59 little words

Death, dogs and decisions

Writing a complete story in 59 words is no easy task. Finding a winner among the hundreds of entries we received in our (mostly) annual Fiction 59 contest this year was no piece of cake either. Our tireless judges waded through piles upon piles of printed e-mails, faxes, lovingly penned letters and near-illegible scrawls to find the best short stories of the bunch.

As usual, common themes emerged. Sometimes it seemed like if a story wasn’t about dying or animals, it was about dying animals. Getting wasted was a popular topic, as were perennial favorites like sex, rednecks and natural disasters.

In the end, it came down to a highly subjective determination based on the originality of the topic combined with quality writing. It also helps when the author includes a name with his or her entry.

Thanks to everyone who entered, especially the kids, whose writing we enjoyed the most. If you didn’t win, don’t worry. There’s always next year.

First place:

by Rob Davidson
Wanda was eight months pregnant. Her husband brought home a big bird, killed that morning. Wanda had to pluck it, cut it—all that. No problem, until she stuck her hand inside to pull out entrails. It was then she got sick. Right there, all over the bird. The feeling of her hand inside, of those guts, still warm.

Rob Davidson is assistant professor of English at California State University, Chico. He is the author of Field Observations: Stories (University of Missouri Press, 2001) and The Master and the Dean: The Literary Criticism of Henry James and William Dean Howells (University of Missouri Press, 2005).

Second place

‘New Year’s Eve 2005”
by Sarah Sautner
Her gaudy party hat towers above her quickly shrinking body. She smiles, steadies herself on the couch and grips the microphone. We watch, sway and sing back-up vocals to “Pretty Woman” while exchanging loaded glances. Everyone understands the situation; no need to bring up the “big C.” She’s returning to Texas tomorrow, and we know tonight is goodbye.

Sarah Sautner, 27, a Chico native, received her bachelor’s degree in English at California State University, Chico, in 2003. She currently is working at BloodSource as a recruitment specialist. In her free time, she enjoys writing, reading, traveling with her husband and playing with her dog, Leo. She will continue to write with the hope of someday penning the great American novel.

Third place

by Joe Goodwin
He always loved guns and war—so long as nobody shot back. It was his job to get the wars started, after all. However, he never could slake the desire to shoot a man for himself.

Beer breath and gun smoke never smelled so good to him, as the quarry hit Texas clay.

“Go fuck yourself, Harry,” he said.

Joe Goodwin, 26, moved to Chico from Indiana four years ago. He works at a consulting firm that helps clean up former gas-station sites.

Honorable mentions

‘59 ABCs”
by Sharon DeMeyer
Aunt Beulah carried down everything from Grandma Helen’s, including Jeremy’s ketchup, leaving me no onion powder. Queen Regina said that Uncle Vinnie wanted Xavier’s Yellow Zonkers. As Beulah calmed down, eating freshly ground hamburger, Isabelle justified keeping long, manicured nails. Old pointed questions remained surrounding Tonia’s unbridled vehemence with Xavier’s youthful zest. All beautiful creatures die, even fairy godmothers.

‘Nude Froot Loops”
by Thwart Chaos
It is not momentous or earth-shattering in any way, but this story does have to be told. See, I work from home, so I can get away with dressing somewhat less formally than other professionals. This morning, while conducting a therapy session over the phone, I was drawing Froot Loops on my nude thigh using several colors of Sharpies.

‘Brokeback Upper Park”
by Noah Moore
It was the sort of night where poetry was written but not recorded. It was I who was searching for somebody, but we also found each other. Eventually we went for a long hot-tub dip, and then a hike, even though our toes froze together. Somehow in foggy winter moonlight, I made out with a weird arsonist kid.

More judges’ favorites

‘Rainy Day Coming”
by William A. Snyder
The media thundered eschatological shock and awe: Comet strike devastates China, near east! Indonesia sinks into ocean! Millions feared dead!

Cold fear clutched my heart. A nightmarish vision of thousand-dollar running shoes rose in my mind and lingered obsessively. Frantic, I rushed downtown to Fleet Feet and bought the last five pairs of size-12 Asics Gel Kayanos.

‘Bad Joke”
by Dennis Bills
“Two cannibals eating a clown for lunch. One turned to the other and asked, ‘This taste funny to you?'” Fred looked at his date, expecting an appreciative laugh at his joke. Instead, she excused herself from the table and left him there with the check. Fred paid the bill, thinking that she did not have a sense of humor.

‘Just One Dog”
by Gabriel Jensen
Standing in a parking lot, hunger slaps my brain. My eyes see a neon “Costco” across the way. A Hebrew National. My mouth starts watering.

Pleading with the woman. “Just one dog,” I say.

Denied access. “Damn.”

Sneaking in the other door, stopped by a woman with a walkie-talkie. “No card, no dog,” she says. I am escorted away.

‘Boys are Numbered”
by Justin Bentley
My boy. Boy, was he growing. Or was he grown, or is he gone? From 2 feet 10 to 10 feet 2, it seems it’s been 20 years. Who knew? He went. He went from standing over 10 feet tall to lying 6 feet under. In just the blink of a life. My boy, he was growing, grown, gone.

‘The Cock and the Hen”
by Belinda Schafer
“Hey,” she yells, and he turns, strutting back, in front of Wal-Mart. Banty chest as obvious as pregnant belly. He reaches her, pecks hard, violently, on the lips four times. She likes it, affection apparently. He turns again; this time she releases a long, expansive curl of cigarette smoke feathering over her shoulder as she watches him walk away.

‘Three Weeks”
by Nick Lind
Barefoot, dirty and sweaty, she thumbed the passing cars on that lonely highway from Vegas to Barstow. Old habits die hard. I eased my old Caddy to the side of the road and opened the passenger door.

Less a wallet, one car and three weeks, unmatched by a lifetime; I stand roadside, dirty and sweaty, thumbing each passing car.

‘Eagles in Winter”
by Carla Humbert
An old woman fed the bald eagles everyday through the winter with scraps she gleaned from the fishing boats. One day the Alaskan Wildlife Council informed her she would have to stop interfering with the natural flow of the environment. Nobody thought to offer her protection from the convocation of eagles that showed up the next day expecting breakfast.

‘Lunch in Norcal”
by Jenny Lee
Girlfriends laughing in the sun, enjoying a peaceful lunch. Man walks by. “This isn’t your town,” he smirks as he leads his wife along. “What was that all about?” I ask. Blank stares except from one. “I get it all the time,” she replies. We still don’t get it. We see we’re friends and locals; he sees she’s black.

‘Hanging in There”
by Casey Sauer
While going through an especially bad patch, people would often greet me with “How’s it going?” I would reply, “Hanging in there,” silently seeing myself, fingernails dug in, trying to pull up and over to a safe and saner time. My blood drips down the backs of my hands, but, yeah, I’m hanging in, while hanging on to memories.

‘Final Performance”
by Julie Scarpelli
Victoria pulled out her gold silk dress and feathered hat. “Smashing, darling,” she smirked. Grabbing the champagne and crystal glass, she raced out the door—no time to lose! She looked into the bright lights: “Cheers, honey!” The horrified engineers stared as the freight train roared its applause for her final performance. She would be in all the papers.

‘The Red Morning”
by Kyle Landes
He rose with a sigh and summoned his squire. It was another day to be filled with blood and bruises, with death and injuries. It would end with one house sworn to either Lannisted or Stark falling. He mounted his horse in his white armor and rode into the red morning to taint the field again with enemies’ blood.