Tag Archive | Grace Black

Spotlight on India: Firdaus Parvez

Today we continue our series of Spotlight interviews featuring writing around the world. Our aim is to chat with a few of the Flash! Friday writers from all parts of the globe to help us know our own community a bit better. Current judge IfeOluwa Nihinlola kicked us off with an honest and compelling look at his writerly life in Nigeria (read his interview here). Today it’s a true pleasure to welcome to the mic Flash! Friday regular Firdaus Parvez, here to share about her own writing journey in India. Welcome, Firdaus!

Firdaus Parvez

Tell us about your writerly journey: how did it all begin? 

I was about six years old when I was packed off to a boarding school, Wynberg-Allen. Nestled in the foothills of the Himalayas, this Anglo-Indian Christian school is where my reading and writing journey began. Being a shy child, I had few friends and perhaps to get over my homesickness I buried myself in books. The school library was a wonderland. Though English was a new language for me, I just sat in the library with a book, looking at the pictures. Slowly I learned to read. I still remember the large book on ‘Sindbad’s Voyages’. Magical and amazing.
Eventually, I was devouring Nancy Drews and Enid Blytons. That’s about the time I started writing too. I got really good at writing essays in class and I would write stuff, especially poems, in my rough book, but tear it up so no one would see. I still have a diary from my school days with some silly poems.

Sadly, my writing and reading journey came to an abrupt halt when I got married in my final year of Law. I then had two children in quick succession. No time for anything other than diapers and baby formula. Luckily, the writing bug was still alive and kicking, so, when my children went off to their respective boarding schools, I started writing. I have a little collection of short stories, some unfinished, languishing on my computer.

Then one fine day slightly over a year ago I stumbled over an app called Ku. That’s where I met Grace Black and other wonderful writers who were very inspiring and encouraging. I started writing on her blog Three Line Thursday (TLT). From there I was introduced to other writing sites/ blogs, 101words.org, Microbookends and finally Flash! Friday. At first I was lost in the jungle of stories. It was a totally new thing for me. For two weeks I read every single story (I still do) and then I took up the courage to post one. I’m glad I did.

How do you balance writing with your responsibilities? 

I’m a simple housewife and a total recluse. I just write when I get the time. Inspiration hits me usually between 3am-5am. I know that’s terrible timing, but that’s how my brain works. So I’m up and scribbling away at that ungodly hour.

Please introduce us to writing in your part of India. 

I live in a small town located close to the capital, New Delhi. I haven’t come across any writing groups here (not that I’ve looked for them). I usually write in my room, on my bed. I like to write in silence. I get ideas at the weirdest hours, especially while walking my dog at 5am. A sentence or two typed into my phone helps me remember. I usually don’t show my writings to anyone. It’s very recent that I’ve started participating online. Though now I have several writer friends online with whom I’ve started sharing my writes and I’ve been thinking about submitting stories to online magazines too. Let’s see where that takes me. Maybe I’ll let one go through #Pyro here. (Gulp!)

What’s the publishing situation for new/aspiring writers in your circles — is it “easy” to get published? What trends do you see, and what challenges do writers face?

There are around 82,237 newspapers and 49,000 magazines printed in English and other local languages in India. We are more of a newspaper and magazine reading nation, though there have always been avid readers of books too. Recently due to the surge in reading, publishers from around the world have been rushing to our shores. Despite the immense potential, getting published is not a cake walk. The scene here is pretty much similar to that of America.
Publishers usually have 700-2000 unread emails a month, and large piles of scripts. This ‘slush pile’ is assigned to fresh recruits to sift through. Even if this 20-something person likes your script he/she will still have to convince the decision making authority. (See where I’m going?). It’s better to submit through a literary agent, and publishers even prefer that, because they know the script would have been thoroughly screened already. But literary agents too have a ‘slush-pile’ and their rejection rate is up to 90% or more. Sounds dismal, but that’s the way it is. I guess writers are taking the self publishing route here too, though I haven’t read any yet.

One other trend I’ve noticed over a few years is the amount of books coming out with dumbed-down language. These books target the youth who are starting to learn and improve their English, as usually it isn’t their first language. These books are being snapped up so fast and these writers have such a large fan base. Good writers willing to compromise on the language can really hit big time. Though as a person who loves to write, I like reading books that tickle my brain and secondly we write as well as we read.

Tell us about a book and/or author who’s particularly inspired you, and why/how.

I love reading the classics. My favourite is Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. I can read it again and again. I don’t know why though; I’m sure there are other better ones. But Jane Eyre catches my imagination. Recently I’ve started reading Haruki Murakami. You can just pick up any book of his and it’s going to be brilliant.

Who are your favorite Indian writers (of all time, and today?)? For someone unfamiliar with Indian writers, which authors/books would you recommend starting with?

There are so many incredible Indian writers. One of the best writers of all times is R. K. Narayan. I grew up watching the televised version of his book The Malgudi Days, and his book The Guide is a good read and has been made into a film. The other writers and the books I’ve read and liked are:

Anita Desai Fasting and Feasting
Kiran Desai The Inheritance of Loss
Vikram SethA Suitable Boy (it’s very thick though)
Jhumpa Lahiri The Namesake
Arundhati RoyThe God of Small Things
Khushwant Singh Train to Pakistan

And my favourite author who I grew up watching and reading, Mr Ruskin Bond. He was a regular visitor of our school and I had the honour of meeting him in person. He’s India’s very own ‘Wordsworth’. His The Train at Deoli and Other Short Stories is a must read. It gives the reader the rustic feel of the mountain life in the Himalayas. This list is not exhaustive; there are several others I’ve not read as yet and they might be even better.

What are you reading now?

Right now I’m reading Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf. It’s very different from anything I’ve ever read. The narration bounces from one character to another quite quickly, weaving a web of reflections. It’s interesting and initially confusing. I really have to concentrate, but once you get the hang of it, it really sucks you in. If you haven’t read it already, I’d say you must.

Tell us about a teacher who has inspired you.

I was in middle school and was on my path of ‘discovery’. I had just been introduced to the ‘romance novels’; these books had very ‘inappropriate’ covers. I still laugh when I think of this. It was study time just before dinner. We were supposed to be completing our homework. The teacher on duty making the rounds of the study room was Miss Sara Tomas, a young British lady. Miss Tomas was our English teacher. Instead of studying, I was reading this book hidden in my text book. Miss Tomas caught me and confiscated the book. As the cover was torn, I hid it. She demanded the cover and when she saw it, her face went red with anger. She muttered under her breath,”Oh! What literature!” I wanted to melt into the ground. I was supposed to be the good one. A week later she summoned me to the staff room. She handed me the book and made me promise that I wouldn’t read this ‘trash’ again. If I wanted to write well I should start reading well. I guess that was the turning point in my reading history. Though I did not completely give up those books (come on, I was just thirteen!) I did start picking up good books from time to time.

How can we, as your fellow writers, support and encourage you?

Recently I googled ‘Flash fiction in India’ and I was glad to see a long list of sites and blogs holding competitions. I haven’t visited any yet because my net has been crawling, though I do hope to soon. It looks pretty exciting. But at present, Flash! Friday is the highlight of my week. I would like to thank every person who takes the time to read my stories and comment on it. It’s very encouraging and pulls me back every week. Thank you for this great platform Rebekah. You’re doing a remarkable job, bringing such brilliant writers to this literary watering hole. Every week I take back something new. It’s really helping with my longer stories. Thank you so very much. May this grow from strength to strength.

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Flash! Friday Vol 3 – 34: WINNERS

WELL, aren’t y’all looking spiffy this fine Monday (especially Stella, fast asleep in her dragon-sparkled jammies)!!!!  So very grateful, as ever (except one week more so), to all of you who pushed up your dragonsleeves to write another round of outrageously stunning stories. You took our dramatically unhappy Anna Karenina places even she hadn’t dreamed of going: she wound up with Vronsky, Karenin, alone, or under Engine, Engine, Number Nine, sure — but also variously on other planets, with dragons, in boxing rings… OK, who are we kidding, mostly she wound up DEED, poor thing, in the very picture of wonderful irony, as she died in stories shimmering and humming with life. How do you do that?!

Btw, COME BACK TOMORROW!!! as we celebrate previous Flash! Friday winner Sydney Scrogham‘s launch of her novel, Chase! It’s another super exciting #Spotlight interview, complete with a chance at a FREE COPY! Don’t miss it!

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A marvelous, cotton candied privilege having the captains of Dragon Team Five, Foy Iver & Holly Geely behind the engine this week. Only their second go, and they’re already settling into a comfortable routine. I know this, because unlike dear Anna, they are both still quite alive. And chatty:   

HG: This week, tragedy abounds; exactly as I suspected when the choice of main character is “unhappy socialite.” Congratulations, friends, you have tugged at my heartstrings, broken them, mended them, and broken them again. I had so many feelings that I almost had to resort to writing poetry (and trust me, no one wants to be burdened with my poetry – I’m worse than a Vogon). Honestly, folks, well done – I’m in awe at the skill of this community.

FI: In true Flash! Friday dragon fashion, you’ve slain your scores, woven poetry into familiar fabric, and sent this captain into fits trying to cut down a not-so-short list. (C’mon, people, couldn’t you be a little less amazing!?) Winner and First Runner Up switched places a few times, fighting ink and quill for that champion crown. I would’ve forged a second crown in Hephaestus’ fires but apparently there are rules about that, so the decision had to be made…

Thank you, thank you to Steph Ellis for sending her beautiful Ddraig Goch straight from Cymru with your stories safely stripped!

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SPECIAL MENTIONS

The “Oh-Snap I didn’t see that coming but I love it” award: Sarah Miles, “Social Status.” In today’s world, this main character is in for a rough time after their announcement. Love it – gave me a great chuckle.

The “D’awww you really tugged at my heartstrings” award: Eleanor LewisMummy-Number-Four.” This story is sad at times, but it’s ultimately precious, and Mummy-Number-Four is a lovely woman.

The “Come drink the Shenandoah waters” award: Mark A. King, The 4:15 Train from Shenandoah Valley.” I loved this story from the start for its ambitious use of heavy eye dialect. Then the S.V. nod cinched it.  

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HONORABLE MENTIONS

 

Craig Anderson, “Cold Feet.” 

HG: Ouch. A tale that’s all-too-familiar (but hopefully becoming a thing of the past). Powerfully done, particularly the “I do.”

FI: Another story on the winner’s list to end on only two words. But, goodness, how much weight they carry! Through a more modern perspective, “Cold Feet” took the idea of obliged marriage and made it its own. Deftly, the author provokes that rising dread how many millions have experienced standing by false affection for tradition’s sake. Whether “I do” is spoken in that moment, or, later, when it’s too late, isn’t said but I like to hope that those cold feet were bold enough to run.

Nancy Chenier, “Virtual Ties That Bind.” 

HG: I’m with Grandma on this one, the idea of becoming software is disturbing. The story made me uncomfortable and made me wonder how far I’d go to stay with family; it’s a well-crafted look at a future I fear.

FI: Strong world building was recurrent this week (one of the reasons our job was so difficult. Looking at you “Superiority”), but “Virtual Ties” created a universe that was both foreign and familiar. Though technology pulls us into the future of new bodies and 200-year long life spans, the strength of familial bonds holds, tying us eternally to those we love and the need to remain connected.

M.T. Decker, “Time Warped and Weft.”

HG: This one reminds me of old stories of the Fates and how they weave our destinies. In only a handful of paragraphs, the vastness of entropy bears down upon the reader. Fantastic.

FI: I loved this one for its removed feel (and probably because first person POV, present tense is one of my all time favorite narrative techniques). Much like the voice shown weaving its prescribed pattern, the conflict threads in and out, pointing to where entropy and man work against themselves unintentionally. Short. Beautiful. Unique.

Catherine Connolly, “Barabashka.”

HG: I wasn’t familiar with the lore so I looked it up – and I’m impressed. This spooky tale hints of tradition gone wrong and there’s a haunting feeling of longing throughout.

FI: High, high praise for the author of this gem! Latvian folklore come to life was the last thing I expected to read from a Tolstoy prompt. Original, gripping, and worlds-deep, each sentence harks back to the domovoi and a thousand other questionable traditions we humans cling to out of habit, affection, or fear. Can I request a novel out of this? 

THIRD RUNNER UP

Tamara Shoemaker, “Journey.”

HG: “Less than twenty inches separate us. A gulf of a thousand miles keeps us apart.”The story of a love gone stale, and two hearts separated; a familiar story that affects many every day. A heartbreaking tale that puts light at the end of the tunnel; the closing line is especially beautiful.

FI: So often we read stories about passion starved and fading, but this author paints Love as a journey, with intimacy and distance both. When that chasm opens wide, “Journey” whispers that “touch is a ten-year bridge,” able to heal the deepest wounds. As someone who thrives on love expressed physically, I was happy to see its power represented here in such poetic prose.

SECOND RUNNER UP

Tamara Shoemaker, “Daughter of Eve” 

HG: The main characters unabashed declaration of “It is who I am” sold this one for me. Here is a woman who has no shame in being a woman. Perhaps society has come a long way – but there is much room for improvement. A fantastic study in feminism and it made me feel powerful.

FI: Oh, how I love this one! Many of the stories showed us women either submitting to the place society assigns them (Grace Black‘s “Just Chicken” – So. Good.), or violently rebelling (Pattyann McCarthy‘s “Hush Little Baby” – a powerful piece). The voice in “Daughter of Eve” instead has a quiet confidence. She knows she’s a woman. She owns it. And what began as an insult (“you’re a woman”) becomes a quiet declaration (“Yes. I am.”), making me proud to say it aloud with her.

FIRST RUNNER UP

Nancy Chenier, “Frayed Ties.” 

HG: This story breaks my heart. There are many layers here, a tragedy presented in an almost nonchalant way. I can imagine the speaker shrugging one shoulder as they wait for the train; I can imagine someone crying for them, though they don’t believe anyone should care. In a few words in each stage of this person’s life, you can see how hard it must have been, and you understand why they’re waiting for “until.”

FI: This is the perfect example of why flash fiction deserves its place in the literary world. In only 150 words, a whole life plays out in snap shots: childhood to teenage years to adulthood. Every read through reveals new layers of meaning becoming more complex rather than less, as it’s unwrapped. The structure, too, is phenomenal, guiding the reader through each tragedy with a gentle hand before leaving us standing in the narrator’s shoes in front of those tracks, wondering if now is our own “until.” Where parents should have provided the strongest tie, years of neglect and disinterest have left this individual with only memories and a longing to join that patched-together family.

And now: magnificently battling to the top AGAIN, it’s TWO-time

DRAGON WINNER

MARK A. KING!!!

for

The Boxer and the Butterfly

HG: “The butterfly is trapped in a body that doesn’t belong”/”The boxer is ready.” The two different but achingly similar tales of two different-yet-the-same characters is a gorgeous glimpse into the chosen theme, “social progress.” They have both taken a bold step to the future, and have both decided to be true to themselves – perhaps in some cases at the risk of their safety, especially for the butterfly. I wonder, is it a butterfly…or is it something more? Beautifully done.

FI: Wow. It would be easy to get lost in this one, wandering between words succulent and soul-catching, waiting for the next sliver of imagery to carry us away, missing the heart of why “The Boxer and the Butterfly” show cases champion writing. But time spent reading and re-reading, tearing the mind away from stunning phraseology, and looking instead to meaning, is well spent. Because why write if you don’t have something to say? Here, the author examines social progress through two dissimilar characters, their desires and what society desires for them. They are not content to be what others say they must and it is this timorous bravery that seals it. Sometimes the bravest things, are done by the smallest and most fearful of us. A worthy winner.

Congratulations (again), Mark! Once (again) we are TOTALLY MADLY LEAPING ABOUT THE LAIR in honor of your win. We’re updating your winner’s page (again), and your winning tale’s (again) going up on the winners’ wall. Please keep an eye on your inbox for interview questions (once more) for Thursday’s #SixtySeconds feature! And now, here’s your winning story:

The Boxer and the Butterfly

The boxer imagines the soft, dry powder of talc soothing roughened knuckles of pain. White dusted on criss-crossed burgundy fissures—a snow-capped mountain of scars.

The butterfly is trapped in a body that doesn’t belong. Society dictates the mundane caterpillar appearance—dragging the butterfly down.

The boxer imagines the weight of the gloves, the torsion of biceps, the dancing of feet on springy canvas. The boxer imagines the bloodthirsty collective din of the audience as glove connects with face.

The butterfly is beaten, derided and punished for being something it should not be.

The boxer is ready. In the locker room she kisses the picture of her children, ignores the banners telling her place is at home and she enters the arena.

The butterfly is ready. He covers his injuries in majestic kaleidoscope-colours and walks the streets of Russia with tentative, watchful steps.

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Flash! Friday Vol 3 – 21: WINNERS

So glad to see your grinning faces today! (OK, some of those grins are creeping me out. You can stop now.) 

Just five more days to toss your name into the judging ring, btw. Please consider joining us! Flash! Friday works in large part due to our fabulous teams of judge captains, who toil giddily over your stories each week. Questions about it? Please email me here, or DM me on Twitter, or message me on Facebook, and let’s chat about it! More details here.

Coming up later this afternoon: The announcement of our second Flash Dash winner! I’ll update this post and tweet the winner like mad.

And yes: many of you are patiently waiting for your Ring of Fire badges; you’ll have those by day’s end. Thank you!

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Dragon Captains Image Ronin/Joidianne4eva saySo here we are, brave purveyors of tales of torment and woe, desire and dismay. Another week, and another round in which your collective skills and deft storytelling leaves us dismayed at having to whittle you down to a select few. As you may be aware, you can throw your writerly cap into the judging circle for the next quarter. (Details here!) We have both learnt so much from spending time engaging with your work over this period and therefore can only say how rewarding, including free dragon treats, the experience is. So if you have even the slightest inclination, go for it, you and your writing will never look back.

Anyway, the drumroll of glory beckons, and here’s to the fabulous few who made their way into the shining light of freedom this round!

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SPECIAL MENTIONS

Foy S. Iver, “Revolutionaries.” For channeling my inner Gilliam and taking me to a place that would have resided well in Brazil.

Eleanor Lewis, “Application.” For capturing the eternal curse of the writer (or is it just me? -IR)

Voima Oy, “Keys to the City.” For stunning imagery within a dystopian realm soaked in film noir.

Nancy Chenier, “Catch This.” For teasing us all with the catch 22 of all writers’ desires.

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HONORABLE MENTIONS

Ian Martyn, “The Decision.” 

J – There was something extremely satisfying about this piece, the constant give and take between the narrator and his audience, the quick rethinking each time another aspect of the scenario is presented in a new light. This was a brilliant portrayal of how easy it is to judge without all the facts yet with all the facts we might hesitate to make any decision at all for fear of the consequences.

IR – A partner piece to The Inmates – this tale offers up another narrator, again fully convinced that they are in control. However, whereas in Inmates this certainty slowly fades, the narrator here offers us nothing but sleight of hand and a stream of consciousness that challenges us to take a leap into the unknown. An unsettling approach to the prompt that left me pondering long after reading.

Marie McKay, “Somewhere A Hurricane Rages.” 

J – There was something so heartbreaking about this piece, from the self-flagellation in purchasing a live specimen to his grief even as he admires his collection…a brilliant use of the prompt.

IR – I was unsure whether to feel pity or hatred for this narrator of seemingly wealth, taste and a desire to entrap nature to suit his own obsessive desires. The catch 22, of yearning to let something exist but needing to maintain its perfection was delightfully played out.

Grace Black, Pallid Cage.” 

J – My attention was first captured by the almost lyrical use of language here and then the meaning behind the piece hits you and the knowledge that there was grief written between every line from the very beginning makes the impression of this tale all the more effective and absolutely heart wrenching.

IR – That first line, as if ripped from The Pixies’ Doolittle was what stuck. A serenade of wailing guitars accompanied my reading, as I delved deeper into a reality in which the ‘real’ is marginalised into the ‘unreal’. This unheimlich quality permeated the sense of existence, leaving me feeling raw in more ways than one.

Carin Marais, “The Destroyer of Worlds.” 

J – This tale was a brilliant portrait of contrasts. The question of where to draw the line or whether there was ever a line to be drawn in the first place were perfectly presented in a way that captured and held my attention from start to finish.

IR – This stream-of-consciousness led us deep into a labyrinth of despair and uncertainty. Each twist and turn denying as much as it revealed.

THIRD RUNNER UP

Laura Romero, “The Inmates.” 

J – The despair and fear of the narrator bled through this piece, from the first words, until the thought that any revenge would surely be justified was almost solidified in my mind then I started to question just how reliable the narrator was at the point where he indicated that he had more than a little sway over the other inmates.  Which begs the questions are the Reinfields truly the villains of this piece?

IR – One of my favourite traits is the unreliable narrator, and this tale took me back to the realm of Dr Caligari and his asylum in The Cabinet of Caligari (Wiene, 1920) in which we begin a journey only to find out that the voice of rationality is as damned as those he deems insane. Inmates delivers in a moment of flash such a voice, our narrator seemingly aware and understanding their role within the asylum, only for the façade of his own conviction crumble into dust.

SECOND RUNNER UP

Nancy Chenier, “Bootleg.”

J – This tale was so intricate that I wanted more, I wanted to know about this Zerox invasion, I wanted to know what had happened to the original narrator but what truly cinched this tale for me wasn’t the questions it was that final line…absolutely heart-breaking and an original twist on the prompt indeed.

IR – Alien Invasion + Doppelgangers? Shotgun wielding survivors + DIY? An alien culture riffing on a well know photocopier corporation? Bootleg took me on a 1950s gamut of aliens and small town Americana – that took up the notion of futility, but this time placed that in the hands of the would be coloniser. The reveal of the lock and how that held the “key” for the narrative was wonderfully set up. Very nicely done.

FIRST RUNNER UP

Tamara Shoemaker, “Escape.”

J – The sheer lyricism of this piece alone was enough to capture and hold my attention and then the futility of narrator’s situation becomes clearer with every line. To forget is to give up the only link to what they’ve lost but gain a chance to move forward but on the other hand there is the choice to remember but be stuck in the rut of that memory.

IR – Sometimes it’s a line or a moment that stands out, sometimes a tale takes you down an unusual perspective – forging a till down untrodden path. The tension of the poetic language that wraps itself around the tormented reality of our narrator is both moving and harrowing in equal measure. Further the imagery leapt from the page, from “Shadows of those keys” (evoking Plato’s cave) to “a breath of wind that stirred my hair” the sense of loss and guilt were layered into a wonderful tableau.

And now: joining the super sparkly group of 4-time winners, it’s the mega talented Flash! Friday

DRAGON WINNER

MICHAEL SEESE!!!

for

“Monkey See”

J – The inescapability of the scenario was made just that much worse by the tiny flicker of hope which in the end trapped the narrator more securely than any lock. Let go of the key, let go of hope…hold the key, Sheila dies. This was an effort in futility from the very beginning and such a brilliant approach to the prompt, absolutely stunning in the execution… no pun intended and a well-deserved win.

IR – Oh the curse of our poor narrator! Much like J, I found the claustrophobia, echoed with the bleak stripped down layers of description, to bring to the fore the inertia of our would-be hero. In particular the shift from fractured torment into the realisation that we are in the midst of some dystopian game show was deftly executed without losing focus on the fear of our protagonists. The theme of catch 22 perfectly captured, the photo prompt delivered to the proverbial T, a worthy winner.

Congratulations, Michael! Here’s your very familiar, extra bejewelled winner’s page and your winning tale on the winners’ wall. Please watch your inbox for interview questions for this Thursday’s #SixtySeconds feature, your FOURTH! And now, here is your winning story:

Monkey See

She gasps a little when she sees me reach in through the small gap in the door.

“Don’t worry. I will get you,” I say evenly.

She tries to speak. But terror owns her voice.

“Where is it?” I hiss. “I know it’s here somewhere.” Then my fingertip finds metal.

“Please,” she begs, “just go.”

“You know I can’t do that.”

I wish that I could crawl through the tiny peephole, and end the game. The key is close. I can just jiggle it with my middle finger. I block out her cries as I focus on the task. Sinew tearing, I stretch the last inch, and snatch it from the hook.

“I’ve got it,” I say. “Sheila, I’m getting you out.”

“You’re too late,” she sobs.

“What do you –”

“Quite the quandary,” says a slithery baritone. “Do you know how they used to capture monkeys? They’d place a banana inside a cage with a narrow slit. Small enough for an open hand to reach in, but not wide enough for a clenched fist to come out.”

My limited view allows me to see only his torso.

And the knife.

“Not wanting to drop the prize, he remains a prisoner. Willingly. I hope you enjoy the show.”

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