Micro Bookends 1.40 – Results

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Jul 262015
 
The lone protester

Photo Credit: Dan Phiffer via CC.

It’s results time again. Hurray! First a huge thanks to this week’s judge, Donald Jacob Uitvlugt, who has done a fantastic job of picking the winners from another amazing crop of stories. Thanks, Donald. Here’s what he thought of your stories for this week:

A very evocative combination of bookends and photo prompt this week. I counted a lot of stories about actors and other performers. The photo prompt seemed to be harder for people to get a handle on; some stories seemed to ignore it altogether. Going through all the entries, here are the ones that stuck out to me:

Honourable Mentions

Death By Haiku by Dylyce P. Clarke

While I would quibble with the definition of haiku here, there’s something audacious about telling a story in a series of short poems. I like the way the images flow from one poem to the next to tell the complete story as much by suggestion as by straightforward narrative.

The Landings by Marie McKay

I really like that this story takes things in a direction that none of the others do. We can feel the narrator’s desperation, even though we may not know exactly why he wants the invasion as much as he does. I only wish there was a slightly stronger tie-in to the photo prompt.

“Every Man’s A King” by Geoff Holme

The power of this story lies as much as in what isn’t said, in what we know are going to be the logical consequences of what the narrator does, as it does in the words used. The narrator is trying to take back what control of his life he can, and we can admire that, even if we don’t admire what he does.

3rd Place

Easy Street Atonement by Foy S. Iver

Even though I’m not entirely sure what’s going on, there’s something very powerful suggested here. Are we in a world where public atonement has become common again? Or is there something inside the narrator compelling him to this unusual act? Again, the story is as much in the hints as it is in the words on our screens.

2nd Place

The Walk On by A.J. Walker

I find this story to have the most inventive use of the photo prompt. A poignant tale of real life invading the artificial world of so-called high culture, and totally upstaging it. I think we all need to apologize for not knowing his name.

Winner

Stages of Love by KM Zafari

A hauntingly beautiful story with a less than obvious use of the bookends and an excellent use of the photo prompt. We have a life’s worth of passion and heartache between the bookends. Very well done.

Stages of Love

KM Zafari

Stage 1

Was when we met on the subway. You, in your overcoat and hat. Me, sneaking glances over the paper I was pretending to read.

Stage 2

Was when we found out we weren’t alone in the relationship. You, shaking in the doctor’s office. Me, holding your hand.

Stage 3

Was when I asked you to marry me. You, too sick to walk. Me, standing in the snow with a sign proclaiming my love.

Stage 4

Was both the happiest and saddest time of my life. You, beautiful in your wedding dress. Me, in tears both times I wore that suit.

Beloved Wife. The tombstone bears your new name.

Micro Bookends 1.38 – Results

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Jul 052015
 
Photo Credit: via CC.

Photo Credit: Cliff via CC.

Welcome to the results show. First, an announcement:

On Monday the 13th of July, voting will open for the best stories of this quarter. You’ll be voting for your top three stories from MB1.27 to MB1.39. There will be prizes! The top three stories will also go forward to the Micro Bookend of the year contest to be held in October. Remember, you’ve got to be in it to win it, so if you haven’t had a winning story yet, this week’s contest is your last chance for this quarter.

Okay, back to business. I’d like to say a huge thanks to this week’s judge, Foy S. Iver, who was not only judging here, but is also doing her first stint as judge at Flash! Friday. Thanks, Foy! Here’s what she thought of it all:

I absolutely adored the picture prompt this week. So much to work with! And can we always have the asterisk? What isn’t more fun with a wild card? Okay, enough envying you the prompts. Micro Bookends 1.38 saw everything from lost children to lost opportunities. My emotions swung. Pity at seeing an aged Peter Pan trying to convince himself there’s still a Neverland for him. Fear for those living under a terrifying movie director (Please stab him with that rusty nail!). Nostalgia for dusty days when my younger self knew the enchantment of “ground overrun by ragwort and ghostly dandelion heads.” All of them beautiful in their own way. And those that made the cut? A feast of world building and imagery to make your soul bleed.

Honourable Mentions

Lengthening Shadows by Kelly Turner

Unfolding in slow turns, Lengthening Shadows explores the terrors of abandonment through glimpses of the setting. We learn that “the ice cream van had been and gone,”that the “water had been turned off this week” and “the only sustenance” the protagonist has is the melancholic drip, drip from a stingy faucet. It isn’t until the final line that we see whom our protagonist is, a boy alone, wishing “again for his mum’s return.” Tragic but brilliant work.

Silhouette Shift by Catherine Connolly

I’d love to know the inspiration behind this! Such gorgeous imagery throughout. I imagined that the sylphs’ could represent the wandering spirit of children rob of childhood. While they sleep, their childlike natures gather in the street, running, playing, “tagging others ‘It.’” The “Night is their playground” and as day awakens, we watch as “the sylphs’ skipping slows, as they tire” and return to their bounded form. And that final bookend (“save for a pinprick star”) delighted my poetic soul! Lovely, lovely tale.

A Second Life by Steph Ellis

With an eeriness that grew into the fully terrifying, A Second Life demonstrates riveting world building. Each read-through gives greater detail. We see “unsuspecting ‘children’” (chilling punctuation there!), happy to have “escaped the misery of the sweatshops forever,” while their “mysterious benefactor” smiles on with his own plans. A rich undervein is bled in the line “life had become recyclable” and we’re left watching in horror as they’re recycled back into the very place they hate, the children “only realising their mistake as the doors locked.” Bonus points for using such a delicious word as “Decrepitude”! Well done.

Pencilled by Marie McKay

From that first line “Childhood shapes haunt the landscape as if a 4-year-old god had sketched the world,” my mind sprang to Neil Gaiman’s “Coraline,” and the connection only grew stronger. On reading of the “grey stickmen and grey stickwomen” who “can barely hold their grey stickbabies with their bobble heads” (Other Mother, anyone?), I felt trapped in a crayon picture, bleached of all color.  The phrase “sketchy people living sketchy lives” tickled my brain, while the light welcoming the stickpeople to join the “fleshed out world where children play, and laughter beats, and colour breathes” felt like a lungful of air. A highly original concept that deserves at the least an Honorable Mention.

3rd Place

Memento by Rebekah Postupak

This story has it all. Starkly defined characters, crisp dialogue, conflict, resolution, and back-story. The world is revealed in periphery: emotions and imagination gone (“Haven’t you seen what emotions do?”), human-life extinguished (They’ve been extinct, what, a hundred years?”), and a voice still yearning for things of the past (“yet you’d spend your one wish on human childbirth”). Images of those “mechanical fingers rubbing, rubbing, rubbing” won’t soon leave me, nor will the thought that we could one day miss one of the most painful and gratifying human experiences life has to offer, childbirth.

2nd Place

Indigo Mourning by Pattyann McCarthy

This piece took the idea of a lost childhood and peered at it from a fresh angle. That of a mother, her “dreams disappearing into vapor,” dealing with a childless reality as it forms. That originality alone clinched a spot on the winner’s podium. Through stunning imagery, the author captures the soul-shredding pain of a miscarriage (“I’m learning how to breathe, how to exist”), and the irrational guilt that often follows (“my uterus couldn’t sustain him, killing my son”). Life begins as a blinding joy, friends and family singing with you, only to dim, singing silenced, as the heavens appear indigo “through mourning eyes.” Personally it was difficult to read and I was grateful that the final line held so much truth: “In the midnight beyond, my baby’s the brightest star.”

Winner

Dull Silver by Iskandar Haggarty

So many things I loved about this one! The title seemed a subtle nod toward the silver screen and how many child stars have “dulled” in its light, a clever tie-in with the prompt. There’s something incredibly powerful about juxtaposition. We see what should have been, a father waking “bright and early” to make breakfast, and what was, “Bright and early, Papa put the barrel of his shotgun in his mouth and pulled the trigger” and instantly the act is more heart shattering. Mama, who should’ve been tucking her child in every night, instead cries “tears of salt and cigarettes” and never visits. The tangible tick upward of time (6, 8, 10, 12) marked years stolen from this child’s youth until that sun faded into the “dull silver of a dying star.” A worthy winner.

Dull Silver

Iskandar Haggarty

Childhood is supposed to be golden.
6.
Fathers are supposed to wake up, bright and early, and make breakfast.
Bright and early, Papa put the barrel of his shotgun in his mouth and pulled the trigger.
8.
Mothers are supposed to tuck their kids in at night.
Mama cried tears of salt and cigarettes when the judge found me a new home, but she never visited.
Not even once.
10.
Friends are supposed to stick up for you.
The whole baseball team disappeared the day the bigger kids came for me.
12.
Childhood is supposed to be golden.
Mine was the dull silver of a dying star.

Jul 022015
 

Welcome to Micro Bookends 1.38. I’m introducing a new feature this week – the wildcard:

You’ll notice an asterisk after CHILD in this week’s bookends. This symbolises a wildcard character. Feel free to replace it to form another word – CHILDREN, CHILDHOOD, CHILDCARE etc. Of course you can still use CHILD as it stands. The usual rules on punctuation still apply.

A child star is someone who achieves celebrity status, usually through acting or singing, during their childhood. Some child stars struggle to adapt to adulthood due to their early fame. Another difficulty they often face is dispute over ownership of earnings. Jackie Coogan (who went on to play Uncle Fester in the Addams Family TV show) earned millions of dollars as a child actor but saw almost none of it as it was squandered by his parents on their luxury lifestyle. This prompted the 1939 California Child Actor’s Bill (also called the Coogan Law), which states that all earnings by a minor are the sole property of the minor and 15% of earnings must be placed in a trust fund.

Lindsay Lohan, who celebrates her 29th birthday today, began her career with Ford Modelling Agency at the age of three. Lohan made her first television appearance age 10 as Alli Fowler in Another World and made her breakthrough performance alongside Jamie Lee Curtis in the 2003 remake of Freaky Friday. Unfortunately the curse of the child star struck Lohan, and today she is just as famous for her frequent run-ins with the law as she is for her award-winning film performances.

Let’s wish Lindsay a happy birthday with this week’s photo prompt:

Photo Credit: via CC.

Photo Credit: Cliff via CC.

The Judge

Judging this week’s contest is Foy S. Iver, winner of MB1.18, MB1.23 and MB1.37. Read her winning stories and what she has to say about flash fiction here.

What?

A story of between 90 and 110 words starting with CHILD* and ending with STAR and incorporating the photo prompt.

Who?

Anyone, but especially you!

Why?

Why not! Because it’s fun. Because it’s a challenge. Because the winner will receive their own winner’s page, their story on the winning stories list, a ‘Who is the author?’ feature to be posted next week, entry into the ‘Micro Bookend of the Year’ competition, and a copy of this year’s winning stories compilation.

When?

Now! Get your entry in BEFORE 5:00 am Friday (UK time: http://time.is/London).

Where?

Here!

How?

Post your story in the comments section. Include the word count and your Twitter username (if you’re Twitterized). Don’t forget to read the full rules before submitting your story.

Anything else?

Please give your story a title. It will not be included in the word count.

Please try to leave comments on a couple of other stories. It’s all part of the fun, and everyone likes feedback!

Remember, only stories that use the bookends exactly as supplied (punctuation, including hyphens and apostrophes, is allowed) will be eligible to win.

Jun 282015
 
Photo Credit: Ian Muttoo via CC.

Photo Credit: Ian Muttoo via CC.

It’s results time! But first a huge thanks to judge Ed Broom for sorting it all out. Here’s what he thought:

I didn’t envy you lot this week. Not too bad an opening word but a troublesome final word and a tough photo. So many brothers and so many lists. Finding an original angle was going to be tricky.

Still, much good writing as ever (how do you manage to string those words together in so short a time?) and a whole range of settings from space to supermarkets to the supernatural. In an awful lot of these, we lost and mourned for an awful lot of our male siblings. None of you fancied penning a piece about a misbehaving Brother printer?

Enough of my yakkity-yakking. Let’s select stories and name names.

Honourable Mentions

Lupine by @dazmb

This made me hungry like the wolf with its hamper of luscious language. Admire the work done by compound words such as “bonedeep” and “fingersight”. The structure of this prose is something to behold on the snowwhite page. Classy.

Seconds, Please by Emily Clayton

I’m not familiar with bumbleberry pie but I want a large slice right now. Baked goodness, indeed. Janelle’s dined out at this fine establishment once or twice before. With a few choice phrases such as “push-up bra on overdrive” and “poke a hairy thigh”, we see how a handful of words can tell us heaps about the people on the page. Protagonist, conflict, obstacle and resolution, all in 100 words. Look & learn.

Ed by Adam Houlding

Automatic honourable mention for anyone who has my name in the title. Is that so wrong? But seriously, folks, this is a timely piece from the viewpoint of our man back in the USSR, one Ed*ard Sno*den, especially with the 1984 connection this week. He had a whistle and boy, did he blow it. I liked “symphony of silence” and “smudged my scripture” plus the effort to correctly spell that airport name. That unease is palpable. Hero? Villain? Just because you’re paranoid…

3rd Place

The Wish List by Firdaus Parvez

Maybe it’s that sweet tooth of mine talking but I loved this affecting tale of a caring older brother, perhaps now the head of the family though still only a boy. Frock, ribbons and slippers I can understand, but she also wants a pigeon? Tell me more! As is often the case with tales like these, I’d also like some sort of guarantee, please, that the pair of them will be okay. I’ll also be adding jalebi to my list of foods to seek out and try. Lovely stuff.

2nd Place

Big Sur by Iskandar H.

This grabbed my attention straight away with mention of that exotically named stretch of Californian coast and that well-handled scene of fraternal disharmony. Can’t choose your family, as they say. Who knows why these two people drifted apart or even what’s brought them back together right now, but I get the impression that it’ll be a few years before they hook up again. Liked that black eye patch detail very much. Excellently crafted story telling.

Winner

Wish Lists by Foy S. Iver

Big on concept. Long on the page. Straight down that left hand margin. No sentence more than three words long. Skinny until she isn’t skinny any more. What could so easily have been a gimmicky and experimental entry with its bold and relentless repetition turns out to be a thing of beauty that demands our attention. Your mileage may vary but this bravura performance built, launched and very much floated my boat. Top marks.

Wish Lists

Foy S. Iver

Big boobs.
Long legs.
Straight teeth.
No acne.
Skinny.

Big scholarship.
Long distance.
Straight shot.
No parents.
Skinny.

Big dinners.
Long nap.
Straight A’s.
No Bio Chem.
Skinny.

Big paycheck.
Long holiday.
Straight hair.
No landlord.
Skinny.

Big wedding.
Long getaway.
Straight flight.
No protection.
Skinny.

Big positive.
Long checkups.
Straight epidural.
No complications.
Skinny.

Big(ger) bed.
Long leaves.
Straight diets.
No stretch marks.
Skinny.

Big(ger) car.
Long nap(s).
Straight(ened) house.
No meltdowns.
Skinny.

Big girl.
Long curls.
Straight steps.
No messes.
Skinny.

Big fights.
Long silences.
Straight tequila.
No take backs.
Skinny.

Big changes.
Long walks.
Straight talks.
No defeat.
Baby brother.

Micro Bookends 1.33 – Results

 Results  Comments Off on Micro Bookends 1.33 – Results
May 312015
 
Photo Credit: gfpeck via CC.

Photo Credit: gfpeck via CC.

Welcome to the results bit. A huge thanks to this week’s judge, Marie McKay. Here’s what she thought of it all:

This week, the bookends and photo prompt did a great job of fuelling your creative juices. There were common threads in many stories, but there was a huge amount of diversity, also. I was looking forward to reading soap-inspired stories based around feuds, romance, betrayal, adultery, and domestic turmoil! You did not disappoint; indeed, you went a step further, handling these themes, as well as others, with great expertise and originality.
Needless to say, I found judging incredibly difficult but here goes:

Honourable Mentions

If Walls Could Talk by Steven Stucko

I enjoyed reading about the interconnected lives of these neighbours as their situation had a quirky set-up with one set of neighbours inadvertently providing relationship counselling for the other as a result of a thin set of walls. I liked how this author uses one of the conventions of soap opera- characters overhearing one another- for the purposes of good!

A Last Hurrah Geoff Le Pard

The poignant imagery in this piece drew me to it.

‘She spreads her hair like rationed butter barely covering her wholemeal scalp.’ Time has passed and this couple’s relationship and circumstances have changed, highlighted in a description that made me ache: ‘Her eyes glisten, rummy where once their twinkling killed me.’

Later, we are made aware of the absence of someone, and the sorrow that the story is steeped in becomes even more apparent:

‘…space…too cramped for three but now we struggle to fill.’

Neighbourly by Steph Ellis

This is a sinister tale of deception. I love how Frieda masquerades as a Good Samaritan while all the time she is stealing from her dying neighbour.

‘Pleasantries, goodbyes.’ These two words, for me, are a wonderful social commentary on the fleeting nature of our neighbourly interactions.

3rd Place

In the Billow of the Storm by Lynn Love

The language of this piece made it stand out for me. ‘My brain tumbles.’ This line indicates the impairment of the main character’s thought processes. This is further highlighted with a focus on their vision of the world- ‘the droplet’ caught in an eyelash ‘cuts daylight into rainbow ribbons.’ Their perception, probably as a result of hypothermia, is distorted. ‘Snug in the cold as flakes melt to music’ is beautiful and tragic. Eloquent writing!

2nd Place

Shed from Grace by Foy S. Iver

I had to do a little research for this one, but it was worth it. The theme of purity is explored in this original take. A goddess is thought to live inside the Kumari before the onset of puberty.

‘Soap bites at Sajani’s eye-flesh’ as she is washed by her servant. The pain experienced physically, here, mirrors the inner turmoil the young girl is feeling at having become ‘impure’ with the onset of menstruation. The character’s awkwardness, now, in her own body is revealed in the line: ‘She squeezes her thighs tighter as the cleansing hand drops below her waist.’

Ironically, the physical development of the girl does not spell progress for her; instead, now that the goddess has left her ‘vacant’, ‘…hovel will replace her palace. A dirge will silence her opera.’ Wonderful use of language and bookends.

Winner

Thud by Jessica Franken

I found this winning flash piece outstanding. The story had me wince throughout because of its use of onomatopoeic words to signify an old man’s fall in the bath.

The opening dialogue is deliberately disjointed, displaying Jean’s anxiety at her husband’s fall and providing the reader key information right from the outset, ‘Soap…he…slipped…his head.’

The details of ‘backwards nightgown, barefoot in the snow’ are raw and distressing.

One of the main features of this story is that – again through thin walls – a neighbour, the narrator, hears the noise of the man hitting his head.

‘So close I shot out my arms to catch him…’ This part of the story is so authentic, I almost wanted to shoot my own arms out.

Even in such a short word count the reader is given a taste of what the narrator’s backstory might be when s/he wishes her/himself away from urban life and its interconnections, imagining ‘tending sheep on a quiet hillside.’
This story will stay with me for a long time for many reasons but especially because of this line:

‘… but walls are still solid and living still cruel.’

Well done on an excellent piece of flash fiction!

Thud

Jessica Franken

“Soap…he slipped…his head…” Squeak—thud. Ten p.m., my neighbor Jean at my door, backwards nightgown, barefoot in the snow.

Squeak—thud. I heard it through the bathroom wall. Squeak. So close I shot my arms out to catch him, but walls are still solid and living still cruel. Thud.

Squeak—thud. I heard it and knew Jean would come. In the seconds between thud and knock, even as I moved to the door I imagined myself far away, tending sheep on a quiet hillside.

But then the knock, then a deep breath, then Jean in my arms, her grief an aria in life’s savage opera.

May 242015
 
Photo Credit: David Joyce via CC.

Photo Credit: David Joyce via CC.

Welcome to the results show. Another fantastic round of Micro Bookends. That photo coupled with the bookends, FEAR and FLYING, really got your creative juices flowing. Gold teeth, bad breath, bad trips, and screaming. Lots and lots and lots of screaming. I think this is one of the strongest top threes we’ve ever had. I had all of them in the winner’s spot at one point. In the end I chose…. well, you’ll just have to read on to find out.

Honourable Mentions

Positive Thinking by Geoff Holme

Some very clever wordplay here – power of Persuasion, nicely done. Poor Sam might not make it to his daughter’s wedding, showing how real flying fear can be. It’s just as well Alicia is a bibliophile as well as a bookworm. Imagine if she had a flimsy James Patterson she’d picked up at the airport. Good fun.

Not-So-Impenetrable Walls by Caitlin Gramley

Great use of the opening bookend: “Fear is what keeps me here.” The character’s OCD (“Healthy is my name, cleanliness is my game”) has led him or her to this desperate situation. I really like the sense of panic from the short sharp closing sentences, right down to the Yodaesque finish.

Contemplations of a Dying Man by Carlos Orozco

Appropriate that Fear and Loathing is playing on the television given the psychedelic nature of the story. Very powerful images throughout: “He tried to lower his jaw to the floor, so that the flavor could crawl out.”, “The only logical way to get rid of the taste now would be to swallow his tongue.” Terrible (in a good way) ending. Nightmarish stuff.

Mining for Gold by Steph Ellis

Excellent use of the photo prompt: the harvesting of valuable items in the Nazi concentration camps. A harrowing story. The line “a small sun that shone briefly before the pliers did their work” speaks volumes to me. Thankfully, the story ends on a positive: “rumours about the approaching Allies started flying.”

3rd Place

Fear’s Lozenge by Foy S. Iver

Such a good title and concept. I think we can all admit to be swallowed by fear from time to time. Beautiful language from the excellent opening line (“Fear pops you in its mouth and sucks on you”) to the hopeful finish (“Somewhere – free – your almost-children are flying.”) Bonus points for mentioning the gold tooth, tongue, throat and saliva. You certainly squeezed that photo prompt 😉 .

2nd Place

Fear by Jacki Donnellan

Fear as a drug to be used to cure a humdrum life. Such a good concept and brilliantly explored. We get the humdrum from the “magnolia-walled office” and the MC “plodding from one safe, sanitised moment to the next”. I love the descriptions of the effect of fear: “boredom to unease; heartbeat to hoof beats.” But like all drugs, it’s possible to overdose on fear, especially premium grade: “Above the crescendo of my scream I can see Death’s angels flying.” Such a powerful closing line.

Winner

Phantom by Marie McKay

The opening line grabs you and won’t let go until the story has taken you through its lovely rhythm to nightmarish conclusion.  The story and word choice are excellent, but what I really love about this piece is the rhythm. I don’t know if we’re looking at a supernatural being or if the MC has a mental disorder, but the short sharp sentences heighten the sense of unease. I always think good dialogue can carry a lot of weight, and the line, “What’s keeping you, Lady?” shows more than a few lines of description ever could. And speaking of rhythm, the train thrumming “Take care! Take care!” to the MC adds to the nightmarish quality of the story.

Phantom

Marie McKay

‘Fear me,’ he says- just as he hands me my change; just before the train pulls up; just before the guy behind me shouts, ‘What’s keeping you, Lady?’

I try to find a trace of the words on his face. In the lines across his forehead. In his pinpoint pupils. In the shiny gold between his yellow teeth. But they’ve disappeared.

Except, somehow, I am in possession of them. I carry them onto the train, feel them fluttering at my chest. I try to pull them into some other shape. But the train thrums, ‘Take care! Take care!’ I turn towards the squawking skies and watch the noises flying.

May 032015
 
Photo Credit: Dan Markeye via CC.

Photo Credit: Dan Markeye via CC.

Welcome to the results show. First, a huge thanks to this week’s judge, Ed Broom. As always you made judging a tough gig. Ed handled it with aplomb. Here’s what he thought of it all:

Perhaps inevitably given the unfortunate Kaspar Hauser and that rather creepy photo, there were an awful lot of equally unfortunate children in a lot of nasty mazes, sewers and other subterranean structures. Not all of them made it out. Yikes.

At times it felt quite claustrophobic down there in the deep dark dampness of an asylum or breeding chamber or wartime tunnel. I’d guess that the body count reached a new high this week with many other troubled souls left along the way.

That aside, there was much quality writing (including some excellent poetry) and some highly original ideas. Above all, though, I wanted stories. The ones I’ve picked out below all told tales which hooked my interest. I cared for the characters and rooted for them as individuals.

As ever, congratulations to all of you for taking the time and trouble to enter given the huge constraints of this competition: you all deserve a medal. Go print off one now and stick it on your monitor. And three cheers to Micro Bookends Dave, obviously. Anyway, over to the judge and jury for the prizes.

Honourable Mentions

Set Free by Dylyce P. Clarke

A troubled boy – possessed or probably only guilty of being different – is expelled from the city, his home. Some nicely straightforward writing quickly gives us the backstory then cuts to the stranger who utters a single word. Should the boy take his hand? I like the fact that we can’t see inside the boy’s head and that we’re left hanging. Please let that stranger be a good man!

Rat Child Found in The Dales. Chief Inspector to Investigate by Foy S. Iver

It takes something to raise a titter from the story of a feral child, but that line – “That she was raised by cave rats?” – tickled my ribs. As if that Chief Inspector didn’t have enough on his plate, poor chap, here’s something else to sort out. Funny and farcical dialogue, well constructed, and I’d like to hope that the author used this story to flip the bird to a real acquaintance named Kerry.

Dashed Again by Meg Kovalik

The intriguingly named and cloaked Orion presents himself for examination by his spectral father figure through some sort of grate. We sail from the highs of wild optimism to the lows of rejection in a mere 100 words. I love that carefully chosen verb, “flail”, but I especially like everything that we’re not being told. Why does the gate open so infrequently? What must Orion do to succeed? What will happen if he does succeed? An enjoyably enigmatic tale.

3rd Place

Dreams Soaked In Gasoline by Iskandar Haggarty

A heady blend of poetry and prose here with echoes of the late Syd Barrett’s crazy diamond. Plenty of killer phrases and imagery from that “stale cigarette” to the “words of dead poets” and that repetition of “discarded”. Love that title, too. Anyone else reminded of the great Tom Waits? She, the central character, sounds wise beyond her years. Does she really go up in flames? A “damned revolutionary” – good work, soldier.

2nd Place

Life, One Fungus at a Time by Emily Clayton

Mum’s gone leaving Dad and daughter, quickly becoming the image of her mother. Lots to love here: “like a granny without her specs” is a terrific turn of phrase, even more so when applied to a young child. Another well chosen verb, “huffs”, perfectly captures her impatience, and I like the pairing of that “military stance” and “Captain Kaylie”. As if that weren’t enough, we should mention the mushrooms. The evil mushrooms which “ate a child.” I’m not sure I want to know too much more about this: I’m a wee bit scared. Quality piece of writing.

Winner

Away Sweet Child, Ride Away by R Matt Lashley

Maybe it’s the smooth use of not one but two classic lyrics (for which I am a complete sucker) as Bookends. Maybe it’s the way these refer to that single FM station emerging from that “one working speaker.” Maybe it’s that “new-to-her” or “fresh biscuit dough” wordage. Maybe it’s the automatic associations invoked by that ’82 Datsun. It’s all these, of course, and more besides. For me, topping the lot like a bright red cherry, it’s the sheer unbridled optimism of this story. She’s had a torrid past but now she’s getting out: this, people, is the feel good story of the year! Don’t you want to be sitting right there in the passenger seat as she floors the gas or, at the very least, shouting encouragement? Excellent stuff with a top-notch title too. Class!

Away Sweet Child, Ride Away

R Matt Lashley

“Wild thing, you make my …” The Troggs’ tune, barely perceptible over the whir of tires, crackled and popped from the front left of the new-to-her dark blue ’82 Datsun. The radio received one station: classic rock. The one working speaker, like her life, was shattered.

But today, the lonely, abandoned, broken girl who sold five dollar handjobs on the subway would disappear forever.

She wiped the dollar store makeup from her eyes then floored the gas. Hot desert wind blasted her face, baking her cheeks like sticky, fresh biscuit dough. Then she cranked the volume, tossed her head back and howled with Axl, “Woah, oh, oh, oh, sweet child …”