Tag Archive | Brady Koch

Flash! Friday Vol 3 – 50: WINNERS

Good morning! Thank you so much for your overwhelming, loving support following Friday’s announcement that I’m closing up shop after December 11’s Flashversary. I’ll have more to say on that over the next three weeks, but today belongs to you; today is not my farewell — not yet –, but Steph & Josh’s (much as you and they are conspiring to keep me in tears for the next three weeks!).

**NOTE!** We still have a couple more global #Spotlight interviews ahead: please join us tomorrow for a trip to Bulgaria with Cindy Vaskova!

And now: a mountain’s height of thanks to Dragon Team Six, Steph Ellis and Josh Bertetta. We should perhaps be a little frightened and/or impressed by the sychronization of your judging thoughts — both of you should probably tuck that away for future use somewhere! It’s been a great honor serving the community alongside you. Thank you for your clever sifting of stories, for your generous comments, for your faithful support of flash fiction and this community in particular. Above all, thank you for contributing your own powerfully unique talents by sharing your stories here. We are so grateful to and for you.

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Here are Dragon Team Six’s final comments, crystallized by Steph, who apparently has no respect for my deteriorating supply of tissues:   

SE: I was feeling somewhat sad that my time as a judge was coming to an end at Flash! Friday but then came that bombshell from Rebekah about the closure of the site, an announcement which I must say left me feeling almost bereft.  I’ve just had a scan through the Flash! Friday archives and found my first entry back in October of last year.  I find myself amazed that it’s only a matter of some 13 months and not longer; this particular competition has become such a huge part of my life giving my week a writerly structure that I have followed (more-or-less) religiously.  What will I do?  What will we all do?  Well, we’ll carry on writing as she has trained us so well: we will continue with the familiar (MicroBookends, Three Line Thursday, FlashDogs anthologies, Angry Hourglass) and attempt new pastures.  So the gap will be filled, but it will not be the same.  I do have some more to say to Rebekah, but those words you will find in some of my responses to the stories below.

As it’s my last week I would also like to pay tribute to my partner-in-crime Josh Bertetta.  I know he has been unable to take part this week for personal reasons and I missed our few minutes of haggling across the pond.  And when I say few, I mean few.  Nearly every single time, at least half, if not more, of our choices matched; and where they didn’t, we quite often found that we had similar choices ‘bubbling under’ which allowed us room to manoeuvre.

I would also like to thank my lovely eldest daughter for her efforts in stripping the Flash stories for me, especially as she tends to work late; whether it was Bob Dylan or The 1975, she still managed to wake up not too long before noon and get the stories to me and Josh!  For that I have rewarded her with a Korean Vegetarian cookbook – as you do.

And one more big thank you – to all of you who have provided us with such wonderful stories to read.  Keep writing and submitting.  We will see you here until the finish, and hopefully we will continue across the Flashverse, taking our stories into unchartered territories and cheering each other on.

Now, without further ado, let the drum roll begin …

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SPECIAL MENTIONS

Brady Koch, “Bougainvillea.” An apparently innocent start to the story, a young man returns home having travelled the world, for what you would think would be a much-wanted reunion with is family.  But instead we are faced with him drawing a plant whose leaf ‘grew out of the long-picked skull of the artist’s father’.  Then we discover that not only is there a skull, but a knife in the rib-cage, put there by our returnee.  Not quite the reunion expected.  Nicely dark.

James Atkinson, “Times Change.” A warning to those who would promote isolationism.  Initially the families were separate enough when their village’s isolation first occurred for there to be no problems in terms of marriage but as time passed cousins married cousins so that eventually all became closely related.  This seems to concern only our narrator.  He recognises that they need ‘another supply drop’ but implies this would be not of goods but of people to refresh and strengthen the gene pool; this latter a good example of showing not telling.

Bill Engleson, “Sweetapple Dodds.” Great pulp fiction tone to the narration of this story.  The agent’s in his office and in she walks ‘Hell, you could smell the country on her’, ‘wiggling her fanny as if she’s revving up for the Indy 500’.  He feels sorry for her but he has an ulterior motive, he ‘could see potential, a tremendous chassis’.  Wonderful language and a fun read.

Firdaus Parvez, “Born With the Devil.” I think everyone imagines twins are born with that unbreakable bond, where one would do anything for the other.  You certainly don’t expect them to be so different that the sister hates her brother to the extent that she would slit her wrists and ensure not only his death, but her own.  Unique take on the bond between twins.

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HONORABLE MENTIONS

Charles W. Short, “The Captain’s Calling.”

An homage to Flash! Friday (Dragonwraith) and its Captain (Rebekah) and an unashamed placing.  This one is slightly different in that it is the creation of Flash! Friday in a world in which flash was almost an orphan.  She built the ship, which grew larger, was a ‘spokeswoman for her cause’ and developed her vision until other ‘Teams developed, friendships formed, and entirely new classifications of vessels took shape’.  We have all seen how the flash world had grown, we all meet up on other sites, not just on this ship so that now we can give the Captain the freedom to take her own path.  ‘A new calling awaits the captain, and she has the proven courage to undertake it.’

Michael Wettengel, “May-Born.” 

I love the personification of Ambition and Inspiration, those little devils that assail us all but which often never seem to work together, as in this particular story.  Inspiration is intent on wrapping himself up ‘like he’s spinning a cocoon’ whilst Ambition ‘walks and fumes’.  (I will whisper now, I am a May baby so I huff occasionally too).  The deadline hits and they run out of time and Ambition isn’t happy with the rambling end.  But the author walks away to look at the falling snow, as sometimes you have to.

Holly Geely, “Cousin Jackson

Of course I would place a story with a good pun, especially one which worked itself out so easily.  I had no idea it was coming (I mean, a banana plantation in a non-tropical climate?? how did I not see it?) but there it was, waiting, a perfect little gem to be discovered at the end.

Michael Seese, “In Here.”

This trapped me as soon as elephants on shoulders were mentioned.  I knew at this point something crazy was going on, the writing bringing to mind the madness of Carroll’s Wonderland.  The MC, a child, has occasional glimpses of sanity ‘when the mists clear,’ but she cannot leave her world where there are ‘Pixie Stix’ trees and ‘priests in prehistoric garb’ as well as mocking marionettes.  And even though she wants to leave, her mother tells her, ‘You can never leave this place, dear child. Insanity is your home.  Wonderfully crazy.

THIRD RUNNER UP

Nthato MorakabiWhat Child Is This?

The God Delusion!  Casting Dawkins as a priest, working from the inside of religion to subvert its message was a very clever ruse.  Dawkins has pretended to be a priest and foretold the end of the world, indicating certain signs, for example the baby with the pig’s tail would foreshadow it.  The nurse’s message brings him joy, he has been proved right.  But it is a scene he has manipulated (he has no ‘virtue’) by adding chemicals to the water supply so that mutations occur.  He has used science, he had ‘faith’ that science would make these changes.  Now science supplants religion, it has become the new faith.  Nice inversion.

SECOND RUNNER UP

Karl Russell, “One Day, in the Square” 

This is a story about self-belief and self-worth.  There are so many talented people in this world who just never show what they are capable of.  The old man who appears at Juan’s side and gives him such good advice turns out to be the ghost of a musician who’d only just died.  He had been a brilliant guitarist but had never followed the advice he now gave Juan, leading him to his sad ending on the bench by the fountain.  He had wasted his talent and played for the pigeons.  But his ghost returned and hopefully Juan will take his guitar and play to people and not to the birds.  I must admit to a soft spot for this story as I have a son who is a talented guitarist but already he is playing for people.  And to all those of you who think your writing’s not good enough to send out, well, if you’ve been submitting here, you’re definitely good enough – take that step and find your audience.

FIRST RUNNER UP

Mark A. King, “Genesis.” 

How could I not choose something like this considering our Dragoness’ recent announcement? This acrostic builds a true and heartfelt tribute to Rebekah for all her efforts on our behalf.  All of us have fought, as writers, to find our niche, we have all lived ‘in the wilderness’, seeking ‘the lands of promise’, the bookshop windows, we were all ‘alone’.  But she created a place for us, a ‘fortress’ where we could hone our skills and become strong enough to challenge the ‘elite’, where we could make friends and recognise that our own writing has worth.  Through this platform and the support and comments given so freely and generously week in, week out, we have developed to the extent that many are now pushing onwards and upwards, and some have even made it into the bookshop window.  Things are changing indeed, but it is not goodbye.  We no longer need a fortress: we have a world.  This piece was a lovely way for us all to say Thank you, Rebekah.

And now: for her gorgeous, fantastic, stirring FOURTH win, it’s this week’s 

DRAGON WINNER

MARIE MCKAY!!!

for

“To Care: More Than Just an Action

A poem has claimed first place this week with a message that needs to be heard on a larger platform.  The army of carers that is out there amongst us is large but invisible: the husbands and wives having to care for both elderly parents and young children, young children caring for parents or siblings, an elderly wife, herself frail having to care for her husband and vice versa.  This army does so much and their efforts go largely unnoticed and unrewarded but they do it even though they are so often at breaking point – ‘She cares/Until she screams’, ‘You care/Until you break’, ‘I care/Until I reach the edge’ – but they always ‘care some more’. 

Short lines, consistent repetition from different viewpoints punch the message home and wrings out the emotions, the feelings that at times seek to destroy the carer .  We are not allowed to be separate from the message of this poem, we are part of it because ‘We. Should.  Care’.  Simple.  Powerful.  Effective.

Congratulations, Marie! Thrilled to see you take your fourth crown this week, which you’ve done and drawn our attention to this underappreciated cause. Thank you so much for sharing this achingly beautiful poem. Here’s your updated winner’s page — a page that includes your winning tales dating back to your very first in Year One (Week 26!!!! darling thing, still here after so long!!). Please watch your inbox for instructions regarding your interview for your fourth #SixtySeconds! And now here’s your winning story:

To Care: More Than Just an Action
*inspired by Carers’ Rights Day in the UK

I care
my hands raw;
my eyes black;
my arms sore;
my hair out.
I care way beyond my own lifetime.

You care
yourself to sleep;
yourself awake;
yourself guilty;
yourself frail.
You care yourself lost.

She cares
herself bruised;
herself hungry;
herself lonely;
herself sick.
She cares herself away.

He cares
himself angry;
himself gaunt;
himself blunt.
He cares himself blue.

They care
themselves invisible;
themselves insular;
themselves inadequate.
They care to the quick.

I care
until I can’t, and then I care some more.
You care
until you cry, and then you care some more.
She cares
until she screams, and then she cares some more.

I care
until I reach the edge, and then I care some more.
You care
until you break, and then you care some more.
He cares
until he says he won’t, and then he cares some more.

I care
You care
She cares.
He cares.
They care.
And us?

We. Should. Care.

FFwinner-Web

Flash! Friday Vol 3 – 2: WINNERS

HO HO HO! Santa says he’s feeling conflicted about us going into his Big Week; some of the adventures you took him on he just loved; others he didn’t appear to understand, though I heard him whispering to the Mrs. that he suspected they may not have been intended for his youthful ears; still others, he says he is not sure how you got into his private diaries, but when it is convenient and if you are quite finished, would you kindly return them Whence They Belong.

A reminder that we’re forging ahead and will have yet another flash fiction snowball fight this week. Santa may take a break after the 25th, but one’s Muse Does Not. (Or should not? Muses can be so temperamental, and I don’t particularly care for the way mine responds to eggnog.) We are also gearing up for a fresh, exciting format change and some sparkly new dragon features after the first of the year. It’s almost TOO MUCH YUMMINESS, isn’t it!?

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The Team Two Dragon Captains of Tamara Shoemaker/Mark King say

We knew we were going to be in for a wild ride when we first saw the prompt this week. Not only did you treat us to tales of a law-breaking Santa, but there also appeared stories of intrigue, danger, mild espionage, cheekiness, and even one very memorable blackmail letter to the jolly red elf. You took us on an adventure as we pored over story after story, and made our minds implode and explode by turns as we struggled to figure out how on this green earth we were supposed to narrow down our options among so many excellent choices.

Narrow it down, we did, however, amid lots of late-night and early morning emails back and forth across the Atlantic. Debates raged (in all the politest forms possible), and finally, we can offer up this winner’s list with sleep-deprived eyes and keyboard-ravaged fingers.

Kudos to every one of you who submitted a tale. There are many more winners than the ones listed below.

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SPECIAL MENTIONS

Tinsel-tastic Title: Margaret Locke, “Clause and Effect.” We had a number of great titles, but this one appealed to us both. Simple, fun, effective and clever.

Best Product Placement of LEGO in a Story: Annika Keswick, “Double Life.” We’re not sure if the writer was being paid by the famous brand, but we loved the idea of the story and all that LEGO.

Best Tribute to Clement C. Moore: Michael Seese, “The Watchman.” This was a very clever piece with clear links to the original. We both enjoyed this.

Best Use of Dialogue: Alissa Leonard, “Next.” Using entirely dialogue pieces can be risky. It worked well for this, as did the unique focus of the sequential numbering. We wanted to reward the originality of the story.

Best Use of an Annoying Toy: Casey Rose Frank, “We All Go a Little Mad Sometimes.” Poor Santa’s fall over the brink of sanity was fully understandable in wake of the references to the red-furred, laughing puppet that haunts both of our nightmares.

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HONORABLE MENTIONS

Steph Ellis, “All I Want for Christmas.” 

MK: When I am looking through so many stories, the ones that are unique really jump out and scream “look at me”. For this one, the writer gives us a title that evokes the wishful dreams of a child, of sparkly Christmas trees, and of Mariah Carey (or is that just me?). However, we are drawn not into a world of tinsel and mulled wine, but pulled strings, the “Horned One” and “the fiery pit”. Do we really have sympathy for the Devil? Not me, but it was fun to think of his plight.

All done with tongue firmly in cheek. I salute you, dear writer.

TS: Out of all the connections I could possibly have made to the little Santa puppet of the prompt, I don’t think I would have ever dreamed up this one in my wildest imaginings. An interesting take and one that creates a bit of pathos for “poor Satan.”

I enjoyed the contrast of Santa in bondage to his strings compared to Satan, who had no strings, but was still in bondage to the “rules.” I actually felt just a teensy bit sorry for the poor devil (pun fully intended) at this line: “Once, just once, it would be nice to get something for Christmas, something wrapped in shiny paper and with a pretty silver bow.” Nicely done!

Brady Koch, “Hard Time at Xmas.” 

MK: We were toying with a best “ho ho ho” award, and this would have won. But there is the fantastic opening, leaving no room for doubt about the story. It set the scene, gave us background and acted as a pivot throughout the story. The ending is fantastic, not just the use of reindeer jerky but the fact that Martha is happy getting festive while leaving Kris to “marinate”.

TS: What an attention-grabbing beginning! This is a different take, but one I thoroughly enjoyed, as I considered the relationship between Santa and Mrs. Santa. It’s a cheeky piece that pokes fun at the idea of dear old jolly St. Nick in prison, his sacrificial attitude–doing time behind bars for poor Rudolph who wouldn’t handle another run-in with the law–contrasted against the dark undertones of Mrs. Santa’s prolonged silence. I. love. that last line. What a great exclamation point for the whole piece. 🙂

Grace Black, Inches of Insane.” 

TS: An attention-grabbing beginning, followed by some beautiful interplay of words and meaning. I love the layered idea of decay that manifests itself in a sugar-rotted tooth, but worms its way in with the “ache of loneliness.” The phrase “an overly adorned, inflatable reminder of my single status” so neatly locks the festivities of Christmas into the phrase without even once saying it.

Other things: the contrast of the baubles, heavy as emptiness, light as leaping sanity—all hung on the tree and perhaps a mental noose, choking the life out of the narrator.

The single word at the end is a delightful punch in the gut (if there is such a thing) to wrap up the piece, nicely mirroring the first line with the attitude of the stare.

Plus, anyone who can work the word “tchotchke” into a sentence and wrangle sense out of it has earned my eternal admiration. Stellar work.

MK: I completely agree with all of Tamara’s articulate and insightful comments.

THIRD RUNNER UP

Grace Black, “Red Breath.” 

MK: This had a wonderful opening, such a great use of words to set the scene. I liked the Beatle vs Elvis comparison and adored the phrase “dweller in sepia shades” (not only beautiful, but so descriptive). There were a couple of stories that reminded us that Christmas can be a difficult time for some and this one stood out due to the beautiful language and authentic voice. A well deserved placing.

TS: Oh, the imagery in this one gives me shivers! There’s something about the phrases that twist just a little off the normal pattern that catches and holds my attention. I loved the literary theme woven throughout, “…hidden in margins and bindings.” “A word affair.” “Readers of unwritten, between the lines…”

The relationship in this piece plays out like lyrical poetry, the give and take of tone and pitch matching the woven tapestry of this couple’s story. It deepens all through the piece up until that final paragraph where it halts in “varying shades of arrest.”

The heartbreak of the line: “You can’t un-think all the thoughts, and you can’t un-live all the life” is all the more crushing after the gorgeous build-up. I love this. Exquisitely done.

SECOND RUNNER UP

Sarah Miles, “Family Tradition.” 

MK: This is an example of great Flash! Friday story. The response to the prompt has gone beyond the obvious, and we are immediately given a compelling background story with just the use of a title and opening line. By using ‘teenage bravery’ we are given the character age and motivation without redundant words. I loved the descriptive work here “glance over at his pointy little boots dangling from the bushiest bough.”

I also adored the statement “the furthest point she had dared travel,” as it is describing the optical tracking of a human eye on an object. Fantastic ending.

TS: This story hits on a childhood fear (my toys coming alive and wreaking revenge for their many grievances), and it ramps up the suspense nicely throughout the few paragraphs, the harshly mandated “NEVER directly at him” sending chills up my spine. Some powerful descriptions light up the piece: “…as though he was some festive Medusa.” “Teenage bravery” packs a whopping amount of emotion into two tightly resonating words.

I love the richness of the feelings, the fear, the trepidation, and then the near disappointment and relief after the climactic eye-stare. The final line is such a fitting end to the whirlwind, the antithesis of everything the narrator has just experienced. Stunning story.

FIRST RUNNER UP

David Borrowdale, “He Knows When You’re Awake.” 

MK: Some stories are difficult to write and difficult to read. That doesn’t mean that they should be avoided. This made me feel incredibly uncomfortable (as was the intention). There are hints throughout this that there is more to the story, such as ““We’ll catch him in the act this year,” which are more powerful after a second read. The most chilling part was, “She felt his breath, sweet with sloe gin, as he whispered in her ear. ‘You better not shout.’“ It takes skill to write a story like this. It would be wrong to say that there was a satisfying ending, but one that brings justice.

TS: Wow! I have chills running rampant. There’s loads of skill in this one; I loved the layered lines that double as familiar imagery for all of us from childhood on up (“We’ll catch him in the act this year,” waiting until midnight, and then “You better not shout.”), while at the same time describing an incredibly uncomfortable, horrific situation.

The phrasing is phenomenal: “…banished to a flaccid airbed on the living room floor,” “She felt his breath, sweet with sloe gin.” Hope sparks in the last line, though you wish the darkness weren’t QUITE so dark before the dawn arrives.

Mark is right; this was such a difficult read, but some of the hardest stories to tell are the ones that are the most worth it in the end. I was blown away by this story.

And now: for his VERY FIRST win (I know, right?!), it’s Flash! Friday 

DRAGON WINNER

IMAGE RONIN!!!

for

“The Festive Season”

MK: From all of the stories, this one resonated with me the most. It will stay with me not just for today or tomorrow, but perhaps every Christmas. Christmas is a time for all of the things we see on television, hear in songs and feel in the air. Joy, giving, happiness, family, forgiveness – the list goes on. Many of us (perhaps) will take time or action to think of less fortunate such as the lonely, elderly or homeless. But, I have never thought of the plight of those like Wei.

The scene setting is simply stunning, “frenzy of factories churning out endless glittering baubles” and “scurried past LED workshops, wraiths tinkering with soldering irons in pulsing light”.

Then we have the letter to his future bride, so telling, so heart-breaking.

I could go on and on, but every word, phrase and deft use of visualisation and emotion made me wish I could write like this. The ending was perfect and twisted the knife into me just a little more. A story that is perfectly written and leaves a lifetime of thought is a magical thing to behold. Bravo!

TS: This is simply gorgeous and so well crafted, I was floored. The beginning line: “…wraiths tinkering with soldering irons in pulsing light” is nailed into place with the final line: “Whatever Christmas was Wei truly despised it,” creating a stunning, heart-breaking frame for the entire piece.

The contrast of the title with the work itself brings the pathos out in even more startling color. Vivid imagery works throughout, especially in lines like: “…his crimson fingerprints staining tear-soaked paper,” and then the color bled into the rest of the piece, “Scarlet jewel,” “Another mask, fingers stained crimson.” What a layered motif for a story of a bleeding, breaking heart!

The single-line paragraphs at the end serve as punctuation marks to the bleak, stripped hopelessness that Wei feels throughout the piece. Wei’s story is so well-described that it doesn’t feel like description at all; it’s a perfect web of emotion and verbiage that sinks into the reader’s mind without roughing the edges of thought. 

Beautifully done.

Congratulations, Image! Below is your long, long overdue winner’s badge for the wall(s) of your choosing. Here is your very new (watch the wet paint) winner’s page and your winning tale on the winners’ wall. Please watch your inbox for your #SixtySeconds interview questions! And now, here is your winning story!

The Festive Season

The backwater that was Yiwu shook with the frenzy of factories churning out endless glittering baubles. Wei scurried past LED workshops, wraiths tinkering with soldering irons in pulsing light.

He was late, caught up writing a letter to his fiancé. Responding to her assurances that a smaller wedding was what she wanted, her pleas insulting his sacrifice.

The letter departed, his crimson fingerprints staining tear soaked paper.

The boss man tapped a manicured nail onto a watch that a thousand life times could barely afford. Wei bowed apologetically before grabbing a paper mask and the glue sprayer.

Five thousand polystyrene stars awaited on metal shelving.

Wei grabbed a star, spraying it with glue, before dipping it deep into the crimson glitter held within a battered oil-drum.

Lifting out a scarlet jewel, sparkling in the light of the bare bulb.

Grab, spray, dip.

Repeat.

Another mask, fingers stained crimson. Lungs hacking with shimmering dust.

Whatever Christmas was, Wei truly despised it.

FFwinner-Web

Flash! Friday Vol 2 – 45: WINNERS & NEWS

Welcome to Monday, in which I’m looking for a few good dragons!!! Yes, it’s results day AND open season at our Dragon Judge Panel. Wanna be a Dragon Captain? Basic details below; find the judge app page here. Deadline’s November 10.

In Year Three (starting Dec 12) we’re taking a team approach to judging the stories.

  • Instead of one judge per round, we’ll do teams of TWO. That means I’m looking for a panel of EIGHT judges this round; each team will judge once per month, for six months. I’m not spectacular at math, but I think that means you’ll each judge six times. 🙂
  • Judging will still be blind (stories are stripped of all author info before you see them). NEW FOR YEAR THREE: Since judging is now completely blind, judges are eligible to compete all weeks except the actual week they’re judging.
  • SPECIAL PASS: If you are a regular commenter at FF or a previous judge, you may bypass the regular judge app process. Contact me directly here with a note saying so and letting me know why you’d like to be a judge. 
  • Applications due by November 10 at midnight, Washington DC time.

More details can be found over at the judge app page. Contact me with any questions.

Why judge? Ohhhh, so many reasons! It’s fun. Judging changes one’s perspective on what flash is and can be, and on the whole judging/submission process. It can strengthen your own writing. Judging with a partner means making new, close writerly friendships. And it’s a valuable, greatly appreciated, totally free way both to give back to the Flash! Friday community and help it grow even stronger. I couldn’t run this contest for a single day without y’all. Please consider joining the FF team in this new way, and thank you so much.

And now: on to this week’s results!   

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Judge Phil Coltrane says:  Nemesis. How bitterly the word rolls off the tongue when spoken. Named for the vengeful goddess of retribution: she who destroys the prideful, and fells the haughty spirit.

Nemesis. No mere opponent, nor one of many foes, but the singular bane of one’s existence. That most formidable, unconquerable rival. That potential bringer of one’s downfall. God and the Devil. Hamilton and Burr. Sherlock and Moriarty.

Thus it is fitting that this week’s prompt involves the ancient game of kings itself: chess. A game of absolutes that faces player against player, move against countermove, mind against mind on a sixty-four square black-and-white battlefield.

With such a grand setup for this week’s prompt, I’m not surprised that there were so many wonderful stories to read, with nemeses of every variety, and conflicts both mundane and earth-shattering.

Let’s take a look at some of the standouts…

Special Mentions

Brady Koch, “Hollow Bishops.” Though it starts innocently enough, the author quickly draws us into the horror of this main character, his ghoulish craftwork, and the fate of his opponents past and future. A welcome horror tale in anticipation of Halloween.

Josh Bertetta, “Internal s(word)s.” Flash fiction can be limiting, or it can be freeing. Here, the author takes full advantage of the word count limit and the available formatting options to present a story of deep-space conflict in an eye-catching manner.

Sinead O’Hart, “The Player.” A single episode within an ongoing struggle: the author teases the pint-sized nature of this nemesis throughout the story, fully revealing it in a memorable and playful double-twist wherein the narrator wins the game, yet loses the match.

HONORABLE MENTIONS

Michael Seese, Untitled. It’s a competition between opponents as big as they come: Science and Religion. With the simple framing device of a conversation over a game board, the author makes a straightforward statement: Religion, by positioning itself as an evolving God-of-the-gaps, traps itself in a philosophical zugzwang, slumping inevitably towards checkmate. What impressed me about this work is that the author needs no elaborate language or complex plot to deliver. Instead, he fearlessly and earnestly delves into a contentious issue nearly as old as Western civilization, and delivers this modern-day morality tale.

Marie McKay, “The 1975 World Championship.” A dance-off and a chess match may seem as different as night and day, but the author humorously links the two through language, speaking of the dance competition in terms of “tactics that masquerade as courtesies” and “move… countermove” as they compete on the “chequered floor.”  

The twist comes halfway through the story, when the author transitions from chess terminology to dance moves. In the end, the result is the same: a minor slip leaves the narrator vulnerable, allowing his nemesis to claim the victory. Lighthearted, yet cleverly related to the prompt by the author’s word selection, this story is a fun read overall.

Emily June Street, “Khanjluri Game.” Political intrigue, secret police, and murder loom large in this story, and the stakes are much higher than a simple game. This is a great example of using historical background as backstory, and the author also draws parallels between chess and politics: chess (and politics) as dance, and chess (and politics) as a game of assassinations. Much is going on in this story, and the author manages to tie it all together and keep it interesting.

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THIRD RUNNER UP

Avalina Kreska, “The Opening Move: Fianchetto (little flank).” (Two versions of this story were submitted. Only the later version was judged.) Game summary: David as white opens with a conventional Spanish Game. Priscilla as black answers at first with the Berlin defense, but when David counters with Steinitz’s move, Priscilla responds with an unconventional move that clearly violates Article 12.6 of the FIDE Laws of Chess.

It’s interesting that the author managed to interweave some actual gameplay into the story. Anyone unfamiliar with chess is free to read the story as a straightforward tale of a seductress and her willing victim. What I find most interesting is that Priscilla — a femme fatale character who literally dominates her opponents — plays a defensive, draw-oriented opening on the board. Is this a subtle hint from the author of some hidden depth of character?

SECOND RUNNER UP

Pauline Creighton, “Game Over.” From the beginning, the narrator builds up his nemesis as “the thorn in my side… the competitor that pushed me to the limits of my ability.” We see the range of emotions that their game-time rivalry evoked throughout the story. The author’s descriptions bring to life the still image of the bearded gentlemen playing chess.  

Despite all the frustrations that his nemesis caused him in life, the narrator finally manages, in the end, to call him “friend.” In a somber and touching subversion of the nemesis prompt, the author steps back from the game board for perspective, and finds there an even more beautiful story.

FIRST RUNNER UP

Sinead O’Hart, “Cornered.” In this story, the author skillfully combines several elements to create an uneasy feeling of uncertainty. The run-on sentence that comprises all but one word of the story gives us an impression of the narrator as rambling and desperate. Though the nemesis in this story is unfairly critical of the narrator, we must already question whether the narrator is reliable. This nemesis is inside the narrator’s head, analyzing and anticipating moves in advance, much like a chess competitor — or is this paranoid delusion?

Given the violent references to “spilling blood,” to finding a way out “whatever way I can,” and the loaded language of the title, “Cornered,” one wonders what drastic action this narrator has rationalized.

In another great example of an author’s style complementing the story, the author leaves us with more questions than answers — and an unsettling worry over what is about to happen.

And now: joining Betsy Streeter and Maggie Duncan as our only FOUR-TIME CHAMPS, it’s Flash! Friday 

DRAGON WINNER

KARL RUSSELL!!!

for

“The Geek Shall Inherit…”

There’s so much I could say about this story. High school can be an awkward time for anyone, particularly a socially awkward geek. Or so I hear.

Maybe this story spoke to me on a personal level.

Maybe it made me wonder what my teenage self might have been capable of doing.

Maybe I was disturbed by the thought of it.

From the beginning, the main character is no hero. “I took his head off cleanly at the neck and dumped the body. It was only Photoshop, but it felt good.” Clearly the main character is no murderer, but he’s probably an anti-hero, and he’s definitely frustrated. Had his Photoshop antics ended there, this would be simple catharsis, no more consequential than burning a photo of an ex, or tossing a suction-cup dart at a photo of a rival.

But this socially repressed teenager sees the world through the distorted perspective of an adolescent. Thus, posters of the “grand masters and science heroes” take interest in his personal life. A teenage crush becomes an object of devotion. A classmate and rival becomes a brutish nemesis, undeserving of that crush’s affections. Consequently, an act of Photoshop slander becomes, in this egocentric worldview, an act of righteous vengeance. “He didn’t deserve her, anyway.”

I like that this story can be read simply as a fun and unapologetic story of vengeance, or more deeply to contemplate the disturbing social implications of technology, its ethics, and its role in youth culture. This story has given me a lot to think about. Nice job!

Mega congratulations, Karl! Below is your FOURTH (sparklier than ever) stunning winner’s badge for the wall(s) of your choosing. Here are your freshly updated winner’s page and your winning tale on the winners’ wall. Please watch your inbox for your interview for Wednesday’s #SixtySeconds feature. And now, here is your winning story!

The Geek Shall Inherit…

I took his head off cleanly at the neck and dumped the body. It was only Photoshop, but it felt good.

Around the walls, the grand masters and science heroes glared down disapprovingly from framed posters. Well, all except Tesla; he looked like he got it.

I took Todd’s head and began the laborious task of pasting it into the photo from Becky’s party, so he was draped drunkenly across the birthday girl. It took forever to get the lighting right, and I regretted using the school’s ancient desktop rather than my tablet, but I needed to keep my ISP clear. Todd was as smart as a brick, but if he ever found out, he’d pound me even worse than that time in Gym.

I signed up to an anonymous webmail account, attached the doctored pic and thought about the subject line. I settled on “You need to know…” and added Jen’s address.

Hit send.

He didn’t deserve her anyway.

 

FFwinner-Web