Winners! Winners! And comments galore! It was a bit of a wait, but well worth it, in my opinion. Many, many thanks to Nancy Chenier for volunteering her services as judge this past weekend. Without further delay, here are Judge Nancy’s comments:

Thank you for the opportunity! It was fun and hard (insert whine here)..

Death and taxies! Dead bodies abounded in this group of stories, though manifesting in a delightful variety of ways (morbidly delightful).  So much incredible writing, it was nearly impossible to choose my favorites. Well, I’m already behind in getting these done and the squidlet is about to awaken, so let’s just jump right in.

Fare Game—the line about shadowing the “molten surface” of the coffee lassoed me as I suspected there was more than rich imagery going on here, that something else was lurking under that molten surface. I was not at all disappointed. The voice was very American-Psycho in its dispassionate flippant relaying of brutal details and its narcissism. You touch upon the twisted psychology here. I loved the dynamics of power and how waiting affects the perception of power. He has to control the charade in the relationship, yet allows it from cab drivers (he accepts the subversion of his power on a racial level but not at all on a gender level). The close is pitch-perfect, dialing up a mistress so he can “win” in a way he couldn’t—not even through killing her—with the wife. 

It Was Me—The pacing of this one is superb, layering the mystery to the punch of a climax (an image that won’t leave me). I laughed out loud at the “cliche” of the Phantom Hitchhiker—something that would only br cliche to the other cabbies but not to us poor readers. However, Addi didn’t disappoint with his winner of a tale, complete with props. I really enjoyed the conflicting possibilities here. With the hole in the face, it leaves us uncertain as to whether Addi was telling the truth (and thus somewhat justified in destroying one’s self, in a “If you see Buddha on the side of the road, kill him” kind of way), or if it was a delusion superimposed on a unfortunately-dressed stranger (and Addi is a pure he-was-always-so-quiet psychopath). I hoped it was the first (because I’m a hopeless sucker for spec-fic), but love that it could just as well be the latter.

The Story Eater—I adore the title of this one. By the fourth paragraph I was ravenous to hear some of those bits Tom’s been consuming. The idea of weaving the stories “into his web of knowledge of the world” reminds me of a set up for Clive Barker’s Great and Secret Show, where the protagonist starts to recognize a vast pattern playing out in all the details (only Barker used a postal clerk). A very intriguing idea. Love the contrast with the other taxi drivers and their “sad camaraderie”: slices of life are so much more vivid and we can fill in with out imaginations to animate them—whereas, with the familiar, we don’t have that luxury. 

Teaching the ABCs—This one was a difficult read on several levels. I liked how the red flags for the second speaker go up right away: being drunk with a kid, yelling at the mother, calling her “woman” and it just gets worse from there. The presence of the mother provides the reader with fleeting hope that there is sanity in the household, but that gets yanked away with her retreat and all we can do is witness the horror (not the dead-body kind, probably worse) of a child embracing racism in order to get approval from daddy. And to deepen the horror, I couldn’t be sure if they were seeing beggars at all rather than just the scene of the picture prompt—in other words, the man’s racism doesn’t allow him to see gainfully employed people of color.

Opportunity—The line “And lose this pathetic job that I hate so much” locked me into sympathy with the characters, leaving me appropriately frustrated with the injustice they have to endure. I like the way this one leaves us poised at a crossroads (an opportunity), leaving us to wonder what we might do in Aydin’s place. The description of the jumper (?) was restrained yet shocking, keeping the focus where it needs to be: on Aydin and his choice.

Night’s Shift—Night shift gets the supernatural cases. I like how he’s only a number (and for the most part, she pretty much only a letter). Nice use of action peppering the dialogue, helping shift the tension from two strangers talking to something more sinister.  At first, I wasn’t certain that the perp was demonic—I wondered if it might be poison that he used to make her lungs burn, but then the allusions (the tunnel, the bargain, “anomaly” as a signal word, and the sense that “swallowing one’s words” isn’t just figurative) bring the supernatural element home. 

Psychology—The description in the second paragraph is great: it not only give me a clear picture of what a dump this place is, it also reveals exactly why his job sucks as well as so much of Eileen’s character (without having to say “cheapskate” even once). Her attitude toward the speaker plants her firmly in the reader’s antipathy, so when the reveal hits, it’s very satisfying. I love the way her pronouncement of “we’re dead” comes back around at the end.

Taxi—After reading about all the dead in the last few entries, I thought for sure this one would be going in a similar direction: someone preoccupied with getting attention might do something drastic to get it. (I found it an interesting reflection on my thinking that I would consider murder less drastic.) I like how the turn is never mentioned, yet there is a strong build up to it with the anxiety. I love how the transition is revealed instead in the behavior of the taxi driver, affable vs. professional, the different topics that the cabbie would feel comfortable using with a man vs. a woman. 

Ravi’s Ride—Loved the first paragraph, from the tone of the first line, to the contrast of past lives with the current conditions. With great economy, you give us a compelling peek of the worlds from which the cabbies have come. Ravi’s understanding of his privilege, here, generates sympathy, as does the way he doesn’t see the job as “below him”—it makes the gaining of his own story (one that promises to include a celebrity) believable. I like too that although the actress may have been giving him an empty promise, by kissing him, he still has his story.

Knights of the Road—The pacing of this one is magnificent, introducing new layers of the mystery little by little with the finesse of a tight game of 7-card-stud. I got hooked with the intrigue generated by the line “couldn’t dodge it forever”. The mystery deepens with not ever seeing Carmelita (don’t cabbies get to meet the dispatchers?). His mood darkening and needing “the reason” for the pickup. I loved the play on words over the two uses of “dead drop”. The loneliness inherent in the closing paragraph reverberated for me.

The Fare—This one had me laughing out loud—”just cause they got lights and a red cross” was hysterical. One of the Horseman driving a cab? Brilliant! War has quite the mouth on him. His earnest assessment of himself (people person) clashing with his behaviour was delightful as was the fact that he feels the need to explain his metaphorical axe. The thought of old deities working the taxies has me wishing to take a trip to the other parts of town. I could easily see this as a collection of stories, each one a ride with a different demoted driver.

Extra—This one has all the fairy tale fun of a Rebekah piece (confirmed!). I particularly enjoyed this what with my own run as an extra (ahem, background actor). A stroke of comic genius to feature the background characters in the fairy tales. I loved the nod to method acting (the plant), the two that are there at least partially for the artistic expression set up against the one who wants his paycheck. The dramatic irony you set up provides sublime humor: we know why Snow White has to live. On top of that, you slip some real zingers in there (pumpkin tasting of shoe leather—doh!).

The Comely Cannibal—The hard-boiled Chandler-esque figurative language seduced me, irresistible lines like: “chilled custard”, “the kind of face that required alimony payments”, “deserted boat in a typhoon”. That last one all the more delicious because she went away alone (“deserted”) despite her professed meal—the MC didn’t take the bait (yet). I loved the confusion over “blow job”—by the end we’re not sure if the cabbie misheard or she was really taunting him. The voice had me hooked despite the fact that we have two rather unsympathetic characters—well-played.

So, here we go with the hard part…

Honorable Mention: Chris Milam “The Comely Cannibal” for rekindling the fires of my love of Chandler’s metaphors. 

2nd Runner-Up: Brett Milam “Fare Game” for the dense writing, where nearly every sentence is doing at least double-duty, tackling a mind that rationalizes horrific actions. 

1st Runner-Up: Rebekah Postupak “Extra” for the fresh fun of it as well as the way you use fantasy to hold up a delightful mirror to mundane reality. 

And your Round 44 FLASH MASTER is…

FLASH MASTER 

Karl A. Russell

with “The Knights of the Road”

For the poker-game-like tension, the idea of vigilante valorous cab drivers working secretly to rid the streets of “monsters”, and the engaging character. In the end, this one pulled out in front. 

Congratulations, Karl! Your story will be featured as tomorrow’s HumpDay Quickie! Thanks once again to Nancy for acting as judge last weekend. This upcoming weekend, Image Ronin will resume his role as judge. Hope to see you all there.

Cheers!

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