Short, but sweet

The RN&R’s annual short fiction contest has been read, judged and awarded

Illustration By Jason Crosby

Well, readers, you did it again: You took our short-fiction contest to places we never imagined. The themes were timeless: life and death, love and murder, sex and … sex. It’s heady stuff for 95-word-or-less combinations of nouns, verbs, adverbs and adjectives. Longtime readers will recognize the names of some winners—our top choice, Laura Boren-Newman, has won first-place before. But that’s all about the talent—of course, you’ll be the judge of that. … And then there were those who sent in 100-word entries … go figure. Hey, look at that: a 95-word introduction.

First Place

The Dreamer
When my father is through tussling with his girls, he takes himself swimming. He swims like a movie star. His chin is chiseled. He chisels the waves. He is as strong as the ocean, as long as there is no storm. My Italian mother sits on the beach, dark curls, smoke eyes, and while you might consider her a bit hairy for American standards, I love to sit and stroke her pelty arms. She sighs a soft aria that drifts in and out of the waves. I never dream she is dreaming of leaving us.

—Laura Boren-Newman

Laura Boren–Newman, 49, sells television advertising at KOLO-TV. “My inspiration for “The Dreamer” was a story that my girlfriend told me about her life, although when I was writing it, it took a completely different direction and doesn’t have anything to do with her.”

Illustration By Jason Crosby

Second Place

Overheard on Citifare
“You’re nice, Barbara. We should see more of each other.”

“I didn’t think you liked me like that, Phil.”

“I don’t—not like that.” Phil rubs his nose. “Just be good friends—in case you ever need anything. Like, say the cops accuse you of doing something bad, something terrible, and you need an alibi, you could depend on me.”

Barbara smiles. “You’d do that—back me up?”

“Of course! We’re friends, right? [long pause] By the way, Barb, if anyone comes around asking about me, say we were together last night, OK?”

—Patricia R. Coia

Patricia R. Coia, 60, is a reading teacher at Pine Middle School. In her career, she’s also taught language arts and Spanish. She’s going to retire after the summer-school session. “My inspiration was two things: I took Citifare one day, and I overheard a rather graphic conversation. Also, I remembered kind of a punchline from an old joke. I combined the two.”

Illustration By Jason Crosby

Third Place

Maiden Name
My last name. People have a problem with it.

Not that it’s hard to pronounce, or anything. People are just a little skittish when it comes to saying it aloud.

K. O. C. H.

At the bank, I’ll get, “Hello Miss Cook.”

No …

Some people at work, “Hi Miss Cotch.”

Try again…

I’ve heard: Cutch. Kook. Coach.

Nope. None of those…

Here’s how it goes—it’s easy: Kay sound. Ah, like “pot.” Kay sound.

Say it with me—no need to be embarrassed.

Cock. Cock. Cock. Cock. Cock.

Why are people so afraid of cock?

—Branden Palomo

Branden Palomo, 28, works at Barnes & Nobel. He’s been in Reno since he was little. “I was working in an office, and somebody I was working with was on the phone with someone, and they were afraid to say her name. After she hung up, she relayed the story to everyone.”

Fourth Place

Cormorant Afternoon
They arrive as if they think they are explorers, like Lewis and Clark. And they settle into the little nests of Russian Olive and dying Cottonwood to talk on their cell phones. They never see the bird in the tree.

They squeal in the shallows when the water hits their fat white limbs. And they act as if they are the first to discover this bend in the river. The path is paved for them! Signs explain the names of the plants they stagger through. But they are too adventurous to pick up their shit.

—Meleva Hill

Meleva Hill, 54, is administrative assistant for the Reno News & Review. [Hey folks, it was fair and square, judges were unaware of the identities of the contestants—Editor.] She’s lived in Reno all her life. “It’s based on a true story. I sit down there, and I read, and I prop my feet up, and I have a whole view of all the idiots who come down to the river. Right above me was a cormorant sitting in the tree. … Don’t get me started.”

Fifth Place

Late-night Diversions
I spent most of the morning trying to leave the house. I touched the door handle twice with my right hand, twice with my left, but I couldn’t get it right.

Last night, I stood in the bathroom, gently pressing the handle of the faucet into place. If I didn’t, the water would drip.

The night before, I crept quietly around the kitchen, pressing each cord firmly into each socket. Repeat.

She came in and asked me what I was doing up so late.

I told her I needed a glass of water.

—Monique Baumann

Monique Baumann, 24, is a University of Nevada, Reno student who makes ends meet as a waitress. She grew up in Minden and moved to Reno about six years ago. She got her inspiration for the story from personal experience as a child. “I’d sort of creep around and be checking things,” she said, laughing. “It went away as I got older. It gave me sort of an insight into people who are really handicapped by that sort of thing.”

Runners Up

Enlightened Piece of Wood
The light filtered through early afternoon clouds. A quick spattering of brittle-sounding snow blew across my Carhartts as I set up a chunk of wood. I bend my knees and swing the maul aiming for the crack in the wood. He always stridently criticized my stance; criticized everything. But I’ll never hear his voice again. He’s gone. I made sure. The piece of wood pops open like a skull with a resounding POP. Yes! I crow. For a woman, that is the sweet sound of independence. The wind whistles. And my paltry woodpile grows.

—Meleva Hill

You Gotta Believe Me …
I was lonely.

In the hotel bar, she comes up to me. We start talking and drinking.

She spoke with half-opened eyes. Played with the straw in her drink.

Touched her hair and face.

Told me her room number. Winked and left.

Walked up to the open door. The shower’s running.

In a white robe, she told me to hop in the shower. That she’ll join me.

Never looked around that room.

Never even saw the body.

That’s why I was in the shower when you cops showed up—not washing off blood.

I swear …

—Branden Palomo

Answer Carefully
Her question made him nervous. While his suspicions of her emotional instability were unfounded, wasn’t it true that all the beautiful ones were crazy? As they lay in bed together he realized that although he didn’t love her, he sure loved screwing her. Why wouldn’t he? After all, she was 20 years his junior and had the body of a supermodel. Definitely out of his league. Giving her up would not be easy. His silence prompted her to ask again, “If something bad happened to your wife, would you marry me?”

—Julie Brents

Love Thy Neighbor
Our neighbor lives in the hood. Literally. Year-round, body and soul sitting in front of the Mapes Plaza in his hood. Summer came; he strips down to a Little Rascals ensemble. Everyday I walk by and know he is my guardian angel. When he walks he counts squares. He is an innocent. Morning at 6:45. Squad cars 608 and 620 question him. He must have fallen asleep. He can sit, but he can’t sleep? Waiting in their car, they go through his bag; a shirt, a good book. Now, no one watches over the hood.

—Mary Bennett


Sara: Did he call?

Holly: No.

Sara: You connected, right?

Holly: Totally. He’s the one.

Carla: He’ll call.


Holly: I burped.

Sara: I didn’t hear anything.

Holly: At the restaurant—with him.

Sara: Everyone burps.

Carla: Yeah.


Holly: Probably shouldn’t have mentioned my stalker ex.

Sara: Everyone has a stalker ex.

Holly: Or my abortion.

Carla: Yeah.


Holly: I’m so upset. We’re soul mates!

Carla: He won’t call.


Holly: HE CALLED! He had a terrible rash.

Sara & Carla: Yuk!!!

Holly: I know.

Sara: So?

Holly: Forget him.

Carla: Yeah.

—Kathy Welch

The old man with a bag of groceries crossed the street. The bus was late. Five more people arrived. The day was cold, some snow. Over the park, a flock of geese circled. Wings and body motionless. The old man’s shoes had holes in them. I looked at his groceries; what had he bought … a bagful of aluminum cans. The bird visitors strutted around the park—searching—it was a good day for worms. The bus arrived.

—Marcel Chapdebois

The Missing Link
CNN news was on the scene live as Archaeologists opened Noah’s Ark. The story spread worldwide before governments had time to stop it. It was relatively simple to decode the language and activate the hologram inside. A DNA code for every living thing on earth was included, along with the Others. Looking toward the heavens, we now long to meet our fathers. We need not look beyond the trees or in Zoos to find our mothers. As we wait for their return, we pray they see us as their children and not as lab rats.

—Martha Liou

How Could You?
The pain makes me want to cry, but the tears dry from the oppressive heat as they form. How could you do this? How could you be so careless? Do you not know that we are all interconnected? I run as fast as I can trying to escape, but you had to light that campfire, and now my home is ablaze. The flames lick at my tail; there is nowhere to go. It will be over for me very quickly now. As the fire consumes me, I scream in pain and think, how could you?

—Bill Kice

If you took all the rooms

from the apartments I’ve live in,

houses I’ve lived in,

trailors and condos I’ve lived in,

garden shacks, couches, or floors

I’ve lived in or on …

and attached them all together under some

other-world-like roof …

to form a giant mansion …

with all the former me’s living out their lives

within each room in hologram form …

I could see where I went wrong,

how I have gotten cast upon my current beach,

out of an ocean of my own making.

—Dan Ferem

A bothersome quirk of her new apartment was the smells of neighbors’ lives permeating her space. Potpourri and candles lined her walls in defense, but their scents fused with the intruders, creating a nauseatingly sweet mixture. After months of botched pear-berry candles, she gave up; letting whiffs of unknown lives mingle with her own. One afternoon, the scent of diaper cream tickled her nose, and she found herself smiling for an unknown baby’s bottom being soothed. That night, she baked cookies, content with her apartment and with being the cause of several inexplicably watering mouths.

—Erin Aldrich

Because of a terrible global catastrophe, the last human died on January 1, 2099. In man’s undaunted resolve to harness life through technology, obliteration had become a reality. However, perhaps because of foresight, 5,000 of the most brilliant brains were preserved and put in selected locations around the world. They were all hooked up to giant computers with all the knowledge known to humankind in the hope of recreating life once again. The first thing these cerebral driven computers did was to play video games.

—Robert Thompson

In view of the glassless window, speckled chickens scratch at the earth, momentarily abandoning their nests. Squishy ball of masa in hand, I stand ready. Doña Analee, bent and sinewy, takes a ball of masa in her own hand, and shows me how. Flap! Flatten it this way. Quick fingers dig into clay, into sustenance, into the past. Now, move it round and round, shape the edges. Her tiny knot of gray hair bobs slightly—that’s it. Somewhere in the house, an uncle fetches a camcorder to film the gringa making tortillas.

—Monique Baumann

Summer Dreaming
The pygmy goat disturbed her. The rattlesnake didn’t. Both had snuck into the kitchen. Both were up for a fight. If the goat reared up and yet again butted her leg, the scab would re-open or she’d get a deeper bruise. If the snake struck, she could get out of feeding and cleaning 150 animals: horses, goats, dogs, cats, chickens, guinea pigs, rabbits, turtles … and all their flies. All June, licked and bitten.

She needed peace. She needed safety.

She inched toward the snake, praying for a new room at the hospital she’d just left.

—Catherine Matovich

In the end, it wasn’t only cockroaches that survived. Some scientists did, too, and eventually they discovered that everyone who lived through the blast had been a lifelong smoker, and many had also been overly fond of prepackaged snack foods made from dubious and unpronounceable ingredients.

The scientists conjectured that the very chemicals the granola-pushers believed would kill them were what kept the select group of people alive through the long days of darkness. And when the children were born with glow-in-the-dark skin, the scientists were pleased that they no longer needed to defend evolution.

—Debbie Albright

Return to duty
A clinking of milk bottles on the apartment landing awakened him. Stiff and shivering, he arose and stumbled down the steps into the cold and grayness of the Copenhagen dawn. The ferry from Malmo the previous day had depleted his meager funds. Exhausted and hungry, he made his way to embassy row. A few listless Vietnam War protesters huddled in front of the American gate. Inside the embassy foyer, a receptionist looked askance at his unkempt appearance. Resignation overwhelmed him as he proffered his military ID. “I’m here to turn myself in,” he said.

—Charles Schleeweis