Tag Archive | James Atkinson

Fire&Ice Sol 7/19: WINNERS

§ Rebekah says: I’ve always loved Mondays; there’s something so clean-slate and hope-filled about them. Maybe this week I’ll hit my writing targets. Maybe this week I’ll check those tiresome tasks off my list… This week I’ve a new one to add, as the ice dragon and I have each just committed to run 87 miles by our (American) Election Day Nov 3. (Whyyy did we do this? Shhhh, Self: that’s a Thursday-type question.) For now, it’s still sweet Monday, which at Fire&Ice means celebrating your stories. So Happy Monday, friends. We’re delighted to see you!

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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 7’S JUDGES SAY:

Sinéad O’Hart:  Well, whew. What a crop this week. With prompts as good as these, and a wonderfully wide word count, it’s hardly a surprise that so many gems tumbled out of the story-sack. Thank you to everyone who submitted for trusting us with your work. Every time I have the honour of judging Flash! Friday it’s a privilege, and this week was no different.

The first story I want to make special mention of was the very first to cross my path – Bill Engleson‘s “A Final Flame.” I read this tale with no small amount of emotion, as to me it was about a woman at the end of her life, having suffered with a terminal illness (possibly cancer), and with the subtext that her loved one had done their best to end her pain. In the past few days, I lost a beloved family member to cancer, and so this story hit home in a special way. Sometimes, art truly can heal.

Other sparkling tales that caught my eye included James Atkinson‘s “The Breath of the Final Dragon” – such a fresh take on the dragon-fire idea, with some incredible imagery (‘lashes alive with parasites’), and a great take on the prompt of Justice. I also loved Voima Oy‘s “King Lear in the Federal Plaza,” with its evocative writing and great use of the prompts. My Sir Terry Pratchett-loving heart really enjoyed “Inspector Counterweight and the Percussive Goblin” by Geoff LePard; those characters would be more than at home in Ankh-Morpork! My Good Omens-loving heart also enjoyed Laurence D‘s “Ezekiel,” which was a fun homage to Pratchett and Gaiman’s masterwork. Mark King‘s “Where Her Soul Goes to Walk” was an important, excellent, and moving commentary on race relations and the lives of marginalised people, as was “Afire” by Michael Seese – powerful and meaningful work, a privilege to read. Maggie Duncan‘s “Kholodnoye Pravosudiye” was one of my favourites, barely missing out on an Honorary Mention. It was elegant, cold, brilliantly controlled, and I loved the subtle ‘eternal flame’ – the one burning in Gavrilla’s heart.

But, judging is a two-person process, and consensus must be reached. Luckily, Craig and I were on the same page (almost exactly) when it came to our top picks. Choosing winners and Runners Up this week was more a case of two old dragons sharing pleasantries, rather than a duel to the flame. So, without further ado…


Craig Anderson: How did time go so quick that we are back in the hot seat? Feels like just moments ago that we were judging the first round of most excellent flash fiction, and suddenly a new batch of awesome was delivered to our virtual dragon’s den. Just as before you all made it tough to pick a favorite, but it is certainly a nice problem to have when you are literally spoiled for choice.

As before, Sinéad was an absolute pleasure to judge with. We both had a long list of favorites, which made it easy to find the overlapping stories that caught both our eyes. We’d also both landed on the same winner independently, which made things a whole lot easier!

As for my own favorites, I particularly enjoyed Marsha Adams‘ “They came for me at dawn,” which spoke of a dystopian world where only a few humans remained. I love the little hints of what might have happened, always teasing the wider story, while focusing on one very specific punishment. I also loved Firdaus Parvez‘s – “The Wind,” for the swift punishment dished out by the diminutive hero. I’m such a sucker for underdogs, and Hawa fit the bill perfectly. “Sleep Well Tonight” by Edison Arcane contained a whole backstory in its brief length, and the ending was very satisfying. Plus I’m also going to sneak in a mention for Geoff LePard‘s “Inspector Counterweight and the Percussive Goblin“; I too immediately thought of STP, and that is high praise indeed!

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HONORABLE MENTIONS

Singular Love by Helen Laycock

SO: This story was so fresh and interesting, with an interesting and engaging perspective that drew me in right away. Well executed, with excellent details like the blood on the character’s thigh, which let the reader infer the subtext. A story with a whole world in it, skilfully drawn.

CA: I loved how this one started, which such powerful imagery of the women all moving in sync, like white smoke. That great imagery continued throughout, with the flames gently cradling the bundle, and the meandering blood, all painting such a vivid picture of a horrifying scene. The ending added a great punch, and twisted the whole tale on its head.

The Devil’s Kitchen by Steph Ellis

SO: Again, a story which immediately leapt off the page with its fresh perspective, and one I loved because of the almost throwaway line: ‘At least they’d buried her husband where no one would find him’ – narrated so casually, yet this line is the pivot point for the whole story. Masterful!

CA: This one jumped out for squeezing not one but two twists into its brief length. It starts so casually, like a walk in the woods, so good natured, and then the casual mention of dead bodies flips the whole thing on its head. Suddenly our campers become villains, and you worry for the person that they run into, but then the story twists again and karma comes back around quickly.

RUNNER UP

Legend Renewed  by MJ Bush

SO: Craig and I both loved this one. As well as its excellent use of the prompts, this story is evocative and moving, and it is a perfect example of the type of flash fiction I love so much – a story that works perfectly just as it is, but one which shows the reader a whole world. I loved the perspective, the centuries of lore and legend and the years of heroic duty; the crashing-together of the old and the new (the world might be technologically modern, but the old monsters remain), and the final image, the ancient tool being brought back into service, the light beating back the monsters of the dark. Excellent work.

CA: I really enjoyed the way this one spoke to the nature of legends, with the story slowly shifting over time, but the core pieces staying the same. Then it shifts gears, moving towards modern convenience, until everyone forgets the reason that the legend existed in the first place. It isn’t until that modern solution fails, and the old monsters return, that they receive such a sudden reminder, and they go right back to the old ways. A great analogy for our world these days.

And now: it is our pleasure to present to you our

FIRE&ICE WINNER

PHIL COLTRANE!!!

for

Astraea

SO – Again, my fellow judge and I were unanimous in our choice! I am a sucker for SF stories, and this one was a masterclass. A tale of a battle in space, at a time unspecified, but which could be mapped onto any Earthbound conflict, it drew me in and held me. The conversational tone: ‘The war began (as such wars do) with men who neglected the lessons of history…’ was a powerful beginning to a story which culminated in the destruction of a planet in a ‘blast of searing plasma’. What clinched this for me (as well as all the other things I love in a good piece of flash – brilliant characters, the power of the story to both stand alone and show us a larger world, and emotional heft) was the excellent ending, with an old-tech weapon being used in a new-tech world. Such an interesting and clever detail, the perfect showstopper ending for a perfect story.

CA –I loved this one right away, but I am a sucker for great sci-fi, so when Sinéad had short-listed it as a potential winner too I was absolutely thrilled! As with all great sci-fi it has a great mix of old and new, of history and imagination. The repetition of (as such wars do) was such a great way to bookend the global conflict in just a couple of sentences. So much is conveyed in so few words, it is a masterclass in cramming an entire history into a handful of words. 

‘My memories fuelled my nightmares for a century’ is another great line, which paints such a vivid picture about the nature of the war, and how nobody truly won. It shows us how the MC feels about the atrocities committed in the name of war. The use of water and fire, of symbols of mercy and justice, was a great touch, and the gut punch ending of the unspoken third option was the perfect way to wrap up this tale. Wonderful flash!

Congratulations, Phil! Here’s your winning story:

ASTRAEA

The war began (as such wars do) with men who neglected the lessons of history. I was an innocent boy with romantic notions of alien planets, great battles, and mighty heroes.

The war ended (as such wars do) in tears, and firing squads, and a vow never to forget. Never forget. My memories fueled my nightmares for a century. Even after I escaped the jail, fled the planet, buried my past deeper than my victims. At night I saw those purple eyes of a girl from Astraea — eyes that watched her family and her future die in a blast of searing plasma.

One day I saw those eyes again, in daylight. They held me entranced as she approached. We stood at the memorial: rippling waters and roaring flame.

“I could turn you in,” she said without preamble. “I should. Though a lifetime ago, justice knows no age.” Her face was pale as mine had been that day. “But the flame falters. Life, I see, has wearied us both. Mercy. Or justice.”

“So which will it be?” I asked. “The water? Or the fire?”

I never saw the pistol — only the glint in her eyes.

“The earth.”

Flash! Friday Vol 3 – 50: WINNERS

Good morning! Thank you so much for your overwhelming, loving support following Friday’s announcement that I’m closing up shop after December 11’s Flashversary. I’ll have more to say on that over the next three weeks, but today belongs to you; today is not my farewell — not yet –, but Steph & Josh’s (much as you and they are conspiring to keep me in tears for the next three weeks!).

**NOTE!** We still have a couple more global #Spotlight interviews ahead: please join us tomorrow for a trip to Bulgaria with Cindy Vaskova!

And now: a mountain’s height of thanks to Dragon Team Six, Steph Ellis and Josh Bertetta. We should perhaps be a little frightened and/or impressed by the sychronization of your judging thoughts — both of you should probably tuck that away for future use somewhere! It’s been a great honor serving the community alongside you. Thank you for your clever sifting of stories, for your generous comments, for your faithful support of flash fiction and this community in particular. Above all, thank you for contributing your own powerfully unique talents by sharing your stories here. We are so grateful to and for you.

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Here are Dragon Team Six’s final comments, crystallized by Steph, who apparently has no respect for my deteriorating supply of tissues:   

SE: I was feeling somewhat sad that my time as a judge was coming to an end at Flash! Friday but then came that bombshell from Rebekah about the closure of the site, an announcement which I must say left me feeling almost bereft.  I’ve just had a scan through the Flash! Friday archives and found my first entry back in October of last year.  I find myself amazed that it’s only a matter of some 13 months and not longer; this particular competition has become such a huge part of my life giving my week a writerly structure that I have followed (more-or-less) religiously.  What will I do?  What will we all do?  Well, we’ll carry on writing as she has trained us so well: we will continue with the familiar (MicroBookends, Three Line Thursday, FlashDogs anthologies, Angry Hourglass) and attempt new pastures.  So the gap will be filled, but it will not be the same.  I do have some more to say to Rebekah, but those words you will find in some of my responses to the stories below.

As it’s my last week I would also like to pay tribute to my partner-in-crime Josh Bertetta.  I know he has been unable to take part this week for personal reasons and I missed our few minutes of haggling across the pond.  And when I say few, I mean few.  Nearly every single time, at least half, if not more, of our choices matched; and where they didn’t, we quite often found that we had similar choices ‘bubbling under’ which allowed us room to manoeuvre.

I would also like to thank my lovely eldest daughter for her efforts in stripping the Flash stories for me, especially as she tends to work late; whether it was Bob Dylan or The 1975, she still managed to wake up not too long before noon and get the stories to me and Josh!  For that I have rewarded her with a Korean Vegetarian cookbook – as you do.

And one more big thank you – to all of you who have provided us with such wonderful stories to read.  Keep writing and submitting.  We will see you here until the finish, and hopefully we will continue across the Flashverse, taking our stories into unchartered territories and cheering each other on.

Now, without further ado, let the drum roll begin …

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SPECIAL MENTIONS

Brady Koch, “Bougainvillea.” An apparently innocent start to the story, a young man returns home having travelled the world, for what you would think would be a much-wanted reunion with is family.  But instead we are faced with him drawing a plant whose leaf ‘grew out of the long-picked skull of the artist’s father’.  Then we discover that not only is there a skull, but a knife in the rib-cage, put there by our returnee.  Not quite the reunion expected.  Nicely dark.

James Atkinson, “Times Change.” A warning to those who would promote isolationism.  Initially the families were separate enough when their village’s isolation first occurred for there to be no problems in terms of marriage but as time passed cousins married cousins so that eventually all became closely related.  This seems to concern only our narrator.  He recognises that they need ‘another supply drop’ but implies this would be not of goods but of people to refresh and strengthen the gene pool; this latter a good example of showing not telling.

Bill Engleson, “Sweetapple Dodds.” Great pulp fiction tone to the narration of this story.  The agent’s in his office and in she walks ‘Hell, you could smell the country on her’, ‘wiggling her fanny as if she’s revving up for the Indy 500’.  He feels sorry for her but he has an ulterior motive, he ‘could see potential, a tremendous chassis’.  Wonderful language and a fun read.

Firdaus Parvez, “Born With the Devil.” I think everyone imagines twins are born with that unbreakable bond, where one would do anything for the other.  You certainly don’t expect them to be so different that the sister hates her brother to the extent that she would slit her wrists and ensure not only his death, but her own.  Unique take on the bond between twins.

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HONORABLE MENTIONS

Charles W. Short, “The Captain’s Calling.”

An homage to Flash! Friday (Dragonwraith) and its Captain (Rebekah) and an unashamed placing.  This one is slightly different in that it is the creation of Flash! Friday in a world in which flash was almost an orphan.  She built the ship, which grew larger, was a ‘spokeswoman for her cause’ and developed her vision until other ‘Teams developed, friendships formed, and entirely new classifications of vessels took shape’.  We have all seen how the flash world had grown, we all meet up on other sites, not just on this ship so that now we can give the Captain the freedom to take her own path.  ‘A new calling awaits the captain, and she has the proven courage to undertake it.’

Michael Wettengel, “May-Born.” 

I love the personification of Ambition and Inspiration, those little devils that assail us all but which often never seem to work together, as in this particular story.  Inspiration is intent on wrapping himself up ‘like he’s spinning a cocoon’ whilst Ambition ‘walks and fumes’.  (I will whisper now, I am a May baby so I huff occasionally too).  The deadline hits and they run out of time and Ambition isn’t happy with the rambling end.  But the author walks away to look at the falling snow, as sometimes you have to.

Holly Geely, “Cousin Jackson

Of course I would place a story with a good pun, especially one which worked itself out so easily.  I had no idea it was coming (I mean, a banana plantation in a non-tropical climate?? how did I not see it?) but there it was, waiting, a perfect little gem to be discovered at the end.

Michael Seese, “In Here.”

This trapped me as soon as elephants on shoulders were mentioned.  I knew at this point something crazy was going on, the writing bringing to mind the madness of Carroll’s Wonderland.  The MC, a child, has occasional glimpses of sanity ‘when the mists clear,’ but she cannot leave her world where there are ‘Pixie Stix’ trees and ‘priests in prehistoric garb’ as well as mocking marionettes.  And even though she wants to leave, her mother tells her, ‘You can never leave this place, dear child. Insanity is your home.  Wonderfully crazy.

THIRD RUNNER UP

Nthato MorakabiWhat Child Is This?

The God Delusion!  Casting Dawkins as a priest, working from the inside of religion to subvert its message was a very clever ruse.  Dawkins has pretended to be a priest and foretold the end of the world, indicating certain signs, for example the baby with the pig’s tail would foreshadow it.  The nurse’s message brings him joy, he has been proved right.  But it is a scene he has manipulated (he has no ‘virtue’) by adding chemicals to the water supply so that mutations occur.  He has used science, he had ‘faith’ that science would make these changes.  Now science supplants religion, it has become the new faith.  Nice inversion.

SECOND RUNNER UP

Karl Russell, “One Day, in the Square” 

This is a story about self-belief and self-worth.  There are so many talented people in this world who just never show what they are capable of.  The old man who appears at Juan’s side and gives him such good advice turns out to be the ghost of a musician who’d only just died.  He had been a brilliant guitarist but had never followed the advice he now gave Juan, leading him to his sad ending on the bench by the fountain.  He had wasted his talent and played for the pigeons.  But his ghost returned and hopefully Juan will take his guitar and play to people and not to the birds.  I must admit to a soft spot for this story as I have a son who is a talented guitarist but already he is playing for people.  And to all those of you who think your writing’s not good enough to send out, well, if you’ve been submitting here, you’re definitely good enough – take that step and find your audience.

FIRST RUNNER UP

Mark A. King, “Genesis.” 

How could I not choose something like this considering our Dragoness’ recent announcement? This acrostic builds a true and heartfelt tribute to Rebekah for all her efforts on our behalf.  All of us have fought, as writers, to find our niche, we have all lived ‘in the wilderness’, seeking ‘the lands of promise’, the bookshop windows, we were all ‘alone’.  But she created a place for us, a ‘fortress’ where we could hone our skills and become strong enough to challenge the ‘elite’, where we could make friends and recognise that our own writing has worth.  Through this platform and the support and comments given so freely and generously week in, week out, we have developed to the extent that many are now pushing onwards and upwards, and some have even made it into the bookshop window.  Things are changing indeed, but it is not goodbye.  We no longer need a fortress: we have a world.  This piece was a lovely way for us all to say Thank you, Rebekah.

And now: for her gorgeous, fantastic, stirring FOURTH win, it’s this week’s 

DRAGON WINNER

MARIE MCKAY!!!

for

“To Care: More Than Just an Action

A poem has claimed first place this week with a message that needs to be heard on a larger platform.  The army of carers that is out there amongst us is large but invisible: the husbands and wives having to care for both elderly parents and young children, young children caring for parents or siblings, an elderly wife, herself frail having to care for her husband and vice versa.  This army does so much and their efforts go largely unnoticed and unrewarded but they do it even though they are so often at breaking point – ‘She cares/Until she screams’, ‘You care/Until you break’, ‘I care/Until I reach the edge’ – but they always ‘care some more’. 

Short lines, consistent repetition from different viewpoints punch the message home and wrings out the emotions, the feelings that at times seek to destroy the carer .  We are not allowed to be separate from the message of this poem, we are part of it because ‘We. Should.  Care’.  Simple.  Powerful.  Effective.

Congratulations, Marie! Thrilled to see you take your fourth crown this week, which you’ve done and drawn our attention to this underappreciated cause. Thank you so much for sharing this achingly beautiful poem. Here’s your updated winner’s page — a page that includes your winning tales dating back to your very first in Year One (Week 26!!!! darling thing, still here after so long!!). Please watch your inbox for instructions regarding your interview for your fourth #SixtySeconds! And now here’s your winning story:

To Care: More Than Just an Action
*inspired by Carers’ Rights Day in the UK

I care
my hands raw;
my eyes black;
my arms sore;
my hair out.
I care way beyond my own lifetime.

You care
yourself to sleep;
yourself awake;
yourself guilty;
yourself frail.
You care yourself lost.

She cares
herself bruised;
herself hungry;
herself lonely;
herself sick.
She cares herself away.

He cares
himself angry;
himself gaunt;
himself blunt.
He cares himself blue.

They care
themselves invisible;
themselves insular;
themselves inadequate.
They care to the quick.

I care
until I can’t, and then I care some more.
You care
until you cry, and then you care some more.
She cares
until she screams, and then she cares some more.

I care
until I reach the edge, and then I care some more.
You care
until you break, and then you care some more.
He cares
until he says he won’t, and then he cares some more.

I care
You care
She cares.
He cares.
They care.
And us?

We. Should. Care.

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