Tag Archive | Bart van Goethem

Fire&Ice Sol 12/19: WINNERS

§ Foy says: The year 2020 has been a bit “anti-dystopian” to borrow genre-birthing speculative fiction author Samit Basu‘s word (read his definition here), yet somehow we’ve collectively blinked and it’s November, with Election Day in the United States only a sleep away. Whether you’re hopeful or anxious, intrigued or ready to be rid of it all (or like me some ever-shifting amalgam of All The Emotions), please know that no matter the outcome, we dragons at Fire&Ice will be here with strong tea and coffee, and a space to write and grow safely. Because regardless of who wins, the work of making this a better world for those here and those to come will be waiting for us, and it would be our joy to meet that challenge with you. ❤

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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 12’S JUDGES SAY:

Betsy Streeter:  This week’s prompts brought up just a few themes, like, oh, creation, family, ancestry, crime… and the mundane gone very wrong. Which is hard to do – horror is tricky to write because it’s all about those unsettling reveals, suddenly uncovering something deeply not-okay going on. Thank you again for so many tiny worlds to go into and be creeped out by. A few shout-outs: First of all, both VERY short stories, Peg Stueber‘s piece about Geppetto, and Bart van Goethem‘s “Genesis,” packed a punch and were wonderful! I also want to point out Arvind Iyer‘s “The Boy Who Wasn’t a Doll” for pondering generational change in such a unique way. Nancy Chenier‘s “Sharing Is Caring” caused me to hear a creepy piano soundtrack or a music box as I read it. Becky Spence‘s “Replacement” was sad and scary at the same time and made me anticipate some sort of revenge. And finally Mark A. King‘s “The Original Fugitive of Suburbia” for finding superpowers in hardship and difference, something we all seem called to do right now.


Karl A. Russell: As Betsy said, there were some clear themes emerging as I read through this latest crop of mini-masterpieces, not least the idea of children being replaced by dolls – I wonder how many of you are feeling the need for some control over things right now? As much as I’d love a lifelike mannequin of Kirby to sit in front of the laptop for this week’s remote schooling, several of your stories have given me second thoughts though… Creepy, murderous children made particularly strong appearances in Nancy Chenier‘s “Sharing Is Caring” and Stella Kate‘s “From Father To Son“, while the kids in Eric Martell‘s “Planting The Seeds” and Laurence D‘s “Shut Up Freddie!” might actually be better off if they took up arms against their less than loving parents… Some of these stories gave me a real, visceral reaction – and quite a few laughs – just perfect for Halloween reading.

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HONORABLE MENTIONS

Famsimile by David Shakes

BS: Yikes. You think you know what’s going on, and then it gets worse. This is a great example of that frightening realization that something “normal” has gotten twisted in the name of showing the world “we can be a real family.” The way the imagery builds is just terrific.

KR: The serial killer who surrounds himself with mannequins is a well-worn trope, but “Famsimile” takes that idea and gives it a fresh, unsettling twist. Strong imagery and creeping unease help this one stand out.

[Untitled] by Phil Coltrane

BS: What I love about this one is how once you’ve read it, you realize that no matter how many times this simulation runs, the words “I love you” will never get fully said. And bringing speculative/sci-fi into the mix in this was is just so, so clever. Loved this.

KR: The unexpected interruption turns this slice of life into something else entirely. The fact that the protagonist returns over and again to such a mundane moment makes you wonder just what has happened since.

RUNNER UP

No Time to Stop Running by Maggie Duncan

BS: This is one that I find myself expanding into a larger story, and the details are fabulous. I’m rooting for these people, even though apparently they are murderers! That’s another sign of great horror, where you’re not quite sure you’re not pulling for the bad guy. And that sympathy comes through partly in those mundane details, the care taken to give the impression of a “real” family. Super creative, wonderful.

KR: As soon as I’d read this, I went straight back and read it again. The first time through, it was the story of a cunning fugitive couple, faking a family to avoid detection, full of fun little details like changing the names and filling diapers. The second time though… Now it’s a deeply disturbing story about a mother trying to replace the kids she’s at least allowed to die, or has maybe outright murdered. Those funny little details are now shiver-inducing symptoms of an illness no parent wants to consider. Very clever!

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

FIRE&ICE WINNER

ARTIE DINTERS!!!

for

Georgie

BS – This one is a simple, elegant, family moment that does a great job of juxtaposing attempts at “normalcy” of parenting in an extremely not-normal (and horrifying) situation. I also love how the dialogue brings further characterization, shining just a little light on their idiosyncrasies. There is a ton of detail packed in here, which makes it vivid. And again shows how those particulars can be so universal, not because of what they are specifically, but because we all experience life at that detailed, human-scale level. I feel really bad for this couple because they have clearly passed through a terrible terrible transition, and done it together, and agreed on the horrible way they will handle it. In a way, that’s about love. Great story.

KR — Just how damaged do you have to be to try and build a life around the preserved corpse of a toddler? Well, as this story lays out, the answer is very deeply damaged indeed. So much of this is conveyed through the mis-matched dialogue, the couple never quite connecting as they try to keep up their sham lives. Everything is slightly off and there seems to be a streak of jet black humour too – I have to admit, my reading of this was far less sympathetic than Betsy’s, and the thought of these two nutballs trying to “raise” their kid struck me as both horrific and funny, which is not easy to convey in less than 200 words. When little Georgie slumps to the floor at the end, displaying the rotten core of the tale to perfection, I laughed, felt terrible, then laughed again.

Congratulations, ARTIE! Here’s your winning story:

GEORGIE

It was early morning. Ben was cooking eggs and bacon. Linda indulged in latest news. In the background radio played Christmas music. It was that time again.

“Can you turn it off?” Linda said not raising her head.
“It is little Georgie’s favorite song, am I right Georgie?” Ben loomed above his son.

Georgie was a silent child. Gave no trouble to his parents. Always curious about his father’s job. Despite what neighbors talked behind their backs, little Georgie was a perfect child.

A whiff of rot danced with eggs and bacon.

“He stinks again.” Linda said.
“I thought I got the mixture right this time.” Ben turned the bacon stripes over. Knelt to Georgie. “What I got wrong, Georgie?”

Wax was dripping on the kitchen floor. Ben poked Georgie’s arm. Soft tissue met his finger. “Georgie, Georgie why you give us trouble?” Ben sighed. “Will you put him back in a freezer?”

“He is your son.” Linda said louder than she intended.
“I’m making breakfast.”

Georgie silently fell on the floor.

Fire&Ice Sol 11/19: WINNERS

§ 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

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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 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.


Eric Martell:

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.

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HONORABLE MENTIONS

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.

RUNNER UP

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

FIRE&ICE WINNER

NANCY CHENIER!!!

for

What Remains

TSThis 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!

EMI 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:

WHAT REMAINS

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.

Fire&Ice Sol 8/19: WINNERS

§ Foy says: For the first time since the birth of Fire&Ice, this weekend was quiet enough that I got to sit (coffee in hand!) and enjoy every. single. story y’all submitted, and I’m so grateful! As the many Hugo’ed Mary Robinette Kowal says, “Short stories are about delivering a specific emotional punch” (find her Best-Unkept-Short-Story-Secret Formula here; thanks to our beloved Fire Dragon for sharing!!), and we see y’all demonstrate that emotive power week after week after week. Don’t believe me? Just read what our judges have to say…

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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 8’S JUDGES SAY:

David Shakes:  What a superb image and flexible word count this week. It led to some beautiful figurative language and pushed a lot of people towards the type of fiction that floats my boat. What I wasn’t expecting was to have my equilibrium wrecked on a tumultuous sea of emotion and invention. You’ve conspired to make me laugh and then break my heart. I love and despise you all. Once again, my thanks to Nancy and I hope she forgives me for pushing towards the darker end of the listing again – it is the witching season after all! There were many overlaps with Nancy’s choices on my shortlist, so we both get to shout out to a few. The bleak metaphors in Brett Milam‘s Black Flag packed a real punch. Bart Van Goethem‘s Splinters in Space was a ten-word delight. The character of Rabbit and the whole world-building in Arcane Edison‘s Fallen Dreams left me wanting a longer piece. 


Nancy Chenier: What an evocative prompt-combo! It sparked the imagination in different ways and inspired some glorious imagery. I find myself in speculative fiction heaven, everything from aliens to androids, arks to ornithopters, plus plenty of ghosts to haunt the start of Spooktober. Thanks to all of you for letting us read your work. My heaven became hellish, though, as I had to axe-murder many favored tales to get to a short-list. Even then, I don’t think I ever had a short-list morph so wildly between readings, and again as David and I compared notes. Despite a general overlap, the hull of our team-judging ship strained as we steered it into the harbor of top contenders. We avoided the shoals, however, and came into harbor with a satisfying moorage. I have to give a shout-out to some of my special favorites this week: to GamerWriter for Untitled, which will henceforth be known (to me) as “Do Androids Dream of Electric Conspiracies?” for some vivid and clever SF. Also to Mark A. King for Old Man and the Kraken, who must’ve been taking notes in our last round and so pulled out a Hemingway allusion to craft a fine speculative tale around it. Finally,  Tinman‘s for To Travel Hopefully for giving me a good chuckle over second-rate-MacGuyver aliens. 

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HONORABLE MENTIONS

Necessity is the Mother by P.M. Coltrane

DS: Well, folks, I cried – and I just wish that the writer had ended it before the final word of cry – because it’s so beautifully done they didn’t need it. I am a sucker for repetition and the banal meal choices, children’s songs and our child’s inventions all hid the gaping hole in their lives – the missing thread that threatened to unweave it all. 

NC: The parallel construction specifically detailing the hollow ritual made this one float to the top; I loved the way the bedtime songs echo the child’s creations and how the father’s bright exchanges with his daughter stand in painful contrast to the narration (fall apart, sore, a waiting babysitter who gets paid extra for meatloaf). The sharp description highlights what is missing and the result is heartbreaking.

Dissent by Tamara Shoemaker

DS: Dragged in by the first line, the extended metaphor of this was just brilliant and the quality of every word choice just so on point! My favourite line was ‘Weave together answers that defy the inevitable’ and that’s where I’ll end my praise. This piece took on personal meaning for me – it resonated – and that’s what good writing should do. 

NC: A vibrant conceit of a ship straining against the storm of circumstance in a craft of the will’s invention compels us through with drivingly dynamic verbs, and leaves me breathless (and ready to push back against the tide).

RUNNER UP

Aftermath by Pippa Phillips

DS: The device of the hypotheses was a good one – a rational mind trying to come to terms with an irrational fate. The hope of the second hypothesis crushed by the fourth as the mind unravels and the world becomes more surreal. One of the tales that used the conspiracy theorist as the central narrator, this one took the lead as the insight coupled with the imagery was superb.

NC: The format effectively weaves together a story of the narrator’s fate while hinting at familiar conspiracy theories, each iteration painting a clearer picture of the narrator’s mind as s/he reveals the intriguing details of their environment. The tale moves from what seems the birth of a typical conspiracy (a la the Mary Celeste) in the first hypothesis to a religious theory in the second (I laughed at the “fiat” of nature having its limits compared to divine intervention) to paranoia (like an alien experiment on this poor human) back to a spiritual hypothesis that lands the narrator in hell—tying it all together by coming back to the flame.

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

FIRE&ICE WINNER

MARIE MCKAY!!!

for

The Dark

DSThe line ‘Dark is a country’ really took me in, as did its use of the prompt and association with the Bermuda Triangle. A story that lives up to its title, the only criticism Nancy and I had was it was perhaps too short as we both wanted more. The rich language of the first paragraph takes time to fully appreciate, but the real kicker is the hopelessness in the ending. A diabolical inventor. Stay away from thin air and cold waters.As dark as treacle laced with the rum that dripped from the ceilings this was – and that’s a damned good thing. 

NC — As I tend to stuff the word count to bursting, I’m ever in awe of those folk who can pack a full story into a small space economically, without draining the power from it. This one did. Cracking description (oh, and I wanted more!), and it caught me up right from the opening (a bottled “ghost ship” that “haunts” a corner in a room of captivity), and the imagery carries through (rum, skeletal sailors, walking the plank) like an infernal Pirates of the Caribbean ride. The fire-prompt use is wonderful, in particular the way you flipped the conspiracy of the Bermuda Triangle into an invention of the antagonist (again, compellingly described as “a shadow knitted by darkness”). I even felt for the courage-summoning protagonist. Well done.

Congratulations, Marie! Here’s your winning story:

THE DARK

A ghost ship in a bottle haunting the room from the corner. It’s all I see for a week? A day? A second? Until a shadow knitted by darkness, laughs like a bawdy sailor. Rum drips from the roof while skeletons perch on dusty stools.
He tells me he invented The Triangle. He plucks people from thin air and cold waters.
Dark is a country he says and I feel like I’m walking the plank. I find the courage to ask for mercy.
Too late. You’ve been collected he says.