Micro Madness 2021 winners
Tom O’Brien – London, UK
Father Buried Queenie in the Small Field
Tim pushed the brown stained keys on his grandmother’s valve radio into place, to feel the click.
The inside lit up and he put his nose against the mesh to visit the futuristic city inside. Smelled burning dust. If little spaceships flew between the tubes and pillars, he would have been delighted, not surprised.
But today he needed it to make noise. He twisted the dial to move the red wire between London, Luxembourg and Athlone but static and haunted music wouldn’t block out the slice of shovel into hard earth as his father buried Queenie in the small field.
Rob Walton – Whitley Bay, UK
She gives the dirty smoke-stained copy of Richard Brautigan’s Revenge of the Lawn to Michael at number 7. She knows he has lost, knows he is lost. He smells it, washes his hands, puts it down, picks it up. At night, he circles, crosses out, underlines words, puts it on her doorstep, knocks, retreats. She ticks and crosses next to his annotations and draws stick figures in the margin. One is clearly Michael, smiling. He draws a Chinese take-away banquet and sends it back. She sketches chopsticks and tea. He phones. She grins, looks for another book.
Cristina Schumacher – Hamilton, Waikato, Aotearoa New Zealand
The Consequences of a Change
We were all at home when the floor started to move. The wood began to bulge where the chandelier cast its brightest light. Initially it seemed like a reaction to moisture, how it swelled, but it didn’t stop there. In our house a mountain began to form. Perplexed, we watched as it grew. Purposefully. Some added ladders and steps to its sides. Some stared, day after day, unwilling to believe their eyes. Still others turned their backs on the mountain, but for them life became a kind of hell. Because you cannot ignore the topography of where you live.
* * *
Water & Iron by Charlotte Hamrick
“My husband is a hoarder,” Linda said. “He collects all kinds of things but black iron skillets are his favorite. He finds them at the dump or buys them at yard sales, brings them home and cleans all the rusty bits off, then adds them to his collection. He keeps them up on a shelf in his office looking like centenarians who are happy now just to sit and be. I expect they are.” She smiled. “Years of hard work turns everything rusty.” She shook her head.
Linda and I are sitting in the jury lounge waiting for our numbers to be called for a trial, hoping we get sent home early instead. Her soft Southern chattiness has been a welcome distraction from the boredom.
“After the hurricane, he would drive around town picking up stuff from the debris piles outside people’s homes.” She sighed. “Well, ya know, people threw out so much stuff because it was all so overwhelming, everything covered in black mold and mud. And volunteers who gutted houses had no idea what the owner might want to try to salvage.”
Linda’s talk of black iron skillets brings back memories of Hank, of our kitchen in the oaks with the 30’s wallpaper covered in apples, pears, and bananas. Beautiful Sunday mornings spent frying up bacon then climbing out the window to sit on the roof and watch life on the bayou while licking the delectable grease off each other’s fingers.
We were lucky to be living on the second floor when we woke up early the morning after the storm and found a borderless brown lake outside our window. It appeared the bayou had been swallowed like a whale swallows krill. We found out later the levees had broken. My hands shook and my stomach rolled as we climbed out onto our familiar perch on the roof and called out into the surreal silence. There wasn’t a single sound of life, not even a chirping bird, only the lapping of water on wood.The city had emptied for the mandatory evacuation except for those who couldn’t or wouldn’t but we’d gone to bed relieved the storm had passed leaving only branches and debris dotting the neighborhood. We sat in a stunned stupor, staring at the debris floating before us: dead animals, splintered wood, furniture, clothes, toys, even a car. Ghostly fragments of people’s lives. All the apocalyptic movies I’d ever watched flashed through my mind while we discussed how long our stash of food and water might last.
I shivered, wondering where Hank was now. I never imagined we’d split up but New Orleans was a disaster after the storm and many relationships splintered under the stress of living in a broken city.
“We only had wind damage,” Linda said. “We were the only family on our street that stayed. Looters broke into the house across the street and my husband sat on the sofa in front of the window with his shotgun for days, listening to people calling in to talk radio begging for police to come. One woman alone crying that two men were trying to break in her front door.”
Just then we were told a jury had been selected and we were free to leave. We walked out together.
“I’ll never forget her voice, the sheer terror of it. When people started coming back and gutting their homes, my husband’s penchant for collecting went into overdrive and salvaging skillets became an obsession. He picked through debris piles and dumpsters, pulled out beaucoup skillets. I think his obsession came from his memories of his grandmother who died in another storm when he was a child. He always said how he missed her Sunday fried chicken, how he watched her fry it up in a big black iron skillet. He believes after generations of handling and care certain possessions absorb their owners’ spirit. Most days now he stays in his workshop talking and rubbing, talking and rubbing.”
Isolating a Subject From the Background by Tom O’Brien
You’ll need to use a longer lens, for her to feel as close as when you could meet.
You’ll want the background out of focus, no distractions, so minimise the Depth of Field. Choose Aperture Priority (it’s always about priorities) and use the widest setting light and lens allow.
Use a tripod if you’re worried about the shutter speed, worried about blurring, but make sure to catch the breeze in her hair, the hand she uses to still it, the memory familiar tilt of the head.
When you focus, take special notice of her eyes. Not just the colour and the sparkle, the mischief and the teasing, but the sharpness. Of course this focus may be Automatic.
Use a Remote Release, if you have one, to trip the shutter. Not only to reduce the risk of shake, but so you can wave back, when she waves at you.
Perchance by Al Kratz
They weren’t headed for a White Christmas, but it was a wet one. A light rain had covered just enough ground to bring back the smells of November. Even on break, Bernard believed in staying in costume. Santa Claus was the kind of dream that shouldn’t be broken. No one should know how much his bones hurt or how much better his coffee would be with a splash of Irish Whiskey or how much he could really use the coins he’d collect tonight or anything Bernard felt at all. No one should know.
Bernard felt alone in the diner, jammed between his table and his booth. He sipped the bitter coffee, letting it roll down his throat, hoping the warmth at least would do some work.
Bernard had far-away eyes, like a man who had given up caring or had nothing serious left to think about, but he was still there and he still cared. He thought about his bucket of coins and how Good Will had answered the call tonight. December always came through, but Bernard knew about limits. He knew when the calendar turned, things would go back to the natural ways of men. The one behind the sacred red suit, the fake beard, the bucket and bell, would be targeted by the wolves again. Bernard put his cup down. “Wolves,” he said out loud without apology, maybe wanting to be heard.
A woman sitting behind him in the next booth answered, and Bernard knew she was speaking to him. “He’s mad that trusts in the tameness of a wolf, a horse’s health, a boy’s love, or a whore’s oath,” the woman said. As Bernard listened to the precision of her delivery, truth touched his ears in unexpected ways.
“That’s beautiful,” Bernard said, also talking to the air in front of him, but delivering the message behind, a method the duo had somehow agreed upon.
“Oh, I suppose it is,” she said. “It’s Shakespeare at least. Although not my favorite. Perhaps I’ve had enough of Kings. Enough of wolves and fools and whores. Enough of the madness of men.”
“Are you an actress?” Bernard asked, but when that went unanswered, he tried: “or a teacher?”
“Oh, once,” she said with a smile in her voice. “Once,” she said again to the air in front but still meant for behind, sighing now, sitting alone with her word, under the power of Long Ago.
The two stayed with their backs turned to each other, now accepting silence, feeling each other’s presence, both suspicious of and trusting in it, hidden behind the head, yet somehow within the closeness of a hug.
After enough anonymity, Bernard had to steal a peek of her reflection in the window. There he saw her behind him with her head turned, her wrist holding her up, facing the empty diner. Bernard couldn’t see her eyes, but he knew they were far-away too. He felt he knew this woman, this actor, this teacher, this fellow fighter of wolves. He remembered his first exposure to Shakespeare, and his high school English teacher stopping class to opine on the immutable theme of unrequited love. The words falling behind Mr. Craft’s eyes, getting lost in memories he failed to explain. Now Bernard realizing that perhaps he had never given the theme the weight it deserved. Feeling that it might be wrong to steal any more looks, Bernard faced straight ahead and drank his coffee.
“Aren’t we a sad lot?” the woman said. “Christmas Eve and we’re the only ones,” she said. “Where’s the servants?”
“I think you meant to say servers?” Bernard asked, but when that went unanswered, he tried: “or the service?”
“No, I all alone beweep my outcast state,” the woman said, and it also was true. When Bernard looked back to the window, her reflection wasn’t there for the taking and all he could see now was himself.
Charlotte Hamrick’s creative work has been published in numerous online and print journals, including The Rumpus, Emerge Journal, Flash Frontier and New World Writing. She’s had nominations for the Pushcart Prize, Best Microfiction 2021, and was a Finalist for Micro Madness 2020. She is a Creative Nonfiction Editor for The Citron Review and was the former CNF Editor for Barren Magazine. She lives in New Orleans with her husband and a menagerie of rescued pets where she sometimes does things other than read and write.
Al Kratz lives in Iowa with his wife Kristy and their cat Tom Petty. He is the Managing Editor at New Flash Fiction Review and a co-founder of the Flash Monsters!!! blog. He is a three-time Short Lister at the Bath Novella-in-Flash Award including The Tony Bone Stories which was a Runner Up in the 2021 award judged by Michelle Elvy. His 2019 shortlisted novella, Off the Resting Sea, was published by above/ground press in 2021. More about his work can be found at Al Kratz – reading * writing * thinking.
Tom O’Brien is an Irishman living in London. His Novella-in-Flash Straw Gods is published by Reflex Press and he has two more due this year – one from Retreat West and another from Ad Hoc Publishing. His work has been Pushcart and Best Microfictions nominated. His flash fiction can be found in print in various anthologies such as Blink-Ink and Bath Flash Fiction (forthcoming) as well as many sites around the web including Ellipsis Zine, Reflex, Spelk and 50-Word Stories. He’s on Instagram and twitter @tomwrote and has a class on Skillshare called Introducing the Novella-in-Flash. His website is www.tomobrien.co.uk.
Cristina Schumacher is a Brazilian New Zealander who works as the Language Programme Director of EarthDiverse, a Hamilton-based organisation that provides diversity education and training. She has published several manuals, textbooks and methods for Brazilian learners of foreign languages and acted as a consultant to large international companies. While Cristina’s first publication was a flash fiction book, Depois de Séculos (Centuries After), it took her almost half of her lifetime and a new life in New Zealand to get back to publishing fiction.
Rob Walton grew up in Scunthorpe, and now lives in North Shields. His short fiction and poetry for adults and children appears in various magazines and anthologies. His flashes have been published by 101 words (US), Bangor Literary Journal, Blue Fifth Review (US), Flash Frontier (NZ), Ham, Ink, Sweat & Tears, Number Eleven, National Flash Fiction Day anthologies, Paper Swans, Popshot, Pygmy Giant, Reflex, Spelk and others. He is a past winner and current judge of the UK’s National Flash Fiction Day micro-fiction competition.