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Fire&Ice Sol 19/19: WINNERS

The Fire&Ice dragons say: –>THANK YOU.<– That’s really all we have to say, so if you’re pressed for time, please tuck those two words in your hearts and go on about your day knowing your words and presence meant something here.

It seems crazy that a long-defunct flash contest should crank up again, let alone that so many of the original community should return to take part. But you did, and oh, our hearts, seeing your names and hearing your voices again! Deepest thanks to our twelve judges, who went above and beyond our presumptuous, out-of-the-blue request to serve again. Thanks to:

Craig Anderson, Nancy Chenier, Stephanie Ellis, Mark King (whose heroic determination to write through old Flash!Friday prompts sealed our decision to relaunch), Eric Martell, Sinéad O’Hart, Voima Oy, Karl Russell, David Shakes, Tamara Shoemaker, Betsy Streeter, and AJ Walker

Please follow them all. Buy their books. Listen to their words. And as for you, dragon captains! dear friends: please keep on writing. Your words are fire (and ice!).

Thanks too to Carlos Orozco for banner design and Justin Hess for Fire-and-Icing our Flash!Friday dragons. And to all those who helped in myriad other ways, promoting, sharing, encouraging us, anonymizing the tales for our judges, and investing in the community by commenting so faithfully on stories: we appreciate you so much! And as always, undying gratitude goes to the unbelievably talented Susan Utley of Haunted Waters Press (whose latest issue of From the Depths just dropped, we’re excited to note!) for guiding us with your magic way back at Flash!Friday dawn.

Finally, thanks to you, the writers who in the midst of a crushing global pandemic, showed up week in, and/or week out, sharing your stories and reading others’. You are what made this venture the uplifting little corner of the Interwebs that it’s been. We are in your debt.

Last item of business: on Wednesday December 23 we will send this site & the Twitter account back to their slumber-phase. However, we will leave in place a static page with directions for how to find past posts and stories. No story shared here will ever lose its place. ❤

And now, to the final batch of winners!

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Quick note on judging: Six pairs of judges across multiple nationalities and genres took turns reading your submissions (meet the judges here). For the finale, your judges were the Fire&Ice hosts, Rebekah Postupak and Deb FoyAs 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. ♥ 


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Ice Dragon shout-outs: Every time I’ve had the opportunity to judge—at Flash! Friday before and now with Fire&Ice—I’m reminded again what a difficult, rewarding, and humbling (!) task it is. Wrestling with what makes good flash fiction, breaking down a story to its graphemic components, fighting imposter syndrome—all of it challenging but worth it. Thank you for entrusting us with your words; it’s been an honor and a joy. ♥ Many of my shout-outs overlap with the Fire Dragon’s but I’d like to give additional special mentions to Cindy Vaskova for some stellar world-building in “Mercy“, to Arcane Edison for firecracker voice in “The Last Boy Racer in the Universe“, and to Brett Milam for tenderly crafted magic in “Rocking Along“, a story that emphasizes the beauty in just being.

Fire Dragon shout-outs: Oh goodness, so many of you had me laughing out loud this weekend, including quite impolite snorts over Vicente Ruizs meta-hilarious cheat withUntitled,” Firdaus Parvezs looping narcissist in her own cleverUntitled piece, and the part impressed, part painful groans forced by Tinmans otherwise grate story, “Keeping the Flame.” –Additional shoutouts to Nancy Chenier forBelong,” with its flawless layering of the haunting surreal with the all-too real; and Mark King‘s “Londandoah(for the record, Dark Hollow Falls is one of my favorite falls anywhere! and Old Rag is dearly beloved); this story pulled off a setting mashup in a way that shouldn’t have worked, but wound up breathtakingly lovely—how did you do that?!. I’d never have guessed before 2012 that the Thames and the Shenandoah share the same water, but thanks to you and #FlashDogs, now I can’t imagine it any other way. 


HONORABLE MENTIONS

The Omega by P.A. Duncan

DF: Between the gnawing cold and the simple, very human relief of something as low-tech as snowshoes in a deadly ice-scape, I felt immediately grounded in this piece. The setting, also, is unique while still tying in to the picture prompt in a striking visual. But what stayed with me after reading “The Omega” was the vast, fully-formed universe that opens up at the end, as if this world, the sister ship, and these two characters locked in tension with one another, all exist in some future iteration of our multiverse. 

RP: It’s the imagery that captured my eye in “The Omega,” from the tiny, wrenching shroud at the opening to the color of the shrine (“a rust-red beacon”) against the snow to the fur-wrapped, dying protagonist at the end. The dueling parallels in this story, too, are breathtaking. Twin ships. Two remaining survivors. Hoshi’s hand frozen above the transmit button in contrast with the speaker’s literally frostbitten fingers. This story is just so wonderfully crafted start to finish. 

Untitled by Pippa Phillips

DF: Phenomenal characterization here! The boys, Mr. Funaki, Miss Yuki with her hair down to her feet, all of them strut, shuffle, and glide straight off the page. I love, especially, how something done in mocking cruelty, like building the arch crooked, only makes Mr. Funaki’s validation that much sweeter (and perhaps, poetically, ensures the effectiveness of the portal’s magic!). Captivating bit of flash.  

RP: I. Love. This. Story. The compelling voice (“The boys didn’t know how their teacher bagged a dish like Mrs. Funaki”) of a fantasy in 1940s LA (!). Mr. Funaki’s vibrant culture that’s both familiar and not. And the utterly vivid expression on Rinjii’s face—I can see it!—as he gazes through the arch, realizing Mr. Funaki was right but that he alone knows this. You drew me deep into this world in such a striking, memorable way, and I need to know what happens next, please.

RUNNER UP

Dayspring of the Gods by Phil Coltrane

DF: Humor is one of the most challenging forms to write, and this piece is an excellent study in how to pull it off well! There’s a punchline (and it’s good!) but the story itself isn’t sacrificed to it. Knowing the characters we’re journeying with here (and the tricks they often employ), requires an immediate re-read to peel back the layers of those last three paragraphs, let alone catch the clever hints in a name like “fellow-beard” or the meaning of a glint in the eye.

RP: “Dayspring” draws on Norse mythology and ends with a punchline: but what I love is how the story isn’t just a vehicle to reach a joke. The characters—the shakujō-wielding monk, the one-eyed, bearded sojourner—leap off my screen; their perfectly paced dialogue crackles and snaps, as does the highly visual world you’ve painted for us. You’ve taken existing myths and a classic setup, but made them beautifully your own. Reading the story (full disclosure: again and again and again 😀 ) was sheer delight.

And now: it is our pleasure to present to you our

FIRE&ICE WINNER

TAD KELSON (GamerWriter)!!!

for

Silence

DF – I love so, so much about this story. The tender connection between Uncle and Nephew conveyed in moments both resonant—the childlike comparison of an uncle to an Oni—and thematically cohesive—the shared haiku welcomed with praise and met with a demure response. All of it made more beautiful for the absence of punctuation, as we’re gently nudged into letting go of traditional structure with the promise that the words and line breaks are strong enough to hold the images themselves. And they are. I would read a whole novel that follows this quiet, unassuming pair from their (or their kind’s) beginning “hiding in the bottoms of strange boats” to the moment the shadows swallow one and leave the other to silence.

RP — This story seized both of us at first pass, and it refused to let us go. Even now, days later, its utter simplicity startles, engages, compels me. I love the uncle’s prosaic vulnerability against the nephew’s more optimistic deference; you can tell it’s a relationship that has steeped and simmered over the years to become this beautiful, familiar, comfortable thing. I love too all the speckles and flickers of light: the rising sun at the opening contrasted with the extinguished candle and shadows at the end. And ohhhh the worldbuilding hinted at just past the edges of sight: the uncle and nephew unseen by the living, surrounded only by shadows. It’s in Uncle’s haunting, mysterious haiku that the veil’s pulled back for just a moment, and its ancient, wandering secrets stole my own breath away. It’s loss, and family, and love, and mystery, and magic, and poetry all wrapped up in one, and a perfectly fitting story to end Fire&Ice’s run. ❤       

Congratulations, TAD! Please check your email for details about claiming your prize. Now here’s your winning story:

SILENCE

The sun is rising
Perhaps to you nephew

He had always scared me when we were younger
Like some Oni become my mother’s brother
No longer

I wish to visit town
Yes Uncle
Along our narrow streets people live their lives, unaware of us.
We move slowly down towards the rest of them

It seems so cold
Button your jacket uncle.
He once told me of how we came to this land, hiding in the bottoms of strange boats, stowaways Generations ago

Distant echoes of May the Buddha Bless You

Take down my words nephew
Yes Uncle

Candle, in the night
Unknowns seeking for others.
Never showing all

Not bad Uncle
It needs work
Well tomorrow then. Try again
Maybe

Shall we visit the blossom girls and their fields soon?
Maybe

Instead of going anywhere we find two empty benches
The gate rises in front of us
Silent, offering no answers
We sit and pay silent homage to all the others come to do the same as we

It is warmer now Nephew
His candle flickered finally, going out.
I watch, as he slowly fades away into the shadows that surrounded him his entire life
I go home alone

Fire&Ice Sol 18/19: WINNERS

§ Foy says: Welcome, welcome, dear dragons, to the penultimate results celebration! Yesterday, it was our pleasure to host two more of our fellow community members, Jethro Weyman & Tad Kelson, a.k.a. Tadk/GamerWriter, for the final Flash! Future. Please do click here and check it out! They fill us in on what they write, and offer some words of encouragement for all of us going forward. And speaking of going forward, as we launch into Fire&Ice‘s last Sol this week, this Friday promises to be a fire-drenched, ice-splintered battle like no other! We hope you’ll bring Rebekah and me your most piercing words!

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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 18’S JUDGES SAY:

Betsy Streeter:  I felt like this week’s batch was just filled with endless gifts of details, both in terms of phrasing/word choices and in little things like names and places. I absolutely loved all the wonder and uniqueness contained within these stories. And I’m grateful I got to read them all! What a privilege. And of course many thanks to Karl for being my judging partner, our exchanges have been so much fun!

I have to mention these: Becky Spence‘s “Like Lucy,” for its clever references to both Peanuts and Star Trek (“I tend bar, and I listen.”), Laurence D.’s Untitled story for the lovely phrase, “danced to the melody of a city,” Voima Oy‘s “The Visitor,” with a nod to Arecibo and looking for life far and near, Tinman‘s “Over the Top” for zooming in on such a wonderful detail – hair! – and how fabulous can make even an alien feel, Nancy Chenier‘s Relativity for stretching family conversations across time in a unique way, Rab‘s Untitled story for digging into a whole other type of detail and ingenuity, Matt Krizan‘s “Mars and Venus on Vacation” with a wonderful nod to Hitchhiker’s Guide and a bit of grossness, and the pure sweetness of Susan Stevenson‘s “Adieu.” 


Karl A. Russell: As we hurtle towards our final Sol, I want to take a moment or two to thank our wonderful hosts for opening the lair one more time, my judging partner Betsy for making it look like I know what I’m doing here, all the people who comment, like and share their favourites on Twitter, and most of all, I want to thank you all for writing. You make us laugh and gasp and tear up, you take us right out of our strange days or push us to recognise that they will pass. You find the perfect phrase, the exact word, the single piece of punctuation that will reach deep into your reader and make out hearts sing. And most of you manage it every single week. So thank you, one and all.

This week’s spread of stories is a perfect example of this, and like Betsy said, there were so many wonderful details that are deserving of a shout out. I loved the final lines of Pippa Phillips‘s ‘Opening Bid‘ and Voima Oy‘s ‘The Visitor‘ for the hints of otherworldly strangeness they contained. Nancy Chenier‘s ‘Relativity‘ gave us the emotional heart of interstellar travel while Tad Kelson‘s ‘Silence‘ showed us what it actually feels like.

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HONORABLE MENTIONS

Cardboard Empires by Arcane Edison

BS: This could be read in two ways, both epic and delusional. That’s a lot to accomplish in 81 words. I loved reading this both ways, multiple times. Amazing.

KR: It’s all about to kick off! This one was the most action-packed story in a week of mostly wistful takes and is a great opener for something epic.

Consumed by Helen Laycock

BS: This one contains such detail, especially “Franco raised his right hand, covering the tear in his trousers with the left.” That says so, so much. Well done.

KR: That ‘flip’ moment seals this story for me. Franco’s life has turned upside down, and even if his only patrons now are the pigeons, he’s still trying to recapture what was. The lovely little detail with the torn trousers says that no matter how far he’s fallen, he still has his pride.

Commander of Cheer by K. Hartless

BS: Oh, the frustration of cheer muffled by lockdown. Plus interstellar travel, to boot. Really great.

KR: The most seasonal story and the most dystopic! I’d love to see a sequel where the jolly fat man takes on the curfew-enforcing security forced to finish his sacred deliveries!

RUNNER UP

Untitled by Michael Seese

BS: I love when extremely different things come together to tell a story, and this one is so unexpected and hilarious. And once you see “Cleveland” and “brown and orange,” you know where this fellow has landed. And then, partying as a bringer of peace. Just so great!

KR: The humour in this was wonderful; the matter-of-fact description of vomiting, the whooping drunk and the contrast between the alien’s intentions and their innocent imbibing…

RUNNER UP

Home by Eliza Archer

BS: Again, those details! The setting, the language, and then the simple practicality of the old coins. And, having been everywhere, just wanting a latte. Who of us hasn’t felt the pull of simplicity and wanting “normal” things this year? This taps into that sentiment so, so well.

KR: The details in this transported me right to a busy city street. The sights, sounds and smells of coming home. Yes, it’s about space travel, but it captures something more universal – who wouldn’t want to be free to wander crowded streets, watch beautiful people pass by and get a good cup of coffee right now?

And now: it is our pleasure to present to you our

FIRE&ICE WINNER

ARVIND IYER!!!

for

The Letter

BS – This story jumped into a world and I felt like I could see Vo-Tan right off. Part of it is the use of words like “cosmodazzle” which immediately give a sense of other-ness, but also this story has a strong voice, and point of view, that is unique and shall I say, sparkly. And the idea that someone is out there building a cosmic Bridge of Emotions, and discovering how the good and bad travel together, warmed my heart in a very needed way. It evokes the idea that “negative” emotions are as necessary as “positive” ones to build a complete universe. And that is a big truth in a little story. Well done!

KR — Consider me cosmodazzled. With very little space to move, this gave us glimpses of a cosmos-spanning endeavour, an intriguing concept in the Bridge Of Emotions (I’m picturing something like Bifrost, daisy-chain-linking planets across the gulfs of space) and a wonderful inversion in the way that tears are more powerful than laughter. Vo-Tan’s obvious excitement at their discovery carries right through to the reader. So well done!

Congratulations, ARVIND! Here’s your winning story:

THE LETTER

Dear Iuri,

I write to you from the wondrous planet of Terra, and what we have been looking for– the missing piece to build our Bridge of Emotions spanning a thousand stars– is right here!

We’ve found cosmodazzle in varying levels across planets…why, the mildest form of it– laughter– was from here.

But the people here also do something else, Iuri. They cry.

I’m bringing it with me. When you taste the tears, you’ll know what I mean.

Love,
Vo-Tan.

Fire&Ice Sol 17/19: WINNERS

§ Rebekah says: Happy Monday! Here we are with the latest round of contest results—a delight, as ever, platforming your words. Speaking of platforms: be sure to drop by yesterday’s Flash!Future if you haven’t yet, featuring Fire&Ice writers P.A. (Maggie) Duncan & Bill Engleson. We’ll highlight two more writers next weekend to round out our collection of Sunday posts. And finally, we’ve just two more contests before closing up our five-month (!) run. This Friday will be judged by the most Excellent Betsy Streeter & Karl Russell. For the final contest on December 18 Deb Foy and I will serve as your judges, and we are excited to mail off a rather amazing pile of prizes to the winner. We hope you all will be able to join us for one last merry round before we collectively and permanently ban 2020 from the present. And now on to the winners!

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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 17’S JUDGES SAY:

Tamara Shoemaker: It’s been so much fun to dip back into the flash fiction world these last few months and reminisce over the short and powerful stories that eke out of the weekly prompts. Thanks again to the Dragons, who trusted me with the responsibility of weighing your words, to my fellow judge Eric Martell, who has good-naturedly put up with my plethora of emails in his inbox during our judging weekends, and to each one of you for consistently dazzling me with astounding stories. I have enjoyed this sojourn!

Two quick shout-outs before we jump into the winners list: Tinman’sWater Sport,” for making me snort coffee up my nose at “burst gloriously through the surface right into the midst of the Danish Synchronised Swimming team.” Helen Laycock‘s Ocean Lament: for the gorgeous and heart-breaking Romeo/Juliet-esque love story.


Eric Martell: In all of the chaos that 2020 has brought, there have been not nearly enough lights in the
darkness, and one that has been a big part of my life the last few months has been the return of Flash! Friday. The combined work of the Ice and Fire Dragon Queens, and their graciousness in inviting me to judge, has allowed me to return to writing and given me the privilege of reading so many wonderful stories. This marks the third and final go-round for me in the hot seat. I appreciate your indulgence and your patience with my judging idiosyncrasies. Thank you. And for whatever poetry I lack in my words, you get to read those of the incredible Tamara Shoemaker.

Before we get to the winners, I’d like to give a few shout-outs to: Becky Spence‘s “Untitled” [I stand on the cliff top]: “Always waiting, for that part of me to return.” StellaKateT‘s “The Sea Shall Give Up Her Dead“: What we lose when we extinguish another’s light. And Phil Coltrane‘s “0°C“: “I’m sorry, my dear. I thought you were someone else.” Thanks to everyone who wrote this week. It took forever to narrow my list down this far.

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HONORABLE MENTIONS

Black Sea Dreams” by Maggie Duncan

TS: This story, encased in some vivid mermaid bookends, shows such a sharp contrast between one life and the other, one subterfuge and the next. Loved it!

EM: When we pretend, for a time, we may become another.

Untitled” (Arielle Danced) by Mark Giacomin

TS: I was particularly caught by the way the words of the story themselves became the ocean in the weighted limbs, the oblivion-covered memories, and the dancing water. Simply gorgeous!

EM: A beautiful story of grief and the dangers of being consumed by it.

RUNNER UP

Waterling”  by Nancy Chenier

TS: This story touched on my mother’s heart and made me tear up a little. Granted, my own children are no waterlings, but most parents identify with the necessary distance that takes place in the inevitable growing stages. I could feel this parent’s despair in this line: “Or all the love I poured into this little boy only for it to evaporate into a spritely haze of indifference, webbed fingers always slipping from my hand.”

EM: We raise our children knowing they are their own people, that one day they will leave us and begin their own lives. We don’t expect it to happen at the age of four, nor that they will sink beneath the sea to begin a new life. This story broke my heart.

And now: it is our pleasure to present to you our

FIRE&ICE WINNER

BETSY STREETER!!!

for

Untitled (I’m Sorry, I Thought You Were Water)

TS – I agree with Eric in his comments below; the opening line of this one snagged
my attention immediately and kept me riveted the entire way through the story. I loved how this
story is a communication, almost a eulogy from a lover to his beloved who has gone before. The
enforced separation between what is above and what is below is gutting, and brought to mind the
African proverb: “A fish and a bird can fall in love, but the two cannot build a home together.”
The narrator’s impotence with “I fell back…” shattered me; the emotion all too readily resonates
with many of us as we watch our biggest dreams, hopes, desires slip through our fingers. This
was so well done, and very deserving of the win.

EM — What an opening line! The first line of the first story of the week, and I was
hooked. We try to stay attached to the people we love, but we don’t always walk the same path.
Sometimes, they’re not who we think they are, or wish them to be. This story painted that picture
so well, with such vivid imagery, that it was impossible to look away.

Congratulations, Betsy! Here’s your winning story:

Untitled (I’m Sorry; I Thought You Were Water)

I’m sorry,

I thought you were water.

I thought we spoke to each other in waves, and currents, and depths. I believed we felt the same seasons, saw the same colors.

We would swim side by side, every so often touching, squinting in the white sunlight from above, drifting in the dark below. I taught you what I knew. It wasn’t everything.

Sometimes we were still, other times we got tossed around, but we would pull back together like strands of kelp. Free-moving, but growing from the same stalk.

There are creatures that live so deep in the ocean dark they never bother to grow eyes.

You broke the surface, and I tried to follow. But howls of wind and machinery and screeches of gulls lashed my ears.

I fell back helpless, useless, and watched you shrink to a speck, now seen, now not, retreating toward the shore, forever.