Tag Archive | Catherine Connolly

Flash! Friday Vol 3 – 36: WINNERS

There’s something compelling about the Jazz Age in the U.S. The wild excess and Prohibition, Wall Street and overnight wealth, all horrifically colliding in the disaster of the great stock market crash of October 1929 which hurled the country into years of dark depression. Many of you emphasized that tragic outcome; others of you told stories with sharp-edged sarcasm; still others threw it all out the window and made us dissolve in laughter. Regardless of which of the myriad directions you took doomed Jay Gatsby this round, one thing’s for sure: you made it impossible for us to look away.

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Pearl-dripping thanks also go to Dragon Team Seven, Nancy Chenier & IfeOluwa Nihinlola. There’s nothing quite like foisting The Great American Novel on judges who live in Canada (albeit transplantedly) and Nigeria, but you’ll find their expert eyes pierced through the boundaries of time and culture with the greatest of ease. (OK, they might take issue with ease.) Handing the mic over before I get myself in trouble:   

IN: For a 90s kid from southwest Nigeria, the prohibition-era US of Gatsby might as well be a galaxy far far away. The writers, this week, within the constraints of the word-count, did their best to render that world in vivid detail, and I appreciate that. Picking winners was not made easier by the shorter length like I thought it would; if anything, it seemed to bring out the best of everyone here. It’s another day, another winners list, but with more sleep and a different weekend, I could have easily rooted for a different set of stories from the pool and they would still be fitting winners. Thank you all for being great contributors.

NC: Whoa! Seventy-eight razor-sharp flashes. Who knew Gatsby could inspire such bloodthirsty tales? This batch may be even darker than the dystopian futures under oppressive governments we had the last time we assumed the Mantle of Judgement. The task of picking our favorites was, as ever, a daunting one. I know, judges say that all the time, but it’s true. It hurts to settle on a final list since many, many great stories get shoved off the podium. On the up-side, that means we got to read a lot of great stories. So, thank you, everyone, for making this round as difficult as it was.

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SPECIAL MENTIONS

Scream Award for Horrifying Phone Communication Award: Josh Bertetta, “Text I’ll.” Even though I had an idea where this was going (as with Scream’s opening scene), it wasn’t any less frightening. The text messaging diction of teenagers almost adds to the menace.

Zestiest Use of Language Award: Richard EdenfieldSilencer.” Even though the English instructor in me wouldn’t even approach parsing the sentences, the artist in me cheered for the femme fatale story that sparked from those sentences. Like reading Woolf but way more fun.

Infinite Worlds in Finite Space Award: Mark A. King, “NYi.” Loved the parallels between the polar opposite Harrys. The placement of each Harry at either end of the spectrum implies a myriad variation in between. Killer closing sentence too.

Most Intimidating Inside Joke Award: Karl A. Russell, “Top Dog.” Sure glad #flashdogs do everything via e-mail.

Tetris Award: Eliza Archer, “Sinking Fast.” For incorporating nearly every element into a coherent and enjoyable bit of flash. 

Sassiest Award: Liz Hedgecock, “Whiskey Sour.” For the sassiest capture of the Roaring 20s. What a figure that flapper cuts! Her attitude, the sly cues from the bartender, the line “she slid a dollar bill across the bar, and herself onto a stool” (channeling Chandler?) made me long for a time machine.

Best Use of Compare/Contrast Essay Format: Steven Stucko, “Book Report.” This piece enshrines the relatively new push for students to relate the classics to their own lives. The parallel between Gatsby and Joe (the writer’s EX-stepdad, making Mom the approximation of Daisy) is really a look at two prohibitions. Gatsby gets shot, Joe gets probation—we can call that progress.

Koolest Award: Margaret Locke, “If You Can’t Beat ‘Em…” This story is a pop-kulture junkie’s dream. It’s the klosest we got to keeping up with the stories on E! and MailOnline. He got his kloset, and I got my fun out of parsing the story’s details for what is based on life and what is not.

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HONORABLE MENTIONS

 

Bill Engleson, The Dancer.”

IN: The Dancer’s opening sets the character’s voice right away: cold, lucid, emotionless. Then the imagery that follows is exquisite: dead woman’s shawl; heaved herself off the 8 story tenement bought for a song. The switch, midway into the story, isolated in a one-sentence paragraph, is made more jarring by the deadpan opening. And it is here that the story really soars. Suddenly we see that the numbness of the narrator is the result of someone who has become cold so as to be able to deal with a lover’s serial infidelity without resorting to self-pity.

NC: The second sentence really drew me in: “The moon is hidden by a dead woman’s shawl” raises so many questions. The initial lie of this one says volumes about the character. It’s the lie she’s used to telling and flows from her naturally. Yet, there’s the crucial detail that betrays the lie: why is she lingering in the room of the dead woman? Another wonderful aspect of this tale is the implication that the full truth has yet to be revealed. Yes, she’s come clean about knowing the woman, but not about how she died. Instead we’re left with Grant discovering the MC’s “interests”. Very sly.

 

Catherine Connolly, “The Sins of the Flesh.” 

IN: Gatsby evoked a lot of dark tales in this round of stories, but the fantastic elements in “Sins of the Flesh” made it stand out. Nothing is given away easily. Metal is fumbled between hands. Then revealed to be a grubby coin. One character is asked to take his leave, to close his ears. Then another—definitely dead—is asked to free himself and rest easy. Hunger rises, rides the narrator roughshod, then the month descends, ravenous. He swallows to keep ‘it’ down, then a cough threatens regurgitation. He says it is done. Then he says he’ll reunite whatever he ate with the owner later. Why? Because the price is not right. *cringes* Perhaps the details of the narrator’s old ways are better left in a fudge. But the fact that they are held back makes the story even more appealing.

NC: A dark fantasy that refuses to show its hand to great effect. The first paragraph is ominous and intriguing. The MC seems to be some kind of gruesome psychopomp. Elements such as reference to the old ways, the deference of the client toward the MC, the cannibalism, the idea of “premature regurgitation” in conjunction with “I’ll reunite it with its owner later”, all work to make this tale a chilling one. Once tasted, this one lingers on the palate.

Jess Carson, “Just A Taste.”

IN: Like Nancy rightly points out below, the narrator of this story and “The Dancer” could be two incarnations of the same person. Here, again, is the cold detachment of the voice, the deadpan delivery of the narrative, all made into a lyrical description of a love heist. The satisfaction of the narrator as showed in the ending is clear. I can almost see the smirk on her face as she delivers the last line: Even tarnished trophies shine.

NC: This one and “The Dancer” told similar stories from a similar POV and setting, yet gave us very different results. Love, love, love the voice of this one, the disaffected tone, the figurative language surrounding the consumption of alcohol (so appropriate, this being prohibition: once one taboo is broken, what other lines stand ready to be crossed?). On top of all that, there is something incredibly satisfying about the wife slipping off with the “trophy” her husband intends to cheat with. The final line lands on a splendid note.

Michael Wettengel, “Gold (to) Dust.” 

IN: I’m not a fan of genealogies (the after-effect of reading the book of Numbers as a child) but Gold (to) Dust does really well with the form, creating fully realised histories out of simple declarative sentences—Michael=rich, Andrew=poor, Mary=lonely—and showing how each one’s existence precipitated the other. In Mary, the start of a cycle is established. And seeing her back in that apartment makes me sad for her, for how sometimes we can spend most of our lives struggling to evade the shadow of family members who are long gone, even if our shelves contain no pictures of them.

NC: A sad decade crossed in 150 words, rags to riches to rags again. The absence of pictures of key family members bespeaks a poverty that money can’t break, driving home the message that money (or lack of it) does nothing to secure love or loyalty. The language of this piece is rich and devastating. Andrew’s dissolution is told with incredible imagery: “Gold dripped from his fingers and champagne fountained from his mouth until his fingers went cold and his mouth gathered flies.” And we come full circle with Mary back at the apartment that once inspired us to pity Andrew (daughters of Midas figures rarely fare well).

THIRD RUNNER UP

Dazmb, “Abstinence.”

IN: The first statement of the story already invites us not to take what we see on face value. “It’s not so much a speakeasy as a ragged carousel of illicit expectation…” It’s not so much a story about a potential rape as it is a story about an abandoned murder. It is not so much a confession as it is a story of regret. But what exactly does the narrator regret? How did he become the possessor of a dark heart, of a serpent in the head? The story is not resolved this way or that. Heaven or hell. And by holding back that resolution, the writer makes this worth reading again.

NC: Delightfully sneaky in its sinisterness, this one hooked me in the first line. The wonderfully contemptuous description of the not-speakeasy (“ragged carousel of illicit expectation”) bespeaks an attitude we’ve come to expect from sadistic killers. All of his actions, too, build the threat toward the drunk woman. Loved the imagery of his internal struggle as a “gnarling” serpent, and also how “bone-snap of intention” reveals that it’s murder on his mind. The game he plays, making sure she sees him in the mirror, catching a whiff of the peril she’s in—or, rather, might be in were the MC to close the narrow gap between innocence and guilt. 

SECOND RUNNER UP

Joey To, “Crashes” 

IN: Take away the explanation at the end of this story and I would still love it as much as I do now. By immersing us deep in the mind of the character and simply moving through his thoughts, I know him more than the word-count would have otherwise permitted. All of his feelings are bare: the initial self-loathing, the cockiness when he becomes successful, and that last line. Reading this story, I thought of George Saunders. Anything that reminds me of George is good.

NC: I liked this before I read about its link to the Chinese proverb and liked it even more once I learned of the link. The unique single-line format really leant itself to the story being told. We get vivid and rapid-fire flashes of the break-up, heartbreak and recovery interspersed with the MC struggling through school, adding semester after semester. One might read that as the MC being a failure (as apparently the “she” of the story does), but the reader sees instead someone who doesn’t give up. The persistence that keeps him pushing through failed exams is probably the same quality that keeps her in his head and that he chides himself over (“I must be pathetic”). The shortest line is the pivot for the story and it even contains the line “it went quickly”. Then the lines gain length as the MC gains confidence, so when he rebuffs the woman, it is the cherry on top of his success parfait. Fine flash-craft here.

FIRST RUNNER UP

Michael Seese, “Birds.” 

IN: Reading “Birds” felt like watching someone speed-paint. Every brush stroke is defined and sure, doing just enough to show there’s something good coming out in the end. Each detail, taken separately—birds, dogs; blank and white, colour; crows eating humble pies—means next to nothing, but together, they become a clear image of sadness and regret. And the way the conclusion is left open takes quality up a notch. I think he jumps and hits the concrete and becomes red mass like the stockbroker. But I think that says more about me than the story. Isn’t that what all good stories do?

NC: The setting is established in the very first sentence with its coy reference to Black Monday. The fluttering thoughts woven through with bird idioms on the first read is entertaining and endearing, but by the time I reached the end, I learned how appropriate the imagery is. The flow from paragraph to paragraph is remarkable and each seemingly disparate detail fits into the overall puzzle. Every seemingly flighty line (see what I did there?) follows a deliberate progression to the end. By the time the reveal hit, I was fully sympathetic with the MC. The presentation of “Mr. Charles Mitchell, the stockbroker” as an impact character, a man not separate from his title, makes him seem somewhat culpable in the loss of money and not merely the messenger. The last line leaves me wondering if the MC might attempt to prove the last line. That he’s on the ledge does point to eventual suicide, but it’s not finalized so I can hold onto that sliver of hope that he “flies away”.

And now: joining Phil Coltrane as our only FIVE time winners, it’s the mindblowing, freshly returned from break

DRAGON WINNER

CHRIS MILAM!!!

for

Penelope Callaghan

IN: “Penelope” does all the good flashfiction-y things. That usually goes very wrong or very right, but here it goes the right way. The framing (from freshly-gutted tuna to filleted sturgeons), the imagery, the well-tuned dialogue, and the end-twist, all deliver a complete story in 150 words. There’s only one description each for the characters (“A face that could’ve launched the ship she arrived on, the Mauretenia,” and “The savage bouquet of cheap cologne”), yet their sketch is clear: Jimmy is lecherous, confident in his knowledge of the world; Penelope is, on the surface, naive, but she turns out to be the darker of the duo. Unlike Nancy, I’m unaware of the allusions in this piece, but it’s so well written that even without knowing them, the story works. Having Nancy point them out below just increases my enjoyment

NC: So much tasty in this piece. The language is as sharp as a filet knife. The fish-gut imagery that sandwiches this piece—a reference to the mob-controlled Fulton Fish Market, perhaps?—is perfect. Penelope is a brilliant character, first through Jimmy’s eyes, through the dialogue, to the last paragraph which shifts deftly to her POV (a shift that also manages to move us ahead in time as well, without a page break). The reference to the Mauretania signals a crucial element that Jimmy (who makes the allusion) misses: it was the fastest liner of its day. We know she’s new to the New World, but she’s savvy enough to take on “dark America”.  The dialogue between them crackles: her bluntness vs. his slang-heavy banter, and what wonderful slang it is too. I can imagine Jimmy having a habit of hustling new arrivals, but she turns out to be his match, established in the dialogue, confirmed in the end. Not knowing the allusions doesn’t diminish the enjoyment of this piece at all (which makes them the best kind of allusions). The last paragraph packs so much into it without getting bogged down. One tiny scintillating phrase (“rum-fisted uppercuts”) drums up enough antipathy for Jimmy that his demise in the next line seems inevitable and satisfying.

Congratulations, Chris, you stunning writer! Please find here your updated winner’s page; your winning tale will be found there shortly as well as over on the winners’ wall. Please watch your inbox for directions regarding your fifth Sixty Seconds interview this week. And now here’s your winning story:

Penelope Callaghan

The man was prowling the docks for a juice joint when he saw her. Hair as red as a freshly gutted tuna. A face that could’ve launched the ship she arrived on, the Mauretania.

“Jimmy Banks. You’re a choice bit of calico. You gotta name?”

“Penelope.”

“A pleasure. You need a gig? I can get you work making dresses. Yes?”

“No. I didn’t come here to be a seamstress.”

“I dabble in muck sometimes. You game?”

“Why not. Show me your dark America.”

He schooled her. “Take advantage of your looks. Get close. Flirt with your mouth. Pop some buttons on your blouse. When he’s hooked, ram steel into his heart. Don’t hesitate. Know your onions. Make some cash.”

Years and dozens of punctured ventricles later, Penelope would think of Jimmy Banks. The rum-fisted uppercuts. The savage bouquet of cheap cologne. The way his chest opened up, like a filleted sturgeon.

FFwinner-Web

Flash! Friday Vol 3 – 35: WINNERS

FACT: did you know Sherlock Holmes never uttered the phrase, “Elementary, my dear Watson”? This is an ongoing source of disappointment to me, as I can quite hear him saying it. (And if he looks like this while doing so, that is between me and the BBC, thankyouverymuch.) He did, however, quite often say, “When you have eliminated the impossible, then whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.” 

(Of course, now I also hear the Queen of Hearts reminding us that she always believes six impossible things before breakfast. Wonder what our dear Mr. Holmes would make of her?? #genremashup)

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Judging Sherlock this week (just how does one do that?! takes either great skill, great hubris, or the greatest of ignorance!) were the quick-witted (whew) captains of Dragon Team Six, Steph Ellis & Josh Bertetta. (Josh says he once believed seven impossible things before breakfast; Steph says she ate every last one.) Steph starts us off with a round of thanks:  

My second time already sharing judging honours with Josh and so far – touch wood – it has all been amazingly civilised; we have not needed to haggle or make major trade-offs in choices, there has been no bickering or name-calling or bribes! {Editor’s Note: AND WHY NOT, PRAY TELL?!} And this week in particular we seemed to share a psychic link across the pond with the same stories striking the same notes. 

At this point I would also like to thank Deb Foy and my daughter Bethan for providing us the stories stripped of all identification.

Thank you to everyone who chose to send in their stories this week based on elements from The Hound of the Baskervilles.  We had dialect hammed-up to the hilt, glorious (or gloriously terrible) puns, villains, melodrama and poetry; what more could you ask for?  Ah, that’s elementary, my dear Watson.  You want the results.  Well, here they be …

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SPECIAL MENTIONS

Master of Language: Catherine Connolly, “Lord and His Lady.” 

SE: Absolutely stunning use of language in this story; a gorgeous poetry that recalls the lyrical poems of the early Anglo-Saxons (don’t just read Beowolf, read The Wanderer, I urge you).  The use of alliteration and the imagery evoked is remarkable: the contract between Lord and Lady written between ‘marrow margins’, the description of her as a devouring being ‘Lady savours sucking Lord’s soul from its moorings’, taking everything from him until he has no more to give – ‘All things must end’.  I could read stories written in this manner all day.

JB: A work of mythopoesis, something from behind the veil, from within the white spaces between the black words, much like All Hallows itself when the veil between this world is at its thinnest, and something (in the case of this story) much more sinister pokes its head through.

Master Punnery: MT DeckerThe English Detective.” 

SE: When I saw the first pun, I thought uh-oh, spelling error, then I saw the second, and I thought ‘Don’t they know how to use a dictionary, this is Flash! Friday!  Standards are slipping’.  {Editor’s Note: :faints:} And then my brain caught up with what was on the paper and I realised what was going on.  Favourites include ‘Lord Henry stood a loan’, the ‘up keep’ being ‘tall rather than broad’, ‘nomads land’ and that classic ‘defenderer of the realm’.  The final denouement was perfect it was ‘his grammar, after all … he axed for it’.  Wonderful.

JB: I shook my head at the first of several “misspellings,” thinking to myself, “oh, that’s too bad,” because I really liked the story. Then, with that last sentence, I found myself smiling and nodding my head…thinking “way to go!”

 

Master of Groanery: Geoff Holme, “Der Hund von Bach-Steuville.” 

SE: Misunderstandings, jokes and a Germanic play on names with Ohm and Wartzern had me chuckling all the way through.  Loved in particular:  ‘a message attached to the sole of his boot ‘Ah! A footnote’. ‘Vhat has four legs und flies … Two pairs of trousers’.  I am envious of anyone who can come up with this level of humour.  Great fun.

JB: Of all of this week’s stories, I must say that I never laughed as much as I laughed when I read “Der Hund” and after reading so many gut-wrenching stories, to have a little reprieve from so much emotion, this was a welcome break.

Master of Whisky: Eliza Archer, “Entailed.”

SE: I must confess that the first thing that drew me to this story was that classic sentence ‘There were no shrubberies’.  Why?  Because shrubberies are the desire of the Knights who say Nee from Monty Python’s Holy Grail, a film also filled with monks mortifying themselves.  And from then on I was reading the piece as if it were one of the parodies that they themselves would create.  This fitted so well, that regardless of the author’s intention, this was how I interpreted it. 

JB: An almost Lovecrafting setting hovers over this piece of family tradition, desire, and an unspoken arrogance—that what happened in the past won’t happen to me.

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HONORABLE MENTIONS

Craig Anderson, Clue-Less.”

SE: Poor Mrs Jenkins, sitting there quite innocently to find out she was murdered! Although I must say she took the news rather well (very British reaction).  It was playing out in black-and-white in my head.  And bringing in that classic boardgame Cluedo, ‘Colonel Mustard, in the library, with a candlestick’ was a nice touch to a gently humourous story.

JB: In the kitchen the author pulls the rug out from under me, killing me in turn with his/her computer, with his/her deft skills of telling a story that sucks me in only to turn it all upside-down in the end. I’ll never look at that board game the same again.

Marie McKay, “The Great Detective.” 

SE: A story told from the viewpoint of the victim, describing his imprisonment and how the detective’s deductions are mistakes that will not solve the crime.  The victim has also told us where the answer lies, he has written ‘his identity on the page of me’.  But because the detective is digging in the wrong place, spurred on by the doctor, he will never know the truth.  The last line tells us everything, how ‘The doctor nods for he is happy to keep the great detective in the dark’ because the doctor is the murderer.  The title of the story in this case is ironic.

JB: Another great story where, in a way, the body is text and where those who think they know remain blind, or in this case deaf, seeking, as they do, the truth in the facts and what is visible.

Joidianne4eva, “No Angels.”

SE: A family of standing, a child with a dark secret.  She is sick and is not allowed to play with the servants because they are below her station but the child is not lonely ‘after all I have mother and she loves me so.’  A touch of the Psychos here! Then there is father whose love is ‘heavy and it hurt’, was this a hint at abuse? It certainly sounds as though the family held dark secrets.  Particularly that sentence ‘I hope he’s not like that nasty priest who touched my skin and made it burn. His words made my ears hurt as well’.  This is the devil’s work.

JB: Superiority and inferiority, prejudice, control and other such evils prevail and I want to know why lies underneath—I want to know the what, they why, and the how, but the author leaves me wondering, allowing me to fill in such questions with my own imagination. Chilling.

 

THIRD RUNNER UP

Mark A. King, “Numbers.”

SE: A visceral response to “Numbers.” Reading it, I could feel my stomach contract and my muscles tighten. While I like stories with those ending twists, at times, like this, I knew what the story was about with that first line. And that was the hook. We’ve all heard the stories, the accounts, the histories. We know the horror. Sometimes, it’s almost too much too bear; sometimes it’s just another content of the intellect: yes, I know it happened—and it was horrible. And while nothing I will ever read will enable me to truly understand, if the purpose literature is to make us feel—Numbers, whether I like the feelings (which is beside the point) does just that.

JB: ‘They don’t have names, only numbers.’ You know immediately this is a story of the Holocaust even before it mentions chimneystacks and gas.  And you know who it is about as he searches for subjects amongst the elderly, the unfit, children, looking for twins in particular on which to experiment – Josef Mengele, the Angel of Death.  The man may have escaped the trials and justrice brought to others but he has found he can never escape his crimes.  His dreams are haunted by those he destroyed, they turn his own instruments of torture against him; Mengele has become a number, a fitting reversal.  Excellent reminder of man’s inhumanity to man.

SECOND RUNNER UP

Foy S. Iver, “In the Shadow-Room” 

SE: Such a chilling opening to this story, the room cold and filled with shadow and ‘The stranger has a razor-knife twirling in his fingers because Mommy hasn’t told him yet dark.’  Add a child’s voice to the mix and immediately the creepy atmosphere is ratcheted up a notch.  The child’s reflections on noise, the ‘edges and volume’ of the kids at school and how the man touches his ‘arm-skin’ which screams ‘DON’T TOUCH ME’, indicates the child may be autistic.  Even worse, he notes his mother’s ‘eyes are half-moons and tilted, like in cartoons when it’s dark and there’s a monster next to you’, does he sense something? Then there is the ‘retired’ neuro-surgeon who is dismissive of morality as it ‘lags behind science’ – what is it he is about to do, and is it moral?  A story to make your skin crawl.

JB: First, the images and language are stunning: I can see the short develop cinematically, though in this case, the young child’s thoughts would not be verbalized—all I would hear are the parents and the doctor talking, willing to go the most extreme measures to “fix” their child’s “problem.” But this, of course is no film, and we are privy to the inner workings of a child who, unable to verbalize his pain and suffering, lets his skin do the talking…something I am all too familiar with.

FIRST RUNNER UP

David Parkland, “Dog.” 

SE: Touching picture of that great man, Winston Churchill, in his twilight years with his faithful hound at his side (or in his head).  Known for his love of animals and the dogs he owned over the years, this particular dog could easily be the spirit of those gone before or it could be the ‘black dog’ of depression from which Winston suffered particularly in later life.  Whether the dog is depression or the ghost of past pets, Winston is perfectly accepting of him and comfortable in his company.  And through it all, with time passing very slowly, the clock ‘Marking time like dripping eaves’, they just sit together in companionable silence and ‘listen to the clock’ marking the end of Winston’s days.  An evocative sense of time and place and a life done.

JB: Is the dog real or not? What is real? Does it matter if the dog is “real” or not? I don’t think so, for what is real, it seems to me hear, is subjective—what is real is what we experience, whether or not others experience the same. Much as beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so too is reality. What makes this story work for me particularly is the lack of quotes, even though there is “dialogue.” The author’s deft choice of leaving the quotes out highlights these very issues in quite a thought-provoking piece.

And now: for her FOURTH win (but first since April), it’s the exceedingly fabulous

DRAGON WINNER

NANCY CHENIER!!!

for

Causality

SE: Loved the take on the superstition theme—superstitions most of us have probably heard and probably laugh at. Yet this is no laughing matter. The author is able to generate a real sympathy with his/her main character, Daniel, for whom life just keeps getting worse—how life events can have the most horrendous domino effects–even when, as we learn, the initial event wasn’t “supposed” to have happened in the first place. But then again, things happen as we happen and what should have or should not have happened, don’t really matter anyway, no do they? They happened and much like Daniel, we may curse others for our own fates.

JB: A story that starts with a tragic accident and from then on the boy’s life spirals downwards, each step triggered by an apparent superstition.  Seven years of bad luck because of the car mirror, a thirteenth birthday on which his present of a black cat was killed, walking under a ladder during a burglary causes his capture.  None of this is his fault, if something could go wrong, it did go wrong.  And then the worst thing of all, he discovers that his dad – although he claimed he was trying to help him – was actually responsible for the event that led to resulting misery in his life, by saying he shouldn’t have been in the car his father has admitted to being responsible for his mother’s murder.  Scaffolding the story with the superstitious ‘If …’ was a clever method of showing cause and effect, a chain reaction if you like.  But in the end, none of this was down to an ‘If’, it was all down to a someone.  And then the youth, whose life has always appeared to have been beyond his own control, now takes command.  He does not turn his back on superstition (although he destroys the useless four-leaf clovers), but instead turns to one form, voodoo, which he can control.  A dark revenge indeed.

Congratulations, dear Nancy, Mother of Squidlets! Please find here your updated winner’s page; your winning tale will be found there as well as over on the winners’ wall. And you must keep a wary eye on your inbox for interview questions for Thursday’s #SixtySeconds feature–your FOURTH! And now, making it utterly impossible for it to go unread (because today is all about the impossible, see?) here’s your winning story:

Causality

If you break a mirror…

I was seven when the car crash happened. I remember my splintered reflection in the rearview mirror. Mom died on the way to the hospital. “The car wouldn’t stop,” she rasped through the oxygen mask. I spent the next seven years bouncing around foster homes.

If a black cat crosses your path…

For my thirteenth birthday, a gift-wrapped box addressed to me appeared on the doorstep. From under the lid, a charcoal face with green eyes mewed at me. My first real present in six years.

Two months, I kept her hidden in the shed. When Ben discovered her, he tossed her into the neighbor’s swimming pool and head-locked me until the splashing stopped.
That night I hit Ben’s sleeping head with a baseball bat. Welcome to juvie.

If you walk under a ladder…

At eighteen, I got busted on a B&E. The house was being remodeled. Even with a four-leaf clover in each shoe, I should’ve been more leery around scaffolding. Three hundred pounds of heroic security guard dropped right on my head.

Then, I got a letter in prison:

Dear Daniel,
We musta just missed each other.
Things never worked out between me and your mom, but I made a vow to help you out. I thought a pet might be a catalyst (get it?) to turn things around. Sorry it didn’t work out.
Love Dad
PS. You weren’t supposed to be in the car.

I folded the letter along its creases, trashed the clovers, and started work on a voodoo doll.

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Flash! Friday Vol 3 – 34: WINNERS

WELL, aren’t y’all looking spiffy this fine Monday (especially Stella, fast asleep in her dragon-sparkled jammies)!!!!  So very grateful, as ever (except one week more so), to all of you who pushed up your dragonsleeves to write another round of outrageously stunning stories. You took our dramatically unhappy Anna Karenina places even she hadn’t dreamed of going: she wound up with Vronsky, Karenin, alone, or under Engine, Engine, Number Nine, sure — but also variously on other planets, with dragons, in boxing rings… OK, who are we kidding, mostly she wound up DEED, poor thing, in the very picture of wonderful irony, as she died in stories shimmering and humming with life. How do you do that?!

Btw, COME BACK TOMORROW!!! as we celebrate previous Flash! Friday winner Sydney Scrogham‘s launch of her novel, Chase! It’s another super exciting #Spotlight interview, complete with a chance at a FREE COPY! Don’t miss it!

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A marvelous, cotton candied privilege having the captains of Dragon Team Five, Foy Iver & Holly Geely behind the engine this week. Only their second go, and they’re already settling into a comfortable routine. I know this, because unlike dear Anna, they are both still quite alive. And chatty:   

HG: This week, tragedy abounds; exactly as I suspected when the choice of main character is “unhappy socialite.” Congratulations, friends, you have tugged at my heartstrings, broken them, mended them, and broken them again. I had so many feelings that I almost had to resort to writing poetry (and trust me, no one wants to be burdened with my poetry – I’m worse than a Vogon). Honestly, folks, well done – I’m in awe at the skill of this community.

FI: In true Flash! Friday dragon fashion, you’ve slain your scores, woven poetry into familiar fabric, and sent this captain into fits trying to cut down a not-so-short list. (C’mon, people, couldn’t you be a little less amazing!?) Winner and First Runner Up switched places a few times, fighting ink and quill for that champion crown. I would’ve forged a second crown in Hephaestus’ fires but apparently there are rules about that, so the decision had to be made…

Thank you, thank you to Steph Ellis for sending her beautiful Ddraig Goch straight from Cymru with your stories safely stripped!

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SPECIAL MENTIONS

The “Oh-Snap I didn’t see that coming but I love it” award: Sarah Miles, “Social Status.” In today’s world, this main character is in for a rough time after their announcement. Love it – gave me a great chuckle.

The “D’awww you really tugged at my heartstrings” award: Eleanor LewisMummy-Number-Four.” This story is sad at times, but it’s ultimately precious, and Mummy-Number-Four is a lovely woman.

The “Come drink the Shenandoah waters” award: Mark A. King, The 4:15 Train from Shenandoah Valley.” I loved this story from the start for its ambitious use of heavy eye dialect. Then the S.V. nod cinched it.  

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HONORABLE MENTIONS

 

Craig Anderson, “Cold Feet.” 

HG: Ouch. A tale that’s all-too-familiar (but hopefully becoming a thing of the past). Powerfully done, particularly the “I do.”

FI: Another story on the winner’s list to end on only two words. But, goodness, how much weight they carry! Through a more modern perspective, “Cold Feet” took the idea of obliged marriage and made it its own. Deftly, the author provokes that rising dread how many millions have experienced standing by false affection for tradition’s sake. Whether “I do” is spoken in that moment, or, later, when it’s too late, isn’t said but I like to hope that those cold feet were bold enough to run.

Nancy Chenier, “Virtual Ties That Bind.” 

HG: I’m with Grandma on this one, the idea of becoming software is disturbing. The story made me uncomfortable and made me wonder how far I’d go to stay with family; it’s a well-crafted look at a future I fear.

FI: Strong world building was recurrent this week (one of the reasons our job was so difficult. Looking at you “Superiority”), but “Virtual Ties” created a universe that was both foreign and familiar. Though technology pulls us into the future of new bodies and 200-year long life spans, the strength of familial bonds holds, tying us eternally to those we love and the need to remain connected.

M.T. Decker, “Time Warped and Weft.”

HG: This one reminds me of old stories of the Fates and how they weave our destinies. In only a handful of paragraphs, the vastness of entropy bears down upon the reader. Fantastic.

FI: I loved this one for its removed feel (and probably because first person POV, present tense is one of my all time favorite narrative techniques). Much like the voice shown weaving its prescribed pattern, the conflict threads in and out, pointing to where entropy and man work against themselves unintentionally. Short. Beautiful. Unique.

Catherine Connolly, “Barabashka.”

HG: I wasn’t familiar with the lore so I looked it up – and I’m impressed. This spooky tale hints of tradition gone wrong and there’s a haunting feeling of longing throughout.

FI: High, high praise for the author of this gem! Latvian folklore come to life was the last thing I expected to read from a Tolstoy prompt. Original, gripping, and worlds-deep, each sentence harks back to the domovoi and a thousand other questionable traditions we humans cling to out of habit, affection, or fear. Can I request a novel out of this? 

THIRD RUNNER UP

Tamara Shoemaker, “Journey.”

HG: “Less than twenty inches separate us. A gulf of a thousand miles keeps us apart.”The story of a love gone stale, and two hearts separated; a familiar story that affects many every day. A heartbreaking tale that puts light at the end of the tunnel; the closing line is especially beautiful.

FI: So often we read stories about passion starved and fading, but this author paints Love as a journey, with intimacy and distance both. When that chasm opens wide, “Journey” whispers that “touch is a ten-year bridge,” able to heal the deepest wounds. As someone who thrives on love expressed physically, I was happy to see its power represented here in such poetic prose.

SECOND RUNNER UP

Tamara Shoemaker, “Daughter of Eve” 

HG: The main characters unabashed declaration of “It is who I am” sold this one for me. Here is a woman who has no shame in being a woman. Perhaps society has come a long way – but there is much room for improvement. A fantastic study in feminism and it made me feel powerful.

FI: Oh, how I love this one! Many of the stories showed us women either submitting to the place society assigns them (Grace Black‘s “Just Chicken” – So. Good.), or violently rebelling (Pattyann McCarthy‘s “Hush Little Baby” – a powerful piece). The voice in “Daughter of Eve” instead has a quiet confidence. She knows she’s a woman. She owns it. And what began as an insult (“you’re a woman”) becomes a quiet declaration (“Yes. I am.”), making me proud to say it aloud with her.

FIRST RUNNER UP

Nancy Chenier, “Frayed Ties.” 

HG: This story breaks my heart. There are many layers here, a tragedy presented in an almost nonchalant way. I can imagine the speaker shrugging one shoulder as they wait for the train; I can imagine someone crying for them, though they don’t believe anyone should care. In a few words in each stage of this person’s life, you can see how hard it must have been, and you understand why they’re waiting for “until.”

FI: This is the perfect example of why flash fiction deserves its place in the literary world. In only 150 words, a whole life plays out in snap shots: childhood to teenage years to adulthood. Every read through reveals new layers of meaning becoming more complex rather than less, as it’s unwrapped. The structure, too, is phenomenal, guiding the reader through each tragedy with a gentle hand before leaving us standing in the narrator’s shoes in front of those tracks, wondering if now is our own “until.” Where parents should have provided the strongest tie, years of neglect and disinterest have left this individual with only memories and a longing to join that patched-together family.

And now: magnificently battling to the top AGAIN, it’s TWO-time

DRAGON WINNER

MARK A. KING!!!

for

The Boxer and the Butterfly

HG: “The butterfly is trapped in a body that doesn’t belong”/”The boxer is ready.” The two different but achingly similar tales of two different-yet-the-same characters is a gorgeous glimpse into the chosen theme, “social progress.” They have both taken a bold step to the future, and have both decided to be true to themselves – perhaps in some cases at the risk of their safety, especially for the butterfly. I wonder, is it a butterfly…or is it something more? Beautifully done.

FI: Wow. It would be easy to get lost in this one, wandering between words succulent and soul-catching, waiting for the next sliver of imagery to carry us away, missing the heart of why “The Boxer and the Butterfly” show cases champion writing. But time spent reading and re-reading, tearing the mind away from stunning phraseology, and looking instead to meaning, is well spent. Because why write if you don’t have something to say? Here, the author examines social progress through two dissimilar characters, their desires and what society desires for them. They are not content to be what others say they must and it is this timorous bravery that seals it. Sometimes the bravest things, are done by the smallest and most fearful of us. A worthy winner.

Congratulations (again), Mark! Once (again) we are TOTALLY MADLY LEAPING ABOUT THE LAIR in honor of your win. We’re updating your winner’s page (again), and your winning tale’s (again) going up on the winners’ wall. Please keep an eye on your inbox for interview questions (once more) for Thursday’s #SixtySeconds feature! And now, here’s your winning story:

The Boxer and the Butterfly

The boxer imagines the soft, dry powder of talc soothing roughened knuckles of pain. White dusted on criss-crossed burgundy fissures—a snow-capped mountain of scars.

The butterfly is trapped in a body that doesn’t belong. Society dictates the mundane caterpillar appearance—dragging the butterfly down.

The boxer imagines the weight of the gloves, the torsion of biceps, the dancing of feet on springy canvas. The boxer imagines the bloodthirsty collective din of the audience as glove connects with face.

The butterfly is beaten, derided and punished for being something it should not be.

The boxer is ready. In the locker room she kisses the picture of her children, ignores the banners telling her place is at home and she enters the arena.

The butterfly is ready. He covers his injuries in majestic kaleidoscope-colours and walks the streets of Russia with tentative, watchful steps.

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