The winners of our annual 95-word fiction contest
Here are the winners of our annual micro-fiction contest. Our challenge to y’all: write a tiny story that’s exactly 95 words long. Your reaction: more than 160 submissions—some tear-jerkingly poignant, others gut-bustingly hilarious.
The contest judges—a.k.a. the RN&R editors, wearing different hats—all agreed that this year’s batch was one of the strongest ever. The winners and other favorites are below—hope you enjoy reading them as much as we did. Huge thanks to everyone who submitted stories, and congrats to all the winners!
The Lost Language of Childhood
At 5, he was kidnapped from his tribe and sent to Indian school. Lost for years among all the other weeping Indian kids, beaten for speaking his mother-tongue, he learned English and forgot the rest. He grew up, married, had children, grew old. His mother’s tribe died out. One day, the old man suffered a stroke. Sent to a nursing home, suddenly five years old again, he remembered only his mother’s tongue. His one remaining daughter knew only English. Hour after hour she sat unable to comfort a lost 5-year-old crying out to his mother.
—Janet (Mackie) Marriott
A staredown measured in the lifetime between red and green. A cop trained in reading people. Me piloting a rolling fix-it ticket V-Dub bug laden with pounds of skunk-reeking weed.
We’re stopped side-by-side eyes locked under a deserted midnight stoplight’s red glow.
He knows. How can he know?
Look away. Don’t look away!
Whoa, I’m stoned …
In a millisecond, his face flips red to green signaling the wordless interrogation’s end. Cop countenance broken he rolls away seeking a more obvious perpetrator.
Exhaling, I vow to buy a new ride when this last deal is done.
In sixth grade, Liz and I stole our first bras at the downtown Woolworth’s. Memories pour in like a music video in flashback bites. The #7 bus we took into the city, the rows of folded, satiny bras, her shoulders shivering in laughter as we pushed on the revolving exit doors. We are old wise women now walking the balance beam of remembering and forgetting; the bra-stealing caper was only the first act. The play’s denouement was understanding the necessity of having a foxhole friend. The bras did not fit. But we laugh forever.
The Ruler of the World
Baby was six years old. Nervous about starting kindergarten, she clutched her beloved ruler.
Her world revolved around its twelve numbers.
She measured her toys, backyard tree trunks, her daddy’s fingers. If she didn’t understand what she was looking at, Baby measured it.
Her ruler went everywhere with her, tightly grasped in her little fist. She wielded it like a sword against nasty bugs and bothersome cats. It was her talisman in an unknown world.
Baby entered the kindergarten classroom, ruler at her side, ready to measure her new world.
Her life was finally afoot.
It is well known by small town police that prom night is a bust-up night. Domestic violence—she was asking for it. Drunks headed to a hit and run. Bar fights, lipstick exposés on the mirror of the ladies, or on a shirt collar.
The kids handled themselves pretty responsibly, but the parents took it hard, getting old. Most went to their own prom in the same gym, felt the power of 17. Where’d it take ’em—all that energy just a dust devil in the desert, cigarette smoke out a car window. Life.
What I Have Learned
Never go roller skating on a first date—in a hilly, cobblestoned city like Boston. He might wear white jeans. He might leave the skate rental store—shudder down the sidewalk saved only from oncoming traffic by a last-ditch grab at a parking meter. The white jeans might end up torn, covered in dirt. You might not be able to stop laughing as you swish around him like the confident schoolgirl skater you are. If this happens, have yourself a good skate anyway because there will be no dinner and a movie tomorrow.
My recent weight loss had me desperate for pants that wouldn’t fall down.
Imagine my satisfaction in scoring a decent-looking pair of Levis at the thrift store. After washing and drying, they fit me perfectly. I was good to go!
As my body heat warmed the stiff denim, a ghost in the Levis emerged. Phantom male genitalia pouched the crotch. The right back pocket puffed out expectantly, waiting for the wallet that would never come. Even though I consider myself androgynous, I was born female. The ghost in the Levis was an unexpected curveball.
—C. M. Kroon
Baby Face Nelson Hides out in Genoa, 1934
When Baby Face hid out at Wally’s Hot Springs, he held the record for FBI killings. His likeness hung in the National Gallery, post office annex. No doubt he soaked in the hard, hot water. Nelsen must have been easily spooked by the rat-tat-tat of a woodpecker, jarred awake by the near-siren sound of marauding coyotes, those bad-boys of the high desert. Alert for trouble, but there’s nothin’ in Genoa; event of the year’s the Candy Dance. Nelson’s trigger-finger got prunie. He lit back to Chicago, every gangster’s glitter gulch. Within a month, dead. Bang-bang.
“But I have a coupon!”
“Yes, ma’am, I know, but it’s expired; we can’t accept it.”
“‘We’? Who’s ‘we’? It’s just you, missy! You are choosing not to accept it.”
“Ma’am, as I’ve said, I’m not allowed to accept expired coupons. I could lose my job.”
“Well, that’s not my fault. You should really demand more of the company you work for.”
“This is just a job to get me through the semester. Hopefully after I graduate, I’ll work in a place that treats people better.”
“That’s the problem with you Millennials. You’re so entitled.”
A few years ago I worked in a trendy, upscale restaurant as a food server. The clientele were just like the restaurant trendy and upscale. One night, the hostess seated my station with a 30-something couple accompanied by an elderly gentleman. I approached the table, introduced myself and announced the special. I said, “our special tonight is a spicy rangoon.” They mulled over the menu and ordered salmon, no butter, dressing on the side. They said, “Dad, how about some nice soup?” Dad smiled slyly and said, “I’ll have the special, the spicy raccoon!”
—Carrie Ann Legg
If I Only Had a Friend!
Kyle was turning 3 and had recently moved to a new neighborhood. His mom was scrambling to invite kids to his party.
Before his party, Kyle was helping clean his great-grandmother’s apartment. He found a huge dead bumblebee. He deposited it in a plastic bag for safe-keeping and proceeded to carry it around proudly.
His grandmother, Mom-Mom, unsure of the new “pet,” encouraged Kyle to drop it in the trash. As Kyle dropped the dead bumblebee into the trash, he leaned his head in and asked, “Would you like to come to my birthday party?”
The bar’s crowded, raucous. People vie for space between elbows and looks as some two-bit band tries to tie the room together with a pastiche of ballad covers from the ‘70s about adrift wayfarers and forlorn dreamers doomed to paradises lost. A midget with a monkey dances for quarters. It’s sweltering, tropical, south of many borders of the mind and feels like a powder keg looking for a spark. Then she walks in and all the other patrons seem to melt away—even the midget—for some reason, the monkey stays—the band sounds better.
An Organ in the Right Place
Sniffling and coughing in bed, she knew who it was even as the text came in.
“It’s right next to the NyQuil,” she texted back.
“Nope. Second choice?”
“Something with zinc.”
“Found Cold-Eeze. It was in the next aisle.”
She sighed but gave her shopping list-challenged husband points for taking on the chore.
“No Lean Cuisine chicken parm,” the next text read. “How about Smart One?”
“No!” she responded, petulantly.
“Can only find Cheerios.”
“But Raley’s Toasted Oats was there last week!”
“… Was I supposed to go to Raley’s?”
“Well,” Carl intoned, “on this planet, you’d be hard-pressed to beat the physical type that you get when tectonic plates grind against each other to produce earthquakes, although I suppose a case could be made for the emotional kind that’s generated when you find your husband or wife in bed with one of your best friends.”
“Wait a minute,” Brad interjected. “How in heaven’s name do either of those examples have anything to do with fiction?”
“Oh, I’m sorry,” Carl lamented. “I could have sworn you said this was supposed to be a friction contest.”
—Mark W. White
His Name Is Charlie
“Nine One One Emergency Operator. Can I help you?”
“There’s a man in my house!”
“Are you in any immediate danger?”
“I don’t think so. Not right now.”
“Is he armed?”
“Not that I can see.”
“Can you get away?”
“Why should I have to leave? It’s my house!”
“What’s he doing?”
“He’s in a chair in the living room. He’s snoring.”
“What’s your address?”
“What’s your name?”
“Is this Ellie?”
“I believe so, yes.”
“Is the man wearing a blue flannel shirt?”
“Yes! He is!”
“His name is Charlie. He’s your husband.”
The crab wouldn’t leave her alone.
It kept trying to burrow into her bag. She pushed it away with her flip-flop, but the determined crustacean simply circled and came back. Finally she smacked it with her book and watched in horror as one of its front claws snapped clean off.
The crab took off oceanward and showed no sign of return.
She must have dozed off. Gathering her things as the sun lowered, she noticed movement near the water. The crab, disappearing into the surf, was waving her car key fob in its remaining claw.
—L. M. Staton
The CEO had been on the toilet seat for an hour. It had automatically flushed before he could get off. The flushing had not stopped, and he could not break the suction.
“Sir, he’s color blind and doesn’t know which wire to cut.”
“Have him cut them all!!”
The captain passed the order and received a reply.
“Sir, if he cuts all the wires, it may jettison the toilet for security reasons.”
The CEO just shook his head and said to himself, “Buying Air Force One, on sale from Trump, was not good.”
Food for Thought
Landrum’s: eight stools at a sparkling counter, tiny prefab building unloaded in 1948 from the V&T, tracks right behind the property. Eunice owned the place, and if you didn’t want to sit by a Negro, well, get out. Plenty more behind ya'. She never said so out loud, but Washington could tell just by his plate: burger in the middle, fries Lincoln Logged, jaunty pickle off to the side. Minorities know what it means when food is served sloppy; if lettuce is slip-sliding out the side of the burger, don’t think it just means lettuce.
Ruth, age 67, greeted the ladies voice quavering, “How is everyone?”
Robin replied cheerfully, “I’m fine, and I look good too. How are you, Ruth?”
“Not well, arthritis and rheumatism are acting up, may be getting the flu. Getting old is really hard you know, really, really hard.”
Alma, a hale 85, said, completely deadpan, “Gee, is that something I have to look forward to?”
The ladies suppressed their mirth, not wanting to hurt Ruth’s feelings.
Jenny lightened the mood, “Ruth, how do you hold someone in suspense?”
Ruth shrugged, “How?”
“I’ll tell you later.”
DFW: At 27 square miles, it had been the second largest airport in the U.S. after Denver International. It was larger than Manhattan. It’s surrounded by grimy industry and warehouses—who wanted to live next to an airport?—and damned sharp, post-9/11 razor-wire fencing.
After the perfection of vertical, magna-launch airliners and 3D bio-print teleportation, airports moved into the cities. DFW Airport became DFW City of Rehabilitation—the country’s only prison. Jesus, locking up three million men where people once flew.
S’okay. I’m in Terminal One, Death Row. I’m flying out tonight.
—John “JB” Bianchi