Write your fingers off

This year’s short fiction by RN&R readers probes the dark, the light and the rancid sandwich spread in the middle

Photo Illustration by David Jayne

Art, it’s said, imitates life. Reading this year’s short fiction entries, our six RN&R staff judges noted that life seems a bit gloomier these days. We received some creepy stuff this year, blood, gore and a few sharp teeth. There seemed to be a few more stories, this year, about suicide, murder, death and war.

But we also received many stories about relationships—with partners, friends and family. Breaking up, breaking free, making it work. As you read the stories we like the best, you’ll get a sense of our readers’ obsessions—from media malaise to moments that bring us hope.

1. Fat
by Natalie Gross

In the end, they just wanted money and sugar. And all-you-can-eat buffets. Parking lots of SUVs and family vacations guzzling beer and cola, watching 800 different channels on TV.

Nothing would compare to Wal-Mart’s pre-portioned cookie dough and bargain ammunition. Except mayonnaise by the gallon, salt by the pound and discount gasoline at Costco.

They ignored their teenager’s bellybuttons and pants that didn’t stay up, the pierced tongues and oral sex, the legal prostitution and $199 divorces. And they went to casinos, where they spent their mortgages, college tuitions and time.

Natalie Gross, 30, moved to Reno five years ago from Hawaii. She’s been writing and getting published since the third grade, when she won a story contest and her work was published by a university press. She’s also been published in Seattle-area newspapers. Gross is currently at work on a book of memoirs. She doesn’t gamble or eat at buffets—but she does enjoy visits to Lake Tahoe.

2. At the door
by Andrew Nixon

“So …”
“Yeah …”
“I, you know …”
“Me, too …”
“I had a nice time tonight.”
“Yeah …”
“Umm …”
“So …”
“Can I call you?”
“Um, well …”
“I mean, in a couple of days or whatever.”
“Yeah …”
“No rush …”
“No.”
“I want to, but …”
“I want you to.”
“Well … great.”
“But …”
“If you’re busy or whatever …”
“No, it’s not …”
“I can just …”
“Hmm?”
“Umm …”
“So …”
“Do you want to come in or anything?”
“Uh …”
“You don’t have to or … whatever.”
“No, yeah.”
“No?”
“No, I mean yes.”
“Yes?”
“Yes.”
“Great.”
“Yeah …”
“I’ll just …”
“OK.”
“Excuse the mess.”

Though he’s enjoyed reading RN&R short fiction in the past, this was the first year that Andrew Nixon, 23, entered the contest. He admitting that the 95-word format was challenging, but once he got started writing, he just couldn’t stop. Nixon entered several stories. He works at Hollywood Video and has already completed a first novel, which is untitled and unpublished, for now. “Keep an eye out for me,” he says.

3. Fit or Flat
by Allison Tracy

After my boyfriend asked me one morning if I was gaining weight, I started describing everything he did as flaccid. It started out with things he messed up, like missing the garbage can while shooting wads of paper.

“Gee, honey, that was flaccid.”

#1. FAT

Photo By David Robert

I eventually described everything as flaccid.

“How was dinner?”

“Flaccid.”

“How does this tie look?”

“Flaccid.”

I suppose I feel a little guilty about his recent inability to get an erection, but now he always talks about how great I look.

And on the bright side, Duracell will have a good year.

Allison Tracy, 21, will graduate from the University of Nevada, Reno in December with bachelor degrees in sociology and English literature. She’s inspired by just about everything—and sometimes writes just to get something out of her head. She lives in Reno and is considering becoming a professional waitress to work her way through grad school. She enjoys critical theory and dreams of a future in which she could be paid to deconstruct race and gender issues in contemporary literature.

4. Untitled
by Clay Smith

2060 is a smoggy year, and I’ve bitten the last chunk of fingernail that my teeth can reach. Casualties of my habit flutter into my shopping bag next to the McDiapers and a Sam’s Choice tax return form. Wal-Donald’s accepts food stamps as money. Can I be a father? Forget it. I must scan my All-1 Citizen Card to board the bus, identify myself and charge the fee to my dwindling credit. The driver explains deployable bioterrorism safety masks, but I’m suffocated by the fear of having a wife and child. I love them.

Clay Smith, 23, came to Reno from Elko five years ago. He has a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Nevada, Reno. He’s been working at the Olive Garden to save up money for what he calls “the whole quintessential backpacking Europe to discover yourself” trip. He plans to leave next month. His story was inspired by thinking about the future of the common man in a world run by corporations of increasing size and power.

5. Snowflake
by Shayne Del Cohen

An obscure snowflake started life falling with thousands on Sierra crags, her frozen birth incubated in a sea of sparkling white.

No snowflake is like another.

2. At the Door

Photo By David Robert

Sun shone. Air warmed. She matured—a water droplet running with others to unknown destinations, their mass called Truckee as they careened out of mountains.

Splashing in daylight rays, mirroring moonbeams, she made her way downriver. Go to Pyramid? Divert to Lahontan? She continued straight toward the Stillwaters. Reaching the Sink, she enveloped and died upon seed long unwatered. It grew.

Never doubt the power of one.

Shayne Del Cohen is a self-employed consultant living in Reno. She says she writes because she can’t sing or draw. Del Cohen claims agelessness, though she admits to having attended a 40th high school reunion.

And more …

High IQ
by Natalie Gross

Ted was best described as Kevin Bacon’s character in Diner.

Hypatia had possessed genius of mind and tongue. Galileo had seen the sun for the star it was. Sun Tzu had discovered the art of war. Shakespeare had captured mankind naked. Beethoven had heard symphonies, if nothing else. Nietzsche had declared God dead. Whitman had celebrated nature’s sublimity. Wittgenstein had spoken a new language. Sartre had mocked existence. Einstein had proven the theory of relativity. Hawking had poked the edges of the universe.

Ted had mastered Grand Theft Auto: Vice City in two days flat.

Peabody’s Legend
by Mike Branchbr

Peabody drew a map showing the exact location of every important moment in his life: where he was born, where he caught his first trout, where he met his wife, where he buried his dog, where he had the epiphany about how juniper trees talk to the wind.

By the time he died, the layered cartography of Peabody’s world differed not al all from his map. After he was gone his people added a final place to the map—not the location of his death, but the place where he began drawing the map itself.

Party Buzz
by Heather Singer

Bill brought me the mixed cocktail—my first ever. I was 14. It tasted strong. After only a few sips, I could really feel the effects of the alcohol. Oh yeah! This was a jammin’ party. I suddenly gained an amazing new confidence to chat up the popular kids and show off the sizzling dance moves carefully perfected in front of my bedroom mirror.

3. Fit or Flat

Photo By David Robert

I was soooo cool.

“Wow, Bill, what was in that?” I later asked him.

“Pepto Bismol and orange juice.”

Our Hawaiian Holiday
by Brad MacKenzie

My girlfriends and I left Reno in my private jet for our Hawaiian vacation. We stayed at the most lavish resort on Kauai. Our suite had its own hot tub with a view of Kalapaki Bay. The girls wanted to see dolphins, whales and sharks, so we hired a charter boat. After watching dolphins and whales, the captain took us to Suicide Cove. The sharks wouldn’t come near the boat until I fell into the water. I hope the girls got some good pictures because chewing the fins off three vicious sharks hurt my mouth.

Short But Not Revealing
by Jennifer Rasmussen

5:03 p.m. Showered and shaved. Hair curled and coiffed. Blemishes concealed. Eyelashes curled and mascaraed. I’ve sticked my lips, shadowed my eyes and blushed my cheeks. Clothing is meticulously chosen. Casual, nice, flattering. Bra and panties, new and black. T-shirt, blue, tight but not slutty. Skirt, jean, short but not revealing. Sandals, high, fun, comfortable.

7:10 p.m. Deep breath. Enter bar, smile, walk slowly to him. Say hello.

“You look great! I bet you don’t have to do anything to look this good,” he says with a smile.

“Not at all,” I smile. He’s definitely a keeper.

Mayonnaise
by Edwin Lyngar

Though hungry, the only item he saw in the fridge was a jar of well-aged mayonnaise. He felt a tug on his impossibly stained, loose-fitting sweatpants, and he glanced down to see his daughter Jennifer staring up at him with loving, hungry eyes. Together they shared the snot-like treat.

Ten years later, Jennifer told the story of her daddy’s love and rancid mayonnaise to her own daughter. She remembered the caring, the giving, and she shared it with her own daughter as they shared a jar of sweet pickle relish.

My Best Friend
by Dwayne Kling

4. Untitled

Photo By David Robert

We met the first day of school. He was my best friend my entire life.

When I graduated from college, he was by my side. When I was married, he was my best man. When I became a father, he was my baby’s godfather. When my wife died, he comforted me, and he gave me solace.

When I needed help, he was always there. He carried me all his life. Yesterday it was my turn to carry him. I was one of six who carried him to his final resting place.

In the Eye of the Beholder
by Linda Siebert

The place reeked. I held my breath and entered. Girls in black capes with kohl-rimmed eyes and pierced faces collected in clusters. Shelves of severed heads created a library of the macabre. Some were nestled in laps—girls stroking the cadaver hair.

A middle-aged woman burst in wearing a royal blue cape splattered with rhinestones. Her spiked heels lit up as she walked by. With a face distorted by too many surgeries, she grimaced and began tossing out heads to the new girls.

“Welcome to beauty school, ladies. Take a dummy, and let’s begin.”

Dungeon Master John
by Misty Martin

I never thought I would find paradise.

Of course, Motel 8 was still a far cry from my expectations.

As the rain pounded the cracked window and Mr.-Gamer-Geek pounded my body, I wondered when he was going to finish. Apparently a strict diet of Doritos and Mountain Dew gives you some stamina. Really, he wasn’t bad looking … a little pale and scrawny, but there was a boyishness to him that so transcended my usual clientele, it was almost exotic.

How did he get to this side of town, so far from his mom’s basement?

Convertible Girl
by Brandon Kueper

Her hair was blowing in her face. She hadn’t brought a scarf. She hadn’t brought much at all. He was 20 miles behind her now, but it started to feel like 20 years the further she drove. She left what they had and only brought what she needed. Her immediate future fit in one suitcase and one stuffed handbag resting at her side.

5. Snowflake

Photo By David Robert

She told him he needed to change.

When he said that he wouldn’t, she said that she would.

She looked at the clouds nesting on the horizon and hoped that it wouldn’t rain.

Cruising
by Allison Tracy

One lane road, 35 mph. See a Lincoln coming up behind. Here’s my chance. Ease foot off the gas. Lincoln catches up. Driver is 65. Maybe 70. Perfect.

I’m not sure when my penchant for driving slow in front of the elderly began, but I can’t go a day without it.

Dial of speedometer slowly falls. Driver’s frustration quickly grows. He tailgates me for a good three minutes. Road finally becomes two lanes. Lincoln swerves to get around. Driver waves an arthritic middle finger at me as he passes.

God, I love doing that!

From Discord, Find Harmony
by Cathy Mastrantuono

It took her by surprise. This intense feeling of abhorrence. Wanda felt entranced as she watched Gil’s tongue and lips massage a beef rib. She thought she detected a wave of euphoria as the beer and meat settled him, expanding his grotesque stomach. It was then that Wanda knew she had to kill him.

Opportunity beckoned later that afternoon when Gil collapsed at the edge of their pool. She pounded his head with a huge frozen zucchini and dragged him into the water. The zucchini she ate, relishing every agreeable bite.

Being Martha
by Paul Woodard

Dressed in casual dominatrix black, Martha rehearsed for her full pardon hearing. The nylons were torn, and she didn’t look sexy, but that was just Martha being Martha. She felt very wicked standing in the kitchen dressed so provocatively. Martha couldn’t recall if she had styled her hair with the egg beater again that morning. As she sneezed into the pot of swill she was preparing for the board members, Martha wondered if she would have the thrill of whipping some members of the board. If not, she would have stock tips available.

19 Steps
by D.C. Haynes

For years now, he climbed the stairs, handed the brunette receptionist his entries, then retreated down the stairs.

Except for last year. Trying to make the deadline, he was hit by a bus and lapsed into a coma. His fellow mental patient, after months of listening to the incessant tapping of his roommate’s toes, finally interpreted it as Morse code—in 95-word blocks.

Released with crutches and extensive head bandages, fearing the receptionist would think him weird, he changed his appearance daily, limped up the 19 steps, then hobbled away to write again.