§ Foy says: Joy and pain. Suffering and restoration. Whether in our stories or in our body-bound lives, many of us walked with these engulfing emotions this weekend. Many more of us have been walking with them for years, decades, centuries. Loves found. Loves lost. To capture the visceral in words is to release it, and all the better if we can carry our readers with us in that healing. Because this too is why we write. Thank you.
§ Rebekah says: In yesterday’s Flash! Future Ken Liu spoke honestly about the pandemic demons that drowned out his words for a time. But eventually, he said,
I found my voice again, and learned to trust in my need to tell stories. …Stories are how we make sense of a senseless world, how we construct meaning out of noise, how we assert our individual conscience and collective empathy against the forces of heartless denial, systemic oppression, and willful ignorance. We must not let them drag us down with them.
Writing communities like Fire&Ice exist because as writers we’re all striving to find our own voice: the voice that speaks our words, not mutes them. The one that reflects us, not any other writer or any other writer’s way of telling stories. We say this a lot, but it bears repeating that no matter where you are in your writing journey, your voice is and always will be welcome here. Thank you for sharing your voice & for being a welcoming voice to others. ♥
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 3’S JUDGES SAY:
Mark King: This round there were 11,400+ words of goodness to read. It’s amazing to be back at Flash! Friday again. Hearing some hints that it might return, I wrote a couple of stories about returning home, and that’s how it feels. I am incredibly grateful to the Ice and Fire dragons (and the magical folk behind the scenes) for making this happen and for the honour of being asked to judge.
For me, Flash! Friday has always been a welcoming place that promotes diversity and equality, so it was incredibly hard waking to the news of Chadwick Boseman’s sad passing just before I started reading the stories. What an actor. What an incredible legacy.
The two judges this week both have very personal connections to Valentine’s Day, so the theme of love was a superb choice. When asked what advice I would give, I said to bring yourselves, not be swayed by others, to have faith in your voice. You sure did that, and then some. I found something admirable and unique in every single story I read, so be proud. If you didn’t get a mention, know that on another day, with another judge, you might well have placed or won.
First, a few personal mentions of stories that called to me but didn’t place. Untitled (Where Does Love Go?) by Tamara Shoemaker – it brought a tear to my eye. Craig Anderson‘s One Day, for outstanding vision and wonderful prompt creativity. Brian S. Creek‘s The Challenge of the Burning Waste for structure and sense of love lost.
Stephanie Ellis: When Flash! Friday announced its return, I was delighted. When I was asked to be part of the judging process, I was honoured – as I was by being partnered with one of the original Flash Dogs, Mark King. This competition, so much a part of my writing life, is where I honed my skills and received comments and advice in the most positive of ways. It was, and remains, a safe place for new writers sharing their work possibly for the first time whilst remaining a challenge to writers of all levels.
You might expect that as someone who reads flash week in, week out at The Horror Tree, I would feel jaded or that dark fiction would come first regardless of other genres. That is not the case. Story captures my heart, from whatever direction it comes, and I loved the myriad takes on this week’s theme. So many vied for attention but placing is always limited. I would like to give a couple of shoutouts here. In addition to those placed in the results, I was chuckling to the humour and dialect of Geoff Holme‘s As the Tyne Goes By, and was touched by the stuntman’s lost love of Karl A. Russell‘s Afterwards.
MK: Thoroughly enjoyed the style and references. Highly entertaining. Thank you.
SE: We have made our own hell but I adore the phrasing of the Four as the ‘hula-hoops of the heavens’.
MK: We can’t travel right now, but this was like being teleported. Wonderful.
SE: Layered with vibrant colours, smells, sounds and movement to form a richly painted backdrop.
MK: Brilliant use of sound throughout the story. This line was simply wonderful, “Until the vultures soared. Until the great birds cawed. Underneath the moon. I came. The glass moon shimmers in the ocean skies. A chill. There is a chill in the air.” and reminded me of a beautiful winning vulture story by Deb Foy.
SE: Death and pain and love run through this dark story to the score of pounding hearts, drums, hooves. I loved the way the pace and pain built up against this music and then ended with that one word, ‘Still.’ Perfect.
And now: it is our pleasure to present to you our
MK – This single paragraph alone was good enough to win any competition, “You and I had loved, but not well. It was a thin, meagre type of togetherness. Racing through passing time counted in paper, cotton, bronze.” It is a life of hope, of trying, of years and milestones. It hints at an infinite world, a world beyond the surface, a universe that is sadly shadowed and flawed. “We should have untied the knot. Screamed I don’t: galloped backwards up the aisle.” Is not only a central link to the prompt but a wonderful image of life in reverse. On a technical front, there is skilful deployment of long and short sentences to add pacing and control. For me, this was the most powerful story that explained the journey from love found to love lost. After all, all love found will be lost, eventually, and all love lost will have been found before. Masterful storytelling. Congratulations.
SE — This grabbed me from the first as it carved out a tale of a miserable marriage, leading up to a brutal ending via a series of savage words and phrases. From the start, powerful imagery is conjured up with the ‘curl of distaste at the corner of your mouth’ and ‘the spite in the line of your spine’, savage words leap out to show how poisonous this relationship has become. A forensic examination of a failing marriage, every little nuance bleeding its death; she, the guilty party, adulterer, he, ‘the boring better man’. Then you get to the end and that image of him holding the child not his when he squeezes ‘a little too tight, too hard.’ It is a moment of horror which immediately paints years ahead of suffering for both mother and child if they remain together. He – the boring, better man – has become anything but.
Congratulations, Marie! Here’s your winning story:
If I were forensic, tracing it back to a single moment, a broken heart beat. I remember seeing the curl of distaste at the corner of your mouth. Saw the spite in the line of your spine. I don’t blame you.
I think you knew it had happened before I did. Was it how I smoothed my skirt and words? How I kissed his breath while you held your tongue? Held it until venom began to leak from it in the months that raged past.
You and I had loved, but not well. It was a thin, meagre type of togetherness. Racing through passing time counted in paper, cotton, bronze.
We should never have been ‘we’. We should have untied the knot.
Screamed I don’t: galloped backwards up the aisle. Flung horseshoes like confetti at the the guests whose cold shoulders would’ve whipped round to see the bride and groom flee the scene of the crime. Charlie Chaplin bridesmaids, groom and bride swallowed up fast into separate limousines that screech into separate. Lives. Beds. Hearts. No eternal rings of circular arguments. No change of names.
Then you would not be here now, fulfilling your contractual agreement, the boring better man who got it worse. There is a moment where I see you forget yourself. And maybe him too. Your cold arms warmed by a hot screaming bundle of this fresh, flesh branch of me that is not you. But then you squeeze a little too tight, too hard. And we both know, we’ve reached the finish line.