Tag Archive | Liz Hedgecock

Flash! Friday Vol 3 – 6: WINNERS

Happy Monday once again! Thank you for continuing to speak to me despite the (gasp) FORMAT CHANGE!!!!! (gasp). Once we break it in, I think it’s going to be a riot. We’ve got some more freshening up to do here at FF, but have no fear: that was the biggie, and there’s a lot more (less painful) fun coming. The next one’s coming this very Friday, in point of fact.

So, a reminder of how the new format works: there are two elements to include in your 200 word entry: (1) a photo AND (2) a story element. The story elements will rotate through a list of character, setting, conflict, and theme. These are required elements to be included in your entry. PLEASE be sure to ask for help if you’re lost. We’ve got four teams of dragon captains* AND myself at your disposal. ❤

* The captains serving this round even set up their own Twitter account: follow them at @DragonTeamTwo.


Dragon Captains Mark A. King/Tamara Shoemaker sayWe are incredibly excited to be given the opportunity of judging the first week of the new format. It is fair to say that we found some teething issues (where did all those teeth come from?).

We mention the things below to hopefully make you feel only our love and support and to give you the best chances of winning in future weeks:

* There were a few that missed the new word limit (which has been raised to 200), several that misjudged the character remit, and a large number of very similar and literal takes on the photo prompt.

* Our advice would be to follow the rules, use the new story element as a central part of your story, and use the photo as a guide to drive a unique story.

The tales this week were incredibly dark, powerful and moving. It was a very difficult decision, but Dragon Team Two have an almost psychic bond, and we came up with the same list, in exactly the same order. Thank you for creating your stories and entrusting them to us.



Fantastic Visual Imagery: Emily June Street, “Cheap.”  

Great Opening Line, Services to Plumbing, and Visions of Wreck-It Ralph: Holly Geely, “Origin of the Mighty Broom.”  “If a plumber like Mario can save the world, why not a janitor?”

Great Take, and Most Dangerous Use of a Cigar Since Bill Clinton: Liz Hedgecock, “After Hours.”

Using the Prompt to Get a Game Show (which was very authentically written) and Fabulous Structure: Marie McKay, “American Gladiator.”

World-Spanning Conspiracy Theories and a Great Use of a Janitor to Clean Up Dirty Items: Geoff LePard, “The Sweep of History.” “



Voima Oy, Clean Sweep.” 

(MK) Before we got to the incredible sadness, I thoroughly enjoyed the mention of the Byzantine coins (and Buddhas, Chinese jades & Pyramids).

This was a hauntingly powerful piece, this entire paragraph is equally distressing and sublime “I have been assigned to clean so many things. It’s the wars that are the worst. Gettysburg was bad, but Auschwitz nearly broke me. I piled up the shoes and the glasses, the teeth and shattered dolls. Later, I left the shadows at Hiroshima, the dirty water at Chernobyl. I left traces at the Twin Towers, too.”

The ending is thought-provoking and open to interpretation. Fantastic work.

(TS) This was a harsh take, but so brilliantly written. I love the idea, “cleaning up after the end of the world”, a Janitor of Death.

I cringed as I read about Gettysburg and Auschwitz, Hiroshima, Chernobyl and the Twin Towers. They are reminders that send most of us painful associations of some sort, but again the author wields a masterful paintbrush with: “I piled up the shoes and the glasses, the teeth and shattered dolls.”

The final two lines were stunning: “It may be vanity, after all, this desire to communicate. See, I have this need to miss a spot.” There is so much that could be interpreted in these lines, but nothing that says the reader must view it a certain way. I love the possibilities.

So, so good. Excellent.

Phil Coltrane, Captain Sanitation: Custodian of Cleanliness.” 

I thoroughly enjoyed the world-building of this piece. Here is a good example: “As dawn broke over Cascade City, the midtown skyscrapers were aglow in blue lights and flooded with activity.” With very few words we have an entire vision of a city akin to Blade Runner. We have the Coliseum used in a very different context. This not only had a clear futuristic setting, but it also had elements of noir detectives and superheroes. I loved the use of the janitor superhero as Captain Sanitation stood proudly in his bright blue cleanroom costume and filter mask, conspicuous against the stone walls of the landmark building. Great take – well done.

This has a light, tongue-in-cheek tone that made me laugh. Oh, the horror that Captain Sanitation must have felt upon seeing mud tracked across his nice clean floor! Vile creatures!

With so little seeming effort, the author has created a world that’s different from ours, and he has done it in such a small amount of space. As a fantasy novelist, I’m always struggling to build my worlds, and chapters and chapters are usually dedicated to the subject. This is a brilliant take that captures a different way of life with such a gorgeous sparsity of words. 

Bonus points for the name of the city. Loved this one. 🙂


Brett Milam (the #MilamVirus STRIKES AGAIN!!), “Checkout.” 

A great example of showing and not telling. In so many stories of blood, it was nice to feel the sense of calm in the library (even though it was about to be shattered).

Subtle, yet highly effective scene setting within the opening lines: “Lennie started his day the same way he had for the last six decades: A bowl of cereal and the morning newspaper.” There is an overriding sense of being out of place in a world that the character does not understand or appreciate: the library was a relic in the modern era with its small frame, small bookshelves and small books. Great line here too: “allowed himself a deep intake of that old book smell; the familiar aroma that snuggled his nostrils and had comforted him for years.” I love my Kindle, but this is so true.

I loved this story. One of my favorite places to be is a library, and the older and dustier it is, the better I like it. The line, “the familiar aroma that snuggled his nostrils” resonated with me completely; I feel the same every time I enter an old library.

I loved the correlation between Lennie and the library. Lennie’s feelings of outliving his usefulness (“Alas, Lennie wasn’t spinning at the same speeds the world now did”) is exactly mirrored by the ancient, dusty building that’s been marked for demolition.

It’s because of this connection between the library and Lennie that the final line releases a burst of pain. It’s an understated line that shows a lot of mastery; it’s really hard to get just the right tone to finish off such a piece, and the author of this one nailed it.

Fantastic job.


Tinman, “When in Rome.”

I absolutely adored this piece. I am naturally drawn to darker tales, but this was a beacon of light in what was a very blood-stained and brutal week for stories. Probably my favourite interpretation on the prompt picture. A first line that totally hooked me in. The description of the gods was hilarious and well executed. As for the janitor – Fabreze, the Goddess of Janitors – it doesn’t get any better than that. Brilliantly conceived and expertly crafted. Thank you, dear writer, for putting a very large smile on my face.

Perhaps because I’m an ardent fan of Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, this piece struck a chord with me in an I-totally-get-this! kind of way. I loved the tongue-in-cheek approach, the hilarious brawling of the gods: “Apollo then broke a chair over Mercury’s head, because no bar-brawl is complete without someone doing that”, the almost slapstick comedy as gods tumbled and bumbled and “the windows fell out. Bacchus fell over.”

Fabreze, Goddess of Janitors, was the crowning jewel in this story. I was laughing heartily by the end. It’s not that often that a funny piece rises to the top spots, but the combination of stellar wit and rock-solid knowledge of the Roman pantheon placed this piece right where it deserves.


Margaret Locke, “A Life in Miniature.” 

For me this was a perfect example of how to use the photo prompt and critical story element in a unique way that makes the story stand out from the crowd. The title gives us the story before its starts. The opening line hints at the clumsiness of the character, the self-conscious lack of poise, the critical self-voice. Which was a great start. It was then reinforced by “Was it my fault they hadn’t secured that skeleton well enough? Or that I tripped over an extension cord and knocked down the entire Powhatan wigwam?”




“The Dead Belong to the Vulture”

On original reading I found this to be something that I connected with immediately. The language was simply stunning. That gnawing will push you to chase the warm winds, letting them sustain you as shadows stretch – here we have a highly visual and sensual image of the hungry vulture soaring on the currents of warm air, wings outstretched, casting shadows on the landscape, looking for signs of death: until below, spirit separates from carrion.

Here this gives us context to the ‘character’: Other beasts, ambling along the road, will take interest, and try to steal away your prize by brute persuasion but that emptiness shackles you to the corpse, bestowing unnatural boldness.

We then transition, simply, to a new place, the Coliseum. A place of the incense of a 100 rotting bodies, some white and blue with lividity, others gray and bleeding fresh – fantastic use of imagery and smell. The next line gives us contentment, safety and certainty.

The use of the prompt and character were very different but I have to say I had concerns about the use of the janitor. But this is a tale that is layered and the layers revealed themselves on second and third read. The vulture invokes powerful feelings in us. It is the supreme janitor of nature. In the story, like the vulture, no matter what we pretend, we are all driven by our basic needs for survival above all other needs. Congratulations to the writer on a magnificent piece.

What a great interpretation of the janitor character! It was certainly unique, as there was no other vulture-as-janitor take in all the stories. I loved it.

Some of the imagery in this blew me away (“Men, hiding pink flesh inside blinding armor”), and the frame of this story gave me shivers. The title, “Lord of the Spoils” evokes such a strong image in my head–a carrion bird sitting atop his meal, surveying his realm, because as the story so nicely puts it, no god gave anyone power to deny the “janitor” his purpose.

This was beautifully written with the author’s strong grasp of language, turning a phrase so that the meaning twists after the first read-through, and a second, third, and fourth reading bring out new layers each time. “I knew hunger was not a word spoken in the shade of this Coliseum.” Perhaps this was not intentional on the author’s part, but I loved the idea of the “shade” as the ghost of this graveyard, this Colosseum, guarding the carrion from the Lord of the Spoils, following up a moment later with the men who originally tried to drive away the caretaker before allowing him to fulfill his purpose.

Exquisite work. Absolutely brilliant.

Congratulations, Deb! Below is your rapacious, carnivorous winner’s badge for the wall(s) of your choosing. Here is your rottingly brand new winner’s page and your winning tale on the winners’ wall. Please contact me asap here so I can interview you for this week’s #SixtySeconds feature. And now, here is your winning story!

The Dead Belong to the Vulture

I know a hunger that compels self-preservation to bend before it. You think it a lie, seeing me this way, Lord of the Spoils.

That gnawing will push you to chase the warm winds, letting them sustain you as shadows stretch, until below, spirit separates from carrion. Then the descent begins, slow, patient, allowing the sun to soften flesh, and the insects to perform their first rite of oviposition.

Other beasts, ambling along the road, will take interest, and try to steal away your prize by brute persuasion but that emptiness shackles you to the corpse, bestowing unnatural boldness.

So was my life before this place.

How could I not stay? When first I caught the incense of a 100 rotting bodies, some white and blue with lividity, others gray and bleeding fresh, I knew hunger was not a word spoken in the shade of this Coliseum.

Men, hiding pink flesh inside blinding armor, poked at me, wishing to drive me away from their slain.
For a time, I would retreat only to circle and come again. They wouldn’t eat it. What god gave them power to deny me my purpose? Persistence and convenience won them over.

Now they house me here, fat and full, Lord of the Spoils.


Flash! Friday Vol 3 – 5: WINNERS

Happy Monday, and welcome to the latest #FlashFridayFic results show! I’ve a feeling Joan would have loved many of the adventures you all plotted out for her this week. Or, if she didn’t, she would have loved beating the living daylights out of you to avenge her reputation. Fiery lass, she was, and unafraid of sharing her words with the masses. Not too far afield from many of you, I expect…  


Dragon Captains Image Ronin/Joidianne sayThis week we’ve been regaled with everything from angels to demons. We’ve had the pleasure of reading through tales of heart-breaking loneliness and sorrow while the damned crept across our pages, hidden beneath flowery language designed to mask their true intentions. We’ve listened intently to whispers of mystery and happiness while we tried to unravel the meaning behind your words. Jeanne d’Arc has leapt from our computer screen, clothed in the imaginations of countless authors, bloody yet unbowed, and for that we have to thank every single one of you that participated. It was a marvelous selection of tales and we can’t wait to see what you manage to come up with next time around.



Best Line: Mark A. King, “Construction.” “ … where the builders hung over the edge of the steel bones like handsome angels with hate in their heart.” 

Bravely tackling 3 POVs in one tale: Elizabeth (formerly Dragonsflypoppy), “Gone.” 

Fear inducing line: David Shakes, “Predetermined.” “…and he shall be known as the Prince of Pestilence, the juvenile pariah of nations.”

Most Inspired Use of One Word Dialogue: Josh Bertetta, “A Walk at Night.”

Best Closing Line: Brett Milam, “An Awakening.” “Human flesh was not like wood, but naturally it would be just as stubborn.”



Clive Newnham, Yesterday’s Tomorrow.” 

This tale carries such a haunting cadence that I find myself longing to read more. There are so many questions left unanswered, but I think these questions really bring the story together because the reader is free to interpret it as they will and the story, like Jeanne’s, will live on.

In light of the recent events in Paris it was understandable, indeed moving, that we would find tales wrestling with the relationship between image and society. No more so than in this tale of a dystopian realm where questioning is the ultimate crime. #jesuischarles

Liz Hedgecock, Teenage Kicks.” 

This was such a brilliant glimpse into the life of a young Jeannie. I love her rebelliousness and how the author has managed to show the difference between what her family wanted for her and what she wanted to accomplish for herself in a few witty words.

There were, unsurprisingly, a multitude of tales that took on our fair maiden and her well documented life … though few explored the little known teenage years of Joan D’Arc Aged 13 3/4 … fun, playful and with a satisfactory ending that left one smiling. 

Tinman, Ring of Fire.” 

The artist’s interpretation of Joan is one that made me smile. After all, she did spill forth words like fire, so to be portrayed as a magnificent fire-eater could be said to be her due.

That final line, our heroine, fist braced to ward off another bout of heartburn, made me chuckle in delight. The rest was pure farce, though with the lightest of touches to convey the sense of community and desire that made up this circus troupe. —Oh, and no clowns; couldn’t agree more.

Michael Simko, “Guardianship.”

This take is one that truly managed to embody the idea of the ambiguous phrase ‘For the greater good.’ In the angel’s eyes there is no greater good than to serve the person he is assigned to, even if it means harming someone else in the process. What really hits me is the tiny hint of empathy and sorrow that he feels for his ‘lady’; but not even that is enough to stir him from his task. A lovely look at morality and manipulation is managed in just a few words here.

The notion of power and the question of the true nature or our narrator is skilfully unpicked. The ownership/connection that is hinted at from the outset leads us down one particular path only to find the rug artfully and expertly pulled out from under us at the last moment. 

Clive Tern, “Foul Justice.”

I couldn’t pass this tale up because it has all my favorite tropes… horror, the undead and revenge. I ask you, what’s not to love?

This tale took a different slant to the prompt, taking us into the moments after the burning of Joan D’Arc. The sensation of the aftermath of her fiery demise evocatively captured. The horror tinged ending perfectly bringing closure and hinting at the carnage to come. 

Betsy Streeter, “A Wish, Or a Promise.”

This story was heartbreaking in its simplicity, innocence is woven into every word exchanged between the brother and sister and the ending, with its reference to the inevitable loss that will soon face the two children, is one that will not leave me any time soon.

A simple, elegant, yet heart wrenching tale that toyed with our understanding of the innocence of youth and the fragility of existence.


Grace Black, “Unraveled.” 

The first thing that came to mind after reading this was the punishment of Sisyphus. There is a lingering air of inevitability that makes me ache for the narrator and his/her trials. The final line truly cinched this feeling, and it’s one that will stay with me for a while.

The opening, the imagery of awakening in a world bound around you, was intoxicating, then that line “silence is loudest with the absence of chatter” perfectly sets up the rest of the scene. The tension between silence and chaos, a mind racing against the consciousness of being was artfully captured. Indeed, the skilful merging of the cinematic alongside the interior was what drew me into this realm. The sense of wrestling with oneself, a battle seemingly as old as time itself, wonderfully captured.


Tam Rogers, “Kicking Up Dust.” 

This tale is one that has so many layers that I had to read and re-read to actually get the full picture, and I still feel like I’m missing so many things. What caught my attention first was the flow of the words, but then the meaning behind each line (or my interpretation of the meaning) reached up off the page and I was hit with this feeling of absolute desolation. Such a brilliant piece of work I admit I still haven’t fully managed to grasp.

“Grit sticks to my lips, bones cut my flesh.” As a young man my world was shaped by the lyrics of The The’s dystopian tinged album Infected. That line was as great as any of that fabled touchstone, a line I wished I had written. The sensory laden opening meander, a world of sugar and indulgence slowly sliding into a realm of dirt and grim was just wonderful. The rage and anger, resentment and despair … a work of beauty and challenge and a worthy runner up.

And now: for his second time: it’s Flash! Friday 




“Wireless Echoes”

J: If there was ever an award to be given for wordplay, this tale would deserve it. Just like the computer system, we’re presented with varying levels of processes designed to portray an almost visceral need for companionship and understanding. Beneath it all there is this throbbing ache for the character Faith that really hit me; even as her purpose to heal the narrator fills me with warmth, the question of her own fate is one that lingers.

IR: The opening line hooked me in deep, setting up what felt like a descent into a William Gibson neuromancer inspired maze. The subsequent unravelling didn’t disappoint. With each binary twist we delved deeper into this relationship that the writer captured with lyrical prose. “Vacant bones” that led to “gigabytes of ache,” the intersection of flesh and date wonderfully dissected. Yet the surface of information was peeled back to reveal the pain and despair that lingered at the core of this tale. A majestic ode to pain that left me reeling in a digital realm.

Congratulations, Chris! Below is your gorgeous, comfortingly familiar winner’s badge for the wall(s) of your choosing. Here is your updated winner’s page and your winning tale on the winners’ wall. Please watch your inbox for interview questions for this week’s #SixtySeconds feature. And now, here is your winning story!

Wireless Echoes

We were birthed from machines. Armed with digital missives and vacant bones, we found one another behind a blinking cursor and gigabytes of ache. No skin. No voice. We yearned and soothed with prose typed from plastic keys.

Faith wasn’t only her name. She believed in soul mates and the fairy tale of true romance. She worshipped at the altar of sonnets and serendipity. Men had derailed those notions repeatedly.

Her poetry spoke of loss. Of fading heartbeats, like a wisp of crimson smoke dissolving in the night air. Her messages, her electrified ink, told stories of fractured encounters.

She lounged on my synthetic lap. I asked for her sorrow and a purging of the loneliness. Her analog heart spilled throbbing blood across my screen. I cleansed it with a sympathetic text.

I was the therapist. She was the savior. Her melancholy ruminations suffocated my own pain. Faith reached through the machine like a replicated angel and healed me.


Flash! Friday Vol 2 – 38: WINNERS!

Holy cow, people. Just when I’m like, It’s just not humanly possible to write better than the little dragons did this week, there you go, writing still better. AND this week y’all exploded the Flash! Friday records in the number of stories (almost 70) and comments (nearly 600), WOW. But you want to know a secret?? If next week only twenty of you show up, or only ten, or shoot, if it’s only you (and me), I will be no less grateful. The way you invest in each other by spending hours reading & commenting on each other’s stories, tweeting other writers’ work, and blogging about each other? That’s the very heart of Flash! Friday, and what I’ve always dreamed it would be. I’ve said it before but will say it again, and again, and again: you are making a difference in each other’s lives. You are also redefining on a weekly basis just how powerful flash fiction can be. Thank you.   


Judge Phil Coltrane (who, if you’re looking for him, will be napping the next few days) says: Once again, I am amazed by the level of talent displayed by the community. We asked for stories that include an alien, and you delivered big-time: friendly aliens, hostile aliens, absent aliens, alien telemarketers, alien whales, and even (somehow) human aliens. On top of that, you delivered to each other a huge outpouring of constructive comments. The magnitude of this week’s alien invasion was overwhelming.

But the Dragoness doesn’t pay me to be overwhelmed. I loved (and read repeatedly) so many of your stories, so even if I was unable to mention yours this week, I sincerely hope that you will come back next week to make things even more difficult for the next judge. {Craig Anderson says, Gee thanks.}



Liz Hedgecock, “Re-Entry.” A poignant story and a reminder of the alienation that can be felt by those who are deployed far from their homes and loved ones.

Craig Anderson (3x winner & current judge!), “GOTO 10.” It may be the friendliest programming language ever designed, but this story turns two lines of BASIC code into a homicidal alien invader.

Bart Van Goethem, “360.98.” Not many stories can include an alien shapeshifter bodysnatcher, an indifferent cat drinking milk, a Kuiper belt object, and the length of a stellar day, and make it all make sense.


Michael Seese, “Passengers.” What drew me into this apparently light-hearted tale was the dialog — a guy talking of being “on the cover of Newsweek” and “a date with a centerfold” as the two astronauts await their recovery team and dream of their fame.

Karl A. Russell, “A Conspiracy Theory.” Here, the author perfectly captures the language of a conspiracy theorist presenting his lunatic theory. A few leading questions — “Don’t you think that’s strange?” — combines with a barrage of factoids in a breathless attempt to turn unrelated trivia into something sinister.

The author even strays into meta territory (“Karl A. Russell loves his Disney films, see, and he’s here week after week”) as he builds toward his conclusion: “It’s the only explanation. Inside men. Your silent invasion. Mind control.” A well-executed and researched conspiracy theory, complete with the requisite alien invasion.

Eric Martell, “From the Frying Pan….” There is a larger backstory: we know that a “battle that had caused our ship to have trouble,” that “Houston got nuked,” and now the astronauts are in real trouble.

As the title suggests, their problems continue to worsen — the two astronauts have no way of getting home, and one is now unable to safely communicate a new, unexpected threat: “the thing that didn’t need a spacesuit and had twelve arms.” Eric compounds conflict upon conflict, starting with important but distant problems, while saving the revelation of the immediate alien threat for the end, where it will have the most impact.

Pauline Creighton, “Darkness.” Blaise Pascal said, “The eternal silence of these infinite spaces frightens me.” This is the concept that drew me into this story. After a “fruitless ten year mission to find alien life,” he returns to Earth to find, to his horror, that there is no other life out there in the darkness of space, nor any surviving humans left anywhere on Earth.

In the end, he himself is the alien: isolated, alone, and surrounded by darkness no matter where he chooses to go. A unique interpretation of the prompt, and an unsettling story overall.


Avalina Kreska, “Sugar & Spice And All Things Nice – That’s What Little Girls Are Made Of.” This story works on an emotional level: the heartbreak of dealing with a loved one’s degenerative terminal illness. We learn of Liam’s life — including his astronaut training (“being blasted into the sky”), his love of motorcycles and girls (“kicking up dust on Dad’s old Harley, leathered girls riding pillion”), and some unspecified accident (“the computer malfunctioning”) — through his father’s memories, since Liam himself has none. He is reverting physically and mentally through childhood, and has little time left.

A touching story with parallels to coping with Alzheimer’s, and with a slightly irreverent ending in the spirit of this week’s contest that plays with the typical after-school special — “that’s what you get for sleeping around with alien girls. You never know where the hell they’ve been.”


Sarah Cain, “Good Business.” When I read “astomuts,” I was hooked on this fun story about alien bartender Jin and his patrons, Gus and Flann. What I liked most about this story was the oddly down-to-earth nature of these aliens. Unlike most other stories, these aliens wish neither help nor harm upon Earth. Instead, they are ordinary blue-collar blokes, tipping back a few and watching a TV show.

The friendly rivalry between the bar patrons, arguing over our space program (“Geez Gus. It ain’t astomuts. It’s astronauts.” “Moon, shmmoon. So what?”) the way we might argue about sports teams or current events, serves to establish that these four-armed aliens aren’t so different from us. The last line sums it up for the bartender: “Humans were crazy weird, but great for business.” It’s the author’s natural-sounding dialog that makes the crazy sound normal, and connects us to the story’s alien characters.


Voimaoy, “Cats in Space.” If cats told legends, they would read like the one in the story. “We are the wondrous strange. We pass between the walls.” It is a legend filled with both wonder and self-importance — both of the cats in the myth are described as “beautiful,” and the legend claims that they “have always been sailors’ familiars.” Their self-importance continues into the present: “We have so much to teach you about gravity and doors.”

The humans’ opinion of these cat people is less lofty: “difficult to work with,” and “[c]haotic as the random decay of subatomic particles.” Yet the cat people’s claims of importance must have some merit, or the humans would not put up with their demanding ways. They even admit that “there was no denying their talent for navigating the seas of quantum foam.”

It’s hard to say what makes this story so appealing. Whether it is the juxtaposition of the cats’ conceited opinion of themselves and the humans’ views of them, the beautiful language of the legend, or just the idea of cats as alien navigators, this story successfully captures a fun and fascinating idea.

And now: taking the #flashfiction world by storm, it’s Flash! Friday




“Mission Control”

This story hits the ground running, providing tension, setting up the two characters Marvin and Meuller, and establishing a conspiracy between them, all in the first paragraph.

The rest of the story is an emotional see-saw, with Marvin and Meuller’s reactions always opposite to that of the rest of mission control. As the conspiracy unfolds and the returning Gemini space capsule goes off-course, “the eggheads went into a tizzy.” Yet at a time when the tension in the room is mounting, Marvin can slightly relax, “going through the motions,” because he already knows that this is “not a program error.” Soon after, when the astronauts correct the problem, this swings in the other direction. As the rest of mission control rejoices, “Marvin’s heart stopped [… he] gaped at the ashen expression of the director.”

What could compel these two men to commit such a betrayal of the astronauts? It seems the most frightening enemy is the one we don’t see — this alien threat is mentioned only as a “secret malignancy.” Upon realizing that this “secret malignancy” will soon be on Earth, nothing remains for Marvin to do but to go home and be with his family.

The word economy from packing so much into the beginning of the story, plus the constant contrast of Marvin and Meuller’s reactions against the rest of “the eggheads” and the subtlety of the alien menace make this a powerful story.

Congratulations, Nancy! Below is the super sparkly winner’s badge for your wall(s). Here also please find your winner’s page and your winning tale on the winners’ wall. Please contact me here asap so I can interview you for this week’s #SixtySeconds feature. And here is your winning story:

Mission Control

Beads of sweat dripped onto his console as Marvin hit enter. His glasses fogged, but he could still make out the erect figure of Meuller, the director, facing him across the floor. He gave a nod, barely more than a blink.

Ten seconds later, the eggheads went into a tizzy.

“They’re off course!”

“What the hell?”

“Can we fix it?”

“Not before entry!”

Marvin hunched over his console, his quaking hands going through the motions.

It was not a program error.

Though who would suspect otherwise on Gemini’s mission, already fraught with malfunction?

“Woohoo, Cooper!”

Marvin’s heart stopped. A cheer rose from the control stations.

Marvin gaped at the ashen expression of the director.

Cooper “corrected” the course from aboard. The capsule would land safely—along with its secret malignancy.

Marvin’s toddler would be sleeping, wife awake, waiting for him. “Can I go home?” he piped.

To the bewilderment of Houston’s personnel, the director tightened his jaw and nodded.