95-word fiction

Here are the winners of our annual very, very short fiction contest

Eileen Driscoll

Eileen Driscoll

Photo/Eric Marks

This weird little fiction contest—in which we ask our readers to submit stories that are exactly 95 words long—is one of our favorite annual traditions around here. This year yielded a large and better-than-average crop of stories.

The editorial staff reads all the submissions, and then we vote on our favorites with a weighted point system (10 points for each editor's favorite story, nine for their second favorite, and so on down to a single point for their tenth favorite). The stories with the most points win, with ties broken by the number of editors who voted in favor of it. So yeah, it's all very scientific.

We received over 200 submissions this year. And, as with every annual crop of 95-word stories, particular themes start to emerge. This year's stories were, as a whole, more depressing than previous years. Lots of divorce and lots of death (especially, for some reason, deaths by car accident). But don't worry, there were still plenty of goofball stories among our favorites. Congrats to the winners!

First place

Free at Last

British author Zadie Smith writes: “Self hatred is for younger, prettier women.”

Amen, I say, Amen.

But this is a peace that came marching slow for me.

My youthful Artemis achievement phase produced a doctorate degree, daily weighing and a svelte size 8.

The wild horse ride named “Mid Life Crisis” bucked me along complete with profligate behavior, Botox, braces and a curvy size 10.

Now, presto chango, I have my “giving back” job. There is no room for a scale in my bathroom.

No small journey this.

Hurry along, younger girls. It is nice.

—Eileen Driscoll

Eileen Driscoll is a secret. She is like a happy, humble nun driving every day up the Truckee River Canyon to work with students in Truckee, California, but … she is one drink away from a Porsche and taking off into orbit. Orbit was her childhood nickname.

Second place

To be fair, it was a Monday. Not only was it a Monday, it was the first Monday after she left. And to be honest, it was a mess. He was clueless. She was the one who always made the kids’ waffles. She was the one who always matched his socks. She was the one who stuck drawings and schoolwork on the fridge with multi-colored magnets. She was the one who always had the dishes washed and put away. She was the one who did everything. And to be fair, that’s why she was gone.

—Morgan Rose Stewart

Morgan Stewart is in her first year of college at Portland State University, studying Biochemistry. She has had an interest in reading and writing since she was a child.

Third place

Pigeon on a Pole

After a while you don’t see utility poles, even an ugly one such as stands on my corner with wires going in five directions, here where I’ve lived since my partner didn’t break up with me exactly, but we live apart. (“What’s so important about cohabitation,” her emissary daughter asked/stated.) I heard cooing and looked up, and laughed out loud, because a cock pigeon was turning in jerky circles on the tiptop of the pole, courting a hen perched on an insulator. Then she flew off, he stopped circling, and it no longer seemed funny.

—Anthony Shafton

Anthony Shafton is author of four published books. His current work concerns the friendship between Reno author Walter Van Tilburg Clark and Reno artist Robert Caples. Shafton is 79, a Chicago native and Reno resident.

The boy never understood a single word of the lyrics. It sounded sad and the guitar did as well, and this he understood.

B. B. Rey, the expat eccentric called him. They listened to it together over and over. It was all the expat told him of el Norte.

When it was decided that the boy would make the journey, the expat told him to take the record with him.

Now the shattered vinyl lays at the feet of the immigration official.

The boy looks up and smiles. The record had prepared him for this.

—J. J. Mulligan

Morgan Rose Stewart

Sweat trickled down my head as I paced back and forth before the bathroom door. “HURRY UP DAD!” I yelled desperately. My pacing quickened and my face reddened. “QUICKER!” Banging on the door, I became inhumanely impatient, unable to wait any longer. “DAD!” I screamed, “I GOTTA GO PEE!”

“Huh?” A quiet voice came from behind me, the confused voice of my dad.

My eyes widened as I slowly turned the doorknob. Realizing it had been unlocked the whole time, I stared blankly at the empty toilet seat.

Then and there, I wet my pants.

—Serena Mao

Redemption for Even the Raven

I saw you, Raven, this morning, perching atop the roof of Reno’s Dough Boy Donuts.

You are a shiny, feathered juggernaut of horror.

Why don’t you fly south, Raven, leaving to us the little chickadees of winter to feed?

Raven, in April, the month of lilacs and Lincoln’s last breath, I fear you will turn and speak to me aloud. You scare me so.

I tried to believe you innocent today, Raven. I smiled as if the sun and the snow dusted mountains in early December could redeem you. No luck. I still hate you.

—Eileen Driscoll

How could I have overslept today of all days? The alarm clock was still screeching when I awoke 42 minutes after it started. So I didn’t shower, was applying makeup on the subway, and ate an old Twix bar I found in my purse for breakfast. Sitting here, waiting to be called for an interview for my dream job, I vigorously swish Listerine hoping to remove all traces of candy.

“Rhonda? Mr. Stevens will see you.” The receptionist turns down the hall. I spit the mouthwash in the mossy base of a ficus and follow.

—Jerianne Whitacre

Snowman 1

He decided he would start a circus. “It will be the biggest, greatest circus the world has ever seen,” he told his reflection. And, after eighteen months, the man’s circus was complete: There were jackals and hyenas, clowns—and acrobats flying effortlessly over the heads of his audience. There was also a host of scantily-clad young ladies whom, it was rumored, genuflected and swallowed the host. Desperate disparate people hungrily binged on stories about him on television and sticky electronic devices. Despite being a pathetic mathematician, he converted the world to its lowest common denominator.

—Roger Scimé & Elliot Schneider

A silly short story of Sarah Sinclair.

By day she sells submarine sandwiches at a small shop on seventh street in Silver Springs.

After sunset on Saturdays, at the Silver City Saloon, she sings sad songs and strums a six string.

She shares a singlewide with her sister Stella, and a Springer Spaniel named Clyde.

Some say she’s a sinner, sometimes she solicits semi drivers and sleeps with strangers.

So she shows up for Sunday service, and her soul is saved.

Should you see Sarah strolling up the street, don’t stay silent, say something sweet.

—Steve Terry

A Family Friend

The bride and groom-to-be leaned against their balcony railing, happy and tastefully posed per their photographer’s instruction.

“I’ve never seen two people so happy together,” said the photographer, an old friend of the groom’s. His arms stood fixed at angles as he tried to capture their delight.

Snow fell, and beyond the balcony there floated vast clouds that swallowed the plains and painted distant mountaintops a harsh white. The future bride’s pale, naked shoulders were soon enveloped in the warm embrace of her fiancé’s cardigan.

The photographer lied.

Anthony Shafton

Photo/Eric Marks

The groom knew it, too.

—Evynn Tyler McFalls

The giant awoke and stretched. Giant first stretched out his left arm high above. Giant stretched out his right arm as far as it would go as it was not as flexible. Giant’s legs, which were of an independent spirit, did as they pleased. Giant, a mighty being, gathered himself up. Giant’s arms and legs rebelled by not moving at all. Giant pled, his well-being challenged, for his limbs to cooperate. Giant’s limbs, arguing most foully, could not come to a consensus. Giant’s limbs answered: “maybe in four years, ’til then, go back to sleep.”

—June Torres

Grinch's Sleigh Heating Up

REPORT: Crudolph, the coal-nosed reindeer, has been appointed to guide the sleigh of Grinch, Christmas’ latest Santa Claus-elect. He will join other appointees such as Stupid for the Department of Flying, who has never actually flown himself, and Brasher for the Department of Magic, who doubts that magic is real. To some experts, it appears Grinch is now ignoring the disenfranchised elvoters’ who supported his campaign to “Make Christmas Great Again.” To others, this is nothing compared to their surprise that Grinch won at all, despite trailing in all poles (North and South).

—Max McLaughlin

Our Engagement

After brief online communicating, the first time we met, he asked me if I’d marry him. I said, “Of course.” I thought I’d play along. At the restaurant, he introduced me as his fiancé. I didn’t correct him. Then he told me his dad asked his mom to marry him the second time he saw her. They were married for 50 years. On our second date, he wanted me to drink wine, to loosen up. I said, “No,” and he called me “boring.” Our second date was the last one. It was a short engagement.

—Debra Anderson

Learning to Drive

My parents never took me to church and weren’t religious. Sometimes I prayed, though, when the whiskey bottle rolled around under the driver’s seat, and my dad cut back and forth over the yellow line on windy mountain roads. He also showed us how the car could go 100 mph. He was on a long straightaway on the wrong side of the road. Later I was with a man who would drive into incoming traffic when approaching hills, just for fun. My dad is gone now, and I’m divorced. I do my own driving now.

—Debra Anderson

Behind Red Eyes

I had so many thoughts swirling in my head I didn’t even notice the music coming through my house. How could I concentrate when Cleveland’s very own David Mathews had been rumored to ask me to Cleveland Junior High’s Halloween dance!? I could just picture it; the lights, David a prince, his chocolate skin soft enough for me to kiss upon the cheek. I probably would have been dreaming the rest of the day if I hadn’t walked in on my father, several satisfied minors, and what seemed like an invigorating game of beer pong.

—Mikayla Shenkel

For the past hundred miles, all that occupied his thoughts as he drove was how good the mocha would taste. That there was excellent coffee in this remote patch of southeastern Oregon was nothing short of miraculous. In gratitude, he never wasted a chance to support the shop when he drove this route. As the familiar building came into sight, though, he could tell something was amiss—no lights on. He parked and stepped up to the door. A yellowing piece of paper taped to the glass confirmed his worst fears: “Out of Business.”

—Glen Scheele

The Gift

The old man quietly opened his grandson’s bedroom door and watched him sleep.

He had been raising him for over nine years. When the boy was five about to begin kindergarten, his mom, the old man’s daughter, died from diabetes at 38.

His grandson was fifteen now, a freshman at McQueen. He was healthy and a good student.

From our soul inside us, to the spirit that guides us, as silently as the snow that was falling, the old man whispered thank you.

He closed the door and returned to bed.

It was Christmas Eve.

—Dan Haynes

Gone Boy

We had just made love, now holding hands, lamp light shining through the bedroom window. Suddenly, the shriek of the fire alarm, the managers voice yelling “Fire Get Out.” We scramble for clothes, keys and phones. We run down the stairs to EXIT with the other tenants. Outside the building, through the windows, we see flames. Around us pajama-clad people look dazed and confused. He said, “I’m getting out of here” He’s gone. After the Fire Trucks and Arson Inspector leave, I call him to tell him, “I’m OK.” He has turned off his phone.

—A. Lacey

For Love of Jenny Crow

A spry single-blanket jackass prospector, he came staking the little he’d saved from past “bonanzas,” to try once more. Below Deadfoot, he found indications, then a fist-size picture rock. He whooped, marked the corners and filed a claim he named for her, the Jenny Crow. It didn’t prove out. There was high-grade ore all right, but the resistant kind. It barely paid to ship. Still he kept hauling. Then all the leads pinched out. With nowhere to go he hangs on, an old single-blanket jackass prospector eking out provisions by posing for pictures.

—Anthony Shafton