NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge #1

Well… I just got the feedback from my submission for the first challenge of the Flash Fiction competition. Unfortunately I did not even place in the top 15. So that is… rough. For me to even move on past the second round I’ll have to place in the top 3. So… Fun.

How the competition works is you’re given a genre (obvi), a location and an object that must appear somewhere in the narrative. For this challenge I was assigned: genre – sci-fi, location – a talent show, and object – a bone.

May I add, I fu-hucking hate Science Fiction. These little challenges have proven to me time and again that it is absolutely not my goddamn genre. Not even a little. What’s also irritating is the three times I’ve competed in this competition I have been assigned this goddamn genre repeatedly. So, please, shoot me.

Below is what I submitted and below that will be judge’s feedback. I will say they are absolutely correct in their reviews. Due to the fact that I literally wrote this in an hour with little to no editing, I’m surprised their critiques weren’t more critical. To be honest, I haven’t even re-read it since I sent it. (And I’m not even reading it now.)

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Starship Follies

            On the twelfth deck of the massive Heavannah II starship, the crew gathered eagerly to watch the Sixteenth Annual “Display of Expertise” talent show.  They chattered to one another, filling the cavernous, round hall with the rabble of their conversation. The chorus of voices sent many who had signed up to participate into states of nervous excitement. For Arnold Habberny, however, his stomach began to twist in agony.

            He stared out at the growing crowd, from behind the curtain of stage right.

            I don’t know if I can do this, he thought to himself.

            The young boy lifted his feathered head piece and dabbed at his brow and down his pale cheeks all the way to the base of his neck.

            A young Mefferling, with blue skin and three crests arching over the top of his head stepped beside Arnold.

            “You can do this,” he said, his forked tongue licked at his thin lips as he spoke.

            Arnold turned to him, “Please tell me you’re not using your mind reading abilities, I’shia. I can’t compete with that.”

            “Please,” I’shia rolled his three eyes, “that’s old news. I got something better slated for debut.”

            Arnold’s stomach twisted even more.

            The four legs of the appointed master of entertainment for the ship, Cassia Corlay, sidled to center stage. Holding out two of his four arms, he gestured for the crowds silence, as he used the other two, to pull from his pocket a small round device. He switched on the circular mic and it took to the air, hovering just above his head.

            “Good evening, my fellows,” his voice boomed across the hall, “and welcome to the show of shows! It gets boring at times, travelling across the reaches of unknown space, which is why once a marked ship year, we all on-board gather to watch what we love to do on our off hours.”

            The crowd cheered.

            “And I am told this years’ collection of displays is going to be greater than last’s. And remember, whoever has the greatest of talents wins the trophy of excellence and earns a guaranteed spot on our next expedition.”

            Arnold’s stomach churned again.

            “Without further ado, let us initiate the show. I present to you, the Ebber Brothers!”

            The crowd cheered and Cassia rushed from the stage.

            The lights dimmed to black and a single spotlight rose to center stage. Illuminated in the lone spot of light was the first act. It was a set of twin Baggins, with scaly skin and yellow slit eyes. They bowed in unison and opened their fish-like mouths to garble a series of phrases. A disembodied, monotoned voice boomed over the crowd translating their words.

            “We have the spectacle of spectacles,” it said for them.

            From the darkness of the surrounding stage an empty silver door frame was placed between them. The two looked to the other and nodded. Then one after the other, they took turns hopping through a single side but emerging from both, cloning themselves. When there were three sets of the twin brothers on stage, the door frame disappeared into the darkness and they all moved about the stage in a choreographed dance.

            The brother’s number ended their number on their knees, and one by one, the clones evaporated in puffs of smoke. A faint haze of the former creatures drifted across the stage.

The crowd’s applause rose like a roar, filling the space.

            Arnold tried to swallow the knot in his throat.

            Cassia retuned to the stage.

            “Not many could beat that,” he said, and the crowd responded with cheers.

            “Our next number is from I’shia Yayabu, last years winner. Please welcome him to the stage!”

            Cassia gestured to his two right arms to off stage, as he exited left.

            “Wish me luck,” I’shia whispered as he left Arnold in the wings.

            The Mefferling took center stage and bowed toward the audience.

            “My talents are only unbound by the study of my Mefferling abilities and innovation.”

            From the darkness of the stage a pair of gloved hands, placed a helmet that fit in between the spaces of I’shia’s crests. He closed his three eyes and held out his arms.

            “Now give me your thoughts,” he said.

             The crowd sat in tense silence.

            With his eyes still closed, he looked to different spots in the audience. Pointing a finger at them, a colored ball of energy would then form from the helmet and vibrate up into the air. Purple, blue, black, and red balls of electricity crackled over the audience, sending them into cheers of excitement.

            “Thank you, I’shia,” Cassia said as he returned to the stage. “That was incredible!”

            I’shia removed his helmet and the balls snapped out of existence.

“I’m doomed,” Arnold mumbled.

“I don’t know how anyone will compete against that but let’s try! Please welcome Arnold Habberny!”

The crowd remained silent as the young man walked into the spotlight. His footsteps echoed ominously across the hall.      

“I… I have this,” he said.

            From beyond the spotlight a very high platform was wheeled out, a box placed in the center. Then a single hand held out an old brown bone.

            Arnold took the bone and climbed up the metal ladder, along the side of the platform to place the bone inside of the box.

            A puff of smoke erupted from the bottom of the platform, producing an earth llama.

            “Ta-da,” he squeaked.

            Arnold held out his hands to a silent audience.

            “That’s not a talent,” a voice shouted from the audience.

            “Did I mention, I crossed it’s DNA with a cobra’s?” he answered back.

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Judges Critiques:

 WHAT THE JUDGES LIKED ABOUT YOUR STORY – {2162}  There was lots of vivid detail – colors, sounds, feelings, different species of aliens, etc. It was easy to feel as if I was among the crowd watching the story unfold. There was also a lot of creativity demonstrated in having thought up the different acts put on at the show.    {2144}  The idea of an annual talent show to keep morale up on a spacecraft is a really creative use of the prompt. The different acts were also intriguing and created some cool visuals.  {2121}  Mixing interstellar species without fanfare, and the inclusion of some of their various different capabilities and appearances, helps define the world of the story more effectively than just setting description. Arnold’s nervous anticipation and reluctance are also understood well, heightening as both acts before him perform their talents to positive audience reactions.   WHAT THE JUDGES {Did Not} LIKED ABOUT YOUR STORY – {2162}  I had a little trouble following the acts themselves – and it is an understandingly difficult feat to create and then describe extraterrestrial talents – in your next draft, perhaps really try to nail down the nature of what is spectacular to the audience – is it the cloning? the clones dancing? the light show of the energy balls? Think of ways to make the alien entertainment more and more beguiling to a reader – including Arnold’s talent, and the audience’s lack of reaction. Why weren’t they impressed? Why was he so nervous? Is the cobra line a joke? It ends a bit abruptly, to me, but I think that the more time you are able to pin down the acts and maybe give Arnold a little more detail, the more this story will cohere!   {2144}  In general, I wanted there to be more at stake here for the characters. Why does Arnold want to do well in this competition? What is on the line? I think we need to understand Arnold a little better to root for him.  {2121}  While Arnold is the protagonist of the story, his talent is revealed last and much more concisely, to the point where the reader doesn’t really understand what he accomplished. The story ends with him attempting to defend his talent by explaining how he crossed DNA to create an “earth llama,’ which in itself is fascinating if given the space to be developed and explained. Arnold is also never described beyond being a “young boy” wearing a feathered headpiece; if he is indeed human, why is he the only human character mentioned in the piece? How does that define/limit his capabilities, especially when compared to the cloning and energy creation abilities of the two talent acts before him? Why is DNA manipulation and species creation not deemed impressive in this world?

Flash Fiction Challenge #3

Well, I am saddened to say that I didn’t make it into the final round of the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction competition, however I am surprised that made it as far as I did. In the process I realized a strength I didn’t even know I had in my writing toolbox, satire.  Yeah, I know that I’m hilarious in person and can be charming in text messages, but I wasn’t sure it translated well into my written narratives. Honestly, Round 2 was when I really shined.  (Wow my humility sure is humbling.)

My assignment for this challenge was: genre – sci-fi (ya, again. lame), location – candy shop, and item – an egg. In 48 hours the competitors are tasked with constructing a short story with the requirements above, all within a max of 1,000 words. Below is my submission for the challenge and below that will be the judges critiques. I have to say, Judge 3 was my buddy and seemed to actually like the story. The other two couldn’t have cared less. And what they said in their critique was spot on, especially in regards to the end. My husband did say that Judge 3 “got who I am” when they said “heartfelt and demented.”


REGENERATION

Josh Aron hesitated for a moment at the glass door of the Rocket Fizz candy shop, with a hand clenched around the metal handle.

Shelby Aron stopped short at Josh’s shoulder. “What’re you doing?”

“I don’t know if I can do this.”

Shelby chuckled and laid a hand on his shoulder.

“Of course you can. Just pull with your arm.”

Josh looked at her out of the corner of his eye and sighed through his nose as he opened the door.

A soft bell tinkled from somewhere deep inside the shop, to beckon the owner from the back and the patrons forward. However, at the moment, only the Arons followed the sound.

Both sets of eyes flicked nervously around. The shelves that lined the walls of the store were nearly empty except for a few displays of candy of unknown brands.

“Hello?” Josh’s voice cracked the word. “Is there anyone here?”

The sounds of shuffling paper and a heavy thud preceded the appearance of the owner dressed head to toe in a red and white striped uniform, accompanied with a white golf cap. “I do apologize,” the shopkeeper said, “I didn’t hear you come in. We’re almost about to close for the night.”

“We know,” Josh said, he walked stiff-legged to the glass case that held some displays of homemade chocolate confections.

“She told us this is the time to come.”

The stranger furrowed his brow and examined the two.

“We’re here to order a zyloral.”

“Are you now?”

Josh nodded.

“Who told you about it?”

“Nurse Lilith. She said you only serve the best.”

A smile spread across the man’s thin lips. “Indeed we do.”

The man hurried around the edge of the counter and to the shop door where after a quick glance up and down the street, spun the lock. Then with the same sharp motions, he pulled the shades down over the windows and switched off the neon ‘Open’ sign.

“Come with me,” he said.

The two customers followed the order and found themselves escorted through a kitchen into the walk-in freezer, and once in there taken beyond a false back to a laboratory teeming with men in white lab coats, fussing over specimens displayed in glass jars. A large metallic door, built into the rear wall, led out of the lab into a room that emanated with tinny cries.

The man led them to an office in the furthest corner of the lab, encased in walls of glass.

“Please, take a seat,” the man said, as he sat behind the desk.

They both again followed instructions.

“First things first, do you have the money?”

Josh tried to swallow the lump in his throat as he nodded.

“Good. Now, do you have a viable sample?”

Shelby shoved a hand into her leather purse, removed a hairbrush enclosed in a plastic bag, and handed it to the man.

The stranger held it inches from his face and examined every strand gripped in the bristles.

“We have one right here that will work.”

“That’s a relief,” Shelby said.

The man set the brush down onto the desk and rolled his chair in further.

“Do you have an egg?”

Shelby nodded and laid a hand on her stomach.

“Will the clone have any memories?” Josh said.

“Not at all.”

“Good.”

“However,” the man said, his eyes jumped from one to the other, “any replica of one of you will arise suspicion, and if that were to happen we never met.”

“Oh, it’s not one of us,” Shelby said. “The man you’re cloning has—has passed.”

“Was it a genetic disorder? One that we should remediate?”

Shelby glanced at Josh and waited for a response, and when none came, she said, “No. It was unexpected.”

The man sat back. “I’m—“

“There’s no need,” Josh said. “People get killed all the time.”

His words hung stiff and electric in the air.

Josh’s limbs shook as he stood.

“You know what, I can’t do this. I thought this was something I wanted but—”

“Why not?”

“Do you know how unbearable just the thought of having him and not having him is, Shelbs? Every night I go to sleep alone. I wake up the next morning alone. How am I going to feel to raise him and watch him date someone else, knowing he was once mine?”

Shelby rose to meet his eye.

“We’ve talked about this. This child won’t be him. It will never be because no matter how hard we try we can never bring back the man you knew.”

Tears streamed down Josh’s cheeks. “He will be a clone of Charles.”

“That Charlie is gone, Josh. You can’t recreate the experiences that made your husband. What you can do is raise this child to be a perfect combination of the two of you.”

“How do you figure?”

“Isn’t that what children are? A shadow of one parent guided by the hand of the other?”

Josh stared into his sister’s eyes and smiled.

“I don’t think you’ll get him to like the same movies as you but you can try.”

Josh laughed and wiped away his tears.

He turned to the man and nodded.

Time stretched into eons for Josh as he waited impatiently during the incubation period. Every night as he purchased another baby item or as he converted the home office into a nursery, he wondered if he had made the right decision.

On a Sunday afternoon, he got a phone call from a blocked number with a cheery voice on the other end that told him his zyloral was ready for pick up. He rushed through the house, grabbed the diaper bag and car seat and headed over to the sweet shop to pick up his son.

At the back of the candy shop, holding his and Charles’ child in his arms for the first time, Josh was made whole again, and he doubted nothing.


JUDGE’S FEEDBACK

”Regeneration” by Joshua Hensley-Cline –   WHAT THE JUDGES LIKED ABOUT YOUR STORY – {1686}  The story is an interesting take on cloning, and the twist is a nice touch.  {1504}  The owner’s outfit is memorable and adds whimsy. The couple’s mention of the zyloral builds intrigue. The shopkeeper’s odd behavior at the request is ominous.  {1751}  Wow, this story is so incredibly heartbreaking and chilling at the same time. It works both as an effective science fiction story concerning queer parenthood ( you can’t get too many more brownie points from this reviewer). It’s mildly creepy by the idea that (to extrapolate upon the already state of the art science used to produce surrogate pregnancy), that he’d be raising a clone of his dead husband, genetically his husband, with all the good nurturing he can provide. Heartwarming and demented, great work.  WHAT THE JUDGES FEEL NEEDS WORK – {1686}  Consider focusing on sentence flow and pacing. The ending feels a little too tidy/simple.  {1504}  Calling the shopkeeper “the stranger” was a speed bump. Adding words to the title could make it more distinctive and a stronger draw. You might consider having additional science fiction elements.  {1751}  I do wonder one thing though; why is his sister offering to help him produce this child? Is it simply because her brother needs the love of the clone in his life, or does she get something more deeply satisfying from it? It’s just a suggestion but you might touch on her reasons for this, as I think they are just as pertinent a perspective. However, this is only a suggestion as you move forwards with this powerful story of love.

NYC Midnight – Flash Fiction Challenge #1

I am a sucker for competition, especially in regards to trying to prove my intellect or skill. When it comes to writing contests, there is no other drug I would choose. I love the stress and panic that comes with the possibility of winning. The awards given would prove, once and for all, that I was worth-while and had talent. However, only until recently have I even received any kind of recognition.

As I’ve mentioned before, I won third place for my column “Gay Agenda” in the Renegade Rip.  That award gave me so much self-worth I didn’t know what to do with it or myself.

When the chance to compete in the “NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge” arose I had to enter. Sure it cost me $50, but it guaranteed two of my stories would be read and critiqued by the judges; and it entered me into a chance at winning a cash prize.

The idea behind the contest is that the entrant is put into a group of around 30 people, and in that group each person has to write a 1,000 word story in a specific genre, that takes place at a designated location and must include a single item. Whether the item is crucial to the plot is up to the writer. For the first challenge, I was given the genre of Sci-Fi. My location was “a man-made island” and the item to be included somewhere in the story was “a skeleton.”  I have included it below so that people could read it. Followed immediately after is the feedback I received, and I have to say I agree with everything noted, with the exception of one.

Without further ado, here is my first entry into the flash fiction competition, brought to you by NYC Midnight Madness. I placed 13th out of 15 spots, in a group of 31 contestants.

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SCHIFF’S ISLAND

Darris Shiff stood on the shore of his newly formed island with his arms crossed over his chest. His eyes bounced from one aluminum robo-mech to the next as they bustled about the land mass spreading like a bubble across the surface of the ocean. 

“What do you think?” he said, gesturing with both arms to the scene. 

The young woman with chestnut skin glanced around at the construction with a blank expression. 

“I imagine the Terrestrial Brethren will be pleased.”  

“Good. All it took were a few quadrillion global credits, and here I stand on the precipice of a new age, away from the stench of poverty and war.”  

The young woman licked her lips, turned, and walked to the small table that had been set up for the meeting. A large blue and green hologram spun counterclockwise at the center, with a series of dots typing out flags of data. The sound of the robo-mechs and the waves lapping at the shore dulled the sound of the robotic voice reading each tag. 

“Your assistant informed me that the expected completion date is two weeks from now. That will not sit well with the Brethren. ” 

Schiff sighed, “No, it won’t, but you can’t rush progress. So, it will have to do. Most of the heat and salty ocean air has had a hand in the destruction of the majority of my mechs.” 

“And yet you persist.” 

Schiff turned to her with a broad grin. 

“One does what they must to survive.” 

The woman circled the table and examined the hologram. The grid of illuminated digital lines formed the peak of a single mountain rising like a beak from the tropical foliage and numerous buildings, turrets, and barriers surrounding its base. 

“I could survive here,” she said.  

Darris walked to the table and pressed a single button on the panel at its side. The hologram flickered away.  

“When can we expect them? I am ready for the Dalian Eclipse.” 

The woman smirked. “Are you so certain of that?” 

“Who are you to-” started Schiff, but the loud hum of an approaching ship cut through his response.  

The two looked up toward the sound to see a hover yacht emerged from the dense fog that circled the island. A long, red flag trailed from the rear to signal their station and identity. 

“Finally,” Schiff said. 

The woman narrowed her green eyes at the back of Darris’ head. 

The leisure cruiser pulled close to the island and dropped anchor only a few meters from where the two stood. A shimmering electron gangplank birthed forth from its side and rested at the edge of the shore, as a group of five men in billowing gold garments stepped to the edge of the craft. 

Schiff rushed forward and took his spot at the end of the walkway, as he tugged, tucked, and pressed his clothes to impress. 

“It is a pleasure to meet with you, gentlemen,” Schiff said, with half a bow. “Welcome to my island.” 

The man at the head of the group, with a gaunt face and a hooked nose, pursed his lips together and nodded. 

“Indeed, Mr. Schiff.”  

The men stepped around their host and walked onto the shore. 

“As you can see, everything is coming along nicely. I have developed the technology to build new lands, away from the coppers, for those willing to pay the price.” 

The five men moved about and appraised the scene before them like a flock of birds. 

“Pay?” one of the five said. “Hopefully, that does not include us. Considering what we’re offering you.” 

“Of course not, gentlemen.” 

The men chittered their approval. 

Schiff stepped next to the table and ignited the hologram.  

“As you can see the look of the finished product. We have all the amenities to protect us from pirates and the poor.” 

The Brethren circled the display and gestured to each of the features with their commentary. 

“You’ve done well. A man with your talents deserves what the Brethren offer.” 

Schiff moved to speak, but his voice escaped him. Instead, his jaw opened and closed like the limbs of one of his malfunctioning robo-mechs. 

“Provided you guarantee our own private property in this ocean world, you can join the brotherhood and live forever, like us.” 

Schiff nodded. 

The man with the hooked nose grinned and pulled from a pocket a clear plastic box that contained a single squirming creature that resembled a grub. 

Darris’ hands shook as he lifted them to grab his prize. For so long he had heard the rumors of what it took to be a Brethren, but he had never believed it until the leader placed it in his open palm. 

“Thank you.” 

The growl of an engine drew the attention of everyone gathered on the beach to the ship that exploded from the fog flying a tattered acid-green flag, adorned with the skeleton of a shark. 

“Pirates!” One of the men shrieked, sending the brethren into a panic. 

The young woman seized her moment. With moves as quick as lightning, she pulled a pistol from her boot and shot a single bolt at the gangplank where it short-circuited the walkway, trapping the men on the island. 

“You’re not going anywhere.”  

“We will give you money!” one of them shrieked. 

The young woman sneered. 

“I don’t want your filthy credits.”  

The young woman fired a charged bolt into each of the Brethren’s heads and stopped when she came to Darris. 

Schiff dropped to his knees, with the box still clutched in his hands. 

“Why are you doing this?”  

“One must do what it takes to survive,” the woman said. “And the world without your kind is better off.” 

Schiff glanced from his captor to the dead men on the ground, to the Kubuli in his hands. 

“Thank you for building us a beautiful new world.” 

With one final bullet, the Brethren were no more. 

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JUDGES’ FEEDBACK:

{1751} I truly appreciated the revenge that the young woman takes on the people who would obviously have only used the newly invented land to serve themselves (because that’s what they do best).  {1739}  Schiff’s struggle to join a secret society is intriguing. The tech that he has developed to prove himself, makes him a sympathetic character.  {1743}  This is quite a taut and penetrating flash science fiction.  The slam bang ending is a working hologram itself, italicized with a “Kabuli.”  That pirate ship bursting through fog, flying its shark flag is a real keeper.  Fine piece of writing, this.  WHAT THE JUDGES FEEL NEEDS WORK – {1751}  It seems astounding to me that the men who have such power and wealth would have no bodyguards and only one ship on and off the island; you might improve the story if the young woman had disabled even more obstacles, such as bodyguards or more ships, as it might make her victory seem less miraculous and more plausible. However, this is only a suggestion.  {1739}  The story really begins once the Brethren arrive. Consider truncating the opening sequence. Nothing is written that makes the Brethren or Schiff bad people. They all seem to be pretty hard working folks. Schiff mentions that steps are taken to protect against pirates, yet his facility is immediately overrun. This is a big conflict.  {1743}  An em dash is rendered as: –.