Presenting the winners of our annual really-short-fiction contest
Some readers might find it odd that there are changing themes and plot points on an annual basis in our 95-word-fiction contest. Some years, the themes are silly, ridiculous topics like zombie attacks. This year thematically was the darkest year that any of us editors could recall: foreclosures, suicides, gender confusion, hardboiled detectives and murderous senior citizens. You’d think the tough economy might be haunting locals’ imaginations.
We had just short of 250 entries this year. Editors D. Brian Burghart, Dennis Myers, Brad Bynum and Ashley Hennefer got the honor of reading every single entry. Calendar editor Kelley Lang got the responsibility of breaking our one tie. We’re frequently asked how the judging is done. Essentially, four copies of the submissions are made with all the names and identifying information removed. The editors then each pick their Top 10 favorites and assign a point value to each favorite on a scale of 1-10. Points are tallied up, tea leaves are read, and when the cock crows before the sunset, the winner is selected. Lastly, a word count is done in both Microsoft Word and Open Office. Oddly, two of our favorites were disqualified for having the wrong number of words: 111 and 85. Not to question anyone’s motives, but we do call it a 95-word-fiction contest. Just saying.
What a Waste!
by Tammy Nechita
“Don’t go,” she pleaded as she rushed to the door. But, he was already speeding away, not looking back. “He’s gone,” she whispered in disbelief. “I’ve done it again.” Her roommate soothed her, saying, “He’ll be back.” She felt herself shrink into the cesspool she called a life. It stunk being in this situation again. She had promised herself, never again. Last night, she had gotten drunk and fallen into a deep sleep. She woke up to a dingy morning, with a headache and a premonition that she was missing something important. “Damn garbage truck!”
Tammy Nechita been a science teacher for Traner Middle School for five years. She’s been in Reno for six years. Her story was inspired by the made up drama in TV, news, and middle school. “It occurred to me it would be fun to turn an expected drama situation into the unexpected, particularly the tragedy of missing the garbage truck.”
by Catherine Schmidt
Definitely not impoverished, Charles unashamedly sported a tire-marked hat. He confided he found his favorite wool scarf in a rain gutter years ago, and Fourth of July found him running through late-night traffic to retrieve a nearly new fleece, size Large, from the middle of a busy four-lane. Recently, Charles pulled over near a freeway on ramp to snag a Craftsman sledgehammer. Apparently, its signature bright yellow handle attracted his eagle eye. Formerly, we chided our buddy about collecting, but now understand he’s the ultimate recycler. His astute friends, though, never accept his dinner invitations.
Catherine Schmidt is an implementation specialist for Washoe County School District, which is to say she does hands-on professional development for teachers. She moved to Reno on Aug. 13, 1984. Her story was inspired by a real life human being. “It’s somebody I know. He’ll pull over and stop for every lump in the road. Thanks to him, I’m now a scavenger, too.” She says she’s got the sledgehammer mentioned in the story in her garage.
by Leslie Edgington
I walk the desert where they walked, tall and brave. I touch the soil they touched, soft and fertile. I love the rocks they loved, strong and powerful. I drink the water they drank, cool and quenching.
I walk over the same trails. I move over the same hills and valleys as they did.
Are they watching me? Are they still here? Do I see their faces in a rock or tree? Are they the sentinels that sit on the hills? Do they hear my songs? Do they know my praise and joy in them?
Leslie Edgington of Sparks is a native Nevadan, and a retired postal worker of 28 years. Her story came from the flights of imagination that come from natural surroundings. “we go to the Black Rock Desert, Lost Creek, a lot. Driving through the canyon it feels like there are sentinals watching, the Native Indians, watching me. I always feel their presence.
by Bev Kling-Hesse
The social worker blah blah blahs behind her, smelling soft, but Tina concentrates on the screen. Cashmere sweaters, $20. Egyptian cotton sheets, $25.
More blah blah. Tina is vaguely aware of her greasy teenage daughter resting on the recliner arm. She glances at the white bandaged wrists, scarred arms, lank hair and chipped nails, and turns back to the TV. Professional makeup kits, retail value over $200, just $19.99.
She clicks the volume higher. For the next two hours only, chef-quality knives for $39.95, plus a second set half price. Tina needs new knives.
by Heather Rogerson
Kara was slipping, falling forward. Save me, oh glorious towel rack! It held for about a second before snapping from its brackets. Gravity introduced her face to the bathroom wall, and she greeted it with a sloppy kiss. Then she was on the floor, too stunned to speak, too winded to cry. Her grandma heard the crash and came running.
“Are you all right?” She helped her granddaughter stagger up. “What were you doing?”
Hand over her broken nose, Kara managed to gasp, “Don’t stand on the toilet lid in socks. It’s a bad idea.”
Theodore the Lonely Orange
by Chris Good
Alone in the back of the fridge, behind the green chile, Theodore thought to himself how he’d always been a lonely orange. He was the only orange on his limb, after all, when the fabled glove came to pluck him. It dumped him in a truck with hundreds of others, giving no thought to their individual orangealities or backgrounds.
Then to the store, to a bin where Theodore languished in a corner until Melody redeemed him, nestling him in a plastic bag, then to home, and to the back of the fridge, five weeks ago.
Moths and Butterflies
by Christopher L. Blandford
Sitting on the porch, my father and I watch the zapper in the dark. Out of the darkness appear moth wings. Fluttering, swirling, and diving in spirals, the wings flirting with the light hanging from our porch.
She approaches coyly, suddenly turning away and returning. Dancing the blue closer and closer, measuring attraction. Recognizing such pulsing temptation, away she flies into the cooling darkness. But returns. Always returns. Returns and kisses light.
I see my mother returning from work. Her shawl white on her shoulders like gossamer wings.
A short electric crack reaches my ears.
by Brock Estes
He was first on the course that morning. Approaching the second green, a young doe emerged from behind a nearby tree.
Staggering on unsteady legs, she made her way to the hole to lap up some of the early morning dew gathered there.
The cup was half full.
He had to be at work in two hours. At this rate, he would never get nine holes in.
“Do you mind if I play through?” he asked her.
She fluttered her wide eyes and went back to her drinking.
“The boss will kill me,” he thought.
Case in Point
by Catherine Matovich
I LOST 45 lbs. ASK ME HOW!
His punchline for the home-made button: “It’s cancer!”
After John died, Sue wanted to close up the practice room, sequestering all peckish memories. Instead, she gave away CDs, guitars, an old leather jacket with an equally old condom still in its foil. She could have stopped there. Sold the fiddle she bought to cheer him up after the diagnosis. Never needed to open the case.
A picture of an unmade bed. A hotel receipt dated three years back. Phone numbers.
After that, she found many things to burn.
For She Was a Shepherdess
by Chris Jarvis
Rachel’s polemical views are clearly just an outgrowth of her unnecessarily abrasive personality. She’s a lifer; all of us in the office fear her because she has everything to lose. Today is Friday, and her casual attire consists of a T-shirt declaring that the wearer has donated money towards building a fence on the Mexican border. This is particularly odious when coupled with her tendency to ascribe complex human emotions to her pet terrier. But if she is a perfect parody of a type, without one iota of self-awareness, why am I so turned on?
Gardening the Loam
by Brad Summerhill
She loamed the roots for transplant. Uncle Vanya stood smoking his pigskin pipe. See, he said, it can’t be done. She wanted to move the bleeding hearts out of the wind.
Your hands, he said.
She looked at them. Blood dripped through her fingers.
Bypass! she screamed.
I can’t nurse!
Your arteries. From your thigh. Quick. She presented the garden shears.
If I do this, he stuttered. If I do this.
You’ll be fine, she assured him.
He sucked on his pigskin pipe as though it might be his last and lay in the soil.
Art is long … Story is short
by Edw Martinez
Got this e-mail message from the editor.
“Hey, we love your story about the sophomore sorority girl that seduces her art teacher on the table in the painting studio.
“You paint a wild colorful acrobatic sex scene, but, it is too long, you got to cut it.
“However, keep the part about when he goes home that night and undresses for bed, his wife wonders how in the hell he got the Pollock-style finger painting in red, yellow, blue, and black pigments smeared across his naked fat ass?”
“Please edit it down to ninety-five words.”
by Martina Beatty
Balanced on two of the deck chair’s legs, Brandi’s bare feet gripped the rusty rail that ran around the motel’s little cement deck. “Seemeant,” she’d always said back home. Here folks said “sameant.” A Pacific wind lifted her hair.
Into the phone against her ear she said again she was not coming home. She could hear the TV on and the blender buzz, and the soft voice that she knew so well drawled in worried tones.
“I know it, Mama, but he makes me laugh. And it feels so good to laugh.”
No Toast for Charlie
by John Kratky
Agitated with hunger, Charlie threw the first stone. He couldn’t see where it hit, but knew the damage was done. Another flew overhead, then another, and without regard the sea of people bent as a wave of violence.
But blood on the street would not rise another loaf of bread. If only the workers on the “grub truck” hadn’t been disturbed by so many desperate eyes. When they kept driving, Charlie knew that’d be it. No more bread. Nothing. Because when it came to throwing stones, their leaders knew to throw the last. Always.
State of the State
by Laura Newman
I remember the ’67 State Fair when Uncle Johnny was still getting used to the fake leg he had to make up for the real leg he left in Vietnam. He was riding the Swinger and his fake leg just flew off. It landed on some stripped awning and rickashayed into the Chickens of the World exhibit. Chickens went nuts. One Banty attacked the leg, rat-tat-tat, dented up the ankle. Made Johnny laugh—best time since he got home.
Hear they’re selling fried cubes of butter-on-a-stick in Iowa, and we aren’t even having a Fair.
by Chris Watts
Carlos couldn’t believe what was happening. He was about to sneak out of the house to go to a party with his girlfriend. He was so nervous. He didn’t know how he was going to do it. This was no simple task for the average 16-year-old boy who had been freaking out all day trying to figure out what he wanted to do. If he went, his girlfriend would be happy, and if he didn’t, she would think that he deliberately bailed on her. He was about to make a very consequential decision.
by Chris Good
There are bedbugs in the mattress. It’s uncomfortable, but there are worse things out there, and you’d be surprised what you get used to. At least I have a roof over my head. I didn’t plan for the boredom. I wait in lines, answer the same questions, and then have to figure out what to do until the program starts. I do get tired of walking.
I catch myself in the storefront glass, and I look like a bag lady. I guess I am.
It wasn’t always this way. I used to have a future.
by Delana Lewis
I waste twenty minutes staring at the blank page in front of me. Staring. Staring. Staring some more. I have too many characters and no idea what to do with them. I need all of my characters. But, do I really? Most of them don’t even have ten lines. I still have zero ideas. I turn on my iPod and crank up the volume. Suddenly, I am struck with an idea. I furiously begin typing. I can’t type fast enough. Four pages later, I skim over what I wrote.
It’s a worthless piece of crap.
College Summer Break
by Chris Jarvis
Lola was driving back, away from home and away from Ian. The road ran through a forest slowly dying, consumed by an invasive species of moth. They fluttered through her high-beams, tapping the windshield with their deaths. She hadn’t seen another car for 17 miles.
In her too-cautious way, she loved him. But Ian knew she had to go back; so he controlled the narrative and left her for ego, survival, whatever. Lola wanted to stop thinking, but the radio was all static. She only had her CDs, songs she’d heard a hundred times before.
by Steven Hockenberry
I took one last look at the home we shared. All the warm hellos, all the sad goodbyes. The love and the laughter. The energetic community meals and joyful holidays. Every blemish is a memory, every flaw was cherished. The bank was unforgiving; unwilling; greedy. My heart was inconsequential, my soul was auctioned. The garden, teeming with life, embraced me one last time. I sat where I had said so long to a beloved canine friend. I cried one last time. I closed the door and walked away. It’s just a house, it’s just business.
by Francine Burge
Putting on the body-hugging slip dress, he felt a few things lacking. This is why he cut the lemon in half and put the two halves in the slots for breasts. It was good for a laugh, but he left them in all day. All day, I tell you. We roamed from art fixture to cowboy bar to yoga class. Drank beer, had martinis, played on trampolines, and admired the scenery. I bet he never even felt it coming. That night, red and inflamed, he had found that he had “ceviched” his nipples. Ouch.
by Brock Estes
Uninformed uniformed men came for the substitute professor just as class started.
A student objected but was quickly silenced by her classmates. The removal was completed in seconds.
There were still over forty minutes of class time remaining.
A girl began reading aloud from the Declaration of Independence. Another read from the Koran. A third opened a copy of What Is Good And Evil and began to speak the words.
The resulting cacophony mirrored the times in which they lived.
Later, they had lunch. They never spoke of the professor again. It wasn’t safe.
by Edwin Lyngar
Although it was years until Curly died, I was there when the murder started. I held his bald head, running my fingers though stubble, tracing the saw mark, hammer dent, and the bruise from a mistimed eye gouge. He had fans, to be sure, but only I really loved him.
“Don’t go,” I begged, holding him in my arms, drinking his unspoken pain. He never wept or broke character. I heard Moe from the other room. “Get in here, knucklehead.”
He rose from the couch with a “Nyuck, Nyuck,” and I never saw him again.
The Great Fall of 2004
by Shannon Sheddy
In a blank-minded panic, I grabbed my shorts and pulled! To my surprise, the machine’s belt had not only eaten my shorts, but my underwear as well. So there I sit, bare ass at the end of the treadmill, between a woman with a look of disgust and a man trying not to laugh. Thankfully, my best friend walks up; giggling, she hands me a bright purple yoga mat to wrap around my waist. As I head towards the stairs, eyes cast down in shame, I think of that woman’s face, what a bitch …
The Harvest Moon
by David Max
Victim attacked from behind. Saw the knife, not the face.
The prosecutor had an eyewitness. Eventually, he asked, “Was there a moon that night?”
Defendant’s lawyer cross-examines. “How far away were you?” “Shrubs, trees and cars between you then?” “You couldn’t see my client’s face, could you?”
“Yes, I saw him pull the knife. Take the victim’s wallet. Hit him in the back of the head.”
The defendant’s lawyer was aggressive, passionate, and sarcastic.
“Just how far can you see at night?”
“How far is the moon?”
The jury’s verdict: “Guilty.”