What a fantastic round of Micro Bookends! There were so many different interpretations of the photo prompt: some of you embraced the nun, others the long and winding path, some the trees, and others the fog. All the stories this week really were fantastic. There wasn’t a duff’un amongst ’em.
This week’s judge, Matt Lashley, really had an unenviable task, but before I hand over to him here are my thoughts on the stories that didn’t quite make it into the winner’s circle:
Trek by Grace Black
Grace hosts Three Line Thursday, a weekly short poetry/writing contest, and this story really showcases her love of words. Every line is quotable, and the rhyming is beautiful. Fantastic writing.
The Twisted Path by Holly Geely
A great whimsical tale from Holly. I love the names: Bouffanticles, the Swampimus monster. As Nancy pointed out, a mondegreen has sent our hero on a wide-goose chase (though I think that’s technically an eggcorn).
Where is Mother Superior? by Voimaoy
Voimaoy gave us a very literal take on the photo prompt. The elderly nun walking in a misty forest with her walking sticks. The story cleverly leads you to believe she has wandered off during one of her delirious spells. We can all breathe a sigh of relief however; she’s found some mushrooms in the forest and is cooking up a storm in the kitchen.
(born Jonathan George Grimby) by Jim M
The first of two excellent entries from Jim M. I love the ‘shockporn’ artist’s portfolio (‘Marriage of Sexy Corpse Girl’, ‘Holocaustorama’, ‘Virgin in the Mist?’) and the fact he was born plain old Jonathan George Grimby. Surely the most original take on the photo prompt this week. Well done.
Saturn District 7 Division HQ by Jim M
Jim M’s second entry ignores our dear nun entirely (she’s transmuted to man with a white bag on his head sitting on a metal chair – brilliant). Our hero is one of those cranks who can locate a missing person by touching their clothes. The story is lifted by the setting (space), the fact that he has described a photo on Priest’s (just a name or a position?) wall, and of course the fact that he’s blind.
Reading Words by Rasha
Rasha has very cleverly linked in the dyslexia theme from my blurb. These word rearrangements can be a bit gimmicky if the story is not there to hold it up. Rasha doesn’t disappoint. There’s some lovely description of words jumping on the page, and how reading is like taking a walk along a misty road. Well done.
Omnipotent by Stephanie Ellis
I enjoyed this one a lot. Word (knowledge?) has disturbed Sister Mary’s previously straight-forward existence, and made her doubt her faith. It’s all the more powerful because Word is not revealed leaving the reader to imagine what has caused this ripple in the good Sister’s life. Excellent.
Heading Toward the Darkness by Carlos
A mother and son are reading together. It’s difficult for Charlie (another nice nod to the dyslexia theme). You can really feel the mother’s frustration, but also love for her son. You feel they’ll get there eventually with hard work and determination. But wait. Charlie has another idea. A chilling ending. Brilliant.
Shapes and Shadows by Stella Turner
A nun in emotional turmoil. A vow once broken can never be repaired. Some lovely description: “I lit up like a neon sign in his sight”, “light obscured by the blind”. I like the two ‘men’ in her life (him and Him). Very clever, and well written.
The Bystander by Image Ronin
A sinister, atmospheric story. I can almost see the fog and smoke. I loved “grinding warm bodies under his heel”, a great description of putting out a cigarette and perhaps foreshadowing what is to come from “the devourer of the blind”. Great.
Faith by Marie McKay
I’m thinking zombies (“not sure which was the worse adversary, disease or its survivors”), but then I often do think zombies! Whatever is lurking in those woods is not good. The dear sister is setting off for the vegetable patch. Things must have gotten desperate. She has her faith but will it be enough? Lovely story.
Stricken by Nancy Chenier
Oh boy, this is good. A mysterious woman walks the woods, word of her power has spread “like wind presaging a storm”. A little girl is dared to touch the woman. Her friends follow her as her “shoes whispered secrets against the gravel”. The girl touches the woman but the outcome was not what they were expecting: her sight was not taken but “a thousand colors glinted in her anguished eyes. “You’re all still blind.” Fantastic descriptions and a very original take on the prompt.
Traveling Haze by Brady Koch
There a lovely touch of the old-school horror about this. James Herbert’s The Fog perhaps. There’s real peril in this story. A couple are about to have a child and can’t leave because the haze is hazardous. The lady in the photo prompt is a nurse coming to help with the breach-birth. It’s unlikely she’ll make it through intact. Will mother and baby? Scary stuff indeed. Google Agent Orange to see what chemical defoliants can do to unborn babies.
Vengeance Is Mine by Geoff Holme
A great story of vengeance. I love the description of Bernadette’s “gallows shuffle” which mirrors the departing nun “limping along the drive”. Great choice of names for that Irish Catholic authenticity.
Now, here’s what judge, Matt Lashley, had to say about it all:
As I began to play literary agent for a day, I quickly noted a running religious theme and assumed either you’d all been under the same tent in a revival meeting the night before or the picture prompt was some type of religious icon. Naturally I went with the tent meeting revival theory because it’s funnier.
Now for the serious, solemn issue of judging. First, congratulations are in order as no story was held in contempt. Surprising, since I usually find at least one story to clamp onto with absolute contempt and seething hostility. But not this week. The criterion on which I based judgement were: story, character, imagery, twist/impact, originality.
There were several ties which I unilaterally broke by casting a pair of dice from a broken Yahtzee game, locks of some old lady’s hair and a chicken foot borrowed from the night’s supper onto a haunted Ouija board.
She Drinketh Up A River by Ed Broom
This was one of the most original takes on the prompt and was capped with a fabulous title. Some of the lingo in the beginning escaped me, but didn’t distract me enough to derail the overall story. I particularly enjoyed the image of a nun at a poker table justifying the means while listing the ends.
I Do Not by Brett Milam
Grotesque, bloody, masticating, spliced insides – the four main elements for any good story, especially a newlywed story. This story punched me in the gut and left me winded. If a ribbon for “Most Visceral” could be awarded, this one gets it. (I think, but am not sure, folks outside the U.S. may not understand the ugly power the word at the center of this piece holds in the U.S.)
Resignation by Meg Kovalik
Sad. Sad. Sad. And poetic. Sad and poetic. Forget what I said earlier about grotesque, bloody, masticating and spliced insides. Condensed dripping mist – that’s the stuff stories are made of. This was a beautiful piece on the universal theme of breaking up is hard to do, but life must go on.
Stormbreak by Karl A Russell
Death and sacrifice. Remember what I said about condensed, dripping mist? Forget it! Death and sacrifice – that’s what makes a great story. This piece was full of great images. The Beast dancing with Sister Sadie was vivid and would make the perfect cover art for the story.
EXCO- by Bunmi Oke
Third place was the hotspot for ties this week. At the end of the day (and at the end of the story), “EXCO-“ had a nice twist that pushed it slightly ahead of the others. The story made me feel sorry for poor Sister Geraldine *spoiler alert* then slapped me silly and into contrite penance with a set of barbed rosary beads.
Folk Tales by Craig Towsley
Where I live, we just finished two days of unremitting snow. But even if I’d been sitting in the sand under the sun sipping a margarita, enjoying the white noise of crashing waves while reading this piece, it would have easily transported me to a small farm in the countryside with yellow and orange trees, browning grass and damp, cooling air. “Auntie” was such a fabulously rich character created in so few words, I was amazed.
Word of Dog by KM Zafari
Earlier in the week I’d read something written in 1944 that poked fun at a character who’d excitedly asked a companion “Did ya know d-o-g is g-o-d backwards?” So the title of this piece provoked a shallow inhale in preparation for a slow, lazy groan. I was sure whatever the coming groan lacked in energy would be made up for in a series of overly dramatic eye rolls. But neither groan nor eye rolls were to be. “Word of Dog” had all the technical elements of the best flash fiction and tapped into that most important and elusive non-technical element — it made me feel something.
Word of Dog
Word by word, her fingers trailed along the page. The raised dots were well worn from years of reading, and she caressed them gently, reverently, as the familiar sound of paws scratched across the convent floor.
She reached out in anticipation.
Breath by breath, they found one another in their shared darkness, and he nuzzled into her hands, his downy ears like silk upon her weathered skin.
They left for their evening walk in silence, love filling the void. She followed his sounds down the tree-lined path, both content to share in the rustling of leaves and cool mist. He, alone, understood that there was no such thing as “blind”.