Tag Archive | Craig Anderson

Flash! Friday Vol 3 – 52: WINNERS

Howdy, y’all: welcome to our final regular results show for Flash! Friday — combined today with Saturday’s Flash Dash results (still rather mind-boggled that an 11-year-old managed to write an entire funny little story in the 30 minutes!).

As for the wealth of gorgeous, dragonish love you wrote Friday, I’m going to reserve my comments for Friday, when it’s my turn to say thanks. Remember we’ve a grand finale party this Friday (Dec 11) with Flashversary: mugs, posters, books, and all kinds of magnificent prizes at stake. I hope you’ll come back to write one last time. ♥ 

Tomorrow is our final global #Spotlight, this time featuring the lovely F.E. Clark from Scotland. Be sure to join us! Haggis optional. 

Last for today: an enormous round of thanks to Dragon Team Eight, Voima Oy and A.J. Walker. I’ve loved this pairing: Voima’s poetic spirit, A.J.’s tongue-in-cheekiness (and Catherine’s faithful blinding of the tales–thank you too!). Your thoughtful choices, your funny and poignant comments, your cheery spirits, your enthusiasm, every bit of it. And especially to A.J. who, I think, may have given me more dragons than anyone. Thankful til I die? Oh yes. And beyond. ♥♥♥  

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Up first: Flash Dash results!!! love the frenetic world of Flash Dash, getting a little peek at how brains work, how stories are born. Your stories were sheer delight, and yes, some fantastic creativity, everything from genies to werewolves. A literary buffet, y’all. Thanks to all of you!

Special mention first up for 11-year-old Crystal Alden, who defied the time limitations and wrote a creative, cheeky story with a strong start and hilarious finish. Great job, Crystal — you had me laughing aloud. Read her story here.

⇒⇒ The winner of the $20 Flash Dash Cash prize is

Nancy Chenier

Strong voice, spot-on pacing, and OH MY LANDS what a last line, executed with perfection. You’ve earned this one, baby. Watch your inbox for details on how to get your loot. Congratulations! And everyone: read her winning story here.

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Now for the final regular round of Flash! Friday! Here are Dragon Team Eight’s final comments:   

V — Thank you for all your great stories. Epic and  intimate, tragic and funny and brave — each unique and special.  It has been an honor and a privilege and so much fun to be part of this Flash! Friday community. To come together, to share  stories is  a remarkable thing. It takes tremendous amount of time and effort to make this place, this creative space.  Thank you, Rebekah, for everything. 

And I could not ask for a better co-judge than AJ. Your sense of humor and positive spirit is a delight–not to mention your own amazing talent.  Thank you, AJ for making Dragon Team 8 great. Thank you, Catherine, for sending us the stories. We could not do this without you. You are an essential member of Dragon Team 8! 

With the closing of MicroBookends, and Three Line Thursday on hiatus, we bid farewell  to other inspiring places for very short poems and stories. Thank you, David and Grace, for all your hard work. Thursdays and Fridays will be different now. 

These are very special places–here, we can come together. To me, the comments from other writers are part of the appeal of Flash! Friday, Three Line Thursday and MicroBookends.  People feel free to interact, encourage each other, appreciate a good line, or a fantastic ending.  This means so much to a writer, especially a writer who is just starting, or beginning again, this thing that we all do.  

Friendships have been forged here. Lives have been changed here. Writers have been born and grown here. 

The community continues to grow and change, inspired by each other.  We know writing can be a lonely business. Life can be demanding, and sometimes it seems impossible to write at all. Yet we need imagination and stories more than ever. We need possibilities. We need to imagine better futures.  We will write on, I do believe this. And we are not alone.

AJW — When #Team8 were put together all those months ago and the schedule set down, little did we know that we’d end up judging the last of the regular Flash! Friday challenges. It has been an honour to serve our most lovely Mother of Dragons, Rebekah. We’ve all enjoyed the anticipation in seeing what photograph, what phrase or book was to be our touchstone each Friday. Sometimes they floated our boat, sometimes they went up in flames. But always there would be fireworks somewhere, somehow, and Fridays won’t be the same without it. I have sent a personal message to Rebekah and so won’t get too schmaltzy here, but needless to say she has been a star and can be justly proud with what she created here.

This week’s stories have been smothered in thick gloopy love and affection for this special place and the keeper of the keys. The ‘beautiful girl who lived here’ turned out to be Rebekah, and she was either a resplendent dragon herself or very close mates with one (or at least an egg).  

To Voimaoy — THANK YOU!  For your patience and understanding. And being an all-round great judging partner. It has been a true pleasure. and I think we have worked well together. Cheers  x.   Thanks as ever to Catherine for forwarding the stories to us so we could judge them blind. Thanks too to everyone who entered this week – I trust that you have all mopped up the tears from your keyboards and that none of your computers exploded into flame from tear damage (I’m sure insurance for tear damaged electronics is impossible to get – more chance of getting Dragon Cover).

After toying for a millisecond with the idea of making everyone a winner, that was discounted for being a cop out; someone deserves the last badge after all. It was a really tough call picking the top ten or so and then drilling down to the winner, but we have. So, without further ado, here’s our call:

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MENTIONS

Chris Milam, “Table for One.” A bite of reality

Karl A. Russell, “The Girl and the Egg.” A door, an eggshell, magic!  

Bart Van Goethem, “Rebirth.” Refreshingly unsentimental–with a wonderful one-word ending.

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SPECIAL MENTIONS

Carin Marais, “Arad’s Dragon.” V – A beautiful story of friendship — the epic economy of flash

Bill Engleson, “Thanks Stan.” AJ – Hey, I like humour, and this one made me laugh. Snappy dialogue. Simple idea. Not being allowed within 100 yards of a maiden again. Poor lamb. Thanks for the laugh!   

Stella Turner, “Sins of the Flesh.” V – Dark, dark, humour–Love this take and the turns of phrase–“sliced bread, butter knife”…and “caught devouring bacon” 

Jennifer Terry, “#TimelessBeauty.” AJ – Loved the emotion in this piece. Getting old gracefully, perhaps not confident in oneself, then a nice uplifting end. And of course I’m a big Twitter fan so it needs a mention (Twitter has been great for us writers, hasn’t it?) #uplifting 

Geoff Holme, “Aubade.” V – Although a late entry, this deserves mention for a lovely tribute–Aubade is a song of parting, and greeting a new dawn.

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HONORABLE MENTIONS

Craig Anderson, “Mother of Dragons.”

V — This one had me in tears.  It is heartfelt and beautiful in its simplicity–“The hardest part about raising dragons is knowing when to set them free” to “How magnificent they are.”   This is a testament to the economy and power of flash. Wonderful and generous writing. 

AJW – ‘The hardest part about raising dragons is knowing when to set them free.’ Well, that first line says it all doesn’t it? Like so many of the stories this week the heart is well and truly on its sleeve, on a badge, on the T-Shirt and in bright flashing neon, but it doesn’t get in the way of the story. Bookended (don’t get me started on Microbookends please) by last line; ‘I gave them wings, now they must fly,’ it is an instruction. Or at least a call to try. You’ve all got an extra hour or so on Fridays from now on; see what you can do with it…

Graham Milne, “The Auction.” 

AJW – Lovely idea, perfectly written. Who’d have thought dragons could have had their teeth pulled and fire put out by Capitalism? Picturing the once-proud beast with paddle No.68 having to bid for their supper/maiden is a super/supper idea. ‘Faded scales that once glittered’ perfectly encapsulating the idea. 

V — I agree with AJ: it is a sad commentary on Capitalism and the current state of affairs in this materialistic world. It  is so well done, and I love the take on “dragons bidding”  too!  We need magic and humor more than ever.

Steph Ellis, “Legacy

AJW – If someone can sort out the music, it could become an anthem for the FlashDogs and the ‘brothers and sisters’ we’ve found through writing here at FFF. Some powerful phrases and another call to arms/pens. I especially liked ‘‘take their fire, and burn down the battlements, breach the closed doors, of literati’s elite.” I’m feeling emboldened just repeating it!  And yes, we do see “the Dragon horde gather.’ 

Stirring stuff – get out those power chords!  

V – Forged in a “volcanic nursery” out of the “monotonous monochrome of the safe and the known” — these are   powerful and moving  words. This is an anthem, and a manifesto. Write on!

 

 

SECOND RUNNER UP

The Imaginator, “A Beautiful Girl Lived Here” 

AJW – Who doesn’t like a bouncing bosom (or preferably two)? And I must say we don’t see enough corsets in Flash! so thanks for that. Seriously, a well-crafted story. I liked with the simple use of ‘pon and ‘neath to give us an idea of the time of the setting (although maybe it could be contemporary Morecambe?). The description of the woman ‘a force of nature’ and the effect she had on both the menfolk and the women was very visual. I could picture the scene perfectly, even through to the unfortunate end and the ‘entrails on the moonlit cobblestones.’ 

V — I couldn’t agree more. This story reads like a folktale, and it’s as visual as a movie (a classic Hammer film, perhaps?). A “force of nature” indeed. and what a powerful ending!

FIRST RUNNER UP

Image Ronin, “The Subject.” 

AJW – A neat original take with so few words to play with (I think it could make an excellent longer piece) it brilliantly shows Rebekah’s realisation of what she was and what she’d done. I loved the dawning of reality as she sees her eyes in the reflection in a shard of glass and then her ‘fingers becoming talons’.   The use of the font change to end the story was simple and perfect. Well done.

V –  The writing throughout is stunning in  economy  and confidence–“the truth of what she was, of what she’d done”.  And the final word –the Greek letters for “Dragon.”  Yes!  Powerful and fierce and beautiful.  This one is for the Dragon Queen.

And now: for her very first time (no, this couldn’t be more perfect; yes, I cried when I saw her name), it’s this week’s 

DRAGON WINNER

CATHERINE CONNOLLY!!!

for

“Through Lettered Lands

AJW – Time for more olde powere chords? Maybe not. An almost perfect piece (I’m overlooking the added apostrophe (damn autocorrect) – sorry Geoff) and a fitting winner for the last of the regular FF. It perfectly presents us – the writers – from simply ‘writ(ing) a sentence on entering’  through to the creation of entire worlds yet to be mapped, and presenting the writer as an explorer: Lovely. The third stanza in particular stood out for me: ‘Take care little wanderer, they told me -/ once hunted, few care to return from/ the beauty of script scribbled in spaces/ blank, ‘til creation begins.’ A fitting epitaph. Don’t you think?

V — It is an epitaph, an epic poem–but most of all it is a story — our story — it beautifully describes the writer’s journey from initial hesitance to curiosity, and on into ever-expanding lands and worlds into the uncharted unknown—

“It inhabits hearts and minds, they tell me 
take it wherever you go
its end starting whole new beginnings…
Explorers seek it, perpetual”  

In the as-yet unwritten future — “All write upon entering — Here Be Dragons.”  

Beautifully done!  

Congratulations, Catherine! I can’t imagine a more perfect writer nor more perfect story to take the very last Flash! Friday dragon crown. Here’s your lovely, brand new winner’s page; apologies for the tear stains. Watch your inbox for interview questions for this week’s #SixtySeconds. And now, here’s your winning story:

Through Lettered Lands

There’s a world of words, they told me.
Mythic in size and proportion.
The magic admits those
who write a sentence on entering,
leaving chocolate drops behind
to mark their route through lettered lands.

Some territories are unknown, they told me.
You must map them yourself,
with other explorers.
They seek you out, supportive,
once you know where to find them.
They run together in packs.

Take care, little wanderer, they told me –
once hunted, few care to return from
the beauty of script scribbled in spaces,
blank, ‘til creation begins.

It expands on arrival, they told me,
so few know how large it’s become,
save for those who’ve travelled since beginning
their journey some long-score prompts passed.

It inhabits hearts and minds, they tell me –
take it wherever you go,
it’s end starting whole new beginnings,
cartographic creators’ creations,
living inside ever after, full grown.

Explorers seek it, perpetual.

All write on entering –
Here be dragons.

FFwinner-Web

Flash! Friday Vol 3 – 49: WINNERS

Happy Monday! So glad to see y’all; it’s a gorgeous sunny autumn day here in the Shenandoah Valley, and after a fun, quick morning hike, we’re all set for the results party! 

But first: it’s a fond and heart-rich farewell to Dragon Team Five, Foy Iver and Holly Geely. Y’all have been just fabulous. I’ve loved your thoughtful comments, your passion for the community’s stories, and your all-round good humored approach to judging. What a delight and privilege working with you this round. Thank you so very, very much.

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And here are Dragon Team Five‘s parting words:   

HG: I can’t believe how quickly the past few months have gone! It’s been grand. I’ve read so many great stories and I’m so impressed by the talent and the kindness in this community. I don’t even have anything silly or sarcastic to say because I’m so happy to have been part of this.

FI: I have to echo Holly – this whole adventure has been like a carnival ride: over before the quarter hits the bottom. (I’d put in another but the attendant is telling me I’m too old for the miniature carousel.) Thank you all for the tears, the laughs, and especially for the privilege! I still don’t feel qualified to judge your words but it surely has been a pleasure walking among them and listening to the stories they’ve told.

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SPECIAL MENTIONS

for Best Mental Image: Craig Anderson, “The Young King.” FI: Anyone else picture Ramon Salazar from Resident Evil 4?

for Hacking my Brain: Margaret Locke, “Autobiography.” FI: It’s like you have a camera in my head…

for Most Kick A$$ Princess: Michael Wettengel, “Refuge in Audacity.” HG: I love it when the princess fights back, and this one has attitude. Love it.

for Unrelenting Grip: MT Decker, “The Lonesome Road.” HG: Highly poetic and thought-provoking, with a gripping final thought.

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HONORABLE MENTIONS

Nancy Chenier, “Rescue.”

HG: The maiden is not the prize, indeed. This is a well done piece all around but the closing line is particularly clever, not an ending at all but a hopeful beginning.

FI: What I loved most about this little twisted tale was the opening paragraph, and realizing that our heroine had taken what a man, father or former conquistador, had designed to keep her prisoner and used it for her own good. Talk about empowerment!

Casey Rose Frank, “She Walks.” 

HG: The format of this story is what grips you from the beginning, and a journey with no destination has its own appeal. It speaks of a dark past but leaves the explanation to the readers imagination.

FI: Ninety-nine words of literary tapas, “She Walks” carries its power in its form. We taste darkness, melting heavy on the tongue, until hope, in a zest of orange, reminds us that it’s the going and not the where that matters. Beautiful work.

Joey To, “The Long Path

HG: The four riders are not the apocalyptic ones of lore but they might bring their own apocalypse. The narrator of this story isn’t the main character; the doomed people of the needlessly warning cities are the protagonists.

FI: One of the reasons I loved this prompt was that, as a child, I watched the Pilgrim’s Progress adaptation “Dangerous Journey” until my eyeballs bled. Not really but you get the point. You, writer, did an incredible job capturing the allegorical feel of Bunyan’s work while giving us a fresh story. The names, the foreboding, all work so well together!

Emily Clayton, “Cerise.”

HG: The short story tells a much longer one and both are tragic through and through. I think this is the greatest tragedy, not your own death but the death of a loved one because of your choices and mistakes. In a few words, true pain is captured.

FI: So much of this story is told in the periphery. We’re hooked from the first line but then only given blurry details because ultimately the history can be forgotten. It’s the outcome, the “true pain” as Holly eloquently put it, that matters. Everything else is just another shade of red.

THIRD RUNNER UP

Bill EnglesonMadame Mayor

HG: This story has my favourite corrupt mayor. Through dialogue you learn the casual indifference with which she regards her subjects. It tickles the funny bone with dark humour and hints at a much larger problem the mayor’s subjects will face.

FI: High points for the names! Even higher points for the wordplay. I thoroughly enjoyed the cheeky commentary on politicians and their “desire” for bipartisanship (does this mean the other pinkie has to go?). It might be unseemly to admit but I wouldn’t mind if this lion-sized security system were implemented in our own capitol… Very clever, dear writer.

SECOND RUNNER UP

Colin Smith, “The Farmer’s Gift” 

HG: In my heart I believe this story was a personal gift to me. He talks about protecting his soul and making offerings, and suddenly bam! It’s a pun. There isn’t much in this world that makes me happier than a well crafted pun.

FI: I have to agree with Holly, that last line won me over instantly! You pulled me in with the world you built, the religious structure you unveil, the unfamiliar names you created, and, once you had me completely, peas. Just, peas. Jarro’s smile could only be a cheeky one.

FIRST RUNNER UP

Mark A. King, “The Mountain and the Valley.” 

HG: This is lovely. The change of the identity of the mountain is gorgeous. The vision of the soldier with his sweethearts picture in his pocket… familiar, horrifying, sad. A story truly deserving of a prize.

FI: Your brilliant use of bookend phrases brought out in bold the protagonist’s change in perspective. You dragged me down into dusty alleys, made me taste the fear and the sweat, and worry for his sake. But more than that, your story holds deep meaning. It speaks for us, the significant others that are left behind, often forgotten, and shows the strength that it takes for us to carry on in a loved one’s absence. I’m not usually one to cry over stories, but you had my heart in tears, dear writer. Masterfully done.

And now: for a stunning, super marvelous FIFTH win, it’s this week’s 

DRAGON WINNER

NANCY CHENIER!!!

for

“Amoeboid Eremite’s Lament

HG: I’m no poet and if you know me at all you know it, but this poem is super cool (case in point). I like to read it aloud with a little goblin voice and shriek “deceivers!” The little voice saying divide, divide… awesome.

FI: This is one of those stories that I could read a thousand times over and find a new reason to love it every time. Writer, you earn so many points for originality (in fact, the direction I least expected), for cleverness (an amoeba with a spiritual and existential crisis, yes please!), and for flash on a truly micro scale (how on Earth did you fit so much into 99 words?). You have my respect, my envy, my congratulations – absolutely adored this.

Congratulations, Nancy! Thrilled to see you take your fifth crown which, truth be told, I set aside for you some time back. Check out your updated winner’s page; your winning tale has found there a comfy, non-lonely home there with your other winning tales. Please watch your inbox for instructions regarding your interview for this week’s #SixtySeconds! And now here’s your winning story:

Amoeboid Eremite’s Lament

God is Unity
Nature corrupts with its dyads
Eschew division.

Purity is in the waters, they say,
Yet my long liquid hermitage
Hasn’t cleansed my thoughts

They say, too, the urge gets easier to resist,

Deceivers!

The need to populate my loneliness
Shudders through my cytoplasm.

The mocking moons in their dual dance
Ooze across the sky.
The psalmody of our One daystar cannot mute
The taunting of wanton satellites.

Divide, they chide, divide

Under light and darkness, I strain
against that which would desecrate
my singular celibacy.

Quivering prophase
–Such lust cleaves our devotion!–
My mitotic sin.

FFwinner-Web

Flash! Friday Vol 3 – 48: WINNERS

Confession: it’s the 9th day of NaNoWriMo, and I’m 11,000 words “behind” — SOUNDS LIKE A REASON TO PARTEH!!!  Join me in a little cold, rainy November winners’ dance. 

You won’t have to be nagged for very much longer on the below reminders; grateful for your patience:

  • SO THRILLED at the judge apps that have come in so far for the season starting in November, but I still need a couple more of y’all to join us. Details here. Please consider it, and thanks!
  • Thought for sure we were done with #Pyro after this week’s low turnout, but a couple of y’all showed up late to give it another shaky breath. Please remember that if this feature is useful to you, it’s up to y’all to keep it going. We’re about out of stories, though — please send me your flash! Free editing by people who are wild about flash? what’s not to love? 

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Many thanks to the indefatigable Dragon Team Seven, IfeOluwa Nihinlola & Nancy Chenier, for taking on this week’s tales. They say:   

NIf my math is correct, this the second-to-last round for Dragon Team 7! I know many of the regulars are churning out the word counts over at NaNoWriMo. Even so, you dragons still managed to kick up forty-three little breezes that we can all give a damn about. Apropos of Gone with the Wind’s Civil War era, Ife’s and my initial short lists had almost zero overlap. Fortunately, our war was indeed a civil one, and as the report of muskets faded into the scarlet skies of evening, we managed to erect a wonderful winner’s podium.

I: Penultimate judging round. Phew! I’ll start loading up the comments for the final round starting today, so I won’t be as speechless as I am now. Again, many thanks to you all for writing, and to Holly Geely who stripped the stories for us, as she has done for the entire duration of this judging cycle.

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SPECIAL MENTIONS

Bill Engleson, “Betrothed.” I: for an enchanting narrator—whoever heard of a slave being condescending to her master—and for the names: Miss Rebel Worthy sleeping in and almost missing a date with Master Lucius Callender   

Becky Spence, “Low Burning.” —I: for wonderful imagery and staying true to its conceit: the story burns in so many ways. 

Richard Edenfield, “The Whipping Song.” N: for powerful imagery that captures pain, desperation, care, hope, triumph, and love in one intimate moment. The analogy of scars as a lines in a book or lyrics to a song is stunning.

Catherine Connolly, “Daughter Dark Heart.” N: for taking a Gone with the Wind prompt and giving us Baba Yaga. You captured all her wild weirdness and equivocal nature—and even managed to work in Marinka. Bravo!

Stella Turner, “To Be or Not to Be.” —N: for my favorite opening line. Now there’s a sentence that accomplishes multiple tasks at once: introduces conflict as well as two characters (a frustrated speaker and his contrary-since-the-day-she-was-born daughter).

Foy S. Iver, “Under the Magnolia Tree, I’ll Keep Your Secret.” —N: for the intensity of the exchange. The presence of a bloody knife and the details of the action serve to heighten the tension throughout, despite the MC’s attempts to soothe her: blocking the door, “raked in breath”, “sobs decayed into hiccups”, “eyes, Georgia blue, scratched at my face”.

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HONORABLE MENTIONS

Michael Seese, “Perfect.”

I – It’s easy to fall for the illusion of perfection painted by this story. I know I did on the first reading. The imagery is precise in its presentation, with brand names and details that suggest extreme sophistication. Then the ending of the story disrupts that illusion and a reread reveals distortions in the perfect image that my eyes did not initially pick up. I should have caught the image of the booze and taken it as a foreshadowing of the end of the story. But isn’t that the point of perfection: to hide the booze.

N– The superficiality of perfection is so well-drawn here. I loved the capitalization of the tablecloth color. The tiniest mar in the facade appears with the parenthetical mention of locked away alcohol. Then, with the final line, the hidden-away human frailty is revealed—and even there, she finds no real release. The importance of appearances is relentless (making others jealous, impressed guests). The praise comes from without, as it must. One wonders when cutting won’t be release enough from the stifling world she’s surrounded herself with. 

Michael Wettengel, “Better Day.” 

I – “There could be a family, decades of history, in that space.” That is the line that stuck with me on my first reading of this story. This story of a family going about their lives as shells sound around them. This story of young ones playing dominoes as they waste away, of a wife actually wasting away, and a husband who seems to simply be waiting for when they, too, will exist in “that space.”

N– This one sets us up to examine the little disappointments that inflict our routines. It reminds me of the #firstworldproblems meme only the message delivered here comes in a more poignant package. The second paragraph draws me in with the admission that silence is worse than screams. Lines like “In their eyes, I see a graveyard” and “Stolen meds ring around her bed like roses around a coffin” drive home the deep desperation of the theme.

Craig Anderson, “The Path to Salvation

I – If this story were an animation set to a Disney tune, it would start off with a zany beat, and happy brass sounds, chanting as the slave goes about his work with rainbows of confidence shooting out of his every pore. After all, he has built his legacy, the path, to be unbreakable. Then midway into the story, as his master shows up with his woman, the tune would take a depressive turn, with heavy strings, and crashing hits of the snare reducing the tempo until it’s nothing more than a faint heartbeat. For that is the sound fitting for a man who is made to take out his unbreakable legacy with his own hands.

N – Linking the path to the MC’s spirit in the first paragraph is what won me over on this one. It’s an interesting analogy on first reading and a heartbreaking one on the second, when the realization hits that he’ll be ripping up his own legacy and essentially breaking his own spirit. The mix of frustration and admiration in the Master is telling: though he appreciates fine work, he’s a sadist — and it sets us up for his cruelty at the end.

 

THIRD RUNNER UP

Marie McKayUntitled

I – From the first line to the last, this story was clear about its intentions: to pile image upon image in a heap of detail that would leave the reader filled with enough to form a large-enough picture, like that a collage made from small individual paintings. There’s also an urgency to the story, which seems to have been caused by the verb starting sentences that read like an instruction manual: “Draw Close the blinds,” “Cradle the darkness,” “Choke on the stench,” “Pull the white pall.” The story then, propelled by a baby’s shriek from steel lungs, the story switches gear and hurtles to the end twists, heart, and all.

N – Fabulous raw imagery opens (and carries through) this one. The misdirection here is just brilliant. The first half seems to be telling of a stillborn birth with all the complex emotions that might evoke: shame, blame, offense, shattered expectation, rot. The revelation that for these parents, having a girl is just as bad (worse!) than having a stillborn child bowled me over. And, as with every strong twist, the hints are there before the reveal: baby blue (the color for a boy), the reaction of blame and shame sets in before the mourning. Rereading it makes it all the more tragic: the transformation of the line “unable to nurse” is wicked: first reading, my heart went out to the poor woman whose inability to nurse seemed external, but on second reading, I wanted to slap her for her internal rejection of the living babe.

SECOND RUNNER UP

Bill Engleson, “Scarred” 

I – If humanity’s real self is revealed in war, then this story comes as close as any in showing that that real self is: callous, violent, selfish. But even in that, there’s still the sense of a need for companions, of sticking with our own, even when they think we’re “gormless bastards”, and drive home their points by slamming a rusted tire iron on our arms. We are always searching for an ‘us’ even in ruins, and with the us, we would do things, even those we’re not comfortable with, to keep them close. That’s a lot of solemn thought (pathos like Nancy aptly describes) for a story that reads like it’s straight out of GTA4.

– I love how this could be the aftermath of any recent war as easily as it could be an apocalyptic future (how this SF-fan read it the first time). What a ruthless contagonist in the person of the MC’s “friend”, who doesn’t seem the type of person to be anybody’s friend; however, that’s about all the MC can hope for in a world that can no longer be considered a civilization. That the MC has qualms sneaks in through the paragraph about the smash and grab. There’s a hint of pathos toward the “stupid grocer who barely has a pot to piss in”, but, then, the MC works himself up with a bit of victim-blaming antipathy, thus justifying going along with the racketeer of the tale, becoming part of “us” with her. The final line reveals that in contrast to his partner-in-crime, he has a conscience, though it, like the sky, is choked in smoke.

FIRST RUNNER UP

Colin Smith, “War-Torn.” 

I – This story shows the devastation a war wreaks on the emotional landscapes of people who live through it. It does this by embedding the banality of war with memories of a life past. Here, by the contrasting of the past and the present, we’re confronted with the violence of the things traded off in battling others: Love of a brother for the firing of rifles, memories of childhood for horrors of death.

– This one adeptly shows one of the devastating aspects of civil war: that the enemy may well be someone you know personally, even someone from your own family. The interchange of the present-time assassination with the recalled voice of the enemy twin is particularly effective. First off, the voice is distinct and engaging. Secondly, we get backstory that enhances rather than interferes with the tense action happening in the now—it’s appropriate because these are precisely the things that would be running through the mind of someone about to kill his twin brother. The pacing is excellent as the fond reminisces of mischief become clipped and strained by the memory of the painful words of parting (perhaps the last time these two have spoken). The echo of “Why, Billy?” brings together the past and the present, sure to haunt the MC to the end of his days.

And now: for a smashing FIFTH win, it’s this week’s 

DRAGON WINNER

Michael Seese!!!

for

“Surrender

I – This story transposes the effect of a war of a certain kind onto another in a way so fitting I had an “Oh!” moment when the real setting of the battle was revealed. The story builds up, transitions and ends with such finesse, every detail an important part of the story. Moments like the narrator drinking the “dram of will in the bottom of his whiskey glass,” him being the enemy breathes life into the character in a way that would otherwise take whole paragraphs. The upbeat voice of the narrator also masks the horror of the situation in which she’s found herself. She commits one last act of war, and this story ends flaming hot. Perfection!

– This one has so much in it. In 160 words, we have a full story, complete with immediate conflict, misdirection, a struggle, a reveal, tension building, and a powerful close. The first two paragraphs misdirect the reader with its martial imagery, introducing our war-weary MC. The power behind the second paragraph is the ambiguous way it builds hope — sort of. The war will end, but does that really make it the lesser of the two evils? There’s a reveal in the third paragraph when the blitz/barrage is linked to Peter’s fists. And yet at that point, the story is far from over. The dialogue exchange behind superficially innocuous words—two simple lines packed with the long years of tension. The ending, then, just knocks me out. Her look over the battlefield contains all the wistfulness of that of a defeated general. Her limited agency leaves her both victor and vanquished. She doesn’t surrender herself to him: she surrenders the two of them to death, perhaps trading the old war for a hope in hell.

Congratulations, Michael! Couldn’t be happier for you, and for SUCH a story, my goodness, in which we have deaths (though not terribly many this round, I must point out). We’ve updated your winner’s page; your winning tale can be found there looking all sparkly. Please watch your inbox for instructions regarding your interview for this week’s #SixtySeconds! And now here’s your winning story:

Surrender

The blitz began anew. The corner offered cold comfort, though Colette realized it was only a wounded facade. Safety was an illusion held desperately despite the destruction that littered the remnants of what she once had called her life. Another strike would shatter the final vestige of hope she’d manage to cling to all these long years.

Someone once said, “War is Hell.” He was wrong. Hell is eternal. War will end. There will be a victor. And there will be a vanquished.

The barrage ended. The room fell silent. Peter had finally put away his fists.

“I’m heading to bed. I’ll be waiting.”

“I just need to clean up.”

Colette swept up the broken dishes, her grandmother’s wedding china. She found a few drams of will in the bottom of his whiskey glass. Drinking it felt like victory. She took one last look at the battlefield, turned on all four burners, and joined the man she loved.

FFwinner-Web