First, an apology. DOMINANT was a very difficult closing bookend. But you all rose to the occasion brilliantly and came up with some wonderfully creative uses.
I know this week’s judge, KM Zafari (a big thanks to KM for helping out this week), was overwhelmed by the quality of the stories and really struggled to pick a winner, so before I hand over to her, here’s my thoughts on the other excellent stories that didn’t quite make it into her selections:
If You Believe by Holly Geely
Something terrible has happened. Someone’s pool has been defaced. A first-world problem if ever there was one. But all the likely suspects have been eliminated (I love ‘Druggie Singer Guy’, he sounds like just the kind of person you’d want at your party). The pool “looks like a unicorn puked all over it”. A fantastic description. And it’s true! The unicorn is looking on from the changing area, stamping his silver hooves, waiting for his kind to be appreciated again. A lovely fun story.
At Cross Purposes by Nancy Chenier
Nancy got creative with the structure here and I love it. I could see the angel and devil sitting on this guy’s shoulder as he weighed up his options. Listen to one and you get the girl but it ends in tragedy. Listen to the other and you miss the opportunity, but perhaps more exciting times wait ahead. Whose advice would you take?
Look Before You Leap by Karl A Russell
I love it when people go all science. This story addresses a lot of issues about people with mental disorders and to what extent it is our right, or duty, to intervene. Who are we to say who needs ‘curing’? This guy likes “seeing the rot that would one day set in” and does not like the sound of “surgery, normality and blindness.” Writing that makes you think and entertains is always a winner with me.
Young Love by Stella Turner
I love the relationship between these two: the tough guy and the prissy girl. Stella cleverly foreshadows what is going on here: “broken bottles and discarded condoms”. But when it comes to the crunch, the tough guy isn’t so tough, he’s “putty in her hands”. A brilliant description of the rite of passage between these young lovers.
The Foretelling by Stephanie Ellis
This is all about the back story. Two lads have beaten up a gypsy woman, stolen her money, and retreated to the abandoned pool to cause more mischief. Kai sounds like an unpleasant chap (“Cross my palm with silver, ‘andsome,” mocked Kai) and Sam his loyal friend. But Sam knows something Kai doesn’t: the gypsy woman has told him his future, that he will abandon his friend and save himself. The gypsy woman’s family arrive; Sam takes to his heels leaving Kai to his just desserts.
All I Have Loved Were Shallows by Ed Broom
A pool owner and the pool-‘cleansing’ company are at cross purposes. Ed very cleverly shows the conversation from only side – the pool-cleanser’s responses being met by stunned silence. Ed perfectly describes the vibrant colours in the photo – moss green, orange peel, blue jeans. Ed finishes with perhaps the best use of the difficult closing bookend: the “formerly recessive” natatorium now “vibrantly dominant”.
The Hustler by Geoff Holme
A very clever title from Geoff – ‘hustler’ being often associated with the other type of pool. This is a very complete story; there’s back-story (“He claims he broke his left arm falling into an empty pool on your property”, “But I’m suing that scumbag for the damage he caused organising a rave on my development site!”), some excellent description (gauche geek, tongued-tied and awkward), a great reveal (“Hey! He’s ambidextrous!” – also a nice reference to my inane waffle before the photo prompt), and we know there is more story to come (He won’t get the upper hand again. I’ll show him who’s dominant!). Well done Geoff.
Now, here’s what this week’s judge, KM Zafari, had to say about it all:
I knew going in that this was going to be difficult, but it was so much harder than I anticipated. There were an amazing array of takes on the bookends and prompts. (Kudos to David for choosing words than can be interpreted in so many different ways.) “Things are not always what they appear to be” seems to be a common theme, this week. Love that.
All of these stories have merit, and I connected with something in all of them. Great job, everyone! I really agonized over which ones to choose – especially over the top three. Alas, I could only choose one winner, and I say that not as an obligatory judge’s statement; I was really blown away by some of these entries.
Stalemates by Marie McKay
This story has a unique incorporation of the photo prompt, utilizing graffiti, empty space, and the majesty of what something once was as symbolism for a broken relationship. I think everyone can relate to this feeling at some point in their lives, the experience of trying to salvage something that can’t be saved while being drawn into its destruction.
Vandalized by Grace Black
This story begins with heartache, and I can actually sympathize with the main character’s callousness and ambivalence; pain has a way of making you numb.
I take the protagonist to be a vampire – if not literally, metaphorically, at least. She (or he) is either taking their revenge on unsuspecting surrogates or losing themselves in a life that provides enough pain to mask their other pain. Or both. There is also a nice, subtle incorporation of the photo prompt.
In the Abyss by Chris Catt
This story is both heartbreaking and suffocating. Vivian has been haunted by the death of her friend for twenty years, and she’s asking for an end to her suffering. Meanwhile, Angela is trapped in her own hell, reliving her death over and over again.
One thing I like about this story is that it inspires questions, I’d really like to know more about what happened twenty years ago, but the ending still leaves me satisfied. I’ve read these stories over and over, and this one really stays with me.
Voice of thy Brother’s Blood by Carlos
Bloodsport described in gory detail.
In many ways, this story is darker and more violent than the others, not because of the fighting, per se, but because the fighter is so cold. The protagonist appears to claim religion, based on his tattoos. Yet, he participates in these fights, and he delivers what may very well be a death blow without thought or mercy.
Chilling and very well written. I can almost feel the energy of the crowd feeding his power.
Directions from a Dirty Vagrant by Matt L.
Wow, is this one disturbing. The vagrant offers a glimpse into the protagonist’s future, and it sure isn’t pretty.
I really like the role reversal. To me, the vagrant is symbolic of the protagonist’s addiction. The drugs are taking control, and the protagonist knows it. The vagrant could also be read as a “devil”, tormenting this lost soul with what is to come while leading them down the inevitable path of destruction.
In the end, this story won me over with its vivid descriptions, its clear (but not overt) symbolism, and how the internal struggles of the character were made manifest. So much to love, here.
Directions from a Dirty Vagrant
“Cross the tracks, take a right on Wilshire. Old community pool be on the left.” The dirty vagrant held out a hand like a bellhop in a five star hotel. I pressed a single into his filthy paw just hard enough to let him know there wasn’t any more coming. With his free hand, he grabbed my outstretched arm by the elbow and pulled me close, a power move I’d seen politicians and CEOs use then he grinned, displaying scattered blackened nubs, gifts from a life-altering meth addiction. When he released me, I ran toward the tracks, humiliatingly subservient. Behind me he laughed, deliriously dominant.