Micro Bookends 1.05 – Results

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Nov 092014
 
Photo Credit: Forsaken Fotos via CC.

Photo Credit: Forsaken Fotos via CC.

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.

Honourable Mentions

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.

3rd Place

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.

2nd Place

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.

Winner

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

Matt L.

“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.

Nov 022014
 
Photo Credit: Daniel Lee via CC.

Photo Credit: Daniel Lee via CC.

Before we get down to business let me introduce you to my friends. Those little fellas on that fig leaf aren’t really extraterrestrial lifeforms. They are the much more benign (unless you’re a gardener) Ceroplastes rusci, or fig wax scale. It was great to read a couple of stories that used real plant pests as the antagonists.

Thanks to everyone who came to write, bringing their Halloween spirit with them. Before I hand over to judge Geoff Holme, here’s my thoughts on the entries that didn’t make into the winning circle:

Be All That You Can Not All It’s Cracked Up To Be by Matt L.

A delightful take on space exploration and training from the point of view of a species of sentient slugs (perhaps a sign of things to come for our own planet?) I love the descriptions of boot camp and the menial duties that any raw recruit will be familiar with.

The Savior by Image Ronin

Yet again IR crams his story full of excellent description, atmosphere and back story. From the claustrophobic opening to the chilling ending, this story grips and doesn’t let go. The main character is the saviour of humanity, but not in the way he had planned.

Hellfire Is a Subjective Term by Craig Towsley

Wow. What an opening paragraph full of vivid descriptions running into each other much like the tectonic plates it describes. I love the alliteration in “gobbling up glaciers, crunching on coasts.” The opening paragraph alone is story enough. But the cherry on the cake is the reveal: it is a sermon given by a (perhaps dubious) priest to convince his flock they are safest with him.

Emerald Earth by Voimaoy

There’s not a single word wasted in this story and every sentence deserves to be lingered over and digested. It’s a great take on the prompt too: not a dangerous species from another planet but a real invasive species threatening the ash trees of North America. As beautiful and invasive as Voimaoy’s writing!

Down to Earth by Brett Milam

I love the description of bacteria fornicating under fingernails. This story really puts us in our place – “the slugs of the galaxy”. A superior being watches from its vantage point as we go “slogging around the sun, spilling each other’s blood”. I also love the reference to Genghis Khan which adds a time perspective.

Last Chance by Holly Geely

“Earth to Susan”. I love this inappropriate in-joke of the colony that fled the dying Earth. This is a small snippet of conversation between two characters, but it has real peril running through it. In the colony a little fungus on your leaves is a big deal.

Death by Rhubarb by Stella Turner

I was expecting comedy given the title, but Stella delivers a terrifying story with a lot of truth to it (see Emerald Ash Beetle in Voimaoy’s story). The last woman alive in the New Colony doomed by bugs on the rhubarb plants. A lot of atmospheric details in this story: the may-day call unheard like her tears, leaving the Grim Reaper behind only for death to board. Shivers.

Once by Casey Rose Frank

I’d like to be able to pick out a few of my favourite lines from this, but I’d just be reproducing the whole thing. Wow. Okay, go on then: “Were we gods? No. Maybe.” A tiny little mistype [But we now we are small] brought me out of the moment, but this is stunning writing. And only 91 words, and it should have been only 90!

Blue Sky Thinking by Geoff Holme

A fun story from Judge Geoff. A solution to prison over-crowding perhaps. Support staff? Colonists? The Minister was really ticking all the political correctness boxes. A great title and New Australia is a perfect name for the new colony. I just hope they don’t beat us at rugby.

Make Believe by Grace Black

A lovely story of childhood and later life. Horace ‘call me HG’ and Aubry are imagining what other worlds might be like. Horace is unoriginal (Earth) while Aubry is imaginative (Zondor with colonies of slugs). Looking back Aubry remembers her late husband with fondness. Perhaps it was his rock-steady predictability she loved.

Rebirth by Stephanie Ellis

What an opening line packing two major hooks: “Earth is damned” and a crowd “gathered to see my end”. This is a real scary Halloween story and a character I want to read more about. A nod to the Salem witch trials perhaps. The parasitic community burning someone they didn’t understand. Only it wasn’t her end; it was her rebirth, and the community had brought about their own damnation. Love it.

Now here’s what judge, Geoff Holme, had to say about it all:

Thanks to David Borrowdale for devising and hosting this stimulating contest. When I told David that I was willing to judge MB 1.04, I said that I would be sorry to miss entering this week. He suggested that I could submit a ‘just for fun’ judge’s entry.

Thanks also to MB 1.03 judge Carlos Orozco who showed great discernment and impeccable taste in his selection of the winner!

But seriously… I found this week’s contest the trickiest yet. But you all rose to the challenge, with a wide spectrum of entries from humorous through lyrical to darkly sinister.

I’d like to make it clear that, to avoid any bias, entries are judged anonymously. So let’s get to it.

Honourable Mentions

The full rules of Micro Bookends include the caveat “You may add punctuation to the bookends. Otherwise leave them bookends alone!”. These two entries that would have been contenders for podium places failed to comply – one only by the addition of apostrophe s to ‘Earth’. I ran this situation by David. He said:

Rules is rules, Geoff. Writers can add punctuation to the bookends but nothing else. Even that little s after the apostrophe is naughty. Of course people can submit their own interpretation of the bookends and their stories will receive feedback from their fellows, will be seen by the judge, and may even get an honourable mention, but they will be ineligible to win. Using the bookends exactly as supplied is all part of the challenge.

Silent Slumber by Marie McKay

With its mention of “patients’ bedsides”, this entry evoked memories of the opening to the classic Day of the Triffids but the story told of a much less violent takeover. The mood is maintained by lovely descriptions of the soporific effect of the invaders: ‘all pain has gone, all conflict and desire’. Almost makes it seem like a desirable situation.

Punctuated Equilibrium by Ed Broom

From its punning title (a reference to my overemphasised pickiness when it comes to punctuation), this entry is full of gems. ‘Erdmann’, when translated from German, is ‘Earthman’, ‘Fancy Plants’ is a great name for a garden centre and there’s even a very topical reference to Halloween in this spooky tale.

(I assume ‘the Herald’ in the opening line is the paper that the reporter works for. I would have made it ‘The Herald’ to make this clearer; and, at the end, after ‘…MY torch…’, I would have had ‘THE beam…’. But these are minor quibbles.)

‘James, eyeless, stared back from the centre of his colony’ is a chilling last line. Great work.

3rd Place

Autochthonous by Nancy Chenier

Very erudite title – had me reaching for my dictionary! Great interpretation of the photo prompt with the abandoned home planet clinging “like a barnacle to a distant star” and the indigenous parasites, the “scalies”. Wonderful description of the alien skyscape too. Good work.

2nd Place

Infectious by Chris Catt

Being very uncomfortable in confined spaces, I found the opening sentence almost too atmospheric. Fear suffuses this piece throughout, leading inexorably to its conclusion. A great tale for Halloween.

Winner

Salvation by KM Zafari

I like this one very much – a cautionary tale, a grown-up version of WALL-E. I loved the idea of the scout carrying an ancient crayon drawing of Earth that his ancestor had made as a child when the planet’s inhabitants departed. The last line makes for a fully rounded story. Excellent!

Salvation

by KM Zafari

Earth was a myth, nothing more than a fairy tale used to teach children about the horrors of war and the dangers of overconsumption.

And yet, here it was. The blue and white marbling matched the crude picture drawn by his father’s great-grandfather.

But it was not ready; nature had not yet recovered. The air was still noxious, the rivers poisoned. The only remaining creatures fed on the carrion of the Earth, and its bones were nearly clean.

He returned to his ship and set the autopilot for home, the unknowing transport for a legion of hungry stowaways.

Humans, after all, weren’t the only ones looking for a new colony.