Tag Archive | Andrew Laidlaw

Flash! Friday Vol 3 – 47: WINNERS

HURRAY — it’s party time!! Thanks so much for coming back; I trust you’ve brought kazoos and streamers. If not, please head over to the gigantic Party Wing of the lair and help yourself. We’ve always got plenty. And to those of you NaNo’ing this month: wishing you (and me) brilliant success!!! How’s your Day Two so far?

A couple of quick notes/reminders:

  • You’re needed! We’re lining up NOW the next eight folks to take a turn as judge starting in December. Details here. It’s a fantastic way to give back to the FF community as well as grow in your own writing. Please join me! else it’s going to be a very depressing Year Four.
  • THANK YOU for all who turned up to crit the #Pyro story this week! Some wonderful comments; and I’m certain I can speak for the (anonymous) writer in conveying thanks. Would love more stories to choose from — send ’em in! (here; please remark at the top it’s for #Pyro)

♦♦♦♦♦

Many thanks to Dragon Team Six, Steph Ellis & Josh Bertetta, for daring to examine your Frankenstein stories under the sickly green light I provided them. Steph says:   

I really can’t believe this is Josh’s and my penultimate judging session.  It’s gone so quickly and we’ve had so little to argue about.  Every month our choices have spookily run along the same lines leading to very civilised discussions over placings and this week was no exception.

As always, a big thank you to my daughter Bethan for stripping the stories for us; she is looking forward to the end of my judging stint!

Frankenstein was a great choice for Halloween, although not so for any poor trick-or-treaters who may have knocked on my door … with my earplugs in and a Banshees soundtrack I didn’t hear them.  So, here are our Samhain results:

♦♦♦♦♦

SPECIAL MENTIONS

Becky Spence, “Fallen Angel.” –SE: A rebirth in the dark, a creature alien even to himself.  He has ‘ghosts of memories’ that were not his, writes a language he does not understand, cannot speak.  All he can do is walk, find his way out of the darkness and seek his answers.  He gets his answer when he opens the door and sees himself in the mirror.  The horror here is the situation the monster is in as a being, not in what has been done to others but what was done to him. JB: Here our protagonist is at the lowest point of the Joseph Campbell’s “Hero’s Journey,” the part where we must confront the dark. I love the setting here, for it exquisitely captures the darkness and the desperation and the feeling of helplessness, the groping for a way out. But there is only one, and our author tells us exactly what is it—for all of us.   

Voima Oy, “Memory Wife.” —SE: ‘She lived in the cloud now’.  Heaven and computer storage combined.  Society has moved on, but still caters for ‘outdated people with old dreams and obsolete things’, allowing Ben to recreate his late wife.  The sadness lies in the ease with which the younger generation, his son, the shop assistant, think how such things, such people are easily replaceable. JB: A story of a timeless theme: the inability to let go of a lifelong love, but with a little twist of futurism. Mourning is a process of moving through loss. Grief. We all experience it. But what happens to a fundamental human emotion (and experience) when technology allows us the possibility of not having to move through that kind of pain? Do we not lose part of what makes us human? 

A.J. Walker, “Frankenwriter.” — SE: Of course this made it into the list.  I laughed at the overtones of Stephen King’s Misery as poor old Karl and other FlashDogs (Liz, Ronin, Sal, a certain Mr King) were used and abused to create a winning story.  One way of getting rid of the opposition, and all to a Bach soundtrack. JB: Much like last time I judged, here is a take on the ol’ self-referential Flash!Friday/FlashDog theme (which I’ve done myself). A fun take on the prompt. Made me smile.

C. Centner, “Author Submission.” — SE: An academic abstract declares the purpose and results of Frankenstein’s experiment and then moves on to give firm warnings.  Anyone following this path in future should use the ‘flesh of cute creatures (bunnies, kittens, etc)’, the monster having been an ‘appalling and repulsive character’.  And above all, they must name their monster.  Frankenstein’s frustration at being identified as the monster rather than the creator shines through ‘No, dammit! I’m Frankenstein!’  Scientists and authors beware! JB: Perhaps the most unique formats of this week’s stories, here we have an abstract for a scholarly paper. Compounded in this piece however, are issues we continue (and will probably always continue) to face: the relationship between science and morality.

 

♦♦♦♦♦

HONORABLE MENTIONS

Brian Creek, “Kill.exe.”

SE – Always a danger when new technology evolves that the military will jump in and try to use it for more sinister ends.  I particularly enjoyed this story because although they had achieved a ‘scientific miracle’, it wasn’t what the military had requested.  The image of a powerfully built robot sat peacefully with a wolf cub in his lap and birds perched on his rifle, contemplating a beautiful morning made me smile.  I hope he doesn’t get ‘fixed’.

JB– Another great story with a killer ending. In a militarized world such as our where some countries spend so much money to build the perfect and most efficient killing machines, here is the story of the creation of such, if it were not for one simple thing (captured in the penultimate line) which renders the perfect killing machine imperfect. Part of me says “hurray” for humanity; with another part I drop my head and shake it.

Marie McKay, “The Help.” 

SE – Sometimes I think we have become desensitized to domestic violence and it needs a piece like this to give us a wake up call.  By transferring the sufferings of an abused woman to a feeling robot and describing them in terms usually applied to living flesh makes it once more truly horrific.  The robot ‘tastes the blood of bruises on her tongue’, is left broken on the floor as the husband switches his attention to her rather than his wife. “Is this life?” Unfortunately for so many women (and some men) the answer is yes.

JB– A story of what some psychologists call “displacement.” An unhappy marriage turned, seemingly happy, aided by technological advance. Technology, some say, is supposed to make life easier. And when life is easier, one would presume life is happier. The wife here would appear to be happy as her marriage seems to be on the mend—and it was all because of “her.” Her husband seems better, which, of course is better for the whole family. But how much better is he really?

Marie McKay, “Touching Reality

SE – Ah, what people do in pursuit of love, an older husband wants to make himself more youthful for his younger wife.  He experiments on rabbits, the poor creatures dying in succession before he hits on formula for rabbit #5.  But he has become impatient, doesn’t observe the results long enough and injects himself.  Blood leaks from the ear of rabbit #5, there will be no happy ending for this poor man.

JB- Here again a story, in part, of self-identity (and esteem) being based on another’s perception. The older husband here wants nothing more than his wife to be happy, but, it appears, she cannot be happy for he is nothing but an “antique.” His self-esteem as a husband is based on her being happy. Willing to do anything to achieve that goal, all his attempts to do so fail until that one, seemingly final time, but his impatience (if not his the goal itself) serves to blind him.

David Shakes, “No More Than a Trick of the Light.”

SE – A writer and his creation, which is greater, the man who brought him to life or the fiction that takes on a life of its own.  The writer’s ideas grew but they choked the fiction, ‘regurgitating imagery that splattered across page and screen’, don’t we all get like that some time. And self-doubt grows within the writer so that his creation is put away … for the moment.  The ideas expressed here should resonate with any writer.

JB – “He would often have me write of mirrors.” What a line. The “me” and the “I” of this piece are ambiguous and ambiguity heightened by the stories initial two questions, questions, I would bet, we all ask ourselves at one time or another in our lives if not more. I love the inversion toward the end, where the “protagonist,” seemingly something abstract, is more of a reality than the subject, the story’s “father,” is himself. “The myth became greater than the man.” Isn’t that, in the end, always so?

THIRD RUNNER UP

Andrew (AV) Laidlaw, “Press Ctrl-Alt-Del to Reboot

SE – This piece really makes you think on two fronts.  The statement ‘I am God’, declared on each reboot is dismissed, regarded as error or sabotage.  But who is to say who/what God is?  So many profess a faith of various forms, faith whose tenets often mention a second coming of some sort, yet as soon as anyone declares themselves that being, they are dismissed as fraudsters – but who’s to know? 

The statement ‘I am God’ can also be taken as a reflection on society.  These days computers have become almost Godlike, in control of so much of our lives.  The computer is merely stating a fact in its own logical way.

And locked away, it is an embarrassment conveniently forgotten.

JB – In a manner of speaking, the scariest of all our stories in commemoration of Halloween. Scary not because of Stephen King-esque horror element. This is not that kind of story. This is scary because it’s potential reality. Perhaps not literally in the sense of what the protagonist says (over and over again), but the implication of those very words in relation to what the protagonist is. Ah, the double-edged sword of technology!

SECOND RUNNER UP

Michael Wettengel, “Momma’s Boy” 

SE – A child’s voice lifts this story, breathing sadness through its lines.  Joshua knows he is different, made from ‘brass and copper and gold’, not like the twisted black city below.  His ‘mother’ tells him he is special, is different, he has a brain unlike his cousins who ‘tick’ or ‘clunk’.  He leads us to the last paragraph which tells his whole story, his reason for existing, he passes a picture every day where ‘Mother is in black, her hands on her lap. She’s frowning. A small, sickly boy sits on her lap. He’s wearing the same clothes I do’.  And Joshua knows he is a substitute which makes the story even sadder.

JB – I see here four central threads interwoven so tight as to appear, upon my first reading, as a single thread. First, there is the issue of our uniqueness. What is it about each one of us that sets us apart, so to speak, from others? What is that particular “thing” about each one of us? Second, there is love the mother has for her child. She sees him for what makes him unique and praises him for it. But then there is that last paragraph, where the author throws a slider to the issue of identity: that who we “are” is often determined how people see us, in this case, how the mother sees the child. And finally, there is that disturbing last line…

FIRST RUNNER UP

Michael Seese, “Frankenboy.” 

SE – Truly a monster was created but not by science; this unfortunate came about by natural selection, nurture and environment in the laboratory of the world, the ‘human junk yard’.  He details his inheritance, from his father ‘hands that naturally, reflexively formed fists’, from his mother, bruises and tears, from his grandfather, a foul mouth and bigoted mind.  And through all this he has carried on the family tradition so that now he faces the end – gladly – when he is given a lethal injection and sees his ‘hideous alchemy lost in the darkness and distance’.  Unique take on the traditional monster theme.  

JB – “Truth in simplicity” is what comes to mind when I reflect on “Frankenboy.” There is a simple pattern/repetition to this sad story, which plays on, as the title implies, Mary Shelley’s famous work. But whereas the title might conjure in the mind an image of a young version of her famous monster, there is something perhaps more disturbing going on at work here. As much as we might like to think we, as individuals, are autonomous and as much as we might like to think we make ourselves to be who we are, this story expresses the truth that such is a delusion and in some cases, that truth — the truth of who we are, as products, in part, of our past is sometimes inescapable.

And now: for a (totally disturbing) first win, it’s this week’s 

DRAGON WINNER

Jennifer Terry!!!

for

“Creation

SE – ‘What did you do today?’ such an innocuous question, the usual husband/wife interaction demanding no more than some trite response.  And he gives it ‘tinkering in his lab’, a bit like the traditional housewife and her supposed ‘pottering around the house’, looked down on and not really valued despite the real work going on behind the scenes.  And boy has he been busy whilst his wife has taken on the role of breadwinner, something she has clearly grown to resent.  He has achieved his dream, his perfect creation, an exact replica of his wife but amenable to all his dreams and desires.  His secret business is booming so financially he no longer has any need of the human wife and feels nothing as she dies in front of him.  A complete little story about the lengths someone will go to to get that perfect partner.  I don’t think I’ll be eating risotto any time soon!

JB– A marriage troubled by lack of trust is a marriage on the brink. Here our author puts us in a desperate setting where the husband is confronted by a wife who no longer believes in him. The distance and the frustration (for both parties) is palpable as the wife has no problem switching from voicing her frustration with her husband and commenting on the delicious food, a food so delicious she can’t help from eating more. Until, that is, she can eat no longer. There’s a great twist at the very end of this story and as much as one is led to believe the wife is the “bad guy” here, one can only wonder if such is the case, or if the husband is much more malevolent, for we not only get that great twist, but we learn something a little more about the husband and how nefarious he really is.

Congratulations, Jenn! It’s been a pleasure reading your stories here at FF, and we couldn’t be more delighted to see you up top! Please check out your very own sparkly winner’s page; your winning tale can be found there as well as (shortly) over on the winners’ wall. Please contact me asap here so I can interview you for this week’s #SixtySeconds! And now here’s your winning story:

Creation

“What did you do today?”

“Oh, just tinkered around a bit in the lab.”

“When is that little company of yours going to get off the ground, finally?”

“Soon, my dear. Soon.”

“That’s what you always say, ‘soon.’”

“I thought you believed in me. In my ideas.”

“I did. I just don’t think I can support you and your…delusions any longer.”

“What are you saying?”

She took a bite of her risotto and commented, “This is absolutely fabulous!”

“What did you mean when you said you can’t support me any longer?”

“I meant I don’t think this is working,” she muttered while shoveling a very unladylike portion into her mouth. “This is just extraordinary.”

“I’m glad you like it.” A woman emerged from the shadows. An exact replica of her, down to the arrangement of freckles across her nose and cheeks.

He watched unmoved as his wife gagged, finally falling face first into her plate.

With hundreds of back orders already for the DreamWoman 1.0, his “little company” was a runaway success. He took his great love, and greatest creation, into his arms.

FFwinner-Web

Advertisements

Flash! Friday Vol 3 – 45: WINNERS

Isn’t winners’ day sooooo much fun?? No matter who’s judging, I love reading your comments on stories, I love seeing which stories stood out for our judges, and seeing winners’ names is as yummy as a fresh Cadbury bar. Grateful to all of you for showing up to write with us & encourage each other. And again, thank you for your critique help on Saturday’s #Pyro. That honest, concrete feedback is gold, lemme tell ya — the story and critical comments are well worth the read.

Don’t forget that coming up this Friday we’re opening up applications for the next round of judges, who’ll kick off Year Four for us in December. Judging is where the fun is; it’s also the most critical part of this contest, and we couldn’t keep going without y’all. Please consider becoming a Dragon Captain! Advance details here.   

♦♦♦♦♦

Many thanks to Dragon Team Five, Holly Geely & Foy Iver, for daring to take on the White Whale. They say:   

FI: I’m breathless. Something about this prompt called out the poets in you, dear writers. There were so many captivating images of ocean swells, so many moments of levity turned raw with hurricane force, so many brackish life truths that parched my tongue. How is it possible to choose? More than any other judging round, I had to look to the mechanics, the emotion, and meaning behind each. Even if your story isn’t on the winners’ podium, it’s likely etched on the walls of my heart.

HG: I’m not as poetic as my dear partner, and after reading all your masterpieces, I really wanted to go to the beach. As the weather has turned and it’s already getting below 0° (Celsius) at night, that’s not the best idea. I had to settle for a drink on ice while I pondered my choices. It never ceases to amaze how many people with so much talent come together, week after week, to enjoy each other’s work. Righteous.

♦♦♦♦♦

SPECIAL MENTIONS

BEST OPENER IN THE WORLD: Geoff Holme, “Whale Meat Again.” FI: MD 2 txt talk? 2G2BT! UCMU. 🙂

BEST ABSTRACT TAKEBetsy Streeter, “Coffee Brings Clarity.” FI: A diner, gnat, and reticent admirer born from a Moby Dick prompt. Writer, you have skill.

GREATEST TITLE EVER TITLED: Craig AndersonSon of a Beach.” HG: I have officially been tickled.

BEST OBSESSION EVER: Colin D. Smith, “Obsession.” HG: If he finally succeeds at the game, will he then corn-relish his victory?

♦♦♦♦♦

HONORABLE MENTIONS

Michael Wettengel, “Boneyard

FI: Housed in the bones of a whale – such a powerful metaphor! Crisp, visual-laden sentences plant me firmly on that salty landscape; strong voices turn my head, looking for a weathered father and his incredulous child; purpose, guiding it all to the close, makes “Boneyard” an unforgettable piece of flash.

HG: “That’s what we thought…That there’d always be more.” Here’s an important life lesson. The characters in this story are exactly how I imagine future generations will be. Lovely story with a tragic ending.

F.E. Clark, “Seeking Yesterday

FI: “Seeking Yesterday” charms and terrifies. Fairytale poeticism masks a darkly relevant theme: mankind chasing immortal youth. How poignant that our princess spends her best days sequestered, pining for what’s passed. This gem stood out for its Brothers Grimm quality and its unique take on the prompt.

HG: I agree that it has a fairy tale vibe, but it also echoes society’s pressures of today, and an obsession with beauty that doesn’t do anyone any good. Every word in this story is important and in a short time, something so important is driven home.

AV Laidlaw, “Memento Mori.”

FI: Here again another flash with ocean’s depths of meaning. I could think of countless evils manifested in the whales’ plight. How we try to right what’s wrong, fail, and agree to move on, never speaking of the bones because we couldn’t affect change. The short, clean structure works well with the narrative style, bringing greater power to those last bitter lines.

HG:  The format of the story is what grips me here; the single final line on its own, with so much tragedy wrapped up in such a short sentence. The poor whales.

Caitlin Gramley, “You Can’t Ignore Me.” 

FI: I love a left-fielder! The ‘cost of obsession’ was a popular element but “You Can’t Ignore Me” sucks you in, almost convincing you that the voice is inside your skull. The syntax drives that impulse to heart-root, compelling you to get up and check the stove (did I turn it off?), or the lock (maybe I only thought I turned it). For me, it resurrected dead memories of compulsive prayers whispered in the dark, never good enough for the ears of God. Absolutely gripping, friend.

HG: You…wow…Whether or not it was the writer’s intent, this story captures the essence of Obsessive Compulsive disorder. I had to take a moment after I read this one, it strikes so close to home. Beautifully done.

THIRD RUNNER UP

Eliza Archer, “She, An Island

FI: That second line gives it all away and yet somehow we don’t see it until the fourth paragraph. Genius use of both the island and whale elements; neither felt strained. The whole piece leaves me yearning to know her backstory and yet afraid of what that glimpse might reveal. She sees the whale as benevolent but is he…? Was the man behind this manifestation responsible for her plight? We’re left to wonder.

HG: Beautiful imagery conceals the tragic twist of the ending, and makes you wish for Anne’s better island. Few words hint at something deeper, like the ocean, and the revelation that perhaps she’s only there in her mind is heartbreaking.

SECOND RUNNER UP

Nancy Chenier, “And the Whale” 

FI: Such a slow and careful unfolding! We see colors, hear songs, and feel the meaning in each before it is all given in that final line — even the title must be read through it. Each sentence is strong but the one I love the best is, “Megs wears levity like water wings, but what good are inflatable cuffs against a hurricane?” Their dichotomy couldn’t be drawn any sharper: the unquenchable hope of the mother and the tidal wave of fear drowning the father. A heart-bursting fiction that bleeds like reality.

HG: Adorable, sad…it has everything. I’m not sure how the almost-dad pictured the sea monster, but I’ve got a kind of stork/kraken hybrid in mind. The island and whale metaphors are consistently sweet (and great use of the Jaws theme).

FIRST RUNNER UP

Mark A. King, “The Mighty Whale That Skims the Apocalyptic Skies.” 

FI: Moby Dick goes Steam Punk? Yes, please! Not only did you recreate the original theme in a fantastically unheard of setting, you turned your spyglass on that symbiotic dance every good antagonist and protagonist must perform. What is one without the other? Gorgeous language, strong world building, and perfectly paired bookends. I only wish this weren’t flash, but a fully developed novel in which to lose myself.

HG: I second the novel notion, consider me second in line when this is out for sale. I love the idea of the sky-whale (nightmarish memories of D&D notwithstanding) and the “vermillion-stained apocalyptic skies.” The title is huge for such a short story – and the story doesn’t disappoint with its scale. Awesome.

And now: for his perfectly gorgeous third win, it’s this week’s 

DRAGON WINNER

Mark A. King!!!

for

“The Framework Bird and the Ringing Singing Tree”

FI: Dear Writer, you’ve chopped into my chest cavity and tapped my lifeblood. Women who feel unwanted or unworthy will always have a refuge in my heart, and you’ve given us such a devastating portrait of this all-too common reality. I adored how you weaved in the “ringing, singing tree” (though its name is flipped), and I thought it worked well either as a reference to the musical panopticon or as a nod to the German tale “Das Singende, Klingende Bäumchen.” Your story arch is tangible and encouraging; we watched her travel from self-loathing to self-acceptance beneath that odd, metal tree. Your words are poetry and the message so fitting in today’s airbrushed society. Here’s to hoping that all the beautiful framework birds come to love what they see as unbeautiful.

HG: Ah, if only this was a feeling with which so many of us did not have to be familiar…In poetic verse you have captured sadness and hope. “In the winds and rain, she is accepted.” Isn’t that the truth? I can’t find the words to express the feelings this has awoken in me. A strong, clear winner, and a beautiful story.

Congratulations, Mark! Sheesh, after you won once, it would seem there’s no stopping you! Congratulations! Your winner’s page has a fresh coat of dragonpaint; your winning tale can be found there as well as over on the winners’ wall. Stand by for scintillating questions for your newest #SixtySeconds interview. And now here’s your ringing singing winning story:

The Framework Bird and the Ringing Singing Tree

She is but a jumble of blunt shapes encased in scrawny skin.

She is a framework bird.

In her stomach, the emptiness of self-loathing. In her mouth, the tang of acid reflux, the sour aftertaste of self-induced sickness.

She walks away from the whisperers. The airbrushed magazines. The imperfect reflections that stalk her.

She hops in the swaying heathland. Treads the foothills of stubble fields. Flitters beneath skies of wonder and fear.

She sits beneath the Ringing Singing Tree. Warped trunk and jutting boughs, its canopy holding up the sky. Its metallic tubes howl in the crosswinds, and ping in the pitter-patter rains.

In the winds and rain, she is accepted.

Beneath the Ringing Singing Tree is where the framework bird heals her wings.

FFwinner-Web

Flash! Friday Vol 3 – 43: WINNERS

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:

♦♦♦♦♦

SPECIAL MENTIONS

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.  

♦♦♦♦♦

HONORABLE MENTIONS

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.

SECOND HM!!! Richard Edenfield, “The Love Ballad of Carbon 14.” 

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 

DRAGON WINNER

Karl Russell!!!

for

“Camelot Falls”

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:

Camelot Falls

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. 

Kissing ass. 

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. 

This day.

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.” 

He smiled.

Poured another drink. 

FFwinner-Web