I take my hat off to you all. 34 (including a couple that missed the deadline) fantastic stories this week. Judge, Rebekah Postupak, sums up your stories much better than I ever could, so I’ll hand straight over to her. Thanks, Rebekah, for some fantastic judging and feedback:
I’ve just returned tonight from seeing Selma; the film’s portrayal of the all too often exorbitant cost of peace provided a powerful backdrop to my rereading of your stories. Tonight I was particularly moved by how many of you told the same story, varying only in color and texture: a precious new life as the ultimate compensation for past heartache. Perhaps it’s a hope we all share, that our children will be better than we are. (Rather convicting, when one considers our parents share that hope too!) Thank you so much for sharing your dreams with us fellow-dreamers.
Evacuate by Marie McKay
Some seriously gorgeous writing here. Bombs described as “whistling monsters of the night sky.” Their devastating work presented as “people folded with buildings.” This is one of the few stories in which the protagonist did not receive a prize; the loss was simply too great. This is the sort of story whose grief lingers in the reader’s bones.
The Village Idiot by Brett Milam
Peace as fungus?? This story attacked the bookends from a marvelously unique POV: someone who sees violence, not peace, as a prize. The wonderful language (in addition to peace fungus, we’ve got a “grease-smeared side of a McDonald’s booth”–how vivid is that?!) sealed this tale’s spot on the dais.
Shadow Child by Brett Milam
A gripping portrait of the destructive power of mental illness. I love this piece for its untrustworthy narrator; peace has been found, we are told, and though the MC recognizes it as “a perverted peace,” in the end he/she is unable to escape its clutches. I wish those who argue people battling mental illnesses should just “get over it” would read this story with its uniquely potent insight.
Isolation by Steph Ellis
Oh my gosh, I love this story so much. The movement in this piece is provided not by plot but by the panoramic description of the room. The reader is Holmes, taking in the myriad details (“the lamp shone brightly even though it was almost noon”; “there were no messages”; “another newspaper dropped on the mat to join the growing pile”) and at once catching a portrait of the man’s true character. The story provides a perfect frame, as the man (we are told) receives in the end what the beginning tells us he’s sought. But what I may love most in this tale is the narrator’s matter-of-fact tone which causes the reader to condemn the bitter protagonist even while the narrator does not. Now that’s some literary prestidigitation.
That Starry Kid by jaegur
This is some spectacular world-building. Just LOOK at how much is crafted in 100 words! Here we have a whole speculative world in which a certain magic can burn people up. We’ve got a villain (who gets his comeuppance!). A brother and sister with backstory AND character development. Wonderful, wonderful storytelling, and though the story is layered and rich, you have avoided that far too easy mistake of cramming too much in. I want to take lessons from you. This is an amazing story. Also, I want a magic star on my cheek; it could come in quite handy, I’m thinking.
Bittersweet by Meg Kovalik
Like my other top picks, this story came at the prompt from a less-obvious angle. Tell me your heart does not fall apart at this line: “She looked at his dear little hand with a mixture of guilt and self-loathing; she longed to love this child!” Post-partum depression is a thing rarely openly discussed, even in these nombrilistic (is that a word? it should be) days of constant status updates and selfies. You’ve brought us a truly unique and sympathetic character in this suffering mother. You’ve also built up a powerfully effective tension between the (vividly described!) free-wheeling partyers and the mother’s private pain. What I especially love, however, is how you do not abandon the mother in her pain: in the final line, you pull back the curtains to show us her true character. This is no victim; this is a hero, determined to win her quest if it costs all she has. This is plot, tension, character development, a vibrant setting, and the perfect story to represent this round’s bookends: the prize of a heart at peace.
“Peace out, brah!”
The passing exchange startled her from her doze.
Happy festival-goers buzzed about in slanting afternoon sunlight, the constant background hum of conversation punctuated by drumbeats and snatches of melody. Laughter and incense mingled in the air as the bundle wrapped tightly to her chest squirmed and resettled mid-slumber.
Depression did not run in her family. Yet the black fog that settled after the birth of her child was unmistakable. She looked at his dear little hand with a mixture of guilt and self-loathing: she longed to love this child!
“One day, I will,” she whispered, holding her heart like a hard-won prize.