Literary shorts

Check out the winners of our annual 95-word fiction contest

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Here are the results of our annual contest in which we ask readers to write a micro story—exactly 95 words long. We get hundreds of entries for this contest every year. But every year is a little different. This was a year of extremes. Some of the stories were exuberant and uplifting—but at least one of the other stories was so downcast and disturbed that one of the younger, more impressionable members of our editorial staff felt compelled to ask, in a hushed and concerned whisper, “Do we need to worry about this person?”

This year had some of the funniest stories we’ve ever read. And some of the saddest. Some of the sharpest. And some of the most confusing. Some of the very best and some of the very worst. (And don’t worry—even if your story didn’t get published, we’re not referring to you. Your story was one of the very last ones we cut—mostly just because of space limitations. Don’t worry about it. You’re fine. Doing great work, actually. Keep it up. It was somebody else’s story that was so bad that we needed to rip it to shreds with our bare hands in a frenzy of rage. You’re cool.)

The bad stories have been banished to the recycling bin of history. The best stories are right here.

First place

That Didn’t go as Planned

I poured my ex-husband’s ashes down the front of my one-piece bathing suit. Jumped into Lake Tahoe. The idea was as I swam the ashes would dissipate, drift into water. Little pieces of Jordan, floating away.

I climbed an outcropping of rocks, expecting my suit to be empty. But the bulk of the ashes remained and had turned to mud. I opened the leg of my suit and pulled out globs of ash, like wet cement. Shook it loose. Hunks splat onto the rocks. Good God. Jordan was going to end up looking like bird poop.

—Laura Newman

Laura Newman is a several time RN&R 95-Word Fiction winner, including one story that resulted in the Catholic League calling for a boycott of the RN&R. She’s the author of Parallel to Paradise and the forthcoming Franklin Avenue Rookery for Wayward Babies.

Second place

Misunderstand ‘Lucky’ and You Don’t Get It

He eyed my stack of tickets. I nursed my cosmopolitan, waiting for my number.

“It doesn’t matter how many entries you have—my buddy had only two entries, and he won $2,000.”

Of course it matters. It’s probabilities, you statistical mis-calculator.

“And when we’re playing poker, he wins every time.”

Can’t win every time, you selective rememberer.

“When he goes to bars, he always posts photos with the sexiest lady.”

You don’t understand social media, you observer of highlight reels.

“Do you think we could make something magical here?”

Probably not. You’d need more entries.

—Andrew Wise

Andrew Wise and wife Johanna moved to Reno after 30 years in the Bay Area. Following his mother’s advice to get a degree that would put food on the table (business instead of English), he’s excited to rekindle his fiction career.

Third place


We sat on our son’s Cruce Street porch in Norman, Oklahoma, bemoaning the summer’s humidity, sipping Jack and Cherry Coke slushies, and counting fireflies playing tag in twilit forget-me-nots. I turned to my wife, smiled and softly, sappily said, “Sweetheart, I watched you during our recent Route 66 road trip and realized you are smarter than me.”

She immediately doubled over, and with eyes glistening, snorked slushie. Covering mouth and nose, she blindly found my knee and gently, if not condescendingly, squeezed it twice.

Well, Boy Howdy! It was quite apparent she already knew this.

—Keith Froslie

Keith Froslie was raised in Reno and graduated from the University of Nevada, Reno. He’s a retiree of the U.S. Air Force and the Washoe County School District. Froslie finds happiness in writing, midnight revisions and showers with his wife.

Honorable mentions

The Jimmy Choos

He tripped over her shoes. For the third time.

He picked up the right Jimmy Choo and threw it against the wall. The other he heaved in the opposite direction.

The phone rang and he picked up, annoyed. “What,” he barked gruffly.

“It’s me. What’s the matter? You sound upset.”

“Why would I be upset, Lonnie? You disappear for three days and then let me know, via text message, that ‘we’ve grown apart.’ What’s upsetting about that?”


“What do you want?”

“I was just wondering if I left my shoes there. The Jimmy Choos?”

—David R. Lee

American Fuckup Supreme

He leaned over and wretched, thought of how close his face was to the rim of the toilet, and wretched again. He spit away the awful taste and stood, faced the mirror and adjusted his tie. Pockets of late night tequila were still burning through his system so he ate an unhealthy combination of antacids and aspirin and opened the door. The echo of cheers sounded like thunder below him, but before he could shut the door again, a firm hand grabbed his arm and pushed him into the open air to accept the nomination.

—Bill W. Morgan


At Saint Vincent’s, she lifted the box out of her car.

A voice came from the street. “Got any men’s clothes?”

“No, sorry.” She barely looked up.

After dropping the donation, she parked, and headed inside.

Time to shop!

She nabbed a cribbage board, a skirt, and flannel pajamas, then hesitated.

Rifling through, she spotted it—thick, gray, V-neck, nearly new.

At the register, she had to borrow a dollar when the sign read cash only.

Once outside, she searched for him.

“Here, take this. It’ll be warm.”

“Lady, I’ve never owned anything cashmere before.”

—Catherine Schmidt


Does no one else hear that sound? It’s so subtle, yet pervasive.

It’s the sound of fifth grade in the ‘70s. The sound of a boy named George trying to sneak up behind me to put gum in my hair. The sound of the group of popular girls walking the hallway making fun of me for budding pimples and greasy hair. It’s the school cafeteria line waiting for fake cheese pizza.

The sound makes adult me both uncomfortable and nostalgic.

Swish swish. Swish swish. All day past my office door.

Corduroy is back in style.

—L.M. Staton


I dial the numbers slowly, my heart beating faster and faster.

“Hello, is this Susan Kauttz?”

“Yes, it is.”

I realize that I should’ve thought about the words. How do you tell a woman her deceased husband possibly fathered an illegitimate child and never told a soul?

“My name is Ramona, but I was born in Vietnam, and my mother gave me the name Bich-Ly.”

I wait for a response, and then she says something I did not expect.

“OK … I think I know where you’re going, but I want to hear you say it.”

—Romona McGinnis


A Reno ditch-fed pond will always be at risk. Dry years leave it smelling, well, funky.

But Lake Park is named because of the lake. It can’t be filled in.

On a hot July day, we meet to #SaveLakePark. Walking home, something’s moving yards out in the murky water.

Instinctively I call, “Come here, birdy.”

Well, damn, if it doesn’t start swimming—toward us. Cupping my hands, I lift it out.

The neighbor helpfully, “I’ll get a box. I think it’s hurt.”

But, no.

Phelps, the parakeet, is a thank you gift from the pond.

—Catherine Schmidt


The surgeon stood at the sink, washing his hands.

“Joe? You OK?”

“I’m fine, Bob.”

“Your hands are shaking?

Joe looked down. “My first big case.”

“You got this Joe. You’re good.”

“I hope you’re right.”

Bob turned toward him from the next sink.

“The team thinks you’re great. You have to think the same way.”

Joe nodded and walked toward the operating room.

Joe now walked down the hallway toward the waiting room. “Jackson family?

They turned. Upon seeing the smile on Joe’s face, they were relieved. Joe felt good. He would be OK.

—Arnold Klein

On the Playa

“Hi, neighbors! I must have been asleep when you came in overnight. We usually have the whole playa to ourselves this time of year, just us in our Winnebago. That’s quite a rig you’ve got there. You guys must be Burners. You’re a couple months early. Burning Man’s not until August. Where are you fellas from?”

“We’re researchers from Central Galactic University, here to collect specimens.”

“Uh, huh. Well, nice to meet you. I hear the missus waking up. … Gotta go. … Honey, there’s a couple of Burners out here. Their rig looks like a spaceship.”

—Steve Recchia


“Two months, maybe three. It’s inoperable. I’m sorry, John.”

“Jesus. Two months.”

“Yes, I suggest you get your affairs together, spend time with your children.”

“I don’t have any, anyone else, for that matter.”

“Well, do you have any questions?”

“No, not really.”

“OK, please stop out front and settle up with Christine.”

“Thanks. Goodbye, doctor.”

“Ah, the doctor asked me to speak to you.”

“Yes, how do you want to settle your bill? After insurance, your responsibility is $42,000.”

“How long can I stretch out the payments?”

“Only six months, I’m afraid.”

“That’ll work.”

—Jerry Wager

The Furniture Makers

Sadness spilled out of Mohamed’s eyes, as they drove near his family’s old wood shop on the edge of Mogadishu. “We made furniture there when I was a kid,” he pointed, “but the clans destroyed everything.”

Worst thing to ever happen in Muldoon’s high school shop class was a classmate that cut off his own fingertip using the band saw. “I made my mom a table,” Muldoon said, “cut the drawer dovetails by hand, with a chisel and a mallet.” Ali Ga ‘al nodded. Muldoon felt grateful and angry, all in the same powerless breath.

—Carl Moulton


“What! They got away? How?” She said, nursing her swollen cheek.

“They had a car outside, and with the hoodies and masks, we got nothin’ to identify ’em,” the cop answered, shrugging.

“Take me to the hospital right now,” she said, handing him a small baggie.

“I blew one of them,” nodding toward the baggie, “and fucked the other one. Two shots of semen.”

“Jesus!” he said looking at the baggie.

“I’m a hooker—it’s what I do.”

“Son of a bitch. If they’re in the system, we’ll get ’em. Promise.”

Turns out they were.

—Jerry Wager

Jason Morris Sells the World

Had the strange looking fellow not stopped him at the door, Jason would have used his last dollar on a cheap quart of beer.

“Sell me the world and I’ll buy you the best beer, cases of beer.”

“Shit yeah!” Jason said with a handshake.

The next day, Jason saw the same man on TV. He was yelling and pointing to the odd collection of spaceships in the sky. He was claiming ownership of the world, like in some cheap Hollywood movie.

Jason watched with a fresh beer, excited to see what would happen next.

—Bill W. Morgan

College Reunions by Anonymous

“AA is soooo American,” quipped her old college roommate, an X-pat, married to a corporate “Mad Man,” fingers wrapped around her wineglass like a gun pointed to her clavicle.

“So is jazz, baby, so’s jazz. And look how that changed the world,” she replied.

“Touché … but … you’ll be back.”

They laughed, thick as old thieves reunited.

“What goes on in AA meetings anyway?”

“We run around naked on hot coals.”

More laughter.

But to herself she says: “I pray I never go back. And call me if that loaded wine gun ever goes off on you.”

—Eileen Driscoll

All the Fashionable Girls

The air was soft, gently brushing her bare skin. She waited, grateful for the husband who drove home for a sundress and, unprompted, her pocket angel of hope, her lip balm. “If I’m ever in a coma,” she would half-joke, “make sure someone applies it every hour.”

A carload of teenagers stared at her. Or possibly at the catheter hose that looped below her dress, a new temporary reality. Oh, boy, she breathed, then called to them: “It’s what all the fashionable girls are wearing these days.” And turned so they couldn’t see her smile.

—Darlynne Vrechek


She was climbing my neighbor’s door. That encounter would not go well, so to collect her—

Quart jar, said some inner voice.

A jar? I asked.

And that folded newspaper.

She ducked her head and prayed. I held the jar, brushed the paper toward her side, and she … climbed right in. She pressed her spines against the glass, looking at me with wide eyes.

I carried her outside to the stars and crickets, listening to her clinking steps inside the glass. Delivered safe, she turned her long body, squaring up to me. Pray tell, mantoptera.

—Jenny Pickerell

The Package Deal

Why did it always go like this?

She wanting more … so much more … and sooner. And the guy just coolly offering his services to the next in line like she didn’t even matter.

It hurt that she didn’t matter. Oh, but she would matter.

He’d look at her and see her like he’d never seen her before: NOT all sweet, and so ready to receive his handsome half smile and rehearsed comments, like he really cared about her day … and her life?

She swore right then that she would never, ever patronize this P.O. branch again.

—Sharon Colley

Roughin’ It

My aunt got bilked out of all her credit cards and life savings by a con man who told her she inherited a bunch of money from Sweden. So it got me thinking when I’m really old I’m going to bilk myself out of a fortune by staying in posh hotels and getting daily room service and massages and tattoos. I’m saving the best part, though. I’m finding a really big RV parked at a scenic overlook, getting in and driving the piggish monstrosity off the edge. Because that’s not camping and everyone knows it.

—Jane Addington

How to Hold the Rope

She had to show the old man how to hold the rope, hard when you won’t speak, but he understood and she smiled. Before she turned back to the chair at the center of the crowd, she made sure, with a shake of her forefinger and a playful look of warning that he knew to hold on.

She climbed the chair and mocked putting the rope around her neck, tightening it until an involuntary choke escaped. The man felt the imaginary rope shift in his hand and before anyone could argue, the mime stepped off.

—Bill W. Morgan