Although the participation was encouraging (39 entries), it wasn't enough to justify a monthly contest. Therefore, we will do this quarterly. I would also like to thank Mark Lawrence, C.T. Phipps & M.L. Spencer who helped us by judging this contest.
And now, to the winner and the two runner ups!
#27: The Game of Souls by Travis Tippens
The game was chess, and I was playing for my soul. My adversary grinned at me from across the board, its pallid face split with a smile from beyond the grave.
"Knight to E5." I crowed in triumph as I took the black bishop. My foe's smile only grew.
"Rook to H3." It removed my pawn and placed it beside two others. "That one was your brother."
A victory here would mean my return to the land of the living, but each pawn I lost meant the loss of someone I had loved. I had the advantage now, but the toothy grin from beneath my opponent's hood was unnerving. Was defeat beyond comprehension for an angel of death?
Recklessly, I threw defense aside and sought to win as quickly as possible. Lives were on the line, and I had to risk it all to survive. To my great surprise and joy, I eventually managed to place my enemy in checkmate. A single white pawn remained on the board.
"I won! Send me back, you bastard." It was my turn to grin.
The angel of death stood, unfolding skeletal wings. Its smile vanished, a stern expression on its corpse-like face.
"You may have won the game of chess, but you lost the game of souls."
"What? I beat you!"
"The game of souls judges whether you deserve a second chance at life. In trying to save yourself, you sacrificed seven innocents." It gestured at the line of captured pawns. "Your soul is damned."
"You never explained the rules," I said in horror.
"You never asked."
The angel of death reached for the solitary pawn that adorned the board and drew it close. Beneath the hood, its grin was wider than ever.
A story that builds up to its twist rather than hauling it in from left field as the wordcount runs out. The scene presented is somewhat familiar - death is battled with the stakes being the participant's soul, and I may even have seen the contest be a game of chess before... It was nicely done though. It always feels mean asking for more in flash fiction but perhaps some of the chess detail could have been sacrificed for lines to bring our protagonist more to life.
This piece has an interesting premise and is very well written. Especially the little twist at the end, where the main character ends up damned for sacrificing innocent souls to save his (her?) own. However, I did wonder at how our protagonist could sacrifice the souls of people they loved with so little emotion? They watch loved ones fall on the board with no reaction – except at the end when they glimpse their own doom. Then the horror hits. Unless this character is psychopathic, I think they would have been reduced to tears long before the end. Because of this lack of emotion, I have a hard time sympathizing with the character.
The Game of Souls by Travis Tippens is an immensely effective short fiction piece which manages the trickiest part of flash fiction. Specifically, it manages to tell a story with a beginning, middle, and an end despite the fact it is so short. In this case, the story provides us with a chess game being played between the Grim Reaper and a character with living chess pieces. For every piece he loses, the protagonist loses someone in the real world. The Twilight Zone-esque twist at the end is delightful and perfectly fits the kind of story which an allegorical representation of death would make. The fact I spotted the twist being foreshadowed halfway through is also a nice conservation of detail. I definitely think the imagery, storytelling, and work were top notch!
#14: The Historian by Jess Golden
He steepled his fingers and regarded the three realities.
They stared back at him, spines straight, titles trim, pages demurely folded.
They were trying to look inconspicuous, as was the nature of histories like theirs. Close the cover, skip the chapter, give every do-gooder in the cosmos an excuse to believe that "we are innately good inside."
He passed his knotted hands over the books, close enough to feel the way they tensed beneath their covers. They displaced the air like death. Suffering. Three mass graves binding page-wrapped packages.
Night by Ellie Wiesel
Fallen Stars by Raje Zegareth
Phoenix by Velaria Algev
Three mostly-identical novels written by three nearly-indistinguishable people in three almost-overlapping timelines.
In the normal course of events, alternate realities appear and converge on a perpendicular. But some run parallel. And others, attracted to one another by the similarity of their histories, become as close as lovers. So close that the unlucky can wander between the Earth of WWII and the Johdell of the Fire Ages like children lost in the wing of a sprawling old house.
Intermingling realities never lived for long. He had watched enough universes die to know that when the house became too crowded, it suffocated the worlds within.
So he sat there, the heels of his hands propped in his beard, staring down the beady letters of the books by the light of the hearth. One shrank from the heat more than the others.
He burned the books with fire in their names, and kept the one with black. He turned back to his library with a sigh.
History was doomed to repeat itself.
His work was never done.
This one struck me as belonging to the "idea" class of flash fiction. With so little space you have to decide where to put your effort. You can't have it all. Will it be character, comedy, twist, prose, or as we have here will it be the idea that dominates? My own tastes run more toward character and prose, so this one felt a little dry and abstract to me. The writing was good, the phrases well turned, but I felt less drawn in by it than by some others. I can see why it was chosen as a semifinalist though.
The Historian by Jess Golden is a captivating piece of flash fiction. I really liked the premise, and the story has great imagery and tone. There are some excellent uses of parallels and other devices. I am interested to see what this story could become and where it will go. The alliteration in the second sentence threw me off a bit, however. I do hope the author intends to elaborate from here into either a short story or perhaps something bigger.
The Historian is a somewhat Lovecraftian meets Myst tale about a man who deals with books come from multiple realities. He destroys the ones from realities which cease to exist. It's a depressing story about certain interpretations of quantum mechanics which believe realities are constantly combining or disappearing based on possibilities. I'm somewhat of an amateur enthusiast of quantum mechanics so this definitely fascinated me. Still, it's more a meditation than a narrative.
#04: Buyer's Remorse by Quenby Olson
I didn't expect to see him on my doorstep.
"All sales are final," I said, shutting the door in his face.
"Wait!" He shoved a booted foot in the gap, the oak slab crushing his toes. "I only want to talk."
I opened the door, releasing his foot back to him.
I shook my head. "You gave up permission to call me that."
He sighed. "Miss Delaney."
"... is fake," I interrupted him. "I told you. Some herbs and spices. A dash of honey to make it go down smoothly. At the most, it might cure your bad breath."
"It wasn't for me." He lowered his chin. "She wanted it, thought it might strengthen our love."
"She's a fool."
"You're a fool," I added. "Go home. Back to your lovely house and lovely girl and all the riches she's brought you."
"Moira," he repeated. "I'm sorry."
My hand went to the latch. "Go home, Finn."
"I should've never left you," he whispered. "But I couldn't stand to be poor anymore, to toil and slog my way through life."
I nodded along with his words. "And I gave you nothing," I said. "Except everything I had."
"You mix concoctions." His lip curled upwards. "You've no real power, no skill with charms. And I was to work my fingers to the bone, for both of us?"
"You're right." I looked down, a study in penitence. "I've no skill with charms."
A whisper from my lips, and he diminished. A plop on the doorstep, and there he sat, all soft black feathers and pointed beak and two small wings.
"No skill with charms at all." I scooped up the bird. "But that was transfiguration. And if you were smart, you would've learned to tell the difference."
I had a number of strong contenders for the semifinal in my group of stories and in the end the choice just came down to one of style, did I want a whole story, a beautiful fragment, did I want funny, did I want poetry? This one offered dialogue, and it was well done. The conversation told a story you could believe in. The resolution was rather sudden, a twist as many are, but tying off a piece of flash fiction effectively is a difficult thing.
I like the writing; it is tight. A little too tight, however. I would have liked getting into this character’s head a bit more. I would like to feel Moira’s emotions instead of just witnessing her reactions as an observer. Interesting twist at the end! Unexpected and vindictive. I love Moira’s personality; she has a dark wit that I appreciate. It sounds like Finn got what he deserved!
- M.L. Spencer
Buyer's Remorse is an excellent little short story of love, betrayal, hate, and revenge. The old adage about women scorned is a stupid and sexist one but there's a fantasy for all people in the ability to strike back at those who have broken your heart. In the case of the man involved with the witch, he feebly attempts to explain away why he dumped her for another woman. Money, basically. The woman shows remarkable patience right up until the point he tries to pin the blame on their relationship failing on her and then her actions (while extreme) are entirely justified. You know, if you, too, have had a cad of a lover in the past.
Congratulations to the winner and the two runner-ups!