The I Must Be Off! 2016 Top Ten or maybe . . .

Eighteen! This year we received so many entries that we've decided to publish a few more than ten. Paola Fornari has narrowed the entries down to a Top 18. In the coming weeks, each of the pieces below will go live on the date indicated.

While first and second places have been decided, there is still a Readers' Choice Award to be won. This award is based on page views divided by the number of days live at I Must Be Off! Comments both here and on the I Must Be Off! Facebook page will be taken into consideration as well. It doesn't matter if the comments are positive or negative; only the number of comments from unique commenters matters.

Congratulations to everyone on the list below! We loved all of your stories so much that we just couldn't leave any of you out. The list below is order of publication date. Thank you to Paola Fornari for providing comments. First and second places will be announced on September 30.

Top 18 in Order of Publication:

David and the Girl by Cari Oleskewicz -- August 15

Set in Florence, this tightly-structured story hinges around a dramatic turning point in the middle:

'She gasps.
With that gasp, the day has changed and so has the girl.'

A wonderful portrayal of a rich, conspirational mother-daughter relationship, and of the transformational power of artistic beauty.

Muerte! Muerte! by Benjamin Woollard -- August 17

We accompany the writer to a bullfight in Seville. The sensitive subject is tackled in a nonjudgmental way, and leads us to question our own self-righteousness. 'I do not condemn...even the could I when I myself watched in semi-sickened fascination?' The images are stark: 'We see crimson leak from the bull's back, painting the arena Pollock-style.'

The Chase by Moira Ashley -- August 19

We are dropped right into the middle of a South African game park: 'I gasped and sat up straight as a meerkat...''. One of the story's strengths is the writer's self-deprecating humour: '"Crouching lion cubs!" had turned out to be nothing more than termite mounds.' Information about the wildlife is skillfully woven in to the author's personal narrative, with evocative images: '...the fleeting gleam of amber iris as a head turned...'

The Seven Headless Dwarfs by Matthew Wolfe -- August 22

Backstage in Disney World. Which of us has ever bothered to wonder what the 'unmasked' Disney characters do, think or feel when they're taking a break?  Have we ever imagined them as 'real people'? With quirky humour and absolute consistency in style, we are introduced to each dwarf in turn as they 'behead' themselves. Vivid descriptions:  'The white beard fell across Sleepy's half-moon eyes like a bad combover.'

The Fairies of Faerie Glen by Michele Ivy Davis -- August 24

Unpretentious, authoritative yet playful writing which delves deep into the secret world of the little people...'I've heard tales that the queen dresses in white linen...' What an original way for the reader to visit the Isle of Skye and discover its mysteries.

Wild Encounter by Graham Mercer -- August 26

One of the many strengths of this story is the minimalistic characterization: the 'fixer', Farouk, is the type who clings to you 'as serendipitously as dandelion seeds in the summer breeze', and the driver, Kiran, smokes 'with the intensity of a man about to face a firing squad'. Great humour, great suspense, and the ending could not be more satisfying, nor more economically stated.

A Thousand Cranes by Mandy Huggins -- August 29

Delicately folded paper cranes: what could contrast more starkly with the horror of Hiroshima? A bag of leaflets scattered on the ground brings our writer into contact with Hitoshi, who relates the story of how his family was affected by the bomb. His message is one of peace, echoed by the writer in the final sentence. '..I paused for a moment to place my own hope for peace alongside the others.'

A Day Out on the Death Railway by Toni Marie Ford -- August 31

Much more than an account of a dark episode in history. With sparse writing, the writer grabs your guts and makes you question everything you once believed: 'In certain situations, and given the right incentive to do so, are we all capable of inflicting torture?'

The Good Times Roll by Maggie Downs -- September 2

Laos: a laid-back little country off the beaten track, where barefoot saffron-clad monks gather alms on the banks of the Mekong. But no, here we are drawn into something different, darker: the unknown 'underworld' of breaking curfews in Luang Prabang...ending up in...nothing more sinister than a bowling alley! Great suspense, great humour.

The Great Out-There by Jonny Blostone -- September 5

In this whirl around the planet, we soul-search with our writer, who learns so much about himself and the world on his travels. 'I thought about my own scars, how lucky I was that they couldn't begin to compare.' We root for him as he flies home, that his story may start 'at the end'...and we look forward to the sequel.

Unaccompanied Baggage by John Philipp -- September 7

We enter the writer's mind in a Woody Allen-type romp around an airport lounge, in which his OCD tendencies escalate to sheer panic: 'Senses ratcheted to up to Red Alert. My head whirled around...I was alone and face-to-face with...' And then...wham bump tumble crash down to reality. Superb. 

A Glimpse of the Future Coming from the Past by Paula Veselovschi -- September 9

This story turned my vision of the world and of communication upside down. The author describes Aymara, an indigenous language spoken in several countries of South America, a language which '...sees the future as behind us...' The future behind us...what a comforting idea.

The Heart of What Matters by Elizabeth Eidlitz -- September 12

A dip into an 'amniotic warm' underwater realm in which dolphins reign: '...they may choose our company, or not.' But there is much more than that to this story of unconditional love: we are drawn into a mindful world in which we rediscover the value of 'unselfconscious pleasure'.

Vladi's Castle by Nathaniel Morris -- September 14

An impromptu trip in the Albanian Alps, filled with quirky cross-cultural misunderstandings... 'I was now saddled with a new identity: Naim the English Muslim...' After a four-hour climb with our writer, an elderly  couple welcome us, total strangers, into their homes and their hearts. '...Zef and his wife bedded down on the floor and ordered that I take their freshly made-up bed.' Such magnanimity.

A Very Cuban Lesson in Kindness by Ruth Colmer -- September 16

In this neatly structured story we meet Cuban generosity at its best through a chance encounter between the writer and a lively elderly couple. I fell in love with Papa, the man with the 'near washboard stomach'. What pride in his 'fawn-like' gait, what openness, what love, what joie de vivre. I want to be like Papa when I'm eighty-four.

A Kiss of Oranges and Myrtle on Crete by Mihaela Lica Butler -- September 19

Here the writer builds a strong, instinctive bond with a stranger - a fruit seller - and shows us a first-hand instance of 'filoxenia', the inexplicable Cretan 'love for strangers' which is touchingly contagious. The story brings tears to my eyes each time I read it.

Finding Atlantis by Hal Ackerman -- September 21

We are hooked at the start into what is to be both an archeological and a personal journey: it's 1969, 'And I went in search of Atlantis with the woman who would some day become my second ex-wife.' Wonderful evocation of the time:  'We travelled Deck Passage amidst our guitar-playing, hash-smoking, moving glob of hippie cytoplasm.' The description of the breakdown in the relationship is stark: 'There were no guardrails to break the fall into the ultimate truth that neither one if us wanted to face...' An oh so sad story, but with a beautiful, uplifting ending.

This is Jalala by Nadia Elkadri -- September 23

Jalala, Lebanon. Twenty-two miles east of Beirut. Hardly top of many people's bucket lists. Even our writer admits travel advisories say 'Don't touch the place with a ten-foot pole'. But people, people like you and me, live in Jalala. Fireworks light up the sky. Adults play cards. Teenagers watch horror movies to mask the horror they are living. Kids play in the streets. And 'The war lingers on like an unwanted stray that you refuse to name in the hope that it'll go away.'


I must be off,


Christopher Allen is the author of Conversations with S. Teri O'Type (a Satire), an episodic adult cartoon about a man struggling with expectations. Allen's writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Juked, Eclectica Magazine's 20th-Anniversary Speculative anthology, Indiana Review, Night Train, The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, and over a hundred other great places. Read his book reviews in [PANK], Necessary Fiction, Word Riot, The Lit Pub, and others. His creative non-fiction has appeared in Chicken Soup for the Soul, Bootsnall Travel, and lots of other fine places. A finalist at Glimmer Train in 2011, Allen has been nominated for Best of the Net, the storySouth Million Writers Award, and the Pushcart Prize. He is the 2015 recipient of Ginosko Literary Journal's award for flash fiction and in 2016 took third place in the K. Margaret Grossman fiction award given by Literal Latté. Allen is the managing editor of SmokeLong Quarterly.


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