Posts Tagged ‘#flashdogs’

Penance

by Steph Ellis

A hand can signify so much: a loving touch, a safe anchor, a friend. His hand was none of these. His hand was a map of pain raised against the world.

The Selector scanned the fleshy palm scarred with broken lines, a future going off at a tangent, a break claimed by death. How far along that road was he already? It didn’t really matter, they needed a sacrificial lamb, someone to carry their message, their plea for help. Would anybody listen? Was there anybody out there? It was unlikely but they had to try. This was a one-way journey into the unknown.

And still he kept his hand in the air whilst all around him others were lowered. Soon his was the only one left; an unfurled flag ready to be planted on alien shores.

He was chosen as he knew he would be. Showed no emotion as they told him how long his rations would last, oxygen, water. Remained impassive as he was given a small capsule. Its contents would ensure a quick death.

They suited him up. Took him to the launch pad. The remaining survivors waved and cheered him. There was no family, no loved ones. She wasn’t there. Not any more.

Then he was in the small craft. It had been prepared for the mission some time ago, merely waited on a pilot. Now the countdown could begin.

Ten

Him. “Who is he?”
Her. “No one. There is no one.”

Iron hand.

Nine

Him. “Who is he?”
Her. “No one, I said.”

Steel hand.

Eight

Him. “Who is he?”
Her. “I told you, please … don’t …”

Leaden hand.

Seven

Him. “Who is he?”
Her. “No …”

Hand grabbing.

Six

Him. “Who is he?”
Her. “You’re hurting me.”

Hand grasping.

Five

Him. “Who is he?”
Her. “Please … no …”

Hand gripping

Four

Him. “Who is he?”
Her. Sobbing.

Hand pressing.

Three

Him. “Who is he?”
Her. Groaning.

Hand squeezing.

Two

Him. “Who is he?”
Her. Choking.

Hand smothering.

One

Him. “Who is he?”
Her. Silence.

He pressed the ignition and the capsule blasted out into the endless night. His penance had begun.

Happy Tuesday, writers! Thanks much to everyone who submitted and commented on stories this pas weekend. Thanks also to Sal Page for commenting and making the tough choices. You’ll find her top picks below.

A man holding a microphone, with a raised arm. Who is he? What’s he doing? Well, you came up with a wide variety of different interpretations. Amongst other things, he was a singer, a motivational speaker, a footballer collecting an award, a volunteer for a space mission, a grieving father and there were, coincidentally, a pair of onstage renditions of ‘Happy Birthday’ earning each the coveted Ham Sandwich Award. Congratulations!
Good work all round and so hard deciding which to place, which is why I ended up with three HMs. Don’t make me do this again …

Glory Song
A lovely celebration of the reasons for and the power of music, through the character of the singer. I like the varied sentence lengths, the line ‘The rhythmic stamping of feet rises to a crescendo and only the earth beneath his feet hears’ and the idea of ‘inviting the world in.’ This flash itself, all in one paragraph, also rises to a crescendo, reiterating that this man always sings.

We Believed
The narrator goes to see a motivational speaker and is convinced by him. ‘I heard the tiredness in my own voice’ is the moment of them coming down from the euphoria of the event, the realisation that there was nothing specific being spoken about. It was about being caught up in the moment. There are hints that all is not as it seems; he’s ‘dangerous’, a ‘master salesman’, ‘Dad says he’s a fraud.’ And now the moment’s gone, maybe, as the pleasing ending indicates, eating cake with friends is just as good.

Alexander Thompson Jr.
This whole story enfolds in an impassioned speech by the father of a drunk driver victim. ‘I will never feel his small hand in mind as we head to the ball game’ he tells his audience, going on to eloquently stress what this boy with the same name as him has missed out on by being killed and to persuade those listening to join him in his campaign in his son’s name.

One Day the Muse Spoke to Him
Bus driver Jeron’s muse is an old lady who is a bit like his grandmother. She knows things about him. His poetry, for one. I love her persuasive speech about the Open Mic, especially the line ‘You with your poems about pigeons and skinny kids’ which really made me smile. As did the ending when his muse is in the audience as he performs. Hope I meet her on a bus one day.

Things Can Only Get Better
George is infatuated with singer Reggie, born out in sentences like ‘He ached for the next time while dreading its arrival.’ He’s supported in his infatuation by his sweet sister Pelly, who organises a concert trip for his birthday where he goes up on stage and, never mind things can only get better, it’s more like dreams can come true. Though we don’t yet know why Reggie is inviting him to his dressing room and can only speculate.

Honourable Mention
The First by Mark A. King
A veteran footballer – the first black player – rebels against the problems of racism and homophobia in the sport by rejecting his lifetime achievement award. When he remembers racial abuse he says it didn’t ‘throw him off his game’ as fans of the opposing team might hope for, but ‘he used it like Popeye used spinach.’ Wonderful! And, as he has ‘grabbed the microphone’, it leaves the reader speculating on what he is about to say.

Honourable Mention
Can’t Hear Ourselves Think by Sian Brighal
Set decades into the future and narrated by the owner of a rare photo of a black person. We aren’t fully told what has happened but can surmise, from such lines as the shocking ‘Eighteen months in a detention centre at the age of twelve for the crime of searching GlobalNet for ‘black person’ and the reference to ‘cleansing repentant fires.’ The words on the back of the photograph ‘Did you hope we’d lose our voice?’ reminds me of the belief of slave traders that those people whose descendants went on to form the African diaspora would just forget their culture. Then, a hopeful ending, an implication of online communications and the realisation that the narrator is black in ‘we’re louder than ever.’ Of course …

Honourable Mention
Strange Band by Steve Lodge
These memories of a local band made me laugh, beginning with the absurd but still kind of believable lyrics to Cold Hands. Once heard never forgotten I’m sure. This piece contains some lovely phrases; the pleasing and economical description ‘dreadlocked and jetlagged’, the sentiment behind ‘It may have been a rat hole but it was our rat hole’ and the repetition of ‘gutted’ using the two slightly different meanings. And then, despite the humour throughout (I missed ‘Lost Vegas’ during the first reading!), a sad, end-of-a-era ending.

2nd Runner Up
Bernard’s Brilliant Ideas by Ewan Smith
This one made me laugh. It felt like an episode of a dodgy but fun sitcom. And I LOVE sitcoms of many different types. It gave me that feeling you get from sitcoms of wanting to stop these daft characters from their silly ideas. Cringing & laughing at the same time (Why don’t they just let themselves be inspected? Because it wouldn’t be funny, that’s why.) Full of good dialogue, ridiculous but fun. Feels like a very complete story as the three suggested ideas give way to the punchline, what Bernard actually did. Kidnapping the entire inspection team? Who says Bernard’s ideas aren’t brilliant?

1st Runner Up
The Stranger’s Voice by Frank Key
Our guy is making a speech about how he’s been accepted after arriving as a stranger. But its cut short. This flash surprised me. Twice. Surprise One: the crowd sing happy birthday. He realises ‘as much as he liked listening to the sound of his own voice, the unified sound from other, he like more.’ It’s a lovely moment, utterly spoiled by Surprise Two: the shock of the authorities coming to take away this man who’s become a part of his community and isn’t a stranger.

And our Round 131 FLASH MASTER is…

FLASH MASTER

Steph Ellis

with
Penance

This needed a couple of readings for me to totally ‘get’ but when I did … what a whole lot of story it is. As much as I like funny, I like proper tragic too, as this certainly is. I like the way it makes excellent use of the raised hand in the prompt picture. And then there’s the countdown to blast off, as we gradually find out through his reliving what happened as the numbers count down, why he’s so keen to volunteer for a space mission, ‘a one way journey into the unknown’, he knows he will not survive. Penance indeed.

Congratulations, Steph! Your story will be featured as tomorrow’s HumpDay quickie. Thanks again to Sal for judging. Next weekend Voima Oy returns to judge round 132. Hope to see you there.

Happy Saturday! Welcome to Flash Frenzy Round 131. Our judge this week is Sal Page.

Before we get started, here’s a brief reminder of the rules.

Deadline: Sunday at 6:00pm MST. You all have 36 hours to create your best work of up to 360 words (exclusive of title) and post it into the comments below. Please include your word count (required) and Twitter handle if applicable. For complete rules, click here. 

The winning author and their story will be featured as Wednesday’s Hump-Day Quickie and be crowned Flash Master of the Week.

Here is your prompt.

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photo courtesy Ashwin Rao

Homecoming
by K.M. Zafari

The eyes staring at me from the photo mirror my own; aside from a smear of black paint, they are identical to mine. “I didn’t know Dad played football.”

“Toss it,” my sister says, after a cursory glance. She is the less sentimental of us two. “His pension barely covers what Medicare won’t, let alone a storage facility to house all his junk.”

“This isn’t junk,” I say. “These are memories.” I turn back to the box of photos, trying to pretend we aren’t deciding the importance of a man’s entire existence.

But here it is, a life in pictures. Star athlete. Prom king. High school graduate.

This is a man I never knew.

“He won’t even remember any of it, Jace.” Denise softens. “I don’t mean to sound cold, but pictures are meant to remind us of of things. And he’s just too far gone.”

I pick up another photo and slink to the floor.

Soldier.

These were the eyes that I remembered. The ones from after the war, whose stare was cold, unfeeling – a wall between who he’d been and who he’d been forced to become in the depths of a jungle far from home.

This whole time, I’d thought it was me. That I just wasn’t good enough. But suddenly, I understand – he saw in me a future he’d lost long ago.

I pick up the box of photos and carry them out to my car, then sit behind the wheel and stare at the carefree eyes of the star athlete, the eyes that had not yet seen. And he is no longer my drunk, angry father, but a man.

I peel out of the driveway. Denise runs after me, but I don’t hear her shouting, don’t care.

“Hi, Pop.”

He’d changed a lot in twenty years. Feeble, frail. His hands shake as he reaches up and cradles my face. “My boy,” he says. “My boy.” Tears fill his wrinkled, innocent eyes.

“Look what I found,” I say, showing him the picture of the man I want to know. “You never told me you played football.”

I’ll take the remaining pictures home. Some things are better left forgotten.

Sisters
by J.R. Hershberger

Laughing, we jostle into Katja’s living room with our shopping bags.
She drops hers. She is not laughing anymore.
I turn to see what she does – two embracing figures. One is Katja’s husband. The other is a woman I do not recognize.
Katja shoves past me, back out the door.
I follow her.
She runs up the street to the park on the corner.
“Katja,” I call. She does not slow down.
She turns onto the park’s running trail. I fall further behind but am confident I will catch up. She has always been the faster of us, but I have always had more endurance.
It’s been years since either of us has done running of any significance. She tires after less than half a mile and collapses on the grass next to the trail.
When I reach her, she is hugging her knees and sobbing.
“This sucks,” she says.
“It does,” I say, “but you can’t run away from it.”
“Didn’t I just, though,” she says, laughing through hitched breaths.
I laugh, too. “I mean, I guess you can. You did. But, you’re going to have to go back. Deal with stuff.”
She rocks back and forth on her bottom. Watching her, I’m reminded of a game we’d played as kids.
“Remember, ‘Rotten Tomato’?” I ask her, joining her in the grass and hugging my own knees. I push myself backward and attempt to use momentum to right myself without letting go of my knees. I flop onto my side.
“Oh, yeah,” Katja says, then tries herself, rocking backward and then straining to come back to sitting position. She fails; her hands slip and she releases her knees.
We each try again, hugging our knees and rocking backward.
Attempts once again unsuccessful, we lay sideways in the grass.
A teen-aged couple appears on the trail. They stop, staring at us.
We stare back.
I ask, “wanna play ‘rotten tomato’?”
They do not answer as they continue past, wearing worried expressions.
When they disappear around the corner, Katja and I laugh.
We laugh until there are no tears left for crying.
Then, I walk her home.

Hello again! As promised, here’s today’s second winner’s post! Thanks to everyone who wrote stories and to Steph Ellis for being more on top of judging than I was this past week. You’ll find her comments and top picks below.

Oh dear. You all certainly made me work this week and on a Monday night too. I had to read and reread a few times before I could make up my mind – and even then I kept chopping and changing placings. There really wasn’t a lot in it, especially between the Winner and the 1st RU and the 2nd RU, and oh, did I mention the HMs and those who didn’t get placed but were great as well? But in the end my choices covered the range of elements that get me every time – some were dark, some were moving, some were written by poets. What more could I ask for?

Golden Daffodils

Great fun, wonderful names and the line “Read it, buffoon, or I will eat your slab and urinate on your coiling” is inspired.  And don’t forget the puns ‘a host of Golden Daffodils’ meaning a totally different thing in this case!

War Games

A slow dawning that these are not quite the war games I expected, a child’s perspective on the weekly shop with them making the most of any edible opportunities – as kids will. I’m glad those days are behind me. Standout line: “If I’m holding a wedge of cheddar, it’s safe. German salami? It’s over – save yourself.”

Marked

This intriguing story hints at things rather than coming straight out and telling you what’s going on so that you can put your own interpretation on it. The mark is a visible representation of whatever events had occurred the night before – sex, drugs, something supernatural – it is for the reader to decide. But whatever happened, it has happened to so many others, it’s normal, plenty of others were ‘Marked’ and Jess would deal with the consequences of it in her own, brave way.

Eyes

Eyes are the one thing I’ve found that adds an extra something to any piece of dark writing, they certainly have the ‘cringe’ factor. Her fetish whilst not yet being the death of her – “Your fetish with eyes is going to be the death of you, my dear,” – is certainly the death of others.

Captured

Poor man, wanting to live the life of a hermit and then getting captured. I think there was an element of pride coming before a fall here, he was a little too cocky ‘sauntering’ to the door, then falling over the tripwires which he had claimed to know all about.

Those Eyes

The eyes have it – or not, in the case of this couple they are hiding so much – the ‘story waiting to be told’, a future built on lies and deceit, liar’s eyes. I wonder how much their desire for fame is going to keep them together.

Camouflage

A dangerous woman here, manipulative, setting the scene for a perfect murder. Not someone to be crossed. A lot is conveyed in a very short story.

HM: A Sword in the Hand by Angelique Pacheco

Beautifully descriptive piece: phrases such as the sword was ‘heavy and burdened with many a tale,’ ‘when I was sixteen and the lotus began to bloom,’ ‘rain poured down in silver sheets,’ all set the scene and tone perfectly. I like the way that although it finishes with him waiting for his attackers, for me it implies – because this story is being told some years later and he still has his sword – the younger version of Grandfather had fought of his attackers and won.

HM: The Confusing Nature of Student Life by Ewan Smith

Entertaining story focusing on those rites of passage we all have to go through with parents. Showing them we’re adult enough to have a drink, a partner, they’re reaction as they have to let go of the child and accept the adult. This was done with great humour and warmth and it was a nice twist that the blacking was accidental rather than a particular fashion statement.

2nd RU: The Poet Brigade and the Elixir of Truth by Richard Edenfield 

Gorgeous language and turns of phrase in this story. A tale of hope and the aspiration to change things using words, ‘feathered bullets bleached with an unfettered pride’ as youth and Ms Williams takes on Trump. Wonderful that there are those who have such visions and dreams although I’m not quite sure what Trump’s reaction would be. I think perhaps something from Mother Goose might be more at his level!

1st RU: Garden Party by Sal Page 

A very grim but extremely well-written piece. The pacing was perfect, drawing the reader on as the would-be victim turns the tables on her assailant and comes out the victor. The first line draws you in right away “He’s supposed to be dead but he’s staring at me,” sign-posting a wonderfully dark story is on its way. Plus there are elements that are blackly humorous “His kilt is still up around his waist, the sporran skewiff. No idea where the orange wig and tartan cap are.”

And our Round 130 FLASH MASTER is…

FLASH MASTER

K.M. Zafari

with

“Homecoming”

This is such a sad, but uplifting, story. The initial feeling that perhaps there is an element of estrangement between the children and their father changes as they dig through old memories and put them in perspective. It is the difference in the eyes of the younger, carefree footballer compared to the eyes of the soldier that reveals the truth, the effect that war can have on a person and subsequently their loved ones. The eyes have given Jace the understanding he needs to try and bridge the gap with his father, despite the latter’s dementia. Moving.

Congratulations, K.M.! Your story will be featured as tomorrow’s second HumpDay Quickie!

Thank you again everyone for contributing your time and talents, especially our judges. The Angry Hourglass truly could not exist without your efforts. Next weekend, Sal Page is back for another round of judging. Hope to see you all there.

Happy Tuesday writers! Here is the unfashionably late Round 129 winners post. Many thanks to the patient writers who submitted last week and also to judge Ewan Smith. You’ll find his comments and top picks below.

The photo from Ashwin Rao this week shouted the word “Relationship”. Nine AHers responded with cracking stories.

A Certain Tomorrow
This is a story of waiting and, as such, not a great deal happens. But the author skilfully builds up the feel of impending fate. There is a wonderful sense of Laura having become disconnected from her body which is now little more than a physical shell. Soon, she will be disconnected from Jeff entirely but for the moment the two of them just hold on, waiting for the Certain Tomorrow. Very moving.

The Broken Spoons
I love the wheels within wheels aspect of this with a real image being fictionalised both externally and internally by the story. (Does that make sense? Well I know what I mean…) Great natural dialogue and there really should be a band called The Broken Spoons. I just wonder if that’s a reference to the couple spooning in the picture…hmm…

The Quarrel
A violent relationship under stress; always an opportunity for sparks – and anything else at hand – to fly. By starting the story in the middle of a furious argument, the author hooks the reader straight off. I did like the idea of Mike lying awake half the night worrying where Jessie was when she was asleep on the sofa in the next room all along. Lots of swirling emotions there.

Holding The World In Your Arms
The story of an abused narrator whose personality has been systematically ground up and destroyed. “…with every explosion a little more of me turned to ash, my soul as empty as any Pompeian plaster cast.” Driven by the wish for revenge, or perhaps simply the need to end the fear, she poisons the abuser and finds her own resolution in death. Although set in modern times, there is a mythical quality to this story that is deeply satisfying.

Loving Whole
I like the sense in this story of the fragility of life. A sliver of inattention, a moment of carelessness and the world becomes engulfed by grief. The image of the girl found dead with the phone still in her hand, message showing, is a strong one. There is a lot packed into the story and it has a great structure with the brief final sentence taking the reader right back to the start. A good read.

If The Bar Burns Down, The Rain Gonna Cry All Night
A really entertaining spoof biography of everyone’s favourite child star, Piril “Dame Judy” Quench. The humour is perfectly judged throughout so that I felt, somewhere at the back of my mind, that I really did remember a TV series called Knackers Yard. (Oh – and I’m going to steal “implausibly lovely” to use in my CV.)

HIGHLY COMMENDED: Profile Pix by David Shakes
A lovely story. From the off, the simple descriptions are very evocative, giving an immediate sense of place. The lack of emotion and intensity in the narration only magnifies the unfolding horror. The structure of the story is so elegant; I love the single short sentences between the paragraphs like a solemn drumbeat of commentary. And the clarity throughout – gorgeous.

HIGHLY COMMENDED: As The Sun Goes Down by A.J. Walker

Now this is funny! There’s the first narrator having his perfect romantic moment by the lake – well, apart from the mosquitoes, the winos and the screaming children. Then the second narrator with two mozzies up her nose feeling as unromantic as it’s possible to be. Brilliant. The contrast between their physical closeness and their mental distance gives the story such energy. It made me laugh at 6.53 on a Monday morning – there ain’t no greater praise than that.

and our Round 129 FLASH MASTER is…

FLASH MASTER

J.R. Hershberger

with

“Sisters”

Two sisters; one betrayed, the other aching with her pain. Unable to face the grief of the present, they retreat into the past and into a childhood game they once shared. Time passes and only when they are ready do they return to reality. I love the way that this is a story about something mentioned in passing at the start and then barely referred to again. It’s as if we readers, like the sisters, can’t face the agony of the betrayal; we’d rather think about playing Rotten Tomatoes instead. The more I read this, the more it grew on me. A super piece of writing.

Congratulations, J.R.! Your story will be featured as one of tomorrow’s Hump Day Quickies! Stay tuned for the Round 130 winner’s post which will be along shortly for this week’s Twofer Tuesday!