Tomorrow is the last day of 2014. Time is such a fickle beast. Don’t you remember those long summer days in childhood that stretched on forever and ever, day after eternal, mind-numbing day, and you despaired because you just knew it would never, ever, EVER end?? Then someone flips a switch, and all you can do is shake your head like Grandpa Time saying things like, I Remember the 1990s Like They Were Yesterday and They Didn’t Have Google When I Was a Kid and I Walked to School Uphill Both Ways in Twenty Feet of Snow and Kids These Days.
(Maybe I’m the fickle beast?? Don’t answer that.)
In either case, please accept the heart-deep gratitude of the entire Flash! Friday team for the vital role you played here in 2014. And as for 2015:
May your year be bright and sunny
May your words flow rich and free
May your books make lots of money
May you spend it all on–
PS. A quick note that this week for the HM awards and higher I have linked the winning story titles to the original stories, in case you missed reading them the first time around.
Sinéad: I was struck, this week, by how many stories dealt with themes like masking, hiding, and beginning afresh, and how creatively the idea of ‘the dragon’ was used. Dragons turned up as dearly longed-for children, as a measure of human strength, as a way of describing mental and physical illness, as guardians and enemies, as bestowers of preternatural gifts whose price is, ultimately, too high, and as ancient beings reborn in new skin. They are seen as beautiful and powerful as often as terrifying and nightmarish, but always treated with respect (naturally!) I loved how masks were used as disguises and as means of salvation, as well as windows into a different and terrifying dimension, and especially how one skilled writer made me smile with a sweet tale of a mask being used as a blessing. Ultimately, choosing a winner was a huge challenge, involving many painful decisions, but every story I read this week gave me something remarkable. Well done, everyone.
Pratibha: Frankly, I was stumped by the prompt. But your creative minds brought out so many themes and characters that it is astounding. Dragon fared quite high on the list (as expected), and so did the new year. Emotions ranged from tender to grotesque and everything in-between.
I would have you know that the judges agreed on most of the stories, except for the winner. We went back and forth a couple of times, and there were no flares thrown, and we quickly came to the conclusion.
Special Mention for Point of View: Peg Stueber, “Who Mourns the Dragon?” We liked this because it’s written from the dragon’s POV, and it has a moving, lyrical quality which is relevant to the tragedies and genocides happening in reality.
Special Mention for Title: Craig Anderson, “Paper Cut.” We thought this idea – that the paper dragons were really all-powerful enemies plotting the takeover of the world – appeared several times this week, but this one was fun. We thought the stroke of sibling rivalry was brilliant too.
Special Mention for Best Use of a Dragon’s Head: Becky Conway, “Protect this House.” We love the name Pog, and this little story made us smile. We particularly enjoyed the detail about having to abandon his favourite pair of socks, and the image of a dragon head dancing down the street without any apparent means of propulsion.
Special Mention for Best Use of a Mask: Annika Keswick, “Hidden in Plain Sight.” This story’s treatment of the idea of the ‘mask’ was used here in an interesting and original way. We loved the rhythm of the language, and the recollection of the injury or accident, and the way it recreated, a wounded dragon falling from the sky.
Special Mention for Best Use of Poetry: Stuart Turnbull, “Moments of Stillness.” Sinéad: I mean, a villanelle? I take a bow to any writer who can craft a poem in this form, so well and so quickly! Pratibha: I loved the title and the repetition of phrases. Of course, anyone who can write a complex form poem on a short notice is worthy of praise.
Sinéad: Primarily I like this for the perspective, and for the language, particularly ‘The wiring around your brain was in discarded heaps and more frayed every day,’ and ‘me, Norman… a puddle of uselessness.’ I like how the story begins and ends in the minutiae of domesticity, and the middle section is figurative, imaginative and powerful. I also enjoyed the use of the motifs of light and darkness, the ‘flickering candlelight in the cavernous dark’ almost like a distant dragon, waiting to pounce.
Pratibha: This a dark tale told in a patient and sympathetic voice. The narrator delivers the saddest philosophy with deep understanding and acceptance, “Life wasn’t so neat and predictable. It was more like a flickering candlelight in the cavernous dark.”
KM Zafari, “Trophies.”
Sinéad: I liked the imagery of the dragon’s eyes here, and the power they still wield despite the fact the dragon has been killed. I felt a tug of horror at the revelation that the dragon had been a mother defending her young, and that her mission had been futile. I liked the mention of the villagers, and how the hunter sees himself as the balance between his people being the slayers or the slain, but I also liked the note of uncertainty at the end of the story, when the hunter begins to doubt himself and his worldview starts to shift. As well as the subtlety of the story, it was very well written and expertly paced.
Pratibha: This story highlights a hard-to-swallow truth, “kill or be killed.” How we wish it weren’t so. The most profound line, “They were the same, she and he.” highlights the dilemma of a tortured conscience. Even though of its philosophical bent, the story has the identifiable structure.
Sinéad: I loved this for the phrase ‘An odd thrum makes my spangles jounce’, because how could you *not* love a story with sort of command of language? I really liked the idea here, that the paper dragon is more than simply a decoration or a symbol of power, but an important being in its own right, and its sense of wounded pride and tired irritation made this story stand out for me. I also liked the progression from humiliation to pleasure, and how the dragon realises that some indignities are worth it for the chance to dance.
Pratibha: I loved the images in this story, “I once shook tempests from my mane” and “bubble-tea-cheeked children.” Once proud dragon reduced to a show puppet, but he will not yield his sanity in the face of humiliation. A very sympathetic character!
Sinéad: This story is written wonderfully and with an almost dancing rhythm, making me think of a masquerade ball even as I read, which is compounded by the visual imagery created. I loved the idea of people hiding in the crowd afraid to let their flower bloom in case it reveals its vulnerability, and also the perspective created by the viewer being themselves unseen. Another story which deals with masks, and what lies behind them, but done in such a masterful way.
Pratibha: I liked this story for its reflective tone. It is more of a musing than a story, but the tone and the images such as “brilliant colors and flashing lights distracting all others from the fragile wisps of soul-tears” are breathtaking.
THIRD RUNNER UP
Sinéad: I liked this story because it’s totally unexpected and very original, and I enjoyed the title, too – it has layers. Both Stuart and the ‘dragon’ are invisible, in their own way. I loved the idea that Stuart has to invent someone to tell him how important he is because his own family don’t appreciate him, and then I wondered why this is the case – particularly given that Stuart replies ‘I know’ to the dragon’s declaration that Stuart is a ‘diamond’ (perhaps the man is part of the dragon’s hoard? Who knows!) Overall I found the character compelling, and the story world intriguing, and I loved the use of the idea of the dragon as a sort of ‘imaginary friend’ who may, or may not, have Stuart’s best interests at heart.
Pratibha: An antidote to the holiday “family” gatherings. The tone of the story is humorous, but the underlying pain is palpable. There are some gems of phrases, such as “mouth like a switchblade,” and “He inhales the dragon’s breath, exhales the thick living room air.” This story reminded me of Pete’s Dragon, and that made me smile.
SECOND RUNNER UP
Sinéad: This story’s title was an excellent, and witty, reference to not only the prompt image but also the ‘many-headed’ narrator, who is dealing with conflicting messages from all corners. I particularly enjoyed the way in which the author recreates the visual and auditory disruption the headache causes, and how well it all wraps into a performance, both the dance of the writhing, clashing dragons and finally the gentle whirl of the ballerinas as everything settles into its proper place. Another tale with an unusual take on the prompt image, and a story which made great use of all the senses.
Pratibha: One word, execution. From the opening line to the resolution, the tension builds gradually and unwinds skillfully. This unique take on the prompt left me breathless. The image of the dancers as a collective unit, hydra, as seen through the eyes of an aching head, is painted vividly in the second paragraph. Tension mounts in the third paragraph, as the music reaches the crescendo. I loved the description, “the wings, melded from knives into free-spirited tinsel.” Upon finding the cure for his/her headache, the narrator is relieved and so does the dramatic tension, and the dancers now move “lithe and lovely.” The skillful use of language and clear story arc put this story high on my list.
FIRST RUNNER UP
Sinéad: I loved the different perspective in this story. I also loved the piecemeal, forensically focused way the character’s body is described, and the revelation that she is not a son, which makes it begin to spin, slowly, into pain. I particularly loved the way the prompt is used: the dragonish ‘heat’ pouring from the mouth, and the mention of ‘Eve’ (which brings the mind, naturally, to the serpent – or the wyrm/dragon). I loved how the parent (presumably) is described as ‘chewing on the morsels of… half victory… lulled into slumber’, just like any self-respecting hoard-guarding dragon, and the sense of hope at the end, as befits the hero of any tale. This was a memorable, emotional and accomplished piece.
Pratibha: I loved the gradual disclosure and the expert use of language to tell a familiar yet difficult story. The feeling of suffocation is brilliantly painted as “neat, little gift boxes.” Halfway through the story, the big reveal comes, and things begin to fall in place. I loved the phrases, “I damp down the searing disappointment with academic results” and “chewing on the morsels of this half victory.”
And now: for her first time, it’s Flash! Friday
Sinéad: This story stood out for several reasons: its unobvious approach, for one, and also its oblique references to the prompt image. The colours in Mr Wilson’s tie, the opening of a mouth, and the ‘bite’ of a needle like that of a rampaging dragon all chimed so well with the colourful paper masks which were the inspiration for this tale. I loved how the story utilised not only the idea of predator and prey (in true dragonish style) but also the idea of a mask concealing a hidden identity. When it’s all upended at the conclusion, and we learn who the true holder of power in this situation is, I can’t help but lift my hat to a well-crafted piece of flash fiction. This entry not only tells a story, complete and fully formed, but it also unfolds into a larger, hinted-at, world, where little boys have elemental, ancient, all-consuming powers and poor unsuspecting dentists with cruel wives can meet terrible ends.
Pratibha: This story is well-told with a clear story arc and gradual revelation. I liked how the writer weaved the image of the mask into the narrative: the dentist’s mask, his “fish eyes,” and a “garish purple, hideous orange” tie. The character of dentist is brought to life by the observation: “She must really hate him to give him that, thought Jimmy. And he must really love her to wear it.” The ending is raw and gritty, bringing the irony of “Holiday Deal” in focus.
Congratulations, Steph! Below is your merry and simultaneously creepy winner’s badge for the wall(s) of your choosing. Here is your very own, brand new winner’s page and your winning tale on the winners’ wall. Please contact me here asap so I can interview you for this week’s #SixtySeconds feature. And now, here is your winning story!
Obediently Jimmy’s mouth became a cave, a deep dark chasm for the probe to explore. He kept his eyes fixed on Mr Wilson as the man lowered his masked face towards him, bringing his fish eyes, dead eyes ever closer; a tie, garish purple, hideous orange.
“Present from the wife,” said Mr Wilson, responding to his look.
She must really hate him to give him that, thought Jimmy. And he must really love her to wear it.
“No,” said Jimmy as a needle was produced.
“It’ll stop it hurting.”
Mr Wilson paused, disconcerted. “Do you want your mother in here with you?”
“No,” said Jimmy. “I came on my own.”
He opened his mouth wider still. New Year was his favourite time, when the best deals were always made.
Wider. And Mr Wilson fell into the void his wife had begged for, and Jimmy fed on the pain that only flesh and blood could give.