Fiction 59: So many choices!

Short-story contest inspires a wealth of entries

Seven hundred thirty-four. That’s how many stories flowed into the Chico News & Review office for our annual Fiction 59 contest. A big number, indeed, especially considering how the judges thought we had a formidable task last year with 545 entries.

Storytellers from across the North State—plus a few from out of state, including Oregon and New York—answered the call. Particularly from the youngest scribes (233 kids 12 and under, 112 teens 13-17), we had a wide range of submissions and some tough decisions. Not many choices were unanimous. Only a few of our favorites didn’t meet the 59-word requirement, disqualifying them.

Hearty congratulations to the creative writers whose works appear on our pages, including the Editor’s Picks. To everyone else, thank you very much for entering—and for making our job so delightfully difficult.

First Place

Dust of hay bales clings to you, like a fine coating of flour on moist chicken breasts. Sizzling and popping in hot grease, like your lost temper, splattering your victims, leaving scars. Old pictures of you, pomade through your hair, the grin on your face doesn’t fool me. I can still hear the tinkle of ice in your glass.

By Sharon DeMeyer

Sharon DeMeyer is a secretary in the English Department at Chico State and a grad student studying English and creative writing. She’s submitted stories to the Fiction 59 contest for about 15 years, she said, and this is the first time she’s broken into the top three.

Second Place

Boss, Featuring Dale
After four days on the job, Dale was canned for insubordination. The boss asked him to leave the premises. Dale stayed until he got satisfaction. The boss’s broken jaw sufficed. But then it was the boss’s turn. Thirty days’ jail and six months’ probation. The boss took up ventriloquism. Six shows a week with wired jaw. Dummy’s name: Dale.

By Kennan McGill

Kennan McGill sells real estate for the federal government by day, but by night his passion is writing and filmmaking. He’s made short films and written fiction—but this is by far the shortest thing he’s ever written.

Third Place

E=mc (Aw, hell no!)
Everything was a blur. I had to get my head together before the cops showed up, but I couldn’t get a fix on where to start. The house—wrecked like a fucking tornado hit. And the smell … (god, that smell!). If that wasn’t enough, Nikki was gone; disappeared, seriously, into thin air! (No … spacetime, dude.) Goddamned machine actually worked.

By Aaron Pico

Aaron Pico is a Chico hairdresser and a band member of The Alternators. He’s never written anything other than for class assignments, until taking this year’s 59-word fiction challenge.

Honorable mention

Hero Worship
“Your father’s fallen in love with another woman.” Unfathomable words spilled out of her mouth like slow-motion globs of old honey, and stuck in my ears, deep inside, festering. I thought of Santa Claus, that lying pervert, bouncing me on his lap, filling me with empty promises, teaching me to beware of jolly old men with fat bellies.

By Sharon DeMeyer

The Quality of Mercy
Gene’s new umbrella was her favorite color, and rain on her birthday was welcome. He was widowed last summer; now, solitary walks in the rain were about to commence.

The quiet privacy and soft glow under the umbrella’s shroud had always been a haven. As he strolled familiar pathways, Gene’s loneliness dissipated.

And when it stopped raining, he wept.

By Timothy J. Muir

Sacred Cheese
“Mama,” my five-year-old said. “Is Gouda better than cheese is?”

“Honey,” I replied, “Gouda is cheese. It’s a type of cheese. There’s Swiss Cheese; Mozzarella; Cheddar; Feta; Brie; and Gouda. So many different types of cheeses. I’ll buy some Gouda for you to try.”

He listened patiently and then tried again.

“Mama, is Buddha better than Jesus?”

By Adrienne Parker

Jack and Dean squared off, best friends armed with knives. Cindy, the sole spectator and prize for the fight winner, watched excitedly. In love with both men, she’d been unable to choose. Bleeding and breathless, Dean demanded, “Why do you love her so much?” Jack glanced at the thrill on her face, dropped his knife, and responded, “I don’t.”

By JD Carson

When I walked into the cafe, you were seated with your back to me. A little pot of tea sat brewing on your table. Our years together were less than gracious, but they had left their mark. Although we had stopped speaking to one another, as I took another step, you stiffened, and I knew you sensed my presence.

By C. Kasey Kitterman

Off The Wall
Her almost ex-husband sold wallpaper in Ohio. What does a man know about wallpaper? What can he possibly know about the dreams that are hatched, staring at the pink-tinged roses and the little purple violets that dance, blown by the winds of spring, across the walls of a twelve-year-old girl’s room? Besides, he was color-blind.

By Karin Hoover

During one hot summer, I was the waitress at the hip, artsy music bar where the most interesting people went.

One evening, a handsome, charming man, complete stranger to me, asked, “Would you run away with me?” Flippantly, I replied, “If you’ll take my dog, I’ll consider it.”

That was thirty-seven years ago. I still run with him.

By Beth Sisk

Unemployment Insurance
Lucas watched the clerk intently. He had to know his routine if the plan was going to work. He moved to within feet of the door, his heart racing, the cold steel of the gun pressed against his empty stomach. There was money in the till, but Lucas wanted more. He needed a job. The clerk had to vanish.

By Mitch Cox

The homeless man leaned into the sun-warmed wall of the building, and felt the building lean right back. He offered the building a nip from his flask but the building declined, politely. They traded stories. The building reminisced about tenants, pigeons, one earthquake. Sun, then man and building, sank off towards sleep, each friend propping up the other.

By Jake Sexton

Little Boy Lost
Donny sat on the stairs hugging his ragged baby blanket. His stomach hurt.

Aunt Judy had been loving as she coaxed him to eat, but it was hard to swallow.

She came in from the kitchen: “Donny, you know you’ll see your mother in heaven someday.”

He looked up and whispered: “I don’t think I can wait that long.”

By Thelma Behrens

Other notable entries

I took the liberal belly dancer to the Republican 4th of July barbecue. Hundreds of Bush 2000 signs lay neatly stacked in the backyard of the rigid white house. We swam, took in the sun, and the liberal belly dancer held her tongue. After the feast of flesh and tensions, a dessert of Marion berry pie and vanilla ice cream.

By C. Kasey Kitterman

What She Said
At last he spoke of marriage—gloomily. She did not see the point, she said, but, secretly pleased, she let him stew. The she heard he had found a job and wrote him. She would come to him, she said, if he wished. Well, the thing was, he replied, he was engaged—in view of what she had said.

By Clark Brown

Grammatically Speaking
Slouching together on the couch, Semi and Colon contemplated the changes baby Underline would bring to the Punctuation household. “We’ll have to share a room,” sighed Colon. Period, the twins’ cranky, bloated mother, secretly wished her forward slash had malfunctioned. As Dash, proud father, rushed in with arms full of candy cigars, the two children locked eyes. “Oh, $#@%.”

By Stephanie Poldervaart

March 1934
Linda sat in the driver’s seat, suddenly frozen by the cruelty of her curiosity. Uncle played along, though, opening the door and stepping into the swath of poppies midst the tombstones. Watching his old deliberation warmed her, and she followed in his steps. There he stood before weathered wood carved with the name of the man in his diary.

By Daniel E. Nauman

Chopped Liver
Antony said the “World’s Strongest Woman” exhibit would be a unique family outing. As we walked through the crowded fairway he mentioned that he’d never seen a woman lift that much weight before. Meanwhile, I had Daphne on my back in a framed carrier, Lily strapped to my chest in a Baby Bjorn, and Samantha snuggled on my hip.

By Jennifer White

Oh Edward, You Are Not Picking Up
Exhaustion with everyday life has eventually caught up with Edward. Socially weary, seeking only solitude, he calls in sick with a mysterious malaise. “No, not sure what I’ve got.” Previously abhorring the weak and the stupid, he lies on the sofa, surrounded by take-out, contemplating the route from computer, mailbox, big screen and back. The Netflix are coming.

By Debra Cannon

A Rolling Stone
John was a rolling stone until he met Mary. He asked her to marry him in spite of her fanatical devotion to a yappy deaf Shih Tzu with leaky anal glands. During the wedding, the stinky little barker was in her arms. After only six months, John was on the freeway headed south. He never could stand that dog.

By Neal Wiegman

Sotted Blotted Memories
Alcohol soaked, smoked. A token from a derailed ride in his good pocket. Family gone. Home gone. Hope gone. He tottered.

He was aiming for the sun and might get there someday. Soon. As soon as he could get off the crack-legged bar stool and walk out into daylight.

As soon as he finished his next drink.

“Barkeep …”

By Ora Blankenshipkleis

I’d never been so happy to be caught in the rain. Hands bashfully stuck in my pockets, I felt his gaze, the feel of velvet. Looking up, I was warmed by his mischievous yet tender smile. A sparkling raindrop, like a dewdrop on a blade of grass, fresh and sweet, in his brow, the moment I fell in love.

By Casey Ratzlaff

A New Home for Helen
After cajoling Helen into cleaning the rectory in exchange for nightly lodging in its supply closet, father John pondered what had propelled the crusty old bag lady onto the streets forty years ago.

Placing her daughter’s battered teddy bear and a paper bag suitcase on the cot by the cleaning supplies, Helen knelt to pray for forgiveness once again.

By Laurie Raucher