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Fire&Ice Sol 17/19: WINNERS

§ Rebekah says: Happy Monday! Here we are with the latest round of contest results—a delight, as ever, platforming your words. Speaking of platforms: be sure to drop by yesterday’s Flash!Future if you haven’t yet, featuring Fire&Ice writers P.A. (Maggie) Duncan & Bill Engleson. We’ll highlight two more writers next weekend to round out our collection of Sunday posts. And finally, we’ve just two more contests before closing up our five-month (!) run. This Friday will be judged by the most Excellent Betsy Streeter & Karl Russell. For the final contest on December 18 Deb Foy and I will serve as your judges, and we are excited to mail off a rather amazing pile of prizes to the winner. We hope you all will be able to join us for one last merry round before we collectively and permanently ban 2020 from the present. And now on to the winners!

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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 17’S JUDGES SAY:

Tamara Shoemaker: It’s been so much fun to dip back into the flash fiction world these last few months and reminisce over the short and powerful stories that eke out of the weekly prompts. Thanks again to the Dragons, who trusted me with the responsibility of weighing your words, to my fellow judge Eric Martell, who has good-naturedly put up with my plethora of emails in his inbox during our judging weekends, and to each one of you for consistently dazzling me with astounding stories. I have enjoyed this sojourn!

Two quick shout-outs before we jump into the winners list: Tinman’sWater Sport,” for making me snort coffee up my nose at “burst gloriously through the surface right into the midst of the Danish Synchronised Swimming team.” Helen Laycock‘s Ocean Lament: for the gorgeous and heart-breaking Romeo/Juliet-esque love story.


Eric Martell: In all of the chaos that 2020 has brought, there have been not nearly enough lights in the
darkness, and one that has been a big part of my life the last few months has been the return of Flash! Friday. The combined work of the Ice and Fire Dragon Queens, and their graciousness in inviting me to judge, has allowed me to return to writing and given me the privilege of reading so many wonderful stories. This marks the third and final go-round for me in the hot seat. I appreciate your indulgence and your patience with my judging idiosyncrasies. Thank you. And for whatever poetry I lack in my words, you get to read those of the incredible Tamara Shoemaker.

Before we get to the winners, I’d like to give a few shout-outs to: Becky Spence‘s “Untitled” [I stand on the cliff top]: “Always waiting, for that part of me to return.” StellaKateT‘s “The Sea Shall Give Up Her Dead“: What we lose when we extinguish another’s light. And Phil Coltrane‘s “0°C“: “I’m sorry, my dear. I thought you were someone else.” Thanks to everyone who wrote this week. It took forever to narrow my list down this far.

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HONORABLE MENTIONS

Black Sea Dreams” by Maggie Duncan

TS: This story, encased in some vivid mermaid bookends, shows such a sharp contrast between one life and the other, one subterfuge and the next. Loved it!

EM: When we pretend, for a time, we may become another.

Untitled” (Arielle Danced) by Mark Giacomin

TS: I was particularly caught by the way the words of the story themselves became the ocean in the weighted limbs, the oblivion-covered memories, and the dancing water. Simply gorgeous!

EM: A beautiful story of grief and the dangers of being consumed by it.

RUNNER UP

Waterling”  by Nancy Chenier

TS: This story touched on my mother’s heart and made me tear up a little. Granted, my own children are no waterlings, but most parents identify with the necessary distance that takes place in the inevitable growing stages. I could feel this parent’s despair in this line: “Or all the love I poured into this little boy only for it to evaporate into a spritely haze of indifference, webbed fingers always slipping from my hand.”

EM: We raise our children knowing they are their own people, that one day they will leave us and begin their own lives. We don’t expect it to happen at the age of four, nor that they will sink beneath the sea to begin a new life. This story broke my heart.

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

FIRE&ICE WINNER

BETSY STREETER!!!

for

Untitled (I’m Sorry, I Thought You Were Water)

TS – I agree with Eric in his comments below; the opening line of this one snagged
my attention immediately and kept me riveted the entire way through the story. I loved how this
story is a communication, almost a eulogy from a lover to his beloved who has gone before. The
enforced separation between what is above and what is below is gutting, and brought to mind the
African proverb: “A fish and a bird can fall in love, but the two cannot build a home together.”
The narrator’s impotence with “I fell back…” shattered me; the emotion all too readily resonates
with many of us as we watch our biggest dreams, hopes, desires slip through our fingers. This
was so well done, and very deserving of the win.

EM — What an opening line! The first line of the first story of the week, and I was
hooked. We try to stay attached to the people we love, but we don’t always walk the same path.
Sometimes, they’re not who we think they are, or wish them to be. This story painted that picture
so well, with such vivid imagery, that it was impossible to look away.

Congratulations, Betsy! Here’s your winning story:

Untitled (I’m Sorry; I Thought You Were Water)

I’m sorry,

I thought you were water.

I thought we spoke to each other in waves, and currents, and depths. I believed we felt the same seasons, saw the same colors.

We would swim side by side, every so often touching, squinting in the white sunlight from above, drifting in the dark below. I taught you what I knew. It wasn’t everything.

Sometimes we were still, other times we got tossed around, but we would pull back together like strands of kelp. Free-moving, but growing from the same stalk.

There are creatures that live so deep in the ocean dark they never bother to grow eyes.

You broke the surface, and I tried to follow. But howls of wind and machinery and screeches of gulls lashed my ears.

I fell back helpless, useless, and watched you shrink to a speck, now seen, now not, retreating toward the shore, forever.

Fire&Ice Sol 12/19: WINNERS

§ Foy says: The year 2020 has been a bit “anti-dystopian” to borrow genre-birthing speculative fiction author Samit Basu‘s word (read his definition here), yet somehow we’ve collectively blinked and it’s November, with Election Day in the United States only a sleep away. Whether you’re hopeful or anxious, intrigued or ready to be rid of it all (or like me some ever-shifting amalgam of All The Emotions), please know that no matter the outcome, we dragons at Fire&Ice will be here with strong tea and coffee, and a space to write and grow safely. Because regardless of who wins, the work of making this a better world for those here and those to come will be waiting for us, and it would be our joy to meet that challenge with 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 12’S JUDGES SAY:

Betsy Streeter:  This week’s prompts brought up just a few themes, like, oh, creation, family, ancestry, crime… and the mundane gone very wrong. Which is hard to do – horror is tricky to write because it’s all about those unsettling reveals, suddenly uncovering something deeply not-okay going on. Thank you again for so many tiny worlds to go into and be creeped out by. A few shout-outs: First of all, both VERY short stories, Peg Stueber‘s piece about Geppetto, and Bart van Goethem‘s “Genesis,” packed a punch and were wonderful! I also want to point out Arvind Iyer‘s “The Boy Who Wasn’t a Doll” for pondering generational change in such a unique way. Nancy Chenier‘s “Sharing Is Caring” caused me to hear a creepy piano soundtrack or a music box as I read it. Becky Spence‘s “Replacement” was sad and scary at the same time and made me anticipate some sort of revenge. And finally Mark A. King‘s “The Original Fugitive of Suburbia” for finding superpowers in hardship and difference, something we all seem called to do right now.


Karl A. Russell: As Betsy said, there were some clear themes emerging as I read through this latest crop of mini-masterpieces, not least the idea of children being replaced by dolls – I wonder how many of you are feeling the need for some control over things right now? As much as I’d love a lifelike mannequin of Kirby to sit in front of the laptop for this week’s remote schooling, several of your stories have given me second thoughts though… Creepy, murderous children made particularly strong appearances in Nancy Chenier‘s “Sharing Is Caring” and Stella Kate‘s “From Father To Son“, while the kids in Eric Martell‘s “Planting The Seeds” and Laurence D‘s “Shut Up Freddie!” might actually be better off if they took up arms against their less than loving parents… Some of these stories gave me a real, visceral reaction – and quite a few laughs – just perfect for Halloween reading.

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HONORABLE MENTIONS

Famsimile by David Shakes

BS: Yikes. You think you know what’s going on, and then it gets worse. This is a great example of that frightening realization that something “normal” has gotten twisted in the name of showing the world “we can be a real family.” The way the imagery builds is just terrific.

KR: The serial killer who surrounds himself with mannequins is a well-worn trope, but “Famsimile” takes that idea and gives it a fresh, unsettling twist. Strong imagery and creeping unease help this one stand out.

[Untitled] by Phil Coltrane

BS: What I love about this one is how once you’ve read it, you realize that no matter how many times this simulation runs, the words “I love you” will never get fully said. And bringing speculative/sci-fi into the mix in this was is just so, so clever. Loved this.

KR: The unexpected interruption turns this slice of life into something else entirely. The fact that the protagonist returns over and again to such a mundane moment makes you wonder just what has happened since.

RUNNER UP

No Time to Stop Running by Maggie Duncan

BS: This is one that I find myself expanding into a larger story, and the details are fabulous. I’m rooting for these people, even though apparently they are murderers! That’s another sign of great horror, where you’re not quite sure you’re not pulling for the bad guy. And that sympathy comes through partly in those mundane details, the care taken to give the impression of a “real” family. Super creative, wonderful.

KR: As soon as I’d read this, I went straight back and read it again. The first time through, it was the story of a cunning fugitive couple, faking a family to avoid detection, full of fun little details like changing the names and filling diapers. The second time though… Now it’s a deeply disturbing story about a mother trying to replace the kids she’s at least allowed to die, or has maybe outright murdered. Those funny little details are now shiver-inducing symptoms of an illness no parent wants to consider. Very clever!

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

FIRE&ICE WINNER

ARTIE DINTERS!!!

for

Georgie

BS – This one is a simple, elegant, family moment that does a great job of juxtaposing attempts at “normalcy” of parenting in an extremely not-normal (and horrifying) situation. I also love how the dialogue brings further characterization, shining just a little light on their idiosyncrasies. There is a ton of detail packed in here, which makes it vivid. And again shows how those particulars can be so universal, not because of what they are specifically, but because we all experience life at that detailed, human-scale level. I feel really bad for this couple because they have clearly passed through a terrible terrible transition, and done it together, and agreed on the horrible way they will handle it. In a way, that’s about love. Great story.

KR — Just how damaged do you have to be to try and build a life around the preserved corpse of a toddler? Well, as this story lays out, the answer is very deeply damaged indeed. So much of this is conveyed through the mis-matched dialogue, the couple never quite connecting as they try to keep up their sham lives. Everything is slightly off and there seems to be a streak of jet black humour too – I have to admit, my reading of this was far less sympathetic than Betsy’s, and the thought of these two nutballs trying to “raise” their kid struck me as both horrific and funny, which is not easy to convey in less than 200 words. When little Georgie slumps to the floor at the end, displaying the rotten core of the tale to perfection, I laughed, felt terrible, then laughed again.

Congratulations, ARTIE! Here’s your winning story:

GEORGIE

It was early morning. Ben was cooking eggs and bacon. Linda indulged in latest news. In the background radio played Christmas music. It was that time again.

“Can you turn it off?” Linda said not raising her head.
“It is little Georgie’s favorite song, am I right Georgie?” Ben loomed above his son.

Georgie was a silent child. Gave no trouble to his parents. Always curious about his father’s job. Despite what neighbors talked behind their backs, little Georgie was a perfect child.

A whiff of rot danced with eggs and bacon.

“He stinks again.” Linda said.
“I thought I got the mixture right this time.” Ben turned the bacon stripes over. Knelt to Georgie. “What I got wrong, Georgie?”

Wax was dripping on the kitchen floor. Ben poked Georgie’s arm. Soft tissue met his finger. “Georgie, Georgie why you give us trouble?” Ben sighed. “Will you put him back in a freezer?”

“He is your son.” Linda said louder than she intended.
“I’m making breakfast.”

Georgie silently fell on the floor.

Fire&Ice Sol 4/19: WINNERS

§ Foy says: Man-eating fish and fish-eating men—trouble-makers, the lot of you! Before we swoop on through ice-sheer tunnels to the hearth-fires of the Winners’ Feasting hall, Wednesday we’re sitting down for another update from one of our own, a horror aficionado and veteran flash fiction writer turned short-film creator. Do join us and share your thoughts!

§ Rebekah says: A delight to see you back! Thanks to all who shared their tales this week; if you haven’t read through to hunt for your own favorites, it’s never too late. ♥ And a special shout out to Ken Liu, featured these past couple of weeks at Flash! Future. His English translation of celebrated Chinese scifi writer Cixin Liu’s The Three-Body Problem won it the 2015 Hugo (in fact, it was the first Asian novel ever to win the Hugo Award for Best Novel), and the trilogy has just been contracted for production by Netflix.  Both Cixin Liu and Ken Liu will serve as consulting producers. (Please don’t mess it up, Netflix!)

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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 4’S JUDGES SAY:

Voima Oy: It’s overwhelming to see the responses to Flash! Friday. It’s not that there are no places for flash fiction—there are many, many magazines and journals. Flash fiction is thriving as a form!  No more, “It’s not really writing, is it,” as people used to say.  Just a few words, how hard can it be?

But a piece of flash fiction is more than  a number of words–it contains worlds within worlds. Flash looks easy, but it’s hard to do.  It’s good to have a place to share your work, to experiment, to try something new. Here you will find a community–allies, and inspirations. Here, the feedback and comments really make this place special. And so many great stories!  Thank you for sharing your stories with us. They are all wonderful!

A.J. Walker: It has been a difficult call to choose my favourite stories from such a good selection. I dropped it down from the 52 to 17 (for no good scientific reason) and then from there a top eight and ultimately my top 3. They didn’t tally perfectly with my judging partner – why would they?– apart from the winner. So I guess that may mean that we picked the right winner–and that there were a lot of good stories out there this week.

I’m not sure where the picture would have taken me, but with these stories there was a lot of rough and tumble, fishing, brotherly love and the odd border crossing which is understandable. There weren’t many humorous stories so the ones that were there stood out for me like StellaKateT‘s ‘Old Wives Tales’ and Geoff Le Pard‘s ‘The Lake of Life’ – Twins!


It’s really tough to judge this time, let me tell you. We both gravitated to different things. But we have come to some sort of agreement! Special mentions go to: Arvind R.’s “Sweet Memories of Tomorrow“–I love the time shifts; James Atkinson‘s “With his tattooed back“–How much story in 8 words!; Brian Creek‘s “What Must Be Done“–epic and mythic–great world-building; and Phil Coltrane‘s “Night Swim“–the contrast between the teasing and joking of the day, and the terror of the night. The last paragraph is beautiful!  

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HONORABLE MENTIONS

Old Wives Tales by StellaKateT

VO: Wonderful characters frame this story. And what a story they tell! There is such good humor, friendship and love. It’s a joy to see.

AW: Got to mention a story with humour! There weren’t many this week, and we could all do with some light at the moment.

InkFish by Liane S.

VO: I love the premise of this story–the legacy through generations–the mark that reveals your soul….

AW: a great story about telling a story told well. Loved it. And I’d like to believe in the inkfish. Maybe because I fancy a tattoo.

RUNNER UP

Ripples  by Karl Russell

VO: This one has real horror beneath the surface. It is the story of brothers–what pain they share, how they stand by each other. It is a story of protection, and redemption. It is a tough story, but full of great love, and even hope. A survivor’s hope.

AW: A mean and moody story full of testosterone and brotherly love–had an image of a 1980s movie with a 1960s soundtrack for some reason. 

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

FIRE&ICE WINNER

Nancy Chenier!!!

for

“Raven Craft”

VO – This story seems almost mundane at first, the language is so spare and matter-of-fact. The drowned boys, waiting. But the mythic world unfolds in the details. I love the details–the ritual stoning, the trinkets the girl jingles in her palms. Each boy gets a fitting token. Then the Lake speaks, the girl shakes into ebony feathers. The shapeshifting is beautifully done. Marvelous storytelling!

AW — A great story in itself but what made it stand out to me was some of the beautiful sentences right from the off, marvellous storytelling indeed. 

Congratulations, Nancy! Here’s your winning story:

Raven Craft

The drowned ones loiter on the shore, lulled by lakesong. Scarred longing binds them to her banks, the only mother to ever take them in.

Tia is new here, all scowls and obsidian. She hurls rocks to break the lullabies their infant ears never got to hear. They break her with rocks.

But she comes back.

“Why stay?” She spits a loogie into the glassy face. Their hands curl around stones.

“She loves us,” they murmur. A wet embrace is better than none at all.

“Loves you like farofa!” Tia crows. “She swallowed you whole and crapped you out here!”

They stone her again.

Third time, Tia doesn’t spit or scoff. She sits. She jingles trinkets in her palms.

To one boy, she gives a key. “Skinny Lucio can slide through keyholes.” He drops his rock.

To another, a bean. “Fabian forever has candy in his pockets.”

To the last boy, a watch. “Gasper hypnotizes toads by talking backwards.”

Clutching their new identities, they sidle away from the water and into the woods.

Lake heaves herself upward in a shower of scales. “Is it still a trick if it helps them?” she gurgles.

Tia shakes herself into ebony feathers. “Always.”