Tag Archive | @dazmb

Flash! Friday Vol 3 – 39: WINNERS

Most of you didn’t know Beth Peterson, my sweet friend and former Flash! Friday writer & judge who passed away a few days ago. But it occurred to me today, when thinking about what I wanted to say to you, that in many ways Beth was just like many us. Her physical struggles with various disorders were tremendous, but she suffered them in silence. The last story she wrote here (link) was for the 1984 prompt, a tale about conniving to save the world. I can tell you, since she never would, of the great pain tormenting her on a daily basis, and what it cost her to write even this little story. 

A lot of you are in pain too. You share your amazing stories here, but you can’t always talk about your illnesses, or addictions, or what you’re going through. Clearly that’s a limitation/disadvantage of a public forum like this in which we’re (rightly cautiously!) getting to know each other.

So today’s winners’ post is dedicated to you. Thank you for sharing your hearts and brains and awesome senses of humor here. Thank you for daring vulnerability. Thank you for your support of each other, your beautiful tributes to Beth, your love expressed so generously to me. Thank you for making Flash! Friday the wonderful family it is. I am in your debt.

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Join us tomorrow for another fabulous Spotlight interview, this time with our own Pratibha, who will be chatting with us all about her latest venture, the lit mag The Literary Nest. You won’t want to miss it! Not to mention her interview is very interesting timing, as you shall soon see.

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Finally, heaps of thanks to Dragon Team Six, Josh Bertetta & Steph Ellis, for their hard work this round. How on earth they managed to choose winners is beyond me! Steph shares their opening thoughts today:   

Oh, what a wealth of stories this week.  The elements that could be incorporated seemed to strike a chord with so many of you, particularly the image of a besieged city.  We had warriors, refugees, beauty, death and loss.  And I will admit now to those that wrote their own personal tributes to the late Beth Peterson that I was freely resorting to tissues.  To make someone laugh or cry, groan or shudder merely by putting pen to paper is real power.  This shows the power of words, of your words.  Thank you for sharing them with me. 

Once again many thanks to my daughter Bethan for her efforts in getting the stories to me.

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SPECIAL MENTIONS

Most DangerousA Beautiful Face-Off by Brian S. CreekSE: From the dizzying heights of world adoration this year’s model falls into an abyss as she is supplanted by a younger, prettier version.  Initially you feel for her, admire her raising herself up again; but then that final sentence packs its punch, she’s ‘going to take that bitch’s face away’. JB: Vanity, envy, pride all wrapped up in this fast moving piece about the perception and influence of beauty in a consumer culture. And then that delicious little end, when the title takes on a whole new meaning!

Best Metaphor: Combination Lock by Charles W. ShortSE: Describing the woman in terms of a fortress dressed in cotton and lace and with the main tower a ‘tapestry of ebony locks’, its deadlights her eyes, was cleverly done.  Many had assailed her, only to be defeated by words, looks and more physical means.  To mount a successful invasion required ‘courage, commitment and self-sacrifice’, this was her combination lock. JB: Have to give two big thumbs up for the best use of metaphor this go around, from the physical description of the most beautiful woman in the world to her psychology. Love and war wrapped up nice and tight.

Best FarewellSupersouls by Firdaus ParvezThe second tribute piece we have placed this week. Such a sad image of a defeated writer kneeling, ‘head bowed over a broken wooden sword and a tattered paper shield’.  Yet I need not remind anyone here that when no more words can come, what has already been written remains for us still. The band on her hand, her Ring of Fire, sends her dragon flying, sets her free.  Lovely farewell. 

Best Victory: In Passing by Tamara Shoemaker. JB: Is this a tale of war and siege, or is it a tale of overcoming some inner turmoil, of “man against himself?” SE: Although this was not directly mentioned, I have read this story as another tribute piece to Beth.  Depicted purely in terms of a dying tower, every single line can be seen in terms of the knowledge of loss, of the pain of parting.  Elegant, subtle and once more, beautiful. And this is the line I will finish my judging comments on; after all, there is nothing else to say:

Fast, fast into the rising light you go, a chariot on the wings of the dawn.

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HONORABLE MENTIONS

Marie McKay, The View From Here.”

SE: When one light at the top of a tower block goes out, all light is extinguished ‘leaving rows … of blind eyes’.  An introduction that immediately tells you something is wrong.  Those who can see, look up; they do not want to ‘observe the carpet of corpses’.  A family is trying to survive. Thankfully the baby is quiet.  This is the imagery of an apocalyptic future caused by panic and doom mongering, not by anything tangible.  A grim warning for us all.

JB: A poignant piece for the point in our human history when so much fear mongering abounds. The baby sleeps, the baby is at peace, for the baby knows no fear. Fear is created, says the author. Fear is used by others to convince and control. It is not something outside oneself—not the guns, not the disease, not the undead—that brings our end. It is what is inside of us, fear. Fear, the opposite of love. And with so much fear spewed forth from those in power, those in the media, and those out on the campaign trail, I can only hope that this piece is somehow not, in some sense, prophetic.

Eliza Archer, “Immortal Beloved.” 

SE: Beauty can fuel many an obsession and the narrator of this story is utterly in thrall to the object of his desire which he intends to obtain at ‘any price’.  Friends try to deter him but he will not be dissuaded.  Throughout, he repeats how he has to have this woman, will brook no failure, it is fate, it is his destiny.  You know this man is already lost, even before his friends, his job and his liberty all vanish.  Yet despite this he had one hour, he had his ‘Mona Lisa’ smile.  Nicely done.

JB: Here’s a piece of flash with the classic twist at the end. You sit there, reading, following along, figuring you have an idea where the story is going and when that end comes, you sit there and maybe, like I did, smile, much like the subject of the twist itself.

@dazmb, “Becoming.”

SE: A gently misleading start to a story that eventually packs a powerful punch.  Sunlight and dust motes paint a peaceful picture, but she ‘eases’ herself to the bathroom.  Something is wrong, there is pain there.  ‘Today will be a good day.’ Who tells themselves that except those who are suffering and trying to turn their lives around?  The man, excused by her need for money to buy the drugs indicated by the needle.  The repetition about becoming a better person indicating she will change, she has ‘no choice’.  But does this mean she has no choice but to change or will the drugs give her no choice but to continue – you decide.

JB: There is an elegance in the imagery’s simplicity here and it puts me right there in the story. I can see all of it as it unfolds. They story of a young woman whose life up to this point has, how shall I say it, not been all that…healthy. But she stands there, dialoguing with herself, becoming stronger as she realizes what she must do she must do only for herself.

Richard Edenfield, “Helen of Troy and the Anti-War Love Song.”

SE: This story was pure poetry.  A lyrical telling with so many gorgeous images evoked in such an extraordinary manner.  In particular : ‘Body of her water joined like a record album rippling out in grooved seance. Not science. A turntable of air you balance on and sing.  Sample lovers with a kiss, food for potential devouring. I wait turn at soft guillotine.’  Those two paragraphs alone are perfection.

JB: Recalling the reason why the Greeks went to war with the Trojans, this little story, chalk full of poetic metaphor (each a story in its own right), turns the Iliad’s reason for war and tells us that mutual recognition is the way to peace.

THIRD RUNNER UP

Foy S. Iver, “Let Me Not Die Ingloriously.”

SE: I loved this very moving tribute to Beth Peterson, sadly a lady I was never able to compete against (being a relative newcomer) but who, it was clear, stood tall, both in the real world and our flash universe.  How else to say goodbye, to describe the final parting except via the medium of flash?  It was the poignancy of the analogy between a besieged city and a failing human body that tugged at my emotions as did the continuing dialogue between the friends and family at her side as they accompanied her on that last journey.  They told stories, played music, talked to her, wrapping her in their love whilst inside her body’s own defences slowly failed.  I don’t want to discuss in detail the imagery used – except that it was expertly done –  it would make my comments too clinical, too analytical.  Now is not the time for that. Now is the time to pay tribute to a true testament of friendship.  Warm.  Touching.  Beautiful.

JB: The inevitable is on in this, to me an almost psychedelic tale, conjuring a myriad of images from medieval to modern times. A chaotic piece (from jazz to funk to electronica) for a chaotic time yet there is a stillness in it brought about by the one constant voice, a reassuring voice. It is the calm of the hurricane for which the violence about them cannot disturb.

SECOND RUNNER UP

Rasha Tayaket, “Glory” 

SE:  A story telling a truth that only a heroic warrior knows – the real price of Glory. To the world ‘Glory’ is when stories of his deeds are told, mothers name their children in his honour and he is lauded by the gods.  This is the veneer of Glory.  But as it goes on, what the warrior suffered to achieve this status, what lies beneath the heroic veneer, is slowly revealed.  Through repetitive use of those first opening sentences at the start of each subsequent paragraph, the writer has created the perfect framework and a steady rhythm for the warrior to develop his tale, to tell his truth, reinforcing as it does the contrast between the external gloss and the internal ‘mortal suffering’.  Slowly his Glory is weakened, first by Pain, then by Fear, until at last Death arrives; the bell finally tolls for him and Glory no longer has any value.  Lovely writing.

JB: While there is no plot (I myself don’t require plot in flash), here is another great piece where the larger story is behind the story, where the “story” is simultaneously built upon and deepened with each subsequent paragraph. From Glory in the first, to Glory and Pain in the second, to Glory and Pain and Fear in the third, each addition nuances what precedes it; we move from simple hero worship, to the hero’s actual experience, that which celebration of the hero tends to forget and neglect: pain and fear. Pain and fear, two experiences all human being share. Whereas heroes may be celebrated as something other, something beyond pain and fear, our forgetting that they too experience pain and fear makes us miss what it means to be a hero. Pain and fear equalize us, and in the end of our story comes the greatest equalizer of all.

FIRST RUNNER UP

Tamara Shoemaker, “Cold Comfort.” 

SE: Oh, so beautiful and yet so world weary!  She treats being the most beautiful woman in the world as a job almost – ‘somebody has to do it’.  Throughout this story there are some terrific uses of imagery, all adding up to complete the picture of a jaded beauty.  She is tired of being admired, regards herself as a ‘slab of beef in the marketplace’, just another commodity to be examined, perhaps purchased.  She is tired of their singing, their dancing, their mandolin playing – sounding like a ‘chicken that squawks with each tug’ (loved the humour of that image).  Yet she feels separate to their courting, they are not quite the ardent suitors they proclaim to be, none ‘scale the walls’ to be with her and she can only listen to their laughter which ‘tickles the air’, witness their comradeship which carries on below.  The warmth of the atmosphere amongst these men is in stark contrast to the coldness of her place up on her pedestal.  But it is not just the men who have put her there because of her beauty, she is there because of her own vanity, ‘there is only room for one in the mirror’.  Initially she made herself out to be a victim because of how she was perceived by others but in reality it is she who is keeping herself separate.  Very tight writing to produce a perfectly penned portrait. 

JB: The stories detached tone underscores the protagonist’s aloofness as she sits alone resting on her balcony. The author’s choice of metaphor—likening the woman to a slab of beef in the marketplace—and one of her suitors—a chicken that squawks—dehumanizes the story’s nameless players. I found in “Cold Comfort” a tale not simply about vanity, of which the beautiful woman accuses herself, but a poignant commentary on social values. Is vanity the “fault” of the vain, or is it something else? Is vanity likewise the result of social values as it appears when the woman’s suitors dance and sing for her and she grooms herself for the masses? When society values the beautiful and puts beauty and image on a pedestal, what becomes of relationship? Our author tells us those who seek the beautiful for the simple sake of beauty become shadows, losing, again, what makes us human.

And now: for her second time, but first since August 2014, it’s faithful FF writer & litmag editor,

DRAGON WINNER

PRATIBHA!!!

for

“The Pink Dawn

SE: Words cannot always adequately express what is happening in our world today.  Report after report has filled newspaper columns with their focus on economic migrants battling authorities in Calais to get to the UK or from Greece to Germany causing much disquiet in these countries.  Yet amongst that flood of people were the refugees whose story was being forgotten – until the recent tragedy of the Syrian child whose body was washed up on a Turkish beach.

Like the photograph, this story brings home the horror of the current situation in a fresh way, opening jaded eyes and, perhaps, jaded minds to the more terrible aspects of this modern day exodus. 

Told in a child’s voice, the narrator’s continued innocence of what is going on around her, contrasts strongly with the horror of her situation.  The child asks questions and is hushed, she and her sister are held ‘warm and snug in Mama’s hug’.  They are not told who the rebels are or why things are happening. Their parents are still trying to keep them children, still protecting them, so much so that throughout this story you sense how completely loved and secure that child feels.  The world is her friend, she delights in that first blush of dawn, the warmth of her mother’s arms.  She is safe, feels no threat – until they get into the overcrowded boat. 

In those last few sentences, all the safety, all the innocence is finally lost.  She is noticing all the people around her, the pushing and shoving, the feeling of water beneath her feet, seeing her sister floating in the water.  She doesn’t know her sister is dead, but we do.  Just as when the child says she is ‘ice-cold’, we know what will happen to her.  There is no need to add anything else; use of stark, simple language without falling into the trap of sentimentality make the ending more effective, packs a more powerful punch.   A topical tragedy written with the lightest of touches.

JB: We’ve probably all seen the pictures of the refugee child dead on the beach and in this topical piece. Recalling much more than it tells, this heart-wrenching tale takes us from the comfort of being held by mother, to hope and the future with school. But here is an innocent child, ignorant as a child can be of larger social/political/religious processes outside him/herself over which s/he has no control and yet the child’s life (and what remains of it) is determined by those very processes. Much too sad, much too real.

Congratulations, dear Pratibha! Please find here your freshly updated, super sparkly winner’s page. Your winning tale can be found there as well as (shortly) over on the winners’ wall. Please watch your inbox for interview questions for this week’s Sixty Seconds feature. And now here’s your winning story:

The Pink Dawn

“Papa, it’s too dark. I can’t see anything.”

“Just hold on to Mama. Quick. The boat will leave without us if we are not there soon.”

I clutch Mama’s dress, and she pulls me up. I am propped on her hip and Sheena is snuggled against her chest in a knapsack. We are warm and safe in Mama’s hug. Mama isn’t crying now. Her face is stern like when she wants us to focus on our homework. The school is closed. Mama says the rebels took over it. I don’t know what rebel means. She just hushes me if I ask.

Mama and Papa walk for hours in the dark, and then the dawn opens her eyes, and they are all pink. It’s nice! I am warm in Mama’s hug.

I’ve never seen so many people. They push and shove.

Water’s under my toes. Is that Sheena floating? I’m ice-cold.

FFwinner-Web

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.

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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!

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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.

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SPECIAL MENTIONS

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??

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HONORABLE MENTIONS

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.

THIRD RUNNER UP

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.

SECOND RUNNER UP

@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.

FIRST RUNNER UP 

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

DRAGON WINNER

DAVID PARKLAND!!!

for

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.

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