“Witches” – NYC Midnight Short Story Submission 2021

One of my favorite past-times is to participate in flash fiction competitions through NYC Midnight. Each competitor is divided up into individual groups that are then assigned a specific genre, subject and character and then given a limited amount of time and words to create a cohesive short story. They have multiple types of contests, however the format is similar. I find it to be a fun little challenge and it gets my creative juices flowing.

For the first heat of this years competition I was given: genre – ghost story, subject – dancing, and character – an informant. The length was limited to 2,000 words and the time allotted to craft this entry was 3 days. While, I did not place in the top 5 of my group, and advance onto the next stage, I did at least earn a “third honorable mention.” So in my mind I got 8th place out of 28 other competitors. I am curious to know if I could or would have placed higher had I actually included ghosts in my “ghost story.” My interpretation of a “ghost story” is an other-worldly and spooky tale told around a campfire. It did not, for whatever reason, occur to me that the tale should in-fact contain a spiritual entity.

Below is the story I submitted and immediately following are the judges critiques. I feel their critical feedback is sound. However there were two points that I didn’t agree with, but it teaches me that next time I need to not be subtle with certain details, and really hammer the point home.

************

“Witches”

The word that witches had come to the hamlet of Milium spread through the village like a plague. The women gathered, adorned in their black dresses and white bonnets, in the muddy streets, to gossip about them in hushed tones.

“They only come out at night.”

“I heard they have magical abilities.”

“Not only that, but they eat children.”

“Not just the children.”

“They consume your flesh and soul so that they can wear it as their own.”

“They won’t stop until they get the entire village.”

The husbands weren’t taken as quickly by such prattle. They needed more than just rumors. As they worked in the tan wheat fields, the grain slapping at their waists, they shared their doubts. They chuckled at the absurdity as their scythes cut through the blades.

“But it’s true!”

“Elder Nixolas Venator was out on a hunt and stumbled upon a ritual circle in the woods.”

“There were animal carcasses.”

“Bones!”

“Blood!”

From the streets and the fields, the townspeople carried their worries through the week to the wooden pews. There they sat anxiously beneath the vaulted ceiling, before the towering pulpit, seething with anxiety.

Reverend Prandem attempted to ignore the shake and shivers of his flock; this is God’s time. It belonged to His worship. Try as he might to ignore them, one by one, they heaved their terror upon their spiritual leader.

“What of witches.”

“Why are they here?”

“They want to take us to hell!”

“Who here is a witch?”

“Show yourselves, you vile women!”

Reverend Prandem’s words cut through the chorus of voices.

“This is hallowed ground,” he leaned over his pulpit, gripping its edge, “In the house of the lord, no daughter of Satan would or could dare walk within.”

A high-pitched giggle punctured his words.

The townspeople got their feet, trembling as they looked for the source of the voice.

“Who was that? Did you hear who?”

“They’re far more powerful than we had thought.”

“We’re doomed!”

A chill ran up the Reverend’s body and clutched his heart. Listening to each line as it was hurled through the air, his thoughts spun into chaos. Sweat beaded on his brow.

“Silence, my brothers and sisters! Jesus Christ has all the power here. No need to fear. Now sit!”

There was a whisper of garments and murmur of creaks from pews as the congregation followed his order.

“I will get to the bottom of this.”

He stared out at the cluster of people.

“Who amongst us has any proof?”

A man and a woman stood, pointing to a frail man with straw hair and deep-set eyes. His gaunt face was etched in panic.

“Brother Venator, speak with me after the sermon.”

The man gulped and then nodded.

Those before him took the holy man’s plan of action and calmed, allowing the spiritual lessons that followed to pierce their hearts and souls. They left evermore glad than when they had arrived.

The two men converged in the quiet of the Reverend’s office, through a side door behind the pulpit. It was empty but for a desk and chair and a towering Bible resting on a pedestal. They stood before them.

“Brother Venator, I am thrusting upon you a holy quest,” the Reverend said.

Venator’s eyes doubled in size.

“You must be my informant. The Lord commands that you go to this font of wicked knowledge and bring back further proof and perhaps identities.”

“Reverend, I do not think that I am up to the task.”

“You must, for our safety. This incessant gossip has gotten out of hand.”

“Do you not believe that there are witches?”

“Did you not hear that unearthly sound during my sermon? Of course, I do.” He took a deep breath. “You witnessed proof of their existence. Go there, hide, and return to me your news. We must put a stop to it. Your testimony will bring the townsfolk resolve, and you will find your riches in heaven.”

The spiritual leader placed his hands on the edge of Venator’s shoulders.

“God will protect you. I give you His blessing.”

Nixolas Venator gathered up his coat, ax, blanket, and rations. His wife pecked him on the cheek and ushered him out into the woods as his heart pounded in his chest and echoed in his ears. Shivering, he forged the path until it ceased to exist and then wound his way through the briar and rock until he found his way to the clearing.

One would have missed it had they not been paying close attention. A ring of jagged stones cut the thicket from the clearing like talons. Dark earth and a smattering of pebbles filled the emptiness up to another circle of granite chunks in the center. Neither blood nor bone could be seen amongst the glade since he had last come upon it. Where it had gone, he did not know.

His eyes pierced through the dying light for any other entities, but he saw none.

Venator knew he had to work with haste as to not to be discovered. With careful haste, he trod lightly around the ritual grounds, as to not leave a print, and found a spot in the brush, just to the east. He made a hunter’s hiding place and waited.

For five nights, he did the same but witnessed nothing. Doubt crept into his thoughts, making him wonder if he had, in fact, seen the blood and bone. Perhaps it was his imagination. Maybe there were no witches after all.

At three in the morning, on the sixth night, Nixolas was awoken by a high-pitched giggle.

The brush about him shuddered as he sat upright. He peered through the leaves, and two rocks, at a fire that had been set in the middle ring.

His limbs went numb.

Six cloaked figures moved about the glade with their cowls over their head. From within the shadow of their hoods, they focused on the burning tips of the dried sprigs they held aloft. They made circular motions with them in the air, leaving behind a trail of serpentine smoke.

When each witch had passed by his view, they stopped and turned toward the fire.

A duo of drums erupted in the silence and beat a measured rhythm.

The figures swayed to it, from side to side, back forth, like a clock pendulum. And after each designated set, the tempo got faster. When it reached a furious throb, the witches kicked out their legs and threw out their hands. The movements were disjointed and unorganized.

The witches danced around the fire. They stabbed and cut through the night air.

The flames growing higher, filling the clearing with light and leaving everything beyond in shadow.

Another set of drummers joined the first two, deepening the rhythm. It was then that the figures shed their cloaks to reveal their naked, milky bodies beneath.

Nixolas instinctively averted his eyes from their sinfulness and blushed. As they were indeed not men. But he knew that he had to get their identities to save the village. He prayed a silent prayer for forgiveness before he turned back to their nude dancing. He squinted against the brightness of the flames as he tried to make out their faces, but the shadows cast by the flames danced across their facial features, changing them. They morphed from one to another. Ever shifting, never staying the same.

Brother Venator found it hard to breathe.

Another set of drums joined the chorus, and the witches started to chant. The words were garbled and guttural. Their voices bellowed from deep within their shapely bodies.

The flames got even taller, pouring out waves of heat over the circle.

The wind picked up, swaying the trees to the meter but not disturbing the growing conflagration.

The witches danced faster. Their movements were quick and sharp.

More drums joined. The percussion’s booms pierced Venator’s chest, taking hold of his heart and bending it to conform.

The chants grew louder until they were shrieking into the night—their words gibberish to the lone man’s ears.

Suddenly a bone-chilling scream silenced the chants and the dancers ceased their number, with their heads bowed. Nixolas convulsed.

The fire stretched up toward the night sky until it birthed from it an unearthly form. It took a step out of the flames with cloven feet. Two horns spiraled from the shaggy mane of hair that threatened to consume his flat face.

As he lifted a long bony arm that came to an end in long black talons, the women fell to the earth before him. They moaned in ecstasy.

His two pure black eyes, dissected with a long, thin, white pupil, surveyed those around him and up into the shadows of where Nixolas hid.

The devil sneered at him with dagger-like fangs.

The wind howled through the trees and extinguished the flames, submerging the clearing in total darkness.

The gusts had pummeled against the church for hours, whistling through the cracks in the structure, as Reverend Prandem worked diligently on this week’s sermon. His quill scratched

feverishly against the parchment, spewing forth his holy words of salvation and the promise of paradise—the time lost into the blackness of the night.

A slow, measured knock pulsed from the door of his study, pulling him from his work.

He set his quill to the desk and rushed to open the door.

In the flickering candlelight, he found Venator’s form in the doorway. His head tilted forward and a broad smile on his lips.

“Come in,” he said, stepping aside, “What news have you?”

The man entered the room.

His voice was calm as he told him the details of what had transpired.

“Who were these women?”

“Get a paper,” Venator said.

The Reverend hustled around his desk, brushed aside his former notes to grab an unblemished piece of paper. He picked up his quill and waited.

“Genevieve Pater.”

The Reverend wrote the name in curling script.

“Charlotte Filius.”

The quill scratched on the paper.

“Seamus Prandem.”

The pastor stopped halfway through writing his own name. He looked up slowly into the face of a goat-man with black eyes. The creature bowed his head and charged.

**************

JUDGES FEEDBACK

”Witches” by Joshua Hensley –

WHAT THE JUDGES LIKED ABOUT YOUR STORY –

{2124} “Witches” brims with visceral description. Lines like “as his heart pounded in his chest and echoed in his ears” and “The witches danced around the fire. They stabbed and cut through the night air” evoke a dark, frantic mood throughout the story. It’s easy to see why the whole village fears the witches, especially Venator. The ending feels fitting and deliciously grim.

{1970} I think that you have delivered everything a spooky tale reader would love. As I read “Witches” I found myself quite satisfied with the period feel and way the characters relate to each other. The pervasive, oppressive nature of old school religious dogma and strict belief is palpable. Thanks for that, it makes for a gripping tale. I feel for Nixolas as he is sent out, reluctant in is task, to find proof that witches are indeed in town. Chilling tale, thanks.

{1772} The story has a frightening premise that turns from a quest of religious fervor to a darker supernatural tale. Venator has a clear goal to shape his characters. Vivid detail and action bring the plot to life.

WHAT THE JUDGES FEEL NEEDS WORK –

{2124} It’s clear that the witches in this story are powerful and threaten the community. What’s less clear is why this matters. Should the readers care that this town could be annihilated? Are the identities of the witches important? If not, what core emotion or idea is this story trying to convey beyond a good fright? Is it related to the priest’s perceived security and power? Consider what ideas you want to further explore in this story, how they mesh with the dialogue and description already present, and what details you could weave in to further bring them out.

{1970} I’m not so sure that this story needs work. You’ve checked off so many boxes. It would be nice to know why the couple stood a point specifically to Nixolas, why did they choose him for the task, what proof does he have? This is a bit confusing because the reverend asks who has proof, the couple points to Nixolas, he’s not happy about it, and then he is sent to find proof. He doesn’t have it already. Anyhoo, this said, it’s a chilling story, so thanks again.

{1772} To help the resolution feel fully earned, it might be worth further exploring Prandem and Venator. At what lengths are they willing to go to find the witches? Do they have ulterior motives? By giving them more inner needs or conflicts, it might help to add another layer to their characters and the plot. For example, Prandem might struggle with a personal wish to rid himself of the women in absence of witchcraft.

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.

Flash Fiction Challenge #2

I was going to wait to post my entry until a later date because I have ambition to submit it into another competition. However, I can’t contain myself after the feedback I received. Each person was awarded a score of 1-15, with 15 being the highest (aka first place) in this challenge. I am proud to say I was awarded a score of 14 (second place) which earned me enough points to continue on to the next leg of the competition.

The following is my short story. My group’s assignment was: genre, political satire; location, drive-thru; and item, a wine glass.


FAST FOOD NATION

Ginger Stickler’s red station wagon came to a stop at the end of the long drive-thru line. Her blue eyes followed the string of cars up to a man, wearing a white shirt, pants, and a paper hat, standing next to a large sandwich board. A tablet computer hung around his neck by an American flag lanyard.

“Do you know what you want?”

She turned and looked at her unkempt, twenty-four-year-old son, Josh, sitting in the passenger seat. His brow formed a single line above his eyes to match the one formed by his lips, as his thumb ran up and down the screen of his iPhone.

“Why do we have to go to In-N-Out?” he said.

“Because it’s a Christian restaurant.”

“That seems silly; a business can’t have a religion. Doesn’t that alienate a sizable portion of customers? Can’t we just go to McDonald’s?”

“You don’t have to come here,” she snapped, “You could just go somewhere else if you don’t like it.”

“I can’t, mother. You’re driving the car.”

Ginger sniffed and sat in silence as they followed the line into the drive-thru proper, right where the man in white stood. She rolled down her window.

“Hello, welcome to In-N-Out,” he said, “Today we have started a new promotion. Our eight-year menu is no longer available, and now you must vote to pick which burger will rule for the next four years.”

Ginger’s eyes widened as she clutched her invisible pearls.

Josh leaned forward to look around his mother.

“What are our options?”

The man straightened up and pointed eagerly to the sandwich board depicting three very sloppy dishes.

“Here we have the blue, rise above, freedom for all burger. It’s a tofu patty on a gluten-free, fat-free, sugar-free, flavor-free, from scratch bun, with a sprinkle of flour on top. Extra dry. There are no condiments on it, but we give you a bag full of them if you ask. It comes with a side of birth control and citizenship if you are not currently one.”

“I think we’ve made our choice,” Josh said.

“We certainly have not. What else is there?”

“There is the red, super awesome, kick-ass, glory to god burger. It is a three-pound all-beef patty, smothered in garlic butter, topped with ten onion rings, mayonnaise, ranch dressing, blue cheese crumbles and all on a white bun. However, I would like to note that the beef patty may have fallen on the floor, and the buns may or may not have brushed against the cook’s genitals. But, it’s super delicious. It comes with all the fries you want, as long as you pay for each, individual sliver.”

“Is there anything else?” Ginger asked.

“Yes, ma’am. The third option is a single slice of Kraft cheese, still in the plastic.”

“Oh,” Ginger’s shoulders slumped.

“Obviously it’s the blue burger,” Josh said, as he sat back and returned to his phone.

“I don’t know. We can’t tell where all those ‘free’s’ went. How can you make a bun without it? It’s suspicious.”

“You want a ball basted bun?”

“Do you have any nutritional information?”

The waiter stuck a hand into the front pouch of his apron, pulled out a brochure and gave it to Ginger. She opened it up and read. The blue burger listed out every ingredient individually with each calorie accounted. On the other side, someone had taken a red pen, redacted every item, and had written at the top, “100% all good.” Beneath that in tiny print said, “Don’t be a pussy.”

“I’m going to go with the red burger,” Ginger said.

“Mother—”

“That is one red,” the clerk tapped in Ginger’s order to his tablet.

“Blue for me.”

“And one blue. You’ll get your total at the window.”

The two pulled further into the drive-thru in silence.

“I can’t believe you would choose that unhealthy, killer monstrosity.”

“I’m sorry, that other burger sounded so tasteless. I just couldn’t bring myself to do it.”

The car pulled up to the front window.

The stern-faced employee already held a bag in his hand.

“Here are your two red burgers,” he said, with a Russian accent.

Ginger took their meal.

“No, that was one red and one blue,” Josh said.

The man stared back at Josh dead-eyed.

“Yes. We all get together and decide it’s only red burger for you.”

“But—”

“That will be one hundred and forty-eight dollars and thirteen cents,” the cashier said.

He held out his hand.

Ginger’s bottom jaw dropped, as she blinked in quick succession.

“Oh my goodness, that’s pricey. How much are the burgers?”

“They are twenty dollars. You pay more in tax because them,” the clerk jabbed a thumb over his shoulder.

Ginger peered through the drive-thru window into the dining room. Twelve people in suits sat at tables draped in silk cloths eating steaks off gold plates. A blonde haired man toasted to the room with a wine glass filled to the brim with a red.

“How do I get in there?”

“You don’t. This is for large donor only.” The man still had his arm stretched out. “You pay.”

Another man, wearing a white linen facemask and sporting a rifle, stepped out from behind a bush, just to the front of the station wagon.

Ginger hurriedly dug through her purse for her credit card and handed it over to the cashier. The man took it, slammed the windows shut and glowered at her from behind the glass.

“Can I have it back?”

The man glared as he pointed for her to move along.

As they drove through the end of the drive-thru, a missile shot up from the roof of a Korean barbeque restaurant across the street, arched over a sushi kiosk, and exploded into the In-N-Out, taking out a corner of the restaurant. The people inside screamed and then broke into cheers, peppered with applause.

“We should have just gone to McDonald’s.”


JUDGES FEEDBACK:

”Fast Food Nation” by Joshua Hensley-Cline –   WHAT THE JUDGES LIKED ABOUT YOUR STORY – {1689}  I love how you politicize everything–literally everything–in your story. The idea that establishments can have religions and values and political alliances is reduced to absurd rubbish–wonderfully–in your hands. The missile attack ending is spot on.  {1666}  You did a nice job with the genre here. Your parallels were clever and humorous, and I appreciated the way that you incorporated a consistently increasing sense of absurdity to keep building the pace and upping the critique of today’s political environment. I think the reaction of the people in the restaurant to the Korean bombing was my favorite moment and a bigly unexpected surprise..  {1746}  Haaaa! This is great. Oh, the heavy symbolism. I think the whole premise works really well, and the dialogue made the whole thing A+. I laughed out loud a couple times. Good work!  WHAT THE JUDGES FEEL NEEDS WORK – {1689}  Good news: You have enough imagery and imagination to turn this story into a film. Bad news: I think you have may a bit too much going on for this little story to handle. I love when you focus on the family. Stay on them. Give them one problem to solve. Have them shadowed by one crazed political figure. Let that drama play out. Then you can launch your rocket.  {1666}  First, I have a couple quick grammar notes: “wearing a white shirt, pants, and paper hat” should read “wearing a white shirt, pants, and a paper hat.” A series should be written with parallel construction, so the article “a” must apply to all items or be repeated for each one it does apply to. “‘Why do we have to go to In-N-Out,'” he said,” should have a question mark, as your character has asked a complete question. Similarly, “‘Hello, welcome to In-N-Out,’ he said, ‘today…'” should read “‘Hello, welcome to In-N-Out,’ he said. ‘Today…'” Overall, it would be helpful to review these grammar standards with regard to quotations. In terms of your narrative, I think you did a better job developing the meaning of your red burger than your blue one. The celebration of excess, white trappings, ambiguous ingredients, possible contamination/corruption — it all worked nicely for the former. Your critique of the left wing (as well as of third party contention) felt a little less developed. It was hard to nail down the meaning of the “bag of condiments” that came with the burger, and the nature of the “candidate” lost some clarity for me as the narrative moved on. At first it felt like you were settled into the burger being too plain, pure and boring to beat the monstrosity on the other side, but when Ginger became suspicious of these qualities rather than simply uncompelled, it made me question how your critique was directed.
Overall, I thought this piece was really nice. Even the overarching assertion that American politics can be treated like a cheap, greasy thrill by under-invested “customers” who pay too dearly for it was a solid, subtle theme.  {1746}  The Russian part is hilarious, and tied the whole thing together (that’s when it clicked for me, but I’m a bit slow with all of that). That said, the Russian’s lines could be cleaned up/more realistic/less offensive. I think “This for large donor only” and “You pay” stuck out to me most.

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: –.