And with no further ado, here are the winners and runners up in our annual 95-word fiction contest
Every year since 1995, we've run this peculiar short-fiction contest. Every year, we're amazed, bemused and, in some cases, mortified by the places our readers choose to go with their imaginations.
This year, it was plain that many people are concerned about the state of the world, love, sex and drinking. Must be the season.
A couple of trends we noticed: Since we don't limit the number of entries people can submit, it becomes certain that practice makes perfect, with several people getting enough points among our editors to have more than one story published. Also, it doesn't matter how simple you make the rules, creative people are going to find creative ways to break them.
Thanks to everyone who contributed, and congratulations to all the winners.First Place
By Jim McCormick
Everyone! “Santa’s stricken! Coughing something awful!”
The elves were sore distressed. Christmas Eve. The big day! Packages wrapped. Sled all loaded. Everything ready to go.
From Santa’s bedroom, “Ohhhhhh!”
“What can we do? He’s verrrry sick!”
“I guess it’s up to me.”
“Who said that?”
“I did!” declared the underestimated Mrs. Claus, who threw a heavy shawl over her shoulders and jumped aboard the sleigh.
In the twinkle of a star, she was headed south from the Pole.
Later, in ICU, Santa vowed he would never again refer to his wife as “my old bag!”
Jim McCormick is professor of art emeritus, who taught at UNR from 1960 to 1992. When health issues intervened, he turned to writing as his primary means of expression: flash fiction, exhibit catalog essays and magazine articles on historical subjects. He finds being around water is an effective catalyst—a way of quickening his flow of ideas,so to speak.Second Place
By Spencer Kilpatrick
Head throbbing, he woke up next to his bed. Fully clothed, of course, with the tattered carcass of a number six from Jack In The Box inches from his face. This wasn’t the first time he’d woken up in such a state. Hell, it wasn’t the first time that week.
He sat up and checked his pockets.
Phone? Dead but check.
The man rattled around his apartment for a few minutes looking for aspirin. From his kitchen window he was relieved to see his parking spot empty and forced a smile.
Spencer Kilpatrick plays with a local band called Failure Machine and writes for Tahoe Onstage. He’s also a substitute teacher for Washoe County School District. “As far as writing short fiction goes, my only advice is try not to think too linearly. Focus on presenting a moment in time and don’t allow yourself to get bogged down by narrative.” His story was inspired by rowdy nights and wasted mornings, courtesy of Reno’s endlessly entertaining nightlife.Third Place
By M.E. Horan
What did he die from? Doesn’t say. Does it say when? Last week, the 28th. Oh. What? That was his 40th birthday. I forgot to call. Is there a memorial service? It doesn’t say, just to be planned later. When did you see him? During the summer. We had drinks. He didn’t talk much. Everything sounded OK. Should we call his wife? I don’t know. There is a fund for their kids’ education. Do you want to send a check? Yeah. I’m sorry. Me too. You know I love you. Yeah, I love you too.
Mary Ellen (M.E.) Horan moved to Reno from Hollywood, California, in 1982 and attended UNR for an MBA. For 30 short years, she has worked for Arts for All Nevada, a non-profit. She is married with two teenage sons. She writes non-fiction for work but enjoys the freedom of fiction. Ninety-five words was the perfect canvas, she said.Fourth Place
By Cassandra Winegar
She sat in her crib crying to get out. Her two year old mind did not understand why she couldn’t get out and explore. Then a man appeared in the doorway. He walked closer and took her into his arms. She stared at him, carefully analyzing his face. She looked at him as if he were a stranger.
“It’s me. It’s daddy.”
“Daddy? Daddy fight.”
“That’s right, baby, but I’m back now.” Realizing who he was she clung onto him as tight as she could. She reached up to wipe his cheek.
“Don’t cry, silly.”
Cassandra Winegar is a senior at Coral Academy of Science and a dancer with the Reno Dance Company. She said her “story was inspired by videos of soldiers coming home to their dogs and families.”
The Poet Muse
A famous trumpet player found his muse in a book of poems. He loved the rhythm, flow and tempo in each verse. It moved him and made him restless. He couldn’t sleep until he composed what became his most beloved songs. Feeling grateful and curious, he decided he had to meet the author. At her door a week later she let out a surprised gasp. Standing there was the musician that had inspired so many of her poems. She gave him a hug. No words were needed; they had been connected in spirit all along.
She had to get away. If no one would help her, she’d trek through the mountains alone. The cowboy had heard of her plan, and offered to keep her company. She understood very little English and he didn’t speak Chinese, but she felt she could trust him. They set out for the winter mountains, and in the middle of their journey, got stuck in snow. They had to keep each other warm and ended up falling in love, and chose to stay in those mountains. Their original destination was never reached, but they were home.
I entered my first body when I was 15. I chose Olivia, a senior, with wild black hair and coquettish emerald eyes. I wanted to feel what she felt—a soft touch, a passionate kiss, a warm, lingering hug. I longed to experience that sense of elation she must have felt when the best looking guys fawned over her lithe body. In less than a week, though, a tweaker ran a stop sign plowing into Olivia’s car. Her broken body quickly succumbed to emptiness. I reluctantly slipped away, wondering whose death I was really mourning.
Madge Turner flipped pancakes while helping 12-year-old Page shove arms through sleeves. She disapproved of her son’s t-shirt. Christians in Skedee would not take kindly to a child who flashes “God Sucks” across his chest.
At 4 p. m., the Skedee siren let out a blast heard clear into the next county. Madge dashed for the storm cellar; once inside, she took stock. “Where’s Page?”
“I’ll go find him!” shouted cousin Tad.
The funnel had passed over when Tad spied Page, whirling upward in its vortex, the lad bearing sure witness to his t-shirt theology.
By the time she met him, “You had me at hello” had become a tired cliché, but, that’s exactly what had happened. Charming, witty, employed—he was a gem amongst the other stones. For months, he created a world filled with laughter and love, healing dark places in her heart. As winter neared, she discovered her gem had cracks, fissures slightly below the surface. Anger, self-centeredness, apathy, all came seeping through. She had a decision to make; accept both parts that made up the whole, or let him slip through her fingers, empty-handed once more?
Wherein lies the attraction to live on the streets of a city with no soul. Car lots and casinos painted with faux art. Hooded against the chill, he trundles along to the dirge of rubber on frosted asphalt. Forty five cent jackpot in his pocket, he waits for the change from red to green, steadies his pack against his lean frame. Rubbing ungloved hands together he crosses, no longer willing to wait. Arriving at the curb, he reaches down and puts the heads up penny in his left shoe, mumbles, “Gonna be a good day.”
This scene began the same way as it always did—me sitting in a porcelain bathtub, pale tile walls and the lukewarm water hitting my body as if it was a sweet summer rain. I could hear him slowly walking down the hall towards the bathroom door. Every step echoed in my mind, and I pictured them as if they were a dim light flashing bright in the dark. Each time he’d quietly open the door and not say a single word, I knew he was there because his presence always brought a cooling air.
It was dusk. We were out on the front porch eating cherries. It was still hot out and I was sweating a bit. I wiped my brow and turned to face them. “Cherries are a troublesome fruit,” I said and heard a murmur of agreement. “Suppose we were all fruit instead of people, I would be a cherry.” I thought I heard a faint laugh; I turned to look at them again, but no one was there. It was just me, a slight summer breeze, and the creak of the old wooden deck.
The old man hums tunelessly as he gets dressed. He takes special care, choosing a favorite tie, pressed trousers and a crisp, striped shirt. He doffs a tweed cap as he gazes at his reflection in the mirror. He notices some errant whiskers on his neck so he frantically grabs his razor to shave off those offending hairs. He is visiting his wife today and wants to look his very best.
He arrives at the rendezvous point, ambling across an expansive lawn. He reaches a weathered, granite headstone and whispers, “Hi honey, I’ve missed you.”
Church bells? Bad choice of alarms. God, it’s the crack of, well, still darkness. Exam week blows. Splashing water on my face, I check the iPad. What? Classes canceled? I look again, twice. Friends text me ^_^/I (high-five) emojis.
Been preparing for Physics all weekend. Should I work some more? Nope, I’m going shopping. News says we’re lazy, and we have it so good. Guess I’ll prove that. One store and my wallet’s empty. Ah, but someone pays it forward at Starbucks! Could this day be any better?
Sometimes it’s cool to be a teacher.
They make their way into the brush and child yells snake. Father says shoot and child pulls the trigger as the rabbit they have cornered takes the bullet. Child continues shooting as the rabbit begins a death dance, fires until the gun clicks empty, but the rabbit continues hopscotching around as it opens up and spills life everywhere. Father steps forward and with a thunderclap from God buries the rabbit in the underbrush.
Now father no longer has to teach child about the pain of taking a life, it’s written in red across the field.
—Bill W. Morgan
He was skilled but unlucky. So he planned carefully and never performed any trick he had not perfected. He was careful to limit the tricks he performed so that nothing was too grand, too incredible. The audience had to believe everything he did was merely sleight of hand - a clever distortion of the senses, an illusion. Even though he could work true magic to change what needed changing in the world, he decided against it. Taking on the troubles of the realm would be opening the door to the unpredictable, a close relative of chance.
My Decision to Make
I couldn’t move. Couldn’t think. Shock overwhelmed my brain, making me incapable of figuring out what I needed to do.
He stood behind the door, waiting for me. I couldn’t face him. I’m supposed to be strong, composed.
In the back of my mind I knew what I needed to do. I just couldn’t admit it to myself. How does one make that decision?
I put the stick with the pink plus sign at the bottom of the trash. I opened the door, shook my head, and smiled, trying my best to look relieved.
Let Me Out
This is going nowhere. His picture showed him as a writer behind a desk. His rusted-out van is parked in front. He had said he is “financially independent.” That means he lives in his van. He hadn’t showered in a week. I ride with him so he can show me the city. One of his two large dogs sits in my lap with his claws digging in as we go around curves. We go to a used bookstore and he insists on buying me books on disciplining children. My daughter wants a book on farting.
Charlie's an Asshole
Charlie is an asshole. Not in the kisses your sister sense, more in the, has a nice job but still refuses to tip sort of way. He told me that his father never once tipped and he retired at the age of forty-five to a three bedroom condominium on the beach. I reminded him that his father died at forty-eight of a massive heart attack.
Charlie reminded me that he now owns the three-bedroom condominium, and plans to use his father’s inheritance to do it up right, his words.
Like I said Charlie’s an asshole.
—Bill W. Morgan
It’s always the same; I wake up, eat breakfast from my bowl and run out the door to grab the newspaper. Then I race back inside and find my favorite part of the sofa.
Something isn’t right, though. There is no food in my bowl and the door did not open.
I walk into my best friend’s room and hop onto his bed, situating myself above his face. This isn’t like him. This isn’t like me. Searching for a sign, I lick his face and bark loudly; but he remains silent, motionless.
Today is different.
She watched him disappear into the darkness, his footsteps filling with fresh snow. She pulled the jacket closer to her body, hugged herself warm. He said he would only be gone an hour at the most, that even in the dark those who passed by would see him walking and help.
He refused to take the heavier of the jackets, instead taking the thin parka she had absently thrown in the back seat. He gave her the keys and got out. Before he left, he told he loved her. She was too afraid to reply.
—Bill W. Morgan
Everyone who mounted the horse was puzzled. Why the name Rigide? He was anything but? His flesh sagged; his swayback resembled an oft-used pillow. He wobbled and stumbled. Mostly he lived for his ration of oats and occasional rub. Rigide? Certainly a misnomer!
But this nag was about to have his day.
At 80, Matisse, in a wheelchair and clutching scissors in his arthritic hand, cut shapes out of large sheets of vibrantly painted paper.
As the artist affixed the cutouts to his esteemed collages, there was Rigide beside Matisse—occupying his pot of glue.
A Tween's Dilemma
“I’m so excited! I’m going to my best friend Claudia’s house,” exclaimed Jayne.
Jayne is eager to leave but suddenly the phone rings and her mom pauses to answer it. Jayne becomes frightened when her mom starts crying, and Jayne stands frozen in place until the call ends.
Her mom glances her way and says haltingly, “Grandma is dead.”
Jayne is conflicted, at first still wanting to go to Claudia’s house, but she quickly realizes her place is here, with her family. Jayne stumbles forward, her arms slowly reaching out to embrace her grieving mother.