§ Foy says: You inspire me. When you show up, push form, try an unpracticed genre, or honor a new culture or character in your flash, you encourage me to do the same. In an interview with Clarkesworld Magazine, the award-winning Nnedi Okorafor says this: “If it scares you to write it, then you should definitely write it.” If you know her work, or joined us yesterday for her Flash! Future feature, you know she embodies this motto. May we, too, write bravely!
§ Rebekah says: This weekend I rewatched the NK Jemisin talk on worldbuilding our ice dragon highlighted for us a few weeks ago. It’s not the idea, Jemisin said, but the execution of the idea that matters in art. That point is driven home for me weekly at Fire&Ice when each of you, bound by the same constraints, takes the same photo prompt and writes a unique story with it. You’re expressing your own voice, in your own style, marked by your own creative imaginings, which all join together to reflect your unique way of seeing the world. Each story has something to offer; but even more, each writer has something to offer. Thank you for being here. ♥
Quick note on judging: Six pairs of judges across multiple nationalities and genres are taking turns reading your submissions (meet the judges here). As soon as each contest round closes, your stories are first stripped of all personal info before being sent on for judging. This represents our effort to maximize every story’s chances, whether it’s the first or hundredth story you’ve written. ♥
SOL 5’S JUDGES SAY:
Tamara Shoemaker: What an excellent response to this Friday’s prompt! Y’all didn’t make it easy to decide among your stories and narrow them down. I realized as I was going through and putting aside stories that captured my interest… that I was simply making a second document replica of all the stories from the first document. So many pieces featured innovative takes or imagery that stunned or sharply tugged my heart-strings. I must give a few shout-outs to some brave
Victims Knights who ventured into the Dragons’ Lair with these particular elements:
Thanks for participating in this week’s competition! Your stories made my job as judge both stimulating and difficult: the pinnacle of all worlds, because between those two adjectives lies the meeting place where the best art is created.
Eric Martell: For the last four weeks, my anxiety has been building, seeing wonderful story after wonderful story and knowing that I was going to have to go from story appreciator to judge. I wasn’t going to be allowed to like all the stories anymore, I had to choose my favorite! Augh! And, of course, you did not disappoint. I went through the stories that you wrote for us and set aside all the ones I thought were worthy of consideration for prizes, and after being really strict, I got down to 21. What that means is that getting down to the final four took some doing. In addition to the stories you’ll read about below (and that Tamara mentioned above), there are a few I want to call out for special note:
TS: The fully-budded hothouse roses that often are the primary scent in a funeral parlor contrasted sharply with the simple blue cornflower, peeping from the buttonhole of Ted’s suit, and in that contrast is imbued a storm of feeling about the whole conflict on which the story is based: “Dad and Sal had won.”
EM: What a powerful opening line – it just captured me and wouldn’t let go. Such wonderful imagery doesn’t come along every day.
TS: As a daughter who has stood in front of the mirror with my mother beside me as she tucks a curl beneath my veil, as a mother who hopes someday to do the same for my own daughters, as a woman who has lived in that powerful shared bond on the edge of that precipice of change: this story just about did me in, especially since I didn’t realize until the last sentence that the bride’s mother stood there in memory only: “And I know how the dead grieve.” WHERE ARE MY TISSUES?!
EM: There were a lot of wedding stories this week, but this was one of the most compelling. There was a tenseness, a tautness to this story that anyone familiar with their own wedding day will recognize.
TS: This was a beautifully written piece (I could say peace; it seems appropriate for the imbued moonlight over the whole scene) full of history and lore, the ways and traditions of a people. That final introspective paragraph stuns me with its gorgeous descriptions of the give and take, the rise and fall, the rhythm of the dance between sun and moon. Ageless daughters, both young and old, the narrative reflects this feeling with its powerful and timeless imagery.
EM: A beautiful story, painting a picture of a society that feels as real as our own, and its own way, a world that calls to you. There is a peace (as Tamara points out) in this world, with people who made choices that make sense. That kind of internal logic is rare in a story, and I was thrilled to find it.
And now: it is our pleasure to present to you our
TS – Enter the Dragon! What an exciting and original take on this prompt; I love it! (Also, kudos to the author, who perhaps knows of my penchant for all things dragonly, and may or may not have read my “here’s-what-I’m-looking-for” tweet hours before the contest incipience.) The panoramic swing of the character arc in only 160 words is stunning; the narrator moves from naive acceptance of her fate to the strong rise of fire in her belly, and within the word limit, ends the story as the fiery bringer of justice and vengeance. And y’all, the bookends: Mother, who begins the future, Mother, who blesses the Dragon as she launches into that future. The title itself sweeps the whole piece into a dramatic “coming-of-age,” where the narrator is brought face to face with her past, and forced to forge a different future or be destroyed. She chooses to become the bringer of fire, which is, in my opinion, quite the wise choice in the grand scheme of things, and really, the only sensible choice to be made.
EM — Who doesn’t wish that the abused could rise up and transcend their world, become something that can’t be hurt by anyone as insignificant as their abuser? This story rose quickly to the top of my list, not because of the presence of the dragon in a story written for two dragon queens, but because of how it made me feel. I saw the pain of the mother, knowing she was sending her daughter off to a life all-too-familiar to her. I saw the pain of the woman at the heart of the story, starting small and building, as such things always do. And I felt her triumphant ascendance as her mother’s blessing came to fruition and she became her true self. That the closing line brings peace to her mother brings the story full-circle, a highlight of any flash fiction story.
Congratulations, Nancy! Here’s your winning story:
Mama’s smile has always been fraught: lips pushing up cheeks while remorse creases her eyes. She wears it before she sends me off with my new husband. She whispers some ancestral benediction, perhaps that a wife’s obedience be rewarded with kindness, but we both know how that worked out for her.
The first unkindness comes over too-lumpy akara beans. Then one for tracking gravel inside, another for lingering at the window overlong. I have practice swallowing outrage, but it feels different when it’s for myself. The heat hardens my belly. The bruises are different too: purling the skin, hot to the touch.
One night, I stray outside. His rough hands on my neck ignite a furnace. Fire erupts from my gut. Scales ripple out from my bruises. Welts on my shoulders burst into wings, launching me away from the pyre of my husband.
I soar over Mama’s house. She’s on the portico, face upturned. Moonlight falls on her serene smile.