Oct 182015
 
Photo Credit: Enric Fradera via CC.

Photo Credit: Enric Fradera via CC.

Good evening, afternoon, or morning to the international flash fiction community. What a fantastic round of MB that was: forty-three great entries and a few new faces (welcome, friends from IICS). Before the results, some announcements:

At 5 a.m. BST Tomorrow (Monday 19th October), voting will open for the best stories of this quarter. You’ll be voting for your top three stories from MB1.40 to MB1.52. The authors of the top three stories will each receive a copy of Writing Short Stories by Ailsa Cox (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 soon.

Remember, after this round I’ll be taking a break while I deal with a major family event. The next contest will (hopefully) be on Thursday the 3rd of December. Watch out for Twitter updates.

Honourable Mentions

Greyscale by Steven O. Young Jr.

A curious story with a nice use of passing time to lead the reader through the story. A very literal use of the photo prompt for the town of Greyscale with its achromatopsia-afflicted (literal or figurative?) inhabitants.

Tippy Toe by Steven M. Stucko

One from the weird drawer the uses a single detail – the pointed leather shoes – from the photo. They’re so pointy that all male members of the proud Shoemaker family (I love the line, “The Shoemakers made sandals for Jesus, for Christ’s sake”) must have their little toes removed at birth to fit into them. Fun.

It Started With A Glyph by Ed Broom

Such a fun premise. A guy can’t get a date because he’s very particular about how she writes her number and uses silly childish rhymes to teach her. Made me chuckle. Still, our man does his duty and takes her dessert order. Great closing line.

The Infamous Uncle Enzo Stops By by AJ Walker

Another fun piece that had me laughing. While most stories had the man in the photo as a menacing figure, this one had him has the hapless Uncle Enzo, smoker of putrid cigars and clearer of restaurants.

The Hit by @dazmb

A very creative story that on another week may have made it into the top three. I love the use of code as the two Mafia men discuss the hit. The golf clubs, tee-off time, is the ball liable to run fast when I start putting. All very clever with a classic closing line, “My respects to your family.”

3rd Place

Courting Danger by Firdaus Parvez

This piece is just crammed full of conflict: the pressure from her mother to marry him to repay ‘the debt’; the fact he’s twice her age and “his huge frame filled the space across from her”; the fact her lover who was trying to persuade her to leave has recently been killed; and the clincher – when she realises the man in front of her was probably responsible for his death. The MC sums up her situation succinctly in the line, “Do I have a choice?” Excellent title too.

2nd Place

Long Shot by Brian S. Creek

So much tension for such a short story! From the details (“drinking his favourite coffee: a cappuccino, with cinnamon and chocolate on top”) you know this operation has been long in the making. We don’t know what the target has done, but the MC dislikes him (“the fat bastard”) and that’s good enough for us. I love the three short, short sentences, “My rifle waits patiently, trigger begging to be squeezed. My target looks up at the sun. My phone beeps.” Then BANG. It’s all over in a moment. Nice closing line.

Winner

Miscalculation by KM Zafari

This emotive piece made me think of two cultural references: the scene in The Godfather where Vito Corleone is frolicking with his grandson in the garden before dying the perfect death (oh, the injustice after he was the mastermind of so much violence) and Vultures by Chinua Achebe where “the Commandant at Belsen Camp going home for the day with fumes of human roast clinging rebelliously to his hairy nostrils will stop at the wayside sweet-shop and pick up a chocolate for his tender offspring waiting at home for Daddy’s return.” Yes, love can be found everywhere even in those “whose very name inspired fear.” The line “caskets were not supposed to be that small” had me reaching for the tissues. And the conclusion brings home the perpetual cycle of violence these people are involved in because you just know their families are going to want revenge…

Miscalculation

KM Zafari

Five years old. Capricious. Mischievous smile. He could still feel her tiny arms wrapped around his neck. “Faster, Grandpa!” she’d shout as he galloped around the house like a pony.

What a softie she turned him into. He, of all people, whose very name inspired fear.

Loving her left him vulnerable; he knew that. But there were unspoken rules, lines that shouldn’t be crossed.

Caskets were not supposed to be that small.

If they thought they’d finally broken him, they were right. Was it time to hang his hat? Perhaps.

But not yet.

He checked his watch. Dinnertime – perfect.

They were about to learn the true meaning of “family”.

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.

Micro Bookends 1.21 – Results

 Results  Comments Off on Micro Bookends 1.21 – Results
Mar 082015
 
Photo Credit: Timothy Krause via CC.

Photo Credit: Timothy Krause via CC.

This week’s prompt and bookends really stirred your creative juices. There were some exceptional stories this week. Thanks to Steven M. Stucko for making sense of it all. Here’s what he had to say:

I very much enjoyed reading the 35 entries in Micro Bookends 1.21 OLD [micro] AGE. There were so many compelling styles and interpretations of the photo and the word prompts that it was difficult to choose finalists. I chose these six exceptional stories because each stayed with me. In some, characters were presented with such great effectiveness that I wanted to know what happened to them later that day. One story, “Lurkers,” has no characters at all but stuck with me nonetheless. Some stories used such vivid imagery that I was fully engaged and felt transported. The dialogue in the more literal interpretations was believable and honest. Over all I was impressed by the whole lot and was reminded that I have to step up my game if I want to compete. Thanks for the opportunity to participate.

Honourable Mentions

Method In His Madness by Ed Broom

This is my favorite submission using the more literal narrative of the photo prompt. The dialogue flowed freely like two guys walking and talking in simple short sentences. The description of the old man was spot on. I know Old Sock. I’ve debated everything from philosophy, art, and religion with the guy. I’ve bought him countless drinks. I enjoyed the curious and fascinating one liner: “he always makes them taste it first.” Why? I was left to ponder. The writer cleverly describes how the wise old bum both attracts and repels. A certain crowd is fascinated by people like Old Sock. There’s one in every pub. And you’re right. The guy needs a shower.

Old Man’s End by stu06bloc9

This is another terrific literal interpretation of the photo. I felt like I was standing right next to the couple as they looked upon the installation of street art. Many times have I stood in front of art and scratched my head. I was glad the characters had a guidebook so I could look over their shoulders. And what did the street artist intend to convey? A fallen angel, there for the duration? Did the two characters even try to understand, or were they just frustrated? Should we, as the reader, try to think about the story inside the story, or are we just ready to walk with Selina and Theo down the street to the next piece of Live Art? I found that intriguing. I also liked the cynical voice of Theo as he says those things I think all the time but never say. Well told tale.

A Renaissance of Bitterness by Geoff Le Pard

Engaging literal translation of the image. I could see the model shifting uncomfortably and the artist constantly telling him to be still. I was inside his head as he thought the thoughts of someone who is forced to be quiet and motionless. He had it all, lost it, and now must find humble work to get by. Rich sods and phony artists fill his life. One guy wants Botticelli, the other gets vermicelli. The words made me smile as the protagonist inserts a joke into his incessant complaining. At least the guy still has a sense of humor. Nice job.

3rd Place

Exhale by Brett Milam

This was profound, yet also describes the “every man.” Ruminations and regrets are the cancer that we all fight. Smothering us with “a corrosive blanket of discomfort,” they bring us painfully to an early death. “Love gone awry” really can feel like a “murder of coupling.” I was jolted by the abrupt introduction of the need to “soak up this spilled blood.” My mind raced to the scariest interpretations. How wrong was this relationship? That perfect insertion of a few words told an enormous piece of violent history and a life filled with emotional wreckage. I can see how the protagonist found his final breath to be his most welcomed.

2nd Place

Lurkers by Dave James Ashton

I had to read this several times. I felt the need to study the words. It was so intense that it made the muscles in my back tighten. I don’t like thinking about such dark places and this writer brought me to those terrifying corners and held me there for what felt like an eternity. I still can’t shake this. The first two sentences are brilliant. I’ll carry them with me for a while. I’ll recite them to friends who will ask where I heard them. I’ll say, “Oh, someone from a writer’s group I belonged to years ago…” The fact that the writer never clearly tells the reader what the enemy is (“they, their, these, those, them, monsters from long ago”) makes the unidentified wickedness otherworldly and easier for us to think: my God, does this demon, with its “evil grip” reside in me? Of course it does. It’s part of being human. That’s the scary part.

Winner

Soulmates by Nancy Chenier

This piece reads like a poem. I treaded down memory lane with this narrator as relationship after relationship was recalled and told from the ankles down. Sole-mates indeed. In one or two sentences I understood each partner and the drama of the break up. The final ped-paramore is the unfortunate relationship many distraught souls find most alluring. Alcohol makes us think we are mountains instead of mole hills. We believe the warmth we feel in our hearts will never grind our “lofty peaks to weary slopes.” Invariably it does. The false joy felt with such a devilish mistress will undoubtedly end with the protagonist being stomped barefoot like so many grapes. A common tale told exceptionally well.

Soulmates

Nancy Chenier

Old as the hills and heart just as trodden. Everyone I’ve ever loved has ground my lofty peaks to weary slopes. Sanae crushed me under her hopscotch Keds, her silky black braids flicking farewell. Natalie next, her DocMartins did harsh platonic work on my devotion, anarchy symbol imprints. Roger was a dabbler and me an equal-opportunity paramour until his plaid high-tops dribbled my blood tastefully down the pavement. Lady Luck, Lady Justice, Father Time—all similarly crushingly cruel.

Ah, but my sweet barefoot Ouzo! Our bacchanal never ends. Quick, quick, look upon me, dearest. For in your eyes, I am mighty Mount Olympus and this is our Golden Age.