§ Rebekah says: Happy Monday! As if the latest round of Fire&Ice winners weren’t exciting enough, did you know it’s also Doctor Who Day, Fibonacci Day, Eat a Cranberry Day, and National Espresso Day? It’s also NaNo Day 23 (38,341 words, or whatever beautiful number of words you’ve written). Wherever this Monday finds you—whether snacking on cranberries or not—here’s to another sunrise, and another day conquering the white page together. We’re glad, as ever, you’re here.
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 15’S JUDGES SAY:
Mark King: I am sad that this is the last time I get to judge. Thanks to the majestic Ice and Fire dragons for their faith and trust in us, and for all the work it has taken to bring this magical place back. Thanks also to the folk behind the scenes who help to get the stories to judges each week. Much gratitude to Steph who shares my timezone, has a great work ethic and has impeccable taste in great storytelling. As writers, you did wonders with the prompt this week, I enjoyed every story and the ones I picked tended to just stand out in some small way. Some quick mentions: Betsy Streeter‘s “Untitled” for the image of grasshoppers and great use of dialogue. Tamara Shoemaker‘s “Soul’s March,” for the creepy and unsettling feeling. Maggie Duncan‘s “Fix Our Eyes Not on What is Seen” for the concise and very effective structure.
Stephanie Ellis: November already and my last time as a judge! Seeing Flash! Friday come back has been wonderful, even though the past few weeks have seen me somewhat absent for a variety of reasons; that being said, I’d like to thank Deb and Rebekah for inviting me to take part, it’s been an honour and a privilege to work with them and Mark. The quality of submissions was excellent, as always, and this week I found the majority of my choices went to those I regarded as a story, rather than an introspective or ‘scene’ piece. I needed to engage with the characters and the stories chosen allowed me to do that. In addition to those on the rostrum, I’d like to mention a couple of other stories. Laurence D‘s “King of the Hill” with its termites having distinct human speech and accents, and Tinman‘s “Transfer of Power,” with its finger pointing to the future destruction of mankind via a growing army of mutant insects, were both great fun and hugely original.
MK: It’s a reverse mirror to the superficial and branded world of influencers. I loved how the story took me to other places, transporting me, almost by word-teleportation – handy we can travel like this with stories when we can’t go physically.
SE: In these days of celebrity status and global powers, us lesser mortals often feel unseen and disregarded and this writing recognises that fact, and in doing so, it also reminds us we are somebody and that there are millions like us.
MK: It’s approaching panto season in the UK so while it probably wasn’t the author’s intention, I loved the thought of this missing eccentric British tradition somehow living on as a termite-mound genie in a story.
SE: A hugely entertaining story; sometimes we just need that touch of humour in our lives and I thought this was perfect. A termite genie granting the wish that would be the downfall of Terrance and Susan.
MK: I loved the world-building in this one. The global nature of it. Those amazing images of buildings being like the termite mounds. The great name-dropping of Scorsese, London, Manhattan, Tokyo and Layla booming across the post-apocalyptic landscape.
SE: A ghost with no one to haunt, such a sad thought. Bleak description of a post-apocalyptic world which we could head towards, if we’re not careful. Although maybe, we are already ghosts haunting ourselves.
MK: This is a highly creative take on the prompt. It appealed to me in several ways. It was unique, it included a familiar tale of ‘progress’ at the expense of nature, it included wonderful images: “At night, they gave off a strange glow, like cities at night.” It reminded me of the film, Avatar, only much, much better. James Cameron needs to take notes from this story.
SE: There is magic in our planet: our ancestors have often mentioned hidden energies or forces beneath our soil which affect us and our lives. This story gives this ancient magic a sci-fi feel, as the planet draws up its defences against the developers. Beautifully written.
And now: it is our pleasure to present to you our
MK – I’m a sucker for an intriguing title, so this drew me in. Then the story grabbed me tightly from the opening and didn’t let go “He’d always been a quiet man. Silently toiling in the fields that surrounded the cottage. I, his shadow, watching his metronome arm arcing with the odd shaped knife he used everyday.” In the middle, we have this amazing image, “We gathered, dressed in black, on the greyest day. Umbrellas shadowing darker faces.”
There is a mastery of storytelling and structure and pacing, yes, it’s showcasing in a microscopic space, just what flash fiction can do. And that ending, what a life. It makes you think and be thankful.
SE — This is a story which must resonate with many of us, as grandparents get older and we drift apart, moving on with our busy lives, knowing they are still there in the background – until they’re not – and we realise we have failed to make time for them, to listen to their stories, thinking our own so much better. This delicate showing of ‘the life lived’ at the end is poignant, an emotional gut punch to those left behind. If only they’d talked. An imaginative take on an image whose markers called to mind those rows of white headstones in a war grave cemetery. Wonderful writing.
Congratulations on your back-to-back win, Arcane! Here’s your winning story:
Notes On a Life Lived
He’d always been a quiet man. Silently toiling in the fields that surrounded the cottage. I, his shadow, watching his metronome arm arcing with the odd shaped knife he used everyday.
Nightfall, he, Grandmother and I would sit within the perfume of the plum orchard. Small words uttered as he split purple flesh with his blade, revealing the sweetest yellow flesh.
As the seasons faded into years I returned less to the cottage, till one day I never did.
When she died he moved into the city. Living in a small terraced house with dirty windows. Each time I visited, he would seem smaller again, as if every breath I took stole directly from him.
Seasons faded into years.
We gathered, dressed in black, on the greyest day. Umbrellas shadowing darker faces.
Sat in pews. An old man struggled to the front, hands trembling, eyes blurring, medals clinging to his chest.
Telling a tale never before shared.
Of parachutes, fighting behind enemy lines.
Of capture, the torment of the prison camp.
Of liberation, the gift the soldiers had given Grandfather.
For his leadership, fearlessness and love.
An odd shaped knife.