see in that ideal life, the author explores that “Camelot” is not it is all cracked up to be.
Congratulations, Karl! SO GOOD having you back, and back atop the dais, no less. Please find here your exceedingly chic, updated winner’s page. Your winning tale can be found there as well as over on the winners’ wall. Please contact me here so I can conduct your FIFTH Sixty Seconds interview! And now here’s your winning story:
He didn’t sleep much anymore; an hour on the jet, another in the limo, then another scotch and a handful of pep pills to keep him on his feet for another round of dead-eyed handshakes and kissing babies.
He stood at the window, watching the sun rise over the city, scanning the windows of the towers opposite, looking for some sign of movement. They were out there somewhere, counting down to the day and the hour and the minute, just as it had been foretold.
He drained his glass, crunched an ice cube between his teeth, thought again and again and again of how he might get out, but to no avail. He was no more the master of this ship than the faceless assassin. He’d had a good run, saved the world and slept with the most beautiful woman in it, given his people something to believe in. Hell, he’d promised them the moon.
And it all came down to this; The most powerful man in the world, standing in his underwear, getting drunk and watching the Dallas dawn.
The Secret Service man knocked softly on the hotel room door.
“The car’s ready, Mister President.”
Poured another drink.