Author Topic: EP533: 2016 Flash Fiction Contest Winners  (Read 6146 times)


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on: June 29, 2016, 09:41:44 AM
EP533: 2016 Flash Fiction Contest Winners

By Ben Hallert, Laura Davy and Brian Trent

read by Trendane Sparks, Nicholas Camm and Adam Pracht


Bona Fide by Ben Hallert

The block’s turning into a rough neighborhood, the kind of place murder victims go to hang out.  It’s nasty and dirty but it’s home.  What’s got me pissed isn’t a little trash, it’s these stupid glasses everyone’s wearing.  Government wastes money on them instead of doing their goddamn jobs, drives me nuts.  The worst part: that dumb smile.  You know the one.  Bunch of fakers, walking around smiling at all the filth like it’s high art.

“Hey man, forget your specs?”  Crap, a cornerboy snuck up on me because I wasn’t paying attention.  He holds out a set.  “Free pair.”

“I pay my taxes, boy, it’s not free.  Bug off.”  I keep walking, the pest follows.

“Ok, then you’ve already paid.”  He waves ’em again.

“I don’t want ’em.  My taxes should go to REAL cleanup and maintenance, not…  those.”  I stop, point.  “They’re insulting, I’m not interested in fantasy.”  I walk again, faster.  The boy keeps pace, switching to that infuriating ‘reasonable tone’ parents use when they’re trying to con kids out of being monsters.  I don’t NEED to be handled, I just want him gone.

“Look guy…. if you don’t take these, someone’ll try again later, then again after that.  Might as well get it over with.”  He brightens.  “Hey, you can just turn off the overlay if you want, you know.”

I slow.  “I can turn ’em off?  And you’ll all leave me alone?”

“Sure, you can turn off any enhancement.  Click your tongue twi-”

“Yeah, I’m not a caveman.”  I grab the set.  “Ok, you win.  Go bug someone else.”  I scowl at the glasses as he leaves to find his next mark, then put ’em on.  Everything around me changes.

I ignore the pretty lies and start configuring.  I know if I don’t, the slums’ll look like new construction, the garbage in the street’ll be gone, and everyone’ll have the bodies of freakin’ supermodels.  After a minute, I’ve got honest, dingy reality back.  I’ll take true filth over fake clean anyday, but… everyone still has that dumb smile. I want to scream “It’s not real!  It’s a lie, they’re faking you out and you’re buying it!”  I want to, but they say I sound like a crazy person when I drop hard truths so sometimes I don’t.

They don’t care.  They get their shiny buildings and pretty people and nobody has to DO anything for it.

Well, at least the cornerboys’ll stop hassling me.  I squint, it’s bright out.  Re-open the editor, make ’em sunglasses.  Not bad.  For funsies, I flip one of those idiot mouths upside down.  Oh, this is rich, the simp looks so messed up.  I flip a setting so everyone’s like that.  That’s better, now I don’t have to look at the grins anymore.

Fine.  They can have their illusions, I’ll stay in the real world.  I know the score, I’ve got my integrity.

I keep walking, the last honest man in a world of lies, and I smile.

Shopping for the Perfect Battle Mount by Laura Davy

“I heard you had Giant Mutated Sloths for sale,” the General of the Allied Intergalactic Army said without preamble as he entered the Battle Mount Store.

“We do indeed,” the merchant replied with a smile.

The merchant was used to working with no-nonsense military officials, who else was shopping for animals to ride into battle? Animals that were deadly, loyal, and would inspire artists to paint their likeness on the side of vans.

They walked to a pen filled with a dozen sloths, each at least nine feet tall and hanging upside-down from huge tree branches.

“They are fire-proof and bullet-proof,” the merchant said. “And with those claws they can do some real damage. But trust me, you don’t want them.”

“Are they too lazy?” the General asked. “Fall asleep in the middle of a fight or take a day to cross a field?”

“That’s just a myth. They can move faster than 2X31 airships. No, the problem is their cuteness.”

“Their cuteness?”

“Yes. Look at that face.”

They looked at the sloth’s furry face that seemed to be sleepily smiling.

“They’re too cute,” the merchant said. “They look like happiness wrapped in sunshine and you’ll never want to put them in danger so you’ll never use them in battle.”

The merchant declined to mention that their adorableness could even influence a capitalist’s heart and now the sloths were only for sale for people who wanted to snuggle with them during naptime.

“Fair point,” the General said. “What do you suggest?”

“A genuine dinosaur.”

They walked to the next holding pen. A creature with claws and reptilian legs towered over the humans. It was also covered in feathers.

“You want me to ride a chicken into battle?” the General asked.

“No, I want you to ride a dinosaur.”

“It looks like a chicken.”

“It’s a dinosaur.”

The creature picked that moment to start flapping its wings and clucking.

“What’s next?” the General asked.

“Have you considered Flying Enhanced Sharks?”

“Don’t sharks need water?”

“I said they were enhanced.”

“I don’t think I would look dignified.”

“How about a classic mount like a tiger?”

In the next pen there was a tiger sleeping in a sunbeam. The merchant picked up a laser pointer. “Should I show you her hunting skills?”

“Don’t you think they’re overused? Everyone was riding tigers last season.”

“They’ll never go out of style. Ginger here will go with any contract-holder as long as they worship her and provide food. Word of warning: never try to pet her belly.”

“Sounds high maintenance.”

“She is a cat.”

“I’ll pass.”

Running out of animals the merchant desperately asked, “Have you considered a horse?”

“A horse?”

“Talk about a classic.”

The General mused for a minute then asked, “Do they come in purple?”

With contract in hand the General left just as the Admiral for the Devouring Darkness entered.

The merchant hurried over to greet the new customer. Maybe this time the chicken would finally be ridden into battle.

 Disc Stutter by Brian Trent

My mother asks if we want gingerbread again—third time in a row, disc stutter. “It just came out of the oven!” she says, and her wrinkled face is a great smile framed by hair like tundra grass.

The aunts and uncles glance over, fears of senility in their puzzled eyes. My brother lowers his martini, and I wonder how many this is for him. Five? Six? He’s been pounding them ever since he arrived; his eyes dart anxiously over the holiday gathering and zero in on Mom’s strange antics.

“Mom!” I say, steering her by the arm into the kitchen pantry.

“I have gingerbread! It just came out of the oven!” she tells me.

In the small pantry surrounded by bags of flour, smelling of spices and old mops, I log out and face the computer screen.

The party is gone, fading from my eyes like the afterimage of a firecracker. My den is unlit and very cold; my hands are almost blue, the digits stiff. I eject the disc from the multidrive and examine it by the silvery moonlight leaking in through a cracked window stuffed with newspapers. The disc is cold to the touch, and a pencil-thin scratch interrupts its rainbow circle of gold nanorods.

I blow against the disc, and a mote of dust leaps off its circular edge and soars through the chilly air towards the dead fireplace.

I place head-rig back around my shaven scalp, snap the lens back over my eyes, and hit PLAY.

The pantry leaps back to my eyes, and Mom is brushing past me to leave the pantry. The door swings like that of a saloon. I follow her out and my brother is standing there, waiting for me.

“When did she die?” he demands.

I shiver from the cold of my den and the accusation in his eyes.

“Two months ago,” I say quickly, rubbing my freezing hands. “Josh, you were away. I’m sorry.”

My brother’s gaze flicks away, back to the living room where the aunts and uncles and cousins sit around, pow-wow style, to play a group game of some kind. “I think you need therapy.”


“You paid for a digital copy of Mom to be made? You inserted it into our virtu-meet? That’s sick!”

I shiver in place. “I only wanted—”

“I know we haven’t spoken in a long time, but do you think you could have told me that our mother died? Were you ever going to tell me?”

From the living room, Mom’s voice rises above the pleasant music and mild conversation:

“I have gingerbread! It just came out of the oven! I have gingerbread! It just came out of the oven!”

Someone suggests we call a doctor.

Someone suggests we call a doctor.

Someone suggests we call a doctor.

My brother looks at me. “How many of us are dead?”

Listen to this week’s Escape Pod!


  • Hipparch
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Reply #1 on: June 29, 2016, 08:58:40 PM
Loved 'em all.

Especially enjoyed the light audio FX on disc stutter. Nicely done.


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Reply #2 on: June 29, 2016, 09:27:02 PM
Fun stuff and agreed on the audio production for Disc Stutter.

All cat stories start with this statement: “My mother, who was the first cat, told me this...”


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Reply #3 on: June 29, 2016, 10:00:24 PM
It was such a great experience to hear my story being read, and the narration was just amazing.  The production was excellent, thanks!


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Reply #4 on: June 30, 2016, 07:49:52 PM
Loved the first one. Perfect commentary for so many political fix-up projects being just for show and not lasting all that long after the opening ceremony. There's also a very nice mix of angry, arrogant pride in the narrator that makes it hard to sympathise with his viewpoint, either. Nicely done.

Tango Alpha Delta

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Reply #5 on: July 02, 2016, 03:29:37 AM
Small confession, I managed to forget (somehow) how much I enjoyed reading these, and the narrators really made them pop.

(And I will laugh at that "Buster and the Sheep" gag every time I see it, apparently, whether Tony Hale is present or not.)

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I finally published my book - Tad's Happy Funtime is on Amazon!


  • Matross
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Reply #6 on: July 04, 2016, 10:52:01 PM
I wasn't able to follow the contest, so these were all completely new to me. Great stories.


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Reply #7 on: July 06, 2016, 03:40:41 PM
It was such a great experience to hear my story being read, and the narration was just amazing.  The production was excellent, thanks!

It was a delight to read, sir! Thank you for sharing it!


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Reply #8 on: July 06, 2016, 03:42:09 PM
Loved the first one. Perfect commentary for so many political fix-up projects being just for show and not lasting all that long after the opening ceremony. There's also a very nice mix of angry, arrogant pride in the narrator that makes it hard to sympathise with his viewpoint, either. Nicely done.

Thanks very much! I really enjoyed this one a great deal.


  • Hipparch
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Reply #9 on: July 11, 2016, 01:58:36 AM
Loved the contest, and loved hearing the winners read aloud. Congrats to all three authors!


  • Matross
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Reply #10 on: July 18, 2016, 02:16:37 PM
I'm still thinking about the first story, a couple of weeks after hearing it. The idea of the government handing out virtual/augmented reality glasses for free, just to distract users from the actual crumbling streets and services, is a fresh take on the old idea of bread and circuses, but distressingly, increasingly believable.

That was brought home to me soon after the story, when my social media streams went rapidly from being all about Black Lives Matter protests and police shootings and presidential campaign politics to being overwhelmed with Pokemon Go posts from friends and forwards and media pieces on that phenomenon. It's gone back to a mix of things now, but the meta-irony, in conjunction with this recent story, was striking.

It's so interesting, having read many stories in past decades about virtual reality, when one disappears into simulations for entertainment and cyberbacking, a la Neuromancer and Shadowrun, and then in recent years, more stories about augmented reality as an overlay -- from simple near-future explorations like this, to stories like Aliette de Bodard's Immersion, where an overlay would act as a translator and social guide that would shape all the user's perceptions and interactions. Suddenly this kind of future seems much closer to me.

Finally, back to this story, it was just perfect how the protagonist who sneered at all the other glasses users ended up smiling for his own reasons (as all the other people were doing, of course).

Frank Evans

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Reply #11 on: July 21, 2016, 04:13:50 PM
Really enjoyed listening to all three of these. They were all excellent stories to begin with, but I thought the narration helped bring each one up a notch as well. Well done and congrats to the winners!


  • Hipparch
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Reply #12 on: November 27, 2017, 07:36:40 PM
These were AWESOME!!!
I was away from the forums for a while and so missed this flash fiction contest. Too bad, because there must have been a fabulous crop of stories to get such excellent ones for the top 3. Well done everyone!!

Bona Fide: Great premise, where the government dupes the citizens in such an obvious way and the public still laps it up. Loved the way the protagonist thought he was so much better and smarter than everyone else and then ended up just the same anyway.

Shopping for the Perfect Battle Mount: This one was hilarious. The idea of riding all these various animals into battle was beyond funny and the writing fit perfectly. I was laughing out loud at almost every animal mentioned. Fabulous mental imagery. I too hope the chicken rides into battle some day. ;)

Disc Stutter: Another great premise and the ending was perfect!! I confess, I would make use of such technology if it was available; all the pleasure of your loved ones at a family gathering, but when they get to be too much you can probably turn them off.