Tag Archive | M.T. Decker

Flash! Friday Vol 3 – 51: WINNERS

Welcome to Monday and our results day! Have I ever told you how much I love Mondays? I love them dearly. A whole week of days to spend. How decadent! How luxurious! No mistakes yet (as dear Anne “with an e” Shirley would say — by the by, happy birthday, Ms Montgomery!), nothing but hope and promise and fresh, abundant grace to fling to the world’s corners. Thank you for being a part of this particular Monday, last one of November, as we welcome a whole new month tomorrow (!), and very soon another year, can you stand it?! May we put all those hours to good use. I want your gorgeous novels in my grubby talons.

Two more global #Spotlights left, one tomorrow with Carin Marais sharing from South Africa, and next week our final one with F.E. Clark from Scotland. What a thrill these interviews have been; I’m so grateful to all of you who took (and are taking!) part. Thank you!

And please remember to mark your calendars for this Saturday, December 5, at 11:30am Washington, DC time, for our final Flash Dash (with Cash)! You’ll have 30 minutes to write & post your story, and there’ll be a cash prize for the winner.

Finally: a treasure trove of thanks to Dragon Team Seven, Nancy Chenier and IfeOluwa Nihinlola. You’ve faithfully navigated continents and bus schedules to bring us textured, nuanced, thoughtful choices and comments, month after month. I have long respected you both as writers and judges, and I expect great things out of both of you in the future. Thank you for giving of your time and marvelous brains to the FF community. You’re awesome, both. Thank you.  

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Here are Dragon Team Seven’s final comments:   

NC: Our last round falls over Thanksgiving weekend in the US. I’m grateful (and am going to miss) everything about this place. Flash Friday has done incredible things for my confidence and productivity as a writer. I’m ever indebted to Rebekah for providing an incredible environment for whelplings to try their wings. Thank you, oh, Dragony One. I look forward to following your future endeavors. Thank you, too, to my partner in crime, IfeOluwa. It’s been amazing working with you across the many time zones. Lastly, I’m grateful for this incredible community for coming together, crafting mind-blowing fiction week after week, and encouraging one other with positive feedback. You have my awe and appreciation.

Going back to story element + picture prompt left me nostalgic indeed. Despite the home stretch for NaNoWriMo, we still ended up with forty-three predatory tales stalking the streets of Stockholm. Thank you for sending off Dragon Team 7 in such style.

INToday, I’m that little child in Sound of Music, who crawls up the stair, with her eyes on the audience of family and friends as she sings goodbye. It’s been amazing being both a judge and participant in Flash! Friday. I cannot thank Rebekah enough for this space, for the work she has done these three years in providing a place where I’ve learnt and grown. And also, to Nancy, my partner during this judging round, who does all the hard work with seemingly-effortless brilliance, I say a big thank you. You all have written stories of great quality every week, and seem eager to do this on and on for the rest of time. I thank you for being such fantastic writers, and for submitting your stories for us to take a look at. O dabo. Goodbye. Goodbye. Goodbye.

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SPECIAL MENTIONS

Voima Oy, “Hunter’s Moon.” NC: Gloriously ethereal. I feel like I’m stalking a dreamland with the red-booted hunter, and I’m left haunted by the image of the dark-haired girl “waiting for the light to change”.

Stephen Shirres, “Where Is He?” IN: Hunter arrives on the scene with all the emotions, thoughts and movements of the hunted, and keeps the subterfuge till strength is sapped from the hunted, who thinks he’s the hunter.

M.T. Decker, “The Hart Is a Lonely Hunter.” NC: the wordplay in this is the most exquisite I’ve read in a long time. That the hunterly puns are sustained line after line just blows my mind.

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HONORABLE MENTIONS

Karl A. Russell, “The Nice Guy.”

NC: I love the set up with her on the edge of the tub like La Femme Nikita, leading me to believe she’s an assassin. That misconception stays with me all the way until the second half of the climactic sentence: “all the evidence his wife needs”. I’m left feeling as sheepish as the target. And the nice guy (sort of, as he’s an adulterer) wins in the end (again, sort of). 

IN: The word ‘shooting’ in the first line of this story carries with it two connotations that keep the tension for the first part of this story: shooting bullets or shooting images? Midway, I realise it’s just a camera. Nice Guy will survive, just might lose his wife. But again, Nice Guy does what nice guys do and I’m not sure he’ll lose her after all.

Firdaus Parvez, “The Hunter Games.” 

NC: Pop culture references from the title to the panicked request for beaming up. This one made me laugh. I could just imagine the hazing that would go on in a future like this. Grunts are sent on frivolous missions and unceremoniously dumped to find their own embarrassing way out.

IN: This read funny when I imagined Mike as Wes Crusher of Star Trek: TNG, making doughnut runs on earth as punishment for messing up the holodeck and Will Riker and Geordie behind the transporter consoles, having a good laugh. All of that is longhand for: I enjoyed this piece enough to think of it in terms of Star Trek.

Bill Engleson, “Morning on the Verge

NC: Long after I read this one, two images refuse to leave my brain: a festering finger rubbing plaque back into bleeding gums (I mean, really: Bravo), and the sleeping-bagged woman crunched in a doorway with a “noisy medley of old grey socks”. I enjoyed the transformation of dark heart, from accusation to self-reflection.

IN: This piece is effortlessly dark and sober. There are faux-questions, faux-apologies, faux-discoveries. The choice of sentences and narrator’s uncertain voice gives this story a certain duality. Nothing is certain, but, in the end, the narrator is on the verge of realising the truth about himself.

Tamara Shoemaker, “Wish.”

NC: Beautifully tragic symmetry in this one, with the wishes gracing the first and last lines. I’m mourning right with the narrator, who hunts for puzzle pieces in the crowd for hints of the deceased lover (I love, too, that the genders of the mourner and the deceased could be any configuration at all). The reveal that it was death by suicide—It’s so hard to be told in a note—is simple as it is heart-rending.

IN: We’ve all being there: seeing parts of people we love in other people. There’s that urge to report the details to our loved ones: I saw someone with ear lobes like yours today. The absence of that ability to tell, and the hints that there was even no motivation to observe or tell in the first place, makes this such a sad story. The disembodied nature of a suicide note makes the absence even more poignant.

THIRD RUNNER UP

M.T. DeckerOld Friends

NC: There were a few tasty vampire-esque pieces this week, but this one stood out. One, for the fact that the entities don’t necessarily have to be vampires. Any immortal being would work. Two, for the shifting of tension throughout. The opening offers a perfect layering of mystery and conflict: the mystery of the stranger is overshadowed by the mystery of the Aldruna herself, who has been around since the ‘old days’ for longer than a normal lifespan. And then there are the suspicious villagers to contend with. Their banter ramps up the tension as it does the mystery (“How old a friend are you talking?”). The reader is not quite released on the “smolder” line (nor is Aldruna) as sexual tension replaces the danger.

IN: This read like the opening of a western. Say a western like the Rango, that story of the fearless chameleon. Okay, maybe not that last part. But Nancy helped me make the vampire connection and I realised how well layered this piece is. Something about the sparse descriptions and the loaded references opens it up to multiple perspectives. Then that conversation just keeps the tension intact like a loaded spring.

SECOND RUNNER UP

Foy S. Iver, “The Miserable Ones” 

NC: Oh, magnificent world-building! The compelling voice (of a flippant hunter droid) makes me overlook the fact s/he regards human life as disposable. Love the vernacular throughout: son of a bleeder, bit-strapped, Cog. The line “You can’t trust anything that volatile” says so much about the values of our new overlords. Despite the sneer and speciesist attitude of the narrator, it’s obvious that Val has maintained the best of his humanity, and thus completely deserving of sympathy—and perhaps the hunter felt it too: the failure mentioned in the opening may be that Jav let him go, again. I want to read a novel version of this in the worst way. {Editor’s Note: MWAHHAHAHAHA! Very funny.}

IN: Apparently, robots/droids can be sassy too, and in the worst way possible. The dual possibilities in the ending make for an interesting reading. Jav either kills Val, fails humanity; or lets him go and fails justice. Just by considering the dilemma of his situation, Jav seems to have failed already. And that last line, the emotions laden in the calling of the name as a greeting: Perf!

FIRST RUNNER UP

Nicolette Stephens, “The Cuckoo Clock.” 

NC: I was all set up for this one to be humorous what with a clock “standing the test of time” in a long-vacant house. Was I ever in for a surprise. The POV seems to be standard omniscient but turns out to be third person limited to that of the clock itself—a creepy discovery. The use of the door slamming as a transition from vacancy to new residents is brilliant. The liveliness of the concrete details in that transition paragraph sharply contrast to the emptiness of the previous paragraphs. The figurines evoking a smile from the unwitting woman for their “lifelike” appearance creates sinister irony, which is confirmed in the last line. Love the link between time and patience.

IN: At first, the use of ‘loomed’ in the first paragraph looked out of place to me with the clock references. But as the story progressed and the clock became more detailed, it seemed perfect a description for such a patient hunter that, essentially, loomed over the telling of the story itself. Through sensuous imagery, we are made to know the new residents of the house just enough to be scared for what horror the swinging pendulum has in store for them.

And now: for her very first time (and in the nick of time!), it’s this week’s 

DRAGON WINNER

BECKY SPENCE!!!

for

“I Spy With My Little Eye

NC: The strength of this one is the way in which it zooms (pun slightly intended) into the details–leaning into the eyepiece, grainy monochrome streets—thus involving the reader in the investigation. The narrative leads the reader along, equating the hunter with a photographer, perhaps a private investigator, at worst a stalker (ten shades of grey is not quite fifty, but could signal a possessive lover). As all of the best twists do, the twist surprises but doesn’t come out of nowhere. “He had to move quickly…” takes on unexpected meaning, from racing to the location depicted in the photo to the sudden surrealism of plucking an entity directly from the photo itself. The apparent cruelty with which he treats his subject might as well be that of a possessive lover. The final note left me with shivers. A well done flash.

IN: Like Nancy, I came out of this story with thoughts of the possibility of the characters in this story being a couple. This happens for me because of the way the story’s male character searches out the lady. (See where his fingers caressed the image as he scanned for his target? Creep!) The story also begs for a reading about the kind of power the man has over the lady: about how he hunts for her and removes her from a scene she clearly wants to be part of; and how he silences her by putting her in a jar, a vacuum of his own choosing.

Congratulations, Becky! What fun seeing you take the dragon crown in one of the very last opportunities: your writing has kept us all enthralled for some time now, and it seems only right! Here’s your brand new winner’s page. Please contact me asap here so I can interview you for this week’s #SixtySeconds. And now, here’s your winning story:

I Spy With My Little Eye

He picked up the photo, placed it beneath the microscope. Leaning into the eye piece the metal was cold against his socket. It scraped cruelly against his skin. His fingers caressed the image. Scanning for his target.

It was easier in colour. Something bright to pick up on, a dash of red or a tone of blue, a spectrum to seek. In black and white it was light and shadows. Only a contrast to work with, ten shades of grey.

He heightened the magnification, twisting the microscope tight to his eye. Searching through the grainy monochrome streets. There! She was there, at last. He had to move quickly before he lost her again.

Reaching into the photo, his fingers pruned as the chemicals gnawed at his skin. He pinched his fingers around her, plucked her from the scene. Selecting a jar from the shelf he dropped her into the vacuum, tightened the lid on her screams.

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Flash! Friday Vol 3 – 38: WINNERS

 

Happy Monday! What a riot moving from a loud-mouthed and jovial fellowship en route to Canterbury to a clever-tongued and ancient fellowship en route to Mordor and/or Mischief. Your stories were wrenching and hilarious and, as always, unforgettable, which is spectacular news for my poor memory muscles, as they need the help. 

On a personal note: these days are difficult ones for the family and friends of former FF judge Beth Peterson, who’s decided — in her indomitably spirited way, of course — that she’s had quite enough of her problematic, problem-causing health problems and is quite ready to go on without them, thankyouverymuch. It is one of the greatest honors of my life to walk at her side now through these final pages of her life’s story. I read her the stories you wrote this round; though she’s past the point of speaking, she laughed aloud at Karl’s The Seven (which you must read if you haven’t). Your stories — and all the wonderful heartsongs you’ve shared with her (via me) on Facebook — your messages of courage and love, and your prayers, above all, are beyond priceless. Thank you.

(Note: As a part of her fellowship of writers, if you’ve anything you’d like to say to her, perhaps a favorite poem?favorite quote? favorite verse? — and remembering, of course, that funny is entirely appropriate too!!! — please add them in the comments below. It would be my privilege to share them with her.)

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Many thanks to Dragon Team Five, Holly Geely & Foy Iver, for judging the stories this round and teasing out their favorites. Here’s their take:   

FI:  Attempting an adventure epic in less than 400 words when Tolkien himself took four books, is gutsy! Good thing you draggins have plenty of those. If he could only see what his imagination has inspired! A special thank you to those of you who stirred up ember-memories of long winter nights and my father reading the Lord of the Rings to my siblings and me by firelight. 

HG: My Lord of the Rings memories are much less touching: in eighth grade the three “nerd boys” were reading it and I didn’t want them to get ahead of me nerd-wise. I am once again in awe of the abundance of talent. There was a sad lack of turnips, but I shan’t feel disappointed, for there will always be time for vegetables later.

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SPECIAL MENTIONS

Most Giggle-InducingWhen a Story Writes Itself by Michael J. BerryHG: Vanity dictates that this story be selected! This is a marvelously fun story and the names are superb; my particular favourite is “Grey-guy.” FI: Love it!! So clever and the thinly veiled references to FF are like hidden candies.

Most Likely to Become a Creation Myth: Legend by Sarah CainHG: Dragons – check, humans who thought they won but really didn’t – check, written like an old-school tale – check. Yep, I look forward to reading the book based on this world. FI: As a sucker for variations of the traditional genesis stories, I was hooked. As Holly said, I’ll be looking for this on bookstore shelves. 

Best Parody of All Things LOTRWhat Really Happened (For I Was There, Have Evidence to Doubt Me Do You?) by Eric MartellFI: Because even presented as farce, this one still made me long to be lost in that world again. HG: Dear writer, I don’t know who you are yet, but I love you. Once again I have different memories – of once upon a time when I wrote parodies for all my friends. Excellent.

Best Sleight-of-hand: Power Play by Brian CreekFI: Had to read this one to my husband. The troubles of a first world gamer. HG: As a gamer, I’d like for this video game to be real (minus the power outage).

 

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HONORABLE MENTIONS

A V Laidlaw, Respect.”

HG: The main character has spunk. I like it. She may not be as flashy as Archmage Sparkly (aka Johnny Big-Beard… excellent nicknames), but she knows her strength. The voice is superb; the sarcasm makes me smile. The ending made me snicker.

FI: Strong voice in this one and an irresistible cheekiness toward those who feel they’re better than she is. I have to agree, aren’t they ever out of Dark Lords?

Carin Marais, “The Last Song of Winter.” 

HG: This story is lovely. The imagery is vivid, beautiful and haunting, and I was taken on a journey. The ending is bittersweet; sad but full of hope. The idea of Spring as a beautiful young woman is one I absolutely subscribe too. Beautifully written, and well done. 

FI: Fresh as a winter wind, this story captured me for its originality. The stakes are clear and the battle lines unmistakable; I can see a whole series emerging from this concept.

Mark A. King, “Tinder | Box.”

HG: The three characters complement each other in a spiral of misery-and-hope. The three forms of immortality being sacrificed is an interesting take on both the prompt and the reality of this situation. So much emotion has been covered in this story, I’m still reeling.

FI: Another super original response to the prompt! Like Holly said the intertwined perspectives offers an especially insightful peek into the lives, desires, and struggles of these three. The added philosophical puzzler of digital immortality (vs their true selves) makes it a well-deserved honorable mention. 

M.T. Decker, “To Accept What Cannot Change.”

FI: Such beautiful imagery with a poetic voice that is irresistible! Every line drowns me in its murky waters of forbidden love, harking back to tales of gods who slept with mortals they claimed more fair than their own celestial women. We aren’t meant to live in isolation and this piece shows that well. 

HG: The moth and the flame…great choice! Every word is carefully selected and every line is a tragedy. Well done!

THIRD RUNNER UP

Tim Kimber, “Defender of the Corn.”

HG: You had me at “Oh, bloody… Hail!” Matthis is a delightful use of the “ordinary person” and his no-nonsense attitude is admirable. He became the conquering hero, but…at what cost? What will happen to him next? This has a good mixture of my favourite kind of dark humour; Matthis is in trouble but you cheer for him anyway.

FI: Matthis is fantastic! I can almost smell the dirt on his clothes and feel the spirit in his bones. Though his fate isn’t fully revealed, I like to think he stood his ground and proved the wetter man. Clear characters and a well-developed story arch, gave this tale a podium spot.

SECOND RUNNER UP

Richard Edenfield, “A Butterfly in Brooklyn” 

FI: One of the most unique stories that came of this week’s musings, everything about this piece works in harmony: nature is painted with words that HDT himself might’ve used; paragraphs unfurl like pages of Walden; characters are sketched then filled in the way a human eye might absorb a landscape after all it’s known is the city. Slow, detailed, and poignantly executed.

HG: “The pages fluttered in the breeze.” For me, this last line is the most beautiful. This reoccurring image of the butterfly, and the artist as a butterfly, with a book as his wings…incredible.

FIRST RUNNER UP

Eric Martell, “Nothing Gold Can Stay.” 

FI: Gritty and so human, I couldn’t help but identify with this very personal struggle. Though Marl and his wife believe they’ve buried their light, their beauty, death is only the beginning. I appreciate that it ends hopeful where there is little hope. Conflict, resolution, and character depth all accomplished in a few choice words. 

HG: The poem “Nothing Gold Can Stay” always makes me think of Pony Boy. It’s a beautiful title for this heartbreaking tale of suffering and loss. “…for why should a man love someone who would be taken from him so quickly, but she was impossible to hate.” My heart is aching. I, too, like the beautiful ending and he birds that help cope with loss.

And now: for his FIRST TIME, it’s faithful FF writer & brand new

DRAGON WINNER

REG WULFF!!!

for

The King Who Wears No Crown

FI: This piece not only gave us gorgeously woven words, it brought echoes of familiar fields where foolish men battle and whispers of a different “King under the mountain”, one that is just as tempestuous as a dwarf by with a heart of true stone. While paying subtle homage to Tolkien, it remains distinct, an incredible feat. 

HG: My favourite line: “He has tasted the tears of creatures chased from the sanctuary in fear for their life.” This is a king who demands respect. The people who underestimated him sure regretted it. The gardener is a fascinating character. The Tolkien-esque elements are there but nothing has been copied – everything is unique and uniquely pays tribute.

Congratulations, Reg! Please find here your brand new, mega sparkly, and very crowned winner’s page. Your winning tale can be found there as well as (shortly) over on the winners’ wall. Please contact me asap here so I can interview you for this week’s Sixty Seconds feature. And now here’s your winning story:

The King Who Wears No Crown

As I walk in the shadow of the king, I tend his garden. I slip among the trees, sometimes dancing on the wind. None sees me, but all feel me.

The king likes the garden unspoiled, as it has been for a millennium. He prefers the natural order of things. He calls it the sanctuary of the living, even though death is always part of life. The king understands that the garden has a cycle of life, death and rebirth. He respects the cycle.

Men do not.

The king has heard the cries of the trees torn from the ground and dismembered. Men cut down the trees in their prime and rip them to pieces. Men burn them and live in buildings made from their skeletons.

He has tasted tears of the creatures chased from the sanctuary in fear for their life. Men pursue them relentlessly. He has felt the final heartbeat of the ones that could not escape. The ones slaughtered for their flesh and skin. Men rob the young of a future and the old of a peaceful ending.

When man pushes the king too far he will defend his garden through its destruction. His scorching anger will overflow and destroy those who have desecrated the sanctuary of the living. Their flesh will burn and fall from their bones. Their charred remains will feed the garden as it grows again. I will tend to the young sprouts and give the king a new garden, more brilliant and beautiful than the last. I will weep for the innocent creatures that suffered the king’s fiery wrath, enshrining their bones and singing to their souls.

As death is part of life, sacrifice is part of victory. The king is always victorious.

The mountain may not wear a crown, but not all kings need such a pittance. Once again, man has encroached, and soon, I will have a new garden to tend.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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