WELCOME TO WINNING DAY! The winners’ wall here at Flash! Friday swirls in colors and textures as magnificently diverse as the community that built it, and the #Flashversary celebrations have proved no different. The top ten stories range wildly in genre and style, authored by both familiar names and new ones (hey there, newbies! great to meet you!). The #Flashversary judge panel–including myself–read all stories completely blind, relying on thoughtful criteria to choose the entries to move to the Top 25. What a hoot it was discovering who had written them!
In the end fresh, clever approaches to the prompt which dragged our eyebrow-raising judges on emotional journeys propelled entries to the top, sometimes past strong and yes (don’t tell my students!) more technically correct stories, yielding a creative and compelling Top Ten any judge would feel proud of. You’d better believe the overall quality of ALL stories made choosing 25… 10… and now today’s champs incredibly but deliciously challenging. THANK YOU, everyone, for pushing each other to such extraordinary writing excellence. I can’t wait to see what you do in Year Two!! (Which–don’t forget–kicks off Friday with a brand new judge panel.)
Thank you again to the wonderful #Flashversary team–the folks at 826DC (don’t forget to support them, please, if you can!), the gracious editing team of Susan Warren Utley and Savannah Spidalieri at Haunted Waters Press, the outgoing Flash! Friday judges (Jaz Draper, Maggie Duncan, Anthony Marchese, Patricia McCommas, Beth Peterson, Dan Radmacher, and Kinza Carpenter Shores), the #Flashversary judge panel (Wakefield Mahon, Stevie McCoy, Cara Michaels, and Nicole Wolverton), and the entire Flash! Friday family. Thank you for making this an unforgettable and awesome year.
Year One is Done.
LONG LIVE YEAR TWO!!!!!!!!
And now–without further ado (because we’ve eaten our fill of ado already), here are the results of the Flash! Friday 2013 #Flashversary contest!
HAUNTED WATERS PRESS AWARD
The editors of Haunted Waters Press are so pleased to have been invited to participate in the Flash! Friday Flashversary Celebration. Thank you for allowing us to lurk in the background and read all of your wonderfully written works of flash. We enjoyed the variety of genres, clever themes, and unique storytelling abilities presented in this special round of Flash! Friday. You made our task of choosing a single story for publication a difficult one. However, we did discover a story which met the HWP criteria for elegantly written works of fiction and writing that creates a connection with our readers.
The 2013 Haunted Waters Press Award goes to
MR. DAN RADMACHER
“A Dragon’s Gaze”
We loved it and would be honored to feature it in an upcoming issue of our quarterly literary journal, From the Depths.
Each wins a Flash! Friday commemorative poster
Karl A. Russell, Summoning. This story pretends to focus on the girl shattered by her father’s death, but its true hero is the patient boy at her side. Her anguished rage vents itself on an imaginary dragon no one but the boy has the compassion to believe in. And yet it’s a story of hope: the boy waits for a day when her pain is healed. “Maybe that’s why I see a world where she stops thinking about what she’s lost and notices what she’s found,” he says. Summoning masterfully but compassionately presents the effects of an injured mind and its impact on those around. Its wrenching and powerfully written journey through tragedy and hope sealed this story’s spot at the top.
Von Rupert, Clara’s Dragon. Told in parallel, this story follows a young girl whose battles are both physical disease and the monsters in her nightmares. It’s easy for a story about sick children to turn saccharine/cliched, but Clara’s Dragon rejects the expected and gives us a spirited girl who chooses to fight even when strength is gone and who, in the end, faces her enemies and “crushe(s) them beneath her feet.” It’s not the happy ending that sets this story apart–though of course that’s nice–but rather the unique, stirring, and deft portrayal of a (far too) common circumstance. May all such children find such dragons!
SECOND RUNNER UP
Wins an 8- postcard set of his story & a Flash! Friday commemorative poster
Dan Radmacher, The Dragon’s Gaze. This story is framed by one of the simplest acts of affection in the world: holding hands. Here an aging veteran confronts a dragon from his past, but the dragon does not represent what we think. At every turn Gaze flips our expectations on their heads as it parallels the journeys of the naive young soldier and the retired, backward-looking traveler. The old man reminisces ancient battles (“They’d even managed to find one of the meaningless hills their squad had held at great cost for no reason other than their orders”) and his first love (“From her first shy smile, he’d never had a chance”) in an unforgettable way. Gaze marries technical and structural beauty with heart, creating a soaring and exceptional story.
The Dragon’s Gaze
The old man gripped his wife’s hand tightly as he stared at the stone dragon out in the bay, the chill of the Vietnamese morning sinking into his bones. He sucked his lower lip into his mouth and bit down on it as his heart thudded in his chest.
The irony of the situation didn’t escape him. When he was 18, his tour of Vietnam was a nightmare that he had tried everything to avoid. Forty-five years later, he and his wife considered it the trip of a lifetime. They had spent a large chunk of their retirement savings to come here.
They’d met up with two other couples, squad-mates he’d kept in sporadic touch with after the war and their wives. Over beers, they’d told the old stories, made richer by their location. He’d watched his wife while some of the more harrowing tales were told, and saw in her eyes the concern and empathy that made him love her.
They’d even managed to find one of the meaningless hills their squad had held at great cost for no reason other than their orders.
It had been the trip of a lifetime. But now, staring at the dragon, holding his wife’s hand, other memories flooded the old man. A girl’s faced stared back at him from the depths of time. She was young and beautiful in that exotic way. The Kansas farm boy who’d barely left his county before he got shipped halfway around the world was thunderstruck. From her first shy smile, he’d never had a chance.
One weekend morning, much like this, they’d rowed a small boat out into the bay and tied up in the shallow water by that very dragon. They’d made love. His first time, and hers. The dragon had guarded the encounter, seeming to give their union his blessing.
They’d never returned to that spot, but he would always remember it. Forty-five years later, every moment was etched deeply into his brain and his heart.
He felt his wife return the squeeze of his hand, and he wondered if she remembered it, too.
FIRST RUNNER UP
Wins a full-size poster and an 8-postcard set of her story along with a Flash! Friday commemorative poster and a twin set of books (Strunk’s The Elements of Style and Kiteley’s The 3am Epiphany)
Kristen AFC, Richard Thornton. The Vietnam memorial wall plays an important role in this gripping story, but what set Richard Thornton apart was its many smaller moments: the lonely, bullied girl and the grieving woman; the girl’s rebellious and careless use of a single name contrasted with “miles” of names stretched along the memorial. The structural framing of one small battle against a massive war is both poignant and powerful, and in a sense the dead boy-soldier’s name and spirit (“‘Don’t let those gals put you down'”) bind both together. Ultimately, we’re reminded, war isn’t confined to newspaper headlines; it’s personal. Richard Thornton carries its request in understated but persuasive tones: don’t steal names from the wall. Remember. Honor. The story’s elegant structure and vulnerable, intelligent tone make it abundantly worthy of top honors.
I stole a name from the wall. I said, “Richard Thornton,” like I uttered it all the time, like I whispered, “Richard,” in dark back seats on Friday nights.
But they were pressing me again, teasing me, asking, “Have you ever even kissed a boy?”
I hadn’t. We were on a class trip, standing in front of the Vietnam memorial. I looked up and my eyes found him. “Richard Thornton,” I said. “I met him at a mixer at Kennedy Prep.”
They didn’t believe me, those girls with their peach skin and shiny lips, the curls that fell in perfect ringlets, like they were drawn by an artist. They walked away then, and I stomped my foot, took my soda cup and threw it at the wall.
The passers by glared at me, their eyes wide and angry, so I hurried to pick it up. That’s when I noticed the lady staring at me.
“Sorry,” I said. “That was so rude of me.”
I used the sleeve of my sweater to wipe the drops of soda from Richard Thornton.
“Sorry,” I mumbled again.
I was walking away when she spoke.
“He was mine,” she said.
“What?” I turned back.
“Richard,” she tapped a slender finger gently against his name. “was my high school boyfriend.”
“Oh God, I’m such a jerk. You heard me?”
She nodded her head.
“I didn’t mean to,” I said.
She laughed then, even though her eyes were sad.
“I think he would’ve gotten a kick out of you using his name.”
I took a step toward her.
“He would’ve said, ‘don’t let those gals put you down.’”
“Was he a good guy? Was he sweet? Romantic?”
“He was a boy,” she said. “He could’ve been all those things, but I never really found out. He sent me a picture once, of a statue of a dragon by a beautiful body of water. I wrote back, but, well, you know.”
“I’m sorry,” I said.
She squeezed my hand and walked away, following the length of the wall, which seemed to stretch on and on for miles.
GRAND DRAGON CHAMPION
Wins a full-size poster, an 8-flyer and 8-postcard set of her story along with a Flash! Friday commemorative poster and a set of books (Forster’s Aspects of the Novel, Gardner’s The Art of Fiction), and the raucous, joyous praise of dragons everywhere.
“To Dream of Legend”
All the #Flashversary stories contain dragons, of course; that was the prompt, and it just felt right to end the first year of Flash! Friday that way. Across these dozens of stories, some dragons were real; many were metaphorical or ornamental. All were unique and wonderful in their own way, and I hope each of you takes your dragons and finds a home for them somewhere out there in the world. They have earned their place!
Legend gives us a dragon’s dragon, one of lofty majesty. It’s the dragon of ancient fairy tales, mysterious, commanding, inspiring fear and awe in its admirers. But it’s also the dragon of a modern fairy tale and those who journey far, at great cost, to plumb the depths of Loch Ness (at least in imagination) in the hopes of catching a glimpse of her.
To Dream of Legend is written beautifully, its careful prose dancing in and out of poetry and longing. It’s also structured beautifully, with its striking opening sentence (“No matter what happens, they never look up”) answered in its thunderous closing. In subtle tones we are introduced to the frank business side of legend (“We… sell them our tartan landscape”) and to those in whose cunning hands the legend rests (“We will not feed them the courage to dream of legend”).
The reader is never addressed directly, of course, and yet the speakers make their implication clear: We are the ones who look up. We are the dream-weavers, the heroes, the storytellers. -And this is the message of every storyteller: dare to take your place among those who look up. Each of you, in bringing your stories to the world, has shown yourself among those who do. To Dream of Legend challenges us to do and be more magnificent than this world could ever bear. Congratulations, Jacki, for this unforgettable and gorgeous story.
To Dream of Legend
No matter what happens, they never look up.
The water draws them downwards, without our help. It mesmerises them, with the flipping and flicking of a tail here, a rising head there.
And if ever the water should break and thrash, they may glimpse what they swear is reptilian skin, gleaming and rolling beneath the foam.
And they chatter of the rising and surfacing of what must have been the Monster, picturing her surging up from the deep for a brief, playful gasp of pure Scottish air, and then submerging, to swim once more along the murky loch bed.
They do not look up. They don’t pause, for a moment, to replay in their minds that strange, swift javelin of wind, moments before. They fail even to imagine an invisibly fast, joyful dive, straight from the clouds.
We play our part, of course. It is in our interests, too, to keep their attention focussed on the loch. We gather them around it and sell them our tartan landscape, woven of underwater caves and elongated prehistoric necks. And we take them out onto Loch Ness itself, where they clutch binoculars, and shortbread, and a growing hope, staring down into the opaque black water as if persistent eyes might penetrate what light does not.
Back on land, we’ll add soda to their Scotch. Water onto fire. Beside roaring flames, we’ll bid them relax, and think themselves brave- to contemplate an animal that has swum against the tide of evolution!
But we will not feed them the courage to dream of legend.
We will not carve her pearled, glistening scales on the wet, smooth skin in their minds, nor paint the glint of talons and the arc of wings onto clumsy flippers.
And we leave, uncorrected, the convenience of “Monster.”
We will look up, always, when her soaring presence circles and scorches the skies. And we will forever distract the crowds with weak, watery myths, whenever she desires to plunge and swirl her fiery form through the cool, onyx waters of Loch Ness.
She is more magnificent than this world could ever bear.