It’s not an overly speculative issue of Flash Fiction Online for December, with only one science fiction piece and two literary ones, but the stories are all solid and explore themes of family, relationships, power, freedom, and success. The characters are often stuck in situations that feel oppressive, their desperate wish just to be released from the constant pressure on them. To ignore the issues in their marriage. to accept the stifling atmosphere of their father’s home. To churn out content for fans that might turn on them at any moment. It’s a great handful of flash stories, and I’ll get right to the reviews!
“Til Death” by Karen Heslop (746 words)
No Spoilers: This is a rather quiet story featuring two people, the narrator and their husband David, who have been married for a long time. Whose relationship has evolved and changed and, in many ways, declined. But who are still together, caught in this unhappy place where they don’t really talk anymore, and are certainly not very honest with each other. It’s a piece that for me speaks to the ways people can drift apart slowly, like tectonic plates, but that these movements are not necessarily permanent or irreversible. It’s a tender, difficult read, full of emotion and a bubbling up of something that for so long has gone unsaid.
Keywords: Marriage, Children, Relationships, Arguments, Communication
Review: I really like the understated power of the piece, of this moment between these people that at its surface must seem so mundane, so “normal.” Because it’s a scene that the two have rehearsed, that they’ve had a great many times, a sort of place holder for the kinds of conversations they want to be having. The narrator thinks, hardly paying attention to the words, and begins to trace the thing that they’re not supposed to mention, the thing that they’re not supposed to fully define or give voice to because that would make it real and would mean it had to be dealt with. And the couple has gotten on so long just not dealing with it that it seems safest to do that. Only it’s not. Because not dealing with their issues is making and keeping them both miserable. Which in turn is making them both resent the other, blaming them for this feeling of being trapped, this feeling of not being able to speak openly. And they both carry their own guilt and shame, their own knowledge that they’ve done things to deliberately hurt the other. And what remains is this time that they’ve served in a relationship neither is sure is really worth it any longer and that they both know isn’t working. But I love that the story doesn’t end on them hating each other. That might still be in the future for them, but I really like that the story has them finally open up a little. Admit that things between them are not okay. And say earnestly that they might want to try to make it right, if it can be made right. Which is a lovely beginning, an opening toward healing, even if it’s not ultimately together. It’s a tender and careful story, and you should go check it out!
“To the Sirens” by Michael Patrick Brady (1000 words)
No Spoilers: The narrator of this story seems to be living with just their father in an area being hit hard by storms. Only these aren’t ordinary storm. Or they aren’t for the narrator at least. For them, the storms are something more, a force that seems to be calling them away from a home that doesn’t seem entirely safe. At least, it seems defined by the narrator’s father trying to make them stay. Trying to keep them confined, unable to be truly free. And that’s what seems to be at stake for the narrator—their freedom, even as they can’t seem to quite describe why it’s so important that they go. They just feel it, deep in themself, and that alone drives them. It’s a strange almost haunting piece, isolated and reaching out for some powerful force to come in and break down the confining walls.
Keywords: Storms, Family, Running, Tornadoes
Review: I like how the piece features a character moving almost by instinct, that these storms are a power that they reach for without really thinking about it. Consciously, maybe they think that they need the storm to come and tear down the barriers keeping them rooted in spot. They see their father and they think that he is powerful. At least as I read the story, the father here has been imbued with power. He’s a sort of storm himself that the narrator feels threatened by, that the narrator wants to fight back against but doesn’t feel like they can. Because it would be useless, futile. And so they reach out to what they think is a greater power, one that can fight for them. And so on one level the story becomes father versus storms. Both are trying to claim the narrator, both are dangerous and unpredictable. But the narrator wants the storm to win. And all through this they finally kind of come to terms with the fact that the storm isn’t alive. That it can’t save them. That the voice they hear isn’t coming from the raging twisters or tornadoes ready to lift them out of their hell and deposit them in Oz (or at least somewhere better than their current situation). And while that might seem depressing, it’s actually liberating, as the narrator is able to recognize that the voice they thought was pulling them toward the storms is actually coming from inside them. That they have a storm there that is equal to anything their father might offer, and that their power, once unleashed, will be an awesome and glorious thing. A great read!
“Like Him with Friends Possess’d” by Allan Dyen-Shapiro (987 words)
No Spoilers: Cordelia1564 is a social media...vlogger? YouTuber? Something similar, at the very least, a somewhat small time creator who is desperately hoping to cash in on that sweet sweet influencer money. To date, though, she’s built her following by mostly being her own goofy self and working that hustle as hard as she can. On the cusp of hitting the point when some company might consider sponsoring her, though, she’s run out of ideas of what to do next, and she might be floundering. The piece deals with fame and with the pressure to create and to sell out, even if what that means isn’t necessarily what people assume.
Keywords: Social Media, Shakespeare, Reading, Followers, Sponsorship, Novelty
Review: I think the most interesting thing about this story is the idea of wanting corporate sponsorship. This is something that definitely exists even today and it’s something that has a bit of a mixed legacy. Because on the one hand, sponsorship means money, means security, means not having to worry about hustle so hard all day every day. On the other hand, it means giving up some of the artistic freedom and supporting a company that is trying to part people from their money, often in ways that aren’t cool, often in a system that is corrupt and is directly linked to how so many people are so desperate to be able to sell out. And it’s something that many people sort of sneer at, because wanting to be internet famous is not exactly a solid career path. Only for some people it is, and it might be more lucrative and more rewarding artistically than trying to earn money through some sort of day job or etc. And for me what really sort of sells the story for me is that it shows at times how arbitrary success of this nature can be, but also how sometimes what a person needs to do in order to succeed is not run chasing what they think will be popular, but rather is to do what they want to do anyway. IN this case, at least, that works out, and the narrator is able to embrace something personally meaningful to them and have it resonate with people. Now, does it resonate because it’s meaningful, or is that just a happy coincidence? The story really doesn’t say, but I do like how in this instance this character is able to get to a place where maybe they’ll be okay and it doesn’t mean giving up creating the content they love, but embracing it. We should all be so fortunate. A lovely way to close out the issue!