Tag Archive | Eric Martell

Flashversary 2015: WINNERS

IT’S HERE! The final Flash! Friday post, the final winners, the final comments. But ohhhhh the glorious beginning awaiting beyond these doors! Let’s take our stories and flood magazines and contests and publishing houses with them. Let’s fling our pages to the four winds, win awards, flabbergast agents, storm bestseller lists, enrapture the world; let’s make friends and family and complete strangers smile, or cry, or shudder, or dream, or swoon — but let’s make them notice us.

Let’s make them remember us.

And in the dark days when loneliness and doubt threaten, please return here and let this family of writers fold you in its arms again. Bury yourself in these glowing thousands of stories by these hundreds of extraordinary writers and let your own words remind you that you are one of them: an extraordinary writer, and a crucial part of the magical story you wrote that was known for a time as Flash! Friday.

Special thanks to:

  • Susan Warren Utley, for being a dear friend and helping make my Flash! Friday dreams come true
  • Shenandoah Valley Writers, for being the dearest group of friends an ill-behaved dragon could ask for: for unswerving belief in me as a writer (Margaret Locke), for our shared vision (Tamara Shoemaker), for faithfully providing chocolate (MT Decker), for sitting with me at Beth’s side (Maggie Duncan), for teaching me to fly (#HMN Foy Iver), for chasing Quinby with me (Annika Keswick), for baring your poet’s soul (Sarah Kohrs), for dreaming with me over veggie quesadillas (Josette Keelor), for letting me eat your baby (Allison Garcia), and all of you, including those I didn’t name, for understanding what it means to take Time Hoff. I love you dearly.
  • Dragon Captains, all of you, including those who would have served had we continued. Your love for writing & writers are the heartbeat of Flash! Friday
  • Contest hosts, both former and present, for creating such meaningful forges for writers to sharpen and share their work 
  • My hero and best friend, the greatest writer of all, who loves the members of this community even more than I do: so powerful and beautiful in thought and execution, one of his names is The Word. Without this Word, all of my words are gibberish. 

I’m closing this contest not empty, but heart full; not sad, but inspired. You generously shared your stories here, each one a gem in this expansive hoard that’s been my home these past three years. Thanks to you, I leave this place the richest person in the world. 

I will be grateful to you for the rest of my life. My prayers and love go with you. Thank you.

See you out there!

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HOUSEKEEPING:

  1. This site will officially close on Friday, Dec 18; once it’s closed, the front page will show a static howdy screen. However, your stories & winners’ pages (etc) will remain accessible through the menu & sidebar.
  2. The Dragon Emporium (a little store where you can buy FF logo stuff), as promised, will remain open through Dec 31.
  3. This isn’t goodbye! We’re just moving the conversation from the kitchen to the sitting room, is all. I’d love to stay connected with you; please follow me on Twitter & friend me at Facebook. And be sure to follow the #Flashdogs to stay abreast of even more flash fiction shenanigans. What, you thought you’d be forced to wander off alone?? Not a chance.

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And now for WINNERS!!! which, who are we kidding, is where you scrolled straight to anyway. 😀  One hundred twenty-three tales you brought me, a fabulous feast of worlds and characters, poetry and musings, murder and life. How does one winnow the wind?! In the end I chose stories that stood out for their originality, perhaps for their beauty, or perhaps for their humor; words that drew me back for a second, third, and fourth read, that followed me to work and the grocery store and the library, then leapt on me, licking my face (DOWN, Flash, DOWN!) when I came back home and reopened the door. Let’s begin!

NOTE: Winners, please contact me here so I can get your prizes to you. Thanks!

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>RING OF FIRE WINNER<
Prize: A Flash! Friday commemorative poster & mug, a copy of Calum Kerr’s The 2014 Flash365 Anthology, and a one-year subscription to all three Splickety imprints

Ashley Gardana

Thank you for sharing so many of your stories with us, Ashley!

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HONORABLE MENTIONS
Prize: A Flash! Friday commemorative poster

Crystal Alden, “Rhyming Ever After.” This funny little rhyming story is clever and unique; like my favorite sort of story, however, depths and layers lurk just beneath the surface. Solely through dialogue, we’re introduced to a colorful and memorable cast of characters: a drunk witch whose tipsy wand cast a rhyming spell on our hapless passerby, and an authority who listens to the sad tale but in the end refuses to help. This isn’t a normal sort of poem, because only the cursed characters speaks in rhyme, and so we’ve got a wonderfully (and humorously) complex counterpoint of rhyme with straight speech. It’s a sophisticated and original approach to the prompt, and that double entendred just in the final line put it over the top.

Sal Page, “Number One Me.” Speaking of double entendres!!! This piece gave us a Shel Silverstein-style train wreck of a cloning tale (think again before you farm out daily responsibilities to your clone, people). The story is funny, yes; but the tone and clipped pacing is sheer magic, in the end reading like a desperate SOS note scrawled on a note and slipped under the door. What kicked this story up to a higher level for me was its layered title (reference to the arrogant “looking out for Number One” attitude) and its less-funny implied warning of what might happen should technology outrun ethics. (In the words of the esteemed Douglas Adams: there are some who argue this has already happened…)

Holly Geely, “Sentience.” This. Is. Hilarious. I’d love to go on about it, you know, lauding its (junior high-level jokes) wordplay, its satisfying framework, its original plot (sentient underpants convincing a regular Joe to rob a bank!), but in the end… Eat your heart out, Pilkey. This. Is. Simply. Hilarious. And of course you wrote it, Holly.

Nancy Chenier, “Vestigial Attachment.” The gorgeous, nuanced, precise word choices set this story apart first, verbs like starfished, adjectives like moony and atavistic, and imagery like “sand peel(ing) apart my unwebbed toes.” But it’s the worldbuilding and rich character development that slayed me most, the star(fish?)-crossed ex-lovers sharing custody across boundaries of magic, the pain of loss overlaid by the pain of wishing for a thing impossible to have. The story is tragically complex and gorgeous. It reads slow, like the low, haunting notes blown from a conch shell: the s-sh-s-sh of the sea against the d-l-l-d of the land. Wonderful vocabulary and beautiful work all-round.

Mark A. King, “#FlashFridayFiction.” After that amount of work, how could I not award it an HM?? While its James Joyce-esque meandering through hashtags is inventive and funny, it’s the shadow of its writer that compelled me most: someone who thought he’d be clever by playing with format, only to discover he got more than he’d bargained for. The bravado of the writer — which may or may not be autobiographical — overwhelmed by his story (shades of Pirandello?); his attempts to uplift the reader (in which he succeeds quite beautifully) are knitted tightly with self-deprecation and naked honesty. “Monday evenings,” he says, referring to when contest results post, “pretending it doesn’t matter when it does.” Yes, it matters! We know, and we understand. Also, I’m sending you a mug. #YouveEarnedIt #AlphaDog

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3rd Runner Up
Prize: A Flash! Friday commemorative poster & cool FF thing

Karl A. Russell, “One Week, Suspended.” Gruesome and terrifying, this story plays with time in a way no one else dared: backward, forward, and even bound between the minutes. While in my own writing I veer toward the fractured fairytale side, I couldn’t let this grim and cinematic piece go. In his reverse-moving scripting, unpooling blood, unstabbing, unbreaking, unshattering, with a horrifying, powerful twist the undoing doubles the story’s violent intensity by forcing the reader to imagine the doing. Structurally the story moves swiftly, sparsely down the page, each staccato line as sharp as a knife. The form echoes the story’s violence, and OH, what an end, with words doing so much work all at once! “His unending sentence/Jailed behind her eyes.” This kind of sophisticated wordsmithing makes me giddy. Powerful writing.      

2nd Runner Up
Prize: A Flash! Friday commemorative poster & cool FF thing

Bill Engleson, “After a Few Too Many Beers Whilst Bellying Up to the Flash Friday Bar.” Many of you tried (and succeeded) overwhelming my heart with your tender tributes, and I thank you for them. I’ve chosen this one as my favorite because it encapsulates so many elements that make flash fiction a genre to be reckoned with: a killer title, lyrical language, gorgeous imagery, creative word choices, onomatopoetic plotting, humor and heartstrings, a strong frame. All of that within a haunting, colorful, 100-word distillation of what a writing community is. “The words will still be there,” he says. Wonderful. 

1st Runner Up
Prize: A Flashversary poster with your story; a Flash! Friday poster; a FF mug; a copy of one of the soon-to-be-released Flashdogs anthology

Marie McKay, “Incremental.” This story first captured my eye with its increasing frenzy: stroll, speed, crank it up, hurry, rush. Like Karl & Crystal’s final lines, the double meaning of that last word — rush — lends a power to the story outside of the obvious. This piece absolutely blew me away, because the real story isn’t the one we see at all, in which a man pops out for a walk. In a single word, the final word, the entire story is reframed and set on its head, and we are given an entirely new understanding of what’s going on. That’s skill on some kind of stratosphere we haven’t yet invented a name for. In place of an ordinary stroll, we now have a man desperate to find what’s missing in his life. And look at that marvelously repeated word at the end, like a mountaintop echo: “…I found it/I found my rush.” What was missing: now found. Love. ♥   

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GRAND DRAGON CHAMPION
Prize: A Flashversary poster with your story; a Flash! Friday poster; a FF mug; a bazillion books (listed here); notecards, original artwork, for pete’s sake, just keep your mailbox open for the next couple months, k?

Flashversary 2015

ERIC MARTELL

FOR

“FREAKY FRIDAY”

On Friday, everything changed. I’d been dreaming of my days as a dragonling, soaring too high over the western seas, when my alarm went off.

Kids’ll be up soon, gotta get breakfast ready.

Swinging my legs out of bed, I shuffled to the kitchen.

Wait – when did I have kids?

I scratched my too-soft belly and started a kettle on the stove.

Soft belly?

The next hour was chaos, but at last, we were all out the door, headed for school and work.

High above the western seas, a great roar split the dawn. When did I become a dragon?

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This story has it all: the dragon-tinged frame of the dragonling dream and the roaring dragon; a story that’s telling more than it seems; a compelling protagonist; strong writing (look at all that varied sentence structure! fantastic!); tension. (And no, I didn’t choose it because it’s got a dragon; the dragon’s the fiery frosting on the cake.) This story beats out the rhythm of a common human theme: the dreams of youth vs the often shattered reality of adulthood. Our protagonist isn’t particularly unhappy, but the dreams of “soaring too high over the western seas” play out in sharp contrast to a disappointed (shuffle, too-soft belly, chaos) prosaic reality. Here is a parent consumed by the chores of daily life, who believes dreams have been relegated to the past. This, we find out in the glorious end, is incorrect.

When did I become a dragon? 

Eric has encapsulated in a single line everything I ever hoped Flash! Friday would be. Our dreams don’t have to be left behind: they follow us, roaring. We don’t have to hide our writing, hesitate to post, shy from sending to publications or agents or CreateSpace. No. The theme hammered home in a magnificent, victorious battle cry isn’t that someday we might have value, or that someday, someone might appreciate our writing: it’s that we don’t have to be afraid anymore. We have been dragons all along.

Flash! Friday Vol 3 – 38: WINNERS

 

Happy Monday! What a riot moving from a loud-mouthed and jovial fellowship en route to Canterbury to a clever-tongued and ancient fellowship en route to Mordor and/or Mischief. Your stories were wrenching and hilarious and, as always, unforgettable, which is spectacular news for my poor memory muscles, as they need the help. 

On a personal note: these days are difficult ones for the family and friends of former FF judge Beth Peterson, who’s decided — in her indomitably spirited way, of course — that she’s had quite enough of her problematic, problem-causing health problems and is quite ready to go on without them, thankyouverymuch. It is one of the greatest honors of my life to walk at her side now through these final pages of her life’s story. I read her the stories you wrote this round; though she’s past the point of speaking, she laughed aloud at Karl’s The Seven (which you must read if you haven’t). Your stories — and all the wonderful heartsongs you’ve shared with her (via me) on Facebook — your messages of courage and love, and your prayers, above all, are beyond priceless. Thank you.

(Note: As a part of her fellowship of writers, if you’ve anything you’d like to say to her, perhaps a favorite poem?favorite quote? favorite verse? — and remembering, of course, that funny is entirely appropriate too!!! — please add them in the comments below. It would be my privilege to share them with her.)

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Many thanks to Dragon Team Five, Holly Geely & Foy Iver, for judging the stories this round and teasing out their favorites. Here’s their take:   

FI:  Attempting an adventure epic in less than 400 words when Tolkien himself took four books, is gutsy! Good thing you draggins have plenty of those. If he could only see what his imagination has inspired! A special thank you to those of you who stirred up ember-memories of long winter nights and my father reading the Lord of the Rings to my siblings and me by firelight. 

HG: My Lord of the Rings memories are much less touching: in eighth grade the three “nerd boys” were reading it and I didn’t want them to get ahead of me nerd-wise. I am once again in awe of the abundance of talent. There was a sad lack of turnips, but I shan’t feel disappointed, for there will always be time for vegetables later.

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SPECIAL MENTIONS

Most Giggle-InducingWhen a Story Writes Itself by Michael J. BerryHG: Vanity dictates that this story be selected! This is a marvelously fun story and the names are superb; my particular favourite is “Grey-guy.” FI: Love it!! So clever and the thinly veiled references to FF are like hidden candies.

Most Likely to Become a Creation Myth: Legend by Sarah CainHG: Dragons – check, humans who thought they won but really didn’t – check, written like an old-school tale – check. Yep, I look forward to reading the book based on this world. FI: As a sucker for variations of the traditional genesis stories, I was hooked. As Holly said, I’ll be looking for this on bookstore shelves. 

Best Parody of All Things LOTRWhat Really Happened (For I Was There, Have Evidence to Doubt Me Do You?) by Eric MartellFI: Because even presented as farce, this one still made me long to be lost in that world again. HG: Dear writer, I don’t know who you are yet, but I love you. Once again I have different memories – of once upon a time when I wrote parodies for all my friends. Excellent.

Best Sleight-of-hand: Power Play by Brian CreekFI: Had to read this one to my husband. The troubles of a first world gamer. HG: As a gamer, I’d like for this video game to be real (minus the power outage).

 

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HONORABLE MENTIONS

A V Laidlaw, Respect.”

HG: The main character has spunk. I like it. She may not be as flashy as Archmage Sparkly (aka Johnny Big-Beard… excellent nicknames), but she knows her strength. The voice is superb; the sarcasm makes me smile. The ending made me snicker.

FI: Strong voice in this one and an irresistible cheekiness toward those who feel they’re better than she is. I have to agree, aren’t they ever out of Dark Lords?

Carin Marais, “The Last Song of Winter.” 

HG: This story is lovely. The imagery is vivid, beautiful and haunting, and I was taken on a journey. The ending is bittersweet; sad but full of hope. The idea of Spring as a beautiful young woman is one I absolutely subscribe too. Beautifully written, and well done. 

FI: Fresh as a winter wind, this story captured me for its originality. The stakes are clear and the battle lines unmistakable; I can see a whole series emerging from this concept.

Mark A. King, “Tinder | Box.”

HG: The three characters complement each other in a spiral of misery-and-hope. The three forms of immortality being sacrificed is an interesting take on both the prompt and the reality of this situation. So much emotion has been covered in this story, I’m still reeling.

FI: Another super original response to the prompt! Like Holly said the intertwined perspectives offers an especially insightful peek into the lives, desires, and struggles of these three. The added philosophical puzzler of digital immortality (vs their true selves) makes it a well-deserved honorable mention. 

M.T. Decker, “To Accept What Cannot Change.”

FI: Such beautiful imagery with a poetic voice that is irresistible! Every line drowns me in its murky waters of forbidden love, harking back to tales of gods who slept with mortals they claimed more fair than their own celestial women. We aren’t meant to live in isolation and this piece shows that well. 

HG: The moth and the flame…great choice! Every word is carefully selected and every line is a tragedy. Well done!

THIRD RUNNER UP

Tim Kimber, “Defender of the Corn.”

HG: You had me at “Oh, bloody… Hail!” Matthis is a delightful use of the “ordinary person” and his no-nonsense attitude is admirable. He became the conquering hero, but…at what cost? What will happen to him next? This has a good mixture of my favourite kind of dark humour; Matthis is in trouble but you cheer for him anyway.

FI: Matthis is fantastic! I can almost smell the dirt on his clothes and feel the spirit in his bones. Though his fate isn’t fully revealed, I like to think he stood his ground and proved the wetter man. Clear characters and a well-developed story arch, gave this tale a podium spot.

SECOND RUNNER UP

Richard Edenfield, “A Butterfly in Brooklyn” 

FI: One of the most unique stories that came of this week’s musings, everything about this piece works in harmony: nature is painted with words that HDT himself might’ve used; paragraphs unfurl like pages of Walden; characters are sketched then filled in the way a human eye might absorb a landscape after all it’s known is the city. Slow, detailed, and poignantly executed.

HG: “The pages fluttered in the breeze.” For me, this last line is the most beautiful. This reoccurring image of the butterfly, and the artist as a butterfly, with a book as his wings…incredible.

FIRST RUNNER UP

Eric Martell, “Nothing Gold Can Stay.” 

FI: Gritty and so human, I couldn’t help but identify with this very personal struggle. Though Marl and his wife believe they’ve buried their light, their beauty, death is only the beginning. I appreciate that it ends hopeful where there is little hope. Conflict, resolution, and character depth all accomplished in a few choice words. 

HG: The poem “Nothing Gold Can Stay” always makes me think of Pony Boy. It’s a beautiful title for this heartbreaking tale of suffering and loss. “…for why should a man love someone who would be taken from him so quickly, but she was impossible to hate.” My heart is aching. I, too, like the beautiful ending and he birds that help cope with loss.

And now: for his FIRST TIME, it’s faithful FF writer & brand new

DRAGON WINNER

REG WULFF!!!

for

The King Who Wears No Crown

FI: This piece not only gave us gorgeously woven words, it brought echoes of familiar fields where foolish men battle and whispers of a different “King under the mountain”, one that is just as tempestuous as a dwarf by with a heart of true stone. While paying subtle homage to Tolkien, it remains distinct, an incredible feat. 

HG: My favourite line: “He has tasted the tears of creatures chased from the sanctuary in fear for their life.” This is a king who demands respect. The people who underestimated him sure regretted it. The gardener is a fascinating character. The Tolkien-esque elements are there but nothing has been copied – everything is unique and uniquely pays tribute.

Congratulations, Reg! Please find here your brand new, mega sparkly, and very crowned winner’s page. Your winning tale can be found there as well as (shortly) over on the winners’ wall. Please contact me asap here so I can interview you for this week’s Sixty Seconds feature. And now here’s your winning story:

The King Who Wears No Crown

As I walk in the shadow of the king, I tend his garden. I slip among the trees, sometimes dancing on the wind. None sees me, but all feel me.

The king likes the garden unspoiled, as it has been for a millennium. He prefers the natural order of things. He calls it the sanctuary of the living, even though death is always part of life. The king understands that the garden has a cycle of life, death and rebirth. He respects the cycle.

Men do not.

The king has heard the cries of the trees torn from the ground and dismembered. Men cut down the trees in their prime and rip them to pieces. Men burn them and live in buildings made from their skeletons.

He has tasted tears of the creatures chased from the sanctuary in fear for their life. Men pursue them relentlessly. He has felt the final heartbeat of the ones that could not escape. The ones slaughtered for their flesh and skin. Men rob the young of a future and the old of a peaceful ending.

When man pushes the king too far he will defend his garden through its destruction. His scorching anger will overflow and destroy those who have desecrated the sanctuary of the living. Their flesh will burn and fall from their bones. Their charred remains will feed the garden as it grows again. I will tend to the young sprouts and give the king a new garden, more brilliant and beautiful than the last. I will weep for the innocent creatures that suffered the king’s fiery wrath, enshrining their bones and singing to their souls.

As death is part of life, sacrifice is part of victory. The king is always victorious.

The mountain may not wear a crown, but not all kings need such a pittance. Once again, man has encroached, and soon, I will have a new garden to tend.

FFwinner-Web

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!}}      

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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’.

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SPECIAL MENTIONS

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…

 

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HONORABLE MENTIONS

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.

 

THIRD RUNNER UP

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.

SECOND RUNNER UP

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.

FIRST RUNNER UP 

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

DRAGON WINNER

SYDNEY SCROGHAM!!!

for

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.”

FFwinner-Web