Short on words, big on impact

The CN&R’s contest winners revealed

Why we like it: <br>A near-unanimous choice, this story does so much—paints a scene, conveys emotion, surprises gently, ends without finality—in vivid, poetic prose.

Why we like it:
A near-unanimous choice, this story does so much—paints a scene, conveys emotion, surprises gently, ends without finality—in vivid, poetic prose.

Photo by Meredith J. Cooper

Four-hundred-plus stories times 59 words equals hours of reading. For us, this year: good reading.

CN&R’s short- fiction contest presents a mighty challenge, and we salute the effort of every writer. Only after hours of discussion around a rectangular table could our editors cull the following favorites.

Congratulations to the honored few, and happy reading to all!

First place

First Picnic of the Unseasoned
“I’d rather have dandelion-chains than bouquets,” she stated, brushing grass off slender legs. “The man I marry won’t be rich. He’ll have shirts worn smooth and torn, so I can feel his flesh.” She smiled, taking a bite of an apple. I quietly consumed my deviled-egg, thinking about the tattered socks she didn’t know I was wearing.

By Emily Grelle

Chico native Emily Grelle is a freshman majoring in English at Chico State. She wants to be a writer. She is 19, and this is the first time she’s entered Fiction 59.

Why we like it: Another of his entries, Meets Girl, also rated highly, but this one drew louder laughs and more nods of recognition.

Photo by Meredith J. Cooper

Second place

“Oh God, Not Now” (or Death Ignominious)
My chest. Please, not like this.

Miss November still beckons, smile unchanged.

In fifth grade, my dog died unexpectedly as I watched, helpless. Did he feel this bad?

Who’ll find me? Dishes unwashed … movies due … one with Pauly Shore. I lurch upward, fall hard, pants around ankles.

I see laundry and light. I hope they lie to my mother.

By Keith Howell

Keith Howell, 43, recently invented an improvement to the soaker hose—he’s just looking for a manufacturer. He entered the contest last year and built on his previous ideas. “I like the idea of being a writer,” he says.

Why we like it:<br />Similar in theme to her 1st of the Month, this vignette melds humor and resonance without sacrificing one for the other.

Photo by Meredith J. Cooper

Third place

Datsun B210
“If you’re gonna drive a piece of shit, stay out of the drive-thru!” yelled the fat woman trapped behind us.

Shame dripped from mom’s hardened face as the after-school crowd snickered. Staring ahead, she took a long, deliberate drag, exhaling, “You girls want fries?”

“Sure mom,” we replied, sinking into the seats of that rattling smoke bomb.

By Michelle Bernal

Michelle Bernal, 38, is an accounting director for a local construction company. She grew up in Paradise but has lived in Chico for the past 20 years. She had written something that was about 59 words, so she tweaked it and turned it in.

Honorable mention

Farmers’ Market Epiphany
Bill suggests spinach, but his wife chooses chard. When he tries smelling flower bouquets, she pokes him with cacti. Sara slips through the crowd, leaving him caught in the crunch. He finds her flirting with the hot dog man, over a jar of sauerkraut, while a musician wails, “You’ve lost that loving feeling.” Bill senses the honeymoon is over.

By Ron Westaby

As I grab the Sunday Times from amongst the rose bushes I hear the grinding gears. In the window of the Dover Baptist Church bus I see a young girl, her eyes swollen with tears, face pressed to the glass. Without thinking I dance on the sidewalk in my pajamas. She smiles briefly and the bus takes her away.

By Tom Spofford

Cowed Into Silence
The mob of sixth graders closed in. This attack had strategy. Two boys held either end of a jump rope on the grass. The panicking dweeb was corralled over it. They raised the rope between his legs as more boys pulled his underwear up hard. His defenses crumbled. They left him collapsed, crying, alone. I was alone too, watching.

By Irene Cardenas

Words were always a great source of interest and wonderment for Rupert, an only child. Reading the dictionary provided long hours of entertainment. He liked the word “unabridged” as much as the word “unexpurgated.”

While his contemporaries were fascinated with stegosaurus, brontosaurus and tyrannosaurus rex, he preferred Roget’s Thesaurus.

And by age 21, he knew 77 synonyms for “drunk.”

By Tim Muir

The Embezzler
When Andrew was an altar boy he once caught a plaster statue of Jesus that a drunken priest had knocked from its pedestal, sparing it from annihilation on the marble floor of St. Bartholomew’s.

Now he stands atop the Fidelity Investments Tower, buffeted by harsh winds both inside and out, wondering whether or not the favor will be returned.

Valentine Slam
He slams out the driver’s door. She comes spilling out the other. They stalk off in opposite directions, none too steadily, yell obscenities at each other, act out the drama for neighbors on porches. The truck sits idling, pulsing, glowing, doors wide open for flight like a huge lunar moth … It’s Valentine’s Day and someone didn’t say it right.

By Stephani Schaefer
Los Molinos

I don’t remember his face. I only remember him because of the music he played when he drove me around. He didn’t love me. Messages transmitted through the dash speakers of his old car told me more than his voice ever would. He loved my bare feet on his dashboard. He only played sad songs when I wore shoes.

By Rachel Libby

1st of the Month
Goober Grape peanut butter, Captain Crunch, Pop-Tarts, frozen pizzas glide over the scanner. A luxuriously full cart is emptied, as her mother anxiously eyes the register.

“Paper or plastic?” her classmate asks, as food stamps are torn from their booklets.

Face growing hot, eyes on the floor, she crawls deep inside herself, vowing to never depend on another.

By Michelle Bernal

Meets Girl
We met online.

“Rebellious, Withdrawn Claws” liked James Dean, loved Brando her cat. She called herself unconventional, nonconformist, unique. I liked nonconformists, loved the veiled threat of her (hopefully) metaphoric claws.

We met for coffee.

She wore an impeccably distressed leather jacket, tee shirt, heavy boots. All black, of course.

Why do rebels have such a strict dress code?

By Keith Howell

Best of the rest

The Last Day Begins
Proudly wearing his worn Forest Service uniform, he slowly sips the lukewarm coffee. Trapped inside his frail, palsied body, he wishes the college kids behind the counter could know he is so much more than the mute old man they greet each morning. Carefully, he shuffles home; hoping someone will ask for his help today, hoping he’ll be needed.

By Trixine Ratliff Peart

The Foot Lover
A foot massage is hard for anyone to resist. It’s inexpensive, easy, and will make anyone feel very special. Have the participant recline against a big pillow on the sofa to fully relax the entire body. As the participant relaxes, they will realize they aren’t going anywhere. I make sure of it; underneath the sofa is a little hatchet.

By Ken Levens

If Music Be the Food
She was still reeling from her most recent failed romance. Either too needy or too independent, she could never get the balance just right. Tonight, though, brought promise and anticipation with some new guy that just might fit. When the band tore into a searing cover of “Stranglehold,” she reached over, took his hand, and cringed ever so slightly.

By Kandis Horton

It Was Strauss
Caroline walked down the crowded sidewalk heading home. A well-dressed man stopped in front of a music store, dropped his briefcase and began waltzing to the music coming from the shop. No one seemed to notice but she was mesmerized and found herself crying, quietly believing she could never be so spontaneous but knowing she wanted to try.

By Tom Spofford

Dissolution Disillusion
Five women sit at the free workshop. Anita married six months before he got arrested. Deborah is tired of her paycheck being gambled away. Catherine’s spends it on his younger girlfriend. The table’s strewn with forms and paperclips. Amy, an angel-faced blonde, says, “Man, if it was this difficult to get married I wouldn’t be in this mess.”

By Joanna Allen

The Only One
I miss us. I miss what we created from nothing. Lovers, friends, explorers, we were two adventurers out to take on the world. I unfold the divorce papers. Reading them, I once again find myself the sole actor on an indifferent stage. Is this who I was always supposed to be, the only one?

I sign my name.


By Chad Peery

“There are three things you must master,” the Zen leader says to me. “Breath, breath and breath.”

“In that order?” I ask.

He smiles.

We sit, cross-legged, our eyes closed for forty-five minutes. I think about my daughter, my to-do list, and how I’m going to make enough money. In between thoughts, I think about breathing.

By Diana Bishop

With scoured eyes and scorned lips, she was anything but her name: Darling. So when the coroner saw her corpse completely faceless, a canvas of skin in place of eyes, mouth and nose, he assuredly proclaimed, with no surprise, “I have seen this before, yes. Scowl long enough, and eventually, life will wipe that look right off your face.”

By Heidi Nalley

The Wolfman
Suddenly, he arrives. Face full of teeth, he licks at the shattered pane, his hot breath fingers the window lock. Then he’s in. Ears back, eyes luminous, he watches me for one wrong move. I humor him with praises and lie to him all night long. By morning his body is in the spare room under grandma’s old quilt.

By Lara Galarte

The Vampire Movie
In the middle of the stake-through-the-heart scene the screen goes black.

An usher with short cropped hair, shiny slacks and shoes and a flashlight takes me by the elbow and leads me to the exit door.

I cannot break away. His grip is strong.

In the parking lot there are no clouds. The sun is insistent.

By Bob Garner

His breath quickened. The tent was the same kind that covered the house when his mother had said grimly, “Stay out, or you’ll be poisoned with the termites.” Inside—unimaginable things: monkeys on tricycles, a bearded woman, a flea circus with mutated, acrobatic insects. The boy bolted under the tent flap and ran, swallowing mouthfuls of cool evening air.

By Shelby Goddard

When baby’s teeth fell into her face, I removed her head to stop the rattle. Chucking her body, I realigned her choppers, dyed her hair with shoe polish, and bowled her into the closet, where moths ate her eyelashes. Oh well, kids will be kids … especially me. Besides, Baby Ann still smiles and seems happy from the neck up.

By Patricia Darrow

The Substitute
Anxious nail biting, high pitched laughter, no amount of makeup could hide her nervousness. He hardly looked over at her; even with hand raised she felt too small to notice. His worn tweed jacket and wrinkled trousers—does he sleep in them? But his gorgeous sideburns framing his manly face made her squirm all through algebra. Please pick me!

By B. Lynne

Let Sleeping Girls Lie
The earphones that link to her iPod are still in her ears when I find her sound asleep with her blankie and her bear. Even with the mascara smudge under her eye, and the bra, I can still see the little brown-eyed girl inside of the woman she is becoming. I need to remember this when she awakes.

By Laurie Laurence