Friday, February 12, 2010

Flash Fiction Week, Day 5

Today Simon Larter and I unveil the second and final first place winning entry of our Cosmic Coincidence Contest:

 

 

We would like to present to you “Necessity” by Merrilee Faber (which is pretty fantastic—you’ll see). But tomorrow, we will be highlighting the things we love about the entries that were not selected (not because we didn’t love them, but because we’re too poor and time-constrained to give books and critiques to all of them).

But for the moment, let’s focus on Merrilee’s fabulous submission.

 

Necessity

Merrilee Faber

It seems odd to say that you can be woken by silence, but you can. It's the absence of something familiar, like waking in a cold bed, empty of your recent lover.

The silence of the gulls swept into my dream. I rolled over and fell off the couch onto the rug. Sunlight charged into the apartment with the crash and roar of heat and glare. On my little patio, beyond the massive egg in its nest of broken furniture, two dead snakes hung from the railing. Their brown skin glittered as bright as the waves in the bay beyond.

I ran to the door, stumbling over debris, flung it open and leaned over the rail. The sky, faded blue like an old pair of jeans, was empty of wings of any kind. I strained my eyes, searching for a distant speck. Then the seagulls emerged from their hiding places, filling the sky with wings and noise.

I sank down into my last patio chair, and pulled the snakes off the rail. They were still warm. Inside the egg I could feel a fluttering, like a ripple under my skin. I reached out a hand, touched the rough shell, felt a quiver in my gut. I hadn't planned on doing this alone, but then what of my life had I planned?

I hung the snakes over the arm of the chair and went to call Joel.

"Angie!"

Even his voice was tanned and smiling. We hadn't spoken in two months. We were supposed to be old friends. But I never returned his calls. "Joel, I need your help. Can you come over?"

"Coming right now." There were overtones to his reply. I put down the phone, stared at the mess, decided it was too big to tackle. In the kitchen, I scrabbled among the empty bottles and found enough remains to make a very stiff martini. I mixed it in a jug and drank it straight from there.

I'd gone off alcohol for almost six years. I'd gone off almost everything, trying desperately to conceive the child that called to me. When a succession of boyfriends and one-night stands had failed to produce that child, I'd turned to Joel.

It had been a fun, but fruitless relationship. When I'd finally given up trying to conceive, Joel had made it plain that he would be happy to remain as bed-mates. But my sex drive had died with my dreams, so we settled back into friendship.

The doorbell rang. Halfway to the door something crunched under my foot. I staggered, pain digging into my sole. The doorbell rang again.

"Hang on!" I leaned against the wall, turned up my foot and plucked out a shard of bloody glass. I hobbled over to the door as the bell rang a third time.

"Angie! Hey-" Joel saw my posture. "What happened?"

"Stepped on a glass. Come in, I need to find a towel."

Joel closed the door behind him and, before I realised what he was doing, swept me up into his arms.

He stopped dead at the entrance to the living room. I followed his gaze; from the torn fabric on the couch to the shattered lamp, the remains of my dining suite, and finally to the long, ragged gouges in the plaster walls.

"Angie." Joel's usually loud voice was an awed whisper. "What the hell happened?"

Fantastic sex was probably not the answer he was looking for. "Foot first."

"Right."

In the bathroom, I washed the cut clean, and let him put a band-aid on it. I still couldn't think of what to say.

"So what happened?"

"It's complicated."

He put a hand on my knee. "Angie. You know you can tell me anything. We're pretty close, right?"

I nodded. "Come out on to the patio."

I led him through the trashed living room. Funny thing was, we weren't that close. But to Joel, close and intimate were the same thing.

Out on the patio, he stared down at the egg. "It's a giant egg." He reached out a hand. The egg, easily as tall as his hip, quivered. He pulled his hand away. "Where did you get it?"

I smiled at a warm memory. "From a traveller with skin the colour of polished ebony."

"A darkie?"

My smile died. I'd forgotten about Joel's racist leanings. "Yes, Joel. A man with dark skin."

"You bought it off him?"

"He…helped me make it."

He grunted. "Hope he didn’t cheat you."

"No. We both got what we wanted." I turned away and walked back inside.

Joel wasn't what I needed. My body had known that. I had found what I needed in a chance encounter with a man I would probably never see again. I knew that now. The snakes had been his parting gift, to me and to my daughter.

I paused, one hand on the kitchen counter. My daughter. I could hear her in my head. She was almost here. I reached down under the counter and pulled out a machete, still with the price tag on the shining blade.

I heard a splintering sound from the patio. Joel rushed in, and my grip tightened.

"I think it's hatching!"

"I know." I straightened, brought the machete down in a sweeping motion. Joel thudded onto the linoleum.

Hunger pains gripped my stomach and I gasped. "I'm coming. Hang on." I raised the machete again, brought it down.

I took my grisly offering outside, still warm and dripping. The snakes had already been devoured. My daughter spotted me and stumbled forward through the shattered shell. The sunlight glistened on her wings, still damp with birth fluids.

Her skin was black like ebony, but those were my hazel eyes that looked up; hungering, demanding, needing me like no-one in my life had ever needed me.

I bent down to give my daughter her first feed, oblivious to the gulls and the city and the empty sky beyond.

 

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Here’s the thing about this story: You MUST read it twice. I’m not kidding. You will get a sense of how truly remarkable this story is with a second read. So go ahead, and then come back to me.

How was it? What did you learn? It’s like a punch in the kisser, isn’t it? You had no idea the first time around what that egg was, did you? NO idea. But the clues were all there:

 

On my little patio, beyond the massive egg in its nest of broken furniture, two dead snakes hung from the railing.

The sky, faded blue like an old pair of jeans, was empty of wings of any kind.

I hadn't planned on doing this alone….

I'd gone off almost everything, trying desperately to conceive the child that called to me.

Fantastic sex was probably not the answer he was looking for.

I had found what I needed in a chance encounter with a man I would probably never see again.

 

I’ll admit—this story shocked me. I finished reading it and stared at my computer screen with mouth agape. My first thought was: ewwwwww. My second thought was: saweeeeeet. Because it was brilliant. I’m so glad that I was not aware of the genre of this piece. Had I known to expect magical realism, I might not have felt the full impact of it as I did (consider Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude where you’re left thinking, WTF just happened? and yet you’re smiling like the cat with a canary in its mouth). Still, there’s more to it than just the fantastical shock (and of course, the clever unveiling of the mystery).

“Necessity” also illustrates near perfect characterization, in my opinion, if only because in less than 1,000 words, we already have a very distinct sense of this narrator’s personality—it’s imbued into every sentence. Even Joel—or heck, even the winged mutant daughter feels strong.

My daughter spotted me and stumbled forward through the shattered shell. The sunlight glistened on her wings, still damp with birth fluids.

It all comes down to the perfect word choice, the ideal image, and the way (and order) those images are depicted. “Necessity” does it all beautifully.

I paused, one hand on the kitchen counter. My daughter. I could hear her in my head. She was almost here. I reached down under the counter and pulled out a machete, still with the price tag on the shining blade.

Pure. Effing. Genius.

 

Thank you, Ms. Faber, for your remarkable entry. Congratulations on your First Place win. Please be sure to e-mail your address and book selection to carolsimoncontest AT gmail DOT com. If you are interested in the ten page critiques, please let us know, and we’ll make arrangements.

Many thanks to all of our followers and supporters as well as to Laurel Garver and others from Simon’s writing group for your prize contribution. And a big, hearty <3 filled thank you to all those who submitted flash fiction entries to our contest. You made it incredibly difficult to judge, but you also made the contest entirely worthwhile. I hope that everyone will come back tomorrow to see the brilliance of the remaining entries. I can see no better way to finish off Flash Fiction Week. Plus, I’ll probably poke fun of Simon a little. That’s always fun.

 

If you liked “Necessity,” please be sure to check out Merrilee’s writing blog Not Enough Words.

 

P.S. If you have not yet seen Sara McClung’s Vlog for an ARC, you should. OMG, you really should.

P.P.S. If you have not yet become a follower of Alexandra Shostak or Simon Larter, you absolutely should. That’s all.

21 comments:

  1. You're going to make fun of me? Hmph. Just see what I have to say about you tomorrow, good lady! Well... okay. It'll probably be all nice stuff. But I'll work some gentle mockery in there somewhere... ;)

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  2. I already commented at Simon's blog, but I'll say again that this is brilliant. You're right, Carolina, that it is a good story to read twice. All the foreshadowing and motivation is there but written so cleverly, you don't realize you're being set up. I'm in awe.

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  3. awesome. creepy and awesome, just the way i like 'em.

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  4. OMG! You're right, I had to read it twice to see the brilliance of it. Great entry!

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  5. You are 100% correct about reading it twice! Seriously. The first time I liked it, it shocked me... I had the same reaction that you did. The second time? I don't even have words. Super awesome!!

    And thanks for the vlog mention, haha. Still keeping my fingers crossed...

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  6. Yes, reading it twice really makes it come alive. Brilliantly done.

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  7. Wow. Just wow. That's all.

    Just brilliant.

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  8. I loved this contest. Fantastic job Carol and Simon! Congratulations Merilee!!

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  9. Thank you to Carol and Simon for hosting this contest. Carol, your saweeeet comment gave me the giggles! I enjoyed your analysis very much.

    Thank you everyone for your kind comments. I am (still) smiling :D

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  10. I just love how daring this story is. It shows confidence in the writer and confidence that the writer has for a reader. When you set up a reader/writer relationship like that, great things can happen, and they did here.

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  11. I *love* this! And yes, you definitely have to read it twice.

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  12. I kinda figured most of it out the first time thru. Next time, make sure you have a good supply of dead bodies!

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  13. Incredible. Every word is vital. Such a great piece to learn from.

    LOVED Cien años de soledad.

    I adore your blog, Carolina. I don't think I've said that before. You blogged about the shiznit! You wrote a post with the word "saweeeet" that included intelligent reflection about characterization and magical realism! And you share amazing flash. Wow. Yours is a blog to follow.

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  14. I commented over on Simon's blog, but just wanted to say congrats to Merilee again, and great job with this contest, you guys! What a load of FUN! And not because I won. This was just fun and gave me a great reason to write a short. :)

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  15. Yay! for Merrilee! Love her blog. Merrilee was one of the first people I ever followed.

    Thrilled she won :)

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  16. Simon, I'm absolutely going to make fun of you. You know it can't be helped. Feel free to attempt to return the mockery, but don't be surprised if no one believes you. I have a stellar reputation. Purity is my scheduled Saints name, you know.

    Tricia, it was brilliant wasn't it? And so hard to do because, as the writer, you know how it ends, so it's difficult to know what clues are deceiving, what clues give it away. Definitely one to learn from.

    Falen, you crack me up. ;)

    Melissa, yes yes! I liked it in the first read, but it was in the second read that I understood how well I'd been sucked in.

    Kimberly, thanks for you comment, luv!

    Sara, I hope you get it!!!!! I've got my fingers crossed for you.

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  17. Elle, that's what did it for me. Love this story.

    Sarahjayne, thanks for you comment! We've been really impressed by all the stories that came in.

    Liza, thank you! This was a fun contest, although hard as heck to judge.

    Merrilee, ha! Well, your story was definitely saweeeeet-worthy. I was very impressed, m'dear. Many thanks to you for your entry. You're a genius.

    Davin, I agree wholeheartedly. So daring! And yes, you really have to trust the reader in this sort of story.

    Livia, that second read really lets you see how strong the story is, doesn't it?

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  18. Andrew, you're so funny! I'm sure a few more dead bodies probably would have been...interesting? Haha!

    Tiffany, I know, my eyes bugged out!

    Diana, it's one of my favorite books ever! Yay, I found someone else who's read it. Have you read Allende's House of Spirits (La Casa de los espiritus)? If you liked 100 Years, you'd like it, I'm sure. It has that same magical realism infusion. It blew me away--utterly heartbreaking, as well (but don't waste your time on the movie.) And can I just say, your comment means a lot to me. Truly. More than you can know.

    Michelle, thank you so much! I'm so glad you enjoyed it and beyond thrilled that you entered. We loved your story. It's been a pleasure.

    Wendy, how fun! She's brilliant, isn't she?

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  19. Pwoof! My head! SO BIG!! Can't. Fit. Through. Door. Send. Help!

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