Welcome to the results show. Jeez! I’d forgotten how difficult judging is. There was nothing ‘mock’ about the trouble I had picking this week’s winners. So high was the standard of all the entries this week that I could have picked an entirely different set of winners and still been satisfied that I’d picked the best stories.
There were some great interpretations of the prompt: war, vaccinations, dragons. Some of your stories made me laugh, some made me think, some put me off my dinner.
Before I announce the winners, here’s my thoughts on the stories that didn’t quite make into the winner’s circle:
News of the Weird by Josh Bertetta
It was great to see Josh joining us this week. Unfortunately, he fell slightly afoul of the rules by putting an s on the closing bookend – yes we’re that strict here! We’re also fair, and all stories are seen by the judge and receive feedback.
This story certainly lived up to the title. As soon as “odd skin growths around the posterior pelvic region” are mentioned you know where it’s headed, but getting there is great fun! The sinister doctor is on trial while the poor victims of his experiments are awaiting surgery to have their bony protuberances removed. It’s a fun story, but like a lot of this week’s stories has a whiff of truth around it. Josef Mengele was said to befriend the children in Auschwitz by offering them sweets before performing barbaric experiments on them.
The Mutant’s Tale by Voimaoy
A very original take on the prompt. It made me think of a post-nuclear war situation. Some lovely description of the villagers: “grinning gap teeth and missing limbs in ragged clothes”, and I loved the alliteration in the line “a bottle for the boy with the bad eye.” Whether the cat women intended good or evil we’ll never know. “”We don’t want mutants here.”” a villager shouts. “She vanished, with a flick of her tail.” Great.
Nil Nocere by Stephanie Ellis
A great title: No Harm from the principle of non-maleficence, or first do no harm. Dr. Meglun (sounds like another infamous Dr.) clearly has done harm but he’s about to get his reward. I love how this quickly switches from the Dr. playing along with a child patient, to the child becoming something else and taking the upper hand in a big way – “”I said listen,” snapped the boy” – a chilling line, as is “the doctor looked into the child’s eyes and saw the fires of hell.” Excellent writing.
The ‘D’ word by Jim M
The child’s fever is brilliantly shown with his delirious ramblings. I really liked the description of the underground as “booming tubular caverns”. You can understand how the other people in the cavern must be feeling with all the talk of death so you can kind of understand why the nurse threatens to give him a sore tail. But come on, he’s a sick child! Well done.
Pacification by Carlos
I couldn’t decide if this was a case of cabin fever with a very extreme cure, or a case of madness. Either way it’s a great story told entirely in dialogue. And I love the last last line “If she were a dog, she’d be wagging her tail.” That’s a successful lobotomy then? Nice work.
Grim Laughter by Brett Milam
“Mock the living by pretending death…” is one of the best openings this week. A disagreement between a doctor and nurse about whether or not to tell the children and their parents they are dying or if they should keep playing “the stethoscope game”. I love the final line too: “joy, even if futile, has it’s merits, like why we find joy in watching a dog chase its tail.” You’ve really got the hang of this bookends thing!
The Cats Curse by Stella Turner
“He doesn’t know his bible like I do!” said the mother about the priest after he said Sharon was not a biblical name. I love this little touch. Jeremiah’s brother Mock is fond of cats which may be his undoing. While Jeremiah is pronounced “fit to fight Hitler” poor Mock is given chocolate and sent on his way. He later dies from consumption they said, but Jeremiah isn’t convinced. A great story.
An Air Raid by Jacki Donnellan
Most of the stories this week were dark. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it was really refreshing to read a lighter take on the prompt. The titular air raid involved dragon’s eggs! Some were collected, some were eaten. The smug doctor didn’t indulge, but the patient obviously has (scaly chest, sparks flying from his mouth) and so has the nurse “I’ll wear my cape if my wings keep growing, but glad my skirt still hides my tail.” Great story.
This Way to Manhood by Matt L.
This is one of those stories that make you wonder what on earth is going on. In a good way. Young men paraded in front of caged women where they have their defects pointed out to a baying crowd. Sounds like a good Saturday night. I loved the line “shallow puddles of nervous vomit wetted my bare soles”. Our hero thinks better of it and turns tail. Good choice. Good (if weird) story!
Festung Breslau by Geoff Holme
A great story set in a factual situation with a fictional character: Eberhard Mock, hero of Death in Breslau. Very clever. The descriptions really give you an insight into how terrible the conditions must have been: “the sickly were weeded out…rations given to the rest.” I don’t know what Himmelmann has done, but it must be terrible for Mock to be oblivious to the suffering around him in his attempts to find him.
At War by Nancy Chenier
War of a different kind here. Some very powerful imagery: “bombs can’t touch the evil worming into these very tunnels”, “no will to act on behalf of the light”, and of course the stunning final line: “You’ll understand once I get the swaddling off and we behold its barbed tail.” You get the feeling that with an audience as captive as this he might just get his message across.
Absolution by Meg Kovalik
I can picture the old lady very clearly from the great descriptions: the oversized handbag and her small, the velvet hat, her pacing like a caged animal. I was not expecting the ending – the old lady is a suicide bomber. The feeling of claustrophobia in the panic-filled bunker comes across brilliantly as does the lady’s deranged smile and the dog’s wagging tail.
Nipped In The Bud by Ed Broom
I loved how this story went from light to dark very quickly. You have the terrible joke (“It’s like Piccadilly Circus in here!”) that everyone laughs at (otherwise you’d cry I suppose) and the orange that Reg has miraculously procured. Then the dark: a crush on the stairs and Reg’s demise. I also liked the theme of fruit – mock orange, a whiff of citrus, never tasting the fruit, even ‘crush’ made me think of a refreshing orange drink. The final scene stays with you: bodies laid out nose to tail.
It’s Always Tea Time by Image Ronin
A great set-up here: in an underground tunnel in a hostile world a drug addict steals from sleeping people to feed his habit. The descriptions of the tattoos in the opening lines are great – I especially like the “dark forest” of the man’s stomach and how the “canvas” snores and rolls over. The Alice in Wonderland theme ties everything together with the character exchanging his swag for drugs and following the rabbit into the tunnel of light.
A Letter to the Frontline by Jim M
A letter sent to a soldier on the front line. It deals with trivial things, how the person at home takes the other’s photo to bed, how they miss them, how Dane misses them, how their father can’t remember his email login. A very original tie-in to the photo prompt in the form of a fancy dress party where someone went as an olden time nurse. What made this story for me were the two references that bring the idea of a letter to the front line right up to date: the reference to email, and the fact the letter is written by a man.
Joint 3rd Place
I was just about to toss a coin to pick a third place story but I’d have been doing one of these great stories a disservice. And it’s my site so I can do what I want!
Fodder by Karl A Russell
This is pure horror. It starts with a great title: fodder meaning food and a consumable – in this case the children are both. “The children will win the war”, the Dr. says, but they won’t see the end of it. The nurse has her reservations but still passes the scalpel when required, so you know the situation must be dire. Filling the bombs with children’s brains is a great take on a smart bomb, and using the bones as ballast (not before feeding the flesh to the parents of course) is inspired.
Birdsong by Grace Black
From the names (Gunther and Walter) and language (dummkopf) I assumed these children were German which is a nice twist. I also like that it is told from the POV of a bookish boy (the mockingbird) who gets his revenge on the school-yard bully. Poor Gunther never really stood a chance, and when he is tricked into a game of chance he can’t win “the Blitz of Gunther” (a great spin on the Blitz) is on. The tortured mockingbird gets his revenge: “You lose.”
Atom Bombs and Other Childhood Fears by Matt L.
I love the background of this story: in a world where atom bombs are a real threat, an examination by the doctor can be just as terrifying. The descriptions of the Dr. are excellent: ears like “melting taffy”, eyes like “black marbles frying in melted butter”, those wiggling, waggling nose hairs. What made this story for me was the line “do communist kids have to put up with this?” It puts everything into perspective and suggests that despite our political or religious differences, we all have to endure the same hardships.
The Nation’s State of Mind by Marie McKay
This story just grabbed me from the opening sentence and wouldn’t let go. The “mock vaccinations” are working to heal the nation in this post war (or apocalyptic) scenario. I love the opening descriptions – “clearing their gurgling lungs”, “sewing together their broken spirits”. “The Bowler Hats” is a fantastic description of ‘the Man’, then the line that left me open mouthed for the rest of the story – “the most cost effective placebo since Jesus Christ.” Wow.
But even placebos can have side effects and once rumour starts to spread the nation reacts. The words running together gives a great sense of panic and within the panic the people look for an excuse for their actions – “TheygaveusdrugstomakeusKill“.
The last line has a real feeling of claustrophobia. The people revolt in the underground shelters leaving a trail of brutalised bodies in their wake.
This is not only great writing but it has a strong moral message about the consequences of taking the easy course, and the panic that can be caused when people are not given the truth – a lesson a lot of people in positions of power could learn from. Well done Marie.
The Nation’s State of Mind
Mock vaccinations were clearing their gurgling lungs, drying their weeping sores, sewing together their broken spirits, stitching up their despair.
The Bowler Hats congratulated themselves on employing the most cost effective placebo since Jesus Christ.
But words got out and spread like a mutating virus:
So in the safety of shelters tucked underground, they bludgeoned and gouged, raged and violated, tortured and brutalised until only their corpses were left to top and tail.