Happy New Year! Welcome to the first winners post of 2016! Thanks to everyone who wrote stories this weekend and got 2016 off to such a great start. Thanks also to Marie McKay for judging and commenting. You’ll find her responses below.

Happy New Year to you all. Thanks for allowing me to read your wonderful stories. Thanks to Rebecca, also, for this competition. I have commented on a few of the things I liked about each of the flashes, but I could have said so much more about all of them.

Forbidden Flames

The introduction of this world is handled expertly:

“Back in the day, fire was freely available… They pumped heat around our city through elaborate installations of spaghetti-tangled pipes.”

What a great concept. Highly original.

Before the Flames Go Out

I read this as a vampire story. This one was fast-paced and tense right from the outset:

“Fuck! Why did I come this way? Now I’m trapped and helpless.”

I also like that I have to work out what these vile creatures are:

“You don’t like fire…”

“How long do I have until sunrise?” Thoroughly enjoyed.

What Do Fire Eaters Have For Pudding?

“that thrilling crackly sound and, ah, the tantalising smell.”

It’s at this point I realise I might not be dealing with what I had first thought. Instead of the main character being a neglected or abused runaway, he is, instead, an arsonist.

What he misses about his parents is also interesting:

“… comforting smell of Dad’s pipe. Mum… fried bacon and eggs on the gas cooker.”

Dark yet humorous.

Firestarter

“Only at night was he free from persecution.”

This story of an outsider contains beautiful language:

“as the dark glass of his eyes bathed themselves in the light of day.”

He takes his revenge on his persecutors, burning them with his eyes.

“They were too far from their families for their screams to be heard.” This is harrowing, yet, I still have sympathy for him because of the story’s stunning last line:

“And only when the Firestarter cried, did the flames finally die and he turned his gaze to the ground once more.”

A Morning’s Walk

Great world building and original take on the prompt.

A highly privileged member of a society disguises himself, discarding with “the emerald toga of the casting classes…”

This sentence is just so beautiful and concise:

“Jarritt feigned fear, whining for mercy and offering a silver coin, his likeness emblazoned on it.” Great writing.

SUNDIAL

“In the backyard of an estate the sundial had lasted… Through the years children played with it not knowing its significance or use.”

This piece contained wave after wave of beautiful imagery. The theme of time is handled exquisitely.

“No sign language of ticking clocks were needed… Birds would sit on the hand that did not move receiving crumbs of eternity.”

The conclusion to the piece so very fitting.

‘The Block’

This one made me smile. A writer suffering from writer’s block. The hideous nature of that block described vividly:

“tangled veins”

“dark matter.”

Then, when it is finally overcome, I love:

“Warm honey hued liquid oozed out from a cavity, seeping through cracks, filling the voids, flowing through the arteries.A heady scent of stories filled the air.”

The Beast Inside

“I have grown old in my quest for the fire-beast.”

A whole life in one flash fiction piece. Beautiful language takes us through, not only seasons, but years so that the story feels rounded:

“But now I complete my quest… the castle, now in blackened ruins, our battle flags torn and the ladies of the court withered. I will find the fire-beast lurking in the vaults…”

Homecoming

Once again, great world building from the first line:

“He’d been in the bowels of the earth since the height of the solstice.”

What I really like about this piece is the characterisation which adds humour and tenderness to the piece

“he was still just a man – his thoughts those of any young man in his prime:

How do I look?”

BURNING PASSIONS

This is unusual as it starts out as a dystopian world, and then life seems to improve. I loved the descriptions of harsh times. “Food was a daily challenge… The grocer with fruit from the bottom of the barrel.”

However, as conditions improve, the conflict begins and a lover is spurned:

“She left me. Left me to wither like a grape unpicked.” Terrific imagery.

Finding the Light

Given the striking prompt, it’s not surprising there were wonderful descriptions of fire and its properties.

“The reddened light pulsed making his shadow dance across the timber columns of the wood.”

“A fire that burned like life itself.”

“A giant sprite in a bizarre dance partnership.” Fantastic descriptions.

MASTER OF MAN

A mysterious tale made up of intriguing dialogue.

This line embodies the story’s enigma: ‘”That’s precisely who I am, no shadow.”‘

Whoever/Whatever this force is, is terrifying.

Beauty

“the nothing-color of [her] hair and eyes…” does not stop our narrator from finding a loving partner.

and

“Two kind, plain but happy people [birth] a beautiful girl.”

The theme of beauty and vanity is explored so well in this flash piece, a feeling of completeness, if not happiness, found in

“I sit down and wonder how I raised one of the cruel girls…”

Spit | Fire

He’s sworn two oaths. One to his homeland, one to King George.

My interpretation of the wonderful introduction to this story is that our narrator is one of the refugees who flew for the RAF during WW2.

The economic use of language is stunning

“He’s skimmed the cordite skies of Poland, barrelled the shrapnel-strewn Belgium ether, endured the insectile fury of the Messerschmitt swarms above France.”

Yet,

“on the lowest ranks—he must know his place.”

Language such as

“A private chapel of hellfire. A crucible of death.” depicts the treacherous, and perhaps, ironically, the spiritual nature of this task.

This story explores the alienation of the WW2 fighter pilot, and the alienation of a refugee.

“And when he lands, there is no celebration, no credit.” Brilliant.

The Man Without a Face

“I’m in love with him. He wears a hat. I can’t see his face. I don’t need to see it to know how I feel about him.”

Such strength of feeling in such a short piece!

“Every night, he has a different face.” and I love the ambiguity of this ending.

Bulwark

“A bulwark made of pure madness… Drake wanted that title. He wanted to be considered mad.”

I really like the idea of this force of uncompromising madness. A very intriguing concept. I also enjoyed the dash of style and humour at the end:

‘Drake replied, “If I’m going to officially declared a mad man, I want to be a good-looking one.”’

Here goes:

Honourable Mentions:  Beauty by  Casey Rose Frank and SUNDIAL by Richard Edenfield

Second Runner-up: The Beast Inside by AV Laidlaw

First Runner-up: Firestarter by Steph Ellis

And our Round 89 FLASH MASTER is 

FLASH MASTER

Mark A King

with Spit | Fire

Congratulations, Mark. Your story will be featured as tomorrow’s HumpDay Quickie. Thanks again Marie for your comments. Next weekend, multiple-time Flash Master Sal Page will be acting as judge. See you all on Saturday.

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