Tag Archive | Clive Tern

Flash! Friday Vol 3 – 42: WINNERS

Welcome to the results party!! It’s always such a fun adventure, picking out favorites from the glittering heap. And speaking of glittering: WHAT A FABULOUS kickoff to #Pyro!! (Go read the story & critiques, if you haven’t already!) I couldn’t be more thrilled by the good-humoured, constructive, kind feedback on our very first offering (and thanks to you, Writer, for your courage in going first!). Can’t wait for our next round this Saturday. I loved seeing myriad perspectives on a single piece — so insightful. Thanks, y’all.

Coming up TOMORROW: a #Spotlight interview with writing phenom Lisa Crayton. Y’all may not know her yet, but you’re going to love her. She’s a freelance writer, mentor, editor, and respected conference speaker (of particular interest to me is that her book on Toni Morrison (with whom I have a slight obsession) is being republished in 2016) — she has so many interesting things to say on writing and connecting with agents/editors/publishers. You won’t want to miss this.  


Ever grateful for the powerhouse judges of Dragon Team Five, Foy Iver & Holly Geely, for their combined efforts. I have it on good authority that tears were shed (on less good authority regarding what sort of tears, however). Here’s what they have to say:   

HG: Dear friends…Once more I am floored by your talent, and yet I must wonder – why was the depressed robot the most popular character? Who out there needs a hug? C’mon, bring it in. My arms will enfold you.

Now that I’ve got that out of my system, let us delve into the goodness that is the Adams prompt. For the record, my favourite part of the Hitchhiker’s Guide series is the oblivious whale falling to its death (closely followed by the bowl of petunias) which should give you a feel for my sense of humour. When I saw the prompt this week I knew you wouldn’t let me down.

So long, and thanks for all the fish!

FI:  Do I have to turn in my writer/reader card if I haven’t read Hitchhiker’s Guide? Hopefully not… I cried tears of laughter over the movie and have meant to enjoy the book ever since (no worries – my fellow judge is a fine connoisseur of all things Adams).

Your stories reawakened that sleeping intention! So many of you captured that tone, that voice, that hilarity (genius!), while others took the prompt a whole new direction (a boldness I’m quite pleased with), and all with wonderful results. Hopefully, our judging does them justice.



For Revenge that Tastes of Strawberry: Nancy Chenier, “Dining at Starpost.” HG: I love it when the cocky customer gets what’s coming to him. You want to be a stubborn jerk? You pay for it, son.

A Beverage that Does the Trick: Evan Montegarde, “Galactic Jack: When a Good Whiskey Just Won’t Do.” HG: Anything that begins with a guy in underpants and a purple robe is bound to end well. Where can I get some of this drink?

For the Most Dizzying Use of Bureaucratic Drivel: Clive Tern, In Response.” FI: For both the laugh and the headache, I thank you.

For Working in a Few of the Best Sci-Fi’s on Bookshelves: @dazmb, “Tyrell High School.” FI: A clever alphabet soup of several of the best sci-fi’s on bookshelves. Miss Voight-Kampff’s empathetic head tilt especially tickled my brain.



Evan Montegarde, SAD2434 and His Box of Crayons.

HG: As a huge fan of crayons, I approve of their use in this story. SAD2434 (fantastic acronym, well done) tugged at my heartstrings. His heroic efforts to amuse himself made me cheer. That ship needed a real dressing down. I hope your crayons last too, SAD2434. I love you. Good luck. 

FI: Haven’t we all wanted to crayon someone’s face now and then? No? Just me? Never mind… SAD2434’s irritability is amusingly human.

Geoff Holme, “Bad Day at the Office.” 

HG: Dear writer… you win at life. “I’m afraid Elvis has left the building.” If you know me at all, you know how I love a punny ending. (I bet you did, didn’t you? I bet you were trying to trick me into choosing you, weren’t you? It worked, writer. It worked.) This is fantastic, a marvelous use of the depressed robot. 

FI: I wonder if a spoonful of peanut butter might make our irascible Elvis feel better. Great job telling through dialogue – not easily done! –  An amusing end makes this a fun read.

Craig Anderson, “Dozing Off.”

HG: This is a spectacular use of the depressed robot, the age-old question of what would happen if the machines took over (and had a dark sense of humour), and it includes sound advice: “Have you tried turning it off and back on again?” Well done, writer; this is hilarious. 

FI:  A machine with an existential dilemma, Doze-master 3000 is exactly the type of antihero I adore! He thoroughly stole my heart. In fact, I’d take him to Paris in an instant. Charming voice, no excess word fat, and character progression in 160 words. A fine piece of flash.

David Parkland, “The Infinity Machine.”

HG: Even when one does not know one’s own purpose, how can one resist pressing the big red button? (One, or six, or nine…) This story has a clever, shivery feeling and I like it. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go and press a big red button.

FI: Such a fascinating concept! A machine adrift in that dark void, creating something from the nothing, maybe even all the numbers in existence. What sealed it for me is that familiar curiosity – even a robot can’t resist pressing the red button.


Brett Milam, “Hollow.”

HG: “There was nothing I could do. I couldn’t fight another machine.” The title fits the story in so many ways. Hollowness, literal emptiness, loneliness… It makes me sad in a helpless way, and somehow I understand the robot’s pain even though I don’t have a similar experience to draw upon. Beautifully done. 

FI: Another story that won me over for the trim, simplicity of it. The voice in “Hollow” is perfect, cold, distant, matter-of-fact and ties everything together from John’s death to the slow wait. It, too, raised questions of the relationship (dependence?) between humans and their technology. Anything that makes me think gets high marks in my book.


Sydney Scrogham, “Without You for the Last Time” 

HG: She died choosing him.” What is this in my eye? It can’t be a tear, I don’t cry. DON’T LOOK AT ME. (In all seriousness, though, this is truly beautiful and thought-provoking in such a unique way.)

FI: I adored this one for the questions it provoked: what lengths would we go to to keep our loved ones alive? If we could extract human consciousness, the soul, and upload it into an immortal body, have we really saved the original being?

The prose is clean, clear, and minimalist – William Strunk Jr would’ve been proud- and all the other elements of good flash are there, from the first line to the last. Who could stop reading after an opening like “He knew he’d outlive her”? The rest follows suit until that final paragraph brings this original twist on love and lose to a reverberating close. Well done.


Tamara Shoemaker, “Demolition.” 

HG: I am Victory, and you are Defeat” is, for me, the best closing line in the bunch. Something about this story makes me feel small; not insignificant, only small. It touched something in me I can’t usually reach; A+, writer. Well done. 

FI: I asked that your story sear itself to my memory, and this one has.

Gorgeous prose, meaning woven throughout, and distinctly unique tone kept bringing me back for “just one more read.”

It’s a clever wordsmith that can bring me from laughing at the oddities of depressed robots and horrendous poets, to hushed awe over a reflection on a single yet universal victory some 2000 years old.

It’s no small thing to take a prompt as concrete as a house about to be bulldozed and give us an abstract view.

You know your craft well, dear writer.

And now: for her second time, fabulous creature!! — join me in congratulating our 


Steph Ellis!!!


“Byron’s Last Stand, by Lord Algernon Postlethwaite”

HG: This is a heart-wrenching tale of woe, tearfully sculpted from the broken dreams of a broken man.

I’m totally kidding. This is a hilarious romp in which the enemy threatens to “haiku on your face.” I don’t know what that means, but I desperately want to see it. This was a clear choice for winner; a bad poem about bad poets. It’s just like the movie Inception. Okay, not really, but it’s magnificent. My new favourite line from a poem ever: Byron swallowed, sensed the threat; From this man of beef.”


Two things you’ve done especially well,
Mysterious writer friend.
You’ve captured Adams’ cheeky flavor,
And did so to an end.

For while we laugh and cringe at him,
Lord Byron could be us.
At first so proud of his creation,
Cruel jeers send him running to the dust.

Was he bad or simply cowed,
By common negativity?
So oft, as writers, we heed the harsh,
Believing truth must lack civility.

Silly us, t’isn’t so! Truth is bold,
But also kind – we want critique not criticism,
Let’s hope Lord Byron learns this fact,
Before his passion fails him.

Congratulations, Steph! Please find here your smartly updated winner’s page (let me know if you’d like to rewrite your bio in verse? cuz that would be totally COOL). Your winning tale can be found there as well as over on the winners’ wall. Please watch your inbox for details regarding your second Sixty Seconds interview! And now here’s your winning story:

Byron’s Last Stand, by Lord Algernon Postlethwaite

Byron Grimshaw eyed the crowd
Gathered at his door
Better than at Open Mic
The chance he’d waited for

He inhaled the dusty air
Puffed out his pigeon chest
“Hark my fellow countrymen,
Beneath my bosom’s breast …”

“Lurks a Primark padded bra
And poncey pink silk vest”

Determined not to yield his spot
To hecklers, he declaimed
Words that he intended
Would endure, spreading his fame

“Down Durham’s dreadful dreary roads
Yellow monsters chewed up brick,
As the bard orated ….”

“You really are a p…”

The words were lost amid a stir
As the foreman pushed towards him
Bulldozed his way up to the front
Clear threat behind his warning

“I’ve tickets for the match tonight
Son, you’re a right disgrace
If you don’t come out here pretty quick
I’ll haiku on your face”

Byron swallowed, sensed the threat
From this man of beef
Meekly slunk out of the house
And ran off down the street.


Flash! Friday Vol 3 – 32: WINNERS

Welcome back!!!! A dystopian humdinger of a round here at Flash! Friday, whose terrifying scenes were ameliorated only by the pleasure of seeing returning oldtimers (yes, I mean you, dear Cindy Vaskova! and my precious Beth Peterson!) and some marvelously talented new folks, join the increasingly fierce competition by our resident draggins. Clive Tern noted that some stories cleverly melded visions of the future (“It’s like Orwell and Bradbury had a brain baby”); other stories like Josh Bertetta‘s “7R4N5P051710N” melted more than one reader’s brain (“it was dribbling out my ears,” said Foy S. Iver, shaking her head extremely carefully). Each story was breathtaking (in some cases literally; for legal reasons I shall not tell you about David Shakes and all the dead bodies).

SCRABBLE UPDATE! A very important note thanking all of you for your many suggestions for my game with my mother. I wound up using Clive Tern‘s suggestion of “ashlared” (thanks, Clive!) which didn’t use the Triple Word Score but still netted me 59 points. Upon which my mother promptly played the TW herself and scored 42 points. Our current balance is 247 (her) to 240, and it’s not looking particularly good for me this round. Woe betide and all.

rof2Looking much more promising this round: we’re of course handing out lots of Ring of Fire badges today: remember that if you’ve written stories at least three Fridays in July, your name can go up on the Wall of Flame. Each badge you earn equals a chance at the jackpot of prizes at year’s end. Read all about it here!


Bravely judging for us this round was Dragon Team Seven, IfeOluwa Nihinlola & Nancy Chenier. They battled gleefully over which stories they felt deserved top honors (a battle which improved drastically once additional pots of coffee were served). Judging your fine tales is never an easy task, but I’m sure both would agree the stakes felt much higher this round what with Big Brother’s suspicious eye on them.  

NC: Dragon Team Seven’s first foray into the Flash Friday judging lair. It’s proven as rewarding as it is challenging (especially now that most of the work has been done). Orwell’s 1984 was the inspiration, and what a dystopian array you’ve come back with! Gut-wrenching and gut-busting, brutal and hilarious, heroic and desolate. I savored all the many flavors of subversion, cheered at the successes (even minute ones) and crushed dandelions in despair over the failures. What an honor to get to pore over so much talent. If I had but world enough and time (and a toddler who’d take longer naps), I’d gush over all of them.

Thanks go out to Holly Geely, who surmounted electronic challenges to prepare the stories (removing author names) so that our team could give a fair reading to every entry.

IN: Phew! 79 entries from a 1984 prompt. I didn’t see that coming. How the writers manage to do so much with the prompt week in and week out is amazing. It was a pleasure to read through all the entries. There’s a part of me that feels if I had more time to read over all of them again and again, I’d be able to defend including any on this list. Thank you all for producing such good writing.



Best Three Sentences to Ever Open a Story: Clive TernThe Improbability of Unrelated Casualty.” Such a lively piece: a crackling and absurd deconstruction of the Santayana saying.

Most Terrifying Dystopia, Arachnid Edition: Pattyann McCarthy, “One Down, One to Go.Rollicking fun, though not for the hilariously-clepped characters!

Best Subversive Use of an Acrostic: A.J. Walker, “If You Love Me You’ll Send Cake.” On the surface, a rambling, small-talk letter to Mom and her sweet motherly reply

Best (and Only Excusable) Use of 1337-speak Ever Crafted: Josh Bertetta, “7R4N5P051710N.” My brain hurts now. Was I the only one who saw David Bowie as the would-be savior from the 0N3 1D34??



Colin D. Smith, “Mightier Than the Sword.” 

NC: Usually our first experience with tyranny is via our parents, and through Andrew’s eyes we get a double-barrel of oppression. The father may remind Andrew (and us) that context is everything, that Andrew’s version of history may be a bit skewed. And yet, the father’s actions (trashing the journal, taunting his son) and Andrew’s fear of what his punishment might be (injury to his hand), shows that Andrew’s version may hold at least a kernel of truth.

IN: Oppression is usually communicated to the oppressed physically. Bodies are broken down as a way to deal with the soul. This story shows that in intimate details: burning fingers as sheets whipped them. But the physical is really just a means to an end. It is powerlessness that the tyrant wants the oppressed to feel. “..removing his last line of defence.” The title of the story felt ironic after reading: the pen is only mightier than the sword when there’s a hand to hold it.

Mark A. King, “Large Kidron Collider.”

NC: I loved the attribution of Rome at its disintegration as the site for this dystopia.  The historian character is compelling and my sympathy grew for him with every paragraph, from his writing against the grain of “history” as it appears in the third paragraph by relaying the ugly side of the Empire, as well as in the way he holds the lessons of the past right next to his heart (his optimism over what the events in Kidron might ultimately mean for humanity). The subtle presentation of the “event” in Kidron Valley drew me in. Of course, I was aware of the “event” described. I am really curious as to how it might read for someone who isn’t clear on the references. I like to think the mystery created by the sublime language of the repeated phrase might make it accessible anyway.

IN: This story attempts to tell all that should be known about Kidron Valley within the word limits, and it manages to achieve that with great use of language. Past, present and future all come together in the valley, presented as sweeping array of details. All is held together by the kindling sacred ground, a tinderbox ready to ignite at the slightest spark.

Amberlee Dawn, “Baker’s Magic.”

NC: Wonderful opening sentence. Even though I had a fairly good idea I know where this was going, the deft execution of it left me satisfied. The details are just tantalizing, blending gustatory indulgence with the slow poison of subversion. The descriptions of the Fair Society’s excessive appetites inspire so much antipathy that even if the MC hadn’t defended his/her subversion with the loss of family, I would have been rooting for him/her. I’m hungry to know how s/he bent those “thought-walls”.

IN: First line: “Revolution rode the backs of my croissants.” Verdict: Perfect. From there, the story moves deftly to show food as a vehicle for rebellion. There’s a rhythm to the chopped sentences that added depth to the story (some great use of commas too). The penultimate paragraph sealed its place on this list for me, starting with “As their stomach curved, so their minds followed.” It is such a nice description of potbellies that is one of the symbols of the political class in my darling country.

Betsy Streeter, “The Lesson.”

NC: Oh, the little rebellions are the best, like a dandelion growing through concrete. Here is a piece that really illustrates the strength of show over tell: here we see the battle being played out over a child’s drawing, the argument over the “right” color (as opposed to the true color) reveals so much about the world and the players. The interplay between characters holds this all together for me: the main conflict between Mrs. Melrose as the representative of an oppressive, thought-policing society and Parker as well as the alliance between Parker and Eleanor. I’ve taken to heart the lesson I got out of this: that the crayon is mightier than the sword.

IN: There must be something about censorship and rebellion that takes writers back to school and childhood. And of the stories that explored that in this round, this was one of the best. There’s the idealistic child who is bent on keeping his alien view of the world, and the teacher, Mrs Melrose, whose imagination has been calcified by constant surrender to the status quo. “Water is the color I say it is” has to be one of my favourite lines.


David Shakes,Will They Never Learn?” 

NC: This is one of those stories that I finished and said to myself, “Oh, yes, I liked that.” The voice is just great: flippant and naive despite being subjected to some of the worst the totalitarian government. S/He seems to trip along in his/her simple way doing his/her own thing, not necessarily meaning to be subversive but being so anyway. The short paragraphs unrolled the world in nice bite-sized chunks (appropriate for the simple-seeming MC). I chuckled over the creation of “syntacticians” (which is probably where my genetic profile would slot me) and then laughed aloud over them being jailed with the MC for their rage. The ending echoes the beginning—challenging the idea that those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it. This narrator remembers quite well, but doesn’t recognize the repetition — and there is probably a lesson in that.

IN: I did a U-turn on this one. At first, a formatting method I had no knowledge of kept me looking in the wrong direction. First line was great: set the tone for the story and established character with the question, “Where’s the harm in that.” The lightness of the story—I could see the narrator grinning at “That hurt”—disguised the horrible realities it’s been subjected to: maximum security, gene therapy. The ending hacked back to the beginning in a way that suggested the narrator was stuck in a vicious cycle, undermining his/her cheery view of the situation.


@dazmb, “Cockroaches.” 

NC: First line and I was won over. It didn’t let me down the rest of the way through, either. Every time I read it, I feel like I glean a little more. The pivot around the middle verse just obliterates me: the volatilizing of memory until “Imagine loving your family” becomes “You have no family” through a series of brutal, soul-crushing steps. As depressing as that is, my optimism is kindled the tiniest bit, because the speaker doesn’t continue to parrot the commandments in the last stanza despite the repetition of waking to the radio (which is most likely talking about cockroaches again). That s/he can still imagine, can still feel, may be a source of torture, but it also provides a spark of hope for change. The positioning of the radio in the first and last stanza bespeaks of the media’s role in rewriting even the most personal of histories and its persistent hand in “othering” enemies of the state. Emotion simmers through each and every line until it dares to break out at the end (even if the admission is one of futility). I love how this could be a future dystopia as easily as it could be any oppressive regime from history.

IN: At first, the imagery in this story is what kept it on my list. I went back to it again and again, not comprehending, but also unable to demote it on the list. Then my partner shared her thoughts about it and it became a favourite. I recently read about how people dehumanise others to enable oppression without guilt. This story brought that home. The writer could have chosen to write the story in conventional paragraphs, but leaving the sentences on individual lines gave each image room to make a strong impression.


Margaret Locke, “Ignorance is Strength.” 

NC: Someone has written their way right into this trekkie’s heart. There is so much to like about this one. The light, hilarious conflict between the two characters over language lures me in, but then it sets up a shockingly stark contrast to the man vs. society conflict of the world in which they live, a conflict that seeps in through the window and manifests in hints like the MC’s raw red hands. The central image of a playing child getting trampled by marching soldiers illustrates totalitarianism at its ugliest: the cruelty of mindlessly following orders no matter how horrendous the consequences–and, further, the paralysis of the common folk to speak out against the atrocities of an “average day”.  I think what I enjoyed most is that some of the “mistakes” speak a more accurate truth than the correct trek-maxims in this horrible world.

IN: Simple descriptions, no exposition, yet the stilted conversation and the internal monologue were good enough to help me form a good image of the characters in the story. “They tread on him with no second thoughts, and soon red joins the monochrome color scheme.” That third line in a sequence that showed one of the characters looking outside the window into the story’s world gave me have all I needed to know about its horror. It’s a simple story that makes me wonder about the relationship between the characters, and how much of their circumstance is a result of the evil outside their window. Loved it. Did I mention that I’m a trekkie?

And now: join me in congratulating the he’s-not-going-to-believe-it, first-time




Five Cerulean Flowers Under a Dandelion Sun

NC: Right from the title, I knew I was in for something special. The voice of the child is wonderfully captured, in the clear language, the short simple paragraphs, and especially in the interplay of insecurity (“Do dogs have feet like that?) and childlike confidence (“clearly it’s me”). But what really strikes me is the tightness of the conflict. I can feel the child’s pain over the Daddy figure lurking upstairs. The misdirection with the flowers is the kind of resourceful-genius a child would resort to—and all the more tragic since the teacher could offer an escape. At first I thought it might be a divorce and the father has been estranged from the family. Then the last line was a lance straight through the heart. It made the lines about both Daddy AND Mommy assuring the child that “Daddy loves me” hurt so much more. So, despite my being a die-hard speculative fiction fan, this piece of flash throttled me into ranking it on top. Well done.

IN: The matter-of-factness in the narrator’s voice was one of the most striking things about this story. She had the curiosity of childhood as shown by the question, “Do dogs feel like that?” But the stark clarity of the rest of the story showed this is was child forced to grow up, forced to manage the feelings of those who were meant to protect her (teacher, mother), while dealing with the worst form of tyranny. By writing about the beautiful things she was drawing in that flat, mature voice, the writer made it clear the girl derived no joy in the activity. I went through the story with this on my mind, and yet, was sucker-punched by its ending.

Congratulations, David! Here’s your very own incredibly ornate (if somewhat dark and creepy) winner’s page and your winning tale on the winners’ wall. Please contact me here asap with your email address so I can interview you for Thursday’s #SixtySeconds feature! And now, here’s your winning story:

Five Cerulean Flowers Under a Dandelion Sun

The sky is blue. I drew it myself at the top of the page, next to the yellow sun.

“And who is this?” Mrs Reynolds asks, pointing to the dog.

I tell her, wondering if I should have made it browner. Do dogs have feet like that?

“And is this you?”

I nod. Clearly it’s me. Yellow hair.

“So this is Mummy?” Pointing to the person next to me.

She’s smart, Mrs Reynolds.

Her finger drifts over to the house. Pink walls. Smoke curling from the chimney.

“And who is this, looking out of the upstairs window?”

It’s like that feeling you get when you lose mummy at the supermarket and they have to say your name over the big speaker. I look at the face in the window and it makes my chest hurt.

But I don’t let it show. I know what Mummy says. I know what Daddy says. We love Daddy. Daddy loves us.

“Is it Daddy?”

I nod again. The blue crayon is still in my hand, so I make flowers on the front grass.

“Those are pretty flowers.”

I draw five, because she’s not pointing at the window any more.

I can still feel him though; watching me plant the little blue petals. He’s in my room. Looking out.

We love Daddy. But I wish he wasn’t in my room.


Flash! Friday Vol 3 – 31: WINNERS

HAAAAAAPPY Monday! A pleasure to see you back here for the medal party! Always exciting times here, finding out which stories struck our noble judges’ fancies this past round. And what a round it was! I’m STILL giggling from Brian Creek‘s “Chuck’s Five” with Chuck, Fat August, Indigo, Teller, and Pepper. (That’s Charlie, Augustus Gloop, Violet Beauregarde, Mike Teavee, and Veruca Salt in brilliant parodic form, of course), Geoff Holme‘s “Ian, Diana, Jonas and the Lost Dark,” and former dragon captain Eric Martell‘s untitled dialect piece (“‘e’s wonky, ‘e is”).  And clever J.M. gave us hungry adolescent dragons (!) with a craving for patricide in “It Will Change Your Life.” … And goodness, Clive Tern‘s richly dark twist on a ticket winner’s motivations (“I’m gonna mash their smug faces in, and win”), and Marie McKay‘s vivid take on synesthesia, both still follow me. 

Also loved srof2eeing bunches of new writers join us this week — and beloved old writers stop by (here’s looking at you, Karl Russell & Allison Garcia!). Reminder to all regulars, and those about-to-be-regulars (because we all know, SIGH, just how addictive the #flashfiction circuit is!) — don’t forget to track your participation here at Flash! Friday: if you write stories at least three Fridays in a month, your name can go up on the Wall of Flame. Each month you’re on the WoF nabs you a chance at the jackpot of prizes at year’s end. Details here!

{{Note: quick housekeeping reminder that parodies and derivatives of public domain stories (e.g. fairy tales) are allowed, but otherwise please use your own characters & world when telling stories; writing with copyrighted characters could get us all in a heap o’ trouble. Thanks for your cooperation!}}      


Judging for us this round was Dragon Team Six, Steph Ellis & Josh Bertetta. Wish I could’ve heard some of those arguments! Though they didn’t send out for emergency bandages or chocolates, so perhaps we’re still all right…?? Thanks to both of you for your time & thoughts this week! Here’s what they have to say:

A real confection of wonderful tale-telling was tossed at our feet this weekend in honour of one of the greatest children’s books ever.  For a first-time judge in this dragon’s lair, this was a nerve-wracking event but one I thoroughly enjoyed.  It feels strange that I haven’t been part of Flash! Friday for a year yet, but here I am judging.  When I first discovered this site, I was somewhat overawed by the sheer quality of the writing – and, I must confess – I still am.  But the comments have always been kind and supportive and this has driven me on to try harder every week and I hope that those who are new to this site will find this true for them.  I have a reputation for darkness but your tales don’t have to involve blood and guts, they just have to be good stories.  And they were.

A big thank you also needs to go out to Deborah Foy and my [Steph’s] lovely (insomniac) daughter Bethan for ensuring that Josh and I received our entries ‘blind’.



Best Title: Geoff HolmeIan, Diana, Jonas, and the Lost Dark.” SE: Oh that wonderful title, and the sinister Germanic overtones which only serve to heighten the humour.  Mönions for Minions in particular was a brainwave.  Wonderful. JB: A wonderful use of dialogue to build tension—so much so that the action is quite incidental to the story. I read it as a parable about corporate exploitation of childhood hopes and dreams.

Best Use of Song: Mark A. KingSweet Muzak.” SE: For song-inspired writing, titles cleverly woven together to seamlessly form a story.  Bonus points for including one of my favourite U2 songs.  Lyrically lovely. JB: A delightful incorporation of numerous pop-culture references. I feel like I am on one a quiz show: can you name them all?

Best Homage: Mark Morris, “Wonkered.” SE: A true homage to Dahl, from character names to the idea of a moral delivered in a uniquely dark manner; the children literally are what they eat.  Terrific homage to a great author. JB: Tragic and ironic, here we have three human ourobori (or is it ouroboruses?) whose desire blinds them from the glaringly obvious.

Most Poignant: Allison Garcia, “Hershey’s Chocolate, Hershey’s Chocolate, Hershey’s Chocolate Woooorld.” SE: They say there is nothing greater than a parent’s love for a child and this story provides a perfect example, deflecting awkward questions in order to protect their son from harsh reality.  Delicate writing.  JB: A poignant expression of the suffering a parent holds deep in his/her breast to shield his/her child.

Best Huggable Programming: Phil Coltrane, “Manufactured Peace.” SE: Everything about Paxbot is programmed, from his emotive subroutines to his neural circuitry.  But Paxbot is more than code.  He has a sense of self-belief, he ‘yearns’ like a human to become called a child of God. I want to give Paxbot a hug. JB: One heck of an interpretation of the prompt, here is the story of a robot, who through programming is able to bring to humanity what it has long yearned. And still, there is something missing…




David Shakes, “I Don’t Like the Sound of That.” 

SE: Usually we are fed horrific stories about the dental health of the poor, whilst newsfeeds and pictures reinforce the perfect smiles of the wealthy.  However this norm is inverted in Charlie’s world, the ability to afford sweets being the privilege of the wealthy, as, bizarrely, is the resulting tooth decay.  The children of the rich go round happily displaying ‘gap toothed grins and bleeding gums’ because it shows their status; unlike Charlie who keeps his mouth firmly closed to prevent anyone noticing his poverty.  Pride is truly a strange creature.  A nice twist but a sad commentary.

JB: A terrific story of reversals of expectation symbolized in the teeth of the poor kids and the rich kids where the impoverished would rather hide his straight teeth than reveal his poverty. So desperately wanting to fit in, he would rather keep a straight face than smile; he can’t just be a kid in a candy store.

Craig Anderson, “‘What Goes Around.”

SE: Sympathies are immediately raised in the opening sentence with a reference to ‘the crippled kid’ but ‘He really looks the part’ is a telling sentence, cluing you in that all is probably not what it seems.  The tragedy is that the boy does become what he pretends to be when he gets run over, by, ironically, an ambulance.  The last sentence reveals the humanity of the other hustler, he can ‘no longer confront the kid in the wheelchair’, because this time the boy is truly a deserving cause.  Karma in action.

JB: Oh that karma is, a…well, you can fill in the blank, and what happens to the kid in the wheelchair is indeed tragic. I can only wonder—karma being karma—what, in addition to his own guilt, lies in store for the protagonist.

Clive Tern, “It’s All About Winning.”

SE: This is a story about someone prepared to grab hold of any and every chance he gets.  He looks down on those whose ‘mental arms are too short to grab the chances that flutter past their tiny little existences’.  They are not worthy, he however will grab a chance and wring out every benefit, even if it reduces others to tears, even if he has to offer violence.  Winning is all.  Winning is everything.  Well done.

JB: Oh, our competitive, dog-eat-dog society where those who lack the vision miss their golden opportunities (or in this case, tickets), while others, like this story’s protagonist (is he really?) has enough vision to see his opportunity—in this case, theft. You have to do what you have to do, after all, to get ahead — for ours is a society that loves its winners.



Jeff Stickler,Six.” 

SE: A life taken over by Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is no life at all.  This is the tragic conclusion that our character comes to as he struggles through yet another day where every action has to be performed six times.  Nights give him no respite, insomnia strikes as he dreads ‘another day of sixes’.  It all becomes too much and he does not count out his medication for the simple reason he has swallowed them all, there will be no more days of sixes, no more days at all.  Desperation has driven him to seek a tragic respite.  Thoughtful, though ultimately grim, description of a tortured soul.

JB: Painful to read, but exquisite to do so over and over again. Perhaps I read it six times. Here is the story of — what most would call — an individual with mental illness, the harsh reality of mental illness and the extreme measures some will go. I sense an element of social commentary here, which I appreciate, for this individual lives in dire financial circumstances and I, as the reader, in filling in the gaps in the story, wonder if his poverty prevents him from getting the help he needs, feeling, in the end, there is only one way out.


Mark A. King, “The Troll ‘Neath the Towers.” 

SE: In the daytime our troll is a normal person, smiling, charming, a pleasure to know but … in his home he becomes something else, hiding behind ‘proxy servers, fake identities and cloud accounts’.  Every day he casts his net to catch, latch, onto anyone who has suffered, anyone who has any ideas or beliefs, anyone at all that he feels he can abuse and insult in any way, inflict pain in more than fifty shades, delighting in the hashtag #AskELJames.  He is addicted and he knows it, pain ‘calls him like Meth’, soothes his dreams, keeps him content.  Even in his poverty, he is the kid in the sweet shop and you would never know him, he could be sat next to you now.  Definitely a tale for our times.

JB: Upon reading the title, I figured I would be reading about those good old trolls of folklore and myth, but reading—pleasantly (or perhaps unpleasantly) surprised, I read a story not about those trolls with which I am well familiar, but trolls much more sinister, those who hide in the cyber sphere. Here is an individual full of hate, seemingly choosing anyone and everyone, firing “insults at both sides” who, despite his apparent poverty spends “all his riches” on technology to spread his malice, malice born of pain, and for whom trolling the internet is an almost cathartic experience.


Foy S. Iver, “Dr. C’s Freak Show.” 

SE: The poor girl has paid the price of youthful folly but it is wonderful to see how much hope she has for her premature baby and her desire for a future full of life.  She stands up to the midwife with her ‘righteous scorn’ whose God is a harsh God, subverting the message about loving all regardless of who/what they are.  There is no love or compassion in this midwife’s God, there is actually more in the girl herself, young though she is.  Her baby with its ‘fighting heart’ deserves a chance and she’s determined to give it her.  Tragic and inspirational at the same time.

JB: A surreal, carnivalesque, almost (in my mind) sci-fi, juxtaposition of a mother’s love for her child, her fight for her child matched by the baby’s own fighting heart. This in the context of a mid-wife who, despite claiming “God’s will is perfect,” condemns the young mother with her self-righteous indignation. Here is a woman with eyes of granite, who would rather fight over the baby—all two pounds of her—than act with compassion for arguably that which is most fragile in the world whereas the young mother, though she has nothing, relies on God’s help rather than resting upon dogmatic principles as does the midwife.

And now: welcome and whoop and holler for first-time




The Choice

SE: Opening with the line “I’m no good for you”, you almost expect the rest of the story to be doom, gloom and disaster.  And yes there is some of that, but it is also an uplifting tale of the power of love to overcome all suffering.  Between this first line and the last the woman reminds herself why she is with him.  There is extreme hardship and poverty with their ‘shack outside the city’, the ‘dumpster diving for food’ and ‘stealing ibuprofen so our kid didn’t die from fever’ but she does not dwell on that as he speaks.  She shoulders those burdens willingly, accepts them because he is her soulmate, if she had not chosen him her ‘soul would wither away’ and that is something she could not bear – everything else pales into insignificance.  And in all this, her ‘poor boy from downtown’ understands the sacrifices she has made, recognises that she’s ‘the best thing to ever happen’ to him.  Fluent writing that tugs at the emotions.

JB: “The Choice” is a story of expectation, disappointment, relationship, love, economics, heartbreak — all in one of this week’s shortest (if not the shortest) stories. Here is a man feeling unsure of himself, his esteem and sense of worth rooted in his sense of poverty while his partner — through whose thoughts the reader learns of their dire situation — makes her choice based on feeling rather than reason. Love, the narrator lets the reader know, is, for all intents and purposes, irrational and when it comes to love such as this — a soul-love — there is really no choice at all. Chalk full of gut-wrenching images of poverty, “The Choice” reminds me of the times when things seem dire and there is a loss of hope, when love is in the heart, thinking and “common sense” are secondary.

Congratulations, Sydney! Here’s your brand new (DON’T SIT DOWN, PAINT’S STILL WET!) winner’s page and your winning tale on the winners’ wall. On a personal note, it’s a pleasure to see another one of my own magnificent Shenandoah Valley Writers on that wall!!! (Note for anyone who’s suspicious; judging is blind and done by the dragon captains, not me.) Sydney, please contact me here asap so I can interview you for Thursday’s #SixtySeconds feature! And now, here’s your winning story:

The Choice

“I’m no good for you.”

When he said that to me, I wasn’t thinking about living in a shack outside the city, dumpster diving for food, or stealing ibuprophen so our kid didn’t die from fever. I wasn’t thinking about torn jackets, sockless toes, or begging for a few laundromat coins.

I was thinking about how my soul would wither away if we really said good-bye right now.

I choose this lifestyle because I choose him. Every day. I open my eyes and the one poor boy from downtown stirs beside me, turns over, and whispers in my ear.

“You’re the best thing that ever happened to me.”