Stranger than truth
Here are our favorites of the deluge of stories that we received for our annual 95-word fiction contest
You’d be surprised how seriously we take the judging of our 95-word Fiction Contest—particularly when you see we have eight winners. It’s like this: Four of us editors separately read every single story, and we pick our top 10 favorites. The authors are anonymous to us until we pick the winners. We assign each story a “weight” of 1-10, 10 points being our No. 1 pick. Next we find agreement. This year, we had three stories that three of the four of us agreed on. We then added up the points, and those are the top three winners. But some combination of two of the four of us agreed on the fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth places. What are we supposed to do?
Anyway, congratulations to all the winners. It’s too bad we don’t make plaques or something. Wouldn’t it be cool to have an eighth place prize for a fiction contest? Doesn’t seem like one of those would come around every day.
By Elizabeth Tenney
Leaving the house before coffee and without her teeth was Evelyn’s first mistake. The second: whipping her oversized car from “Out of Order” pump around the island. Missed hedge, but not SUV.
SUV driver, Sunday dressed, left nozzle in the tank and inspected his fender. Face shaded by campesino straw, he punched 911, confident in conscientious—not corrupt—cops.
Evelyn gaped at the fenders, face twisted in disbelief, then anger. “Damn immigrants,” she muttered. Police arrived. Eyes brimming with hate, arms waving, four-pegs mouth flapping hippo-wide in frustration, she yelled at onlookers, “Not even scratched!”
Elizabeth Tenney read once that for a job to be rewarding, it has to be intellectually challenging, require creativity and be morally satisfying—plus pay the bills. “That reward yardstick has measured every job I’ve had, whether at an Eastman Kodak or Nestle Co. lab, editing textbooks at Houghton-Mifflin or—and highest on the yardstick—teaching science and math to middle schoolers.”
SEPTEMBER NEGOTIATIONS IN A SMALL TOWN
By Laura Newman
Amanda walked the aisle of the school bus, scanning. A girl with an unfortunate nose, but generally acceptable appearance, smiled at her.
“I’m Jennifer. You’re the new girl…. ”
“It’s scary being new,” Amanda lied. She wasn’t scared. Pretty girls aren’t scared of new schools.
“Where you from?”
“God, you must hate it here.”
She did, but she knew better than to say so, but then couldn’t help herself. “What do you guys do on weekends?”
“Drive trucks into the mountains, drink beer, then shoot the cans.”
“What kind of beer?” Both girls laughed.
Laura Newman is a several-time winner of the Reno News & Review Short Fiction contest, as well as inspiring a cover story, “Burn in Hell.” Her first book, Parallel to Paradise & Other Short Stories is coming out this fall from Le Rue Press and can be pre-ordered at LeRuePress.com.
UNDER OUR SKIN
By Martina Beatty
The old guy wore a skull t-shirt, skull necklace, skull rings on his fingers and faded skull tattoos. He sat at the bar.
“Are you obsessed with death or something?” said the woman beside him, paying for a drink.
“Not at all,” he replied. “Skulls are cheerful things. They remind us that, under our skin, we’re all grinning. Only flesh can frown.”
The woman’s brows knitted together, forming two vertical forehead furrows. She pursed her lips and walked away.
“She’ll smile once she rots,” I interjected.
And he laughed. And we grinned, skull to skull.
Martina Beatty is a freelance writer living in Reno.
By Kathy Welch
Sometimes Millie puts her teeth in the freezer. At 92, she feels she has earned that right as long as she finds them before they’re completely frozen. If her family knew, they’d ship her FedEx Priority Overnight to the nursing home.
Today, Millie’s teeth aren’t in the freezer or anywhere else. It’s Thanksgiving, so she feigns laryngitis. Everyone loves her pumpkin pie except her grandson who chokes uncontrollably until her daughter forces something to fly out of his mouth that isn’t pie. “Hallelujah, they’re not frozen,” Millie thinks and disappears before anyone can call FedEx.
By Edwin Lyngar
She removed all objects from her low living room shelves, stacking them neatly at her feet. Carefully removing the protective newspaper, she placed the three-inch-tall, translucent blue unicorn on the uppermost shelf, in the place of highest honor. It was a curio so unique it demanded a private display. She made the marvelous discovery on an otherwise uninteresting day on the garage sale circuit. Emanating satisfaction, she turned from the item and carefully walked the path through mountains of discarded bags, boxes, unworn clothing, food containers and old shoes that filled her whole house.
By Kathy Welch
You could say it was love at first sight. He’d never witnessed such beauty. At 15, he stood dumbstruck on the street as his mother shouted, “You’re too young, Mister.”
He admired from a distance as others fawned over her in front of the high school or Dairy Queen. Through the years he thought of her often, had others, but never one as beautiful.
One day, there she was alongside his wife on the driveway. The shock almost killed him.
“Happy 60th birthday,” his wife said, pointing to his first love, a 1967 Mustang GT.
By Francine Burge
He was deep asleep, she could tell by his breathing patterns. They met on the dance floor at 4 a.m., following a long, intense kiss marred with awkwardness, urgency and curiosity. She couldn’t fall into that sort of sleep with so much racing through her brain—weeks of tests and scans, a different kind of probing. While she was relieved to have some plan, and it seemed like a good idea to have one last “hurrah” before surgery, now the only question remained: Ask him for a ride to the hospital or let him sleep?
By Jim McCormick
Reliquary: a container that holds an object that is subject to veneration.
At his father’s urging, Donny slid his tooth beneath the pillow. Yanked through his squeezed lips, Donny’s tooth was missing when his father returned to exchange it for a coin. When asked, Donny answered, “I don’t know where it is.” The missing tooth was forgotten; next month another one was extracted, and it, too, was lost.
Decades later, friends of Don’s who looked down into his coffin were perplexed by a necklace of baby teeth that hung around his neck, a carnassial rosary.
I was dead. All year I’d watched her bully kids half her size and now the words, “Shut up, Bitch!” lay on the ground in the same vomit-like fashion which they’d spewed from my throat.
“Who said that?” she demanded. Her eyes darted between mine and my friend’s terrified expressions. We remained frozen. Finally, with no proof of guilt, she turned from our triangular standoff and my friend and I took off running.
I’d taken on the schoolyard bully. I just hoped she wouldn’t be my teacher when I reached the 4th grade.
Tyson kicked open the door and raised his rifle. He shut his eyes as his squad mates tossed in flashbangs, stunning the hut’s occupants. He charged in, prepared for anything, but halted almost immediately. He looked at the faces around him—a few small children, a woman, and an old man. Tyson lowered his rifle. These were the terrorists they were looking for? These weren’t soldiers. They were just scared people. They were scared of these men who kicked down their door, charged into their home—these men who were supposed to be protecting them.
GRANDPA’S GOLD WATCH
My grandpa came from Italy in 1906. When he could afford it, he purchased a gold pocket watch. It was his prized possession.
When he died, each of his seven children wanted it for different reasons. The day of grandpa’s funeral his children, one by one, approached his open casket to pay their last respects then left for the church.
Grandpa lived with his youngest daughter, Caroline, who was the last to approach the casket with me. Just before the casket was closed, she gave me the watch and said, “Put it in grandpa’s pocket.”
Welcome to Philosophy 211, “Reformation through Enlightenment,” but the kids like to call it “Locke for Jocks.” This week we’re studying indulgences. Do you believe in salvation? Can you explain yourself in ninety-five theses or less? Do you know who MLK Jr. was named after? We mean, besides his father.
The final exam for this class is the one you’re reading right now. (Hint: “Tabula rasa” is just a fancy phrase for plausible deniability.) Hammer and nails will be provided at the end. Nail up whatever or whomever you like. There are no right answers.
THANKS FOR MY MEMORIES
The names were in a tiny address book I had for over 30 years. Stuffed in my wallet in my dirty jeans, it got washed. Spot frantically separated the pages, trying to save what was left. I just kept reading the names. I held my breath, I giggled, I cried while I mumbled a mantra of memories, of life.
The touchstone brings no magic evocation; the memories are gone again, probably forever. I write—while I still can make the pen move—to thank old friends for that short moment—the forgotten joy of memory.
—Al Masarik & Jill Andrea
The movie crew arrives early, but Gracie isn’t ready. Her makeup needs touching up, plus wardrobe has put her in another shapeless hospital gown. A crew member insists that she scoot onto the gurney.
They always reshoot the same scene. She’s wheeled down to the same set, with the same sign: Electroshock Therapy: Staff Only, and surrounded by the same method actors who believe they’re really doctors and nurses. She needs a new agent.
The director calls places. The last thought Gracie has before drifting off is that she better win the Oscar.
The morning air was different; heavier yet lighter; darker yet brilliant.
On cue, all front doors on the block opened. Neighbors gazed at one another with overwhelming relief.
Jesse spoke first. “Well, Harry’s missing.”
“Figures,” answered Sally.
Cars passed slowly, their drivers beaming.
“So, any others?”
Jesse answered, “Michael.”
“Hmm … he sure was quiet. Nice lawn.”
They looked up into the bluest blue the heavens could hold. It had been predicted and now it was confirmed. The Rapture had taken all the righteous away.
Jesse savored his first feeling of peace.
Red-faced men encircle the campfire thinking of the antelope that didn’t collaborate today. This September hunt has been especially warm in Nevada’s outback. Coyotes yelping close by entertain, or more likely snicker at the men. Brian mounds dirt with his right boot as if hiding a prize in the sand. Jake, normally in comic mode sits entranced, reading the fire, holding warm beer. A log is thrown on without comment. Sparks spiral vertical, turn cool and die. Drawn to the flames a moth pesters Mark. He swings missing wide; a fitting end for the day.
He huddled outside the decayed walls of an abandoned brothel in Hebron, Palestine. Though rarely cold, an uncharacteristic blast of northern air blew up his open tunic, cooling his otherwise warm, moist testicles. Where else could a demigod get some time to himself? He fired up the glass pipe in the shape of a skull that he’d bought from a curio shop in Tel Aviv. He just inhaled one good hit when he felt a tap on his shoulder. He turned, released the smoke with a sigh and healed the leper in front of him.
— Edwin Lyngar
(AN ABANDONED, GRAFFITIED CYANIDE PLANT BY VIRGINIA CITY)
Imagine a young woman. She’s got tats, both sleeves in Vargas girls and vortex color swirls. A Chinese cherry blossom twining her spine, twisting round her exposed belly, jeans down low. Beautiful in structure, but she’s at that point in her addictions where you can tell it’s too late for her; she’s won’t make it back. She makes you feel so poignant that you want a piece of her, you want to tattoo the inside of her wrist, do a fashion shoot, buy her a drink, hasten the destruction.
That’s the feeling of American Flats.
The thought began with a carelessly placed bag of apples falling from the counter and rolling to all corners of the kitchen floor. He then remembered months later finding two that had been lost in the space between the refrigerator and the wall, shriveled down to silver dollars.
She got so mad at him that day, and it was so damn stupid. The entire time, she knew she had smelled something off, but he said she was fool-crazy.
Why was this the memory that had started him crying? Why, when there were so many others?
She dressed her little woman in lavender gingham and tiny, black, buckled heels. With the little woman—a nudie paper-doll tattooed on Sylvia’s upper left arm—clothed, Sylvia once-d herself over in the mirror and they headed out. At Kiki’s, Margot complimented the little woman’s dress and said her dye-job was totes adorbs. Syl nursed a Sterling Cooper and watched some boy write his number on the little woman’s forearm while telling her to check out his band. In the cab home, Sylvia slept, and the little woman watched neon and stars pass like night.
Downsized. Unemployed. Applications. Frustrations. Equity. Mediations. Foreclosure. Weeklies. Applications. Evictions. Extensions. Separation. Alienation. Isolation. No Mediations. Hallucinations. Intervention?
Rib cook-off. Stolen propane truck. Ovens. No problem. I smiled. Cop waved. Balloons. Strollers. Sunshine. John Ascuaga. One million. Small bills. 15 minutes. Make it happen.
Female. Undercover. Really good. Handcuffs. Parr Blvd. F.B.I. Homeland security. Terrorist? Fingerprints. Photo. Wallet. Keys. Lotto ticket. Winning numbers. 25 million. Disbelief. Dynamite. Fanny bridge. Timer. Wall of water. High ground? Too late. Devastation. FEMA. Red Cross. Military. Behavioral physiatrists. Experts.
I just wanted a job. One. For me. For them.
—Richard A. Gubany
The wizened pensioner leaned dependently on his stout blackthorn stick, ruefully watching the lads work the football nimbly about the street. Their oblivious frivolity summoned bitter memories of these same environs littered with broken glass, raining rubber bullets and strewn with bodies. What did they know of the Belfast of old, of the struggle for Ulster’s six sorrowful counties, of heroism and betrayal, violence and vengeance, patriotism and oppression? And yet, how could they? His scars, both physical and emotional, long predated the internet, Xbox and iPad. Resignedly, he began his slow, painful shuffle home.
A gray river. The dark is broken only by the thin light from the shrouded moon. He went down the river silently in a makeshift canoe. He breathed slowly, audible only inside the gas mask. The world killed itself long ago; the mourners try to live on.
A ruined home, maybe a family home, stood. He looked east; dawn would arrive soon.
He lit the fireplace; it would do until dusk. He found pictures for kindling; people long dead from a forgotten world. He contemplated them for a moment, then threw them into the flames.
advanced asteroid warnings enhance bucket list skill. he arrived bearing the uniquely gorgeous compendium of poems. at her front door, he bashfully presented it, simply explaining, “all of it is completely true.”
courteous and simple, and he would go … but she joyfully led him inside.
she knows his proofreader, and she found his poetry perfect.
then, with kisses crafted of irish rainbows, she made life amazing.
sadly, such intensity can interrupt dreaming. he suddenly felt stupid that the half missing sky had not been a clue, but at least he could now face the asteroid.