Well, here we are, once again. We've rifled through an Everest of entries received from as far away as Paraguay and the secret Chinese space station orbiting the planet Neptune. After much sweating, cursing and inter-office bickering, we've finally determined this year's victors.
The assignment this time around was to write a winning short story in 108 words or less. No easy task, so it's amazing that so many of you rose to the challenge. (Winners should contact me at email@example.com or 346-0660 ext. 251 to arrange to receive their prizes.)
As an added bonus, Rennie Sparks, the literary genius from the Handsome Family, was kind enough to contribute a gorgeous eight-legged entry for your enjoyment. Almost as enjoyable, but considerably more offensive, is Laura Marrich's amalgam of all the worst entries into a single ultimate loser.
Heaps of heartfelt gratitude to Page One Bookstore (11018 Montgomery NE, 294-2026), the Guild Cinema (3405 Central NE, 255-1848) and Barnes and Noble (6600 Menaul NE, 883-8200) for sponsoring the contest. Thanks also to the judges—Laura Marrich, Devin O'Leary, Amy Dalness, Marisa Demarco, Christie Chisholm and Genevieve Smith—for helping me sort through the rubble.
Congrats to all the winners, and remember, our infamous haiku contest is just around the corner. If you didn’t win this time around, lasting literary glory could still be yours.
It was a tough decision, but Andersen gets the trophy this year. For her lyrical description of a really bad hair day, she gets a $50 gift certificate to Page One, four tickets to the Guild Cinema, a copy of Jay McInerney's Model Behavior and an Alibi bottle opener (highly collectible).
“The Chaos of Hair Theory”
Only the eyebrows remained, when all hair rebelled that day. Mustachios peeled and debutante coifs joined the strays and frizzies on the street. The local pageboys formed a muster to patrol against rude young mullets huddled in doorways, dangling their cigarettes under edgy bottle cap eyes. There were riots against the governing forehead and bobs promised apocalypse on the church steps.
Nervous barbers blamed it on the weather, but were forced to abandon their shops in operatic tragedy. Outcast and humiliated, they sang their greatest, saddest arias beneath the receding moon. And full bearded reality became a casualty of the storm winds.
For her twisted romance, Jaramillo gets a copy of Gish Jen's The Love Wife along with two passes to the Guild, a $20 gift certificate to Ralli's and an Alibi bottle opener.
They collided and fell. It was so romantic. Two bodies out of sync and flailing, as one. He helped her up and apologized for not paying attention to where he was running. She assured him that it was ok and that she shouldn't have been walking across a running track anyhow. He politely agreed and inquired as to whether she may have purposely planned the collision. In embarrassment, she stammered that such a violent meeting at their differing speeds could have only been planned by a physics major. He chuckled, became silent, and then asked her what her major was. Architecture, she replied with a smile.
For her poetic little story of a family broken to splinters, Salmonson gets a copy of Alice Adams' final novel, After the War, two passes to the Guild, a $20 gift certificate to the District and an Alibi bottle opener.
The landlord’s voice lows through the wall, a calm and rational hum.
Three sisters burst from the door, their voices sharp hot sparks, dragging a
last piece of furniture to a boyfriend’s truck hastily loaded with faded
colors and distorted shapes. Three little girls wait in the truck bed, tears
drawing shiny lines down their round cheeks.
Thucka-thucka, the truck bumps away, leaving a black question mark of
exhaust and evidence of life: blinds cracked and broken from many peekings;
bottle caps and a plastic Big Gulp cup; chips of wood and bits of shiny
paper; and a tiny child’s sock against the wall, muffled by leaves.
Heather L. Ailes
Abilene’s named for the town where her mama claims she was conceived. I believe that’s just fancy wishin' on her mama’s part, as we all know that woman was pregnant when she left here. We all know who done it, too. But none can see any point tellin' the poor child. She has burdens enough, with that funny eye and bein' raised by a mama who’s ashamed of herself and a grandaddy who ain’t. It’s a hard thing to see them two walking down the street, but we’re all grateful Abilene don’t know what she don’t need to. That girl sure is sweet to her mama.
Once upon a time, there was a white ninja who used to throw cookies as Chinese stars. These cookies would hit people and make them laugh when they hit. It was hilarious. He also had the power to disappear. There also was a red ninja who blew clouds of smoke that made people hot. These ninjas would battle franticly for the emotions of people.
They cruised around the city putting out fires like cop cars. What about the black ninja? Who was he? He threw vegetables like cauliflower and asparagus which would just confuse the hell out of people. This made even more work for the white ninja.
“The Devil's Care”
“How could you have carried such hate in your heart for so long?" I asked the Devil. "Delicately," he replies.
"Delicately," he explains to me. "Hate is a fragile thing. You have to carry it gently or it will crumble and break. You have to cultivate it, or it will wither and die. It's the one lesson I learned from my father."
I thought on this. The patience that must be involved. The dedication. And I thought on my daughter whom I could not see again. And the man she would call daddy.
"Can you teach me?" I ask.
“The Real Thing”
The story goes: If you'll just let me begin here: It goes something like this: On the morning of April the third, across the way, I saw, believe it or not, the real thing. It wasn't the fake thing or the near to be thing but the real thing. All encumbered and by itself. It was being the main focus of the event, but let me go on: It was simply amazing, astonishing and all encompassing. I stood there and stared. The real thing. It was really quite amazing. So I ran up and spit on it.
Ever try growing something in the rock hard concrete that passes for dirt out here? Even a Nature Goddess like me needs some help. I cheat. Sprinkle plant food around at night. Cheaper than the energy I'd expend the old fashioned way. Effective too. The Garden Clubs love me. I need that. Need to be loved, remembered. Just like flowers need to be loved by the sun. Without, slow death.
We've all witnessed the fate of unloved gods. Think flowers without sun. So, I buy fertilizer by the truckload. Spread magic by night and work on my tan by day. Yeah, I need it. Need it bad.
“Death's Lemonade Stand”
Through special arrangement, Death manages a lemonade stand in Purgatory. It helps ease Death's conscience, a little. Shows the After-Lifer's there's nothing personal; hey, he's just doing his job.
Only the finest Holy Water. Filtered through thinly sliced volcanic rock; then boiled into steam and reclaimed, three times. Lemons and sugar, carefully grown in a field that Death has never touched. A touch of honey. Unforgettable.
Anyone in Purgatory may drink all they want. Some find their bill marked "No Charge" when they leave. Others spend eternity handcrafting fine crystal glasses, made in certain fires. All carefully engraved: "Dispose After Single Use."
We fell in love in a dream, a hot dream. I woke up sweating. He was next to me in bed, sleeping in spelunking gear. He’d been caving in Utah before he fell asleep. He woke in My Bed, New Mexico, his headlamp illuminating the headboard.
“I know I love you,” I said, “but your boots are muddying up the sheets.” They were. In our dream all we did was fall, hands held, through love’s luminosity and delight.
He sat up suddenly asking, “Where did my cave go?”
We gave each other a wry half-smile, then looked away.
That dream was love’s highlight. Everything afterwards was recuperation.
He didn’t like the smell of fish. His psychiatrist said it was because of his father’s job. Working the seafood section of Albertson’s left a stink on his dad that swelled through their tiny house, even into his clothes. But that wasn’t why. The reason seemed trivial; it had to do with an afternoon in Galveston and a girl who laughed when he tried to put his hand up her shirt, a girl who thought it was fun to kiss a grocery man’s son but repulsive to let him touch her. It didn’t matter, he supposed; today was cod day in the cafeteria, and he was hungry.
"Proust and His Goddamn Madeleines; Sal and the Goddamn K-Mart"
It's 8:15 a.m. and Sal is in some kind of fugue state because somehow she's slowly walked the perimeter of the store without really looking at anything and she's starting to cry a little. She's remembering when she was a kid, maybe five, she would be in the girls' shoe aisle with her father helping her into some hideous pair of pink vinyl sandals, and she'd peer out around the corner, elfin and rosy, and wave to folks at the lunch counter.
She remembers waving. She can't remember anyone ever waving back.
I remember when my grandma was kneading dough how she could make a mound of it look like a butt. She would use the edge of her very soft hands to put a crease down the middle of the loaf, making two cheeks, and she said, "look kids, it's a baby's butt," and then she would lightly spank it. The whiteness of it and the spanking sound of it impressed us. So every time she made bread we would always say, "Make the baby's butt! Make the baby's butt!" and then we would spank it, laughing, oh god how we would laugh.
“Guess Who's Coming to Dinner This Time?”
Roland paced nervously outside the front door.
"You should have told your folks about me before now," he said glancing at Johanna. "They'll hate me when they see me."
"Don't worry dear, they're not racists," replied Johanna calmly. Her delicate fingers reached to straighten his tie, "They'll be upset I'm not marrying a white Protestant who belongs to the country club, but they'll get over it. I can handle them, just be yourself." The door opened. He took a deep breath, "Hi, Mr. And Mrs. Johnson. I'm Roland." Giving his warmest smile, Roland extended his tentacle.
Audrey pulled up her bra strap as she took the order. Pennziol. Plugs. Delivered. The clock ticked toward 5:00.
Her gaze landed on the truck that pulled to the pump. The battered GMC. Covered in black goo, the drips crystallized. The grill, teeth eating Oreos, wide open. Windshield mud. A rolling, festering open sore that should ooze into a dump on the pavement.
Always, paid at the pump, the driver was shrouded in the overcoat, the fedora, and boots. The laces dragged, struggling to go AWOL. While the tank filled, a soft, manicured hand rested on the hood.
The chair squeaked back. Audrey reached for her camera.
Ralph T. Sanders
Harvard symbologist Milton Guzzardo unshrouded his eyes painfully. He found himself face to face with Sheila, the biggest, meanest albino chicken from Opus Delicious—a clandestine Vatican fast food restaurant. A trail of clues that gifted University of Mississippi cryptologist Penelope Zuckerman had uncovered were all true! The Vatican had attempted to stop the bird flu with an experimental serum but the chickens rapidly mutated, even assimilating language. Suddenly the huge albino chicken spoke. "Yo, pocho! Before I cha cha your sorry ass back to Bozocity, you wanna tell me the secret recipe of the Colonel Code, or you gonna go back as regular or extra crispy?"
The truncated news show was ready for online premiere. More time went to advertising and less to the stopwatch. Andy Rooney had to pick up the pace and wound up with a stutter. A digital proxy was undertaken and finished the next day. Apple bought the rights. Ipods everywhere overloaded because of a Windows compatibility problem. Technicians faced unimagined challenges. Also, they had to monitor carefully the growing intelligence of virtual Rooney. In continuing efforts to maximize efficiency, the newscast shortened itself, first to 40 minutes, then to thirty, fifteen, seven, three. The threat had neutralized itself when only a pop-up remained.
“Sing Sing 1971”
The sound of sirens flying across a quiet night and into my window wakes me. Second floor, single bed, I’m seven and I know lock down when I hear it. Gates slamming. No one is innocent, they say, but this is just bad all the way around.
Later there’s you, and I don’t know how we got here. No one is innocent, but you’re only a laugh riot until you won’t leave and your angry fist slams through the wallboard. Second floor, double bed, I’m twenty-seven and I know lock down when I hear it.
I know she's crazy about me. I know this because the girl won't dance with me. Hey, don't rush to judge because you see she dances with everyone else but me. They spin, swing shake and shimmy, smiling, all the time thinking God this girl's really crazy about me (trust me I know the look). But she won't dance with me. Me she tortures with an indifference that is obviously purposeful. That's just for me.
So to these other guys I say, get a fucking prayer, you losers—you're gonna need it—cause I'm the one she's not dancing with, and I know she's totally crazy about me.
We’re running on gun money. Old blood on the highway. The night holds us next to its heart. Hot wine on black and white film. 179 miles until Needles. Large birds fly back and forth. In front of us. We love the way they scream at the top of their lungs. Begging for forgiveness. We’re driving with our hands around our throats. The sky’s caving in beneath the weight of its own heat. Cheap motels and dirty teeth. Creeping down the highway like sugar melting. Smells good. Half a night from Needles. We’ll never get there.
“A Silly Millimeter”
Once upon a time, there was a young-old man. He smoked tobacco. Endlessly. Constantly. Furiously. Seriously. His highest ambition was to become a filter king. He tapped on an empty pack to summon his good fairy. But no fairy came. So in despair, he coughed, took one long drag and disappeared in a puff of smoke.
Roni Hinote Polk
Temperance Flowerdew was born with too many toes on a plantation by the James River. She hunted by the Chicahominy River, and chased cows at Green Acres. Later she climbed Paraje Mesa. She wore a coat of many colors that was softer than velveteen. She bore no children and never knew who her father was. She was adopted by two archaeologists and traveled with them from Virginia to Texas, back to Virginia and finally to New Mexico. She contracted a fatal disease at the age of 12 years old. When her kidneys failed, she received euthanasia.
She is remembered for her loud, harmonious purr.
Mark Justice Hinton
“Postcard from Albuquerque”
Greetings from New Mexico! This is the 40th straight day of rain here. It's been raining so hard we haven't been able to spend time at the beach or even to ride the paddlewheel up to Taos. The Rio Puerco washed away the Interstate yesterday. Lake Rio Rancho is close to overflowing. My hair is completely frizzy from the 100% humidity and mildew keeps forming on my suitcase. I can't wait to get home to the desert around sunny Seattle.
An electronic melody plays in his head while a heavy bass reverberates in his narrow hips. Adrenaline courses through his quadriceps as he balances in front of the mirror. His candy red, mail order stilettos glisten in the recently installed overhead light. He steps over the threshold of his 1938 studio apartment. He pauses, muses on the consequences he would have suffered if he turned this same doorknob with a manicured hand sixty eight years ago. His lungs deflate, then expand. "A black man, in a dress, in a small Texas town. Tonight, hate won't involve a rope and tree."
The rabbits have overrun the Titanic. You can open the closet door in any stateroom and watch them scurry away. The captain declares it's because they have no predators and we'll let the dogs hunt them down.
Yet, once I found a quiet couple who looked me in the eyes before they ran. I chased them down corridors, through hatches, blind into a dark room. There they hunched, eyes, eyes, eyes full of vicious intelligence the last thing I saw as they swarmed me. I stand on the bridge with empty eyes as the captain lets slip the dogs.
Me, I don't think the dogs stand a chance.
He got the people at the convenience store to call us for him. He was cursed and wanted help. I watched him explain to my partner in furious Spanish how he set all his clothes and shoes on fire, because they were turning black. He left black footprints burnt into the earth. His money and food turned black.
He told me there was a skull in his car. It was looking at him, hiding. He took off the right front fender so he could see it.
He left strapped in an ambulance. I watched him go and could only think, “We eat ourselves from the inside out.”
“Just Head South”
I didn't mean to shoot him. I mean he owned me money, was fucking around with my wife and he was just plain ugly—none of the above were any reason. I shouldn't have had a gun but I did 'cause I was so pissed off. So he's dead—I shot him in the face. I didn't know a man could bleed that much.
Holed off in the Nogales Ruin for a while and hid the car. Trembling sweat, pissed in my pants. Went down to Highway 112 and caught a hike. Told the guy to just head south. My nightmare was just beginning.
Lu Ann Robinson
“The Unintentional First Date”
"Don't rear-end anyone ... don't look at her breasts ... oh God, I looked at her breasts," Sam's thoughts raced on until they reached the parking lot. She was painfully aware of how attracted she was to Wanda and was quite sure that it was completely obvious to anyone with a pulse. Sam turned to Wanda, her sweaty legs skidding painfully on the vinyl seat. She was transfixed by the ever so fine speckles of brown in Wanda's green eyes. Sam pulled off her glasses, grabbed Wanda's shoulders and kissed her. As they kissed a frenzied kiss, both women wished that they had showered first.
Sometimes I could just jump outa my skin or spontaneously combust or something. Sometimes I sorta seep outa my heels, floating, leisurely as ice disappearing in a coco loco on the shores of paradise. Doing the tingle tango, cuddling in the languid embrace of pineapple fans skewered to the inner thigh of a split coconut with crossed pink plastic swords.
So, I says to myself, "Self," I says, "Whaddamahgonnado about this blue funkenhazen?"
Immediately, my navel flips open, a cosmic pez dispenser. My dancing soul comes spinning out. And I know ... I know.
“The Butcher's Wife”
These weren't gloves she had knitted for his scarred butcher's hands. Pricey black leather, fur linings faintly perfumed-a present from one of his tramps, whoever he was with that afternoon. Back late from his "rush delivery," he'd dropped his coat on a chair before he grabbed a beer and headed upstairs for his LazyBoy and TV.
Dinner would wait. She cleared the chopping block, laid the gloves down palms up. As music and laughter echoed down the stairway, the cleaver, swung hard, scattered scraps of leather and fur. She considered arranging a plateful, but instead gathered them up for the morning trash.