§ Foy says: The year 2020 has been a bit “anti-dystopian” to borrow genre-birthing speculative fiction author Samit Basu‘s word (read his definition here), yet somehow we’ve collectively blinked and it’s November, with Election Day in the United States only a sleep away. Whether you’re hopeful or anxious, intrigued or ready to be rid of it all (or like me some ever-shifting amalgam of All The Emotions), please know that no matter the outcome, we dragons at Fire&Ice will be here with strong tea and coffee, and a space to write and grow safely. Because regardless of who wins, the work of making this a better world for those here and those to come will be waiting for us, and it would be our joy to meet that challenge with you. ❤
Quick note on judging: Six pairs of judges across multiple nationalities and genres are taking turns reading your submissions (meet the judges here). As soon as each contest round closes, your stories are first stripped of all personal info before being sent on for judging. This represents our effort to maximize every story’s chances, whether it’s the first or hundredth story you’ve written. ♥
SOL 12’S JUDGES SAY:
Betsy Streeter: This week’s prompts brought up just a few themes, like, oh, creation, family, ancestry, crime… and the mundane gone very wrong. Which is hard to do – horror is tricky to write because it’s all about those unsettling reveals, suddenly uncovering something deeply not-okay going on. Thank you again for so many tiny worlds to go into and be creeped out by. A few shout-outs: First of all, both VERY short stories, Peg Stueber‘s piece about Geppetto, and Bart van Goethem‘s “Genesis,” packed a punch and were wonderful! I also want to point out Arvind Iyer‘s “The Boy Who Wasn’t a Doll” for pondering generational change in such a unique way. Nancy Chenier‘s “Sharing Is Caring” caused me to hear a creepy piano soundtrack or a music box as I read it. Becky Spence‘s “Replacement” was sad and scary at the same time and made me anticipate some sort of revenge. And finally Mark A. King‘s “The Original Fugitive of Suburbia” for finding superpowers in hardship and difference, something we all seem called to do right now.
Karl A. Russell: As Betsy said, there were some clear themes emerging as I read through this latest crop of mini-masterpieces, not least the idea of children being replaced by dolls – I wonder how many of you are feeling the need for some control over things right now? As much as I’d love a lifelike mannequin of Kirby to sit in front of the laptop for this week’s remote schooling, several of your stories have given me second thoughts though… Creepy, murderous children made particularly strong appearances in Nancy Chenier‘s “Sharing Is Caring” and Stella Kate‘s “From Father To Son“, while the kids in Eric Martell‘s “Planting The Seeds” and Laurence D‘s “Shut Up Freddie!” might actually be better off if they took up arms against their less than loving parents… Some of these stories gave me a real, visceral reaction – and quite a few laughs – just perfect for Halloween reading.
BS: Yikes. You think you know what’s going on, and then it gets worse. This is a great example of that frightening realization that something “normal” has gotten twisted in the name of showing the world “we can be a real family.” The way the imagery builds is just terrific.
KR: The serial killer who surrounds himself with mannequins is a well-worn trope, but “Famsimile” takes that idea and gives it a fresh, unsettling twist. Strong imagery and creeping unease help this one stand out.
BS: What I love about this one is how once you’ve read it, you realize that no matter how many times this simulation runs, the words “I love you” will never get fully said. And bringing speculative/sci-fi into the mix in this was is just so, so clever. Loved this.
KR: The unexpected interruption turns this slice of life into something else entirely. The fact that the protagonist returns over and again to such a mundane moment makes you wonder just what has happened since.
BS: This is one that I find myself expanding into a larger story, and the details are fabulous. I’m rooting for these people, even though apparently they are murderers! That’s another sign of great horror, where you’re not quite sure you’re not pulling for the bad guy. And that sympathy comes through partly in those mundane details, the care taken to give the impression of a “real” family. Super creative, wonderful.
KR: As soon as I’d read this, I went straight back and read it again. The first time through, it was the story of a cunning fugitive couple, faking a family to avoid detection, full of fun little details like changing the names and filling diapers. The second time though… Now it’s a deeply disturbing story about a mother trying to replace the kids she’s at least allowed to die, or has maybe outright murdered. Those funny little details are now shiver-inducing symptoms of an illness no parent wants to consider. Very clever!
And now: it is our pleasure to present to you our
BS – This one is a simple, elegant, family moment that does a great job of juxtaposing attempts at “normalcy” of parenting in an extremely not-normal (and horrifying) situation. I also love how the dialogue brings further characterization, shining just a little light on their idiosyncrasies. There is a ton of detail packed in here, which makes it vivid. And again shows how those particulars can be so universal, not because of what they are specifically, but because we all experience life at that detailed, human-scale level. I feel really bad for this couple because they have clearly passed through a terrible terrible transition, and done it together, and agreed on the horrible way they will handle it. In a way, that’s about love. Great story.
KR — Just how damaged do you have to be to try and build a life around the preserved corpse of a toddler? Well, as this story lays out, the answer is very deeply damaged indeed. So much of this is conveyed through the mis-matched dialogue, the couple never quite connecting as they try to keep up their sham lives. Everything is slightly off and there seems to be a streak of jet black humour too – I have to admit, my reading of this was far less sympathetic than Betsy’s, and the thought of these two nutballs trying to “raise” their kid struck me as both horrific and funny, which is not easy to convey in less than 200 words. When little Georgie slumps to the floor at the end, displaying the rotten core of the tale to perfection, I laughed, felt terrible, then laughed again.
Congratulations, ARTIE! Here’s your winning story:
It was early morning. Ben was cooking eggs and bacon. Linda indulged in latest news. In the background radio played Christmas music. It was that time again.
“Can you turn it off?” Linda said not raising her head.
“It is little Georgie’s favorite song, am I right Georgie?” Ben loomed above his son.
Georgie was a silent child. Gave no trouble to his parents. Always curious about his father’s job. Despite what neighbors talked behind their backs, little Georgie was a perfect child.
A whiff of rot danced with eggs and bacon.
“He stinks again.” Linda said.
“I thought I got the mixture right this time.” Ben turned the bacon stripes over. Knelt to Georgie. “What I got wrong, Georgie?”
Wax was dripping on the kitchen floor. Ben poked Georgie’s arm. Soft tissue met his finger. “Georgie, Georgie why you give us trouble?” Ben sighed. “Will you put him back in a freezer?”
“He is your son.” Linda said louder than she intended.
“I’m making breakfast.”
Georgie silently fell on the floor.