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Hiding in Plain Sight · Original Minific ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 500–900
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The Altar
The residents of a quiet town in rural Belarus woke to a rather peculiar sight one Friday morning. The mist cleared before the sun was even halfway over the horizon, though it lingered on in their heads, for the weekend could never come soon enough, and alcohol was never too expensive. An old lady screamed for her son, crossing herself non-stop with one hand and dragging the wet linen across the dew-coated yard with the other. Once the pale young man emerged, she pointed a bony finger toward the square at the center of town, babbling about the statue that stood there. He cursed at her and clutched his head, asking where she put the rest of his drink from last night. When she would not stop saying prayers, he finally leaned over the fence to take a look, then promptly tumbled over it and threw up into the ditch. Between each cough and gasp for air, he would beg for forgiveness, trembling as he stole glances at the monument in the distance.

More and more frantic voices rang out across the town, and people streamed onto the streets, slowly approaching the tall bronze figure dominating the green island where the roads to the big cities met. A ring of faint vapor remained around the base, obscuring the name and date written on it, even as the air went bone dry in the rest of town. The winos rolled onto their bellies on the wet grass, roused from their slumber by all the commotion, their complaints dying in their throats once their gaze followed that of the growing crowd. Children laughed and pulled on their parents' gowns, pointing at the remains of the mist and the rider on the pedestal. The adults tried to hold them back, though they too could only stare in awe at the statue, unable to stop their own feet from dragging them toward it.

The militsioner blared his sirens at the impromptu crowd, which reached the edge of the square at that point, warning them of creating a traffic hazard. Yet getting run over was the least of their concerns, as any car that would normally speed through this lonely town now came to a screeching halt the moment the square came into view. The audience of the statue grew and grew, though none would dare step within an arm's length of the marble base, or even into that ethereal fog surrounding it. Murmurs went back and forth, with few raising their voices, mostly just to call out each other's names in the crowd. Grown men and women could be heard sobbing and praying, while the young just laughed and ran back and forth, pushing past the fearful adults to get to the first row, to see past the forest of tall, shivering limbs.

Within minutes, almost every living soul in town had congregated at the square. Not since the great victory parade over half a century ago had any event attracted so many people, let alone so early. Silence took over from the strained whispering, as even the late arrivals no longer dared to open their mouths. Even the children stopped dancing and singing, only their smiles still speaking of their joy. The sun gently crept over the heads of the crowd, its orange rays painting the swirling clouds around the base of the statue. Warmth flowed through the air, the mist cleared, and the residents gradually followed suit. Once they saw the golden letters engraved into the marble once more, they turned around and left the square. Traffic returned to its normal pace, and the militsioner parked his car next to the old mill and went back to sleep.

The doctor, who was out of town to buy a house, only heard of the event the next day from his patients. One of them swore that the great horse had grown wings, and the wind they made could uproot trees. Another said the knight sitting on it no longer wore his helmet, and his eyes shone with a bright light, more piercing than the midday sun. The mayor invited the doctor over for dinner, and after the second bottle, he claimed that blood trickled from the blade in the knight's hand, while the horse wept big silver tears. The liturgy on Sunday began with the faithful being warned not to listen to the blasphemies the bronze figure spoke, yet none but the preacher could remember hearing them. When the doctor asked the children, they would only giggle and run away.

He stumbled toward the grassy knoll, the bottle he took from the mayor's house swinging by his side. In the dim light of the moon, he checked what remained of its contents, then dropped it next to a wino sleeping near the gravel path. The bronze horse stood on its hind legs before him, the rider clutching the reins and holding his sword high. Silver light gleamed on the letters on the base. Just a name and a year. No wings, no blood, no tears. A pair of teenagers sat between the hooves, rolling cigarettes. The smoke from their nostrils formed little swirling clouds around the marble pedestal.

"Who are you?" the doctor said. One of the teenagers glanced at him, but he had already turned away, walking back down the path. The rider remained in its silent, victorious pose.
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#1 ·
I have no idea what's going on. The statue, which had been in place for a long time, suddenly on this particular morning appeared differently to each person viewing it? I can't make heads nor tails of this story.
#2 · 2
My review:

Plot and Pacing: The strongest selling point, which is both important and difficult to achieve in the flash format. So, many points on you for that one. I was very genuinely interested in the mystery, which progressed at just the right pace, neither underselling the intrigue, nor overstaying its welcome.

I admit, when I read the line about the cigarettes, and stopped to think and resolve the mystery, I thought, "Oh no, not the Mushroom Samba episode"... That device just always seemed so awkward and unfunny to me. But then when the story ended three sentences later, I realized that delicately leaving it to the reader's imagination avoided every negative consequence of the trope and kept it funny and still somewhat mysterious. Major props for that. At least, that is if my hypothesis that it is some sort of mass drug-induced hallucination is correct (the opaque "faint vapor" still remaining around the base during the incident, together with the hint that it was one or more cigarette-smoking teens behind the mystery, makes me think it's plausible. Literally the only explanation I can think of, that connects the dots).

Characters and Dialogue: Of course, there's almost nothing to discuss. Usually a story without character or dialogue can feel monotonous, but that was happily avoided. I might wonder, though, whether adding another line or two about the Doctor could be even greater (Is he a wino, too? Or is he our One Sane Man? Is he even interested in the statue? Seems not, since it seems to indicate a lot of time passed before he even visited it).

Style, Flow, and Grammar: Not a grammatical mistake was spotted. The style seemed standard but effective. The Slavic flourishes like "militsioner" were a nice touch. The "flow" seemed slightly criticizable at times (but this is a very subjective thing): E.g. "An old lady screamed for her son, crossing herself non-stop with one hand and dragging the wet linen across the dew-coated yard with the other. Once the pale young man emerged, she pointed a bony finger toward the square at the center of town, babbling about the statue that stood there." It took me a moment and a re-read to understand the situation, since what does the wet linen have to do with it? I would imagine that such a frightful site would cause one to momentarily stop doing laundry, but apparently not.

Final: All in all, this fic will rank quite highly on my vote.
#3 ·
Good Stuff: This starts off establishing its mystery in just the right way, slowly describing the people's reactions and then slowly working towards the statue itself. That's very well done! There's also the seed of a good idea here too. I was reminded of those statues in real life which were said to weep and bleed, and I like it when a story takes mysteries from real life and offers an explanation for them. The prose is very straightforward, if a little too reliant on adjectives sometimes, but gave the matter-of-fact delivery very well.

Bad Stuff: What is going on? After the intrigue early on, I feel like the writing just kept hammering in the same point without really explaining anything. You kept telling us about people's reactions, and then a little later about the statue's appearance, but nowhere in there did I find an actual explanation for why. Readers like mystery up to a point, but when we get to the end, you should ditch that and be as clear and open as possible, otherwise we feel cheated. I also strongly disliked the repetitive huge paragraphs; that kind of formatting seems amateurish, and it's definitely not a welcome sight.

Verdict: Needs Work. Like a lot of entries I've read, this has a good idea in there, but the development of that idea isn't there and the following bits disappoint. As much as it's delightful to have a mystery on our hands, sooner or later you have to give a clear answer, or else it isn't satisfying to invest so much reading time on vagueness. We don't come away with anything, which in some ways is worse than you trying something and me disagreeing with it; at least I'd feel like you had a point to make that way. I'd also chop up those paragraphs as a kindness to your reader; nothing's more discouraging than seeing big blocks of same-looking text.
#4 ·
· · >>DumpsterDweller
a quiet town in rural Belarus: that’s an outstanding example of a double pleonasm in four words: quiet/rural and rural/Belarus. Kudos for that!

Review to come tomorrow. I need sleep
#5 · 1
This is my favourite so far by a lot.

I just, I love shit like this. And I say 'shit' in the most endearing of ways. Subtlety, intrigue, and an open-ended ending, count me all the way the fuck in. But after first and second reading of this story, I still struggled to find out what it was trying to say. Mystery for the sake of mystery just feels like withholding of information, instead of anything worthwhile.

After I've read the third time, though, it's starting to click a little bit. In fact, it all seems so simple now, so maybe I'm about to blab about things already known, but I don't care I'm all excited now. I'm going to spoiler tag this, because people should read the story first and get their own idea before seeing mine.

The title is obviously a clue—it's religious, despite the story not appearing so on first glance. But then I noticed that the visions that each person saw seemed to match their personalities, or more accurately, they give us a window into their personalities. The drunkard begs for forgiveness from what he saw. The political figure sees something invoking a poignant and bloody battle. The children saw something silly. The miscellaneous patients simply saw a great and powerful being.

They're all seeing God, but not the "real" one, so to speak, but their own interpretation of what he might be. What made all this click was when I re-read the ending and understood what had happened. At first I thought the doctor was speaking to the teenager, who walked away mysteriously, but it's the doctor who walks away, and he didn't ask them who they were. He asked the statue. The doctor's just seen his version of God. And he didn't know what to make of him. The doctor represents the intellectuals who are adamant that they don't believe in the notion of God, yet are unable to truly let the big question go. Or, perhaps he's looking at the regular statue, but understanding what's just happened, asked a simple question about what the big idea was, giving everyone visions like that.

One of my favourite things about stories like these is that I could be completely mistaken, and the author might be scratching their heads or laughing at this comment right now. But that doesn't mean my interpretation, or anyone else's, is wrong. And that's kind of what art is. It doesn't have to spout a message at you and shove it in your face, it just has to make you want to find a message, and you can do the rest of the work yourself.

When all this clicked, this story rocketed from a tepid mid-tier story to an easy top-slater. I'm not done all my stories but I think this will safely stay there for feeling the most original, and the most artistic, of the lot.

Thanks for writing!
#6 · 1
Hmmm… The pic holds its own, but I agree it’s difficult to wrap one's mind around it. It’s probably trying to describe a collective alcoholic hallucination case, where each one sees something different, somehow interprets their own way what the others are seeing?

Over all not bad, but still you’ll have to explain me why you chose such an exotic place, or if this is somehow related to a true story.
#7 ·
This one is also a bit difficult to comment on, as there seems to be a lot going on, yet nothing at the same time. In many ways, it feels like the story took the easy way out, so to speak. Mysteries easily catch one's attention, and they avoid the trouble of an ending that can please everyone, but it exchanges that for the problem of leaving the reader wanting more, which is probably the main issue of this entry.

The "small town" setting is always good for such mysteries (especially if they're supernatural), but the setting must also justify its use. We need to know why this particular place was chosen, and how the characters contrast with the events. While we do get some good glimpses here and there, it's not quite enough for the story to have the real punch it's going for. Rather than go deeper into these details, it hides behind more "mysteries".

That aside, it's still a good and rather puzzling (in a good way) read. While I'm harsh on the "mystery" aspect, the details do still give the reader plenty of hints to construct their image of the place and the truth of what happened. My guess is that the doctor thought the whole thing was bogus, but after one late night binge, he went to check the statue for himself and did not see anything out of the ordinary, yet was still wondering what could have possessed the others.
#8 · 2
· · >>Monokeras

Word of advice for the future: unless you're the editor, or if the story is chock full of glaring mistakes, only point out things like this if you can contextualize it in a useful way (e.g "it ruins the flow of the narration and does not help with immersion") Doing it just for a cheap laugh is bad form, to put it mildly. "Hey, I know you wrote a whole story, but GUESS WHAT, I only noticed that (debatable) mistake in the first sentence!"
#9 ·
· · >>DumpsterDweller
You mean the quiet town in Belarus thing? It was a joke, mate. I’m sorry it didn’t come across as such, but take it easy! :P
#10 · 1

No hard feelings. :)
#11 · 2
By the way, I really regret this story didn't advance into the finals. It was good.