SN&R presents its 2012 Flash Fiction contest winners

We’ve got murdering, stalking and cave exploring, not to mention more murders, homeless guys out for dinner and cops in love. That’s in addition to the apocalypse, which comes wrapped in nuclear destruction or thermonuclear destruction—you can take your pick.

It must be the SN&R Flash Fiction Contest, in which our readers come up with the most entertaining story they can tell in 150 words or less. This year we’ve got some repeat offenders—uh, writers—as well as some new talent bringing their best short-short fiction to the table. As usual, the identities of the writers were hidden from the judges during the selection process. Sit back and enjoy these tales of—well, everything—from your fellow SN&R readers.

First place

Specialty of the house

Jerry, on the street a month, turned to Old Harold.

“I’m hungry.”

“Only clever people get to eat,” said Harold, leading the way to the Dumpster. He pointed. “Best Italian food in town.”

“Yuck,” said Jerry.

Harold swung himself inside. “Specialty of the house: chicken Parmesan, fettuccine, Caesar salad.”

“Yuck,” said Jerry.

Harold resurfaced with a crust of bread and a handful of noodles.

Suddenly the restaurant door opened. The man in the apron saw the sauce on Harold’s chin.

“Get out of that Dumpster,” he said, turning back inside.

“Run!” said Jerry. “He’ll call the cops.”

“Sit down,” said Harold, climbing out of the Dumpster. He arranged two cardboard boxes by the door.

The man in the apron reappeared. He set one plate on each box.

Harold breathed in the fine aroma. “Specialty of the house,” he said. “Chicken Parmesan, fettuccine, Caesar salad.”

Larry E. Graham, Sacramento

Second place

Talking to crows

Up at the Shores, it’s ravens. Snyder says they’re over by his place, too. Down where I’m at, it’s crows.

They used to hang out in the yard until the shooting. Now they’re down at the park.

They say the crow is the only creature, free or domestic, that will run to the sound of a gunshot—looking for whatever morsel death may have left behind. A pleasure some of us once enjoyed, too. It’s just sport, hoping to get there before the blood runs out; mixing it up, getting in the middle of it, letting the adrenaline push the senses to breathlessness.

Those days are gone. Now, on warm mornings I go to the park, feed the crows, we talk. All we seem to agree on is that neither of us will ever be that wild again.

Bill Gainer, Grass Valley

Third place

Another victim of Little Boy

Blue flies peppered the bedroom window pane; trapped, their carcasses fell and littered the sill like ashes from the old man’s cigar whose corpse lay rotting in bed.

Mike hadn’t seen the old man smoking behind his house all week, so he went to check on him. He knocked but heard no sounds inside. Mike peered through windows and noticed the flies, then saw the gasping, tilted skull, its upper lip drawn high over long yellow teeth.

The old man had fabricated sheet-metal parts for the bombs dropped on Japan. Exposure to radiation had killed the nerves in his bottom jaw, and his lower teeth had rotted away. He told Mike about it once across their common fence chewing pensively on his cigar. He’d described visiting a prison to review designs with Nazi scientists.

Now the old man was dead of cancer, another victim of Little Boy.

D. Link, Sacramento

Honorable mentions

When life gives you lemons

After 20 years of marriage, Agnes can’t handle it anymore. It isn’t alcohol; it isn’t infidelity; it’s the snoring. Phil’s snores are barges passing in the night.

One night, he wakes the neighbors, who rattle their trash cans to the curb, thinking it’s garbage day.

Agnes drops him off at the sleep lab with a pillow and a glass of milk. “Fix your shit,” she says, pointing to his nose. That night, they affix special stickers to his forehead. The next morning, there is a flute where his nose once was.

“Go on,” the doctors say to Agnes. “Play nice.”

Julia Halprin Jackson, Davis

Stopping for coffee in the morning

Sometimes, at the mini-mart, the creepy guy gets there before I do. The girl behind the counter keeps peeking over my shoulder, watching him, wants to know if I’m going to sit a while, sets the cordless on the counter, puts the change in my hand, says, “Stay.” I think anything’s possible.

Other times I beat him to it. We’re alone, she holds the cordless tight, leaves the change on the counter, doesn’t get to close, I compliment her shoes, she steps away.

On the way out I glance back, she’s dialing. I imagine calling mom, telling her, “The other creepy guy was here. I don’t like being alone with him. He’s always talking about my shoes.”

Bill Gainer, Grass Valley

Never too late

Officer Andy and Officer Bert stopped the guy with the wings pushing the shopping cart.

“Halloween was months ago, buddy,” laughed Officer Andy. “Your wings are crooked; your tights are ragged.”

Officer Bert added, “You’re even too late for Valentine’s Day.”

“Never too late for love,” said Wings, reaching into the shopping cart. He pulled out a bow and arrow.

Both officers drew guns.

“Drop your weapon. Step away from the cart.”

“Never too late …”

In one brave motion—even before the bow and arrow hit the ground—Officer Andy threw Wings to the pavement and snapped on the handcuffs. But the arrow, on its way down, nicked him. His partner retrieved the arrow for evidence, accidentally scratching his finger.

Wings lay quietly, waiting. The officers looked into each other’s eyes. Their expressions softened.

“You’re so brave,” said Officer Bert.

“You’re so strong,” said Officer Andy.

Larry E. Graham, Sacramento

The man, the cat and the attic

He kept his books in the attic because the cat liked to gnaw paper. He kept his furniture up there because the cat liked to scratch it. The cat liked to chew on coaxial cables, so the man kept his television in the attic. The cat had an annoying habit of jumping on the piano keys at inappropriate moments, so the man put the piano in the attic. The cat sometimes licked the man’s face while he slept. This annoyed the man so he took to sleeping in the attic. Eventually, the cat died of boredom and loneliness. Now the man keeps its ashes in a little wooden box atop of the refrigerator. Whenever he goes into the kitchen for a glass of milk or a bowl of ice cream, the man sees that little box and sheds a tear for the cat, whose name he can no longer remember.

I don’t mean to dinner. I don’t mean, “Richard, try the lamb; it’s delicious.”

Kevin Mims, Sacramento

I dreamt that John McCrea took us out

I mean took us out. As in screwed a silencer onto a gun. Like that scene in Pulp Fiction: Travolta! Jackson! Guns! Bam!

Except it’s John McCrea. Is he pissed because we made fun of Cake? No! He’s pissed because I’ve been telling everyone he was a waiter at Greta’s Café. Their breakfasts, I recall, were delicious. You sigh audibly. Outing McCrea as a table jockey; that’s all on me.

Now I’m pissed. Not just because you’re impeccably dressed. I mean, nice suit. Me? I’m dressed in jeans and a T-shirt. How’s that going to look when they find our dead bodies? Geoffrey Neill was found murdered last night along with his gardener. Thanks.

As we argue, McCrea decides to take us both out. The last thing we hear him say: “Sheep: Heaven. Goats …”

Richard Hansen, Sacramento


Seeing a pickup truck back into the no-parking zone in front of his motel, Tom Haven became suspicious and memorized the license number: Idaho plate KII-241. The driver entered the office, thrust a knife between Tom’s ribs, emptied the cash register and left. Tom triggered the alarm with his foot. Fearing death was near, he used a finger dipped in blood to write the license number on the counter. IDA KII was as far as he got before slumping to the floor.

His wife, alerted by the alarm, rushed from their apartment at the back of the office. She tried to pull the knife from Tom’s body, but it was stuck in a bone.

The jury had no trouble convicting Ida Haven of murder. Her fingerprints were on the knife and Tom had clearly been trying to write IDA KILLED ME when he died. She was executed by lethal injection.

Kevin Mims, Sacramento

Getting old

Grandpa, a hard man softened when gardening, at 87, he walked daily and took care of his small garden where he grew tomatoes and roses. A mentally challenged young man got into Grandpa’s garden and trampled it; Grandpa’s anger simmered.

Seeing the young man’s father, Grandpa launched into a colorful tirade, and the man asked, “What are you going to do?”

Grandpa answered with a right cross, and the two men went to scrapping, Grandpa fell, hit his head and was taken to the hospital.

At the hospital I asked, “What’s wrong with you? That guy had a roll of nickels in his hand,” I laughed.

Then, looking more serious than I had ever seen him, he said, “I had that guy bent over and hit him in the gut with everything I had. He didn’t go down. I might be getting old.”

Michael Kane, Roseville


Follow me, she says. He sidles up, one hand on his hip, edges inward. Mind the gap, she says. The sunlight splits above her head, a hundred shafts of yellow splintering through blackness. They hear water. A thousand things could happen here, where it’s dark and dank. A thousand invisible, undoable things could happen. He could lose her. He could lose himself. They both could lose the sun. Instead, they trundle forward, grabbing rock when they don’t grab each other.

When it’s over, they measure dirt in their palms, grateful they can see. “Next time,” she says, “bring a flashlight.”

Julia Halprin Jackson, Davis


“Why aren’t you listening to me, Dave?”

“There was a serious accident tonight at the intersection of Sandalwood and Price Boulevard.”

“I thought we had something, Dave!”

“A blue Chrysler sedan ran a red light just after 9 o’clock. A black Dodge SUV then entered the intersection and struck the …”

“Dave, why won’t you answer me?”

“The driver of the SUV and both passengers of the sedan were rushed to an area hospital.”

“How can you ignore me, Dave?”

“The driver is listed in critical condition, while the sedan passengers are both in serious but stable—”

“Shut up, Dave! Shut up!”

“It is unclear if drugs or alcohol played a role in the crash.”

“I”m leaving you, Dave. I won’t stand for this anymore.”

“Reporting live from Summerland, David Simmons, Channel 8 News.”

“I’m leaving!”

“In other news, Rockford City Council President …”


Sean Riley, Roseville

The fine art of poisoning

On our 20th anniversary, I said I think I’ve survived four poisoning attempts.

She said, “No. Six.”

On our 25th, she brought out a cake. There was a knife with a bloody handle driven in the middle of it and an inscription saying, “You won’t make 26.”

These days, I eat out more than usual. Sleep with the door locked and make sure the gun isn’t loaded.

She says the cremation is paid, has a spot picked out in the garage for my urn. She wants me close, but not too close.

She leaves her favorite book, The Fine Art of Poisoning on the coffee table. Says she likes to thumb through it whenever I’m out late with the boys, doing whatever it is boys do when they’re out late.

She leaves notes to herself, “Christ, I love him, but he’s gotta go. One drop in the turkey gravy isn’t enough.”

Bill Gainer, Grass Valley

Hector y Teddy

Hector paced. “You say air hockey, I say … Arizona. What’s the difference?”

Teddy was at his best friend’s house, feeling like he was losing this argument about what makes life worth living.

“Neither may seem … cosmically important, but each is as good as anything else, and that’s enough to get anyone through any moment, just focusing on one good thing. And maybe that’s all there is, is moments. Maybe it’s not all building toward anything.”

“I don”t know,” mumbled Teddy. “That would just be sad.”

Hector sat back down on his bedroom floor. “I’m tired of suicide chess. Let’s play real chess.”

“All right.”

Hector cleared the board. “My mom and dad keep yelling. He didn’t come home until 9 last night. She was asleep.”

“That sucks.”

Hector placed the queen in position. Computer voice: “Wouldn’t you prefer a nice game of War?”

“No, let’s play Global Thermonuclear Chess.”

Computer voice: “Fine.”


Paul R. Hughes III, Sacramento


Ouch. Johnny’s head was foggy as if he were coming out of surgery—his eyes weren’t open yet, but he was aware of that fact, and that he had no clue where he was or how he got there.

He slowly began to open his eyelids, adjusting to the light in the cold room, when he realized that he couldn’t move his arms or legs.

“Am I freaking paralyzed?!” his mind screamed.

Panic was bubbling just under the surface, but Johnny wasn’t letting it take over—although he was getting close. Now aware that his hands and feet were tied to something, he struggled toward total consciousness.

“Was I knocked out?” his thoughts were flying.

“Hello, sleepyhead,” a sweet, woman’s voice said from his immediate right.

He recognized her voice.

“Wait. Hold on.” In a rush, it all came to him. His ex-girlfriend Gina! Oh crap.

Rick Tracewell, Auburn