For this special contest of One Throne Magazine, writers were given the first and last line of a story, provided by Tendai Huchu, whose fiction I've reviewed a few times and quite enjoyed. Writers then had a day to write a flash fiction story using those lines. The top four stories were released to the world, and they are an interesting mix of stories, funny and tragic and everything in between, stories about escape and stories about performance and stories about finding the logic in madness. They are quite different in how they take on the prompt, but they're all worth checking out. To the reviews!
"In a World Gone Mad" by Ilana Masad (999 words) [WINNER]
Probably I should have listed this one at the bottom because it's the last one I ended up reading, wanting to reserve the winner for the end. And this story does a great job of bridging the gap between lines, a story with a sort of Waiting for Godot mentality, set in a train station, sort of waiting for a train, but without the train ever really showing up. The story focuses on a person in a world where the rules have changed. Where technology has made things largely unrecognizable. The main character wants to visit their sister to help her raise a feathered and winged child, but is rather afraid of the world outside, has been seeing a therapist to try and combat the fear, but the thought of the train is paralyzing, and it takes the main character meeting a child at the station to teach them how it works. There's a great play with the title of the idea of madness and order, this new world seeming so chaotic and messy to the main character because it doesn't meet up with their expectations, but this isn't a story condemning the future. Instead, the main character recognizes the beauty of it, the order and logic, but it's difficult to them to see at first. And I like that message, that the future is not one full of madness but one that runs on slightly altered logic that has to be approached on its own terms, and for those that do there is a richness, an elegance, an opportunity, and one that the main character ultimately takes. Quite nice!
"Red Flesh" by Roberta Verdant (810 words)
Well okay then. This is...I want to say a sweet story about love in a time of change but that's far, far too simple. Sweet is only one layer of the story, the love of these two women like the hint of sweetness in a bitter tea. The story is about chaos, about loss of life and liberty, about change, about finding something worth risking everything to run away to. I like the idea of escaping first into each other, though, into sex and the weightless pleasure it brings, a way for the characters to confirm both their existence and their souls amid the growing violence and fear. It's not a happy story for all that it's about love and the power of love. It's about loss, about conflict taking away security. The story is filled with victims, filled with those left behind to live or die in conflict, but the story also recognizes that for those that can get out, their responsibility is to try. With guilt, but also with possibility. With hope. It's a dark story but a rewarding one, a haunting one, challenging and well worth checking out. Indeed!
"The Lunatic Express" by Munene Kilongi (961 words)
This story lives up to its name not exactly in showing a train full of crazy people but by showing a train that one would have to be largely insane to trust in. The main character finds himself in a dense pack of people, nearly unable to move, those around him a collection of strange characters, stranger situations, a woman with large boxes; stray chickens; a congregation of rather extreme priests; a conman preacher who acts as a sort of trickster. The action of the story is just trying to find some space, with everyone pushed so close together, and the story does an excellent job of showing how trains can be, how that many people in so small a space does create a lunatic express, everyone desperate, everyone in that press of bodies a bit insane. And the ending! I loved the last sequence, the humor of it. The story is quite funny, quite fun, an impressive feat given that it's so short and about finding space on a train, but it works in those moments of frustrated stillness where everything is in balanced chaos and in that moment where, victory at hand, the journey ends. A very nice story.
"Downpour Play" by James Grzejka (839 words)
I quite like the idea of this story, taking the first and last lines and creating a stage of the train platform, a stage where the elements play, where mist creates form and plot without words, where the rain watches and the storm is entertained by the passing images. The images, here, that might be memories, that might be real or fiction. Whatever the case, the mist creates a woman who loses. Who loses almost everyone to a war far away, a war that claims her father, which claims...well, either her love or her son. The story is about ghosts and about longing, about how the war has made this scene something the rain remembers, something that lingers on after the woman is gone. Or perhaps it is the woman and the men, their ghosts now one with the elements. Either way it's a fun story, sad but blunted a little by the distance the rain gives it. The play within the story makes it a bit more wondrous than tragic, a bit more transcending rather than sinking into despair. And the end is appropriate and celebratory, rising. A fine story!