Tag Archive | Betsy Streeter

Flash! Friday Vol 3 – 46: WINNERS

Thank you for your tremendous patience today in waiting for results. I’ll keep my chatting to a minimum, and will even (gasp) bullet point my reminders!

  • We are NOW ACCEPTING apps for those who’d like a turn as a judge! Details here.
  • Don’t forget to read Saturday’s #Pyro story & leave crits! Low turnout this week. Read it here.
  • Tomorrow! I’m beyond thrilled to welcome current judge IfeOluwa Nihinlola to the #Spotlight mic, as he shares about his life writing in Nigeria. Be sure to join us!

♦♦♦♦♦

Many thanks to Dragon Team Eight, Voima Oy & A.J. Walker, for commandeering this week’s Alice in Wonderland tale judgery. They say:   

Once again Team 8 has had the luck to get stuck into the stories plucked from the ether relating to such a fantastical book. We’ve had a welly load of grinning cats and tyrannical queens and busy white rabbits and we quite understand now that Team 8 are a couple of the more normal people in the Flash! Friday Fiction Family – Andy for one wants some of what all you guys have been dropping!

(Partly Andy needs to take something to take his mind of reading too many stories with cats in. They got everywhere this week – even into soup).

Team 8 would like once again to thank Catherine aka @fallintofiction. Catherine was the Queen of Hearts this weekend, in so much as she went around exclaiming ‘Off with their names!’ and lo! we could get on with the blind judging over the weekend.

We’ve put our heads together, which is usually quite difficult due to the 3,779 miles separating us but, due to the mind expanding effects of the green skittles (when taken with the correct dose of yellow M&Ms) we got together on a small cloud over the Mid Atlantic Ridge and had a spiffing time reading all the stories over dandelion and burdock and cream buns whilst listening to Cream and Justin Bieber.

So, without further ado… drum roll from a large party of hedgehogs banging wheelie bins with candy canes beneath a prince purple sky and a groovy pulsating moon made of Lancashire cheese…. the results!

♦♦♦♦♦

SPECIAL MENTIONS

F.E. Clark, “Twinkle Twinkle Mr. Spiffy.” –because a talking cat in space. “out there beyond”  pure magic!   

Brian Creek, “How to Say Goodbye.” —stunning depiction of a space between dream and death – “I don’t want real anymore.” 

Betsy Streeter, “Friday Afternoon at the Bureau of Dream Leakage.” — for the best title and giving Andy an idea of where he’d like to work.

Catherine Connolly, “Greeting at the Gates of Horn and Ivory.” — the world presented here seems less fun and nonsense and something altogether more grim and foreboding. Or will it be. If she can get past the gate? Moody.

Colin Smith, “The  Girl and the Toad.” — V – Told in rhyme like Jabberwocky, this story is so inventive. I can picture this toad and his epic battle sword.  What a strange dream! AJW – poetry is the new flash! Well, not really, but we’ve had a fair few poems in our stint as Team 8. And I for one am not complaining. This presented an entire story in rhyme and I take my hat off to the writer for that* (too clever by half). The dialogue even in rhyme chimed well – I particularly liked the line ‘What words of follysome blathering spew!’ and intend to use the line in conversation at some point this week. [[I’ve put my hat back on to cover my forklift truck wound – otherwise it frightens the dancing playing cards and the flying mice minstrels.]]

Sal Page, “Lancashire Cat Soup.” — V– the umbrella is an essential ingredient. I loved the wordplay and surreal situation.  And “the Lancashire cat will make your soup extra cheesy”.  Splendid nonsense. AJW – one comment on this: I hope the recipe takes off. Me-oww!

Karl Russell, “Wonderland.” — – powerful social commentary–playing on Alice characters (the dormouse, the mad hatter, Alice), this harsh reality is in sharp contrast to the supposed wonderland on TV,   “Any change?”  AJW – loved this one. Not so much a fairytale but a bit of political comment; quite rare. ‘Any change?’ Nah, of course not. Right on my man! (- or woman, damn blind judging)

♦♦♦♦♦

HONORABLE MENTIONS

Mark A. King, “Tale of One City.”

V – The setting is the city, then and now.  The use of italics is very effective. It works as a contrast and a mirror for the two characters — they are not so  very different — dealing in death and services as old as time…

AJW – clever combination of two tales across different times. Both tales cleverly crafted and evocative. Making the setting Whitechapel immediately gave it an image to the reader, allowing the writer to concentrate on the little things of the visuals and taste to further the development of the atmosphere. I was briefly considering discounting it as cheating as it’s two stories of 125 words and not one story of 250 😉

Casey Rose Frank, “A Solitary Girl.” 

V – This is a fantasy world with the feel of a children’s book. The animal characters are  lovingly depicted, and the descriptions are beautiful. It is a world of gentleness and soft edges, like a dream, until that haunting final line.

AJW – I thought this was beautiful. It was perfectly paced and the descriptions just fell on to the page like they had been shaken out of Alice in Wonderland itself. Top marks for capturing the mood – you’ve a fine eye and pen for capturing nonsense (that’s a compliment!). I’m feeling the bear should be able to have first choice of the next game, as hide and seek is surely a tad unfair (perhaps he should suggest they play it in the woods, then he can get his own back).

Geoff Holme, “White Rabbit (1967)

V – brilliant  use of language and great  take on the Jefferson Airplane classic — a reference to Alice in wonderland as well as altered reality.  Here, the familiar words become jumbled  together in a magnificent stream of nonsense and poetry.

AJW – This hallucinatory tale is presented like a punctuation-free download dump of a movie. The descriptions are so well depicted I could see it really well. Loved the line referencing the queen minutely reviewing the flash fiction pieces – I assume it is Voima (not sure if that makes me the king or a prince, but I suspect – more likely – jester).

 

SECOND RUNNER UP

Becky Spence, “Chasing Dreams” 

V – The story begins with a somber funeral gathering, when a white rabbit among the flowers lures little Alice away. The  fantastic landscape of fairy rings and happy memories is destroyed by harsh reality. Great descriptions and atmosphere — it reminded me of Pan’s Labyrinth in a way — the mix of fantasy and terror.  Did this father murder the mother and sister the way he kills the rabbit? What does “growing up”  mean? Reality becomes a nightmare. 

AJW – Fabulous piece presenting Alice as a carefree child enjoying childhood in play and dreams until the father figure cruelly discards her dreams in a truly visceral scene – wringing the rabbit until Alice heard the crack. The story hits home as we’ve all gone through this to some extent or other – our innocence can only be destroyed in an single instant then never rebuilt. (That terrible time you are told there is no such thing as Father Christmas… (sorry, should that have had a spoiler alert?). Crack-ing!

FIRST RUNNER UP

Image Ronin, “1=0.9999999999999999999999999999.” 

V – What a trip!  This is both mind-expanding and surreal. The language is astonishing, how it mutates –“Thhhhheeee woooooooorrrlld slllllooooooowwwwws, tiiiimmmmme beeeecooommming frrracccttturrrrree” …. Images fracture, collide, coalesce–” she vanilla and rust mouth and tongue between it popping head her of out eye last the gougingg out reach I blinded other the eye single a wings bejewelled into sculpted face angel’s an crosses butterfly ”  and then back to reality –“fast food and short lives.”  

AJW – Took me a while to read this and realise how it all worked, and it was worth the time. Loved the backwards paragraph in particular – reminded me of when I was on a hospital table jacked up on gas listening to the nurses who seemed to be talking out of order (it was boss).  Great take on a messed up minute- or is it a few days? Transported into the world of a tab drop of something mmmiiinnnddd eeeexpppppandingg and world e x p l o  d  i n  g.  Spot on in its depiction (er, I expect – having had nothing stronger than a Fisherman’s Friend myself (er, not true, see above)). place two top a of deserved construction brilliantly absolutely

And now: for her magnificently constructed third win, it’s this week’s 

DRAGON WINNER

Steph Ellis!!!

for

“The Tenth Circle (OR 01010100 01101000 01100101 00100000 01010100 01100101 01101110 01110100 01101000 00100000 01000011 01101001 01110010 01100011 01101100 01100101)

V – This is a realm of  absurd logic. The binary code translates to  “The Tenth Circle” — Yes, I had to look it up.  Here, ones and zeros define this space, this place. Although I am not familiar with programming language, I can appreciate the symbolism of And/Or/Not logic gates and the absurdity of arguing with this gatekeeper.  Here, the world of the Matrix meets Monty Python. There is fiendish humor, too — “I couldn’t bring my plus one — I didn’t use enough poison.”  This hellish argument could go on forever…

AJW – This had me laughing, which is always a fine thing – I felt for Jacob caught in a simple logic trap. It seemed like he was in some bureaucratic nonsense from the film Brazil (or anywhere in the former Russian republic), but it truly was a foul trap devised by the very devil himself, and poor Jacob will have eternity to ponder why he didn’t just follow the instructions precisely. Again another story where we can all think of maddening moments where we’ve been there. Wrong form mate, you want the pink one. But it’s the same questions. You’ve filled in the yellow form – it’s the pink one on Tuesdays. Go to the back of queue. For the love of… logic!

A cool tale with great dialogue perfect pacing and a maddening eternal end. Loved it.

Congratulations, Steph! What fun having you soar back to the top again so quickly! Your winner’s page has a brand new fancy trophy on its shelf now; your winning tale can be found there as well as over on the winners’ wall. Stand by for questions for your newest #SixtySeconds interview. And now here’s your logically blazing story:

The Tenth Circle (OR 01010100 01101000 01100101 00100000 01010100 01100101 01101110 01110100 01101000 00100000 01000011 01101001 01110010 01100011 01101100 01100101)

“You surely see the logic of your situation?” said the demon.

Jacob watched the ones and zeroes streaming endlessly across the screen. “Yeeees.”

“Well then you must know we can’t let you through this particular gate.”

“I still don’t …,” said Jacob. He looked around. This wasn’t quite what he’d expected.

“Look,” said the demon patiently. “This ticket says ‘Admit one AND guest.”

“So?”

“This is an OR gate. Your ticket allows you entry via an AND gate only.”

“Where do I find this AND gate then?” asked Jacob.

“Over there,” said the guard. “But they won’t let you through.”

“Why not?”

“No, not NOT, AND, NOT is back the other way. You need AND but there’s only one of you.”

“I couldn’t bring my plus one,” said Jacob. “I didn’t use enough poison. Doesn’t matter though, does it?”

“Of course it matters. You made a deal. You can’t be both a one AND a zero. You’ve got to be one OR the other.”

“Well I satisfy that argument,” said Jacob. “So I can go through this gate.”

“No. If you couldn’t find a plus one that means you’re a zero. So you’re not one OR the other any more.”

“So I could go through a NOT gate because I am zero AND NOT one?”

“You could but your ticket says AND,” said the demon.

“We could spend an eternity arguing about this,” said Jacob angrily.

“And that’s exactly what you’ve got,” grinned the demon. “Hell, isn’t it?”

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