Fiction 59

Winners, honorable mentions and the rest of the best from our writing annual contest

Mike Bagwell is a trainer for the developmentally disabled.

Mike Bagwell is a trainer for the developmentally disabled.

Photo By Tom Angel

Suitcase full of fiction:
This year’s contest garnered about 200 entries, though we had to toss a few--those that didn’t hit exactly 59 words and those from contestants who entered more than three.

Once again, the judges got together to compare notes, bicker, bitch and boast. Skirmishes flared across the table. Nerves were rubbed raw. The atmosphere took on the tension of a state budget debate. Finally, it was decided: one vegetarian, one carnivore special. Now they could consider the Fiction 59 entries and declare a winner. Thanks to all who entered.

First place

One for Free
For some reason, I was drinking in a ridiculous bowling alley bar. A cute lady cook wore a sweatshirt reading, “I want it.” A couple of kids rolled their noisy balls down the lane. A bored cashier sipped coffee. Four nervous video games blinked and beeped their mindless message. I thought to myself, maybe I’ll give it to her….
By Mike Bagwell

Second place

Appliance Rentals
Across the street they rent appliances. One of the guys has that ex-con look: Bic-ed head, agitated body language, weird Tourettes-like episodes of shouting really loud. I don’t make eye contact. My mom warned about boys like that. Another one always plays “Sweet Home Alabama” really loud. My dad says someone should tell him the Civil War ended.
By Elaine Ellsmore

Elaine Ellsmore is a teacher at Pleasant Valley High School.

Photo By Tom Angel

Third place

The big headed foal lay dead in the dust next to the exhausted mare. The dirt around her was all scrabbled. It had been a tough, all-night labor and all for nothing. It was Easter morning and I knew I’d be too exhausted and dirty to make it to church. I got out the shovel and started digging.
by Belinda Schafer

Honorable mention

Where William works, people drag around like zombies. Each day, William punches in the numbers. The rules burrow through his brains. William stares down at his shoes. He is surrounded by bars. It’s just that they are the invisible kind. William wonders what Orwell would have said.

“You get used to it,” his co-worker mumbles.

Production is not up.
By Natalie Brent

Belinda Schafer is a part-time instructor at Butte College and part-time RN at Enloe Medical Center ER.’

Photo By Tom Angel

Honorable mention

Let Freedom Ring
His flag-emblazoned belly rubbed the table as he fumbled through the junk. “Twenty-five cents,” I announced as he inspected a 6-foot extension cord. “Take a dime?” he said. “Free!” I offered generously. Suddenly he bellowed, “Don’t try to give me your broken crap!” As the Pontiac drove away, I smiled as I read, “Land of the Free.”
by Laurie Laurence

Best of the rest

HR Manager
I tried to follow the rules, but the Manager of Human Resources seemed to make up new rules as he went along. I deserved my raise. I had to use rumor and innuendo to unseat him, although I worried about sinking to his level. They call it playing the game, and I won. He shouldn’t have messed with me.
by Ruth Ann Hansen

Everyone’s Favorite Tool
If people were gardening tools, she’d be the old green spade in back of the shed that had serviced more spiders and webs than hands or holes. She was a perfectly good shovel. A little short but sturdy. It’s just a shame she couldn’t be more like that new, plastic yellow rake, with the easy grip and perfect ass.
by Jeff Demaria

He ignored the valet and was short with the waiter. He seemed uncomfortable with the restaurant, which his eager date had chosen. He fumbled her questions and didn’t seem to hear her questions. Noticing his date’s growing disenchantment, he tried to explain: “Sometimes people mistake my shyness for snobbery.”

Natalie Brent is a professional insurance claims processor.

Photo By Tom Angel

He was right, she suspected, only he had it backwards.
by Gabe Pulliam

“Go Back to Your Country!”
“We don’t want you here!”

“Why did you come to America?”

Strident words shouted cut like a knife, stab my heart. Pride also grows in my heart and mind. Remembering stories at my mother’s knee. Vietnamese come into the village and kill everyone they can find. Yet alive, in darkness, my mom swims across the Mekong River to freedom.
by Mai Lor

Winner’s Circle
“High Hopes breaks out of the gate with a slim lead over Last Minute Impulse. Coming down the backstretch High Hopes falters, boxing Impulse in, with Favorite charging outside, Migraine creeping relentlessly up, Rent Money and Child Support fading fast, and Acid moving up inside. Who Knew nips Favorite in a photo finish.”

Great trifecta in the tenth, though.
by Jim Dwyer

Laurie Laurence is the office manager at Century 21 Jeffries Lydon.

Photo By Tom Angel

A Strange Relationship
Some whispered that theirs was a strange relationship. He liked to sneak into her bedroom late at night. She liked to wear thigh-high boots and black leather. “No” was a word that came up often in the parlance of their passion, but it did not have any conventional meaning. Instead, he whispered, “nacho cheese” into her delicate ear.
by Elaine Ellsmore

Newton’s First Law
David drank a beer as the party flickered by like stop-motion photography. He sat, watching a girl with shoulder ink and a candlepower grin light figurative fires on the pool table. Carpe diem, he thought. Carpe noche, carpe chica, carpe huevos. He bit his lip, tasted blood, as the eight ball tiptoed to the corner and teetered undecided.
by Ryan Grow

Piece of Shit
Driving my piece of shit ‘56 Ford. Narrow country road, approaching a piece of shit ‘57 Merc. Each must pull over to pass. Going to be close! Bang!!! Rear bumpers hit hard. I slow down—check the mirror. So does he. Neither stops. Only when I get home, I check the damage. Bumper twisted way out, piece of shit.
by John Altman

Fall Guy
“I overheard him at the Sports Club once,” Hillary said. “He and some other sweaty old fart were marching on the treadmills discussing how they got off on firing employees, like it was an adrenaline shot of manhood.”

“What an asshole,” someone at dinner said.

“Then he slipped and got spit off the machine,” Hillary said to everyone’s delight.
by Scout Tomeselli

Photo By Tom Angel

Teenage Kicks
The hooker is watching us as Brian dithers. He’s afraid to talk to a prostitute. She has red lipstick, gold skirt, and her eyes watch us from a mask of impatience and mascara. “You ask her for me!” Brian says, thrusting sweaty dollars into my hand. She’s across the street, snapping gum. I count the bills, slowly. Here goes.
by Ryan Grow

A cable stretched from rim to canyon rim. Suspended beneath, cantilevered and counterbalanced, eleven large automobiles traced eccentric circles in the sky.

“Liability,” said the lawyer.

“Credibility,” added the girlfriend.

“Or lack thereof,” finished the agent.

“I’m surrounded,” thought the artist formerly known as Jake, “by a chorus of freaking harpies.”

He let it go. “Ssssshh. Listen. … Wind Pixies.”
by John Larkin

Cleanup at Register Three
She stood in line at the grocery store, waiting her turn. The old woman behind her smelled of mothballs. The stench was making her sick to her stomach. How much longer did she have to endure this silent suffering? Couldn’t the checker move a little faster? Who would clean up the mess if she vomited all over the place?
by Sue Evans

The Tattoo Parlor Employee
He works in tattoo parlors. I guess that’s hell enough. It’s hot, without air conditioning, and the pay is lousy. He sits, bent over, injecting dull drawings and words that hold no deep meaning into the skin of people, day in, day out. It’s not much of a life, but how much can you live when you’re the devil?
by Sydney Williams