Posts Tagged ‘Steph Ellis’

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.

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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.

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 Saturday! Welcome to Flash Frenzy round 130. Our judge this weekend is Steph Ellis.

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

Happy Tuesday, friends. As always, I appreciate everyone who submitted and commented on stories for sharing a few minutes of your weekend with me. Huge thanks to Ewan Smith for judging this week’s entries. You’ll find his comments and top picks below.

Ten strong entries this week by AHers inspired by a great photo from Ashwin Rao. It’s amazing how, in just a few hundred words, such individual narrative voices can be created. Good job, everyone.

Tornadoes and Toilets
Great title; the uncomfortable sounding combination neatly presages Mrs Veldhoen’s predicament. It was a light-hearted story told with a real lightness of touch. Very nicely done. And the last sentence made me laugh loud…

The Day After
I love the build-up of tension and mystery in this story. The reader is drawn on, not really knowing what’s happening but eager to find out more. When the reveal at the end does come, it’s very satisfying. As for “I’m mesmerised by the movement of what looks like an onion ring dangling from its nose.” Well, we’ve all woken up to morning afters like that (or is it just me…)

Starting Over
There is such a sense of love in this story. Not only between the narrator and Jill but also through the memories described which sketch out a reservoir of family support and caring stretching back a lifetime and longer. This is a story of hope for the future – it comes in many different forms but we all need it.

Wombling Free
“Underground, overground, wombelling free…” Thanks to this story, I now can’t get that song out of my head. Hmm. Dreams shattered, hopes destroyed, memories sullied – this story is Dostoyevskian in its scope, Shakespearian in its language, Austenian in its depiction of social mores and a right load of Trollopes into the bargain. Ach, I can’t lie to you, author…actually, it was funny and bittersweet and much more truthful than it pretended not to be.

Into The Blue
There’s an appealing strangeness to this story. An established relationship shattered with violence. Emotions repressed; emotions unleashed. The narrator a betrayer and murderer who justifies her actions: “I will always need to remind myself of that- you snapped first.” From the very first sentence, there is a sense of inevitability about a tragedy that just has to be played out. I like that.

When Rot Sets In
It’s not easy to sketch out a cataclysmic worldwide event which took place over years, link it to a small-scale human incident which occurs over minutes and then wrap up the story with portents of imminent disaster all within 360 words. But the writer of this story manages that with effortless skill. I’m only just a bit concerned about my own feeling of pleasure at the end that the young things would have the chance to fulfil their destiny (and in the process destroy humanity…)

HONOURABLE MENTION
The Morning Begins with a Hammer by Frank Key
This is such a nicely judged story. The conversation between the realtor and the buyer is wholly convincing and down-to-Earth; then you remember that it’s actually taking place in Heaven. There are lots of lovely linguistic touches; I particularly liked “the zephyrs of a primeval prairie”. And while the description of Eve with her vigorous sailor’s handshake and a farmer’s friendly “howdy-do” might not be entirely Biblical, it is entirely wonderful. A great read.

HONOURABLE MENTION
Blue Light by @JamboStewart42
“with a pitched roof like a shark’s dorsal riding the hilltop wave on the horizon.” When I read something like that, I know that it’s time to settle back in my chair and enjoy. I liked (a lot) the ideas in this story, particularly the thought that “Perhaps we never lived at all. Perhaps our existence was just on loan…” This is a good piece of flash fiction, but I think it has potential to be developed into something much more substantial. Ace.

RUNNER UP
I Have a House by Steph Ellis
I love the idea of the house being a character in the story with “Its jewellery of locks and bolts”. Fine description. There is real skill in the way the author takes the reader’s hand and leads him/her past a succession of increasingly stark images. As each paragraph is peeled away, a new layer of foulness is revealed. This is a chilling story with depth to its horror. Lovely work.

And our Round 127 FLASH MASTER is…

FLASH MASTER

Steve Lodge

with

Ghost Town Radio (Barnstorm)

 

The first paragraph made me laugh so much; it took me right back to The Intro & The Outro from my student days. The whole piece is glorious nonsense, spun out of nothing. Yet it firmly establishes characters and setting, tells a complete story and has a hoot of an ending – all in no time at all. There is lots of craft going on beneath the surface hooey. And the dialogue – snappier than Snappy McSnapsnap the crocodile. A delicious thing to read.

Congratulations, Steve! Your story will be featured as tomorrow’s HumpDay Quickie! Requests for March judges will be going out shortly, but in the meantime, Marie Mckay will be back this weekend to judge Round 128. Hope to see you all there.

Staying

by Steph Ellis

 

The familiar cloying smell drifted in through the window. She didn’t need to look out the window to know that it was Kieran. Give him half-an-hour and he’d probably be slumped over his books puking his guts out. He didn’t disappoint. As Sue passed his classroom, she cast a sympathetic glance at her unlucky colleague now guiding him away from the desk.

She walked slowly, mentally running through the never-ending ‘to-do’ list, trying to prioritise tasks which were all urgent. Literacy interventions, differentiation of GCSE texts for the students she withdrew from class where the pace was relentless. Admin. Worries. The expectation of all that you would know as much as the teacher regardless of subject. Just a lowly teaching assistant.

Not for the first time she wondered why she remained. It certainly wasn’t for the money, her wages so dire she often felt it impossible to continue – especially the too frequent regularity with which unpaid time ate into home life. It definitely wasn’t for the difficult times – restraining a boy from hurling a fire extinguisher across the classroom, standing in front of another to protect him from a howling mob, walking around with the imprint of a fist in your side, working in isolation with a student whose violent outbursts put you at risk. No it wasn’t for that.

She glanced in at another classroom. A student looked up and waved and she smiled back. This was why she stayed. It was for the students whose eyes shone with pride and excitement when they’d read a book for the first time and wanted to try another; the students who suddenly wrote pages of a story when they’d never produced work before; the student who started to open up about home-life; the students who had no one.

And then just at the point when these were about to leave and she felt she could possibly walk away without guilt, she met the newcomers: hollow eyes, sad eyes, confused eyes … trusting eyes. And already she could feel that bond emerge, a fragile thing, wispy tendrils tying them together – so she held out her hand and stayed.

Happy Tuesday! In my post-call stupor I barely remembered I owed you all a winners post, so forgive my tardiness. Thanks to everyone who wrote stories this past weekend, and thanks much to Mark King for judging. You’ll find his comments and top picks below.

Thanks for all the fantastic stories this week. Like all judges, I await the image prompt hoping it’s going to be something different or interesting and I couldn’t wait to see what you did with this prompt. As always, your creativity and vision are something to behold.

Choosing is hard. It’s always a paper-thin decision. Another day might have generated a different set of podium finishers. Know that I enjoyed every one of the stories immensely.

The art form of flash fiction is very much alive and well.

Drums On The Broken River

Cheeky, fun and entertaining. I had a smile all the way through reading it. The banter from the wonderfully described Native American warriors was humorous and very well observed. I loved how the images were woven into the story.

Untitled / The Princess and the Dragon

Dragons? How I’ve missed them. Haven’t we all? This brought back so many fond memories of Flash! Friday and the incredible gift it gave to all of us. Thankfully, we have the Angry Hourglass to enjoy such creativity and storytelling as displayed in this fine tale. A lesson in etiquette and manners, but also a cleverly disguised ending. Poor dragon, then again, it was going to eat an entire herd of cows, so I guess I can’t feel too sorry for him.

Scents of Time

If anyone says that flash fiction can’t create worlds, characters, backstories and sensory imagery so rich you can taste, smell and touch them—point them right at this story. Very well done.

Fire Fighting

Creepy and unsettling. I had images of Backdraft running through my mind as I read it. The writing was tense and very precise with how it made the fire a living creature, stalking, and claiming its victim. I could imagine this being a film or the next must-see mini-series. Loved the double-meaning title.

The Judgement

Another wonderfully masked and cleverly disguised story. I thoroughly enjoyed the language and sense of dread and foreboding all the way through. As for the ending, it’s a feeling many of us know so well. Having said that, from the quality of the story, I very much doubt if the author gets many rejections.

Staying

This felt very personal and the passion of teaching (despite all the reasons not to do it) came through in waves of powerful emotion. This is how it must feel to be a teacher, a nurse, a police officer facing a world that seems to make the experience as unrewarding as possible – yet, there is always that hope of making a difference. Expertly crafted.

Cleansing Ritual

Brooding, intense and corrosive. I liked it very much.

Temple Tears


Wonderful world-building skills. It was almost like have a teleportation machine formed by 360 mighty fine words. I enjoyed not only the scenes, but the depth to the character/s and the journey they were on. I tip my hat to the author of this tale.

Lost in a Tenement Window

Such a great title. It immediately drew images before I had even read a word of the story. A wise technique for using those uncounted words to reach out to the reader and grab them. I loved this, “Uncurtained tenement windows hovered above, diamond adorned old lady fingers lingered below. The scent of recently lit lavender incense wafted through the air all around her. The clamor of a forgotten name inner city, echoed off the plaster walls and into the spiraling chambers of her panicky cochlea.”

Scratch-N-Sniff Story

Talking of titles… this one is a beauty. I do enjoy experimenting with form, and I loved the breathless opening and the linked sentences, the block of words almost adding physical weight to the story. The narrator unnerved me in a way that had me checking the windows looking for him (or her).

Temple Contemplation

I feel like I know Kev, with his memory cards full of pictures he’ll never do anything with. Kev is the tourist that goes unnoticed in almost every part of the world. The writing draws great comparisons between Kev’s temple experience and through the art of showing we learn about his own life and his views on the world. Here’s to you, Kev. Very nicely done.

Moving On

Excellent story. From the revelation of the medium through to the spine-tingling (yes, it really did give me the jitters) ending. This had tinges of some of the best short horror stories. Well done.

Titanium and Supplication

Imagination and creativity in abundance. The choice of a sci-fi genre was unexpected but highly enjoyable. Some great names and I think the author should get a patent on Popping Penguins, it sounds like the next big app.

A Girl Named Euphoria

Euphoria, what a great idea and character. I think there is a whole range of possibilities in this character and the stories she could tell from those that come to see her. I’d happily read many, many more tales like this one.

Honourable Mention: For Untitled / The Princess and The Dragon by Rebekah Postupak. I loved the story, but it also reminded me of so many wonderful times and stories from the gone (but not forgotten) land of dragons.

Second RU: Scents of Time by Firdaus Parvez. For the brilliance of transporting me to a different world.

First RU: Cleansing Ritual David Shakes. Brutal, urgent and perfect for the modern world we’ve found ourselves in this last year.

And our Round 125 FLASH MASTER is…

FLASH MASTER

 Steph Ellis

with Staying

Because it had heart, voice, realism and despite everything, hope.

Congratulatins, Steph! Your story will be featured as tomorrow’s HumpDay Quickie! I hope to see you all next weekend when Firdaus Parvez takes her first shot at judging. Have a great week!