Tag Archive | MJ Bush

Fire&Ice Sol 7/19: WINNERS

§ Rebekah says: I’ve always loved Mondays; there’s something so clean-slate and hope-filled about them. Maybe this week I’ll hit my writing targets. Maybe this week I’ll check those tiresome tasks off my list… This week I’ve a new one to add, as the ice dragon and I have each just committed to run 87 miles by our (American) Election Day Nov 3. (Whyyy did we do this? Shhhh, Self: that’s a Thursday-type question.) For now, it’s still sweet Monday, which at Fire&Ice means celebrating your stories. So Happy Monday, friends. We’re delighted to see you!

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Quick note on judging: Six pairs of judges across multiple nationalities and genres are taking turns reading your submissions (meet the judges here). As soon as each contest round closes, your stories are first stripped of all personal info before being sent on for judging. This represents our effort to maximize every story’s chances, whether it’s the first or hundredth story you’ve written. ♥ 


SOL 7’S JUDGES SAY:

Sinéad O’Hart:  Well, whew. What a crop this week. With prompts as good as these, and a wonderfully wide word count, it’s hardly a surprise that so many gems tumbled out of the story-sack. Thank you to everyone who submitted for trusting us with your work. Every time I have the honour of judging Flash! Friday it’s a privilege, and this week was no different.

The first story I want to make special mention of was the very first to cross my path – Bill Engleson‘s “A Final Flame.” I read this tale with no small amount of emotion, as to me it was about a woman at the end of her life, having suffered with a terminal illness (possibly cancer), and with the subtext that her loved one had done their best to end her pain. In the past few days, I lost a beloved family member to cancer, and so this story hit home in a special way. Sometimes, art truly can heal.

Other sparkling tales that caught my eye included James Atkinson‘s “The Breath of the Final Dragon” – such a fresh take on the dragon-fire idea, with some incredible imagery (‘lashes alive with parasites’), and a great take on the prompt of Justice. I also loved Voima Oy‘s “King Lear in the Federal Plaza,” with its evocative writing and great use of the prompts. My Sir Terry Pratchett-loving heart really enjoyed “Inspector Counterweight and the Percussive Goblin” by Geoff LePard; those characters would be more than at home in Ankh-Morpork! My Good Omens-loving heart also enjoyed Laurence D‘s “Ezekiel,” which was a fun homage to Pratchett and Gaiman’s masterwork. Mark King‘s “Where Her Soul Goes to Walk” was an important, excellent, and moving commentary on race relations and the lives of marginalised people, as was “Afire” by Michael Seese – powerful and meaningful work, a privilege to read. Maggie Duncan‘s “Kholodnoye Pravosudiye” was one of my favourites, barely missing out on an Honorary Mention. It was elegant, cold, brilliantly controlled, and I loved the subtle ‘eternal flame’ – the one burning in Gavrilla’s heart.

But, judging is a two-person process, and consensus must be reached. Luckily, Craig and I were on the same page (almost exactly) when it came to our top picks. Choosing winners and Runners Up this week was more a case of two old dragons sharing pleasantries, rather than a duel to the flame. So, without further ado…


Craig Anderson: How did time go so quick that we are back in the hot seat? Feels like just moments ago that we were judging the first round of most excellent flash fiction, and suddenly a new batch of awesome was delivered to our virtual dragon’s den. Just as before you all made it tough to pick a favorite, but it is certainly a nice problem to have when you are literally spoiled for choice.

As before, Sinéad was an absolute pleasure to judge with. We both had a long list of favorites, which made it easy to find the overlapping stories that caught both our eyes. We’d also both landed on the same winner independently, which made things a whole lot easier!

As for my own favorites, I particularly enjoyed Marsha Adams‘ “They came for me at dawn,” which spoke of a dystopian world where only a few humans remained. I love the little hints of what might have happened, always teasing the wider story, while focusing on one very specific punishment. I also loved Firdaus Parvez‘s – “The Wind,” for the swift punishment dished out by the diminutive hero. I’m such a sucker for underdogs, and Hawa fit the bill perfectly. “Sleep Well Tonight” by Edison Arcane contained a whole backstory in its brief length, and the ending was very satisfying. Plus I’m also going to sneak in a mention for Geoff LePard‘s “Inspector Counterweight and the Percussive Goblin“; I too immediately thought of STP, and that is high praise indeed!

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HONORABLE MENTIONS

Singular Love by Helen Laycock

SO: This story was so fresh and interesting, with an interesting and engaging perspective that drew me in right away. Well executed, with excellent details like the blood on the character’s thigh, which let the reader infer the subtext. A story with a whole world in it, skilfully drawn.

CA: I loved how this one started, which such powerful imagery of the women all moving in sync, like white smoke. That great imagery continued throughout, with the flames gently cradling the bundle, and the meandering blood, all painting such a vivid picture of a horrifying scene. The ending added a great punch, and twisted the whole tale on its head.

The Devil’s Kitchen by Steph Ellis

SO: Again, a story which immediately leapt off the page with its fresh perspective, and one I loved because of the almost throwaway line: ‘At least they’d buried her husband where no one would find him’ – narrated so casually, yet this line is the pivot point for the whole story. Masterful!

CA: This one jumped out for squeezing not one but two twists into its brief length. It starts so casually, like a walk in the woods, so good natured, and then the casual mention of dead bodies flips the whole thing on its head. Suddenly our campers become villains, and you worry for the person that they run into, but then the story twists again and karma comes back around quickly.

RUNNER UP

Legend Renewed  by MJ Bush

SO: Craig and I both loved this one. As well as its excellent use of the prompts, this story is evocative and moving, and it is a perfect example of the type of flash fiction I love so much – a story that works perfectly just as it is, but one which shows the reader a whole world. I loved the perspective, the centuries of lore and legend and the years of heroic duty; the crashing-together of the old and the new (the world might be technologically modern, but the old monsters remain), and the final image, the ancient tool being brought back into service, the light beating back the monsters of the dark. Excellent work.

CA: I really enjoyed the way this one spoke to the nature of legends, with the story slowly shifting over time, but the core pieces staying the same. Then it shifts gears, moving towards modern convenience, until everyone forgets the reason that the legend existed in the first place. It isn’t until that modern solution fails, and the old monsters return, that they receive such a sudden reminder, and they go right back to the old ways. A great analogy for our world these days.

And now: it is our pleasure to present to you our

FIRE&ICE WINNER

PHIL COLTRANE!!!

for

Astraea

SO – Again, my fellow judge and I were unanimous in our choice! I am a sucker for SF stories, and this one was a masterclass. A tale of a battle in space, at a time unspecified, but which could be mapped onto any Earthbound conflict, it drew me in and held me. The conversational tone: ‘The war began (as such wars do) with men who neglected the lessons of history…’ was a powerful beginning to a story which culminated in the destruction of a planet in a ‘blast of searing plasma’. What clinched this for me (as well as all the other things I love in a good piece of flash – brilliant characters, the power of the story to both stand alone and show us a larger world, and emotional heft) was the excellent ending, with an old-tech weapon being used in a new-tech world. Such an interesting and clever detail, the perfect showstopper ending for a perfect story.

CA –I loved this one right away, but I am a sucker for great sci-fi, so when Sinéad had short-listed it as a potential winner too I was absolutely thrilled! As with all great sci-fi it has a great mix of old and new, of history and imagination. The repetition of (as such wars do) was such a great way to bookend the global conflict in just a couple of sentences. So much is conveyed in so few words, it is a masterclass in cramming an entire history into a handful of words. 

‘My memories fuelled my nightmares for a century’ is another great line, which paints such a vivid picture about the nature of the war, and how nobody truly won. It shows us how the MC feels about the atrocities committed in the name of war. The use of water and fire, of symbols of mercy and justice, was a great touch, and the gut punch ending of the unspoken third option was the perfect way to wrap up this tale. Wonderful flash!

Congratulations, Phil! Here’s your winning story:

ASTRAEA

The war began (as such wars do) with men who neglected the lessons of history. I was an innocent boy with romantic notions of alien planets, great battles, and mighty heroes.

The war ended (as such wars do) in tears, and firing squads, and a vow never to forget. Never forget. My memories fueled my nightmares for a century. Even after I escaped the jail, fled the planet, buried my past deeper than my victims. At night I saw those purple eyes of a girl from Astraea — eyes that watched her family and her future die in a blast of searing plasma.

One day I saw those eyes again, in daylight. They held me entranced as she approached. We stood at the memorial: rippling waters and roaring flame.

“I could turn you in,” she said without preamble. “I should. Though a lifetime ago, justice knows no age.” Her face was pale as mine had been that day. “But the flame falters. Life, I see, has wearied us both. Mercy. Or justice.”

“So which will it be?” I asked. “The water? Or the fire?”

I never saw the pistol — only the glint in her eyes.

“The earth.”

Fire&Ice Sol 6/19: WINNERS

§ Foy says: Mondays are one of our favorite days here at Fire&Ice. It means a new, shimmering Sol 7 winner’s crown to forge for you, and the bestowing of Sol 6’s, with all the feasting and hymns and resplendence in your honor! In our most recent Flash! Future follow up, we shared an interview on trauma and empowerment with the immortal Toni Morrison, and in it she speaks to how she honors her characters by revealing them as they are: “complicated, interesting, mysterious people,” not larger than life, but rather as large as life itself. This is how I see our little community; each of us brings our own beauty, our own complexity. For enriching our lives with your words and presence, we thank you!

♦♦♦♦♦

Quick note on judging: Six pairs of judges across multiple nationalities and genres are taking turns reading your submissions (meet the judges here). As soon as each contest round closes, your stories are first stripped of all personal info before being sent on for judging. This represents our effort to maximize every story’s chances, whether it’s the first or hundredth story you’ve written. ♥ 


SOL 6’S JUDGES SAY:

Betsy Streeter: Boy oh boy do the writers have things on your minds this week! This felt like a bit of a therapy session. And the vividness of the various “commutes,” after months and months of lockdown — it’s such a strange double life we lead now, memory plus current state plus hope to regain what’s in the memory… all at once. Seems like the prompt being a train, something we maybe can’t/don’t access – or if we do it feels like a gauntlet – really set off some things.

As a cartoonist, I’m on this endless quest for the lyrical line and the turn of phrase, and I so admire the various ways little worlds shine through with each story. I especially enjoyed Mark A. King‘s “The Driver/The Loop” and its hopeful phrase, “with every loop, there is a chance of a new beginning.” Like Nicola Liu in Untitled,” I too have wondered if goo on the floor of the train is some form of life making First Contact. MJ Bush‘s “Bea Yourself” was a great portrayal of being on public transit with a kid. Dr Magoo‘s [Note: Eric Martell!] “Riding the Red Line Into Heaven” just opens right up at the end in such a lovely way. Pippa Phillips‘ “Root and Thread” went a WHOLE other place with the prompt, which I always admire. And Phil Coltrane‘s “To Get To The Other” is a terrific example of world-building through narration, with “So glad they don’t have six legs like me.”

Karl A. Russell: So, my first pan-global judging session brought a wealth of wonderful short pieces. It’s great to see so many of you returning every week, and I’m pretty sure that I recognised some of your distinctive voices coming through loud and clear. That feeling of recognition – of being amongst friends – is one of the finest things about the return of Flash! Friday and it’s one more reason why I’ll keep coming back for these few precious weeks. Once these comments have winged their way to our fabulous hosts, I’ll be heading over to see if my suspicions were correct…

But first, we have some winners for you. It was very pleasing (and a huge relief!) to find that Betsy came to the same conclusions as I did, but there were so many great stories along the way that I have to mention. I loved the bleak despair of Chris Milam‘s “Goodbye,” the rhythmic language of Becky Spence‘s”Beneath” and the startlingly surreal lobster of Voima Oy‘s “Rush Hour Afternoon.” The visual playfulness of Mark A. King‘s “The Driver | The Loop” was another stand out, and the cynicism of Allison Garcia‘s “Essential?” cut so close to home right now.

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HONORABLE MENTIONS

First Visit by Tinman

BS: Perhaps because I’ve recently gone through this process with the loss of a lifelong family friend, whose presence just keeps popping in and out of my consciousness, this writer’s description of that strange, disorienting, in-between place of grieving really struck me. Well done.

KR: A meditation on loss and finding yourself newly alone, with the absence of dad’s dad-jokes keenly felt and cleanly detailed.

RUNNER UP

Untitled  by Helen Laycock

BS: I loved seeing all the ways writers played with point of view with this prompt, and this one felt uniquely special. So much character and story contained within, and the ending is just sublime and heart-level.

KR: Taking the low-level photo prompt and staying there, this story gave us a shoe’s-eye view of the daily commute. Some fun, well-written observations (and a lovely soul/sole pun) helped this one reach the podium, and those final lines sealed the deal. Sad and stunning.

And now: it is our pleasure to present to you our

FIRE&ICE WINNER

PEG STUEBER!!!

for

Untitled

(“Our lives, are measured, in clicks”)

BS – I found this one compelling right away. First, the use of the social media language as this “world” everyone is inhabiting, together yet alone – the use of “click” and “fwoop” and even “/endrant” which took the language one step further into the Reddit/radicalization space. Using so few words to sketch all these realities, again right next to each other yet isolated, and then the lurch into the dark and deadly side of this out-of-control technology – so timely, and also multi-dimensional. Really great.

KR — This stood out from my very first read through. The snapshots of different worlds, all the lives about to come to a crashing halt, made it feel so much bigger than the 93 word count, and despite the brevity, each of those lives felt distinct and real. The prompt was cleverly integrated, and the repeated “click….click…” mirrored the motion of the train and gave the writer an easy way to hit the word count without massive rewrites. Best of all, that sudden lurch into a very real horror at the end reminds you that you never know what your fellow commuters are going through… 

Congratulations, Peg! Here’s your winning story:

UNTITLED

Our lives, are measured, in clicks.

ClickClick…clack. ClickClick…clack. Staccato heartbeat of the train.

Click…click…click…click. “What’s for dinner?” “IDK, Mexican?” “Thumbs up emoji.”

Click. ClickClickClick. Click…fwoop…click. “I swear, these PEOPLE.”

Snap. Fwoop. Click..clickClick……click..click..click. Fwoop. “Found this cute rubber duck on the train. r/hiddenducks #awesome #HideandSeek”

ClickClickClick. Click. Click. Loud sniff. Click. “OMG, I can’t believe…with HER???” “How?” “You bastard, it’s OVER!”

Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick. ClickClick…clack. ClickClick…clack. Click. “As our needs have not been met, and our voices go unheard, perhaps now they will listen. This blood is on your hands, President.”

BOOM.

/endrant