Jul 122015
 
Photo Credit: Tekniska museet via CC.

Photo Credit: Tekniska museet via CC.

Welcome to the results show. First, a couple of announcements:

There will be no Micro Bookends this week (boo) because I’m going on holiday (hurrah). The next contest will be on Thursday 23rd of July.

At 5am BST Tomorrow (Monday 13th 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. The authors of the top three stories will each receive a copy of Doing Creative Writing by Steve May (that’s a real book with paper and ink and that new-book smell), and will also go forward to the Micro Bookend of the year contest to be held at the end of year one.

Now, back to business. A huge thanks  goes to this week’s judge, Iskandar Haggarty. Here’s what he thought of it all:

I’ve got to say it; you all have not only the talent, but the bravery as well! One look at this week’s photo prompt had me stumped, and yet I read the various and diverse ways in which it was incorporated. Hats off to you all; I’m severely impressed. Choosing a winner was incredibly difficult. But it had to be done, so without further ado, here are this week’s standings!

Honourable Mentions

Drive by Emily Livingstone

I loved the creepy undertone of this one; the excitement of the girls and what they hoped to encounter made it realistic and relatable (and who doesn’t love a character named Laurel?) while the hostile ending leaves you on the edge of your seat; what happened? I want to know more! A quality story.

Hairpins and Hurricanes by maielizabeth

Okay, so I might have a weakness for the strange/outlandish, but this one caught my eye immediately; the description of the girls who controlled the earth was interesting and borderline whimsical (which is wonderful!) and a very fresh approach to the photo prompt. The description of Dolly as being the oldest by “a billion years” is so simple and outlandish that I actually believe it; interesting, quirky, and a formidable piece all in all.

Spontaneity by Numbers by Geoff Le Pard

This piece reminded me of the late-great Ray Bradbury because of its futuristic approach to problem solving. The piece managed to stay fictitious while sounding close enough to reality for it to sound like a plausible future. All I can say is that after reading this, I think I want a Hu-maid!

Seventh Hope by Holly Geely

This story had me hooked from the first line; its matter-of-factness pulls you in, and the writer uses this to expand on their sci-fi world in a manner that loses no momentum whatsoever. The excitement at finding a new and livable home is palpable, which makes the last line all the more devastating (and in its own sense, even a little tragically funny). I don’t think I can praise this piece enough.

3rd Place

The Switch by Marie McKay

This piece included it all; a creepy and gripping plotline, beautiful descriptions (‘scarlet words’ and ‘rooms that had sunnier aspects once’ made me gasp in awe) and an all-round sense of completeness. What the narrator has to go through on a day-to-day basis is traumatizing, and one can’t help but feel horrified while realizing what is going on. The writing in itself is the type that takes a hold of you and doesn’t let go. An absolute pleasure to read.

2nd Place

Newtonian Mechanics For Beginners by A V Laidlaw

Description. The description in this piece is so masterfully crafted that I could see absolutely everything while reading; I felt as if I myself were a satellite! The use of both short and long sentences gives the piece a variety that keeps each and every line interesting. The last sentence almost made my heart stop; it is so simple, so chilling; so strong. This wasn’t writing, it was painting. It was art. I am in awe of the author. Incredible job.

Winner

In the Control Room by Donald Uitvlugt

This piece is a winner and rightly so; it took me on an emotional rollercoaster. Its concise, dialogue-intense beginning felt top-secret and mysterious, which then melts into slight confusion at the mention of a hazy picture, which packs an immense punch with the final two sentences of the story. The bookends were used seamlessly; it feels as if it wasn’t even written for this week’s competition! An excellent story worth its weight in gold.

In the Control Room

Donald Uitvlugt

“Six Five Seven through Seven One Nine — no response.”

“Reroute through the Eight Hundred block, but keep trying those pathways.”

“Received. Wilco.”

The center worked furiously, busy hands moving wire after wire. But no matter how fast the girls worked, the systems collapsed faster.

The supervisor turned toward the monitor. A hazy picture showed the face of a woman. She should know who the woman was, but…

“Not getting through on the Eight Hundred block, mum.”

“Keep trying. The answer is there. Somewhere.”

***

Barbara kissed her mother’s cheek. She would not cry. Damn Alzheimer’s. Damn that death by degrees.

Jun 212015
 
Before we get down to business, a quick reminder that the second Flashdogs anthology was officially published today. There are two books: Solstice : Dark and Solstice : Light. All proceeds go to the fantastic charity, The Book Bus. Click the images below to go to your local Amazon store where you can get your hands on these beautiful books.
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Endless

Photo Credit: Hernán Piñera via CC.

Thanks to everyone who contributed this week, and thanks to Geoff Le Pard for some excellent judging. The man’s a legend 😉 . Here’s what he thought of it all:

As a first time judge I had no idea what to expect but in 30 stories I confronted absorbing lifts, time-travelling Pope killers, Keith Urban the worst date night, the sad demise of the rural vampire and, of course Chris and Mike v…. Boy, do you guys have imaginations. Dystopia was a popular theme – no one seemed to link ‘URBAN’ with sunny uplands – as was the soul sucking nature of mirrors. Loved it, peeps, so muchas ta-everso.

David, being a natural tyrant insists this isn’t a primary school egg and spoon race where you all get a prize so…

Honourable Mentions

Dudetastic by Holly Geely

I suppose it’s because I can relate to the narrator’s confusion over language, in much the same way I was confused when confronted with Chaucer. ‘When did I stop understanding teenagers?’ When does anyone who isn’t a teenager understand them? The pain of the narrator is so clear. But please, tell me ‘Dudetastic’ isn’t the coming expression?

O Tempora! O Mores! by Geoff Holme

Where to start with this? The typo that means the wrong Pope is targeted. The innocence of appearing as a Christ-like figure that convinces the visited Pope to undertake the most compassionate mission tragically curtailed after 12 days because of the confused mission. I shouldn’t laugh, really, but…

Dates Dwindle by Iskandar Haggarty

A date gone wrong. I loved ‘Empty see-you-soons’. And the reference to ‘a little steam escaped her latte’ as she seethed at his comment. I was with that poor sucker, sure he was striking the right note only to realise too late it was just the death knell.

The Faymus Professys of Archibald Legend by A.J. Walker

Please read this, flash writers extraordinaire and tell me this doesn’t relate at some level to all of us. ‘Zombie apocalypse on steroids’ is a frightening concept but when linked to Flash dogs is truly mind altering. ‘Wolves with Thesaurus’ and saying Pratchett could have been one but for his use of footnotes to bypass the word count – perfect and laugh out loud funny (in context of course). My favourite line…

They chew their stories – Spitting out large morsels; keeping only the essential juicy bits’

That is the perfect mirror held up to us all.

3rd Place

Intervention by Pattyann McCarthy

Here is a live story told in 100 words. Elsie is a relic of the past, fighting her corner and for others amongst newly infiltrating gangs. She assumes she’s left alone because she is an anomaly but in fact it’s because she is the legend of the streets. Of all the stories this contained so much, allowing me to imagine a whole life spent and imagine the future too. Excellent.

2nd Place

Walk by Marie McKay

I took to this story immediately. Our unnamed narrator is a wage slave who has ‘a clock for a soul’. He is one of the pen-pushing ‘dead’. If you’ve commuted, you understand the precision of ‘ten mouthfuls of cornflakes, two coffees, one sugar’ and ‘spoonfuls of time measured out in crockery’.

Just when we’ve settled to this drudgery he spins the twist. Today is different. Today it’s ‘head and heels high’ our hero is ready ‘to walk the runway of catcalls and traffic cones’. Great stuff.

Winner

Miss Otis Has No Regrets by Ed Broom

This has everything. A story with depth, backstory and the stimulus for the reader’s imagination to think about the future; beautiful imagery; and some excellent humour.

Beryl is retiring from the planning department – now ‘Urban Design’. Jim has retired too ‘He got golf clubs. She has Amazon vouchers’.

The dialogue sums up so many retirements: ‘Don’t forget us Beryl’ ‘I won’t!’ I already have.

She glances at the gridlock ‘Jim’s idea, the one-way system’.

But just when we assume Jim is her nemesis we have Beryl blushing at her memory of journeys on the permanently moving ‘paternoster’. ‘Those up-and-over journeys passed into legend.’

I really enjoyed this simple tale, so well told. Thank you; now I want to know what will happen to Beryl and Jim in retirement!

Miss Otis Has No Regrets

Ed Broom

“Urban Design” reads the self-adhesive sign on the closing door. Beryl wonders what became of that polished brass “Planning” plaque which greeted her for 35 years. Jim probably pocketed it when he retired. He got golf clubs. She has Amazon vouchers.

“Don’t forget us, Beryl!”

“I won’t!”

I already have, she thinks, glancing down at the 5pm gridlock. Jim’s idea, that one-way system.

As usual, one lift is dead. Such a shame they removed the paternoster. “On you hop, it doesn’t stop!” was Jim’s catchphrase. In the lift door, Beryl catches herself blushing. Those up-and-over journeys passed into legend.

Micro Bookends 1.28 – Results

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Apr 262015
 
Photo Credit: Liline sur Flickr via CC.

Photo Credit: Liline sur Flickr via CC.

Well, that was fun. So much patriotism and emotion, and not just from the English. A big thanks to N J Crosskey for wrestling with all your dragons and picking the winners. Here’s what she thought:

I’ve never judged a competition before, and you pesky writers had to go and make it difficult didn’t you? So many wonderful stories. You’ve made me laugh, cry, nod along, and even raised the goose bumps on my flesh. I want to thank you all for the privilege of reading your work. A lot of you took risks, either with the prose itself or by being topical/political. I really admire that. Writers should be unafraid to experiment. Each and every story was unique and well executed. Choosing winners was exceptionally tricky, and you should all be very happy with your entries. However, choose I must, and these are the stories that particularly stood out to me.

Honourable Mentions

Knight of the Rock by Holly Geely

I absolutely loved the characterisation in this one. It is skilful indeed to portray personalities so well in a piece that is almost entirely dialogue. I fell for Jacob, the disrespectful squire, straight away. I can picture him so clearly in my mind, though no physical description was given. Giving backstory through dialogue between two characters (both of whom are already aware of past events), AND making it sound natural, is extremely difficult to pull off. Often the writer falls in to the “as you know” trap, and the conversation sounds unrealistic (why would character A be telling character B something he already knows?), but the author of this piece made it seem effortless. The dialogue was very realistic, and the line “you only won this battle because the goblins were ill.” Made me laugh out loud. Terrific. Jacob was a triumph!

Did they Blowtorch it? by Sal Page

There were several drunk Englishmen this week, this one stood out to me as a scarily familiar and well captured snapshot of binge drinking culture. The phrase “celebrating something or other” made me laugh, and nod in recognition at the same time. It’s all about the beer, and the singing and laughing too, but mostly the beer. I love rule breaking and risk-taking and inventing your own word certainly does that! “Sizzletasticly so.” Works so well, really conjures up the image and sounds exactly like the sort of phrase someone who has had one (or three) too many would come up with. Heck, I’ve heard a fair few new adjectives/adverbs fall from the lips of the tipsy! Thus, the language of this piece really added to its realism.

George Slays the Dragon by A.J. Walker

This one really took me on a rollercoaster. I was hooked by the snappy first line: George expects. I’m a huge fan of well-placed short, snappy sentences (y’know, the type that give your grammar checker an embolism) and this one said so much more than a longer phrase could have. Then the author led me to believe, through the use of the names Patrick and Andrew, that I was watching St George ruing the fact that his day doesn’t get as much attention as his Irish and Scottish counterpart’s do. But no, of course, George was stressing over something much more important than that – football!

Then I spat out my coffee at the line: “Like a Farage!” partly because it made me laugh, and partly because I was slightly shocked that the author took the risk of including a political reference. So this one gets an honourable mention for twisting the tale on me, making me laugh, and being topically bold!

3rd Place

George and the Dragon by Jacki Donnellan

Goosebumps. This one hit me in the guts and then crept under my skin. The line: “But when George returned home, none of his memories of war would fit inside” is utterly magnificent. It gives no specific details as to what those memories may be, it doesn’t have to. Instead the author trusts the reader to fill in the blanks, and gives us the type of image that sticks, and makes us reflect. An incredibly sad and poignant tale that is again painfully familiar and topical. An exploration of the terrible human cost of war, even for those who survive it. Beautiful, tragic and a memorable piece that will remain with me.

2nd Place

A Fear of the Unknown by Iskandar Haggarty 

This was a magnificent piece that really flips perspectives, and spoke to me metaphorically as well as literally. Exceptionally clever, the author has looked for ways in which the soldiers themselves resemble dragons, and described them beautifully in the lines:

“Loud roars.

Sharp claws.

Metallic, scaly hides.”

The choice to put these short, punchy descriptions on separate lines also makes the piece stand out visually, something which is often overlooked in flash fiction, but I personally feel adds another dimension to a story (and catches the eye of the scroller!)

The line: “But as the ironclad monsters rode over the hill on their four-legged beasts, his father’s carcass in tow,” was enough to slay ME, never mind the dragon. I really felt his fear, his grief, his horror. Incredibly sad, and very moving.

Winner

Full English by Ed Broom

This excellent piece is a perfect example of how to tell a whole story using just one, seemingly ordinary, moment in time. The line “the cat’s seen it all before.” Tells us that this is a run-of-the-mill breakfast for George and his Mum. But their story is revealed through heart-breaking little details as the piece progresses. It’s hard to believe I’ve only had a hundred words to get to learn about George, I feel I know him so well, which is testament to the author’s skill. There are blanks for the reader’s mind to fill in, which only adds to the depth and heart of the piece.

“He’s already changed his shirt after tidying last night’s empties and ashtrays.” This tells us so much, about George himself, and about life at home. I really felt the grief, the loss and the unspoken emptiness in their household. The desperate attempts to be normal, to keep order, with broken hearts. George is taking care of his mother the best way he knows how, but I can’t help but feel that she is wracked not only by grief at the loss of her husband, but fear for her son as well. Her conflicting emotions (pride and apprehension) come across so well when she says: “George you’re a saint. Your father would be…” and then proceeds to study his dog tag.

The author used the bookends seamlessly, and created a beautiful, poignant tale using just one moment in time.

Full English

Ed Broom

George waves away her smoke and reaches for the ketchup. Sunlight bounces off the dog tag but the cat’s seen it all before.

“Mind your uniform, George.”

“You know me.”

He’s already changed his shirt after tidying last night’s empties and ashtrays.

“I made lunch.”

“George, you’re a saint. Your father would be…”

Her fingers trace the familiar embossing on the metal ID hanging from his neck: name, service number, blood group.

Glancing down, George sees his yolk submerged in red gloop.

“Mum, shut up and eat. You know what you’re like if you skip breakfast.”

“I know. I turn into a right dragon.”

Micro Bookends 1.23 – Results

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Mar 222015
 
Photo Credit: Wendy via CC.

Photo Credit: Wendy via CC.

Welcome to the results show. You all did remarkably well with the difficult bookends and photo prompt this week. Such a photo obviously led to wide range of interpretations and I enjoyed every single one of them.

A huge thank you to judge, Jessica Franken. Here’s what she had to say about this week’s contest:

Thanks to David for another creative contest. I think I would have found the prompts this week quite challenging, so I was a little bit glad to be judging rather than writing…

It was so fun to see what everyone came up with. Thank you to every one of you beautiful, twisted, joyous, talented, adventurous writers for sharing your work. I spent a lot of time with each story and it was my pleasure to live in your shining worlds. It was not easy to select the winners. I know judges always say this, but it’s true. Great work, everyone, and keep writing!

Honourable Mentions

The Gifts of Belief by Emily Livingstone

I liked the dialogue in this story: the new-agey mystical vagueness of the doctor, Ella hesitant but hopeful. We feel for Ella, who just wants to get better. But we also see things from the doctor’s perspective—people make themselves so easy to con! I couldn’t decide whether I wanted Doctor Which to get his comeuppance eventually, but I knew I wanted to see him in action for a while longer first.

Professor Doctor History by Holly Geely

OK, a character with the first name “Doctor” is just really funny. “Professor Doctor” made me giggle. But this story is more than that joke. The concept of a history professor being made to rewrite human history, reprogramming humans so they wouldn’t even know history had been rewritten, is spooky. And this piece gets bonus points for creatively incorporating the photo prompt. I could really picture evil robot ACE-17 walking around with an iPod stuck to his magnetic body.

Homeostasis by Meg Kovalik

Objects are not just objects—they are reminders of all we’ve experienced, and can be really hard to let go. As the title of this story alludes to, these ojbects, especially when accumulated, can keep us from moving forward. Maria begins this story feeling embarrassed and in the wrong for hoarding sentimental items (she “stammered apologetically,” her “lip quivered in shame”), but by the end what she feels is “self-acceptance.” I liked the progression she went through, and that she is choosing stasis even when those around her are trying to move her.

3rd Place

Petty Theft Jacki Donnellan

Being a teenager, as I imagine the narrator to be here, is an experience so heightened and traumatic I’m surprised any of us get through it. The only thing possibly scarier is being the parent of a teenager. I feel for them both in this story, the kid who needs attention and the dad who wants to show his son that crimes have consequences. I like the rhythm of the first line and the imagery of the second. I hope things turn out well for these two characters.

2nd Place

Untitled by Casey Rose Frank

This piece has great rhythm, and uses line breaks and punctuation well to create atmosphere for the driving single-mindedness of the task at hand (changing a memory). This back-and-forth could be within the narrator’s mind or could be a second party pressuring the protagonist to forget what he or she saw. Either way, it’s a chilling meditation on guilt and the way we fixate on the moment that could have changed everything.

Winner

ctrl + alt + delete by Foy S. Iver

I liked that this piece used the “doctor” prompt in a creative way, and incorporated the photo prompt as well. But I especially liked the vivid and visceral language. It was easy to feel myself within the story, especially with phrases such as “I drive my fingertips into the keys” and “The badge burns a circle in my breast pocket.” As readers, we don’t know what catastrophe left Earth in “sooty remnants,” but we can see even in these few words that people haven’t changed: there are still “company people” calling the shots and rewriting history through propaganda, and workers with little choice but to follow. Small details carry heavy weight in this story. It says a lot about a person if he’s getting manicures when others are living in “stick-and-blanket shelters,” and it says a lot about our narrator that he is willing to defy orders to keep the badge. We get the sense that we are witnessing the first small rebellion in what will hopefully grow into a larger resistance to the company—that the badge will continue to burn and give the narrator the courage to fight back.

ctrl + alt + delete

Foy S. Iver

“Doctor that image, will ya?”

His poke sends pixels scattering. The muscles in my arm tense. I drive my fingertips into the keys to keep from smacking his flawless hand away.

Damn company people and their manicures.

Clawing through the sooty remnants of Earth left mine ashen from a million memories, bodies, souls.
I wipe the stick-and-blanket shelter from the image along with another piece of my autonomy.

“We can’t have Earth looking hospitable. Theo said you found trinkets.”

I nod.

“A knife, an iPod, a picture. Anything else?”

The badge burns a circle in my breast pocket.

It is humanity. A testimony. There are survivors.

“No.”

Micro Bookends 1.19 – Results

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Feb 222015
 
Photo Credit: matthewwu88 via CC.

Photo Credit: matthewwu88 via CC.

Ready for the MB1.19 results? It’s another ABCD (Above and Beyond the Call of Duty) award for this weeks judge, Deborah B. Foy, who has written comments on all of your wonderful stories. Thanks! Take it away, Deb:

Before anything else, thank you, Dave, for hosting. I can’t imagine the consistency it would take to pull this off so well every week. Perhaps this says something about me…

Thanks also to each of you who submitted and who keep coming back, commenting, encouraging, and making us young writers feel comfortable sharing our passion.

Judging gives birth to anxiety. Not the crippling kind. The one that whispers self-doubt in your ear. There’s a fear of offending, disappointing, or simply picking “the wrong one” (as if there is a wrong one with this crowd). Brian S. Creek expressed it well on his blog a few weeks back. Anonymity is a fine security cloak but it can’t chase all the demons away. Please know your tales were kept with care.

Without further blahblahblah, and from beneath the cloak, here are your stories back.

Chao by Jack

Poor Chao. 🙁 Through his unfortunate accident, we sneak a glance at the awkward emotions of sympathy (or pity) one human can feel for another. Clearly there is far more tale lurking behind the observations of the MC and wanting to know what happened 12 years back is killing me.

CHRIS AND MIKE vs THE LESSER-SPOTTED DRAGON by Brian S Creek

Not only was this another thrilling installment in the adventures of Chris and Mike, the use of bookends was fantastic! They fit seamlessly and made me forget that they were even required, exactly what I’m looking for with MB stories. Well done!

Rebirth by David Shakes

Another story that incorporated “Spring” and “Festival” as naturally as if they weren’t borrowed. This tiny tale of romance lured in my soul only to chew it up and spit it back out at that penultimate line: “I’m sorry for what came next.” WHAT?! What came next? What happens to Dani?! Please, don’t leave it to my imagination! *The author of this piece must see me afterwards*

Too Close by Sydney Scrogham

This one was impressive if only because every line of dialog was formed in the interrogative yet it still felt real. Both Voices are clearly caught up in their own heads and if they only took a moment to listen to the other, maybe they wouldn’t have had such a close call…

Celebration by Susan O’Reilly

The title of this poem was so perfectly at odds with its message; the Voice rejecting life and its insistence on celebration as entropy sucks joy from his/her bones. As a privileged witness to that burden, you feel the weight of aging and leaving behind the things you once cared about that are still important, just not as consuming.

My favorite line? “Losing mobility along with my hair.”

Father and Son by stellakatet

Best hyperbole with “I had small feet; his were the largest ever to walk this earth.” Here, there’s an entire lineage of sons trying to fill their father’s mythically sized shoes. At the last, his only hope is to pray his mother doesn’t realize it isn’t him dancing beneath that mask.

Waking the Dragon Woman by F. E. Clark

How temperamental dragons are and especially when roused at the improper time. Even Spring cannot not come without their bidding, you know. Moral of the story? Let sleeping dragons lie.

Spring Cleaning by Susan O’Reilly

Being a *tiny* bit of a neat freak, I enjoy spring cleaning so while it was hard to relate to this woeful husband, I did feel sympathy for him…until I read the line “do it wrong on purpose day.” Really bro? Not cool.

Spring Festival by ladyleemanila

I loved this little poem for its contrasts. While the rest of the world is waking, unfolding, gathering energy, the third stanza hints that not all are as caught up in the rebirth. One soul at least is being exhorted to “Forget the past,” and “Be brave.” Ending on such a positive third stanza means that soul could relinquish what’s already slipped away (I hope).

direction by stu06bloc9

The amount of alliteration almost melded my mind but something about this Voice stuck with me. Not everyone is keen on direction and less so when coming from a “dragon of a man.” It spoke strongly to the types of leadership that will and absolutely won’t get results. I’d have walked straight out of there.

For Sale by Susan O’Reilly

The title of this piece is even funnier on second read through. Maybe it’s the early morning coffee buzz but now I’m picturing Randy as dejected and selling what he couldn’t woe with his “oozing oils.” Another writer that chose names well.

Fight of the Year by stomperdad

This one snuggled deep into to my child-heart. I felt like I was running right beside those two warriors, crouching in the dark, then….inspiration and fierce self-defense! Quite the adventure epic in less than 150 words. 🙂

Seasonal by Susan O’Reilly

Like mother, like daughter, no? A sweet  tale of “a good witch” and her helpless children. While all four names together in one family are certainly “cringe-worthy,” separately they’re adorable.

Transition by Marie McKay

I’ve got to say, I did not anticipate this ending. Poetic imagery like “suppleness returning to muscle,” “unfurling from endless night,” and “dewy flesh,” drew me in and the last line sealed it, “I am cannibal, and this is my festival.” Gorgeous!

Opportunity by mrmacrum

Creepy Chongun! A brother’s greed is well-hidden until the second paragraph. This tale gives new meaning to optimism and opportunity.

Finding Fen by Lauren Greene

An endearing quest to find the one that got away, I liked that Chao represented a self-sufficient spirit, exhorting his friend to make his own luck, while the MC leans on traditions of animal-years, certain that “Good things will come.”

Who Says Youth Is Wasted On The Young? by Geoff Holme

Another story that made me laugh! I loved the interjection “Mormon…no alcohol” and the allusion in the title that perhaps these aren’t spring chickens gone wild, but instead septuagenarians set loose.

Wicker Dreams by Michael Simko

Intriguing to say the least. These lines sprang from the screen “Summoning rage from my losses,” “anger from my shame of fleeing,” and “My hoe carves into the beast,” presented a visceral feast for the reader. Major props for the original twist at the end, human as centerpiece.

Penhold by Ed Broom

Penhold perfectly plays out the frustration that comes with achieving your goal after long hours of persistence, only to find the camera wasn’t rolling. And as they say “Pics or didn’t happen.” I weep for you, Danny Boy! Also cleverly subtle tie-in to “Year of the Goat” with Danny stroking his goatee. Confession: I had to look up penhold. Happy to have learned something!

Chinese Whispers by Geoff Holme

Ahhh the importance of listening… I learned a new name for Telephone with this story, so thank you! Wang’s enthusiasm for helping is adorable and only makes the “stetson, checkered shirt, bandana and cowboy boots” all the more funny!

A Breakable Promise by Steph Ellis

A quote from William Tecumseh Sherman echoed between my ears reading this, “I tell you, war is hell!” War for a good cause is painful; war for a pointless cause is torture. The last line carried so much: “a ceasefire is a breakable promise and…in times of war, man makes death a festival.”  Beautifully tragic.

Supplication by Nancy Chenier

I’m a sucker for poetic prose! Gorgeous lines throughout “spiky resin,” “labyrinthine ribcage,” “myriad mouths,” and “shrieks…blister” leapt out at me.  The conflict was all laid out in the title, a people bound by violence to worship a being they hate. Gorgeous prose.

Spring in Jerusalem by howdylauren

Those that know me well, are privy to the fact that I LOVE finding deeper meaning through character names. This story has that in spades! “Clemency,” “Kippur,” “Eli,” and “Lina” all display their purpose or personality through the names they bear. As if that isn’t enough, it goes on to play out the harsh reality of Spring in Jerusalem, while there is joy in forgiveness, sadly it’s through death alone.

Honourable Mentions

Culture Clash by Geoff Le Pard

Building a world, let alone a clashing world through dialog (almost exclusively) is difficult and this writer makes it feel easy. As if that wasn’t enough, so much of the lines made me bust out laughing, “No 76 will complain,” “They’ll want MSG,” “You sold his cannabis cookies,” and of course the side-splitting justification that it was “harvest Festival.” For all these reasons, Culture Clash demanded a nod.

Supreme Dragon by Holly Geely

Another story that incorporated the bookends flawlessly, Supreme Dragon, clinched its place in my heart with that final line, revealing that for a creature who is “beyond [our] mortal ways,” he’s quite human, “bummed” at the invitational oversight. The majesty and humanity of this piece at the least deserves an honorable mention.

The Awakening by Donald

The Awakening is a fine example of a story that’s good for what’s not said. Why someone would want to wake such a terrifying beast is left to the imagination and identifying the summoner (or who I presume it was) takes careful reading. Fantastic use of bookends as well.

3rd Place

Leave it Alone Mrs Lee by A.J. Walker

From the bright personifications of early-morning spring and bubbling kettle, to the surly happiness of the MC, this story instantly won a sliver of my heart! It earned an even larger slice after reading how Mr. Liverpool blared his Mercury and didn’t give a sheep’s head for the dragon next store. By the end of it, I wanted to sit and have a beer and pub food with this delightfully grumpy MC and find out what other bands he blasts mid-morning.

2nd Place

The Gaps by Brett Milam

Oh, Melancholy, my first love! From that first glum phrase “carcasses of winter” to the chilling description of those in The Gap as walking “without the maggot bite marks to indicate their decay,” I was hooked. Jonathan’s downward spiral is hauntingly depicted. The line where we are told that he’s doing the “things…you’re supposed to do (and not)” followed by mention of the psychiatrist with her persistent pen, opened up his story to a whole other meaning, adding another layer of tragedy.

Winner

The Risk of Living by Emily Livingstone

Outstanding! Meaningful, layered, with characters that breathe, this story became more wonderful with every read through. It reminded me of that C.S. Lewis quote, “To love [and to live] is to be vulnerable.” Leah knows this and chooses to keep living, carrying out traditions that have long been wiped out by an unwritten tragedy. Paul, meanwhile, is cautious. He can’t see the value in setting off fireworks  and dancing in honor of a time past. The risk of living is exposing yourself, being vulnerable. Well worth it. Masterful story.

The Risk of Living

Emily Livingstone

Spring came after months of huddling together with generators, fires, and blankets. They explored, invading the privacy of the dead, looking into houses and yards.

Leah believed they’d found treasure.

“But you know nothing about this.”

“Paul, it’s human tradition.”

They looked out the window at the empty streets. It had been two months since they’d seen another person.

“It’s risky, Leah. It could attract attention.”

“I miss people.” She donned the intricate lion head and danced toward Paul.

He removed it. “You don’t know what kind of people will come.”

Leah took a precious match and lit a stick of incense. “Tonight, fireworks. We need them—a festival.”

Feb 012015
 
Photo Credit: Matthew Fern via CC.

Photo Credit: Matthew Fern via CC.

I haven’t judged my own contest since MB1.07 on the 20th of November. I said then that I’d forgotten how difficult judging was, and I can only repeat that again today. There were nineteen fantastic stories then; this week there were thirty two.

You all did fantastically well with a tricky opening bookend. And that photo inspired some wonderfully dark tales. There was inevitably some similarities across your stories. I’m always on the lookout for an original take on the photo prompt and smooth use of the bookends. Now, on to the winners.

Honourable Mentions

Looking Good! by AJ Walker

I like to think that I’ve read enough of your stories by now, both here and around the place, to recognise your writing, but I must admit I was surprised when I saw this was written by AJ. Make of that what you will! The set up is perfect: the flat stomach, the approving looks from the ladies. Then the truth: cancer. After his “month of looking good” he relieves his own suffering in the woods with a gun. The final line is fantastic.

Royal Hush by Chris Milam

It starts with a fantastic title and gets better from there. “Weight for me” is a sneaky, yet original, use of the opening bookend, and completely believable from the woman described brilliantly as having “a face as delicate and edible as spun sugar and a body as luscious as a wedge of cheesecake”. The “melancholy casino” sounds like a grim place, but even there you can find humour.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you by Curtis Bausse

I imagine this is a scene played out in so many dark, fetid bedrooms around the world. Of course sometimes the fantasy spills over into reality leading to an all too familiar tragedy. The scene is drawn perfectly: “munch, swig, joystick.” Even though you know it’s all playing out on screen, you have to worry about what Billy’s future holds.

A Shot in the Dark by Lauren Akers

Ah, online dating. I love the flippant responses to the questions and the foreshadowing of the character’s love of hiking in the woods. Something happened last year to bring about the characters misfortune. We don’t know what but it doesn’t matter. Of course there are no matches, so the character takes one last hike in the woods.

3rd Place

Spree by Holly Geely

I love the situation here: a recently murdered person describes her killer to a mysterious agency who will do their best to stop the killer. “Should I care about that?” the character asks, “I’m dead.” But after the humour comes tragedy. It’s not a single killing but a spree, and the story ends on a chilling note.

2nd Place

Merriam, Webster, and I by Casey Rose Frank

Such an original concept. I love the contrast between the mechanical descriptions from the dictionary and the emotional reality the mother is experiencing. It builds perfectly with the final two lines really hitting the emotional sweet spot. Fantastic writing. A very close call between this and the winner.

Winner

Shifts by Emily Livingstone

Fantastic descriptions of someone held in limbo (“I floated above the world”) after the disappearance of a loved one. The shift is brilliantly described, from hope (“waiting for his return, for the phone to ring”), to acceptance (“I waited for them to find his body, his killer, his story”), to despair when the body is found (“the weight shifts, but still, it’s loss”). The aside with the cashier serves to show how the character is totally immersed in grief. Brilliant writing. Well done, Emily.

Shifts

Emily Livingstone

Weight comes in many forms. Mine is Griff.

When he disappeared two years ago, I floated above the world, waiting for his return, for the phone to ring, for him to reach across the mattress and hold me in my sleep. Over time, I sank closer to earth; I waited for them to find his body, his killer, his story.

Life went on.

Yesterday, a cashier said, “Where’s the smile, huh? It’s not so bad.”

Don’t get me wrong—I work, eat, go out. It’s just hard to lift the corners of my mouth.

Today, the police found his body, and a gun. The weight shifts, but still, it’s loss.

Dec 142014
 
Photo Credit: Alessandro Valli via CC.

Photo Credit: Alessandro Valli via CC.

Hope you’re all having a great Sunday. Thanks to everyone who wrote this week. There was a great range of fantastic stories. We had a lot of disorder, both culinary and mental, and a great deal of explosive stuff, including, but not limited to, diarrhoea. Hope you’re not eating as you read.

Before I hand over to this weeks judge, Bunmi Oke, here’re my own musings on the stories that didn’t make it into the winner’s circle:

Word Salad by Geoff Holme

A very clever title referencing both food and mental disorder, and a nice use of IED. I love the description “her hands writhed like eels in a bucket”. The latter part of the story captures perfectly the sense of helplessness and confusion of trying to make sense of bad news interspersed with medical jargon.

Special Sauce by Voimaoy

This is such a fun story. I love the idea of chilli sauce so hot it sends the ship into a different universe. And the system with such a lovely view the captain says, “let’s stop here for lunch”, conjures up images of space anchors. I wonder what will happen with the new batch of special sauce. Great stuff.

Mushroom Risotto by Stella Turner

Great use of clocks as a running theme. I love the line “her heart was forever being broken by the succession of uncles that came for lunch.” The narrator’s explosive temperament finally shows through for a great ending. Lovely sinister stuff.

Desperate Measures by Natalie Bowers

I love the way the clues are dripped in slowly until the final reveal. The lingering detail on the coke bottle suggests to me that the girls left in a hurry with only limited supplies. Such a good closing line. Well done.

Newness by Cara

You can feel the tension simmering throughout this excellently written story. The line about people judging you, especially if they’re related to you, is so true. This story fits the photo prompt so well. I can picture the character swigging from the bottle of wine, just keeping her emotions in check. I know I’ll be experiencing some of these emotions over the next couple of weeks. Well done.

Diplomacy by Stephanie Ellis

This story is perfectly hinged around the line “She wanted more.” Before that we think the host is trying to avoid any unpleasantness, and after we know the opposite is true – even flash should have a midpoint. At first the line “they detected the bouquet of one of their own” made me think the guests were a family of vintners opening one of their priceless vintages, but of course it is much more literal than that! Great vampiric fiction.

Get The Shot by Ed Broom

Pulp Fiction spin-off where Mia Wallace and Vince Vega get married and spend their evenings watching TV and hosting dinner parties. I love it! Great use of other Travolta movies for symptoms – Danny Zuko’s hand-jive from Grease, and Tony Manero’s arm in the air from Saturday Night Fever. Great fun.

People Who Need People by R Matt Lashley

Matt wins the award for best use of the bookends: explosive diarrhea and bedwetting disorder. This is a brilliantly unique, unusual story and very well written. I love the fictional diarrhea that occurs during church services or when their favourite sports team is playing. The image of the assault by the overweight son and his apple-face girlfriend will give me nightmares tonight. The ending is as strangely brilliant as the rest of it. Matt sure has a unique and very enjoyable style.

Spirit of the Season by Nancy Chenier

A lovely story that perfectly captures seasonal disharmony. I love the description of the argument “curdling the gravy and souring my eggnog.” And the ending is perfect, with the children taking refuge under the table to argue over far more important issues.

Dragon Fire by Anna Elizabeth

A nice bit of fantasy here. Explosive mood swings are perfectly natural when you’re of dragon descent. I love the description of the character: “slight and feisty, adorned with hazel eyes and a chocolate brown pixie cut, plus, she loved to bake”. The fact she loves to be says so much about the character. Being of dragon descent and loving baking is a great contrast. What has led Zalia to be sitting on the floor muttering “it’s not a disorder”? Will we ever find out? Perhaps.

A big thanks to this weeks judge, Bunmi Oke. Here’s what he thought about this week’s stories:

They did not have to come in their hundreds but with the quality of the entries I had to peruse (and with the bookends), you won’t exactly find my job over the weekend an enviable one. I reckon contributors did really have fun inking across a spectrum of uneasy calm to mildly disturbed and to utterly eruptive characters amid messy settings. A miscellany of humor, chaos and elements of surprise thrown in, in no particular proportion or order (yeah, that’s disorder) made this task for me as delightful as it was daunting.

Believe me, winner or not, you all were splendid. Keep at it. (And bring more people!) Great job, writers!

Honourable Mentions

Untitled by Roger

Such inventive, humorous coinage (e.g. “pyro-culinary terrorism”) and puns cannot be lost on anyone with a fine taste in creative writing. One heck of a mind game-r this is.

What a mess by John Cassidy

Quite an Amazing (or is it Amazon?) gooey scenario. Medley of an initial anxious moment and eventual beacon of messy, explosive laughter, story made me rethink shared/collective embarrassment is a thing to laugh over. Clearly, this was a hearty write and a funnier read.

Choice Cuts by Carlos

Well done. The shuddering unraveling in the last line twirled my stomach – a precursor to what could have been an anti-cannibalistic retch. A bite into this story tasted so unbelievable that I almost got Carrie-d away.

3rd Place

Her Name by Holly Geely

I like the subtle delivery here as OCD imaginatively takes me inside her own head, giving me a more-than-enough sneak peek. What’s more, the clever use of personification tinkers with the humane portion of me – not to mention the personalization too: “She’s different for everyone, but for me…

First name: Obsessive; Middle name: Compulsive; Last name: Disorder. Nice piece.

2nd Place

Christmas: Plausible Deniability by A.J. Walker

Though I scarcely look forward to the mother-in-law-daughter-in-law interrogation slash faceoff (I predict the kitchen won’t contain it), the cute metaphors this piece is adorned by were a reading delight. Graphic, hyperbolic depictions (e.g. “epicenter of the blast zone”) with a creative allusion to a real-life scenario currently at the front burner, made not having this piece in top three both implausible and deniable.

Winner

Disorder by Rasha

A realistic, almost-relatable (because I ain’t psychotic, duh) portrayal of a distorted perception of reality. This simple, yet ingenious story took me on a sufficiently brief tour into the typical troubled mind of a seemingly helpless bracket of people. I’m not done taking in the entropic setting when the closing sentence flips everything on its head, re- presenting the entire piece in a brighter, if not different light. The stunning surprise, unforced sympathy and curt silence it elicits all at once are a stirring quality.

Congrats to you!

Disorder

Rasha

Explosive sounds of pots and pans banging around erupted from the kitchen. Martha was disheveled, her hands gripped her hair and she was muttering about the mess.

“Can I help?” I asked. She did not respond. I started to cover turkey leftovers. She screamed and I jumped.

“Stop haunting me!” she shouted uncovering the dish.

“Haunting? Martha, I’m not a ghost.” I grabbed for the doctor’s note hanging on the refrigerator to once again remind Martha that she had been diagnosed with psychosis after the accident.

The sounds in the kitchen silenced as I pointed to my own name on the line diagnosed with hallucinatory psychotic disorder.