Finest of the 59ers

It takes more than good writing to win our fiction contest—it takes good counting, too

The concept is simple enough: Create the best story you can in 59 words. Why 59? That’s as good a number as any for quick fiction … and that’s what it’s always been , so why change it?

Were the CN&R’s contest called Fiction 60, we’d have an entirely different winner. Sharon DeMeyer of Chico would be the proud recipient of a Lyon Books gift certificate, and “Hero Worship” would’ve been immortalized and inspiring others.

Alas, ’twas undone by a hyphen. Microsoft Word may count “slow-motion” as a single vocable, but our rules state otherwise: “Hyphenated words are not considered one word…. Exceptions are words that don’t become free standing when the hyphen is removed.” Slow. Motion. Both free-standing words.

We received 545 entries—310 from adults, 105 from teens, 130 from kids. Our six editors prefer judging over drudgery, so we selected the ones we liked best, then counted words.

We think you’ll agree we had a worthy winner in “Hero Worship":

“Your father has 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.

But we also think you’ll agree that rules are rules. So we revised our top three, judged again, and Jenny Kay’s “Don’t Worry the Cat” got four enthusiastic votes. No asterisks or caveats here—59 words on the nose.

Another fine piece bit the dust when we found its creator mailed in eight submissions. ("You are welcome to enter up to three stories"—again, rules are rules.) Meanwhile, three kids used too few words.

Fortunately, plenty of writers counted correctly. And so, without further ado, we are proud to present the winning works of 59-word fiction.

First Place

Courtesy Of patricia wellingham-jones

Don’t Worry the Cat
Johnnie Lake, aging but flamboyant Vaudeville star, tripped over his shoelace, lit on a wayward rotting banana peel and slid headfirst into the front row of the audience. Some of the audience members were warm, polite or oblivious rum hounds, and didn’t notice. One spiteful broad, however, sported feline claws and raked him a new set of worry lines.

By Jenny Kay, Los Molinos

Jenny Kay, a former feature writer for the Bangkok Post, just started work at the Research Training Institute. One of her friends is a cancer survivor, and Jenny wrote this piece as part of a healing exercise at Enloe Cancer Center.

Second Place

Photo By Meredith J. Cooper

Do Not “Do Not”
I staple where it notes “Do Not Staple.” STAPLE. STAPLE. STAPLE. Who will stop me? The staple police? What makes these words presume they can tell me “Do Not"? Who listens to “do not"? Last month, I told my husband a do not—"Do not walk out that door!” I screamed. But he did—for good … STAPLE … STAple … staple.

By Heidi Nalley, Magalia

Chico native Heidi Nalley recently moved to Magalia and works for Butte County’s Department of Behavioral Health. One of her stories made it onto last year’s Best of the Rest list.

Third Place

Photo By Meredith J. Cooper

Assigned Reading
Romeo and Juliet was it for her. Between tucking Jacqueline Susann or Harold Robbins into her textbook, and backseat gropings, she became an autodidact in the machinations of sex and universal truths in ways her teachers couldn’t imagine. Now college-educated soccer moms titter in rabid anticipation to see what interpretation she’ll bring to the next book club meeting.

By Kandis Horton, Chico

Kandis Horton teaches English at Las Plumas High in Oroville and lives in Chico. She also had a story in last year’s Best of the Rest.

Honorable Mention

If I Knew Then …
Girls on the towel next to mine slip buttons and slide zippers. They pull and duck their way out of cotton shells, exposing their smooth underbellies to the sun. They open oranges with their teeth. Salt water stubbornly refuses to evaporate from sunburned thighs. I realize that everyone who hated high school wasted as much time as I did.

By Rachel Libby, Chico

A Nice Day for a Revolution
Shackled to the dilapidated slaughterhouse, the pigs were planning a Marxist rebellion. Pale and scarred, the lead hog growled to the others, “One, two, NOW!” Two-hundred strong, the swarming pigs ripped through the rotten wood of their prison, galloping savagely towards the blue-jean factory workers, who were peacefully smoking their dry cigarettes and watching the rising sun.

By Vanessa Ceccarelli, Chico

This wasn’t going to be easy. She was never good at confrontation. Her body tensed. The sting of contact. The dizzying spell of fear. Tears and blood trickled into one stream. Rebecca spit a bloody wad and clasped her hands into a fist. She would fight until the school bell rang and the nuns had to tear them apart.

By Gina Karpenko, Chico

Cookies to Die For
She has despised her husband for decades, for being a liar, ever since he praised extravagantly the “scrumptious” cookies she had mailed to him when he was in the army in Korea, plump oatmeal wheels stuffed with raisins and dates; spiced with cinnamon, chocolate, and brown sugar; glazed with syrup—and laced with enough poison to kill a platoon.

By Stephen Tea Davis, Chico

It’s the Little Things That Count
Vanessa ran into Ronnie, the cute UPS driver, outside Starbucks yesterday afternoon. He asked her to go out to dinner with him Friday night. As they chatted flirtatiously she tried to keep her eyes from straying to his gaping unzipped fly. Evidently he wasn’t a man who paid attention to detail. She wondered if he’d think of bringing flowers.

By Lynn Jacobs, Chico

Whirlwind Romance
You want to grab a drink sometime? Can I take you to dinner? Do you want to come in? Stay the night? I think I love you. I made you a key. Wear my ring? I do.

We never talk. Why won’t you look at me? Don’t you love me anymore? I need something more. I want a divorce.

By Kylene Hees, Chico

A Philosopher, A Poem, An Unrealized Kiss
They called Tom the “Brooklyn Buddha.” “Do what makes you happy,” he always advised. He once asked me to read Rumi out loud, and he savored the sound of the words as if poetry were foreplay. I grieved that I wasn’t there after his car was T-boned, to hold his head in my hands, and kiss his dying mouth.

By Amaera BayLaurel, Chico

Grandpa’s Hand 1948
Grandpa took my tiny hand and carefully approached the barbed wire fence. On the other side, a giant bison with big horns snorted through his nostrils as he ate some pasture land. Grandpa knew about this world, and told me there was nothing to fear.

Whenever fear comes, I think his guiding hand from long ago pushes me onward.

By Danny Wilson, Oroville

Her Quietest Victim
With the chopping and sawing finished, she laid down the knife, red liquid rolling off the blade and splashing onto the countertop, a rich pool of crimson. With hands bare, lust building in her eyes, she reached in, fingertips stained scarlet, and plucked from the soft flesh one jeweled kernel from the pomegranate. It had been her quietest victim.

By Tessa Love, Chico

The Grass is Always Greener
Having traded cleats for Keats, Hugo rides the fog line gesturing to “lusty Spring” views. Stopping outside Sonoma, he turns my face with rough hands, murmuring “Hm,” before grabbing his leather notebook and scribbling wildly. Vineyards surround us with rich golden-green, but I’m missing the smell of fresh mown grass and wondering: Which wines pair with nachos?

By AnnaMarie Whiteley, Live Oak

Uncommon Bravery at the Salvage Yard
Richard strolled nonchalantly past rusting carcasses, masking his insecurity.

Without mechanical chaperones he was helpless, pitifully emasculated. He knew these old-timers must instinctively sense it: Richard couldn’t even operate manual transmissions.

However, he wore camouflage of blackened hands gripping a wrench.

“Only cowards pay full price at Kragen,” he thought.

“There’s got to be lug nuts around somewhere.”

By Conor McNerney, Chico