Congratulations to CJ Erick, whose story Fish Woman Sea has been chosen for inclusion in The Best Small Fictions 2023. Out of thousands of works considered for this anthology, only 110 were selected.
Originally published in the September 2022 issue of Brilliant Flash Fiction, Erick’s story was nominated for the BSF anthology by our editorial team.
CJ Erick’s stories have appeared in anthologies from WMG Publishing, WordFire Press, and others. He won the FenCon short story competition in 2015. He writes in multiple genres, publishes novels in a space fantasy series, and dabbles in poetry. He’s an MFA student in creative writing at Lindenwood University, and an editorial assistant for the Lindenwood Review. He lives in Dallas area with his wife and their rescue superhero dog Saber-Girl, calls his sourdough bread starter “Ursula” (K. Le Guin), and cooks crazy-good Cajun food for a Midwest Yankee.
This year 758 writers submitted their brilliant work, and our editors had a difficult time choosing a shortlist of 15, as well as the top three prizewinners. Congratulations to everyone who earned a place on the short and long lists this year.
First Prize: Brittle Battle, chosen by Editor Charline Poirier
Charline’s Comments: “Brittle Battle” transports readers into a mesmerizing and unique world. The story opens with Minerva, a warrior, leading a battle on an alien planet at sunset. The glass miniature soldiers are shattered into pieces with transfixing energy. The sensory details of the combat are so rich and vivid that they engulf the reader, yielding for her a memorable experience. Cay Macres’ voice, hauntingly melancholic, adds a layer of complexity to the violence of war. The imagery and figurative language float like an iceberg, hinting at deeper meanings beneath the surface. The combination of Macres’ eloquence and imagination makes “Brittle Battle” an impressive achievement.
“Swear to God,” Uncle Ted said, “they ought to herd them all onto an old aircraft carrier, paint it pink, and set it afloat in the Atlantic.” Deep chuckles rumbled across the uncles and adult male cousins assembled in a circle of rusting aluminum lawn chairs in Ted’s backyard. Dad laughed too, looking around like he knew he shouldn’t be.
The smell of the grass cut fresh that morning had already burned away leaving cigarette smoke, beer, and grilling beef to scent the McCarthy-Patelli annual picnic. Ted, my mother’s brother, was a Patelli and Patellis didn’t require shade nor did they ever feel compelled to offer it to guests. As I stood next to Dad struggling to twist the cap off the beer I’d been sent to fetch, sweat ran freely off my eleven-year-old sunburned, closely-shorn scalp and down my apple-shaped McCarthy face to soak into my three-quarter sleeve Rangers jersey. Mom told me not to wear it because I’d be too hot but the Rangers were pretty much the only thing my Patelli cousins talked about.
It was too late for the grandkids when the dancing kicked off, but our party began long ago. 100 seconds to midnight, and it’s D-I-S-C-O. We lit up as jellyfish phosphoresced, octopuses threw shapes and the bass kaboomed. Chat-up lines were everywhere—molluscs whispered into shell-likes, and deep in the depths, where we’d rock-pooled as children, we tittered as a mussel got pulled.
Saturday night fever. The temperature rising. Tentacles, fins, floundering, failing. And frantic for oxygen amongst all our toxins, the silver-shoaled mirrorball’s spun gasping, hypoxic.
‘Spin faster,’ we squealed. ‘We’ve energy to burn. And you can’t stop us now.’
It wasn’t just chemicals; we had a glint in our eyes. Glittery, glistening, we spiraled, euphoric. We were fast, high—just where we wanted to be. We were having a whale of a time.
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The gymnasium is packed with most of the school. As each row of teenage meat smashes in together, an oppressive heat starts burdening the small arena. Winter coats squelch against each other, puffy and undefinable in space. The teachers shush the murmurs with varied enthusiasm. Mr. Leroy sneaks to the men’s room to drink Wild Turkey and pray to the school mascot. The students’ buzzing blends together into a unified cacophony, like a swarming hive.
Step Three: You are assigned an editor and will receive a critique within 2 weeks. You’ll be able to respond to this feedback, ask for clarification, and discuss edits with her/him for a further revision.
“Yooo! All dirty mongrels and mangy curs to the basement!”
That’s what I call them cause they’re actually dogs.
“You know I mean business, so get off your asses and be ready. I’m coming for you all whether you’re sitting or doing that submissive thing on your backs with your paws up.”
They should know by now this game is called Gorilla vs Dogs. I show up in the basement with a gorilla mask on and race around the empty carpeted floor swinging my arms. Most seem to forget the rules, but they re-learn real fast when the gorilla singles them out for attack.
“You know about my advanced status! Even as a big ape, I’m millions of years more advanced than even the smartest of you pretend professors, and I don’t give a toot if Phoenix the poodle knows 67 words.”
July 30, Noon – 1 p.m. (Mountain Time/Denver, CO, USA)
Suggested donation: $10 (Click the button on our Home Page to donate)
Join us Saturday, July 30, at noon (Denver time) to learn about creating dazzling endings for your flash fiction stories. Workshop leader Todd Mitchell is an award-winning author who directs the Beginning Creative Writing Teaching Program at Colorado State University. Read more about Todd here: toddmitchellbooks.com.
Judge Pamela Painter had the difficult task of choosing a winner, two finalists, and shortlist for this year’s writing contest. We received over 1,000 international entries that kept our editors busy for months. Special thanks goes out to Assistant Editor Charline Poirier for her tireless efforts and, of course, we’d like to thank every writer who submitted an entry.
FIRST PLACE: MARSH OMEN AUGURY
Judge’s Comments: “The unstable situation is introduced right off in a superb first sentence when thirty-three egrets appear as an omen and the locals call in the narrator to interpret it. The natural world of the narrator is filled with the sun, swamp flies, silky mud, reeds and tidal creeks, a keeled water snake, a gator and a hard-shelled turtle—and the egrets that s/he reads for The Truth, which the locals really do not want to hear. They are happy with a half-truth they celebrate with spaghetti dinners and swallow as easily as communion wafers. The startling ending arrives but the writer has prepared us for it well.”
Marsh Omen Augury By L. Michelle Souleret
Thirty-three egrets flew into the salt marsh last night and lined up in a perfect row along an old, slanted pier. The locals chattered nervously at this omen and called me in.
I wade out, ankle-deep then to shinbone in the sun-warmed water, and stand all afternoon, watching. The white birds flap and preen and shuffle, but stay in formation. I wait. The sun passes overhead and swamp flies patter against my arms. My feet sink further into the silky mud. A keeled watersnake ripples past. I wait and I watch and I wait until, at last, a pattern emerges in the sinuous curves of the egrets’ necks and their awkward shifts from foot to foot. Meaning jangles into my brain with the snapping jaw-strength of a gator and the rightness of a hard-shelled turtle in the sun. I fall to my knees, choking, and cough out a glossy tangle of Truth.