HAPPY MONDAY! It’s Groundhog Day here in the U.S., and the headlines say the official groundhog is calling for six more weeks of winter. This is good news, actually, as this week I’ve discovered sweet potato nachos, which is clearly the perfect snowy day dish. Let’s not dash too madly from nachos to pea sprout salads, k?
Couple of reminders: this week our newest feature launches, Wednesday Warmup; starting at 12:01am Washington DC time this Wednesday, come write a quick story and flex those flash muscles. (Wouldn’t do to develop flash cramps on Friday, see.) Today’s winner’s #SixtySeconds interview has been bumped to Thursday. Coming up NEXT WEEK: the first part of our interview with Flashversary champ Maggie Duncan!
Dragon Captains Pratibha Kelapure/Sinéad O’Hart say: What fantastic prompts this week! The image was incredibly evocative, and the clever addition of a ‘conflict’ was inspired. A lot of the same themes turned up in the entries, as is to be expected – we had several versions of the Garden of Eden, and lots of conflicts where the antagonist turned out to be the narrator’s alter-ego – but each story dealt with the prompts in its own way, showing the usual levels of skill and dedication to the craft of flash fiction that we’d expect from the Flash Friday crew. As always, the choices involved a lot of to-ing and fro-ing between the judges, and we both had to fight for our favorites, but we’d like to think the winners’ list does a good job of representing the breadth and variety of the stories presented this week. We particularly loved how some tales recreated the feel of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl, emotionally linking the struggles of their characters to the larger narrative of emigration, poverty and struggle suffered by so many during that time in history – and how often tales like these ended on notes of optimism and positivity. Eventually, the winner was chosen for its fresh, and unexpected, take on the prompts and its imaginative use of the motifs of the desert and the aching chasm between brothers, and we hope you’ll agree it was a worthy choice.
Best Use of A Tall Tale: Peg Stueber, “That’s My Story.” This one made us grin. We loved the ‘tall tale’ motif, the hints at nerdiness, the bar setting, the dialogue, and the title. It was a fresh approach to the prompts, though the ‘conflict’ part wasn’t perhaps as clear as other stories made it; but for all that it stuck in the memory.
Best Use of Dual Perspective: David Borrowdale, “The Dust Bowl and the Mango Tree.” We enjoyed the way this story explored two sides of the same exchange and showed how easily a statement can be misinterpreted, and how devastating it can be. We thought the prompts were well handled and the farmer’s grief was subtly described. We particularly liked how the fact that there are twelve people in the starving family means different things, depending on what side of the conversation you’re on.
Tinman, “First Among No-One.” This was huge fun. Many stories dealt with Adam and Eve, in some shape or form, but this was the one which stuck with us. We thought the dialog between Adam and God was brilliantly done, and the implied conflict between Adam and the yet-to-be-created Eve was a clever, oblique way of handling that part of the prompt. We also enjoyed the visual contrast between the barren landscape of the prompt and the lushness of Eden.
Grace Black, “Scent of Sorrow.” We thought this was a beautiful evocation of lost love, and we also enjoyed the relationship between the two men, whose conflict is understated and dignified, but nonetheless present. We thought Carolyn was wonderfully drawn and her character, despite her absence, is the most significant in the whole story. The phrase ‘Words are moths in my mouth’ was particularly beautiful.
THIRD RUNNER UP
Tamara Shoemaker, “Cracks.” We thought this story dealt well with both aspects of the prompt – the barren, dry landscape, and the conflict between characters – and we liked the angle the author took. We also enjoyed the way the author linked the ‘cracks’ in the landscape and in the relationship between the brothers to the grief felt by the woman, whose face remained ‘smooth as granite’, betraying not a single ‘fission of weakness’ when her first husband is reported killed in action. We thought this story was emotional, but not sentimental; simple, but clever; and its use of motifs and imagery, particularly the conflicts (smoothness and cracks, barrenness and rain) made it stand out.
SECOND RUNNER UP
Emily June Street, “Dustless.” We liked this story’s take on the conflict between characters, which ultimately ends on a positive note, even if the reader has to wonder whether the characters are being unrealistically optimistic. We enjoyed that Tim’s final “We’ll make it” is ambiguous; will they make it back to the farm, or make it in their new life, or both? We thought the story invoked the desperation caused by deprivation and drought very well, and that it described the complex relationship between uncle and nephew beautifully, encapsulating Herb’s love of and exasperation with Tim in fine fashion.
FIRST RUNNER UP
David Shakes, “The Seed and the Sow.” We enjoyed this story for the Bergman-esque feel of its setting. We got a real sense of eternity and myth from the Planter and the Uprooter, and we thought they were an excellent depiction of the constants of creation and destruction that govern so much of our existence. We loved the suspense at the end – will the Uprooter do what he must and destroy the tree? If he does, what will happen to the Planter? The story has such a ‘Doomsday Clock’ sensibility, and we loved that.
“The Hanging Tree (Strange Things Did Happen Here)”
It was a hard choice between Winner and First Runner Up this week. We loved ‘The Hanging Tree’ for lots of reasons: its setting, its characterization, the darkness of its tone, the dialogue and the delicate depiction of the conflicted relationship between the brothers, which reached its inevitable, but terrible, conclusion in fine style. We loved the sense of a larger story world created here, too.
Sinéad adds: I was particularly moved by the lines at the end – ‘”And I ain’t about to break that promise’, Matthew whispered. Then he kicked the rock away.” I love that he whispers that line, making me wonder if he intends the brother to hear, and what, exactly, his promise entailed. I loved all the dialogue in this tale. I thought it was extremely evocative and emotionally understated, which underscored its power. I loved the power play here, too; the trust placed in one brother by another, who is perhaps the physically stronger or more aggressive of the two, and the contrast between this and his almost innocent faith in his brother to do the ‘right’ thing. Pratibha said in our discussion that the story reminded her of ‘Of Mice and Men’, which I guess is apt. I found the story memorable too for how skillfully it shows how desperate Matthew has become while still depicting him in a calm, stoic way, as fits the persona of his character and the rugged, Old West setting. I found the hints at backstory chilling and fascinating – what has he done? Is it the last in a long line of unintended crime? Where should our sympathies truly lie? This open ended conclusion clinched the winning spot for this story.
Congratulations, Joidianne! Hard to believe your last win was JUNE! We’re delighted to offer you your well-deserved third crown. Below is a hauntingly familiar winner’s badge for the wall(s) of your choosing. Here is also your updated winner’s page and your winning tale on the winners’ wall. Please watch your inbox for interview questions for this week’s #SixtySeconds feature. And now, here is your winning story!
The Hanging Tree (Strange Things Did Happen Here)
Matthew twisted the rope between his hands, ignoring the way that the fibres tugged at his skin as he looped it into a noose.
David watched him warily. “You sure this is gonna work?”
“It’s either this or you take your chances with the posse the Sherriff’s probably already put together,” Matthew responded before holding the noose out to his brother.
David grimaced, “You’ll be quick, won’t ya?”
“Ain’t gonna take but a second to get the picture done, then we can get it sent ‘round. Hopefully they’ll buy it.”
David didn’t say anything to that, but he did pull the noose around his neck.
“You know I didn’t mean ta’ hurt her,” David whispered and Matthew sighed because David never meant to do any of the things he did.
“Come on, let’s get this done,” he prodded finally, and David rolled his shoulders before stepping onto the rock.
Matthew tightened the rope, fingers curling around the coil as David tried to catch his balance.
“You know I love ya, right kid?”
David nodded, “I’ll buy you a drink after this one. Ya done right by me, just like you promised Ma,” he admitted.
“And I ain’t about to break that promise,” Matthew whispered.
Then he kicked the rock away.