Author Archives: beth

Week Six Winners!

The writing community certainly likes to make it difficult for judges to choose. Lovely job this week, everyone. This was tough!

Second Nature by Madilyn Quinn: I wonder whether the little girl is seeing ghosts or slipping through dimensions? Either way, this story was a fascinating and well-crafted look in her mind.

The First World by Voima Oy: A clever spin on the creation myth. Now I know it’s dragons I have to thank for Wi-Fi! I love the idea of being a dragon’s creation. The description of the dragons is lovely.

Alexander at Delphi by AV Laidlaw: The elements of Greek mythology are wonderful. This Alexander, much as the original who made his foolish demands, bit off more than he could chew. The spoiled child and the bitter Oracle are wonderful characters. The ending feels like a just punishment.

The Pillars by Ophelia Leong: Sympathy for the lonely Amy turns into what feels like a happy ending. Whatever lies beyond those pillars, I hope she’s in for some grand adventure. This was a lovely take.

Peacefulness Among the Poppies by Pattyann McCarthy: The glimpse into this character’s world. I felt her pain and her relief. The vivid imagery took me on a trip (ha, ha – I’m so clever…). That she is doing something dangerous and sacrificing her health for happiness…a true tragedy.

Crystal Reign by Mark A. King: I wanted Kyle to succeed but the story spirals with the downfall of addiction. Realistic and heartbreaking. I especially like this use of the pillars. Another story of addiction; something so compelling in a world full of stress. Great job.

Not Exactly Magical by Nancy Chenier: The guide is a fun narrator. The light-hearted tour dissolved quickly into something grim. The ending was a delightful thrill. Scary, effective, and shocking. Wonderful.

Crystal Nights by Mark A. King: Poor Crystal. Her reluctance to return to her other identity spoke volumes. Her over-the-top lipstick was delightful. I’m still imagining her glittering in the club. This story speaks to me for a variety of reasons, but mostly for the heartbreak that shouldn’t exist – but does. I hope Crystal finds her way.

Third Place: Three Pillars to the Wise by MT Decker: You had me from the opening line and I was fascinated to the finish. There is so much wisdom in this short story – hope, sadness, an emotional rollercoaster. For a moment I thought I understood the meaning of life. This one touched me in a way I didn’t expect.

Second Place: One Day by Steph Ellis: The twist at the end is hilarious. I’m not a parent, but I know some (and have) parents. I can imagine this solution would appeal to tired mothers and fathers everywhere. This grandmother strikes me as fun. I’d like to invite her to a party.

Thanks for the chuckle – I loved this.

AND OUR WEEK SIX WINNER IS:

Madame Doofay and the Six Sugar Candy Skulls by FE Clark: First of all, I love this title. I was expecting something silly and the mental image of gummy skulls fizzing in gin is deceptively innocent. I can’t decide if I like this main character, or if they are too jealous. Why did Jason offer her the skulls? Who is this Felicity? Was this her idea?

Has she won?

The sinister ending is a perfect wrap-up of the eerie atmosphere. There are so many layers to this story. Well done!

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Congratulations MT, Steph, and, FE! FE’s story will appear on our blog tomorrow. Thank you to Holly for judging and to all you wonderful writers for sharing your stories! Join us on Thursday for Week Seven, judged by the multi-talented Kristen Falso-Capaldi!

Returned by Steph Ellis

Anthropomorphic Roots

Breath congealed and misted as the family emerged above ground. They clung to each other as they snaked their way through rotting roots and twisted vines, every step shedding the weight of soil that had clung to them for generations. Hope for life flared as they inhaled long-forgotten odours, felt dusk’s gentle caress. But even as they travelled, each found themselves fighting against this creeping fear that they would not be chosen. Who did Granny Bo want?

Singing voices called to them, guiding them to the gathering, leading them to the living. They mingled unseen as the glittering fire gifted warmth and roasting meat awoke hunger.

Maryann’s long-closed eyes caught sight of a puppy wriggling in the arms of its young owner.

“Do you want the puppy, child?” asked Granny.

Maryann remembered the soft body and warm breath of her own little dog. She smiled. “Yes please.”

“Do you want to live above or below?” asked Granny.

Maryann remembered the blue skies and the scent of jasmine. “Above,” she whispered, her eyes still on the puppy, her head swimming as the tide of her past rushed back to her.

“Then, my child,” said Granny, “choose who you will.”

And Maryann whirled amongst them, unrecognised even by the Bokur. She moved closer to the small girl, nearer and nearer, her eyes never off the pet in her arms. With a giggle she sank into soft flesh, young bones, her new home; all hers.

Maryann cradled the furry bundle, felt the lick of its tongue on her face, the fragile cage of its ribs, its heart, the echo of the drums that pulsed around her. She was happy, oh so happy. She pulled the puppy closer to her. Tighter. Tighter. Felt a crack, a whimper. Someone else’s tear rolled down her cheek. Maryann laughed.

“Time now, child,” said Granny, as the drums began to ease, sending her companion souls back into the abyss. “Time for you to go and play.”

Maryann grinned into the darkness and ran into her new family’s arms.

Follow Steph on Twitter: @el_stevie

Week Five Winners!

Halloween starts early this year (my favorite holiday, so I’m completely okay with that). So much sinister spookiness this week. Nightmares seeping into waking, crawling bogs, sentient mists. First, thanks to Emily and Michael DelGuadio for the prompts, which combined couldn’t help but evoke the awful (awe-ful) and otherworldly. My short list was anything but. It was painful to choose a mere three for the winner’s circle.

Tried and Tested by David Shakes: One of two metas this week (and I loved them both—for very different reasons). I loved the two aborted attempts before crumpling the paper, the comparison with the giants of the genre, and the seeping of the author’s voice into Tammy’s journal writing. And even though I recognized (as the one of the characters did—ultimately the author POV did) that we were in cliché territory, the features were just different enough to catch me up and make me want to learn how the old bones and last fall’s journal entry match up.

The Bog by Madilyn Quinn: Wonderful reverse-take on witch hunts, where muggles would accuse the gossips of witchcraft. Here, the witch is the authority with the power to condemn those who displease her. You’ve illustrated so well how common folk allow themselves to fall under the spell and support the tyranny of a strong personality. Talia’s a vivid character. The line “her lavender lips pull into a grin” highlights her affectation. I admire the MC’s spunk in the face of that. Talia’s parting challenge make her all the more formidable—and make the MC’s threat seem empty (and yet gives the reader a glimmer of hope).

Ghost of the Fog by Pattyann McCarthy: Clever! This was so deliberately overwrought that I couldn’t wait to get to the punch-line (although for a panicked moment, I feared the use of phrases like “languishing treacherously inside” and “fear encapsulates every cell” might not be ironic). They say it takes a great writer to pull off intentionally “poor” writing. Or was that dancers? I think it works for all artists. The voice is pure B-movie—and the perfect set up for the reveal of the true situation.

In the Zone by Voima Oy: Intriguingly surreal take. Makes me wonder what could be on the other side of the border to make crossing the Zone worth it. The parallels to immigrants crossing treacherous land-/sea-scapes keeps this one grounded. Fantastic how the zone affects each character differently. Delicious phrases like “flowers followed us with their eyes” and “flashed with the fireflies” made me think that the some might come to the Zone simply for the experience.

Living Forest by A S Gardana: Very cool premise. I love stories where the reader is asked to sympathize with a different species. The ending leaves us wondering if she’s managed to actually make it or if she’s hallucinating as she sinks into the mud. What really impresses me about this piece is how you’ve crafted a story replete with sensation yet with the absence of sight! I had to go back and check—yep, “imagery” without visual referents. I like the idea of closing ones eyes to “see” better.

Aubergine by Holly Geely: If I could have given an honorable mention, this would have been it. A surreal cavort through the creepiness, elephants and eggplants welcome. You had me giggling from the first sentence and kept me chuckling all the way through (haunted port-a-potty! “Crikey!” Aubergine-ious!). I fell in love with the rattle-spider immediately. I wouldn’t have enjoyed this story so much if it weren’t for the snaky trace of the dream crossing into reality. Thank you for the hilarity.

Delicious by K M Zafari: Ooo, creepy! What could be more horrifying than unwillingly participating in one’s own demise? The description of the creature is compelling especially as the different pieces of the MC’s sense organs take their places in the ugly decay of the creature. Some of my favorite lines: “I can almost taste the decay as it moistens the remnants of its rotting lips with my tongue” and “my pink tongue rests inside the decomposing mossy mouth.”

My Time Has Come by Ophelia Leong: A sad transition of a forest Fae becoming a fish, in the tragic way magic passes away from the material world. It starts off with a wonderfully gruesome image. Setting up the trees as the rivals is a refreshing angle as is the Fae as a tooth-and-clawed predator—making it very hard for me to decide which side to (ahem) root for.

Mother’s Milk by Tim Stevenson: The last line chills—especially in light of the title. Yep, that gave me shivers. You don’t have to work too hard to convince me that the beauty industry is evil and probably deserves such a fate, so my being creeped-out mixes with a perverse satisfaction. Clever incorporation of the “creeping fear” phrase. Loved the pervasive rose imagery (the symbolic contrast of the wilting ones and the thorns of the creation) and the organic description of the creation (at once strange and lovely).

The Canopy by Mark A. King: I love the message of this one–finding light in the darkness–and that Callum is the catalyst for that discovery. We don’t know how the MC lost his parents, and we don’t have to. It’s enough that the loss has kept the MC in the shrouded world below the canopy. The imagery is sublime. The treatment of fear as a companion to mortality is brilliant. Then Callum is born and the MC’s focus starts to creep upward. By the way, “cinereal” is my new favorite word.

The Dreamer by Foy S. Iver: Starts out whimsical, (loved “scolaughed and jeettered” so much!). Poor little Root. I was (erm—here I go again) rooting for him, but, alas, he meets a common arboreal fate. I adored the description of the alien, who very well might have been a moon fairy. Cool concept that “hope” of a tree can be used as fuel.

Going Underground by Mark A. King: Here’s one I want to give a special mention to. After two letters, I went straight to Wiki to confirm that these were all stations. Sure enough. My favorite part is the Underground likened to the roots of the city. The structure puts me in mind of the song “88 Lines about 44 Women” by The Nails (dating myself here): each line brief but gives us a real bit of the place. And the POV character dozes off before the last stop.

Blink by Sonya: A dream-messing-with-reality piece that managed to deliver a startling punch in a mere 100 words. I laughed out loud at the “movie I didn’t understand” reference to Inception. The final line got me, though. I’m completely chilled imagining what a hundred eyes blinking must sound like.

Isle of Roots by Catherine Connolly: This one lulled me with the siren song of its gorgeous language. I think this one contains the line that precisely describes the subject and atmosphere of the image, a poetically twisted sentence that just nails it: “The tree itself lies amidst a heart of knotted roots for those who swim tear salt tides to it, casting themselves towards the child-like keening reaching from the boughs into the ocean”. I got so tangled in the wonderful knots of phrases, I felt like pilgrim gripped in its clutches. My favorite: “Truth takes chances in the speaking”.

Whispers by M T Decker: Ha! A quick atmospheric whisper of a piece with a snappy twist. I love how we never really know what the first choice was that has brought the “we” to this state. Clever.

Sensing by Marie Mckay: Imaginative treatment, directly addressing the creeping fear as “you”, picking out facets of its character. We start in familiar territory, the spookiness of fear (blind birds, forked hands of tress). Then, fear becomes a predator. Finally, we’re left with fear being a goading motivator. And in so few words!

The Project by A J Walker: The cross-purposes are set up so well and with such economy. There is a definite beginning, middle and end of a full-fledged story, here. You lead the reader to want both Elizabeth and Mr. Martin to succeed in their goals: she to understand him and he to prove the truth of his visions. By the end, though, I realize that I’ve been set up in a be-careful-what-you-wish-for way. She does understand, and the truth of his “bad men” (that they’re hallucinations) comes to light in the most tragic way. I’m in awe of the seemingly effortless way the POV shifts from Elizabeth to Martin and then out to objective. It worked perfectly—and another example of knowing the rules (one POV per scene) and then breaking them as the situation demands. The situation does demand since the smooth shifts are the most effective way to tell this story.

Meta’d Out by David Shakes: The second of two meta-fictions, and yeah, I so very much feel for the voice here, fictionalized or not. Most of us have been there (at least twice a week). The deadly voice of doubt undermining the “just do it and enjoy” that has built up a passion for writing in the first place, the fear of not being able to do justice to a beautiful prompt, diminishing returns on novelty—yeah, yeah and more yeah. Loved the repetition of the creeping fear sentence.

Moving by Anita Harkness: Sweet! The entwining horror and lust reveals the elements that compel us regarding the awful/awe-ful. Exquisite comparison between arid Arizona and the Lovecraftian realm of Rhode Island. Thanks to Lovecraft, New England is the place where fear and passion meet. Love the echoes of the H.P. universe in details like “the oldest ones” and the mysterious swamp with things moving under the surface. A lot of great writing in here: “Here, whatever dies decays. It sinks into a sludge of terrifying possibilities” I also enjoy the take on “kindred spirits”—stripping all the rainbows and “woo” from the concept. Yes, these two are perfect for each other. May they live paranormally ever after.

Third Place: No Butterfly Wings by F E Clark: Oh, so painful and beautiful. You capture the frustration and agony of struggling to live with a pervasive yet inexplicable illness. The isolation, the loss of self, the unsung courage—and all in such incredible language. Phrases like “Tongue fumbling attempts at describing the hundred different intermittent symptoms” and “Crawling through the shattered glass of dependence, a creature half gone” and the comparison of self and friends “falling away” like autumn leaves eloquently illustrate the trials of disease. The breaking of the chrysalis to release not a butterfly but a partial morphed thing is as heartbreaking as it is heroic, leaving us with a sliver of hope that this will indeed be a new start.

Second Place: The Things That Live Here by A V Laidlaw: The first sentence pulls me right into the mystery, a mystery that casts a shadow over the intimate moment between mother and son. Loved how you set up the metaphor to take care of the photo prompt early on—but then it turns out that the metaphor is not merely fancy imagery. All the figurative language is just perfect—they never merely describe the physical reality of the thing described, but they also drop hints of the essence of the thing. The description of the father is a clear example of this (“laugh as solid as oakwood” and “scented of the rich earth”). The smallest details speak volumes: a stubborn cowlick, the iron key used to lock up. The slow pursuit of the trees coming after the boy is an excellent reason for “creeping fear”.

AND OUR WEEK FIVE WINNER IS:

Returned by Steph Ellis: So sinister, chilling, creepy—and that it stood out from the marshlands of exquisite creepiness this week is really a testament to the writing, here. From the imagery of the opening—perfectly reflecting the hauntingly evocative photo–to the ominous dramatic irony in the final image (a child running to join her parents), this one won me over. The double conflict between the hopefuls and Granny, between the living and the returned, layers the tension. As do the options Granny gives (What if Maryann chose “below”???) and the swirl of Maryann’s past swamping the present. The moment of taking over is a devastating swirl of sweet and awful. That poor puppy! Killing small animals might be in danger of becoming cliché in horror, but every once in awhile it wells up like fresh blood—as it does here, precisely because it’s incidental to the already established eeriness of the family and the take-over. The pair of sentences, “Someone else’s tear rolled down her cheek. Maryann laughed,” torture me: evil innocence shredding my sympathies to bits.

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Congratulations FE, AV, and Steph! Steph’s story will appear on our blog tomorrow. Thank you to Nancy for judging and to all you wonderful writers for sharing your stories! Join us on Thursday for Week Six, judged by the incomparable Holly Geely!

A Day in the Month of Leaves by Karl A Russell

silence

Seventh bell peals.
The sound of the meditation bowl rings clear.
Namu Myōhō Renge Kyō
Cicadas sing from the gardens.
It is the morning after the night without sleep.

Paper screen slides silently open.
Father stands before me, as big as all the world.
“You are awake?”
I nod, rise from my bed, kneel upon the tatami.

Leather armour creaks.
Metal plates jangle.
He kneels to face me.

“You have a choice.”

I nod once more.

He holds out his hands to me.
I long to fall into his arms.
But his hands are not empty.
In one, a lotus flower.
In the other, a blade.
The choice is clear.
The decision is not.

Father is old, a slab of granite of a man, tempered by the years he has spent on his path.
Scars make his face a map of his wandering.
The lotus is the softest thing he has touched since his war began.

To choose the lotus means staying in the monastery.
Peace.
Comfort.
The gardens in spring.

To choose the blade means walking father’s path.
Pain.
Suffering.
Vengeance.

I think of my mother, as much as I can recall.
Cherry blossom lips.
Eyes of jade.
A slash of crimson blood on crisp snow.

I touch the blade.
The world holds a breath.
The monks chant.
I nod.

A servant enters, to see that it is done correctly.
The blade turns inwards.
Father’s stomach blooms across the tatami.
The servant raises my father’s sword.
A heron cries in the garden.
Father’s head rolls to rest against my knees.

The servant moves to clean the blade, but I stay him with a word.
The sword – the duty – is mine now.
I stand, take the sword, and walk from the room.
The dripping blade traces my father’s final path in blood.

The heron takes flight in the garden.

Follow Karl on Twitter: @Karl_A_Russell

Week Four Winners!

Thank you to Emily and Beth for giving me the opportunity to serve as judge this week – what a privilege!

It’s always an experience, judging others’ writing. One has to really think (and be able to articulate) what it is about a story that did or didn’t work for them, and that ain’t always easy, folks.

One of the best things about having served as a judge for a number of Flash contests is I get how subjective judging can be. Sure, we look for the basic elements of story, style, grammar, etc. (and yes, those matter, so do proofread for typos and grammatical boo boos!) – but after that, a lot of it is just what speaks to the judge the most, and of course that varies by judge.

I say that to emphasize that if your story didn’t win, it doesn’t mean the story is not a great one. Keep writing, keep entering, and, most of all, keep in mind the subjective nature of it all! And thank you for sharing these tiny tales with me.

A Moment of Reflection by Tim Stevenson: A sad, moving tale, with great characterization of the husband (as much as I dislike him). I particularly love this line: “The arrangement of a marriage was stone, a hard, immutable thing.” I do want to know, however, what “the language that only women understand” is; I feel like I’m missing something, and I need to be clued in!

All Love Has Its Own Scent by Tino Prinzi: Brilliant title, and I love the hope encapsulated in this tiny tale. This sentence is amazing: “He deflowered her petal by petal, lie by lie, leaving her a feeble stalk alone in the wind.” Perhaps because I’ve lived it, but it feels like something with which most of us can identify.

Georgie Hanson’s Bad Day by Foy S. Iver: I always appreciate humor in flash, since so many of the stories trend dark. Thanks for the silliness! The repetition (and increasing intensity) of Georgie was having a bad day works well (and evokes Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day). I admit, I’m not quite sure I understand the alien gifts – and I’m not quite sure I want to. Made me giggle, though.

I Loved Her by David Shakes: “Crush it! Squeeze it…” – Bwah ha ha, loved this unexpected reaction after the rather soft, self-helpish first line. Pretty sure I don’t want to be hanging out with David any time soon.

Ponies, Unicorns, and a Dahlia by Pattyann McCarthy: When the choice was between the dahlia and obsidian, I assumed it was a choice between good and evil, and was pleasantly surprised I was wrong, and liked the meanings ascribed to each of the choices.

I also noted and appreciated the different colors used in your imagery, which painted a vivid picture.

Ripples of Choice by Stephen Shirres: I had to read this two times before I feel I got what was going on (I hope I’m right) – I’m imaging a suicide bombing, or at least a bombing, and the perpetrator is weighing the benefit to her if she doesn’t, versus the (alleged) benefit to all if she does. Once I got it, rereading it strengthens my understanding and appreciation of the tale each time – and what a wonderful way to describe the inner struggle, a battle of experience vs. conviction.

Salt and Cactus Spines by Shiloh A. Ohmes: I love how the voice of the story itself feels gritty, tough, adding to the message/idea that love isn’t a “cotton candy radio song,” it’s “something made of salt and cactus thorns. It gets down into your bones, nests among the marrow, and reminds you every day that it’s there. It’s not pretty, and it’s not the pinnacle of happiness, or whatever the radio believes.” Vivid, realistic imagery adds to the whole. I want to know the longer story hinted at in this short one.

Secrets by Holly Geely: The ending is wonderfully strong, combining both the humor of the piece and the cheating theme (can’t say I’m fond of the cheating theme, but hey, I’m a romance author). I don’t care for the main character, but her voice is good – funny, flippant, arrogant. She makes for a strong, if unlikeable, person – a testament to your character-building ability.

Speed Dating at Petals! by Marie Mckay: This one had me giggling – I loved the style you took of the participant taking notes about each dating option – and then getting hooked on #10. I could totally visualize this.

The Choice by Madilyn Quinn: Rip my heart out, will you? A very moving piece with fantastic imagery and turns of phrase – “falls away like chipped paint, the wind snaps still.” I like the openness of the ending – I’m not exactly sure what each door means (reincarnation as a newborn? Entering heaven? Becoming one with the cosmos?), but I actually prefer that, as it sent my imagination running. Still traumatized that she died, and in front of her husband, though.

Third Place: The Voyage Home From Troy by A V Laidlaw: I love the chosen focus – soldiers returning home from the ancient battles at Troy. How you got there from a lotus flower image and the given sentence, I don’t know, but I adore it.

“The sunlight drips like honey through the branches of the trees” – what a fantastic image, and it’s one of my favorites from all the entries.

And the character – oh, how I empathize with the character, and his battle between seeking relief and forgiveness he doesn’t feel he deserves, and enduring the suffering as punishment for the choice he thought he didn’t have – but later realized he did. A powerful reminder that there is always a choice, even when we think there isn’t, and we must bear the consequences of our actions.

A moving, well-written entry. Nicely done.

Second Place: Running Out of Petals by Nancy Chenier: In truth, I struggled greatly between choosing A Day In the Month of Leaves and this one, Running Out of Petals, as the winner. Both are fantastically strong, in different ways.

I’ve read Running Out of Petals a number of times now, the horror of the tale getting me again and again. The use of the old children’s game “She Loves Me, She Loves Me Not” incorporates not only the photo prompt beautifully, but frames the inner development of the story in a hauntingly perfect way, rendering the story even more chilling.

The mythical element, the changeling aspect, and particularly the creatures hanging about the baby work well for me, detailing the changing/worsening of the situation. We go from butterflies to moths to hobgoblins, a perfect echo of the deterioration of this poor child’s situation.

Very well written, horrifically imaginable, with a wonderful voice. Well done.

AND OUR WEEK FOUR WINNER IS:

A Day in the Month of Leaves by Karl A. Russell: This one had me from the start, with its prose-poetry style (an admitted favorite of mine), its short, succinct sentences and well-chosen images effectively conveying an eastern feel, and telling more by saying less.

There are many layers here, so many phrases hinting at a broader underneath – “It is the morning after the night without sleep,” “Father stands before me, as big as all the world” (a beautiful encapsulation of how fathers feel to most of us). The more I read it, the more I see: hidden depths waiting to be uncovered. Gorgeous styling, gorgeous prose.

And then the characterization of the father – so much about him from six words: “Leather armour creaks, metal plates jangle.” Shortly after that comes my favorite paragraph of the whole piece, the one describing this father, with brilliant turns of phrase: “a slab of granite of a man,” “scars make his face a map of his wandering.” I have read it again and again.

I admit, the story did not go where I expected it to, and the ending both surprised and confused me. I’m inferring that the father harmed the mother, which is why son/daughter makes the choice he/she makes. Still, the simpleness of the language and the short, crisp phrases drive home the awfulness of the death more than reams of words ever could.

And that last line – so simple, and yet so effective, a stark contrast to what has taken place directly before it, but full of implication.

Beautifully done.

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Congratulations AV, Nancy, and, Karl! Karl’s story will appear on our blog tomorrow. Thank you to Margaret for judging and to all you wonderful writers for sharing your stories! Join us on Thursday for Week Five, judged by oft-winning flash fiction writer Nancy Chenier!

Like a Flower of the Field by Mark A. King

Crossed Fingers II

________________________________
“The life of mortals is like grass,
they flourish like a flower of the field;
the wind blows over it and it is gone,
and its place remembers it no more”.

________________________________
I have always watched him.

I watched him in my dreams of childhood—when I dreamed of success, of my love for a strong husband who would support my aspirations whatever the cost, a house of our own and a perfect son. I even dreamed his name, Nathan.

But in dreams, the truth is complicated by uncertain futures—by realities that seem so tangible that when you reach for them in the morning they are nothing but the heat-haze Pasodoble of a summer street.

I watched him in the loving embrace of my husband to be. I imagined his smooth silken skin. His eyes of viridian green. His inner strength and playful laugh. The best of both of us.

I watched him on the blurry monitors. Shapes of life in dots of indistinguishable fluid movement. A head? A face? A foot? Is that a wave he gives us? The cold gel on my swollen belly. The ultrasound crackle. Through the muffled sounds like an underwater swim, we hear the rhythm of his heartbeat.

In fleeting happiness, we see the training of their reassuring looks, and for the first time, we feel the words of the consultant wash over us like numbing tides. We feel the evaporation of dreams.

I watched him carried from my spilt open stomach, not concerned for my own health.

I watched from the side of his transparent box—a sanctuary for life, but a prison from us.

I watched his acceptance of the things that came to pass and I came to realise that he was perfect, in every way.

And I when he was eight, I watched his passing in the sterile hospital room. He placed his hands behind my head, his fingers crossed against my tear-filled skull. He kissed me. He told me the angels needed him and everything would be better.

Outside the room, the world still turned.

Follow Mark A. King on Twitter: @Making_Fiction

Week Three Winners!

This week’s guest judge Tamara Shoemaker has rendered her verdicts!

Ebony and Ecru by M T Decker: I love the contrasts in this—ebony and ecru, black and white, shades of gray. The difference between Rissa and Ben is striking as well—her ecru and ebony view of the world, his gray character. I enjoyed the interesting light twist at the end.

The Library by Mark A. King: Here is so much story in so few words. We make the most of the time given us. I love the layered concept of a library of souls. Beautiful and concise imagery.

Asphyxiating by Foy S. Iver: Oh, the language in this one is absolutely gorgeous. Phrases like “But I’m drowning in your colorless spectrum, suffocating on trade-offs, splits, and fair’s fairs” that curl my toes. 🙂 Gorgeous frame, stunning imagery.

In the Wings by Tim Stevenson: A dark allegorical story that provides some brilliant commentary on the crumbling of society. I love the tone that the wings lend to the beginning and end of the story, and the visceral imagery that the vultures bring to the darkness.

IntiMATE by Alicia VanNoy Call: Ooh, the superficiality of the intiMATE vs. the drama of the real one. In the end, it doesn’t matter. Brilliant last line: “It’s love that’s complicated.” I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Double Trouble by Voima Oy: “Like dancing in a house of mirrors” – that’s it exactly. What a whirl of relationships in this story! A stunning concept and an unsettling ending. Nicely done.

Judas Kiss by Steph Ellis: A chilling twist of the Biblical story. This one bleeds darkness… and in the stillness, there is heartbreak. There is love lost here, attempts to call it to memory, but rejected. Beautifully woven together. That last line drives the stake into the heart.

The Kiss by A V Laidlaw: This is exactly the kind of story with which I fall in love—the magic of romance, the twining of braids and hearts. How sad, I say, that the girl will only ever half-love the boy, and how very sad that the boy never gained the courage on his own.

How it Looks by Marie Mckay: CREEPY!! The truth is complicated indeed, and honesty and above-board-ishness seem to have fled to the dark corners in this young man. I love the line: “His feet aren’t just under the table; they’re under the table he’s laid.” What a great way to show me the line without telling it to me. Lovely and seamless. But I’ll run far away if I ever meet this man.

Crossed Fingers by Liz Hedgecock: Oh, the power of that last line that scoops up the entire story before it and settles it into a straight shot to the heart. Yes, he loves her. In spite of it all. Because truth is complicated. Phenomenal.

Introductions by Tino Prinzi: There is a well of pain that carries through this piece from beginning to end. It’s understated and all the more effective for its delicacy. Lovely writing.

Games We Play by A S Gardana: A dark poetic dance that almost, almost feels like it’s delineating the relationship between property and owner, puppet and puppet-master. “I am your toy.” Wow, so heavy, deep, and thought-provoking.

The Kiss by Cathy Lennon: I’m so excited to find an excellent twist on one of my favorite fairy tales! 🙂 I love how it turns the tale on its head; rather than the frog prince living happily-ever-after with his princess, he instead admits that the truth is complicated, the happiness an illusion, an airy dream, like the clouds he kisses as he casts his wish.

A Taste of the Truth by Catherine Connolly: Such beautiful wording; my poetic ear loved the sound of the alliterative “my specialist service of secrets once savoured discovered.” Had to read it aloud several times just for that. I love the layered depth of this story, the idea of a person who contracts for speaking truth in various ways. Stunning, really, how the truth is analogous in so many ways to various tastes and sensations. Brilliant work.

Family Skeletons by Shiloh A. Ohmes: I love the fantastical twist on this tale, a smaller tale in a novel-lengthed concept. Quite an engaging story that left me wishing I had at least another few chapters to read of it. Well done!

Third Place: The truth is…by Karl A. Russell: Bwahahahaha! This. is. gold. “I’m actually scared of Italian restaurants. I lost my mom in one as a kid. Choked on a meatball, right in front of me.” The lies expand in this story faster than a peacock in heat. I was rolling by the end. X-Files… LOL!!!! I admire someone who can do comedy; to me, it is an insanely impressive skill because I don’t have it. To be able to make someone laugh (hysterically, just ask my husband, who was subject to my hyena-like cackles at midnight) is a gift that I thoroughly envy. This piece is light and invigorating, and the concept genius. Well done.

Second Place: The Plural of Fidelity by Nancy Chenier: Wow! Just the imagery alone in this rocked me back on my heels. Absolutely stunning! “Our shadows would tangle in the dark lace cast by the floral drapery.” The whole piece paints such beautiful word art. I love the concept of this; it’s inventive and unique. I had to read through it several times to glean the strokes of genius that twine throughout. The fantastic “blink away Bernice-green and replace it with Carly-hazel” near the end had me clamoring for more. Goodness knows I feel like I’ve got at least a dozen personalities inside me at any given moment of the day. I love the more concrete form of this idea. The story is beautifully written and most excellently offered. Nicely done.

AND OUR WEEK THREE WINNER IS:

Like a Flower of the Field by Mark A. King: Oh my heart. This left me in tears. I was entranced from start to finish—first with the poem at the beginning, followed by the pain afterward. I found that I could resonate with this woman step by step, from the early dreams of her son, to the picture of him in her husband’s arms. My mother’s heart dissolved into agony as I put my own son in the place of the boy on the hospital bed, and the story gripped me as the mother’s world stopped, but the world outside the hospital room continued on, as if her soul hadn’t just died. With brilliant genius, this piece looked beyond the first thought, the first story, and pulled out a stunning picture of complicated truth and the harsh realities that contrast so distinctly with the innocent dreams of whimsy.

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Congratulations Karl, Nancy, and, flashdog pack leader, Mark! Mark’s story will appear on our blog tomorrow.Thank you to Tamara for judging and to all you wonderful writers for sharing your stories! Join us on Thursday for Week Four, judged by flash fictioneer extraordinaire Margaret Locke!

Week Two Winners!

The results are in from guest judge Tiffany Aldrich MacBain!

Discount by Holly Geely: Humorous and quirky on the surface of things, with a disturbing under-layer of cynicism and unspoken violence.

Tying the Knot by Mark A. King: Lyrical and imaginative, with a sentence structure that alternates in such a way as to give a distinct sense of the character of the speaker.

“Assistant” by Tim Stevenson: A distinct, memorable character with a clearly delineated point of view. Vivid imagery and carefully refined focus.

Climbing to the Moon by Voima Oy: Reminiscent of a well-loved nursery rhyme in subject matter, mood, and arc. Dreamy and hopeful.

The Judgment of Solomon by Steph Ellis: A nice revision of the King Solomon story in which a marriage is not torn in two, but still sorrow abounds. Fresh focus on a child’s perspective and inversion of parental and children’s roles.

Third Place: Ship bored by M T Decker
This story builds tension by drawing upon the traditions of mutiny and lost-at-sea narratives. Within this genre, well-placed details have a chilling effect: the broken down ship, the high seas, bitter laughter, rope. Nothing good can come of that combination of elements. Of course, the action—the violence and horror—that we await does not quite come, but it doesn’t need to appear on the page. It’s already occurring in the imagination of the reader.

Second Place: Untitled by Stephanie Kelley
I read this entry a few times, each more slowly than the last. The story is poetic, really, in that it possesses the economy of language and even the line breaks that you’d find in a poem. And like a poem, it yields more upon a second (or third) read, like the depravity of an audience quick to judge the “pounders” but not themselves for their part in the spectacle, and the trained focus of the protagonist-narrator that both serves and, ultimately, fails him. The story works as a narrative, too—one focused upon human psychology.

AND OUR WEEK TWO WINNER IS:

Eurydice by A V Laidlaw:
In any retelling of a myth, an author must determine which meaning to privilege. In the case of Orpheus and Eurydice the central concern could be the tragedy of love twice lost or the rarity of the second chance. In this retelling, the author paints Orpheus as a man of two loves—music and Eurydice; because he desires one over the other, he loses them both. Is he punished—are they punished—because he chooses wrongly? Or are the gods so perverse as not to care? Either way, to read this short story is to feel the pain of loss and the futility of outliving it.

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Congratulations MT, Stephanie, and AV! AV’s winning story will appear on our blog tomorrow. Thank you to everyone who participated and shared. And thank you to guest judge Tiffany Aldrich MacBain for presiding over this week’s contest. We will be back this Thursday with Week Three prompts, and we hope you will be, too! Week Three’s judge is prolific fiction writer, Tamara Shoemaker.

Margaret Dashwood and the Enchanted Atlas Now Available!

Book two of the Regency Magic series is available for your Kindle from Amazon!

Margaret-Dashwood-and-the-Enchanted-Atlas-800 Cover reveal and Promotional

Margaret Dashwood’s father died soon after completing his life’s work, an atlas he painstakingly enchanted for his youngest daughter. Margaret discovers her father’s gift and embarks on an adventure that takes her far from England. Soon she and her new friend, Mrs. Bristlethwaite, a prominent member of the Devonshire Coven, learn that magical objects have begun disappearing from sites around the world. Seeking to prevent further thefts, Margaret and the Coven face unexpected dangers and a surprisingly devious enemy.

Set in Jane Austen’s England several years after the events of Sense and Sensibility, Margaret Dashwood and the Enchanted Atlas is the second book of the Regency Magic Series, whimsical tales of magic and manners published by Luminous Creatures Press.