The winning entries in the RN&R’s annual 95-word microfiction contest.
How much story can you pack into exactly 95 words? That’s the challenge the RN&R throws out to readers every year. And every year we get hundreds of responses—some strange, some funny, some poignant. Some are good, some bad, some ugly, many mediocre. The writers tell jokes, share anecdotes, advice, poems. They surprise, anger, confuse, confound, frighten, arouse, gall and astound us.
Reading all the entries and voting for our favorites is a fun process that we editors look forward to every year. This year, there seemed to be an overall increase in the quality of the stories. The best stories were as good as ever, but somehow the average got better. Maybe a decade of Twitter has improved the general ability to tell a story in limited space? Who knows.
And, yes, we actually moved the dates of the contest back a little bit, which meant that 2017 was technically the year without a 95-word fiction issue. But January is a better time for a contest like this, because there’s just less going on. And pushing the contest back a couple of weeks meant we had to read fewer Christmas-themed stories, which was nice.
Thanks to everyone who submitted stories this year. There were a lot of good ones that didn’t even make the final cut.
Why did I believe her? She said I’d go back to work without needing a shower, but people will say anything for money. “See you next time” implied that I’d be back. Future visits needed more preparation and better planning. Stopping didn’t occur to me. It had to be obvious to my coworkers. An extended lunch-hour, red-faced, disheveled hair. The hint of a confident smirk only perceptible when in concert with an inspired, unintentional posture. I needed a shower; a change of underwear at a minimum. “Lunchtime Yoga” is suitable for beginners? Yeah, right, Jenn!
Jason Martin is a native Nevadan living in Minden with his wife Tillie and two children, Ida and William. Jason and his family enjoy exploring Nevada's outdoors, and, on occasion, Jason is a patron of Yoga Sol in Carson City.
An old something in overcoat and fedora stared at his runaway grocery cart, its contents spilled across the sidewalk and into the curb. A young something in hoodie and backpack walked up and the two exchanged glances.
Wordlessly, they went to work restoring the items to their rightful place.
“James,” announced Samaritan.
“Anthony,” answered Levite. “And may I interest you in supper at the diner nearby?”
Two meatloaf specials and 60 minutes later, old something and young something parted. The day’s light faded but not the glow of their chance encounter.
Robert Drews is a writer, editor and tutor and moved with his wife to Carson City in 2015 after a 35-year newspaper career during which he respected and appreciated the power of the written word.
Her grandchildren had admonished her that only old ladies typed with one finger, that thumbs were the proper way to text. They’d taught her acronyms, a curious method of communication. BRB kind of tickled her, though; she felt very au courant just saying it aloud.
A new message to her nephew’s fiancée. Welcome to the family, that would be appropriate. Maybe something about going to find out about their reception plans, staying tuned for updates.
She tapped, paused, added her initials, and hit send:
WTF, Stephanie! GTFO about the reception, we’ll STFU on everything.
Darlynne Vrechek is a Russian language major whose father said, “Please at least take typing.” Words matter. Choose wisely. Be curious and grateful.
Uninvited, a black-and-white collarless mutt bounded into our car in Truckee. He fought against eviction.
We named him Glacier and brought him camping at a lake. He chased chipmunks, swam in crystal water and ate bacon from an iron pan, lapping warm grease. He yelped at the moonrise. In darkness, he snuggled between our sleeping bags, his legs often churning, his eyelids quaking in his sleep.
On the way home, we released him where we found him. We wonder if he will remember us, or if we are just another of his wild, lupine dreams.
—Frank X. Mullen
Pure Punk Fury
Wild laughter echoed from the parking lot, snapping him away from his book. Outside, they sat huddled under a tree with sky-high mohawks and leather jackets sporting rivers of silver spikes tacked in just the right place, texting on phones mummy wrapped with anarchy stickers. Hot Topic controlled chaos.
Coffee cups, now repurposed as ashtrays, sat between legs outstretched across the asphalt. Others were tipped and used as obstacles for skater friends riding out a trick.
He sipped his own coffee and went back to the page, remembering when he was pure punk fury.
—Bill W. Morgan
Depository for Voracious Bibliorats
Ms. Rigby Wilder hoarded. Her biggest beloved caboodle, was books—mountains of bestselling paperbacks mingled with unread self-helps, in grocery bags with unreadable receipts. She suffered from every phobia known to modern mental health, as articulated by her impressive reference section.
Her sociopathic husband bolted bars on the windows from the outside, for safety. The side door was blocked by a bookcase. She called her house “The Alamo.”
Fourteen dogs—aided by a rat infestation—urinated/defecated on, nibbled at, and defiled the stockpile. Unfit for human use, most became dumpster fodder after she died.
—Carl Wesley Moulton
“You have another patient,” said the nurse.
Doctor Jones needed to rush this one. He briskly entered the exam room. The patient, an old man, had his back turned. Jones avoided eye contact as he put the stethoscope on the patient’s chest.
“How’s the old ticker sound?” asked the patient.
To avoid conversation, Jones moved to the patient’s back and said, “Deep breath.”
“Sounding good,” Jones said cheerfully on exit.
“How about that last patient?” the nurse asked with a big smile.
“What?” he asked, not understanding.
She said, “That last patient was your dad.”
—J. W. Austin
What We Want
Looking past him, the cashier cut my father off and turned to me.
“Can you just tell me what he wants?”
I wished I told him that all my father wanted was for college degrees to hold green cards, for enough money to see his mother buried, for sacrifice and destiny to stop battling. He wanted to ask this young boy to look him in the eye.
Instead, he asked for a refund.
“Sorry, you’re past 15 days of purchase. Next time, read more carefully.”
My father responded, slowly. “I’ll do that. Good day, sir.”
The ever present mob of crows crowded together on the power line that stretched above the school’s gravel parking lot. The feathered sentinels seemed amused by a conversation between groundskeeper and teacher.
“I’ve asked you to speak to your students about throwing rocks onto the ball field.”
“I assure you Mister Nelms that my kids aren’t the culprits.”
“Missus Wright, you must be wrong. I continue to dull and damage my mower blades.”
Miraculously, at that very moment, the crows renewed the bombardment of the encroaching rattlesnake with their peculiar and readily available stony projectiles.
Whiskey River, Take My Time
The first time I got drunk alone, I was reading a local paper—you know the kind of paper that sits around in all those trendy places in town. They’re usually near the entrance or exit of these joints and are free for the taking. They cover hipster community stories and offer writing contests and such.
The whiskey was sweet, but what was sweeter was the realization that this paper owned a time machine and were planning on publishing the results of their writing contest some 11-and-a-half months before the submissions were due.
A Night at the Movies
Cousin Stevie was arrested because he was being pushed around when he was waiting to buy movie tickets, in front of the Fox Theater in Hackensack. He told the judge he was being threatened. Three guys were crowding-in on him and his date. He had to do something. His knife cut across one of the trio’s arms, just as a patrol car was passing by.
“Jail or the marines,” said the judge. “Choose.” It was 1966.
Stevie died in a rice paddy in ’Nam.
Pretty harsh sentence for a flesh wound on a bully’s arm.
Sometimes you accidentally hit a button on your ancient car radio and get an AM easy listening station. Oddly, you still can sing along with that childhood favorite. You remember belting it out in the back of the wood-paneled station wagon piled full of kids with no seatbelts. Five years old, covered in dirt and mosquito bites, never realizing one day when you’re in your 40s you’ll truly understand the weight of those lyrics. It’s sad to belong to someone else when the right one comes along. Should probably get a new radio soon.
Taking aim, as I have done without thought many times, but it bothers me now as I age. It must be done. Staring at my shoes for a moment using both hands close together, I grip it with my curled thumbs. I shouldn’t hate doing this. Deep breath and hold it in, I lean forward quickly, eyes fixed on target. Fire! Bullseye! Got it. My stomach turns from the pressure. Lightheaded for a second, I lean back and let out my breath. Slowly pulling with my hands, I relax. And now the other sock.
Today is the Day
My boss is behaving … well … preoccupied. He’s thinking about it.
I lean over him to look at the monitor, my boob rubs against his big, hairy ear.
He didn’t move. I breathe down his neck. I’m prepared.
“You’re on caps lock … sir.”
My roommate got $6,000 from HR for a quick slap on the ass. She can’t even type.
“Thank you. I lost my … concentration. … Please look at this.”
Porn? Cool. Maybe worth $2,000 …
I look. A photo.
“My granddaughter would have been 7 today.”
We hug and cry.
How does one get fifth graders to care about British repressions in the 1700s?
Miss Lynn decided to experiment. She had given students class “money” known as Lynn Loot since August as incentives for good behavior and homework. In January, Miss Lynn announced (without warning) there would be taxes on the students’ desks, chairs and books.
“That’s not fair!” they complained. One girl pounded her desk, chanting, “We won’t pay!” Others stood on chairs, and shouted with raised fists, “No vote, no tax!”
Miss Lynn smiled calmly. “Exactly. Now, let’s learn about the American Revolution.”
She sat by the back door of the bus. He sat across from her. Soon she realized he was masturbating. Surprised, she went to the bus driver to complain, and he jumped off the bus. What could she have done?
Six weeks later on the same bus, he sat across from her again. She was ready this time. She waited for a few moments, pointed at his lap, and laughed so loud that everyone looked where she was pointing. He stuffed his now deflating penis into his pants as he hurried off the bus. Victory.
He always checked for monsters, under the bed, behind the curtains, and in the closet, so when his son called from the room that night he automatically went to the bed and knelt.
“It’s OK, Daddy, no monsters. I checked.”
Upset with his son’s sudden bravery and the possible collapse of their ritual, he continued to the window and opened the drapes.
“It’s OK, Daddy, no monsters.” His son persisted. He continued, though, to the closet door and opened it. There against the back wall his son stood pale.
“That’s not me, Daddy.” He whispered.
—Bill W. Morgan
Last Stand at Shiloh
The Colonel, when I awoke, was finishing my EggMcMuffin. To be true, it was half eaten when I took it. But it was mine. Mine.
We are in this lousy camp in the willows, by the river near downtown.
It smells. It’s hidden.
The Colonel is losing control of his bowels and craps steps away. Last night two Mexican men made love frenziedly close by, unaware of us.
The Colonel likes our secret camp.
It was time for him to sleep, my turn to guard.
Buzzing flies watched me pack up, while Colonel floated away.
—Peter Patrick Cencer
Two minutes. That was the maximum time for an audition. For weeks he practiced and practiced. His tone was nuanced, the word craft: perfect. He understood the character’s complexities.
Finally, the day came. Waiting at the theater, butterflies fluttered in his stomach. Some nervousness is good, he told himself. Be confident. The part is yours, he told himself. His name was called. There, in the spotlight of the bare stage, he opened his mouth.
“To be or …”
“Thank you,” said the detached voice in the dark.
Apparently, it was not to be.
There are three green parrots in Tlaxiaco, Mexico. Two in one cage and the “bad” one in another. They are next to the kitchen.
Every morning I’d go out and have them practice saying my name. I gave them tortilla strips. And every morning, I let the bad one peck my finger until it bled. His name is Chilibird.
I think we bonded.
The cook shook her head and muttered gringo loco. Always echoed softly by whoever was eating breakfast.
Next week when I visited, Chilibird squawked, gringo loco.
Well, hell, it was a start.
Sometimes the most brilliant ideas come about, and we realize this should've happened long ago. When Johnny suggested it, most in prison administration were speechless and had to digest the concept until we decided it had to be. Since all felons have DNA “in the bank,” as it were, it was easy. Knowing the cons and the gangs made it easier still. The effect was instantaneous and far reaching. Thanks to ancestry.com, every racist, skinhead white supremacist in this joint now knows about his Jewish or African heritage. The hate dissolved. Who knew? Who didn't?