Tag Archive | Pattyann McCarthy

Flash! Friday Vol 3 – 37: WINNERS

Thanks to all of you for your patience; you will understand, I trust, just how much effort it takes to wrangle knights, treacherous wives, foolish gamblers, and a talking rooster, none of whom will listen or follow instructions. That said: like one of those awesomely weird mirrored worlds, wasn’t it a riot this week to join a contest in which you told stories about a group of folks telling stories for a contest? 

Following hard on the heels of this morning’s winners’ post will be a second post: that’s right, it’s #Spotlight with our own Aria Glazki, who today launches her brand new book, Mortal MusingsPlease be sure to check back a bit later this morning — not only is it a smashingly fun interview, but she’s giving away a free print copy!


Deepest thanks today to Dragon Team Eight, A.J. Walker & Voima Oy, aka the Valiant Story Wranglers, whose efforts on behalf of this contest are both thoughtful and relentless. Thank you! Here are their opening comments:   

V–It’s a splendid idea for a collection of tales — a colorful group of travelers on their way to a  holy place.  I think the Canterbury  Tales may be one of the finest pieces of  literature in English or any language.  And  you don’t have to be a Chaucer scholar to enjoy them.  They are still full of life and humor — and inspiration. It was a contest then, and now.  What a marvelous bunch of tales you have shared with us — saints and sinners, vengeful wives,  gamblers and knights on quests.  And aren’t we all travelers on this road of life?  Couldn’t ask for better company, or better stories.

AJ- The poetry and prose which came forth from the options available to all the authors this weekend were varied but never less than enthralling. 

Again it was a pleasure to be representing the east side of the Atlantic with Team 8. The broad thrust of the stories begs the age old question… Why did the treacherous woman cross the road? A) I don’t know, but I’d watch my back if I were you!



Best titleBlack Hairy Harry’s Trade-Off by Pattyann McCarthy. I liked this tale  of a rooster and a spider — feasting on fleas in trade for a ride.  Drinks later!

Favorite line: AJ’s favourite line from The Migrant by Bill Engleson… ‘She sought pythonic squeezes of rueful frolic’ – wonderful!

Best writerly tribute: The Scribbler’s Tale by A V Laidlaw. Doesn’t  Chaucer deserve his own tale, too?  It’s so cleverly done–and now we know  where the Wife of Bath came from.  Also a tribute to the writers’ craft we all share. Scribbling, swearing, praying,  tapping…

Best seduction: Pilgrim Adam by Foy S. Iver. I loved this seduction scene  in space. These are   pilgrims heading for the Earth shrine.  Great characters, dialogue  and descriptions –“he fiddled with his tassels.”  Will she win the role of Eve?

Best tweets: #Imawesome by Casey Rose Frank. @Blueknight18 is on a quest–live tweeting his way to Strawberry Fields.  I enjoyed the humor and the hashtags.  Will this language seem as strange in the future as Chaucer’s Middle English?

Best twist: Prank You Lord by Craig Anderson. What a great  twist in this one!   A martyr’s death averted by  practical jokes–or is it divine Justice after all?   “One miracle I could ignore, but not two. Cut him free.”

Most cinematic: The Road to York by Jen Stone. Beautiful descriptions, vivid characters. It reminded me of Rashomon in a way — I would love to read more of this …



A V Laidlaw, The Saint of Tyburn.”

V: I love this saint of sinners — what a great character!  Vivid writing set the scene for me.  fantastic lines — “dance the rope fandango.”

AJ: Loved the image of the potpourri-sniffing gentry ridding themselves of the risk of honest sweat permeating into their day.

David Shakes, “A Knight of the Word.” 

V: This is a masterful piece of wordplay — the “Book of Jobs”  is brilliant!  And yes, the  Apple Store is like a shrine. Mac users are  sometimes described as cultish, especially by followers of  the  Word.  

AJ: I’m a member of this cult and found that yet again my funny bone was hit precisely this week. Making the Genius Bar the shrine was, well — genius.

Marie McKay, “The Kiss.”

V: What  a vivid scene — a description of  courtly love — he feels her lips, and he’s too weak to respond.  “Mr. Knight, you collapsed at the bank.”  The kiss of life for sure.

AJ: Loved this. I didn’t see the twist coming at all. Brilliantly built crescendo, ending with a bang rather than a bum bum tish! Well done.



Jamie Hershberger, “Straight Flush” 

V: So well-played!  The scene is a  poker game and gamblers, but there’s cheating going on.  The shiny tray is such a clever move.  Who wins?  “We’ll see.”

AJ: A fab story told about a few short minutes in time around a card table which spoke volumes about the protagonists. (I’d only just read a short story about a card game by China Meiville and it fit right in). I could see the scene and the people perfectly – I almost grabbed a sandwich and gave the shaking leg a nudge. Poor sucker.


Eliza Archer, “Untitled.” 

V: Why does this great story not have a title?  This story of a cheating wife setting off on a pilgrimage  deserves a title! Such marvelous characters and descriptions.  The writing  is so crisp — “Sin was fattening.”  “she shouted in his ear  horn”  I can see this!  Marvelous twists of this story — with the swearing rooster and the not-so foolish husband.  It is so sharp and alive.  I loved it!

AJ: Puzzled me why the piece wasn’t given a name, but it shows the strength of the piece that it is comfortably in the top three without one! (I must say a good tytle is well wyrth thinking about as it can put the icing on ye prose built cake.) A great story prefaced by a short scene setting then presented through simple dialogue. Repeatedly hit my funny bone – though I’m worried about the news that sin is fattening (I’ve been blaming the pasties and crisps). Best of all was the killer end. Brilliant!

And now: for her FIRST TIME EVER, it’s beloved writer & Team 5 judge, proving that funny can win: it’s our




Brave Sir Eggmund

V- This is Chaucer spirit:

” Brave sir Eggmund came a-courtin’,

his feathers shining bright,

Upon his mighty St. Bernard they rode into the night.”

His brave exploits and knightly quest are described in rhyme with great humor and archaic spelling.   Will he win the fair Geneveeve?   “Goodd king,” he said, and stroked his comb, “I cock-a-doodle-do.”   How could you top the last line?   I  really could see this story as a children’s book.  I think it would be  delightful.  Yes, I do. Bravo!

AJ: This got me on the first pass – a story brilliantly constructed (it only went and rhymed too!). Funny and charming. Monsters with large limbs and – importantly –  hairy toes fought by a ‘chicken on a puppy’ is a lovely take on a tall tale /nursery rhyme. Whoever wrote it (for I know not who) I say bravo for taking on the Canterbury Tale with such poetic bravery (if it turns out to have been written by a rooster on a puppy I am going to give up myself). Not sure how often poetry has won at FFF but I’m happy to see it has this time. Do I think it was the best entry this week? I Cock-a-doodle-do!

Congratulations, Holly: your day is here at last! Please find here your brand new winner’s page; I should add that we’ve had it waiting in trust for you for quite some time now, knowing this day would come! Your winning tale can be found there as well as (shortly) over on the winners’ wall. Please watch your inbox for directions regarding your very first Sixty Seconds interview this week! And now here’s your winning story:

Brave Sir Eggmund

Brave sir Eggmund came a-courtin’, his feathers shining bright,
Upon his mighty St. Bernard they rode into the night.
They braved the roads less traveled, and in places no one knows,
Sir Eggmund fought foul monsters who had large limbs and hairy toes.
They did not take hitchhikers, for their deadline did await
(Besides which the St. Bernard could not withstand the extra weight).
The king of their neighbor country had announced upon the spring,
His daughter’d wed a noble night who served a foreign king.
Brave Sir Eggmund was the best of best, among his feathered kind,
And the princess could do no better, or so it was in his own mind.
“What’s this?” the king did ask of them, when they had arrived,
“A rooster upon a puppy? What joke hast thou contrived?”
“I am here to court your daughter,” Sir Eggmund did declare,
“For I hear she is a beauty, with rosy cheeks and golden hair.”
“How now, you simple chicken, dost thou really believe,
That I would let a chicken wed my dearest Geneveeve?”
Brave Sir Eggmund looked him in the eye with his intentions true,
“Good king,” he said, and stroked his comb, “I cock-a-doodle-do.”


Flash! Friday Vol 3 – 34: WINNERS

WELL, aren’t y’all looking spiffy this fine Monday (especially Stella, fast asleep in her dragon-sparkled jammies)!!!!  So very grateful, as ever (except one week more so), to all of you who pushed up your dragonsleeves to write another round of outrageously stunning stories. You took our dramatically unhappy Anna Karenina places even she hadn’t dreamed of going: she wound up with Vronsky, Karenin, alone, or under Engine, Engine, Number Nine, sure — but also variously on other planets, with dragons, in boxing rings… OK, who are we kidding, mostly she wound up DEED, poor thing, in the very picture of wonderful irony, as she died in stories shimmering and humming with life. How do you do that?!

Btw, COME BACK TOMORROW!!! as we celebrate previous Flash! Friday winner Sydney Scrogham‘s launch of her novel, Chase! It’s another super exciting #Spotlight interview, complete with a chance at a FREE COPY! Don’t miss it!


A marvelous, cotton candied privilege having the captains of Dragon Team Five, Foy Iver & Holly Geely behind the engine this week. Only their second go, and they’re already settling into a comfortable routine. I know this, because unlike dear Anna, they are both still quite alive. And chatty:   

HG: This week, tragedy abounds; exactly as I suspected when the choice of main character is “unhappy socialite.” Congratulations, friends, you have tugged at my heartstrings, broken them, mended them, and broken them again. I had so many feelings that I almost had to resort to writing poetry (and trust me, no one wants to be burdened with my poetry – I’m worse than a Vogon). Honestly, folks, well done – I’m in awe at the skill of this community.

FI: In true Flash! Friday dragon fashion, you’ve slain your scores, woven poetry into familiar fabric, and sent this captain into fits trying to cut down a not-so-short list. (C’mon, people, couldn’t you be a little less amazing!?) Winner and First Runner Up switched places a few times, fighting ink and quill for that champion crown. I would’ve forged a second crown in Hephaestus’ fires but apparently there are rules about that, so the decision had to be made…

Thank you, thank you to Steph Ellis for sending her beautiful Ddraig Goch straight from Cymru with your stories safely stripped!



The “Oh-Snap I didn’t see that coming but I love it” award: Sarah Miles, “Social Status.” In today’s world, this main character is in for a rough time after their announcement. Love it – gave me a great chuckle.

The “D’awww you really tugged at my heartstrings” award: Eleanor LewisMummy-Number-Four.” This story is sad at times, but it’s ultimately precious, and Mummy-Number-Four is a lovely woman.

The “Come drink the Shenandoah waters” award: Mark A. King, The 4:15 Train from Shenandoah Valley.” I loved this story from the start for its ambitious use of heavy eye dialect. Then the S.V. nod cinched it.  




Craig Anderson, “Cold Feet.” 

HG: Ouch. A tale that’s all-too-familiar (but hopefully becoming a thing of the past). Powerfully done, particularly the “I do.”

FI: Another story on the winner’s list to end on only two words. But, goodness, how much weight they carry! Through a more modern perspective, “Cold Feet” took the idea of obliged marriage and made it its own. Deftly, the author provokes that rising dread how many millions have experienced standing by false affection for tradition’s sake. Whether “I do” is spoken in that moment, or, later, when it’s too late, isn’t said but I like to hope that those cold feet were bold enough to run.

Nancy Chenier, “Virtual Ties That Bind.” 

HG: I’m with Grandma on this one, the idea of becoming software is disturbing. The story made me uncomfortable and made me wonder how far I’d go to stay with family; it’s a well-crafted look at a future I fear.

FI: Strong world building was recurrent this week (one of the reasons our job was so difficult. Looking at you “Superiority”), but “Virtual Ties” created a universe that was both foreign and familiar. Though technology pulls us into the future of new bodies and 200-year long life spans, the strength of familial bonds holds, tying us eternally to those we love and the need to remain connected.

M.T. Decker, “Time Warped and Weft.”

HG: This one reminds me of old stories of the Fates and how they weave our destinies. In only a handful of paragraphs, the vastness of entropy bears down upon the reader. Fantastic.

FI: I loved this one for its removed feel (and probably because first person POV, present tense is one of my all time favorite narrative techniques). Much like the voice shown weaving its prescribed pattern, the conflict threads in and out, pointing to where entropy and man work against themselves unintentionally. Short. Beautiful. Unique.

Catherine Connolly, “Barabashka.”

HG: I wasn’t familiar with the lore so I looked it up – and I’m impressed. This spooky tale hints of tradition gone wrong and there’s a haunting feeling of longing throughout.

FI: High, high praise for the author of this gem! Latvian folklore come to life was the last thing I expected to read from a Tolstoy prompt. Original, gripping, and worlds-deep, each sentence harks back to the domovoi and a thousand other questionable traditions we humans cling to out of habit, affection, or fear. Can I request a novel out of this? 


Tamara Shoemaker, “Journey.”

HG: “Less than twenty inches separate us. A gulf of a thousand miles keeps us apart.”The story of a love gone stale, and two hearts separated; a familiar story that affects many every day. A heartbreaking tale that puts light at the end of the tunnel; the closing line is especially beautiful.

FI: So often we read stories about passion starved and fading, but this author paints Love as a journey, with intimacy and distance both. When that chasm opens wide, “Journey” whispers that “touch is a ten-year bridge,” able to heal the deepest wounds. As someone who thrives on love expressed physically, I was happy to see its power represented here in such poetic prose.


Tamara Shoemaker, “Daughter of Eve” 

HG: The main characters unabashed declaration of “It is who I am” sold this one for me. Here is a woman who has no shame in being a woman. Perhaps society has come a long way – but there is much room for improvement. A fantastic study in feminism and it made me feel powerful.

FI: Oh, how I love this one! Many of the stories showed us women either submitting to the place society assigns them (Grace Black‘s “Just Chicken” – So. Good.), or violently rebelling (Pattyann McCarthy‘s “Hush Little Baby” – a powerful piece). The voice in “Daughter of Eve” instead has a quiet confidence. She knows she’s a woman. She owns it. And what began as an insult (“you’re a woman”) becomes a quiet declaration (“Yes. I am.”), making me proud to say it aloud with her.


Nancy Chenier, “Frayed Ties.” 

HG: This story breaks my heart. There are many layers here, a tragedy presented in an almost nonchalant way. I can imagine the speaker shrugging one shoulder as they wait for the train; I can imagine someone crying for them, though they don’t believe anyone should care. In a few words in each stage of this person’s life, you can see how hard it must have been, and you understand why they’re waiting for “until.”

FI: This is the perfect example of why flash fiction deserves its place in the literary world. In only 150 words, a whole life plays out in snap shots: childhood to teenage years to adulthood. Every read through reveals new layers of meaning becoming more complex rather than less, as it’s unwrapped. The structure, too, is phenomenal, guiding the reader through each tragedy with a gentle hand before leaving us standing in the narrator’s shoes in front of those tracks, wondering if now is our own “until.” Where parents should have provided the strongest tie, years of neglect and disinterest have left this individual with only memories and a longing to join that patched-together family.

And now: magnificently battling to the top AGAIN, it’s TWO-time




The Boxer and the Butterfly

HG: “The butterfly is trapped in a body that doesn’t belong”/”The boxer is ready.” The two different but achingly similar tales of two different-yet-the-same characters is a gorgeous glimpse into the chosen theme, “social progress.” They have both taken a bold step to the future, and have both decided to be true to themselves – perhaps in some cases at the risk of their safety, especially for the butterfly. I wonder, is it a butterfly…or is it something more? Beautifully done.

FI: Wow. It would be easy to get lost in this one, wandering between words succulent and soul-catching, waiting for the next sliver of imagery to carry us away, missing the heart of why “The Boxer and the Butterfly” show cases champion writing. But time spent reading and re-reading, tearing the mind away from stunning phraseology, and looking instead to meaning, is well spent. Because why write if you don’t have something to say? Here, the author examines social progress through two dissimilar characters, their desires and what society desires for them. They are not content to be what others say they must and it is this timorous bravery that seals it. Sometimes the bravest things, are done by the smallest and most fearful of us. A worthy winner.

Congratulations (again), Mark! Once (again) we are TOTALLY MADLY LEAPING ABOUT THE LAIR in honor of your win. We’re updating your winner’s page (again), and your winning tale’s (again) going up on the winners’ wall. Please keep an eye on your inbox for interview questions (once more) for Thursday’s #SixtySeconds feature! And now, here’s your winning story:

The Boxer and the Butterfly

The boxer imagines the soft, dry powder of talc soothing roughened knuckles of pain. White dusted on criss-crossed burgundy fissures—a snow-capped mountain of scars.

The butterfly is trapped in a body that doesn’t belong. Society dictates the mundane caterpillar appearance—dragging the butterfly down.

The boxer imagines the weight of the gloves, the torsion of biceps, the dancing of feet on springy canvas. The boxer imagines the bloodthirsty collective din of the audience as glove connects with face.

The butterfly is beaten, derided and punished for being something it should not be.

The boxer is ready. In the locker room she kisses the picture of her children, ignores the banners telling her place is at home and she enters the arena.

The butterfly is ready. He covers his injuries in majestic kaleidoscope-colours and walks the streets of Russia with tentative, watchful steps.


Flash! Friday Vol 3 – 32: WINNERS

Welcome back!!!! A dystopian humdinger of a round here at Flash! Friday, whose terrifying scenes were ameliorated only by the pleasure of seeing returning oldtimers (yes, I mean you, dear Cindy Vaskova! and my precious Beth Peterson!) and some marvelously talented new folks, join the increasingly fierce competition by our resident draggins. Clive Tern noted that some stories cleverly melded visions of the future (“It’s like Orwell and Bradbury had a brain baby”); other stories like Josh Bertetta‘s “7R4N5P051710N” melted more than one reader’s brain (“it was dribbling out my ears,” said Foy S. Iver, shaking her head extremely carefully). Each story was breathtaking (in some cases literally; for legal reasons I shall not tell you about David Shakes and all the dead bodies).

SCRABBLE UPDATE! A very important note thanking all of you for your many suggestions for my game with my mother. I wound up using Clive Tern‘s suggestion of “ashlared” (thanks, Clive!) which didn’t use the Triple Word Score but still netted me 59 points. Upon which my mother promptly played the TW herself and scored 42 points. Our current balance is 247 (her) to 240, and it’s not looking particularly good for me this round. Woe betide and all.

rof2Looking much more promising this round: we’re of course handing out lots of Ring of Fire badges today: remember that if you’ve written stories at least three Fridays in July, your name can go up on the Wall of Flame. Each badge you earn equals a chance at the jackpot of prizes at year’s end. Read all about it here!


Bravely judging for us this round was Dragon Team Seven, IfeOluwa Nihinlola & Nancy Chenier. They battled gleefully over which stories they felt deserved top honors (a battle which improved drastically once additional pots of coffee were served). Judging your fine tales is never an easy task, but I’m sure both would agree the stakes felt much higher this round what with Big Brother’s suspicious eye on them.  

NC: Dragon Team Seven’s first foray into the Flash Friday judging lair. It’s proven as rewarding as it is challenging (especially now that most of the work has been done). Orwell’s 1984 was the inspiration, and what a dystopian array you’ve come back with! Gut-wrenching and gut-busting, brutal and hilarious, heroic and desolate. I savored all the many flavors of subversion, cheered at the successes (even minute ones) and crushed dandelions in despair over the failures. What an honor to get to pore over so much talent. If I had but world enough and time (and a toddler who’d take longer naps), I’d gush over all of them.

Thanks go out to Holly Geely, who surmounted electronic challenges to prepare the stories (removing author names) so that our team could give a fair reading to every entry.

IN: Phew! 79 entries from a 1984 prompt. I didn’t see that coming. How the writers manage to do so much with the prompt week in and week out is amazing. It was a pleasure to read through all the entries. There’s a part of me that feels if I had more time to read over all of them again and again, I’d be able to defend including any on this list. Thank you all for producing such good writing.



Best Three Sentences to Ever Open a Story: Clive TernThe Improbability of Unrelated Casualty.” Such a lively piece: a crackling and absurd deconstruction of the Santayana saying.

Most Terrifying Dystopia, Arachnid Edition: Pattyann McCarthy, “One Down, One to Go.Rollicking fun, though not for the hilariously-clepped characters!

Best Subversive Use of an Acrostic: A.J. Walker, “If You Love Me You’ll Send Cake.” On the surface, a rambling, small-talk letter to Mom and her sweet motherly reply

Best (and Only Excusable) Use of 1337-speak Ever Crafted: Josh Bertetta, “7R4N5P051710N.” My brain hurts now. Was I the only one who saw David Bowie as the would-be savior from the 0N3 1D34??



Colin D. Smith, “Mightier Than the Sword.” 

NC: Usually our first experience with tyranny is via our parents, and through Andrew’s eyes we get a double-barrel of oppression. The father may remind Andrew (and us) that context is everything, that Andrew’s version of history may be a bit skewed. And yet, the father’s actions (trashing the journal, taunting his son) and Andrew’s fear of what his punishment might be (injury to his hand), shows that Andrew’s version may hold at least a kernel of truth.

IN: Oppression is usually communicated to the oppressed physically. Bodies are broken down as a way to deal with the soul. This story shows that in intimate details: burning fingers as sheets whipped them. But the physical is really just a means to an end. It is powerlessness that the tyrant wants the oppressed to feel. “..removing his last line of defence.” The title of the story felt ironic after reading: the pen is only mightier than the sword when there’s a hand to hold it.

Mark A. King, “Large Kidron Collider.”

NC: I loved the attribution of Rome at its disintegration as the site for this dystopia.  The historian character is compelling and my sympathy grew for him with every paragraph, from his writing against the grain of “history” as it appears in the third paragraph by relaying the ugly side of the Empire, as well as in the way he holds the lessons of the past right next to his heart (his optimism over what the events in Kidron might ultimately mean for humanity). The subtle presentation of the “event” in Kidron Valley drew me in. Of course, I was aware of the “event” described. I am really curious as to how it might read for someone who isn’t clear on the references. I like to think the mystery created by the sublime language of the repeated phrase might make it accessible anyway.

IN: This story attempts to tell all that should be known about Kidron Valley within the word limits, and it manages to achieve that with great use of language. Past, present and future all come together in the valley, presented as sweeping array of details. All is held together by the kindling sacred ground, a tinderbox ready to ignite at the slightest spark.

Amberlee Dawn, “Baker’s Magic.”

NC: Wonderful opening sentence. Even though I had a fairly good idea I know where this was going, the deft execution of it left me satisfied. The details are just tantalizing, blending gustatory indulgence with the slow poison of subversion. The descriptions of the Fair Society’s excessive appetites inspire so much antipathy that even if the MC hadn’t defended his/her subversion with the loss of family, I would have been rooting for him/her. I’m hungry to know how s/he bent those “thought-walls”.

IN: First line: “Revolution rode the backs of my croissants.” Verdict: Perfect. From there, the story moves deftly to show food as a vehicle for rebellion. There’s a rhythm to the chopped sentences that added depth to the story (some great use of commas too). The penultimate paragraph sealed its place on this list for me, starting with “As their stomach curved, so their minds followed.” It is such a nice description of potbellies that is one of the symbols of the political class in my darling country.

Betsy Streeter, “The Lesson.”

NC: Oh, the little rebellions are the best, like a dandelion growing through concrete. Here is a piece that really illustrates the strength of show over tell: here we see the battle being played out over a child’s drawing, the argument over the “right” color (as opposed to the true color) reveals so much about the world and the players. The interplay between characters holds this all together for me: the main conflict between Mrs. Melrose as the representative of an oppressive, thought-policing society and Parker as well as the alliance between Parker and Eleanor. I’ve taken to heart the lesson I got out of this: that the crayon is mightier than the sword.

IN: There must be something about censorship and rebellion that takes writers back to school and childhood. And of the stories that explored that in this round, this was one of the best. There’s the idealistic child who is bent on keeping his alien view of the world, and the teacher, Mrs Melrose, whose imagination has been calcified by constant surrender to the status quo. “Water is the color I say it is” has to be one of my favourite lines.


David Shakes,Will They Never Learn?” 

NC: This is one of those stories that I finished and said to myself, “Oh, yes, I liked that.” The voice is just great: flippant and naive despite being subjected to some of the worst the totalitarian government. S/He seems to trip along in his/her simple way doing his/her own thing, not necessarily meaning to be subversive but being so anyway. The short paragraphs unrolled the world in nice bite-sized chunks (appropriate for the simple-seeming MC). I chuckled over the creation of “syntacticians” (which is probably where my genetic profile would slot me) and then laughed aloud over them being jailed with the MC for their rage. The ending echoes the beginning—challenging the idea that those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it. This narrator remembers quite well, but doesn’t recognize the repetition — and there is probably a lesson in that.

IN: I did a U-turn on this one. At first, a formatting method I had no knowledge of kept me looking in the wrong direction. First line was great: set the tone for the story and established character with the question, “Where’s the harm in that.” The lightness of the story—I could see the narrator grinning at “That hurt”—disguised the horrible realities it’s been subjected to: maximum security, gene therapy. The ending hacked back to the beginning in a way that suggested the narrator was stuck in a vicious cycle, undermining his/her cheery view of the situation.


@dazmb, “Cockroaches.” 

NC: First line and I was won over. It didn’t let me down the rest of the way through, either. Every time I read it, I feel like I glean a little more. The pivot around the middle verse just obliterates me: the volatilizing of memory until “Imagine loving your family” becomes “You have no family” through a series of brutal, soul-crushing steps. As depressing as that is, my optimism is kindled the tiniest bit, because the speaker doesn’t continue to parrot the commandments in the last stanza despite the repetition of waking to the radio (which is most likely talking about cockroaches again). That s/he can still imagine, can still feel, may be a source of torture, but it also provides a spark of hope for change. The positioning of the radio in the first and last stanza bespeaks of the media’s role in rewriting even the most personal of histories and its persistent hand in “othering” enemies of the state. Emotion simmers through each and every line until it dares to break out at the end (even if the admission is one of futility). I love how this could be a future dystopia as easily as it could be any oppressive regime from history.

IN: At first, the imagery in this story is what kept it on my list. I went back to it again and again, not comprehending, but also unable to demote it on the list. Then my partner shared her thoughts about it and it became a favourite. I recently read about how people dehumanise others to enable oppression without guilt. This story brought that home. The writer could have chosen to write the story in conventional paragraphs, but leaving the sentences on individual lines gave each image room to make a strong impression.


Margaret Locke, “Ignorance is Strength.” 

NC: Someone has written their way right into this trekkie’s heart. There is so much to like about this one. The light, hilarious conflict between the two characters over language lures me in, but then it sets up a shockingly stark contrast to the man vs. society conflict of the world in which they live, a conflict that seeps in through the window and manifests in hints like the MC’s raw red hands. The central image of a playing child getting trampled by marching soldiers illustrates totalitarianism at its ugliest: the cruelty of mindlessly following orders no matter how horrendous the consequences–and, further, the paralysis of the common folk to speak out against the atrocities of an “average day”.  I think what I enjoyed most is that some of the “mistakes” speak a more accurate truth than the correct trek-maxims in this horrible world.

IN: Simple descriptions, no exposition, yet the stilted conversation and the internal monologue were good enough to help me form a good image of the characters in the story. “They tread on him with no second thoughts, and soon red joins the monochrome color scheme.” That third line in a sequence that showed one of the characters looking outside the window into the story’s world gave me have all I needed to know about its horror. It’s a simple story that makes me wonder about the relationship between the characters, and how much of their circumstance is a result of the evil outside their window. Loved it. Did I mention that I’m a trekkie?

And now: join me in congratulating the he’s-not-going-to-believe-it, first-time




Five Cerulean Flowers Under a Dandelion Sun

NC: Right from the title, I knew I was in for something special. The voice of the child is wonderfully captured, in the clear language, the short simple paragraphs, and especially in the interplay of insecurity (“Do dogs have feet like that?) and childlike confidence (“clearly it’s me”). But what really strikes me is the tightness of the conflict. I can feel the child’s pain over the Daddy figure lurking upstairs. The misdirection with the flowers is the kind of resourceful-genius a child would resort to—and all the more tragic since the teacher could offer an escape. At first I thought it might be a divorce and the father has been estranged from the family. Then the last line was a lance straight through the heart. It made the lines about both Daddy AND Mommy assuring the child that “Daddy loves me” hurt so much more. So, despite my being a die-hard speculative fiction fan, this piece of flash throttled me into ranking it on top. Well done.

IN: The matter-of-factness in the narrator’s voice was one of the most striking things about this story. She had the curiosity of childhood as shown by the question, “Do dogs feel like that?” But the stark clarity of the rest of the story showed this is was child forced to grow up, forced to manage the feelings of those who were meant to protect her (teacher, mother), while dealing with the worst form of tyranny. By writing about the beautiful things she was drawing in that flat, mature voice, the writer made it clear the girl derived no joy in the activity. I went through the story with this on my mind, and yet, was sucker-punched by its ending.

Congratulations, David! Here’s your very own incredibly ornate (if somewhat dark and creepy) winner’s page and your winning tale on the winners’ wall. Please contact me here asap with your email address so I can interview you for Thursday’s #SixtySeconds feature! And now, here’s your winning story:

Five Cerulean Flowers Under a Dandelion Sun

The sky is blue. I drew it myself at the top of the page, next to the yellow sun.

“And who is this?” Mrs Reynolds asks, pointing to the dog.

I tell her, wondering if I should have made it browner. Do dogs have feet like that?

“And is this you?”

I nod. Clearly it’s me. Yellow hair.

“So this is Mummy?” Pointing to the person next to me.

She’s smart, Mrs Reynolds.

Her finger drifts over to the house. Pink walls. Smoke curling from the chimney.

“And who is this, looking out of the upstairs window?”

It’s like that feeling you get when you lose mummy at the supermarket and they have to say your name over the big speaker. I look at the face in the window and it makes my chest hurt.

But I don’t let it show. I know what Mummy says. I know what Daddy says. We love Daddy. Daddy loves us.

“Is it Daddy?”

I nod again. The blue crayon is still in my hand, so I make flowers on the front grass.

“Those are pretty flowers.”

I draw five, because she’s not pointing at the window any more.

I can still feel him though; watching me plant the little blue petals. He’s in my room. Looking out.

We love Daddy. But I wish he wasn’t in my room.