SN&R’s 2010 Flash Fiction winners keep it simple, defy spell check and sneak up on ya
Here we are with the sixth installment of SN&R’s Flash Fiction contest. We had nearly 200 entries this year, and here are the best of the bunch: the first-, second- and third-prize winners; three honorable mentions; and 10 finalists.
The entries were first read by a panel of three in-house judges at SN&R. The highest-rated group of stories—this year, it was 16 instead of the usual 15, because of a tie—were sent to our guest judge, who made the final selection of winners and honorable mentions. The stories were judged anonymously at all levels.
In addition to modest prizes from SN&R, this year’s guest judge, Valerie Fioravanti (see sidebar), will be inviting the winners to read at an upcoming Stories on Stage event.
“It was a treat to read the variety and depth of storytelling in these entries,” said Fioravanti. “The winning stories truly did flash—they suggested whole, complicated lives from the stuff of moments.”
Jess Weimar stepped out of the wreckage. Parts of the airplane still burned. Judging by the vegetation, she suspected they were deep in the Amazon.
“Can you help?” someone shouted.
Jess found him. It was Billman, from the home office.
“Are you a doctor?” he asked.
“No, I’m Jess. We met in Rio. I’m a corporate headhunter.”
“That’s too bad,” he said, and he died.
She searched around, but found no other survivors. She wrapped herself in a blanket and got afraid.
The Jipitos came in the night. Jess woke to find them standing over her, thirty of them. They were naked and carried long spears.
Jess stood up. She should have been scared, but she wasn’t. The Jipitos grinned, revealing rows of sharpened teeth. Jess grinned back, already becoming something new. She would spend the next four years learning just how satisfying headhunting could be.
—William Doonan, Sacramento
Judge Fioravanti had this to say about first-place winner “Lady Anaconda”: “I admired how smooth and shapely this piece was. The dialogue, the deadpan humor, and Jess’ casual self-awareness make this story work.”
I saw the sign, just the way you wanted me to. Beside Highway 50, in foggy black letters: Theresa, I love u. Spray paint eliminated the need for awkward carnations, a mix tape or actual words.
Does love mean never having to say you’re sorry? Maybe you’re the evolved one and I’m the australopithecine struggling to stand upright. If my heavy brow ridges prevent me from seeing the truth, so be it.
But maybe life is a spelling bee, not a race for evolution. If that’s the case, you’re about to be eliminated. I am more than a single letter. My body, my heart and my mind each have a letter of their own: y-o-u. Since you gave me just the last, my mind is all I have to use to process your response.
It has just one thing to say: I don’t spell my name with an “h.”
—Jenni Wiltz, Folsom
From the judge: “This piece has whimsy; serious, yet playful. The ideas about love, life—and spelling—are ambitious without ever losing heart.”
Annie stares at her dad’s reflection in the rear-view mirror. “Daddy, where are we going to?”
The two-lane road carves through the vast evergreen landscape with precision, as if cut by a combine over the rolling hills. The crisp breeze carries a piney scent. Pete adjusts the rear-view and inhales deeply through his nostrils.
“It’s a surprise,” he answers. “A little trip, just you and me. It’ll be great, I promise.” He glances at his watch.
“Did you talk to Mommy? You’re supposed to, right?”
Four years old and already a lawyer, Pete thinks. “I did, Boo. Everything’s fine.” Pete sees a sign—Vancouver, B.C. 79 miles. He smiles.
Annie holds up her teddy bear. “We love you, Daddy!” Suddenly she clutches the shaggy bear to her chest. “What’s that?”
Blue and red lights strobe through the interior. Pete stares into the rear-view. His smile fades.
—Paul M. Mann, Sacramento
“This writer has a gift for subtlety. Nothing is overstated. The reader is nudged toward the answers by his elegant use of detail,” said Fioravanti.
I knew a guy back in the ’60s, had a scar from an iron on his belly, just above his belt line. You could tell it was an iron—it must have hurt like hell. He said it happened in the Navy, loading shells over by Vietnam.
He let the truth slip one night, too many cocktails at the Busy-Bee Club. His second wife had put it to him; she liked to fight—dirty. Cost him fifteen hundred dollars to replace three of her teeth from the punch that knocked her out that night. In those days, they called it passion, and when the blood boiled, you let it—boil.
He said the marriage lasted another year, until she came at him with the pruning shears, and that even though she’d moved to Reno, he still carried a Mexican switchblade. Just in case she still loved him.
—Bill Gainer, Grass Valley
Writing of Death, Mary Flannery lived her stories. “I live in my stories,” she said. She was innocent that way.
I’d lived in the world. I’d run from the Nazis, Death singing like a Siren in my ears. And I’d known war girls—a lot of them, all as frightened as I.
But I didn’t tell Mary Flannery this. I was innocent, too—in a needful way.
We sat on her porch, fireflies bumping the screen. We drank Cokes and coffee, and I told her that I loved where she lived—I wanted to live there, too. I wanted to share her peace, know what she knew. Then, for the first time, I kissed her.
Her lips went slack. I kissed teeth—her skeletal teeth—instead. This time, Death did not sing to me.
He touched me, and I ran.
—Larry E. Graham, Sacramento
Junebug and Deepo skip math class to smoke a blunt in the woods.
“That the same one from the other day?” she asks.
“Yeah” he says, takes a deep draw in, passes it.
She puts the feathery paper to her lips. He exhales, smiles, leans against a tree with her back leaning into his chest, the small curves of her warming him. The light through the trees. The crisp fall air.
Indivisible fractions … why do we try to divide everything? he wonders.
Can she read my mind? he wonders.
His hand wanders along her arm … soft. His fingertips graze a nipple and a tree of neon light illuminates just below the skin, invisible to the naked eye.
Why do we rip everything open? Why do we need to SEE everything? she wonders.
Car doors slam in the distance, the school breaks down like a stage set. She sinks deeper into him.
—Faith Fogel, Sacramento
2048: An Eco-tale
When laws passed to control the number of babies born in America in 2048, it was too late. Even though all borders were closed, starvation was rampant. Food riots had begun in Sacramento as we prepared to make our pre-dawn escape to the mountains.
The five of us had been roommates for three years. When gas ran out two years ago, we had switched to bicycles and made plans. We purchased a gun, since our journey out of town would leave us vulnerable to gangs prowling the city.
It was foggy as we rolled our bikes and trailers out the back door, all of us praying that we could make it out of Midtown alive. Movement in the first alley we passed set our pace at a heart-drumming high as we raced to I-80 where the lanes, empty of cars, were our way to freedom and hope.
—Ellen McMahill, Sacramento
Three days ago, George Washington stepped out of a time machine and found himself in the year 2010.
He wanted his stuff back. He knew that his finest suit was in the Smithsonian, behind bulletproof glass. A newspaper article informed him that his dentures were being studied in Baltimore, at the National Museum of Dentistry.
He was at a loss to know where he’d find white hair powder. “Have you considered bleaching it?” a woman asked.
An Internet search (he’d learned quickly from a nice library clerk) revealed that his Bible and trowel were being held by St. John’s Lodge #1. He was puzzled as to why they kept the trowel, of all things, to remember him by.
A man shoved a dollar bill into his hand, thinking he was a beggar. There was his own image, staring back at him.
“Horrible picture of me!” he declared.
—Leslie Soule, Rio Linda
The Migrant Worker
The blue denim was visibly torn around his sun-parched skin and his knuckles bloody red after falling from “Grace”—the name he gave to every tree inside the Orchard. But now “Grace” stood there as his nemesis. She embraced the daylight with outstretched arms as he awoke alone between rows within the grove. No one knew he had fallen and there were no complaints about extra leg room in back of the truck or fewer wages to be paid at the end of the day.
In the distance he knew there was a road, but the bright sun made it difficult to navigate. So he searched for the hat that accompanied him upon his descent from consciousness. And once there in the shade, his knees began to buckle; he had found his hat stirring with the leaves between “Grace” and his still-sleeping corpse amongst the trees.
—Basil Evan, Sacramento
Knowing the Score
Doris found love at the Dollar Tree, aisle 2B, in front of the light bulbs.
He was contemplating the choice between 40-watt natural and 25-watt brilliance. Finally, a man who preferred basic living needs over Monday night football, saving pennies over watching the futile crush of bodies and helmets on AstroTurf, cans of Arizona Iced Tea and never a six-pack of Bud.
The store’s radio played Roberta Flack, and Doris and the sensitive man headed to the checkout, confident that the cosmic energy they shared would last long past their first, tentative kiss in the shadowy parking lot light.
—Catherine Fraga, Sacramento
Beach Blanket Bingo
The rain never stopped. It started one day, but never ended. As time went on, they stopped noticing. Artificial light grew plants in water-sealed greenhouses. Homes were built on hills. Galoshes and raincoats became stylish. The 6 o’clock news stopped reporting “___ days of rain!”
She was working at a movie house, cleaning the stock rooms, when she found the films. Who knew they would become a sensation? She could barely remember sand or sun, but found Beach Blanket Bingo mesmerizing.
At first, it was just co-workers. They would crowd in the theatre after hours, drinking boxed wine, staring at the screen of colors, sunlight and skin. Soon, more people started arriving. Now it wasn’t a secret anymore.
She started wearing bikinis under raincoats and flip-flops in boots, but she didn’t tell anyone. She never wanted to share the films, but she couldn’t deny them. The rain never stopped.
—Madeline Maxwell, Sacramento
I gripped each handle bar as I sat on top of them, the evening air grazing my face like lost love. With a slight drunk giggle and a heartbeat every other second, I tightened my grip and loosened my lips. The headlights on the street passed by like white paint on a black canvas. The tall weepy trees waved as we floated by them. Not wanting to loosen my grip, I waved back in my head. I closed my eyes and tasted the warm summer evening on my tongue. The sound from each passing bar crowd like a skipping record. With my high heels tucked into my purse, my bare feet dangle dangerously close to the white-walled front tire.
I giggled a little louder, never looking back, then I let go.
—Amanda Potts, Antelope
F or M
Chris sighed and reached for the ballpoint pen with the compulsory black ink. The passport application was completed, except for one area. Chris still needed to finish the application and return it, with the required photo attached. Although avoided for several weeks, it was necessary in order to take the long-dreamed-of vacation to Rome.
The officious, small box on the application didn’t allow space for anything other than a letter of the alphabet. How could such a tiny space contain the fragile emotional justification or a description of a lifetime of pain and longing? What bureaucrat could appreciate the blossoming transformation and feeling of deliverance?
Chris sighed once more and looked at the clock. The partially filled-in form was, again, set aside. It was time for the weekly clinic appointment.
—Jan Massara, Roseville
On the Ledge
Gary sat on the window ledge, pondering the college student faces four stories below.
The firemen were scrambling to set up a net. He could see where the fire truck had dug grooves in the lawn.
He thought four stories was high enough. But was it? Life in a crushed body might be worse than telling his parents he had tested HIV positive.
One voice below urged him to go back in. Another bellowed that he should jump. The voice in his head asked how he got onto the ledge.
Backing up was never Gary’s way. He always pushed, even when he should not have. His father said Gary was born without a reverse gear.
Now the fire truck’s ladder was creeping higher towards him. An attractive blond female firefighter was reaching her hand out for him.
They should’ve sent a guy, Gary thought. Why didn’t they send a guy?
—Michael Fitzgerald, Sacramento
I saw blood.
The walls of the bar were covered in red shag carpeting. It felt as if I had entered Hell itself. This was not Hell. This was an Aryan-Brotherhood version of the movie Shaft. My eight-hour friends were White Aryans who wore Swastika rings with names like Animal and Torque.
Animal stated to me he was one of the last inmates to leave Alcatraz prison. Animal was 70 years old. He was evil, childish and fascinating.
Animal asked me right off the bat if I was a cop.
“Do I look like a cop?” I said playfully.
“Yes, you do,” Animal said.
Animal laughed and became immediately comfortable with me. He showed me his silver Nazi rings with fatherly pride, and I pretended to give a shit.
I felt my gun and badge caress the back of my shirt and ordered another drink.
—Kyle Scot Martinez, Rancho Cordova
After parking the car, I started down the pathway leading to Dad’s place. How long had it been since my last visit? Three, or was it four years? I quickly dismissed a slight twinge of guilt that came over me. Heck, ten years could pass and Dad wouldn’t say a word. So unlike the father I knew growing up. Heated arguments and verbal confrontations were a daily occurrence in our household. But those days were behind us.
Nowadays, Dad didn’t voice an objection or opinion on anything. I have to admit, I rather miss those verbal jousting matches. Dad doesn’t do battle with me any longer.
The path ended at Dad’s place. Dropping to a knee, I removed the flowers and garden spade from the bag.
“Brought you some flowers, Dad. Weren’t zinnias your favorite?”
No reply. I proceeded to plant them at the base of Dad’s headstone.
—Frank J. Sumrak, Roseville
About the judge
This year’s final judge is probably best known around town as the mistress of ceremonies and driving force behind Stories on Stage, a monthly program at the Sacramento Poetry Center of short stories by local authors in staged reading by local actors.
But Valerie Fioravanti is also an accomplished fiction writer herself. She received a master of fine arts degree from New Mexico State University, and her short stories and flash fiction have appeared in many literary journals, including the North American Review, Night Train, Pindeldyboz and Cimarron Review. She’s the recipient of a Fulbright Fellowship, and her story collection, Garbage Night, was a finalist for the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction.
She teaches flash fiction and other workshops for the UC Los Angeles and UC Davis Extension, and offers private fiction workshops from her Midtown apartment. For more information, visit her website at www.valeriefioravanti.com.