Biggest little stories

Here are the Top 20 stories in our annual 95-Word Fiction Contest.

Photos by Eric Marks

Photos by Eric Marks

One of the great things about our annual 95-Word fiction contest is the way themes arise out of the ether, which gives us insight into cultural memes. This year, the cultural mind was on sex, farts and death, two of the three of which are included in all great literature since paper was invented. We think we’ve finally found a time that makes sense to publish our winners’ works, so keep an eye open around the holidays next year. Congratulations to our winners, and thanks to everyone who entered. Several of our editors remarked that this was one of the best years for quality entries.

First PlaceAnswer

By Madeleine Williams

She walks back down the driveway. Face closed, shoulders back. You do not know which is whiter: the envelope or her eyes, wide in the afternoon sun. Has the parcel weight in her soft hands?

Drawing near, you hear her controlled breaths, quick uneven gait. The grass is greening beneath the snow—the moment breaks—she is all joy and arms around you. The envelope is thick and heavy with paper possibility.

In irrevocable black letters, it bears your address, her name, and the seal of Duke University.

You will lose her.

Madeleine is a senior at Wooster High School and National Novel Writing Month Winner. She is a longtime reading addict and writing fanatic, and hopes to continue all her life. Though a sixth-generation Nevadan, Madeleine has applied to several out-of-state colleges and hopes to receive a favorable answer.

Second PlaceTempo

By Jose Skinner

He played Joplin right. Most people blaze through ragtime as if the Entertainer had a train to catch.

But not him.

He didn’t play too fast and almost no trace of swing. Instead, he settled into each syncopated beat with nothing to prove. I’d watch his left hand bounce on the keys, keeping the bassline buoyant. The melody in his right sailed on the steady pulse.

So when he kissed me—finally!—I knew it’d be unhurried, giving the moment room to breathe. I listened to our mouths melting over the thump of my heartbeat.

Jose Skinner is music pastor at The Bridge Church, the father of three kids who are all beautiful and brilliant, and the husband of one sweet wife whose demeanor hides her iron will. He says the inspiration for the story came from a combination of ideas: First was a Scott Joplin quote, in which Joplin said this ragtime shouldn’t be played too fast, and the second was about a housewife who finally learned to play piano.

Third PlaceFeng Shue

By Bill Jackson

Buck and Duke were in trouble. Two years out on the range had spoiled their feelings of ease around women.

They sought help in Barnes and Noble. “Buns and Nipples,” Duke had joked.

Later, their State Fair Budweisers washed away everything they had learned. Buck moved toward a woman, noticing her toddler only after the words had left his mouth. “Hey, Baby,” he said, “Wadda ya say we feng some shoo-wee?” He was anxiously wondering whether he had said it right and feeling relief that she had apparently not heard him. But her husband had.

B. Jackson works at Northern Nevada Adult Mental Health Services where his clients and he play with the contents of their consciousness. He wrote the 11 stories that he submitted this year about seven years ago, when he had time for such fun; since then he has married, doubled his work hours, tripled his kids, and more. He has enjoyed writing tales that toy with the boundaries of expectations.

Honorable Mentions First Date

There’s always an awkward silence on the first date, especially when you’re sitting around playing 20 questions with a person you just met.

“What’s your favorite color?”

I turned with a pique expression, “I don’t have one.”

He gasped dramatically, acting stunned.

“Everyone has a favorite color!” He exclaimed.

I gave a small shrug.

“Mine’s yellow.”

I looked at him, raising my eyebrow. “Why?”

“Because it’s the color of happiness!” He grinned cheekily.

“And the color of piss,” I smirked.

He rolled his eyes mumbling.

Needless to say, there probably won’t be a second date.

—Brianna Shepperd

The Simple Secret of the Plot

The breakfast crowd buzzed in the background while the quintet (minus one) laughed.

“I like cake,” one said, “but only as a frosting delivery vehicle.”

Thomas didn’t hear. He monitored the door, ready to act uninterested. But when she did arrive, he tensed, mesmerized by the violet aura surrounding her.

The four became five, but the pair didn’t acknowledge one other. Although three hours ago he’d kissed her lips swollen.

Nobody remarked on them, so the two pretended things weren’t different. And they weren’t. But now everything, if only secretly, was out in the open.

—Jose Skinner

Flip Me Over

Paddling out through the ice on Tahoe, I aimed my board for the deepest point. When the GPS showed I had 1600 feet of water below, I fell backward, gradually sinking into the depths like a leaf detached from an autumn branch. Some of my weights fell away leaving me floating face up, neutrally buoyant below the thermocline. The cold had paralyzed me, yet left my eyes and mind functioning. Just when I began to look forward to seeing the dawn, a night fisherman’s line caught my suit and turned me over facing the blackness.

—J. Tyler Ballance

Life After Death

Harry made a mistake. It wasn’t his worst, but it was up there in his opinion. By sending Madelyn a “like” on a dating site, he found himself in a relationship, the first in the 10 years since his wife’s passing.

He liked Madelyn all right. They were both 60. He appreciated her maturity and acceptance of his quirks.

“Action movies? Love them. French toast every Sunday? Perfect,” she’d said.

The sex was better than he’d expected. But was it worth all the guilt? Harry thought it over. Maybe he would wait to find out.

—Sue Edmondson

Road Kill

So I’m driving down the street, and this squirrel is sauntering across the road like he owns the place, right? So I swerve to miss the damn thing, and I end up hitting a patch of black ice.

The car fishtails and, like an idiot, I hit the accelerator instead of the brakes wondering why I keep going faster.

A clash hit my ears like a tidal wave.

The crunching of metal, the tinkling of glass as it shattered.

Before everything went dark, I caught a short glimpse of that fucking squirrel chattering in mockery.

—Meghan Meredith

Last Goodbyes

The ship was slowly drifting away from the dock, its young occupant’s mood ranging from unreasonable optimism to cynical resignation. Some were waving their new caps to the throng on the quay, but most were silently staring back along streets to towns far away and to loved ones not to be seen again. A distant tug’s horn sounded.

“They aren’t coming back, are they”. The boy made it statement rather than a question.

“Not all of them,” said the old man, steadying himself on the boy’s shoulder.

“Not nearly enough of them” he whispered quietly.

—Mike Gully


Choking a scream, Barbie surfaces from dreaming she is a cabbage-patch doll. Tense in the sweat-soaked sheets, she exhales the bulgy and ugly-cute memory. She rolls toward the nightstand, squinting at the clock; it’s way too early to get up. She sighs a quiet “Shit,” lays back, and turns the bedside light on anyway. Comforted by the familiar pink, she stares at the ceiling, then runs her hands over her faceshe will check for freckles in the morning. Her hand on Ken’s thigh silences his snoring. She remembers his “I do,” and is gone.

—Bill Jackson


Lilith—demon waitress—screaming through the swinging doors rs on leathery wings, followed by the din of Jazz and light conversation. Her command is abrupt and a seeming horde of minions follows. We take the line, exhausted but prepared to throw back another assault.

The incantation has served us well many times before: “Leg of mallard, belly of pig, haricots blancs, saucisson and fig!”

Dancing down the greasy tiles of the Saturday night knife fight, fending off the blaze with a dented saute… Who decided double-breasted cotton was good armor against hot oil, fire and blades?

—Scott Cinelli

Crimes and Mousedemeanors

It was the biggest score Rosie the Mouse had ever been part of. Over twenty different grains and seeds and nuts and fruit …

“How are supposed to get in dere?” Louie the Rat sneered. He was going to be trouble, Rosie decided.

“Easy, Louie! We crawl up the drainpipe, scratch open the screen and lever open the glass door. They keep it open at night …” I said, hoping he wouldn’t ask why.

“Why?” asked Louie.

“Why what?” replied Roise.

“Why do dey keep it open?” said Louie.

“Because it’s for the cat,” replied Slick Slim.

—Mike Gully

High Pressure

It’s meet-the-parents night, and I’ve always been basically shy so I feel awkward. We sit down to dinner. The two bowls of green pea soup I had for lunch are causing incredible gas build up, but can’t fart no matter what. It’s getting worse. Must release test fart and maybe it won’t smell. Open sphincter muscle valve 10%, sample released. Testing air through olfactory receptor neurons. Testing, testing, testing, SHUT DOWN SHUT DOWN, CLOSE SPHINCTER MUSCLE 100%. All gas unsuitable for release. Move to plan B. Make excuse to go out to car.

—Cory Bedell


Head down.

Taillight out.

Mailbox that’s missing a little red flag one mile back.

She straightens from her hunched position over the steering wheel. Leather. Decades stacked like playing cards in a deck. She looks around her. The first parking lot she had seen in a mile.

Rain puddles gather the neon light from the darkness and reflect it back to her. In one she reads “OPEN” and “BUDWEISER”.

Out she goes, crossing spaces. In she goes, ringing a bell atop the door of a lonely bar.

 “That’s how I met your mom,” dad says.

—Amy Ellis

The Perfect Family

Everyone thinks our family is perfect.

I suppose that’s what they’re supposed to believe from our annual Christmas cards with our bogus smiles and the matching ugly suede sweaters attached with the flawed greeting in flashy-red on top, Happy Holidays from our perfect family.

My father is the cheater.

My brother the smoker.

And my mother the drinker.

As for me, I’m the failure.

We keep the ugly, crimson and cerulean patterned drapes down, never daring to move them because everyone would know our dirty little secret.

That we’re not as perfect as they thought.

—Brianna Shepperd

Helping Hand

I felt the three pairs of judgmental eyes on me, drilling holes in my skull. The incompetent little guy froze on the carpet as I crouched down, a napkin in hand.

My mother, on the verge of breaking down into a sea of tears, sobbed. “You need help!”

We both hated this situation, and creepy-crawlies.

My dad said absolutely nothing. He was testing me, and probably lovin’ it.

“I don’t need help. I’m fine!”

Let’s face it. If I couldn’t kill one little bug, I clearly wasn’t as manly as my dad and I thought.

—Brianna Shepperd

Remote Control

Frank cranked up the volume on the game and dropped the TV’s remote control into the crevasse between his thigh and the cushion. He grabbed the controller for the 4x4 monster truck and thumbed the throttle forward. The dog’s head jerked up when it heard the engine whine. Too late. Too close. It yelped, leapt up and ran.

Laughing, Frank drained the last of his PBR, crushed the can and threw it onto the floor. 

“Another beer!” he yelled.

Anne sucked her bloody lip and loaded the last bullet in the revolver.



—John Bianchi

Sex In The 80s

She said  “take off your clothes, let me look at you”.  She dropped her nightgown…slowly. Gabe was 86. Michaela was 84.

Together for 60 years, their lovemaking was as usual. Passionate, erotic, wild and adventuresome.

Gabe was an accomplished lover.

Michaela kissed and touched in ways that flamed one’s passion. 

Lying there in their bed, spent and smiling, Michaela said, “Still great”.

Gabe mused “You were so prim and proper when I met you. Who would have known you were such an erotic wildcat in bed?

Michaela said, coyly, “I wasn’t, until I met you.”

—Michael James Millerick


She will always remember the gunshots that echoed through her home. It was surreal. Bullet through skin, flesh on floor.

They were dead. She knew. Recalling the beige carpet now splashed and stained with such red sin.

It was murder, two counts of it.

They were gone.

But she believed she could fix it.

It wasn’t a mystery; she knew the full answer to this predicament. She knew exactly who the murderer was.

One foot out, through the window, she shivered. Before she gathered her resolved and jumped fully off—killing the killer at last.

—Pauline Nipay


Ten o’clock on a Saturday morning meant taking the bus to his apartment. It meant visiting him, as I always had to. I sat near him on the tattered leather couch, choking on cigarette smoke and silence while watching the television which now portrayed waves of angry protestors. I collected a deep breath and said, “What do you think, Dad?” He muttered a few profanities, laughed, then replied “We should line them up against a wall and shoot them.” I knew then there was something incredibly malicious in this world; something we might never end.

—Alexandra Akre