§ Rebekah says: I said before and am delighted to say again what a joy Mondays are! This is particularly true when the previous week was a bit of a bear. (Thanks to those of you expressing concern for my surgery; I am home and resting well.) -We’re pushing on through 2020—can you believe we’ve got 11 sols behind us already!?—and I for one am delighted by the opportunity to write alongside you these few precious remaining weeks. Stay tuned & keep writing with us, because we plan to end our run of Fire&Ice with a bang!
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 11’S JUDGES SAY:
Tamara Shoemaker: This week’s stories cut a sharp dichotomy between despair and joy, happiness and sorrow, as per the prompt options. Each story resonated with such feeling that it was difficult to think of anything else, so background chatter from my darling offspring was abruptly cut off with a sharp Monty Python-esque: “Go away, or I shall taunt you a second time,” leaving my offspring hopelessly confused, but allowing myself to continue on with my reading enjoyment.
Thank you, again, for contributing your considerable talent for this contest; it is, as always, such a privilege to delve into your work! Before we move on to prizes, there are a few shout-outs I want to stir into the pot: R.J. (Rebecca) Kinnarney‘s “What Colour Is This?“: For the superb exploration of two levels of conversation; Becky Spence‘s “Untitled (4pm)“: For the vivid climax and plunge of a tragic emotional roller-coaster. Betsy Streeter‘s “The Flawed Lens“: For the multitude of shapes throughout this piece that cut to the heart.
I was clearly drawn to darkness in these stories. Even the ones that chose joy that spoke to me still involved loss and death. I see literally no joy in the world right now, so I guess that’s where my headspace was. Because of this, I have chosen to let Tamara choose the top story – I think her perspective was more open than mine, and her words describing it are powerful. That being said, there were truly beautiful explorations of the dark this week. I see as much beauty in a stark, barren landscape in the winter as anyone does on the most vibrant spring day, and some of these stories took me along that path. Thank you all for taking us with you on your journeys.
A few other stories worthy of comment: Betsy Streeter‘s “The Flawed Lens“: Who doesn’t have a “you”-shaped hole in their life? Who doesn’t ache for a parent or a lost love of, in this story’s case, a lost child? Bill Engleson‘s “Maeve“: This story didn’t quite use the prompt given, but I thought it was worthy of comment. How do we wear our figurative or literal masks to keep us safe, to keep us from breaking? Can we wear them after loss? Should we? Bart van Goethem‘s “The Clouds in October“: October is my favorite month, in part because of the grey weight of the sky and what it reveals about the encroaching dark. This story made me see those clouds and feel their importance.
Whispers in the Mouse’s Ear by Phil Coltrane
TS: This story strikingly encapsulates a child’s view of tragedy and the simplicity of innocence, and the contrasting gap between “Those flowers are all dead” and “The flowers were so pink” impacts on many levels. Well done!
EM: You could picture these two kids in that attic, talking and playing, using words that children use, knowing only pieces of the world around them, but more pieces than we as adults sometimes realize.
Hearing Voices by Helen Laycock
TS: From the analogous first sentence (creeping thyme/creeping time) to the last (I feel her joy, and I know she feels mine), this story sings, nearly literally, with longing for the loved one who is absent and the joy of finding him in memory. So good!
EM: That last line gets me – “Probably nods.” Grief and loss and voices that make make a child feel loved.
Return to the Wailing Wood by Mark King
TS: This story reaches into a place identifiable to many people: where a spot held dear by a loved one is horribly empty. How often has this year brought such pain into stark reality? This story touches on a sore point for many of us, and yet how it makes us feel seen, recognized, and understood as we each long for the “one who’s missing.”
EM: When we lost what would have been our first child, I learned how many other people out there had gone through the same kind of tragedy. It’s a beautiful vision, a world in which all of those losses are taken away, if only for a day, and we can see those children laughing and playing and living. It’s the kind of joy that can’t help but break your heart, and therein lies its power.
And now: it is our pleasure to present to you our
TS – This one took me four close perusals to really begin to grasp the intricacy and depth of this piece. I loved how the three persons of the prompt picture were, according to the third paragraph, different manifestations of Hana, each person a representation of the choices she could have made, but didn’t. The narrative as a whole was a vivid commentary on risk-taking, and begins with Hana plodding beneath the trappings of normalcy, before she steps off the beaten path and flees through the flowers, where salvation gives new air, new life, immunity from the encumbrances that have held her captive for so long. No one else follows: only Hana the Risk-Taker. She does the thing no one else has courage to do. She finds the break, she climbs to freedom. Beautiful writing throughout leaves me speechless, and the message fills me with inspiration. This was so. well. done!
EM — I took a fresh look at this story after reading Tamara’s comments on it – trying to set aside my inner despondency. The language is beautiful and evocative, descriptive and lovely. I want to know what the difficulties were, and I want to trample the blossoms with Hana. A worthy choice for winner, and I’m glad that we get to judge in pairs.
Congratulations, NANCY! Here’s your winning story:
As Hana approaches the phlox fields, her stomach gives a lurch. She hasn’t gone blossom-viewing since the difficulties. But it’s May, and that’s what’s done.
Breathing her discomfort down to a flutter, she steps onto the paved river that flows through the profusion of moss pink. Crowds once thronged these fields, annual group photos backdropped by shibazakura brilliance. Even during the difficulties, a few would venture here searching for normalcy.
Normalcy. No. She cannot be tugged by the hand into the childishness of the past, nor bent by the loneliness of the future. Even those who survived the difficulties succumbed to the anguish of comparisons.
There’s only now.
And now, her feet trample humble blossoms. Shame halts her. Straying from the path is not done. She’s ruining it for… everyone… else.
The flutter becomes an earthquake.
She drops her parasol and runs–away from comparisons, from normalcy—until she collapses at the crest of a knoll.
Petals kiss her cheek. She breathes in their earthy pungeance. The sky bends over her to nuzzle the rosy horizon. Evening shades to indigo. Stars wink at her through the darkness.
Although it’s not done, Hana remains all night.