The Iron Writer Challenge #49 – 2013 Iron Writer Winter Solstice Preliminary Round, Margaret Atwood Bracket

The Iron Writer Challenge #49

2013 Iron Writer Winter Solstice Preliminary Round

Sixteen Authors!

Four Brackets

Four Elements!

Four Days!

500 Words!

Margaret Atwood Bracket

>Margaret Atwood has extolled the virtues of the social media site, Wattpad.

Jordan Bell

Richard Russell

Patricia Stirnkorb

Heather Johnson

The Elements:

A Judge

A Liberal

A Conservative

A Victim

Judging Lefse

Heather Johnson

The livestock smell gave way to the odor of fried everything as Julia and Henry entered the demonstration building lugging large plastic totes. They immediately spotted a banner that read “Lefse Competition,” and pushed through the mob toward their destination.

In booth 1B, Julia strategically placed a round griddle, a ten-pound sack of flour, and two rolling pins—one was a backup—on her work surface. “Henry! My stick?” Her husband, a man of no unnecessary words, laid a yard-long, flat, thin, wooden stick beside the griddle.

A man with a clipboard, closely followed by a woman whose voice Julia instantly recognized from the radio, entered the competition space and stopped just feet from 1B. The radio host sounded flustered. “My producer said I would be judging pie, but the pie people sent me here. I don’t know what lefse is, much less how to judge it. Can I switch?”

“We wanted our celebrity judge at the most popular contest—lefse! It’s essentially, a potato tortilla. Judge on texture, flavor, and presentation. Traditional fillings are butter and/or sugar. The liberal contestants use curry, venison, sardines, etc.”

“It sounds,” she sighed, “awful.”

“The judges’ table is there. The Bertram County Fair is excited to have you!” he called as he jogged away. The radio woman sat across the aisle from Julia, whose face burned with nervousness.

In the neighboring booth, 1A shot Julia a sideways smirk. “You know what they say about not being able to take the heat?” She was small and stout and, like Julia, around seventy years old. She wore a galaxy-print apron and wielded a flat stick that had been painted to look like a light saber. To punctuate her barb, she used the stick to transfer a twelve-inch circle of white dough from her table to the hot griddle.

Julia sneered. “You’re the one who should get out of the kitchen, Potato Flakes.”

“Waste your time peeling potatoes. If our grandmothers had had potato flakes, they would have used them.”

“It’s a liberal interpretation of ingredients, if you ask me,” Julia growled. “Hardly the same thing.”

They cooked silently during the next fifteen minutes. More contestants arrived. Spectators filled the seats. The smell of burning flour hung over the arena.

“Let me guess—butter and sugar?” asked 1A.

“There’s nothing wrong with a perfectly executed conservative recipe. What’s your filling? Stewed raccoon?”

“I’ve had enough of you,” 1A growled, jabbing her rolling pin in Julia’s direction.

Julia straightened from her hunched dough-rolling pose. “And I, you. And your dumb apron,” she hissed, leaning over the table between them and causing it to wobble slightly. Julia’s extra rolling pin rolled off the table and landed handle-first onto Henry’s sneaker-clad foot. Tears filled his eyes but he swallowed the string of profanity that almost escaped his mouth. “Suck it up, Henry,” Julia snapped. “Be ready to help me carry my winnings to the car.”

“We’ll see about that,” 1A scoffed, brushing a smudge of flour from her apron.

The radio host smirked as she scribbled notes onto the back of a judging form. The competition was heating up.

JudicatorJordan Bell

Jordan Bell

Dean awoke in darkness, but it was artificial. He had something on over his eyes. He went to feel for what, but his arms were lashed down. His heart began to race. He jerked upward with his arms to no avail. Panicked, he tried to break free and his head flung back and knocked into something hard.

A pained moan came from directly behind him, only inches away from his aching head.

Someone else was there with him. He tried to turn but couldn’t and realized he was tied in a chair of some sort.

“Ungh, what hit… Oh shit, I cain’t see nuthin’. Oh sweet Jesus, I’m bound up, oh help me Lawd,”came a woman’s panicking voice.

“Sorry about that,” Dean said. “My name is Dean. I am tied up behind you. I freaked out too. I think I may have head-butted you.”

The woman groaned. Dean felt his bindings cinch slightly as she wrestled with hers. She stopped. Her breathing steadied.

“Shantice,” she offered. “Where we at?”

“I don’t know,” said Dean. “I am blindfolded. I am guessing you are too.”

“You got dat right,”she agreed.

“How’d we get here anyway mister.”

Dean thought it about for a minute. He honestly couldn’t say. The last thing he remembered was sitting in his Jetta in the drive thru lane at Dunkin Donuts.

“I can’t say for certain. I was on the southside–”

“Shoo, I was just leaving the Neiman Marcus store.”

Dean’s face screwed up. That was on the opposite side of town.

Shantice sounded like a young woman, probably still in her twenties. Dean was in his fifties. He was white and he was fairly sure she was African-American. What possible connection could they have?

“What kind of work do you–,” Dean began, when a metal door in the room grated open on rusty hinges.

Clacking footsteps drew close.

The stranger in the room circled the pair, stopping in front of each for a few moments before continuing around. Shantice felt a hand brush her cheek. She recoiled. The stranger tsked at her.

“Let us go,”Shantice demanded.

“First, a question,” said the stranger.

“Like what?” Dean asked.

“Like, whatever I want, Mr. Allen.

“Did you vote for Obama, Ms. Dupree?”asked the stranger.

“Hell nah. What you think cause I’m black I voted for his dumb ass?”

“And you, Mr. Allen?”

“Yes, he supported my right to marry.”

There came a long silence. Dean was about to speak when he felt a cold sensation on his neck and heard a whisking sound. Intense pain and sickening heat came next as blood spilled from his neck down his chest.

“You have been found guilty of treason Mr. Allen,”said the stranger as Dean bled out, his protests coming out only as a raspy gurgling.

Shantice screamed and thrashed in her seat.

The stranger spoke, “You are the victim Ms. Dupree. Your kind have been brainwashed by the Democratic party for so long that black republicans are outcast among–”

“You didn’t hafta kill him.”

The stranger sighed.

“Ms. Dupree, I disagree, it was my civic duty.”

Shantice began to weep.


Patricia Stirnkorb

“Ringing in the New Year always brings to mind the possibility of what is to come,” said Randall Watson, a well-known conservative activist in the Tea Party. “We hold the future in our hands.”

“That’s right,” said Judge Marcus White. “But the future is sometimes put into motion for us by the actions of another.”

“It’s an amazing world in which we live,” said Sandra Wellington, Liberal tree-hugger. “The birds, the animals, nature in general–a spectacular place! But why are we not doing more to protect it?”

“Why, you ask? Why? Because no one cares! Look at us—the four of us have been fast friends for most of our lives, yet we have all gone in different directions. If it hadn’t been for that one event on graduation night, who knows where we would be today,” said Rebekah Shew. “I’ll never forget that evening. It ruined my life and changed the course of all our paths.”

No one commented.  The four friends sat around playing dominoes on New Year’s Eve.  After growing up in the same neighborhood, attending the same high school and graduating together, they all left a party together and the rest is history. In those days, no one was “exclusive” with one another and each of them considered the others their best friends. The girls were together most of the time, as were the two boys. But it was not unusual for any of them to spend time with one, two or all three. They would each give a kidney for any of the others. And their friendship had endured the test of time.

“Can you believe it is 2014?” Randall asked.  “Two-thousand and fourteen! This will be the year the politics in this country turn around! It’s time for America to wake up and see the trees are filled with crooks!”

“Really Randall? That’s a bad illustration! The trees have no way of selecting who is hiding in them,” Sandra laughed.

Rebekah sulked as she had no play on the game board. “I don’t know,” she said. “The world doesn’t seem to be getting better. We found no justice. What makes you think that anything will ever change?”

“Well, in all honesty, what could the outcome be?  I mean, really, we are all fine.  You are a successful writer, Marcus is the most respected judge in town, Randall has his career, and I am happy just being….me! Surrounded by the Wellington Nature Preserve that my parents started in my name!”

“You are so cute! You always have had a way of looking at things from a different perspective,” Marcus said. “Maybe we did get the short stick in the draw, but it was our destiny. Would you really change anything that happened?”

Three hands went up in around the domino table.

“I would!” said Sandra.

“Me too,” said Randall.

“As would I,” said Rebekah. “Heck yes, I would change things!

It’s 2014. Change your World.


Richard Russell

I had a dream last night.

All my friends were dying.

When one of them would have a problem, he’d go to court to get help, and never come back.  I got curious about this, so I went to the courtroom to see what was going on.

The courtroom gallery was packed with people of every kind, from everyplace; men, women, young, old, some spoke English, others spoke different languages, and they were dressed in all kinds of attire.  I saw a baseball player, an engineer,  sanitation worker, doctor, housewife, gang member, polo player, drug addict, and the list goes on.  They all seemed anxious and talked among themselves with fervency.  I walked on past them and made my way up to the front where there was quite a commotion going on.

There was a judge sitting behind the bench.  He wore a blindfold and sat with both arms out to each side and each hand was full of money.  People dressed in black wearing felt slippers would walk up to each side and place money in his hands and then quietly walk back.  Every now and then that judge would stand up and leave, and another one took his place; then he would do exactly as the previous judge did.

Then there were two men who walked around and around in front of the bench speaking big words with much emotion and force.  One of them was blue, and the other one was red.  They disagreed on everything the other one said, and their arguing got to be so intense, I thought for sure it would come to blows.

Then I saw one of my friends standing to the side.   It was Jack, a past co-worker who had lost his job.   The red man and the blue man were arguing about what to do about Jack not having a job.   They argued so long that Jack starved to death, and fell over dead right there in the courtroom.

A couple of bailiffs dragged Jack’s body away, and threw it on a pile out back, and the judge called, “Next case!”

Then I saw my friend, Betty, standing where Jack had been.  She was pregnant, and didn’t want to be.   Those two men did the same thing.   They argued back and forth, and back and forth for so long about how to help her that she delivered, but with a complication, and she and the baby died, right there.  Well, they hauled their bodies out to the pile as well, and the judge called the next case.

Then my friend, Bob was in her place.  He was afraid of terrorists.   So, those two guys began arguing about that until a bullet flew in through the window and killed Bob.  They threw him on the pile, and called the next case.

Then I looked and discovered I was now standing in the same place as Jack, and Betty, and Bob had stood.   Fear gripped me, and that’s when I woke up.

13 thoughts on “The Iron Writer Challenge #49 – 2013 Iron Writer Winter Solstice Preliminary Round, Margaret Atwood Bracket

  1. I gotta bad feeling about this …
    I assume that’s NOT one of the elements ……..?
    You said it was just a bracket label!
    That better be just for “atmosphere”.

  2. Good show Richard. I was reminded of Niemöller’s poem “First they came…” in a round about way. I think we both played on the theme of deepening political rifts leading to brutality.

  3. Great job, everyone! This was a difficult task, and you all did very well. I like that Heather chose the path of a light-hearted story. I also think that she did a good job of capturing the competitiveness of a fair. I still remember the time I was shrieked at by a man convinced that I had rigged the beautiful baby competition. Patricia, that was a great tale for this time of year. I enjoyed the non-partesian approach, encouraging everyone to “be the change they would like to see in the world.” Jordan, your story was chilling. I got tickles up and down my spine. Richard, yours as well, for a very different reason, and I liked that you spoke of the evil of indecision, of a stalemate. To give critiques, I felt like the part of the judge was a little awkward. . . if she was that unenthusiastic in the beginning, I’m not sure the rivalry would intrigue her. I felt like it would annoy her. Patricia, it was a great. . . allegory. . . snippet. . . . I don’t know, it just didn’t feel like a story. Richard, I have a problem with the cliche of the dream. . though this was incredibly well done. Jordan, be careful walking the line from character to caricature. All in all, they were well done. Jordan’s and Richard’s were my favorites. . . but I won’t tell which got my vote!

    • If the character/caricature tip was regarding “Shantice”, I totally understand. As soon as I started her up talking I couldn’t lose the voice of one Detta Walker and that one is verily both!

  4. The stories were great, all of them. Definitely high caliber stuff.
    Heather, I really like that you took a “nontraditional” approach with the 4H fair style competition. I enjoyed the silly bickering. Good to read something different.
    Jordan, yours was tough. Good, but tough. Not to be misread as bad. Just one of those hard make you think stories. The only note is a personal preference for me, I think not using real names of politicians can actually evoke a stronger emotional response than using the real current one. But that’s me. Overall, great story. Can’t wait to see more from you.
    Patricia, I enjoyed your take of the four being friends. I thought it was a great insight that we often have strong feeling towards those in other parties, and yet find ourselves fiercely loyal to friends who happen to be in other political parties. I was wondering if I missed what happened to them long ago or if it was intentionally left out. Nice story.
    Richard, wow. Often that’s all I have to say when I read your stuff, as you just think so deeply. I really enjoyed all the aspects of the story. It was deep but not heavy, and left me a bit shaken but not wishing I hadn’t read it (as is often the case with unpleasant things).

    • Thanks Suzann for the critique. I liked Richard’s too. Mine, was meant to be tough. I wanted to rock the boat a bit and make folks think on it. I understand the hesitation to use real names, but I did it for effect.

  5. Well, here is a critiquer who will tell you as it is – I’m still not sure this is the venue, but Brian seems to think it is, and we all know compliments don’t move our writing forward…

    The main problem with 3 of the stories (those of Patricia, Jordan and Heather) is their lack of being a complete story. Each one sets up the situation nicely, describes the middle bit, has interesting characters (particularly Heather’s, but I also enjoyed Jordan’s), certainly has food for thought (especially Patricia’s but all the others too) but poops out in the ending. The reader is left with no sense of completion. All stories, flash fiction or otherwise, should be complete.

    Richard’s piece is a story with a story arc. If he had not had the dream bit at the beginning and the ending, it would not have been a true story, but he set it up that this was a disturbing dream which we the readers kind of forgot as we got involved in what was happening. Then, whammo, we realise, yes, we did know it was a dream. Whew. Well done.

    Jordan, a proof reader would have prevented a couple of errors. Educated people used “I’m” or “He’s”, not “I am” and “He is”, which makes the speeches stilted. Like Shantice, I’m not sure about that degree of violence and why it was necessary in this piece. It left me shaking my head about what it was all about – confusing theoretical ideas and blatant violence.

    Heather, I’d have liked to know our ladies were 70-ish sooner. Such details help in picturing the scene. Beautifully written piece and left me wanting to turn the page – a compliment…but not for flash fiction. You did need an ending.

    Patricia – your piece is closer to being a true story than Jordan’s or Heather’s but still leaves the reader slightly bemused. BTW, I bridled at Marcus being condescending to Sandra. “Cute”? Yuck. I think this story has possibilities if rewritten unconstrained by the 500 word limit. As it is, it leaves the reader dissatisfied – maybe because you have 4 characters and there just isn’t time or room to give enough attention equally to all.

    My suggestion was that critiques should be private, although there is the important factor that we learn when reading critiques of a piece we’ve just read ourselves. Critiques are only useful (and we’re not talking ego here) when they show up something we have not seen ourselves. They are particularly useful when another critiquer makes some of the same points – then we writers know we have to do something about it.

    I do hope you find these comments useful, Jordan, Heather, Patricia and Richard. They are made with that in mind. I always gulp when I get critiqued like this, but rally to appreciate it. I do hope you do too.

    • 500 words is not a lot to tell a complete story. I purposely left the idea of what happened open because I think all of us have something that happened in our life that changed its course. It’s for all of us who can say, “just imagine if that one event was different.”
      Thanks for the feedback–I always appreciate a new set of eyes on my words.

  6. Mame, To me, the judge implied that there was little hope of anyone actually managing this “circus” in an honest and selfless manner; no end in site. The two parties are consumed with self interest/righteousness, and the judge is preoccupied with personal gain. “Justice” goes to those with the deepest pockets, and the average working slob pays the price. Everybody talks about it (in the gallery), but nothing changes. Yes, Jordan, “…and then they came for me.” You can take this to say that the speaker did “wake up”; become aware, but in the version I failed to submit, it ended with, “Then I woke up. Thank God it was just a dream, and I can go back to sleep.” meaning he had become aware, but still wasn’t going to do anything about it.

    (this is Richard. Not Carol)

  7. I really liked Heather’s piece in this bracket, because even though I didn’t know what lefse was at first glance, it was fully explained within the story and offered a unique twist on all of the elements, from the concept of judging, to the liberal and conservative parties, and even the victim. I really liked the concept of a cooking competition, and the not-so-friendly vibe of the cooks involved.

    For “Angst,” I don’t normally like dream pieces, but thought this was a good example, with its symbolic take on political issues and the swiftness (or lack thereof) of justice. But, as with most dream pieces, I don’t care for the ending of “and then I woke up,” since it ultimately leaves the piece unresolved, pawning it off as “oh, it was just a dream!”

    “Judicator” started off promising, with two people tied up, blindfolded, trying to figure out where they are and why. I also found it interesting that it was a political take on the elements. Ultimately, however, I didn’t like the way the judge was unknown to both parties, and then meted out vengeance in the form of murder, since it didn’t seem like the punishment fit the crime here. Maybe if the judge were someone both of these people knew personally, it would seem less far-fetched to me.

    For “Options,” I liked that there were four old friends of different political persuasions sitting around playing dominoes together. This seemed like a realistic depiction of old schoolmates, who may have grown apart over the years, although I think perhaps a little more tension would have helped, as I didn’t see the “victim” element used at all in this piece. Another issue is that there is mention of a mysterious event that took place on graduation day that changed everyone’s life, but this is not further explained or explored. What happened, and how does it play into this story? Finally, the ending stepping into 2nd person (“change your world”) didn’t work for me, as it didn’t seem to connect with the rest of the piece by addressing the reader directly.

    • Thank you, Laura, for sharing your thoughts.I found them all very interesting. I agree with you about “and then I woke up”. I wanted to imply that he “woke up” to the severity of the situation; that he was in denial until he was threatened personally, and then he realized something need to be changed. Your comment helps me see I need to be clearer. In another version, I had him wake up and say, “Thank God it was just a dream. Now I can go back to sleep.” With that I wanted to imply that when he realized it was only a dream, he was going to chose to return to apathy. In this case the story would have been a tragedy.

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