Short and sweet

The CN&R’s annual fiction contest brings out the best in brevity

Welcome to the CN&R’s annual Fiction 59 winners’ issue. Once again we were flooded with entries, about 500 in all. The editors read and read, choosing the best of the bunch in each category to pass along to our guest judge, former Chico State English professor Steve Metzger. Word count is essential and, unfortunately, top contenders in each category were disqualified for going over or under the 59-word requirement. That’s not to say that the entries contained in these pages aren’t worthy. Quite the opposite, in fact. So sit back and enjoy these morsels of fictional goodness. First-, second- and third-place winners in each category win gift certificates from Lyon Books.

From the judge

This year we decided to do things a little differently. Following the model we used for Poetry 99 in the fall, we found a guest judge, a writer and lover of prose himself, Steve Metzger. He’s shared a few words (59, actually) with us on his experience poring over hundreds of adult, teen and child musings:

The Fiction 59 judge shuffled stacks of no-name stories. Finalists. Honorable Mentions. Notables. Not there yets. Back and forth. Laughed, was chilled. Moved. Impressed. His dining table a disarray of hurt lovers, spaceships, dames and dogs and bad guys. Three days. Finally, he gathered them up. First, second, third places, and the others, so good, too. Thank you.

First Place

A wake of hushed whispers trailed her cart through the tiny market. At eight months, she could no longer hide her swollen belly under strategically layered cardigans and carefully draped scarves. “Don’t pity me, you slack-jawed hill-jacks,” she mused, pressing a thumb into ripe avocado flesh. She’d escape that backward town one day and pity them all.

by Michelle Bernal

Michelle may be living in Claremont these days, but she keeps Butte County close to her heart. After growing up in Paradise, Michelle attended Chico State, where she got her B.S. in accounting. Michelle’s family lived in Chico for two decades before moving south about a year and a half ago. This isn’t Michelle’s first time appearing in this paper—she took home third place in this contest in 2007.

Second Place

Gold eyeshadow girl puts on her lipstick and listens to high heels click on the glossy floor; there are voices illuminated by the tile and tin, faces illuminated by bright lights and gin. She walks out before the rest of them, steps into darkness, feels one hundred breaths hit her skin, fades into the low growl of the bar.

by Sadie Rose

Sadie is a recent transplant from Portland, Ore. The young mother works at a sustainability consulting firm and sells vintage clothes in her free time. She’s always loved to write, so when she saw our ad for this contest she figured she’d give it a shot. We’re glad she did.

Third Place

After Twenty-Six Years of Marriage
Linda hit the wall, or more accurately, drove straight through it. Her husband’s classic Corvette is now parked in their living room: buckled, bruised and dusted with sheet rock. She can’t say why, although she thinks it has to do with hearing him whisper, as he leaned over her hood—polishing and polishing those curves in soft, wide circles.

by Lisa Trombley

Lisa is a banker by trade, but a writer at heart. She’s proven that in the past six months alone, after winning first place in the CN&R’s Poetry 99 contest in October. Lisa has an English degree from Chico State and attends writing workshops to keep her pen and mind sharp. Clearly it’s working.

Honorable mention

The Expired Breakfast
“How’s work?” You nod and grunt through half a muffin. Your stomach clenches. Eggs are next. “Ever get that raise?” White dairy flotsam floats on the coffee surface. If you bring up the dates, she’ll say they’re “suggestions”. You’re cramping. You are certain the eggs are elderly. You eat. You can’t help yourself. You’re hungry and your mother’s shameless.

by Kennan McGill

Death Valley
It’s been more than forty weeks. The trees ache for rain. Sandi can hear cicadas though there are none. The earth is too hot and dry, even for them. Dante takes her hand and leads her to a claw-foot tub full of cool water under the shade of an Ombu. She undresses, a contraction surges, her water breaks.

by Jen White

Your grandpa deals mismatched silverware and faded Zee napkins to three placemats on the card table, then plops canned ravioli into a small pot on the stove. I had forgotten about this. It will be like last year. You will create a diversion while I empty my plate into the InSinkErator, sliding ancient pasta into the metal glutton’s mouth.

by Kennan McGill

Happy Holidays
The door opens and I see the tree is bent at an awkward angle. Ornaments shattered. Broken glass, cigarette butts, and blood adorn the stained carpet. It’s Christmas Eve. Shocked and deflated, a fancily wrapped gift now hanging limp at my side, I ask, “Why do you stay?” She sobs. “Because I have never loved anyone else this much.”

by Stephanie Poldervaart

Other notable entries

Truer Than Fiction
Determined to submit a 59-word story to this contest, a writer scribbled a clever but busy first draft. Honing it, she eliminated verbosity, struck hyperbole, tightened phrases—cutting half her text. But with the numbers right, she realized, there was weak character development, no setting, scant plot! She pondered. “Rewrite it? No, I …!” A fingertip gently pressed SUBMIT.

by Marion Dewar

Karen’s Quilts
Chasing seasons across the Sierra, I’d fly fish, she’d quilt. We’d eat trout and sit with our dachshunds beneath brilliant stars. Then sleep under handmade quilts. Life, and death, eventually overtook us. I camp along cold Sierra streams alone now. I no longer eat trout. Somehow those stars seem more distant. Yet, Karen’s quilts and ethereal love warm me.

by Peter Ellen

The War Raged On
I left Chico State for active duty. My heart churned with feelings for my mom and dad. Off to training I went. As our helicopter rounded a craggy Afghanistan mountainside, Chico seemed far away. Sergeant received the dire Pentagon orders.

Sergeant barked, “Chico boy! Have you gone AWOL! The federal debt needs your student loan payments!” So we left.

by David Meichtry

Fat Chance
She was horrified by his voracious obesity, especially at night when the sleeping beast, rolling in folds of fat, tumbled in her direction, a dead whale unchecked, the weight of the world in a mountain of flesh. She lay awake in suspended horror, imagining healthy meals, watching the pounds disappear, her lover rejuvenated by celery sticks and soda crackers.

Dave Campbell

Breathe Right
The stench of filth and feces wafts up to my nose. I find myself repulsed, if only for a moment. As that little one crawls into my arms, repulsion melts. She only seeks the warmth of an embrace; one in whose arms she can fall asleep. Some say: love is blind; I say: it has no sense of smell.

by Michelle Anderson

Saturday Market Love Affair
I saw you in a new light that morning. Your every imperfection revealed by the sun. My mood was right. I invited you into my home, where you stayed for several weeks. Had a love affair begun? Attraction waned as days passed. Uncommitted, I tossed you out along side Wednesday night’s garbage. How do you eat a turnip anyway?

by Jen Nerren

Africa Shower
Muggy Ethiopian afternoon outside the dorm with the kids: ping-pong, basketball, beauty parlor, English lessons. The thunder booms. The lightning claps. The cloudy mist moves in. We run for cover; torrential downpour. Roads turn into rivers. Not a soul is dry. The boys sport deflated basketballs as hats as they join us under the awning. It’s a beautiful day.

by Michelle Anderson

Unrest Stop
Your eyes close and open on still frames of highway, like a broken slide projector. You’ll have to pull over. The rest stop is lonely; a few humming semis. Cut the engine. Crack the window. Twenty minutes. You slip into addled sleep, then wake. A jacketed figure draws your eyes upward to three thick fingers in the window crack.

by Kennan McGill

My Smoky Jacket
The wind had brought the fumes of fireplace warmth back into the house. For lack of a fan, my jacket became a leather tool, employed to keep my home from smelling like childhood. It would later grace love’s red covered shoulders, and add an odd flavor to kisses. Now draped in my smoky jacket alone, my house smells older.

by Andrew Xavier Lemenager

Highway 321 North
Authorities thought they’d done their job. They closed all roads surrounding Tanner Industries and made announcements for people in Swansea to stay indoors until the ammonia plume dissipated. They later searched for possible victims and found her body beside her stalled car. They speculated she sought shelter in the woods nearby, but then turned back when the foliage blackened.

by Jen White

“Live in my heart and pay no rent,” she said, pressing a twenty into my hand, tears held back, her thin grey hair drifting in warm wind as the bus loaded. “And don’t get yourself shot up over there.” I said goodbye; as a kid, I played with her dog in the backyard. I buried the dog last week.

by Dave Campbell

Powerful Air
I would have hugged Kelly if he hadn’t smelled so bad. Regretfully, I turn on the fan after he leaves. I don’t like holding back. “Smelly Kelly’s been here again, huh?” shouts Raul. I quiver, he is so loud. If I had to choose between the smell and the loudness, I’d probably take the smell. There are always fans.

by Jennie Hammett

Freed From Sin
All necessary arrangements had been made: his will properly witnessed; cremation paid for and guaranteed; the biodegradable urn, made of sea salt, ordered, shipped, unwrapped and placed upon the kitchen table; and six letters containing the typed Biblical quotation, from Paul to the Romans, stamped and addressed.

After studying his chest x-ray for a week, he loaded the derringer.

by Timothy Muir