Flashversary 2014: Semifinalists’ Tales

A Shadow in the Blackness

by Chris White

The smoke rose. Flames licked at houses stacked like kindling – such beautiful colours – and screams rang out, cut off by the sudden, jolting

crash

of falling timber and collapsed masonry. The heat pushes gently at the membranes of my wings, granting me flight, and the once-cold iron that bound my ankles warms and warps, bending as I pull my legs free. I rake at the cobblestones beneath my feet, gouging loose the stones, and bellow into the night – my guards are busy, struggling to douse the orange tongues I cast about myself, my shield – and I let the warmth take me, carrying me upward into the night.

I am a shadow in the blackness, a scar on the night sky.

They flock to the church, scared little birds, watching their village burn.

I swoop, wings folded back.

I am death, I am destruction.

I am vengeance.

 

Born To Burn

by Chris Milam

My name is Benjamin. This is a goodbye of sorts. You may have seen my work on the news over the years. You won’t grieve for me.

Fire was my morning coffee, my lady in lingerie. It sparked the blood. I thought about infernos in the shower. I forged an alliance with gasoline, an incendiary relationship. And when I ached, I struck a match.

I derived no pleasure from carnage. I felt vacant when a church became embers of charred salvation. When the molotov cocktails splashed on the grinning do-gooders, their terror didn’t captivate me, it was the machinations of the blaze; the manner in which it pursued its quarry. There was beauty in the way fire slithered, a deceptive gyration, like a supple ballerina contorting her body.

My mind is incurable and hell awaits. Tonight, I seek a combustible untethering. The flame will taste the skin of its lover.

Burning Away Sins

by Carin Marais

Soon the library would be ashes. Scattered dragon tear stones burst into flame as she spoke the words of a dead language. She could feel the fire devouring wood and parchment, melting jewelled bindings, erasing words, charms, incantations. Remnants of written pages fluttered in the wind. In a bag hidden beneath her cloak was one last copy of the knowledge. Her brothers and sisters were silent statues in the flame-shadows. Together they had sworn to destroy all they had wrought by calling on powers and beings they could not control. Now they would clean the slate with fire, burn the knowledge, strip away the memories. Burn away their sins? Maybe there could be atonement in forgetfulness.

She felt the weight of the book and her broken oath. One last sin to keep the knowledge alive, but hidden away. To bring light in the darkest time. That could be her absolution.

Burning Question

by Eliza Archer

All they can see is fire. I’m sure it will be days before they realize I’m inside.

Conflagration attracts attention. On any planet, creatures love to watch things burn. I’m not sure why it always draws a crowd. That’s how it works, the brilliant synergy. The spontaneous combustion of my craft hitting water summons the resources I need to regenerate.

Perfect.

I’m sure there are hundreds gathering on the shores of this quaint primitive collective, watching the spectacle of fire on the water, the red and orange tongues of flame lapping the night sky.

Will there be whisperings of dragons?

On planets like this, there are always fables of winged beasts breathing fire, falling from the sky.

As I devour my prey, those masses fleeing on the shore, hoping to somehow escape my massive jaws, I cannot help but wonder. Am I a dragon?

No.

Dragons don’t exist.

I do.

Cardinal Spark

by Brady Koch

Once the roof collapsed into the bigger fire below there was zero chance of saving the building. Henry considered all of the devotion that had gone into building the congregation up to the point where a capital campaign for the church would even be feasible. He had lost his commitment to his faith long ago, but thought this building would be a final gift to the believers he’d shepherded over the decade.

Watching his church burn, Henry knew this was the retribution for his sins. He threw his clerical collar into the embers of one of the pews and watched it curl. The cinders kicked up again. A gold wedding ring had been thrown into the fire in the same place. He looked over and remembered Sheila was with him. She rested her head on his cheek and whispered into his ear “Do you like what I’ve done for us?”

Enough

by Emily June Street

Tommy O’Brien had had enough. He hid his supplies in the church’s narthex and headed to the vestry to change into his altar boy robes, checking that he wasn’t too early.

Too early was when the unspeakable happened.

Too early was Ryan Lynch, sniffling outside the vestry, shocked and empty-eyed—a look Tommy knew too well.

“Get outta here, Ryan.” Tommy’s face hardened. “I mean it. Is the priest here?” He gestured at the closed vestry door. He would not call the man Father.

Ryan nodded, wide-eyed.

“Anyone else?

“No.”

“Then get lost.”

After Ryan departed, Tommy returned to the narthex and opened his jugs of fire-starting fluid.

No more cloying, dirty fingers.

Tommy poured generously throughout the front nave.

No more admonitions to keep God’s little secrets.

He stepped into the church entrance.

No more sin and shame and silence.

He struck a match.

Threw it.

He’d had enough.

Escalation

by Alissa Leonard

They set the fire on purpose.

To contain.

To protect.

A few, upset, protested peacefully. When that fateful spark jumped, no one could’ve predicted the damage. Destruction. Devastation. Smoldering embers of rubble that once held people’s lives and livelihoods.

Vitriolic hate spurted from both sides. Blame surged hot, spreading faster than fire. Virulent voices spewed condemnation, pointing fingers and vilifying everyone.

The next fire may have been an accident.

But not the next.

Or the next.

Soon the world was burning. Retaliation. Revenge. Retribution.

Ash and smoke choked our throats and our bodies smeared with soot as we scrabbled through the blackened wreckage. Searching. Seeking. Scouring. Scrutinizing. Sifting. To find the grain of truth. The right. The side.

But there was nothing.

Nothing left.

Nothing gained.

Listless among the ruins, the ravages of what remain, we dream of refreshment.

Water.

A deluge to quench the fires raging out of control.

Fire with Fire

by Nancy Chenier

Double-glazed windows smother the raging howl outside. Embered glows push past elephant curtains to tickle your cheeks. You sleep through the horror that will soon find us.

Heroes are not born. They’re carved from necessity.

When the abomination hunched over the horizon, I knew I couldn’t keep running. The dark alien fire blistered the sky and ravaged the land. Worse yet: it sank imperceptibly into flesh to devour the tiny flicker of human soul and increase itself.

Filling street cleaners with gasoline, detonating gas stations, torching structures—all necessities, heroic or not. Fire to break open flesh and release the sparks before the black flames could get at them. I released thousands.

Thousands were easy compared to this. In the nursery, surrounded by circus animals. Dark fire on our threshold. Petrol stings the air. Necessity is harder when it has a face. Yours, sheltered in sleep. Mine, lit by match-light.

For He’s a Jolly Good Dragon

by Bart Van Goethem

“You overdid it, Jerry. As usual.”

“What? Give me a break, Dean.”

“These nice folks bring you a cake for your second birthday and look what you do.”

“Hey, it’s my party and I spit fire if I want to.”

“The candles were already lit, Jerry.”

“Okay, so maybe I wanted to add a little pizzazz to the festive atmosphere.”

“Seriously? Is that your explanation for incinerating over 300 people on a market square? With everything else on it? For over decades dragons and humans have been living together peacefully. And now this.”

“I’m sorry, Dean.”

“There’s no excuse for being an idiot, Jerry.”

“Is that the sound of sirens?”

“What do you think? The cavalry is coming. Time to go in hiding again. And while we’re flying away, don’t snap at the helicopters, okay? You’ve already made a big enough mess as it is. Happy birthday, Jerry. Happy birthday.”

Friendship

by Sarah @FictionasLife

Her dreams were the only place Chelsea felt safe anymore.

In her dreams, letters stayed where they were written. In her dreams, it didn’t rain. In her dreams, her stepfather moved to Seattle.

In her dreams lived Dragon, ever changing. Sometimes he camouflaged himself to his surroundings, other times he was chartreuse in a beige world.

Dragon gave her confidence. Dragon didn’t laugh when she made mistakes. Dragon sheltered her from the rain. Dragon chased her stepfather to Alaska.

They laughed when Chelsea talked about Dragon. She knew it sounded impossible, yet she couldn’t not talk about her only friend.

Then one day Dragon sneezed. A dragon’s fire spreads quickly. Chelsea didn’t draw attention to the spark on her desk until it ignited the curtains and the ceiling. Teachers evacuated the school as the fire spread. The children cheered as smoke billowed and flames climbed.

Nobody laughs about Dragon anymore.

 

Fury

by Marie McKay

His fever burns tonight. They see it blister on his brow. They see its dark flash behind his eyes. On nights like these, soft shod, he advances up the hall.

His oily hair makes marks on both their pillows. Questions to Mama in the morning will go unanswered. Their spirits wholly crushed, beads of sweat send up their involuntary petition, and each of them – especially the older of the two – feels the shame of wishing him on the other. Feeling the heat of Hell on her cheeks, she imagines herself incendiary: igniting, her flames tearing up his desire; cauterising, pain a fading ember.

When they’ve run out of hope and hall, they feign sleep – clumps of bedcover eaten up in their small hands.
His wet breath is just outside. He takes a moment to himself, left or right, tonight …?

But in a blaze of glorious fury, his elder daughter strikes.

 

INCENDIARY

by DJ Chapman

The schema of familiar faces appears in fiery thoughts. Windows of burning wrath, unquenched through controlled executive assault, shatter in response. No amount of mental quelling stops the burgeoning flame as it skims along the gyri and convolutions of my gray matter.

Hell inside me, spawned by opposing forces, rages untapped within cranial contours: a vault with small hope of escape.

Why does she act this way?

Why does she get all she wants?

Why does she go where she wants?

Point of origin does not matter: she scorches the most minute of corners, oxidizes walls, creates new neural pathways for rage to flow. Ceilings explode on every topic upon which her fire licks. No recess holds refuge from her incendiary mental march.

Until the heat reaches the cingulate gyrus, the umbrella, my ashen mind succumbs. And then my own primitive fire finally matches force: backdraft enough to snuff her.

 

IT’S LIFE, AND LIFE ONLY

by @Lloydyes

That is one big lump of a mumsy clumsy log. The branches and stumps have been sheared. It is neat and smooth with a tufted velvety sheen. But did you really think it a good idea, when you wanted to make a dragging log? Now it is a pushing log.

Beware the delicate flowers, do not crush the trees or toes. It is no tangerine. With a smile it lightens, frowning adds the weight – no, do not wait, go!

Go! Look to the distance. See the flames splitting the dark sky. They stay in the same place and yet they recede as you advance. Drag drag that log, do not push. You need to spear the road. Float, sprint, stumble, kneel and arise and move along.

Jostle the throng. Climb the bridges, slide the deserts, tumble the down. Drag on the log. Drag on the fire. Sleep till dusk.

 

Let Sleeping Dragons Lie

by Matt Lashley

After an afternoon of burning huts, terrifying villagers and sampling livestock, the dragon was spent.

“I’m spent,” said the dragon and, its mission almost complete, stretched out to take a nap.

Unknown to the dragon, a young and handsome knight, who was also a ruthless and opportunistic prince, watched from a thick thicket. When the dragon’s eyes closed, the prince crept toward its head for he meant to take it.

Unknown to the prince, a dragon’s eye has three eyelids and only the thinnest set of this dragon’s eyelids were closed.

The prince raised his broadsword but just before he could land a decapitating strike, the dragon flicked its tail and swept the prince under its talons.

“Please spare me! My father will give you gold!” cried the prince.

“Silly boy, your father sent me,” said the dragon, then twisted its foot and wrenched the prince’s wriggling torso in two.

MAGGIE’S LEFT HAND

by Betsy Streeter

They say blood from the left hand travels straight to the heart.

“Did you notice anything unusual Monday morning, ma’am?”

“No, Samuel was late for school and left in a rush. We didn’t speak.”

“What about his demeanor – did he seem agitated? Upset?”

“Not really, like I said, he rushed out.”

“Any fights with other students, problems with teachers?”

“Not that I know of.”

Maggie’s pulse pounds in her left wrist and her forehead. Her arm aches.

The officer stands. “Thank you for speaking with us, Mrs. McCabe. You understand, we have to piece together what happened at the school – no one is accusing your son. You understand…”

“Yes, thank you.”

“We’re very sorry for your loss.”

“Thank you.”

The officer nods and makes his exit. The screen door slams shut.

Maggie peels open her stiffened fingers. The crumpled journal page expands.

I WILL BURN YOU ALL DOWN.

 

Memories Ignite

by Grace Black

A murder of crows sliced the silence. A poetic caw, but not a metaphor.

Days spent as a stranger in her own freckled flesh and glasses too large for her face were recalled in an instant. Falling off her bicycle, flunking weekly spelling assignments, she’d done little right in her youth.

Concealing the outward appearance of her imperfections became necessary. Self-taught makeup application and contact lenses facilitated the transformation. Her practiced smile plastered to reveal nothing; a mask for crooked teeth.

Her misused armor trapped the enemy inside.

Books became her Trojan horse. She tucked notes in margins and memorized vexatious vocabulary for the pop quizzes her father adored.

Memories clung as pyre of her past.

“Stupid, stupid, stupid—” The delayed match, her father’s raucous words struck.

Smoke, like her childhood, left a grimy film and permeated the paint used to conceal.

She was burning, burning with self-loathing.

 

Pyromaniac

by Peg Stueber

Flame.

Orange against black. Subtle licks of cerulean, scarlet, saffron and emerald flare into being to vanish in an instant without a trace. Elongated fingers of incandescence stretch into the void to momentarily paint their essence onto the obsidian night sky.

Inferno.
It is alive with movement – sliding, shifting, waving, weaving – its hypnotic, primal dance both beautiful and terrible as it crafts a timeless, mesmerizing, elemental ballet of destruction.

Blaze.
The voice of combustion, a low, throaty growling howl of clean air transformed to sweltering luminescence, whispering secret desires into the ears of those who worship it.

Immolation.
They listen, comprehending the flare’s song in that most primitive portion of the brain. They stare, glassy-eyed and slack-jawed, into the complex twisting leap and swirl of the living flame. They are powerless to resist the compelling demands of spark, ember, pyre.

Intentional.
Some men just need to watch the world burn.

The Fire This Time

by Maggie Duncan

We should have left earth before it started to burn. No, before the ones left behind burned it.

We had decades to figure it out, and that should have been enough. That would have been enough except for those who denied the science. They wanted it to burn, to fulfill prophesy.

The first obvious fact was everyone couldn’t go, and we tried to be fair in the choosing. Rules look good on paper, but the truth is money rules all. However, the one-percent will find wealth means nothing in cryo-sleep.

Before we all close our eyes to wake a century or two or seven from now on a new earth, one it’ll take us some time to burn, we left the communications channels open to remind us what we’d done. We listened to the earth dying.

But, oh God, when we sleep, will we still hear the screaming?

 

The Runner

by MJ Kelley

In the morning, skeletal buildings puffed smoke from their charred innards. He ran between them, wearing yellow shorts, his shoelaces lime.

Rubble littered and buried the streets. Distant gunshots echoed.

He ran before soldiers sitting on a tank, their heads rising from breakfast plates.

In the plaza, his cleats crunched blackened tourist trinkets. He shuddered.

He ran by the park, its trees leafless, their trunks black masts against an overcast canopy.

He passed the perfume shop, its scents now blended into one foul odor, glass bottles merged into twisted, ashen sculptures.

He vomited in an alley, hiding so soldiers wouldn’t see.

Endorphin high, he flew along the canal, throwing forward his numb, rubberized legs. The canal held nothing. He had ordered it drained.

“Remove the water. Burn the city,” he had ordered.

He ran on, lungs heavy with soot. Charred drapes rippled overhead. He swore they whispered his name.

 

To the Victors

by MT Decker

The great Khan watched as the city before him burned. The fools! They had but to give the proper tribute and they would have been spared. Instead they had chosen to raze their own city. It made no sense. All they had to do was give the Khan his due and they would have been spared. Instead they had chosen a slow death of exposure and starvation for themselves and their children.

He didn’t know if he felt pity or rage at the waste. He would have at least spared the children.

With a distasteful shrug he signaled his men and they moved on shaking the dust and ash from their clothes.

An hour later, after the last shadow had passed out of the valley, the village elder gave the signal, and the flame machines were turned off.

They’d have to think of something new for next year’s Tithing Day.

 

Too Little, Too Late

by Casey Rose Frank

I did this.
“What’s one life compared to thousands?”
But I wouldn’t let them chain me down, give me up, pay a debt.
I had a life to live yet, a life that would smile kindly upon my beauty.
My fair hair and new spring blossom face was meant to see wishes granted not sacrifices made.
I did this.
At the last moment I refused to be the offering. I used sugar sweet words, flutters of long dark lashes, and silent gems of tears to snake my way out the guard’s hands and away to my beautiful life.
I did this.
I traded my life for a thousand others.
The fire came down and the screams began. I could smell cooking flesh.
A vengeful appetite unappeased. Denied a meal of the virtuous creating a blind rage.
I did this.
I killed them.
I walk into the fire.
Eaten at last.

 

Untitled

by Karen Ruhleder

“Burn!” they cried, and she burned. Hair flashing as it caught fire, embers shooting up. “Burn!”

“The books!” they cried, and threw them on the pyre. She shrieked, the agony of the flames, the flashes of the paper, the curling of the pages, the embers shooting up before her eyes.

“Burn!” they cried with glee as she choked and howled and moaned, and the pages floated up into the air, carrying the fire with them.

“Burn!” cried a malevolent voice, the voice of hate and fear. As the books shed their pages, so did the pages shed their flames onto the rooftops, passing on the message to the thatch. “Burn!”

And so she burned, surrounded by her books in death as she had been in life, and the town square followed suit. “Burn!” they had cried, urged on by the malevolent voice of hate and fear, and so they did.

 

Untitled

by Katie Morford

Grandfather said dragons are like the sun. Constant. Brilliantly shining. Bringing heat and life where their clawed feet tread. Holding back the cold night of space. If occasionally a spark escaped and set a building ablaze, well, it’s a small price to pay.

I remember waking in my grandparent’s one-room cabin, shivering beneath my blankets. My breath rose in frosty clouds like dragon steam. I puffed, pretending to be Garond, the grumpy dragon over our section.

Grandmama’s teacup clattered in its saucer, the cabin shuddering at Garond’s approach, and fire swept down the chimney and across the icy hearth, igniting the wood left in readiness. Grandmama clucked and swung her dented tea-kettle over the flames.

Now the dragons are gone. Snuffed out. The world is cold and dark again. Moonlight glimmers through the cabin’s broken window. I breathe, the moisture freezing, and watch the last ember in the hearth die.

 

Untitled

by Kim Perry

Shame burns, white hot, in my chest as I walk across the parking lot to my car, my heart pounding so hard it feels as though it might bust through my ribcage. When will I learn to keep my mouth shut?

I buckle my seatbelt, put the key in the ignition and sit, replaying the past ten minutes. I check my watch. Sure enough, just ten minutes ago I was gainfully employed. Just last night at dinner we were talking about how great it was that I have kept this job for nearly 3 months. So much for that.

My phone buzzes – a text. I peek inside my purse: “Good day?”

I don’t answer. Let him believe in me for a few more minutes.

Finally, I turn the key and drive away. I avoid the rear view mirror. No need to look. Some day I will leave a bridge intact.

 

Whether I Will Or No

by Catherine Connolly

It is cramped and confined, inhabiting my contortions, as my bottle bobs along, wave on wave. We have journeyed a while in close companionship, my glass prison and I. I am curled into its spaces; smokeless fire tendrils, seeking escape from their lead stoppered confines. Whether I will or no, we are destined to travel together. Cocooned amidst my walls, we wait; one with another. I slumber awhile amidst my dreaming whilst we tread our waters together. I have lived long upon it.

Separation is unexpected – the sudden release of pressure. I raise myself into large limbed being; blazing blue, before a wide eyed gaze of wonder. “Speak,” I say. “We must bargain, you and I. You can ask but thrice.”

Instructed; we sit, whilst the boy considers well what he wishes. Practised in waiting, I am patient with his silence. Whimsy alone rules my will now I am free.

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