Tag Archive | Michael Wettengel

Flash! Friday Vol 3 – 50: WINNERS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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SPECIAL MENTIONS

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

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

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

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

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HONORABLE MENTIONS

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

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

Michael Wettengel, “May-Born.” 

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

Holly Geely, “Cousin Jackson

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

Michael Seese, “In Here.”

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

THIRD RUNNER UP

Nthato MorakabiWhat Child Is This?

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

SECOND RUNNER UP

Karl Russell, “One Day, in the Square” 

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

FIRST RUNNER UP

Mark A. King, “Genesis.” 

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

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

DRAGON WINNER

MARIE MCKAY!!!

for

“To Care: More Than Just an Action

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We. Should. Care.

FFwinner-Web

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 – 48: WINNERS

Confession: it’s the 9th day of NaNoWriMo, and I’m 11,000 words “behind” — SOUNDS LIKE A REASON TO PARTEH!!!  Join me in a little cold, rainy November winners’ dance. 

You won’t have to be nagged for very much longer on the below reminders; grateful for your patience:

  • SO THRILLED at the judge apps that have come in so far for the season starting in November, but I still need a couple more of y’all to join us. Details here. Please consider it, and thanks!
  • Thought for sure we were done with #Pyro after this week’s low turnout, but a couple of y’all showed up late to give it another shaky breath. Please remember that if this feature is useful to you, it’s up to y’all to keep it going. We’re about out of stories, though — please send me your flash! Free editing by people who are wild about flash? what’s not to love? 

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Many thanks to the indefatigable Dragon Team Seven, IfeOluwa Nihinlola & Nancy Chenier, for taking on this week’s tales. They say:   

NIf my math is correct, this the second-to-last round for Dragon Team 7! I know many of the regulars are churning out the word counts over at NaNoWriMo. Even so, you dragons still managed to kick up forty-three little breezes that we can all give a damn about. Apropos of Gone with the Wind’s Civil War era, Ife’s and my initial short lists had almost zero overlap. Fortunately, our war was indeed a civil one, and as the report of muskets faded into the scarlet skies of evening, we managed to erect a wonderful winner’s podium.

I: Penultimate judging round. Phew! I’ll start loading up the comments for the final round starting today, so I won’t be as speechless as I am now. Again, many thanks to you all for writing, and to Holly Geely who stripped the stories for us, as she has done for the entire duration of this judging cycle.

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SPECIAL MENTIONS

Bill Engleson, “Betrothed.” I: for an enchanting narrator—whoever heard of a slave being condescending to her master—and for the names: Miss Rebel Worthy sleeping in and almost missing a date with Master Lucius Callender   

Becky Spence, “Low Burning.” —I: for wonderful imagery and staying true to its conceit: the story burns in so many ways. 

Richard Edenfield, “The Whipping Song.” N: for powerful imagery that captures pain, desperation, care, hope, triumph, and love in one intimate moment. The analogy of scars as a lines in a book or lyrics to a song is stunning.

Catherine Connolly, “Daughter Dark Heart.” N: for taking a Gone with the Wind prompt and giving us Baba Yaga. You captured all her wild weirdness and equivocal nature—and even managed to work in Marinka. Bravo!

Stella Turner, “To Be or Not to Be.” —N: for my favorite opening line. Now there’s a sentence that accomplishes multiple tasks at once: introduces conflict as well as two characters (a frustrated speaker and his contrary-since-the-day-she-was-born daughter).

Foy S. Iver, “Under the Magnolia Tree, I’ll Keep Your Secret.” —N: for the intensity of the exchange. The presence of a bloody knife and the details of the action serve to heighten the tension throughout, despite the MC’s attempts to soothe her: blocking the door, “raked in breath”, “sobs decayed into hiccups”, “eyes, Georgia blue, scratched at my face”.

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HONORABLE MENTIONS

Michael Seese, “Perfect.”

I – It’s easy to fall for the illusion of perfection painted by this story. I know I did on the first reading. The imagery is precise in its presentation, with brand names and details that suggest extreme sophistication. Then the ending of the story disrupts that illusion and a reread reveals distortions in the perfect image that my eyes did not initially pick up. I should have caught the image of the booze and taken it as a foreshadowing of the end of the story. But isn’t that the point of perfection: to hide the booze.

N– The superficiality of perfection is so well-drawn here. I loved the capitalization of the tablecloth color. The tiniest mar in the facade appears with the parenthetical mention of locked away alcohol. Then, with the final line, the hidden-away human frailty is revealed—and even there, she finds no real release. The importance of appearances is relentless (making others jealous, impressed guests). The praise comes from without, as it must. One wonders when cutting won’t be release enough from the stifling world she’s surrounded herself with. 

Michael Wettengel, “Better Day.” 

I – “There could be a family, decades of history, in that space.” That is the line that stuck with me on my first reading of this story. This story of a family going about their lives as shells sound around them. This story of young ones playing dominoes as they waste away, of a wife actually wasting away, and a husband who seems to simply be waiting for when they, too, will exist in “that space.”

N– This one sets us up to examine the little disappointments that inflict our routines. It reminds me of the #firstworldproblems meme only the message delivered here comes in a more poignant package. The second paragraph draws me in with the admission that silence is worse than screams. Lines like “In their eyes, I see a graveyard” and “Stolen meds ring around her bed like roses around a coffin” drive home the deep desperation of the theme.

Craig Anderson, “The Path to Salvation

I – If this story were an animation set to a Disney tune, it would start off with a zany beat, and happy brass sounds, chanting as the slave goes about his work with rainbows of confidence shooting out of his every pore. After all, he has built his legacy, the path, to be unbreakable. Then midway into the story, as his master shows up with his woman, the tune would take a depressive turn, with heavy strings, and crashing hits of the snare reducing the tempo until it’s nothing more than a faint heartbeat. For that is the sound fitting for a man who is made to take out his unbreakable legacy with his own hands.

N – Linking the path to the MC’s spirit in the first paragraph is what won me over on this one. It’s an interesting analogy on first reading and a heartbreaking one on the second, when the realization hits that he’ll be ripping up his own legacy and essentially breaking his own spirit. The mix of frustration and admiration in the Master is telling: though he appreciates fine work, he’s a sadist — and it sets us up for his cruelty at the end.

 

THIRD RUNNER UP

Marie McKayUntitled

I – From the first line to the last, this story was clear about its intentions: to pile image upon image in a heap of detail that would leave the reader filled with enough to form a large-enough picture, like that a collage made from small individual paintings. There’s also an urgency to the story, which seems to have been caused by the verb starting sentences that read like an instruction manual: “Draw Close the blinds,” “Cradle the darkness,” “Choke on the stench,” “Pull the white pall.” The story then, propelled by a baby’s shriek from steel lungs, the story switches gear and hurtles to the end twists, heart, and all.

N – Fabulous raw imagery opens (and carries through) this one. The misdirection here is just brilliant. The first half seems to be telling of a stillborn birth with all the complex emotions that might evoke: shame, blame, offense, shattered expectation, rot. The revelation that for these parents, having a girl is just as bad (worse!) than having a stillborn child bowled me over. And, as with every strong twist, the hints are there before the reveal: baby blue (the color for a boy), the reaction of blame and shame sets in before the mourning. Rereading it makes it all the more tragic: the transformation of the line “unable to nurse” is wicked: first reading, my heart went out to the poor woman whose inability to nurse seemed external, but on second reading, I wanted to slap her for her internal rejection of the living babe.

SECOND RUNNER UP

Bill Engleson, “Scarred” 

I – If humanity’s real self is revealed in war, then this story comes as close as any in showing that that real self is: callous, violent, selfish. But even in that, there’s still the sense of a need for companions, of sticking with our own, even when they think we’re “gormless bastards”, and drive home their points by slamming a rusted tire iron on our arms. We are always searching for an ‘us’ even in ruins, and with the us, we would do things, even those we’re not comfortable with, to keep them close. That’s a lot of solemn thought (pathos like Nancy aptly describes) for a story that reads like it’s straight out of GTA4.

– I love how this could be the aftermath of any recent war as easily as it could be an apocalyptic future (how this SF-fan read it the first time). What a ruthless contagonist in the person of the MC’s “friend”, who doesn’t seem the type of person to be anybody’s friend; however, that’s about all the MC can hope for in a world that can no longer be considered a civilization. That the MC has qualms sneaks in through the paragraph about the smash and grab. There’s a hint of pathos toward the “stupid grocer who barely has a pot to piss in”, but, then, the MC works himself up with a bit of victim-blaming antipathy, thus justifying going along with the racketeer of the tale, becoming part of “us” with her. The final line reveals that in contrast to his partner-in-crime, he has a conscience, though it, like the sky, is choked in smoke.

FIRST RUNNER UP

Colin Smith, “War-Torn.” 

I – This story shows the devastation a war wreaks on the emotional landscapes of people who live through it. It does this by embedding the banality of war with memories of a life past. Here, by the contrasting of the past and the present, we’re confronted with the violence of the things traded off in battling others: Love of a brother for the firing of rifles, memories of childhood for horrors of death.

– This one adeptly shows one of the devastating aspects of civil war: that the enemy may well be someone you know personally, even someone from your own family. The interchange of the present-time assassination with the recalled voice of the enemy twin is particularly effective. First off, the voice is distinct and engaging. Secondly, we get backstory that enhances rather than interferes with the tense action happening in the now—it’s appropriate because these are precisely the things that would be running through the mind of someone about to kill his twin brother. The pacing is excellent as the fond reminisces of mischief become clipped and strained by the memory of the painful words of parting (perhaps the last time these two have spoken). The echo of “Why, Billy?” brings together the past and the present, sure to haunt the MC to the end of his days.

And now: for a smashing FIFTH win, it’s this week’s 

DRAGON WINNER

Michael Seese!!!

for

“Surrender

I – This story transposes the effect of a war of a certain kind onto another in a way so fitting I had an “Oh!” moment when the real setting of the battle was revealed. The story builds up, transitions and ends with such finesse, every detail an important part of the story. Moments like the narrator drinking the “dram of will in the bottom of his whiskey glass,” him being the enemy breathes life into the character in a way that would otherwise take whole paragraphs. The upbeat voice of the narrator also masks the horror of the situation in which she’s found herself. She commits one last act of war, and this story ends flaming hot. Perfection!

– This one has so much in it. In 160 words, we have a full story, complete with immediate conflict, misdirection, a struggle, a reveal, tension building, and a powerful close. The first two paragraphs misdirect the reader with its martial imagery, introducing our war-weary MC. The power behind the second paragraph is the ambiguous way it builds hope — sort of. The war will end, but does that really make it the lesser of the two evils? There’s a reveal in the third paragraph when the blitz/barrage is linked to Peter’s fists. And yet at that point, the story is far from over. The dialogue exchange behind superficially innocuous words—two simple lines packed with the long years of tension. The ending, then, just knocks me out. Her look over the battlefield contains all the wistfulness of that of a defeated general. Her limited agency leaves her both victor and vanquished. She doesn’t surrender herself to him: she surrenders the two of them to death, perhaps trading the old war for a hope in hell.

Congratulations, Michael! Couldn’t be happier for you, and for SUCH a story, my goodness, in which we have deaths (though not terribly many this round, I must point out). We’ve updated your winner’s page; your winning tale can be found there looking all sparkly. Please watch your inbox for instructions regarding your interview for this week’s #SixtySeconds! And now here’s your winning story:

Surrender

The blitz began anew. The corner offered cold comfort, though Colette realized it was only a wounded facade. Safety was an illusion held desperately despite the destruction that littered the remnants of what she once had called her life. Another strike would shatter the final vestige of hope she’d manage to cling to all these long years.

Someone once said, “War is Hell.” He was wrong. Hell is eternal. War will end. There will be a victor. And there will be a vanquished.

The barrage ended. The room fell silent. Peter had finally put away his fists.

“I’m heading to bed. I’ll be waiting.”

“I just need to clean up.”

Colette swept up the broken dishes, her grandmother’s wedding china. She found a few drams of will in the bottom of his whiskey glass. Drinking it felt like victory. She took one last look at the battlefield, turned on all four burners, and joined the man she loved.

FFwinner-Web