Tag Archive | Joey To

Flash! Friday Vol 3 – 49: WINNERS

Happy Monday! So glad to see y’all; it’s a gorgeous sunny autumn day here in the Shenandoah Valley, and after a fun, quick morning hike, we’re all set for the results party! 

But first: it’s a fond and heart-rich farewell to Dragon Team Five, Foy Iver and Holly Geely. Y’all have been just fabulous. I’ve loved your thoughtful comments, your passion for the community’s stories, and your all-round good humored approach to judging. What a delight and privilege working with you this round. Thank you so very, very much.

♦♦♦♦♦

And here are Dragon Team Five‘s parting words:   

HG: I can’t believe how quickly the past few months have gone! It’s been grand. I’ve read so many great stories and I’m so impressed by the talent and the kindness in this community. I don’t even have anything silly or sarcastic to say because I’m so happy to have been part of this.

FI: I have to echo Holly – this whole adventure has been like a carnival ride: over before the quarter hits the bottom. (I’d put in another but the attendant is telling me I’m too old for the miniature carousel.) Thank you all for the tears, the laughs, and especially for the privilege! I still don’t feel qualified to judge your words but it surely has been a pleasure walking among them and listening to the stories they’ve told.

♦♦♦♦♦

SPECIAL MENTIONS

for Best Mental Image: Craig Anderson, “The Young King.” FI: Anyone else picture Ramon Salazar from Resident Evil 4?

for Hacking my Brain: Margaret Locke, “Autobiography.” FI: It’s like you have a camera in my head…

for Most Kick A$$ Princess: Michael Wettengel, “Refuge in Audacity.” HG: I love it when the princess fights back, and this one has attitude. Love it.

for Unrelenting Grip: MT Decker, “The Lonesome Road.” HG: Highly poetic and thought-provoking, with a gripping final thought.

♦♦♦♦♦

HONORABLE MENTIONS

Nancy Chenier, “Rescue.”

HG: The maiden is not the prize, indeed. This is a well done piece all around but the closing line is particularly clever, not an ending at all but a hopeful beginning.

FI: What I loved most about this little twisted tale was the opening paragraph, and realizing that our heroine had taken what a man, father or former conquistador, had designed to keep her prisoner and used it for her own good. Talk about empowerment!

Casey Rose Frank, “She Walks.” 

HG: The format of this story is what grips you from the beginning, and a journey with no destination has its own appeal. It speaks of a dark past but leaves the explanation to the readers imagination.

FI: Ninety-nine words of literary tapas, “She Walks” carries its power in its form. We taste darkness, melting heavy on the tongue, until hope, in a zest of orange, reminds us that it’s the going and not the where that matters. Beautiful work.

Joey To, “The Long Path

HG: The four riders are not the apocalyptic ones of lore but they might bring their own apocalypse. The narrator of this story isn’t the main character; the doomed people of the needlessly warning cities are the protagonists.

FI: One of the reasons I loved this prompt was that, as a child, I watched the Pilgrim’s Progress adaptation “Dangerous Journey” until my eyeballs bled. Not really but you get the point. You, writer, did an incredible job capturing the allegorical feel of Bunyan’s work while giving us a fresh story. The names, the foreboding, all work so well together!

Emily Clayton, “Cerise.”

HG: The short story tells a much longer one and both are tragic through and through. I think this is the greatest tragedy, not your own death but the death of a loved one because of your choices and mistakes. In a few words, true pain is captured.

FI: So much of this story is told in the periphery. We’re hooked from the first line but then only given blurry details because ultimately the history can be forgotten. It’s the outcome, the “true pain” as Holly eloquently put it, that matters. Everything else is just another shade of red.

THIRD RUNNER UP

Bill EnglesonMadame Mayor

HG: This story has my favourite corrupt mayor. Through dialogue you learn the casual indifference with which she regards her subjects. It tickles the funny bone with dark humour and hints at a much larger problem the mayor’s subjects will face.

FI: High points for the names! Even higher points for the wordplay. I thoroughly enjoyed the cheeky commentary on politicians and their “desire” for bipartisanship (does this mean the other pinkie has to go?). It might be unseemly to admit but I wouldn’t mind if this lion-sized security system were implemented in our own capitol… Very clever, dear writer.

SECOND RUNNER UP

Colin Smith, “The Farmer’s Gift” 

HG: In my heart I believe this story was a personal gift to me. He talks about protecting his soul and making offerings, and suddenly bam! It’s a pun. There isn’t much in this world that makes me happier than a well crafted pun.

FI: I have to agree with Holly, that last line won me over instantly! You pulled me in with the world you built, the religious structure you unveil, the unfamiliar names you created, and, once you had me completely, peas. Just, peas. Jarro’s smile could only be a cheeky one.

FIRST RUNNER UP

Mark A. King, “The Mountain and the Valley.” 

HG: This is lovely. The change of the identity of the mountain is gorgeous. The vision of the soldier with his sweethearts picture in his pocket… familiar, horrifying, sad. A story truly deserving of a prize.

FI: Your brilliant use of bookend phrases brought out in bold the protagonist’s change in perspective. You dragged me down into dusty alleys, made me taste the fear and the sweat, and worry for his sake. But more than that, your story holds deep meaning. It speaks for us, the significant others that are left behind, often forgotten, and shows the strength that it takes for us to carry on in a loved one’s absence. I’m not usually one to cry over stories, but you had my heart in tears, dear writer. Masterfully done.

And now: for a stunning, super marvelous FIFTH win, it’s this week’s 

DRAGON WINNER

NANCY CHENIER!!!

for

“Amoeboid Eremite’s Lament

HG: I’m no poet and if you know me at all you know it, but this poem is super cool (case in point). I like to read it aloud with a little goblin voice and shriek “deceivers!” The little voice saying divide, divide… awesome.

FI: This is one of those stories that I could read a thousand times over and find a new reason to love it every time. Writer, you earn so many points for originality (in fact, the direction I least expected), for cleverness (an amoeba with a spiritual and existential crisis, yes please!), and for flash on a truly micro scale (how on Earth did you fit so much into 99 words?). You have my respect, my envy, my congratulations – absolutely adored this.

Congratulations, Nancy! Thrilled to see you take your fifth crown which, truth be told, I set aside for you some time back. Check out your updated winner’s page; your winning tale has found there a comfy, non-lonely home there with your other winning tales. Please watch your inbox for instructions regarding your interview for this week’s #SixtySeconds! And now here’s your winning story:

Amoeboid Eremite’s Lament

God is Unity
Nature corrupts with its dyads
Eschew division.

Purity is in the waters, they say,
Yet my long liquid hermitage
Hasn’t cleansed my thoughts

They say, too, the urge gets easier to resist,

Deceivers!

The need to populate my loneliness
Shudders through my cytoplasm.

The mocking moons in their dual dance
Ooze across the sky.
The psalmody of our One daystar cannot mute
The taunting of wanton satellites.

Divide, they chide, divide

Under light and darkness, I strain
against that which would desecrate
my singular celibacy.

Quivering prophase
–Such lust cleaves our devotion!–
My mitotic sin.

FFwinner-Web

Flash! Friday Vol 3 – 36: WINNERS

There’s something compelling about the Jazz Age in the U.S. The wild excess and Prohibition, Wall Street and overnight wealth, all horrifically colliding in the disaster of the great stock market crash of October 1929 which hurled the country into years of dark depression. Many of you emphasized that tragic outcome; others of you told stories with sharp-edged sarcasm; still others threw it all out the window and made us dissolve in laughter. Regardless of which of the myriad directions you took doomed Jay Gatsby this round, one thing’s for sure: you made it impossible for us to look away.

♦♦♦♦♦

Pearl-dripping thanks also go to Dragon Team Seven, Nancy Chenier & IfeOluwa Nihinlola. There’s nothing quite like foisting The Great American Novel on judges who live in Canada (albeit transplantedly) and Nigeria, but you’ll find their expert eyes pierced through the boundaries of time and culture with the greatest of ease. (OK, they might take issue with ease.) Handing the mic over before I get myself in trouble:   

IN: For a 90s kid from southwest Nigeria, the prohibition-era US of Gatsby might as well be a galaxy far far away. The writers, this week, within the constraints of the word-count, did their best to render that world in vivid detail, and I appreciate that. Picking winners was not made easier by the shorter length like I thought it would; if anything, it seemed to bring out the best of everyone here. It’s another day, another winners list, but with more sleep and a different weekend, I could have easily rooted for a different set of stories from the pool and they would still be fitting winners. Thank you all for being great contributors.

NC: Whoa! Seventy-eight razor-sharp flashes. Who knew Gatsby could inspire such bloodthirsty tales? This batch may be even darker than the dystopian futures under oppressive governments we had the last time we assumed the Mantle of Judgement. The task of picking our favorites was, as ever, a daunting one. I know, judges say that all the time, but it’s true. It hurts to settle on a final list since many, many great stories get shoved off the podium. On the up-side, that means we got to read a lot of great stories. So, thank you, everyone, for making this round as difficult as it was.

♦♦♦♦♦

SPECIAL MENTIONS

Scream Award for Horrifying Phone Communication Award: Josh Bertetta, “Text I’ll.” Even though I had an idea where this was going (as with Scream’s opening scene), it wasn’t any less frightening. The text messaging diction of teenagers almost adds to the menace.

Zestiest Use of Language Award: Richard EdenfieldSilencer.” Even though the English instructor in me wouldn’t even approach parsing the sentences, the artist in me cheered for the femme fatale story that sparked from those sentences. Like reading Woolf but way more fun.

Infinite Worlds in Finite Space Award: Mark A. King, “NYi.” Loved the parallels between the polar opposite Harrys. The placement of each Harry at either end of the spectrum implies a myriad variation in between. Killer closing sentence too.

Most Intimidating Inside Joke Award: Karl A. Russell, “Top Dog.” Sure glad #flashdogs do everything via e-mail.

Tetris Award: Eliza Archer, “Sinking Fast.” For incorporating nearly every element into a coherent and enjoyable bit of flash. 

Sassiest Award: Liz Hedgecock, “Whiskey Sour.” For the sassiest capture of the Roaring 20s. What a figure that flapper cuts! Her attitude, the sly cues from the bartender, the line “she slid a dollar bill across the bar, and herself onto a stool” (channeling Chandler?) made me long for a time machine.

Best Use of Compare/Contrast Essay Format: Steven Stucko, “Book Report.” This piece enshrines the relatively new push for students to relate the classics to their own lives. The parallel between Gatsby and Joe (the writer’s EX-stepdad, making Mom the approximation of Daisy) is really a look at two prohibitions. Gatsby gets shot, Joe gets probation—we can call that progress.

Koolest Award: Margaret Locke, “If You Can’t Beat ‘Em…” This story is a pop-kulture junkie’s dream. It’s the klosest we got to keeping up with the stories on E! and MailOnline. He got his kloset, and I got my fun out of parsing the story’s details for what is based on life and what is not.

♦♦♦♦♦

HONORABLE MENTIONS

 

Bill Engleson, The Dancer.”

IN: The Dancer’s opening sets the character’s voice right away: cold, lucid, emotionless. Then the imagery that follows is exquisite: dead woman’s shawl; heaved herself off the 8 story tenement bought for a song. The switch, midway into the story, isolated in a one-sentence paragraph, is made more jarring by the deadpan opening. And it is here that the story really soars. Suddenly we see that the numbness of the narrator is the result of someone who has become cold so as to be able to deal with a lover’s serial infidelity without resorting to self-pity.

NC: The second sentence really drew me in: “The moon is hidden by a dead woman’s shawl” raises so many questions. The initial lie of this one says volumes about the character. It’s the lie she’s used to telling and flows from her naturally. Yet, there’s the crucial detail that betrays the lie: why is she lingering in the room of the dead woman? Another wonderful aspect of this tale is the implication that the full truth has yet to be revealed. Yes, she’s come clean about knowing the woman, but not about how she died. Instead we’re left with Grant discovering the MC’s “interests”. Very sly.

 

Catherine Connolly, “The Sins of the Flesh.” 

IN: Gatsby evoked a lot of dark tales in this round of stories, but the fantastic elements in “Sins of the Flesh” made it stand out. Nothing is given away easily. Metal is fumbled between hands. Then revealed to be a grubby coin. One character is asked to take his leave, to close his ears. Then another—definitely dead—is asked to free himself and rest easy. Hunger rises, rides the narrator roughshod, then the month descends, ravenous. He swallows to keep ‘it’ down, then a cough threatens regurgitation. He says it is done. Then he says he’ll reunite whatever he ate with the owner later. Why? Because the price is not right. *cringes* Perhaps the details of the narrator’s old ways are better left in a fudge. But the fact that they are held back makes the story even more appealing.

NC: A dark fantasy that refuses to show its hand to great effect. The first paragraph is ominous and intriguing. The MC seems to be some kind of gruesome psychopomp. Elements such as reference to the old ways, the deference of the client toward the MC, the cannibalism, the idea of “premature regurgitation” in conjunction with “I’ll reunite it with its owner later”, all work to make this tale a chilling one. Once tasted, this one lingers on the palate.

Jess Carson, “Just A Taste.”

IN: Like Nancy rightly points out below, the narrator of this story and “The Dancer” could be two incarnations of the same person. Here, again, is the cold detachment of the voice, the deadpan delivery of the narrative, all made into a lyrical description of a love heist. The satisfaction of the narrator as showed in the ending is clear. I can almost see the smirk on her face as she delivers the last line: Even tarnished trophies shine.

NC: This one and “The Dancer” told similar stories from a similar POV and setting, yet gave us very different results. Love, love, love the voice of this one, the disaffected tone, the figurative language surrounding the consumption of alcohol (so appropriate, this being prohibition: once one taboo is broken, what other lines stand ready to be crossed?). On top of all that, there is something incredibly satisfying about the wife slipping off with the “trophy” her husband intends to cheat with. The final line lands on a splendid note.

Michael Wettengel, “Gold (to) Dust.” 

IN: I’m not a fan of genealogies (the after-effect of reading the book of Numbers as a child) but Gold (to) Dust does really well with the form, creating fully realised histories out of simple declarative sentences—Michael=rich, Andrew=poor, Mary=lonely—and showing how each one’s existence precipitated the other. In Mary, the start of a cycle is established. And seeing her back in that apartment makes me sad for her, for how sometimes we can spend most of our lives struggling to evade the shadow of family members who are long gone, even if our shelves contain no pictures of them.

NC: A sad decade crossed in 150 words, rags to riches to rags again. The absence of pictures of key family members bespeaks a poverty that money can’t break, driving home the message that money (or lack of it) does nothing to secure love or loyalty. The language of this piece is rich and devastating. Andrew’s dissolution is told with incredible imagery: “Gold dripped from his fingers and champagne fountained from his mouth until his fingers went cold and his mouth gathered flies.” And we come full circle with Mary back at the apartment that once inspired us to pity Andrew (daughters of Midas figures rarely fare well).

THIRD RUNNER UP

Dazmb, “Abstinence.”

IN: The first statement of the story already invites us not to take what we see on face value. “It’s not so much a speakeasy as a ragged carousel of illicit expectation…” It’s not so much a story about a potential rape as it is a story about an abandoned murder. It is not so much a confession as it is a story of regret. But what exactly does the narrator regret? How did he become the possessor of a dark heart, of a serpent in the head? The story is not resolved this way or that. Heaven or hell. And by holding back that resolution, the writer makes this worth reading again.

NC: Delightfully sneaky in its sinisterness, this one hooked me in the first line. The wonderfully contemptuous description of the not-speakeasy (“ragged carousel of illicit expectation”) bespeaks an attitude we’ve come to expect from sadistic killers. All of his actions, too, build the threat toward the drunk woman. Loved the imagery of his internal struggle as a “gnarling” serpent, and also how “bone-snap of intention” reveals that it’s murder on his mind. The game he plays, making sure she sees him in the mirror, catching a whiff of the peril she’s in—or, rather, might be in were the MC to close the narrow gap between innocence and guilt. 

SECOND RUNNER UP

Joey To, “Crashes” 

IN: Take away the explanation at the end of this story and I would still love it as much as I do now. By immersing us deep in the mind of the character and simply moving through his thoughts, I know him more than the word-count would have otherwise permitted. All of his feelings are bare: the initial self-loathing, the cockiness when he becomes successful, and that last line. Reading this story, I thought of George Saunders. Anything that reminds me of George is good.

NC: I liked this before I read about its link to the Chinese proverb and liked it even more once I learned of the link. The unique single-line format really leant itself to the story being told. We get vivid and rapid-fire flashes of the break-up, heartbreak and recovery interspersed with the MC struggling through school, adding semester after semester. One might read that as the MC being a failure (as apparently the “she” of the story does), but the reader sees instead someone who doesn’t give up. The persistence that keeps him pushing through failed exams is probably the same quality that keeps her in his head and that he chides himself over (“I must be pathetic”). The shortest line is the pivot for the story and it even contains the line “it went quickly”. Then the lines gain length as the MC gains confidence, so when he rebuffs the woman, it is the cherry on top of his success parfait. Fine flash-craft here.

FIRST RUNNER UP

Michael Seese, “Birds.” 

IN: Reading “Birds” felt like watching someone speed-paint. Every brush stroke is defined and sure, doing just enough to show there’s something good coming out in the end. Each detail, taken separately—birds, dogs; blank and white, colour; crows eating humble pies—means next to nothing, but together, they become a clear image of sadness and regret. And the way the conclusion is left open takes quality up a notch. I think he jumps and hits the concrete and becomes red mass like the stockbroker. But I think that says more about me than the story. Isn’t that what all good stories do?

NC: The setting is established in the very first sentence with its coy reference to Black Monday. The fluttering thoughts woven through with bird idioms on the first read is entertaining and endearing, but by the time I reached the end, I learned how appropriate the imagery is. The flow from paragraph to paragraph is remarkable and each seemingly disparate detail fits into the overall puzzle. Every seemingly flighty line (see what I did there?) follows a deliberate progression to the end. By the time the reveal hit, I was fully sympathetic with the MC. The presentation of “Mr. Charles Mitchell, the stockbroker” as an impact character, a man not separate from his title, makes him seem somewhat culpable in the loss of money and not merely the messenger. The last line leaves me wondering if the MC might attempt to prove the last line. That he’s on the ledge does point to eventual suicide, but it’s not finalized so I can hold onto that sliver of hope that he “flies away”.

And now: joining Phil Coltrane as our only FIVE time winners, it’s the mindblowing, freshly returned from break

DRAGON WINNER

CHRIS MILAM!!!

for

Penelope Callaghan

IN: “Penelope” does all the good flashfiction-y things. That usually goes very wrong or very right, but here it goes the right way. The framing (from freshly-gutted tuna to filleted sturgeons), the imagery, the well-tuned dialogue, and the end-twist, all deliver a complete story in 150 words. There’s only one description each for the characters (“A face that could’ve launched the ship she arrived on, the Mauretenia,” and “The savage bouquet of cheap cologne”), yet their sketch is clear: Jimmy is lecherous, confident in his knowledge of the world; Penelope is, on the surface, naive, but she turns out to be the darker of the duo. Unlike Nancy, I’m unaware of the allusions in this piece, but it’s so well written that even without knowing them, the story works. Having Nancy point them out below just increases my enjoyment

NC: So much tasty in this piece. The language is as sharp as a filet knife. The fish-gut imagery that sandwiches this piece—a reference to the mob-controlled Fulton Fish Market, perhaps?—is perfect. Penelope is a brilliant character, first through Jimmy’s eyes, through the dialogue, to the last paragraph which shifts deftly to her POV (a shift that also manages to move us ahead in time as well, without a page break). The reference to the Mauretania signals a crucial element that Jimmy (who makes the allusion) misses: it was the fastest liner of its day. We know she’s new to the New World, but she’s savvy enough to take on “dark America”.  The dialogue between them crackles: her bluntness vs. his slang-heavy banter, and what wonderful slang it is too. I can imagine Jimmy having a habit of hustling new arrivals, but she turns out to be his match, established in the dialogue, confirmed in the end. Not knowing the allusions doesn’t diminish the enjoyment of this piece at all (which makes them the best kind of allusions). The last paragraph packs so much into it without getting bogged down. One tiny scintillating phrase (“rum-fisted uppercuts”) drums up enough antipathy for Jimmy that his demise in the next line seems inevitable and satisfying.

Congratulations, Chris, you stunning writer! Please find here your updated winner’s page; your winning tale will be found there shortly as well as over on the winners’ wall. Please watch your inbox for directions regarding your fifth Sixty Seconds interview this week. And now here’s your winning story:

Penelope Callaghan

The man was prowling the docks for a juice joint when he saw her. Hair as red as a freshly gutted tuna. A face that could’ve launched the ship she arrived on, the Mauretania.

“Jimmy Banks. You’re a choice bit of calico. You gotta name?”

“Penelope.”

“A pleasure. You need a gig? I can get you work making dresses. Yes?”

“No. I didn’t come here to be a seamstress.”

“I dabble in muck sometimes. You game?”

“Why not. Show me your dark America.”

He schooled her. “Take advantage of your looks. Get close. Flirt with your mouth. Pop some buttons on your blouse. When he’s hooked, ram steel into his heart. Don’t hesitate. Know your onions. Make some cash.”

Years and dozens of punctured ventricles later, Penelope would think of Jimmy Banks. The rum-fisted uppercuts. The savage bouquet of cheap cologne. The way his chest opened up, like a filleted sturgeon.

FFwinner-Web