This week’s photo inspired a surprising range of entries, from Voima Oy’s lyrical description of a festival of the dead, to David Gentner’s legend of a dumpling-starved dragon, to Jade Moss’s reflection on a young woman’s physical and emotional displacement. Even those entrants who set their stories in an imagined Chinatown explored different details of the prompt, like the “No Parking” sign (Joshua Swainston), the evening light and the movement on the street (C. Connolly), and the rather prominent barricades (Karl Russell).
Several authors played with the “twist,” or surprise ending. Brett Milam’s was perhaps the most disturbing, even as his chiropractor’s psychopathy is evident upon a re-reading. David Gentner’s mustachioed, green-robed stranger at the door convinces the cocky young protagonist, Chen—and the reader—that there may be something to his grandfather’s slavish devotion to legend. C. Connolly draws her reader into a dream state—or was it real? And David Shakes pulls a switcheroo on his audience akin to that experienced by his mysteriously healed hero.
In a notable point of overlap, Karl Russell, Voima Oy, Jade Moss, and Joshua Swainston meditate on relationships, but even these range from the quotidian to the quirky. Swainston’s readers wonder who really wins the debate over civic order, the “authoritarian armadillo” who polices Portland drivers, or Paul the scofflaw, intent on getting his pregnant wife some Chinese takeout. We strain along with Karl Russell’s Michael to piece together details of his life from his estranged wife Allie, who remembers it all because she has not yet been infected by whatever lurks within the mysterious holes appearing in English cities.
What an entertaining bunch of stories! Even so, two of this week’s submissions hit me hard (in a good way). The runner-up is “We Come and Go” by Jade Moss. I’m a sucker for a good line, and in Moss’s story that line is, “I want to be crushed by the weight of something unfamiliar.” It conveys the protagonist’s desire to be somewhere else, with someone else, even as she is present enough in the here and now to know how to spell “Zushi” in Japanese and that Thomas loves her “in a reckless sort of way.” Moss probes the woman’s state of mind, and we understand how she’s gotten here: Thomas’s allegiance has shifted; the setting has changed; beach sand is no longer romantic when it’s stuck to the soles of your feet. And then the lovers step off the train, and they are not where they think they are. Is this the unfamiliar? Is this what the woman wants?
The winning submission is “Same Time, Next Year” by Voima Oy, a story about how the living and the dead adjust and adapt themselves to loss. In Oy’s imaginary, the dead move on, but the rest of us do not, and somehow this idea seems so sad and just about right. I’m impressed by the elegance and economy of Oy’s prose. Take this part, for example: “And at last here they come, a parade at dusk, just in time for the first fireflies. Walking down the roadway, one by one, all the dead lovers, and husbands and wives. They have put on silk outfits, and bodies.” Oy’s writing is poetic, really. Images unfold in the imaginations of her readers, and her fireflies become our fireflies, and her dead become our own. It’s a beautiful story, one I will remember.
I have enjoyed being a guest judge in this week’s flash fiction competition, and I thank Beth and Emily of Luminous Creatures Press for inviting me to play along. Keep writing, everyone!
Many thanks to our judge, Tiffany Aldrich MacBain!