In 2010 I entered the National Flash Fiction Challenge. There are four rounds in this particular contest, the first two guaranteed and the third and fourth are determined by how you place in your heat. I was fortunate enough to place in the top 25 in the nation at the end of three essays. Unfortunately, due to some unforeseen circumstances that were out of my control, I was unable to finish the fourth round. However, I was proud to have placed high enough to make it to the fourth round. Here is the first essay that I entered. The genre I was assigned was fantasy, probably my least favorite genre to write, however I dove in with gusto and came out with something that I think is pretty cool. With that, I invite you to enjoy the first installment of Flash Fiction Friday…
The first rule of the Dargum Classic was that all floating had to be done through acute concentration, levitation lenses being strictly verboten. It was such a staunchly respected rule that in the three and a quarter centuries since the first Classic was held between the two feuding clans of Hennas, no contender had dared to challenge it. Which is precisely why, when a wayward honeybug serendipitously landed on the nipple of the Dagg’s side of the Bust of the Blessed MilkMead, all hell broke loose.
It wasn’t as if the tension surrounding the second 17th running of the Dargum Classic wasn’t high enough already, what with the first 17th Classic having been suspended and declared null and void when Dexter Dagg accused Rego Nabbitt of being under the influence of nogweed. (Not that nogweed could be considered “performance enhancing” by any means, but the intent to cast a shadow on Rego’s character simply reaffirmed the Daggs’ prejudices that the Nabbitts were an undisciplined and unworthy lot.) No, the tension was certainly present. Particularly since this would be the third attempt to win the coveted Bangur—the seventh and final piece of the Dargum Delight. As prophesied, the winner of the Bangur would be the clan to whom the sacred secret of the Dargum Dish would be revealed.
The event started quite normally, with Sulki Dagg and Diggem Nabbitt hovering inverted above the Bust of the Blessed MilkMead, mouths open, ready to receive the flow of the Goddess’s nectar. The spectators buzzed with excitement as the 742-year old judge emerged from the mahogany slide that had delivered Hybrix to referee the event since the days of the dispute that led to the implementation of the Dargum Classic.
Sulki and Diggem bobbed up and down as Hybrix inspected, tapped, prodded, and interrogated each of them. Satisfied with what she had seen, Hybrix flew to the center of the arena and cleared her throat to deliver the same speech that she had delivered 325 years prior at the first running of the Classic and had delivered every twenty-five years since. Sulki sneered at Diggem, who simply smirked and wiggled his big toe in one last moment of freedom before he locked it together with Sulki’s in a toe-wrestling competition for the ages.
“Hey, Judge,” a voice jeered from the crowd, “The toenail on that Nabbitt looks a bit long. Are you sure it passed inspection?”
Hybrix’s iridescent judicial robes sent a shower of colors bouncing around the arena, her wings fluttering faster in annoyance at the disruption. She glared down her long lavender snout in search of the heckler, her bulging eyes finally coming to rest on the smug visage of Middy Dagg sitting in the seats reserved for past Classic contenders. Such an impudent and pompous cuss, Hybrix thought to herself as she inhaled sharply and churned a belch in her diaphragm. You’d think that she’d won the ebony Obum, not her grandfather.
Hybrix pursed her lips and blew, sending a burp-puff floating over the Dagg side of the arena. When the cloud reached Middy, it hovered over her bouffant, released a shrill whistle, and exploded in a stench of bogwater and horsesweat. Middy gagged and gasped for breath, throwing darts at Hybrix through her weepy eyes, but she knew that she’d been warned.
The crowd hushed as Hybrix did a cartwheel to signal the start of the event. In a voice as quiet as a quail’s whisper and as soothing as a butterbird’s song, Hybrix began to chant:
Three centuries and thirty-three years ago
The Dargum Dish appeared in the Hennas Bistro.
The result of her appearance, she hadn’t foreseen
That very morning, two clan leaders convened
To settle some differences over what’s wrong and what’s right
That had vexed the two clans for innumerable nights.
For the Daggs saw things one way, and the Nabbitts saw them another
As sure as a Dagg would say sister, a Nabbitt would say brother.
The Dish tried to mediate, interject some good cheer,
But the two sides grew tense over things they held dear.
Her secret was so apt, yet she could not reveal
The entire message before the end of the meal.
For Grabb Nabbitt had reached with his knife through the air
And nicked the last sausage without even a care.
“You could have asked,” Graygon Dagg had chided
“What are these rules?” Nabbitt scoffed. “Who decided?”
“Oh, you Nabbitts have no manners, no morals, no compunction.
We Daggs have it right, you Nabbitts live in dysfunction.”
“You boast that you Daggs have it right,” Grabb Nabbitt growled with a smirk
“Perhaps, but each Dagg is a self-righteous and arrogant jerk,
Who adores himself so mightily that he’s made himself blind
To the struggles and needs of the rest of Hennas-kind.”
Grabb leaned on his elbows, dug into the tabletop
And swallowed the whole sausage, his lips smacked with a pop.
With that one gesture, Graygon Dagg was so offended
That he slammed his fists on the table, stood tall and up-ended
The chair on which the Dargum Dish sat fused
Watching the exchange completely bemused.
Such disrespect angered the Dargum Dish, and rightfully so.
She steamed, “I give you this warning and then I will go.
Your clans will continue this ridiculous fight
Lest you learn the secret of the Dargum Delight.
I leave you thirteen trophies, six pairs, one per clan
Three-hundred years you’ll battle to fulfill my grand plan.
There’s Phatbach, Frootable, Shroom, Obum, Mung and Doh
As for the last, the Bangur, it stands on its own
The winner of the final battle, with Bangur in hand
Will complete the collection and everyone will understand
That the secret of the Dargum Delight will be near
Because then, only then, will the Dish reappear.”
Hybrix ended her incantation and wondered if this would finally be the day that the Dargum Dish fulfilled her prophecy, or if hope had long since been abandoned since the three-hundred year deadline had already passed. She raised her eyes to the Bust of the Blessed MilkMead for the signal that the time had arrived.
The first droplets of nectar appeared, wetting the carved alabaster, and Hybrix took Sulki’s big toe in her right hand and Diggem’s in her left. The roar of the crowd almost drowned out the insults that Sulki and Diggem were hurling at each other, but not enough to make them stop. With a flick of her wrist, Hybrix quickly spun Diggem and Sulki the requisite eight times before the official start of the Classic. At the eighth rotation, the two contestants opened their mouths to drink the nectar from the Blessed MilkMead and locked big toes, fighting with grit and determination for the pride of their respective clans, but also for the blessed end of the Dargum Classic.
Hybrix flitted around the two, watching for any spilled nectar, which would be an automatic disqualification, and once again appreciated the wisdom of the High Court who had envisioned and developed the Dargum Classic. It took them eight years to work out the details, but the event had stood the test of time, and its difficulty was nothing short of spectacular. Forcing the two contestants to drink knowledge from the Bust of the Blessed MilkMead while waging war with their feet locked had proven to be an impossible task, which is exactly why in the twelve Classics in which there was a clear winner, the victories had only come through a contender’s disqualification, either through spilling the nectar or unlocking the toes.
This year Hybrix noticed that the competitors were doing uncharacteristically well. Diggem and Sulki each held his own, taking long, well-timed gulps of the flowing nectar while maintaining good position in the toe-wrestling match. Diggem had a pattern down of two long gulps to four fast toe jabs and Sulki countered with six quick swallows to one forceful attempt at a toe-pin. If this continues, Hybrix thought, the match might end on a draw because the Blessed MilkMead has run out of nectar.
Suddenly a drop of the sacred substance fell from Diggem’s lips, and Hybrix thought a disqualification was inevitable, but a quick flick of his tongue kept the nectar in play and Diggem in the match.
The noise from the crowd reverberated through the arena, making it especially difficult for Hybrix to stay upright as she watched Sulki’s big toe for any sign of disengagement during his long pin attempts. It was because of her intense focus on Sulki’s big toe that she missed the split-second during which Diggem placed a drop of honey on the Dagg’s side of the bust in an attempt to disrupt the flow of nectar to Sulki’s mouth.
The result came sooner than expected, as an enormous and hungry honeybug landed directly on the Dagg’s nipple. Sulki looked up from his visual berating of Hybrix’s close inspection just as the honeybug’s dangling leg entered the stream, sending the sweet liquid straight into Sulki’s eye. With a yelp, Sulki rubbed the juices out of his eye and inadvertently dislodged a very obvious violation of the Dargum Classic rules. There was no hiding the levitation lens that floated onto the back of his hand.
Diggem hollered his disapproval, yelling a slew of insults, with “No good, lying cheater!” being the least offensive of them all. His objections were muffled slightly when Hybrix pointed out the fact that a honeybug was lodged in a rather large spot of honey, something that had not been present on the curves of the alabaster bust at the start of the competition.
The Daggs were irate that the Nabbitts had exposed their treachery while attempting to hide their own. Utterly convinced of their rightful victory of the match, the Daggs charged the stage to take the Bangur from its pedestal and place it with their remaining trophies. The Nabbitts quickly joined in the brawl, attempting to wrestle the Bangur away to complete their own collection. As Diggem and Sulki continued to float at the Bust of the Blessed MilkMead, all the while arguing their cases to a weary and fed up Hybrix, chaos reigned below.
Goshe Nabbitt had his hands on the Bangur, but was elbowed in the chest by Dext Dagg. Dext then lost the prize when Little Porte Nabbitt stomped on his right foot. Starr Dagg smacked Porte upside the head and took possession of the Bangur as she tried to stuff it down her shirt. The melee came to a grinding halt when Shuan Nabbitt tackled Starr, sending the trophy flying high into the air, straight past Hybrix and right onto the Bust of the Blessed MilkMead, shattering the figure into smithereens. The hush of the crowd gave way to wails and sobs of grief as the reality of what their fury had done hit each and every Dagg and Nabbitt in the arena.
Hybrix slowly fluttered to the remains of the Bust and picked up the Bangur. Without a word, she took Sulki’s right hand and Diggem’s left and led them to the cases where their clans’ trophies were displayed. Together they opened the cases and placed the pairs of Phatbachs, Frootables, and Shrooms along with the Obums, Mungs, and Dohs into one large pile. Hybrix, Diggem, and Sulki added the Bangur on top and awaited the appearance of the Dish.
In a brilliant cloud of smoke, Hybrix spun 888 times and reappeared as the effervescent Dargum Dish from centuries before. She placed her hand on Diggem’s right cheek and Sulki’s left cheek, peered into their eyes with a loving gaze, and spoke.
“My friends, all you Daggs and all you Nabbitts. You have learned that you cannot simultaneously drink from the fountain of knowledge and wage war on the ground. If you put other’s needs first and you will never have to face this dilemma.”
With the secret of the Dargum Delight revealed, the Dargum Classic was no more.