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The Solstice is Coming!

cropped-Twitter-FlashDogs

Flash Dogs Solstice Anthology cover art by Tam Rogers (@tamrogers)

Meet the cover art (by the very talented Tam Rogers) for the Flash Dogs dual anthology coming out on Sunday, summer solstice for those of us in the northern hemisphere, winter for those in the south. It will be available in both print and e-book formats.

Flash Dogs is a casual collective of flash-fiction writers brought together over several online weekly contests (Flash! Friday, Flash Frenzy at Angry Hourglass, Finish That Thought, and the seasonal one at Luminous Creatures). There is so much talent and such a supportive environment surrounding the weeklies that a community formed.  Two of the regulars, Mark A. King and David Shakes, decided to make good use of the community by organizing us and then got the bright idea to gather together some of the work being done in this one little corner of the internet.

Thus, the first anthology was born. Writers submitted their various flash pieces plus (to give it cohesion) one tale based on a Tam Rogers photo of a spunky roller-skating phantom. It’s still available over at Amazon. Proceeds have been going to charity.

For the second pair of anthologies, our fine producers gave us a unifying theme (the solstices, dark and light), and asked up to write stories under 1000 words inspired by any of four picture prompts (two dark-solstice prompts, two light-solstice prompts).

I managed to get one story per picture, so two stories in each book. Two stories were tweaked from earlier contest drafts, two were from scratch. I can hardly wait to see what the other incredible word smiths crafted.

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Monday Micros: “A Taste of Freedom”

Initially submitted to the ever-incredible contest venue: Flash! Friday. The element for the week was “theme: defeat” and the picture prompt:

Construction of the Statue of Liberty

Construction of the Statue of Liberty

And here is what I came up with:

“A Taste of Freedom”

I chanced across the bird while foraging at the Old Coast. It roosted on an exposed concrete slab. Its hooked beak drooped in sleep. My stomach did cartwheels as I fumbled with my sling. Our sector hadn’t seen fresh poultry in years.

I was just about to bean the bird when it blinked open an amber eye and very clearly said, “Are you free?”

Huh. I hadn’t encountered many live animals beyond roaches, but I was pretty sure they couldn’t talk.

“Are you free?” it asked again, fanning bedraggled wings.

“Sure.” Our sector had leisure time one day a week—if you could call foraging in the Outbounds leisure.

It hopped toward me through sludge.

“I used to gyre about her beacon!” he wailed. “We triumphed over tyranny!”

Nothing triumphs over tyranny, I thought. Not if you want to eat.

“We were too dazzled by our victories to notice the tyranny we perpetuated.”

Parrots, yes, I remember from the kiddie clips. They could talk. But weren’t they green?

“See?” It fretted at the rubble. “Her entreaty has eroded into a command.”

I stooped to see what it was so upset about. Words carved into stone: Give me.

My stomach rumbled. I let fly.

Freedom, for all its brevity, was delicious.

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Monday Micro: “Dreaming of Midsummer Nights”

This puckish little tale earned an Honorable Mention over at my favorite weekly contest, Flash! Friday. The photo prompt featured a hoodied panhandler and the required element was Character: Spy.

“Dreaming of Midsummer Nights”

210 words

A butterfly landed on the edge of Robin’s alms cup and fanned its stained-glass wings.

Robin sucked in his breath and reached out. It graced the grubby perch of his fingers. Robin inspected the glossy thorax, the knobbed antennae, the scrolled proboscis (not Fay!) and shoved it into his mouth. The insect’s ichor oozed bitterness.

He sank back into his rags. Butterflies. How Robin missed the flutter of floral sprites, the hyacinthine perfume of the passages between worlds. But his world had moved on, leaving him with unyielding concrete and stale deodorant.

He couldn’t help but glower whenever a pram rolled past. That babe dandling a stuffed giraffe? In earlier days, Robin would have marked it in night dust for a midnight exchange. The Goblin Traders hadn’t responded to his alerts in decades.

How could they have abandoned him, their best agent?

Pinstriped legs hesitated, dropped coin into his cup. Robin couldn’t bear to look up. A flutter of temporary sympathy was an impoverished substitute for the long-lost revelry of Fay gatherings.

The silver had an odd glint to it. As Robin squinted into the cup, the coin shivered, then turned into an acorn.

Robin surged to his cloven feet and, heart ignited by hope, sprinted after the pinstripes.

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Monday Micros–“Aflame” and “Soulmates”

Last Thursday, the gods of flash contests smiled on me. Thursday is already an fantastic day for micro-flashing, and my entries managed to hit a judge-y sweet-spot.

First there’s the Three Line Thursday contest over at Grace Black’s blog. You have three lines and 30 words max in response to a picture prompt. The results are splendid little emotion-evocation bombs, from the sublime, to the horrific, to the sexy, to the melancholy, to the laugh-riots (seriously, go take a peek at some of the past entries).

Last week, we got this seductive shot by the very talented Matt Adamik (a generous contributor to the contest prompts):

week-20-matt

In revelry, we swirl together

Ladling passion from Carnival’s cabernet lips

Awaken with ashes thick in our throats

—-

That entry earned me second place!

The second Thursday contest is David Borrowdale’s MicroBookends. He supplies the first and last word for a roughly 100-word story AND a picture prompt (many are the times I’ve had to ditch my first attempts because I’d neglected to use the picture). Last week’s bookends were Old and Age, with this shot by Timothy Krause:

Sleeping-Man

Now there’s a shot that refuses to be neglected. My entry earned first place! Here’s “Soulmates” (though “Sole-Mates” would probably be a more apt title):

Old as the hills and heart just as trodden. Everyone I’ve ever loved has ground my lofty peaks to weary slopes. Sanae crushed me under her hopscotch Keds, her silky black braids flicking farewell. Natalie next, her DocMartins did harsh platonic work on my devotion, anarchy symbol imprints. Roger was a dabbler and me an equal-opportunity paramour until his plaid high-tops dribbled my blood tastefully down the pavement. Lady Luck, Lady Justice, Father Time—all similarly crushingly cruel.

Ah, but my sweet barefoot Ouzo! Our bacchanal never ends. Quick, quick, look upon me, dearest. For in your eyes, I am mighty Mount Olympus and this is our Golden Age.

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Monday Micro–“Cloven Skies”

I almost didn’t participate in Flash! Friday last week as I spent the morning brainstorming, ended up with pages of notes and nothing that could possibly be distilled into 200 words. I got a bit of friendly goading from fellow (and incredibly talented) flasher, Michael Seese. So I slashed and hacked and fiddled and finally finagled something that might end up the seed of a longer piece.

Our prompt included the element, conflict: man v nature, and a photo of the United Malika beached in Mauritania, but taken from an angle that it seems to be in the middle of the desert (by jbdodane):

shipwreck-of-the-united-malika

Cloven Skies

A wanderer rarely finds welcome with the insular derrick-dwellings that punctuate the waste with desperate exclamation points. But a frigate story can.

A thousand tales cluster around the rusted frigate, tying meaning to the way the sky shivers over it by day and iridescence skulks about its hull by night.

None of them end well.

My voice rises above the flapping sails and growling pumps, and I tell them that love dropped the frigate in our desert.

Frowns. That doesn’t match the trope. Most tales involve power-hungry Sky Cleavers.

They say if a newborn’s first smile comes during a sirocco, he’s a Sky-Cleaver. Such newborns are sand-smothered before their powers can ravage the world. Again.

I tell them of a woman and her son, their Pre-Cataclysm wars passage on a fishing vessel. One night, a simoom of water blasted the two off the stern. The indigo maw swallowed the woman. Flailing in fear, the first Sky Cleaver tore apart the seas.

Afterwards, the Matron invites me to stay, most of them do. But I can’t bear to witness the struggles of a people whose every waking moment is spent at the mill wheels.

All I have is the one tale—one I don’t dare tell in first person.

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Monday Micros–“Escape Velocity” and “Next Phase”

Our Flash Friday (volume 3-11) two-part prompt included, for the setting element: moon. For the picture prompt we got this shot from: Harshil Shaw:

liverpool-a-case-history

For a prompt that begs to go spec-fic, my first piece teases at being SF, but is really straight fiction–though gauging from the comments I’ve received so far, I may not have been successful at getting across the fact that the MC is not actually on the moon. That may be the result of the regulars knowing me (and my penchant for writing SF) too well.

Escape Velocity

Loss of gravity—that’s the hardest part. Bobbing about like a bloody jellyfish. Passive, clingy, toxic. The times I do touch down, my toes graze TV snow. Lift off, and I wonder if it’s autumn out there, where leaves crunch against yellow-chalk stars and green-chalk aliens. Then off I bob again. Wondering takes too much energy.

The lack of air–that used to be hard too. But eventually the lungs whiffle around a new pinched normal.

You’d think the diminished gravity would make it easier to heft trunks and cases. I struggle to stack them eight-high. Construction-paper spaceships and dinosaur onesies collapse into the density of neutron star stuff.

My last solid earth memory is of sonic implosion, metal crumpling over metal crumpling over carseat. Then the jolt of release as my capsule thrust ahead with enough force to shear a family sedan in two.

That stage is behind me now, crashed back down into the sea (he’d just learned how to wriggle into a back float), shoving me loose to cross the weightless emptiness alone.

Tinfoil speakers crackle at me. It takes too much effort to parse static into sense. It hardly matters. There’s not enough fuel in the universe for a rescue ship to reach me.

———–

Of course I couldn’t engage in the contest without taking the SF bait for the second take.

Next Phase

Meridot perches atop the steamer trunks, heels bouncing off the buckles. “Where will we hunt meedy-tears?” she asks in a tiny voice.

“Meteorites,” I correct her. It keeps me from having to answer.

She clutches her blue bunny in the crook of her elbow. As if she fears someone will snatch it away before the evacuation—the way the Earthlings are snatching away our home.

They have come in swarms, warting the surface with their habitats. It’s only a matter of time before they chew their way through the crust and discover the truth.

I scan the fractaled roof of our home within Luna’s mantle, a mantle that must go back to being solid. We have a place to go, but it won’t be the same. Childhood swaddled in dove-gray regolith, adolescence flitting through corridors webbed with pewter circuitry, adulthood learning the silver intricacy of the gears powering our secret world—we’re trading the subtle chiaroscuro for lurid oranges and pitch.

“We’ll start a new collection,” I hear myself say.

The grip on Wellsy relaxes a fraction. “Something shiny?”

“Some are purple on the inside.”

“Purple meteorites.” She savors the syllables. Born here, Meridot doesn’t know true purple.

“Geodes,” I correct her. My smile almost reaches my eyes.

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Monday Micros–“Slobber and Sympathy” and “Ripple Effect”

A lucky week of flash for me. After being stunned by a win over at MicroBookends with “God of Diggers”, I woke up today to the results of Flash! Friday vol. 3–9: “Slobber and Sympathy” nabbed an honorable mention while “Ripple Effect” earned me a sleek Dragon Badge:

ffwinner-web

Shout out to the judges of Dragon Team two, Tamara Shoemaker and Mark A. King (exquisite flash writers themselves), who have the unenviable task of sifting through so many incredible entries. We worked with the element “theme” this week, with the focus on “a fleeting moment”. And our picture prompt came from NannyDaddy:

rain--NannyDaddy

“Slobber and Sympathy”

On Monday, he turned up in the parking lot with his soggy overalls and hound-dog frown. By Thursday, you bring an extra umbrella. He looks at it as if it were an alien skeleton, but then takes it.

“Looking for something?” you ask, the question nagging you all week.

“Dog,” he grunts.

“Ah.” Poor sod. You remember Pepper, your gangly German Shepherd, and the LOST posters you drew, complete with blue crayon tears. Her orange nerf ball remained under your pillow until puberty. “Family dog?”

His brow rumples. “Got no family.”

Now you get it. Navigating the drizzle is a preferable purgatory to a hollow apartment. Your condo doesn’t allow big dogs, but Ralphy has enough terrier-spunk in him to fill the space. The occasional gnawed-up Nike is a small price. “How long you had him?”

“Saw him one time. Gave him some bologna.” The man glances at his fingers. “He licked me.”

Now you understand. A brief ray of kindness piercing the fog of urban anonymity. You’re glad you brought him the umbrella. “You want to see him again.”

“Sure do,” he sighs.

The wistfulness in those two words makes your tear ducts tingle.

He rubs the back of his hand. “Gotta find out if the mutt had rabies.”

——–

“Ripple Effect”

Whenever rain spatters the Paradise parking lot, she rises from the pavement like petrichor. Her form shivers like the reflection in a wind-ruffled puddle. What is a ghost but a dire event that ripples across the pool of time?

Five years, I’ve watched shadows replay Cecilia’s last moments against curdled clouds. I know the tragic song by heart: her giggles, the staccato of her stamping feet, the squeal of tires, her mother’s ragged cry, the fade in and out of sirens.

Here she comes now, a carousel whirl of colors. Red ladybug boots, yellow bumblebee raincoat, green umbrella. She stomps and hops and crows the magnificence of her splashes. The driver’s too busy balancing an apple pastry on his latte thermos to notice.

I leap forward waving my arms. It startles her from her puddles. There’s a flash of recognition, but my snarling face chases her between the parked vehicles. Away from harm.

The squeal and thud cuts my pantomime short. Her mother screams.

I’d witnessed her death since before she was born, and hell if I’d just let it happen. The violent death of a child ripples both ways across the pool of time. The death of an old codger like me won’t–not even if he’s her grandfather.

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