By D. Avery
Sometimes fear, respect, and awe are the braids of one rope. Sometimes that one rope is all a buckaroo has to hang onto. Your flash should never let go of that rope.
That was my lead-in to the prompt for the final rodeo contest, the Sound and Fury. I wanted contestants to write about a dangerous situation that people willingly engage in.
I have learned so much here at the Ranch even since penning such tough talk over a month ago. The prompt was to write of danger and risk, but for many just sharing one’s writing is a risk, and to compete is an even greater risk. To be willing to face a fear, to do what is not easy to do, engenders learning and growth; it is an act of creative courage.
Creative courage is what Carrot Ranch is about. The rope here is a lifeline, a support, a way to find your way through a blizzard of self-doubt and fear. It is braided from caring, safety, and trust. I am grateful and in awe of all who participated in the rodeo events and applaud the contestants’ courage and willingness to take a risk.
I naively posited to my co-judges that this year’s contest would be easier to judge, as there were fewer entries. I also assumed (spell check) that as the writer in our group I had the advantage and insights necessary to our task. Then my co-judges, both voracious readers, schooled me in judging, exposing the flaws in my assumptions as they showed me how to read a 99-word story. Because there were fewer entries, 19 after two had to be dropped for consideration because of word count, we were able to read more closely and collaboratively, but that did not make the task easier. Around the table, it was felt that there was a lot of talent and many great ideas and takes on danger presented in response to the prompt. We found that the quality of all entries was very high and that the entries were closer in range. This forced us to focus on word choice, on beginnings and endings; while we felt a story did not have to be totally resolved, we agreed there should not be uncertainties that distract from the reading and that there should be a sense of completeness in a story. And then we re-read again. Our deliberations finally brought us agreement on our three winners.
Taking first place and $25 is Jules Paige’s Contested Contingent.
They are silent soldiers. A rare unified army. Commanded by a queen to seek the supplies to survive. Instinctual training leads them through dense foliage to the structures of giants. With all the unseasonable torrential rains their homes have become flooded. Yet they expect no outside relief. They are a self-sufficient bunch.
Mother has not seen the arrival of the invaders. In her nightgown, robe and slippers she ventures into the morning light of the kitchen and… draws a blood curdling scream. Father rushes to her aide. His bravery unsurpassed, he calms Mother and calls the local ant exterminator.
The Amazing Educator felt that this entry had “something extra” with the twist of ants being in danger, and the tongue in cheek humor regarding the brave father protecting the assaulted mother, and appreciated that it was well paced with strong vocabulary and sensory details. We all agreed that though the six-legged characters were unexpected, Jules provided a fun take and answered our criteria for showing the “dance between the danger and the endangered.” The motivations of the ants and the humans were clear, and the irony of the ants escaping one danger only to become endangered again because of the supposed danger they posed to the domicile of the giants was quite a dance indeed.
Anne Goodwin comes in second with To the Rescue. In addition to collecting another ranger badge, Anne wins a copy of D. Avery’s After Ever.
Cold cruel enough to cut the breath from me. Waves roar loud enough to drown out other sounds. It took a fool to dive in after her. It’ll take a hero to ferry her to shore.
Hair and beard turn to icicles. Arms to cartwheels, legs to flippers, brain to military command. Kick harder! Plough faster! Fight off lakebed vegetation, fear and fatigue!
I’ve almost reached her when a tether takes my ankle. I yank it back. It reins me in. I’m swallowing water when I grab her wrist. How will history judge me: a hero or a fool?
The desperate dance in the water was very vivid and tense with Anne’s terse sentences and succinct descriptions. Though the ultimate outcome was unresolved, it was clear what the motivation was, and we felt this story was complete and only enhanced by the suspense of not knowing whether the foolish hero succeeds or even survives.
Third place and a copy of Chicken Shift go to Ritu Bhathal for Goodbye Fall.
Below me flowed water, fast and furious.
I tightened my grip on the pot.
“All ready?” The instructor checked my harnesses.
But I nodded. I needed to do this.
Launching myself, as instructed, I fell, headfirst, feeling the air zoom past me.
The elastic went taut and I bounced up and down several times.
My heart was in my mouth.
As I came to a stop, I looked at the pot, still in my hands.
Loosening its lid and allowing the contents to fall into the water, I whispered “Goodbye Jake,” before slowly being pulled back up.
What is apparent from the beginning is both the narrator’s fear and resolve to make this jump, though Ritu reveals this through discreet details, such as a tightened grip, a gulp, a silent nod. The motivation isn’t revealed until the end, with the detail of whispering and being pulled back up slowly adding to the poignancy.
For her Honorable Mention, Bonnie chose Chasing the Past, by Sascha Darlington.
Blake’s ultimatum: “Stop storm chasing or I’ll leave.”
The first fat drop of rain hits the windshield as I pull onto Rafferty Road. Forget Blake. Focus.
The hail throttles me awake. The tornado falls out of the sky, barrels toward me. Momentarily, I’m awed by the intensity, the blackness, the harsh windy sound of the twisting, family-killing creature.
“Stupid!” I jerk the Suburban’s wheel, bounce over the median, then turn right onto a dirt road. I’m nearly standing on the gas pedal. The rearview shows only blackness. Debris shatters the back window.
If I survive, I’ll never storm-chase again.
This was one we had all looked at more than once. There was compelling language and tension, though the final sentence felt flat.
For her Honorable Mention, the Amazing Educator chose Addressing the Animated Alarm, by Jules Paige.
They sit around quite a bit. But their hands aren’t idle. In their spare time they keep their credentials current and their equipment clean. Each man and woman forming a bond, a second family that they can depend on. Some are volunteers, others get compensation. Some paid members volunteer at other locations. Not a one would consider themselves a hero.
Whenever that klaxon rings, fear gets pushed aside. Danger gets treated with respect and all follow the leader who barks the orders of where the equipment and bodies need to be. There is no hesitation for the brave firefighters.
The Amazing Educator liked the language of this piece, the word choice and the rhythm of it. She only wishes that it could somehow be more inclusive regarding the EMTs and others who also put themselves into dangerous situations to serve and protect others.
My Honorable Mention choice is a story that made me feel like I was watching the kind of movie I don’t watch. It was scary, with the character in an ill-advised and dangerous situation. Oh yeah, that was the prompt.
Susan Sleggs’ He Had Kind Eyes was disturbing to me, and well written, and I appreciate that Susan ended it with unexpected chivalry. Susan accomplished a lot with her 99 words.
The bartender told the tarted up woman, “There’s a rule; the boss gets first dibs on any strange and then they share?”
She stayed, sipping whiskey a little too fast. The Harleys roared in.
The group entered. The noise level tripled. They eyed her until she ordered another. A man smelling of leather, and aftershave paid; took proprietorship. Soon walked her out.
In the quiet night, he said, “Your perfume smells like fear. What do you want?”
Tears formed. “To prove I’m not a mouse.”
He kissed her like no other had. “Go home. You proved it to me.”
Phew! I’ll say it again; this was no easy task. We found merit with each and every one of the entries; each demanded careful consideration. I learned a lot about writing flash from each entry and from reading with my fellow judges. Thank you to my friends and fellow judges, the multi-talented Bonnie Sheila, and a really smart woman who truly is an Amazing Educator. Thank you Carrot Ranch Literary Community, the writers, leaders, and readers and other supporters, for riding along with the second Flash Fiction Rodeo. Congratulations to Charli on another successful Rodeo.
Congratulations to all who placed and all who played.
You can read the qualifying entries under the Rodeo tab at Rodeo #5: Sound and Fury.