Whip it out
The winners of Short Fiction 2006 offered inspired stories of mystery and imagination
This year, the 11th for our short-fiction contest, we had more entries than ever before. Some 163 individuals saw fit to send us their 95-words or less stories. Many people sent only one entry, but some of our more prolific entrants offered as many as a dozen. Oddly, or maybe luckily, we seemed to receive a higher-than-average quality of stories than in years past, so our job selecting was that much harder. Sadly, we received 11 stories after deadline, and we couldn’t include those in our reckoning.
Our winner, Allison Tracy, was a finalist last year. Our third place winner, Edwin Lyngar, was a runner up last year. If you’ll look further down the list, you’ll see other past winners represented. For example, Natalie Gross won last year, and Laura Boren’s efforts in short fiction once got a crusade launched against this newspaper by a Catholic Church organization.
ContrivedBy Allison Tracy
I love Reno like I love myself.
Intermittently and with a good measure of disdain.
Decay unseen behind porcelain veneers.
Lights unseen through a florescent glare.
Poverty unseen through bright casino uniforms.
All ignored on late night trips to the Gold n’ Silver.
As I gobble fried delicacies at 2 a.m.,
belligerently defending the virtues of Marxism.
As I push my coffee mug to the table’s edge for another refill.
Doubling the tax to figure the tip.
Turning a penance for good service from something subjective
To an objective formula.
If she’s lucky, I’ll round up.
Allison Tracy, 22, is a multiple-year placer in our short-fiction contest, so she’s got some advice on how to approach the extremely-short narrative. “My boyfriend has a writing club that I’m part of as well. We’ve been doing short-fiction writing workshops. I don’t have a long attention span, so the biggest thing is to write down good lines immediately. I’ve probably written a thousand short stories in my head, but unless I write them down when I’m thinking about them, they’re just gone.” Tracy works at the oral history office at the university and at UPS as an operations management specialist, which she says is a “dispatch lackey.”
Armory Show, 1913By James C. Wilkes Gentleman in top hat: Hey, what the hell is that?
Lady with umbrella: It looks like a broken window.
Cowboy: Nude descending a staircase? I ain’t never seen no dang nude like that.”
Journalist: I thought that Cézanne and Picasso were weird.
Lion tamer: Is he a damn futurist or a cubist though?
Mayor: European trash.
Farmer with pitchfork: Where are all the landscape paintings?
Cop: I bet Emma Goldman is somehow involved.
Capitalist: Let’s burn it down and string up the artist.
Curator: Run, Marcel. Run.
James C. Wilkes, 26, is originally from Virginia. He’s worked for the Nevada Conservation Corps for about the last year. He said his inspiration for the story came from a slow weekend. “I was just kind of bored last week, I haven’t written any fiction for about five years. I primarily just write poetry. The armory show actually happened it was this big Modernist extravaganza. I just though it was funny—Duchamp running from a mob.”
The B LineBy Edwin Lyngar I hate Southwest Airlines ‘cause there are no assigned seats. Everyone crowds into three lines like cattle. But it was worth it once in line B when I fell in love. She wasn’t beautiful, but pretty, with slightly yellow smile, heavy eyeliner and cropped brown hair. She wore angst with black low riders and matching underwear. We boarded taking seats far apart. I stared at my own business card, building nerve that never came. When I passed her seat, she slept, passing forever from my life into the eternal B line of lost possibility.
Edwin Lyngar of Reno is Boating Education Coordinator for the Nevada Department of Wildlife. If you are reading this on Friday, the 33-year-old may be defending his final project for his master’s degree in writing. Lyngar prefers the creative nonfiction style of writing. “I’ve always wanted to do some writing, but I mostly write press releases in this job.” He also said that his selection out of this august collection of writers showed that his master’s degree was already paying off, but he was probably just being kind.
Decisions, decisionsBy J. Brents All them years wasted with that drunk bastard. Him threatenin’ me and tellin’ me all the places he could dump my body where I’d never be found by no one. Lake Tahoe, a mine shaft up near Virginia City, the list went on and on. I reckon I should of paid more attention. Too late for that now, with him bein’ in the trunk and all. I better hurry up and pick one a them for his final restin’ place. In this heat, won’t be long ’til he starts to stinkin’ up the car.
Julie Brents of Sparks, 40, is the stay-at-home mom of two kids. She has bachelor’s degree from UNR. Her inspiration came from a sleepless night and an unmentionable desire: “I think deep down inside, I have a fantasy of being a redneck. They don’t worry about anything. They don’t worry about global warming or the war or anything but where their next beer is coming from and supporting President Bush. Maybe deep down inside, I’d like to be that.”
Fountain of YouthIt began with Noxema and Sea Breeze. Then came homemade egg yolk masks with cucumber slices and Dead Sea salt scrubs with Italian mud face packs.
Soon, she was steaming her face with organic Australian herbs and mixing powdered Japanese nightingale droppings with vitamin C serum. She was following alpha-hydroxy peels with $400 pentapeptide creams and applying caffeinated eye gel she stored in her refrigerator. She had monthly microdermabrasions, seasonal Botox treatments and lip injections of her liposuctioned fat.
But the day she drank her own urine, she wondered,
“Was beautiful really worth it?”
Three BulletsI fled through the desert with a bag full of money and three bullets: two in my pistol and one in my belly. My truck ran out of gas with nothing around but sagebrush, rocks, and a big blue sky above. I hid in the shadow of the Chevy until the sun went down, then started walking. A little after sunrise, tired and stumbling, I stepped on a rattler. It bit me once and I shot it twice. Then I sat down next to its corpse, wishing I hadn’t wasted that second shot.
GiftThis morning, on the roof of my car, sat glistening a big coiled pile of crap. From the size of it, you could tell it only could have come from a fellow human being. I didn’t have time to wipe it off. On the drive to work, I went extra fast, hoping the wind would just blow it off. At a stoplight, a young man rolled down his window. He had his cellphone in his hand and asked if he could take a picture of it.
“It’s not mine,” I said.
“That’s okay,” he said.
I Wear Red Superman Underpants while VacuumingWhen my wife leaves for work, I kiss her cheek and see her to the car. Then, returning to the bedroom, I put on my red Superman underpants and AAAAWWWAAAAAAAYYYY I go! While attacking dishes, zipping through dusting, eliminating germs from bathrooms, I feel like my wife’s personal superhero.
I sometimes feel emasculated. Yet, when I see her entering our Fortress of Solitude with a tired smile on her face, admiring all that her favorite man in red Superman underpants has done for her—and she returns my morning’s kiss—I once again feel heroic.
DisconnectOfficer Johansen heard a buzzing in the weeds by the side of the highway. In his peripheral vision, lights flashed, and he could see paramedics pulling a stunned driver from his SUV.
“Sure is a good argument for airbags,” commented his partner.
The woman in the little Civic would need a priest, not a paramedic.
“Yup, I’d rather be driving the Hummer.”
“No worries there.”
Johansen leaned over and picked up the vibrating cell phone, “Hello?”
“Hey man, it’s me again. We must have been cut off. What was the last thing you heard?”
A Brevity of TimeHe stood there waiting, palms sweaty and knees knocking. He thought about all the things he’d wanted to do with his life: building a house, finishing school, starting a novel. It was the end of an incomplete life. Standing stone-faced and still, a crowd of curious eyes molesting him with questions, this stoic man straightened his shoulders, rolled his neck and said it. He said it cold, and he said it quiet.
Jordan, “Mickey” to his friends, McMichaels had given up. He wasn’t happy about it, but he took it like a man.
Love Your Neighbor As YourselfJo’s fingers were digging into the warm dirt of her garden when visitors dropped by: Max, a recent acquaintance, was content to sit in the afternoon sun and watch her tend her nascent plantings; later, her old friend Roland arrived with Stella, a stranger. The four sat on the grass, drinking sun tea, chatting. Precipitously, Max and Stella began writhing in the thrall of a wet passionate embrace. Roland and Jo fell speechless. The sudden lovers, clutching each other, rose and slipped away silently. Soon Roland left, muttering. Jo sat in her garden’s cooling shadows.
The Blarney StoneListen, I bought a Blarney Stone: green rubber around God-knows-what. A fortunetelling thing. A novelty item. “Watch Fox News. Hold Stone. Answers will come,” the box said.
“Don’t be a chicken,” I said aloud.
That night, I zonked out in the glare of Fox News, clutching that damned Blarney Stone.
Woke up the next morning, shaved, blinked and focused on the mirror image of myself—and the guy looking back at me was a blank. My fingerprints—gone.
I hadn’t read the small print: Made in China. Another fine product from Diebold.
All the news that’s fit to printLenny caught both arms in the printing press as he was trying to fix a problem without stopping the machine.
He was propelled into this complex mechanism along with paper that would become the next edition of the Reno News & Review.
Lenny emerged, the thickness of Thursday’s publication with pages one and two inscribed onto his white coveralls. Mysteriously, on page two was an article that read, Leonard Algood was tragically pressed to death while working in the printing room of this newspaper. Our dedicated employee will be preserved forever in our archives.
The Eyes Don’t LieShe was waiting for me in the foyer as I entered the restaurant. She was wearing a long, tight, white knit dress with large, covered buttons running down the front and stopping about six inches above her knees. The dress parted where the buttons stopped as she walked toward me, revealing bare, silky smooth and gorgeous, alabaster-colored legs.
“Thank you for the compliment,” she said.
“But I didn’t say anything.” I remarked, somewhat embarrassed.
“You didn’t have to.” She said, “Your eyes said it all.”
A Short RomanceIt happened one day at the animal shelter. He was a fiftyish, balding, graying professional who took care of the cats. She was seventeen, red-haired, with no tattoos or piercings—quite unusual, perfect—who took care of the dogs. He was cleaning out the litter boxes. She was hosing down the cages. They had each worked at the shelter before, but not on the same day. Neither of them was speaking into a cell phone. They backed into each other, apologized, looked into each others’ eyes, and realized that it would never happen.
He Loved Her for This Very ThingPatrick’s dad was more cheap than poor. Patrick had to wear his rubber boots until his feet were a year longer than the boots. The boots weren’t falling for the ol’ baby powder trick anymore. Finally, he got new boots with tread and toggles and laces! Wonderful. He played snuggly in the snow and then set them on the heater vent to dry, upon which they melted overnight. It was a most beautiful secret between Mother and Son when Patrick’s mom secretly, swiftly replaced the boots using cookie-jar money. A candle covered the burnt smell.
The Lucky ManOn Monday, I found twenty dollars left at the ATM, so I took the money after searching for its owner. On Tuesday, there lay sixty dollars. I took it. On Wednesday, there lay forty. I took it. On Thursday, there lay twenty again. I took it. On Friday, there lay eighty dollars. I took it. On Saturday, I shopped at the boutiques. On Sunday, I shopped more. On Monday, another man stood by the ATM holding a bill. He looked at me asking, “Did you leave this money?” I said yes and took the bill.
Grant Whitney Harvey
Story in a classified adShe calls to place the ad in the Garage Sale section. It must be brief because money is tight. “Please, no bold heading, ‘for sale one wedding dress, never used, size 10, off white, tea length. Also, resort clothing, never worn, size 10.”
“Don’t forget directions,” the ad seller says.
“Just the address is enough: 3742 Solitude Lane.”
TulipsHe always hated the Dutch. “Damn wooden shoes,” he’d call them with a shake of the fist only suitable for potentates and comic book villains. He’d tell anyone who’d listen, “Did you know the Dutch invented traffic cameras?” Or veganism. Or Nigerian e-mail scams. But she adored them, she did, because it was the Dutch that made her fall in love with him thirty years ago. He said the Dutch caused the decline of modern civilization. She thought he was offering to pay. Now he bellows and harrumphs, and she dreams at night of windmills.
WillowsMy mother and I
spent our time traveling,
nomads in a rusty sedan.
After all leads and friendships had drawn away
we rolled east across miles
of vacant, salted desert.
Reno’s night lights
shot up like rotten teeth,
splintered and aching
in dead desert gums.
I was eight years old.
Here I unraveled weeping willows.
Their feminine tendrils
sagged and cradled
my small body.
I swung on the hairy vines
leaving sticky, green burns
in my palms.
My grandfather had planted
the svelte bodies
in the ‘30s.
His shoulders pushed them deep,
driven by probabilities.
BoxedAn empty, broken frame, a name badge from a job long passed and a pair of sneakers that fits neither of us. Why do you want to move these useless things with us?
When I touch something, hold something, it’s a tactile rush. It helps me remember what I might one day forget. I gave away the painting but kept the frame. That badge gave away my name to you one evening.
Standing in front of too many boxes I pause and place my arms around her wondering what we’ll take from where we’re headed.
Sunday MorningAt breakfast, he scribbled out more words. His pancakes and scrambled eggs sat untouched. She stood in her dirty blue robe with a cigarette between fingers.
She said, “So what have you got?”
“Ummm … ‘wrapped in your monotone madness and my monotone normalcy dreaming of sparkling suicide’ … it’s not finished yet.”
“No one gives a shit about poetry.”
“What would you know?”
“I know you’re a lousy lover and a worse poet.”
She walked upstairs. He trashed the poem and followed her.
James C. Wilkes
The Everyday WorkerAfter a long day Sylvia takes her afternoon break. Gazing out the window she sees a middle-aged woman. She removes her shoes, cradles a cup of steaming decaf under her nose, inhales deeply and watches a street scuffle start. The woman is defending herself against a teenaged punk who is pummeling her about the head while attempting to wrest her purse away. Sylvia remembers a marionette puppet dance she saw as a child. B-e-e-e-e-p. There goes the timer, back to work. “Just let the purse go, lady,” she mumbles as she leaves the air-conditioned break-room.