Short Fiction Contest Winners
Short Fiction Contest Finalists
For your short reading pleasure
By Jessica Cassyle Carr
Whoa, there were more than 200 submissions this year, and while 16 of those made it into the paper, many a worthy story remains. Below is our pool of finalists, chosen by Amy Dalness, from which our judging team selected the winners. While these entries are in no particular order, I can tell you that select stories below had strong support from judges. Without any further adieu, here are the rest of the favorite teeny, tiny tales.
"Reality" by Aaron Doyle Davenport
The hour-long ultrasound was the nail in the coffin. Picture after picture. Measurement after measurement. It was all just delaying the inevitable. When I looked into her eyes, I tried so hard not to show my feelings. My expression said apprehensive excitement but my eyes said sorry. I needed some acting lessons. We didn’t want to believe it, but at the same time it was the most believable thing in our lives. Wheeling back to the ER was anything but pleasant. I really tried though. It is amazing how blood can not only give but take. The doc confirmed reality, although, looking back now, it doesn’t seem real anymore. I guess that’s life. Box of chocolates my ass.
"Untitled" by Alissa Bandy
I'd be dead in minutes so I couldn't appreciate the freaky situation. Only through knowing Johnny Veritas would I be exposed to a poem that literally blew people's minds.
The sonnet antidote was clenched in Johnny's teeth as he scaled the bistro's pueblo decor.
My frontal lobes were throbbing from impending destruction but I managed a kick to the balls of the sociopathic barrista who was holding me hostage. He had masterminded this bad scene to get revenge on the pseudo-intellectuals who'd rejected his non-lethal lyrics.
Johnny leapt to me thrusting the sonnet before my eyes.
"What about this?" Johnny held the murderous meter.
"Make him eat his words." I said cramming it down the villain's throat. "Poetic justice."
"Untitled" by Alyxis Schwab-Tidwell
Mist faded in and out of the swamp, lying close to the ground to escape the fog that was also in the air, making everything damp as freshly dewed grass before dawn.
You could almost see the wraiths and ghosts.
They were to come out at any second.
All at once, the being charged him.
All he saw was pale, translucent skin, teeth like a thousand needles, and wings like a moth’s at its back.
Lashing out with blades held close to his arms, cut after slice after slash, he left a pattern of blue blood on the being, to mark where it had been injured.
He narrowed his eyes, moved in for the final strike—It was done.
"Fantastication" by James Armstead
Theodoxus sat mesmerized. The plan was going to work after all. The months of scheming, plotting and general mayhem were paying off. The kings’ army was just ahead. The spells that kept the rocks in place were straining to be released. At last, the column was in position, and with a willed thought, Theodoxus released the madness of his mind—shutting off the spells, the rocks came tumbling down. An avalanche of destruction. Men, Horses, magical creations, all stopped moving under the tide of stone. Theodoxus shook himself from the daze, stood up on his stumpy dwarf legs, and walked away, silently counting the money awaiting him. The Third Great Dwarf War had just begun. The Beginning.
"No Roots, No Stem, No Crown" by Blue Barringer
I was raised somewhere on the road between Alaska and Florida. Fifteen different schools in eleven years. Beaten, abandoned, and largely forgotten by whomever I might have ever once called family. You know, it's real easy to slip through the cracks in America. All you have to do is to be Black, Hispanic, Native, female, gay, poor, or somehow different than the norm. I'm mostly okay about it, but every once in a while wonder what it might have felt like to be wanted. What the hell; it would made life easier, now wouldn't it? I've grown to be an adult knowing one hell of a lot about inequality. Still no answers.
"Untitled" by Brandy Marrs
The rabbi sat on the bench, staring with great intent at the squirrel twitching in front of him. Many had passed by, lacking any interest in a man watching a rodent, but Ellie stayed. She stayed because in those quiet moments when only the birds sang and the puttering of cars was a distant memory, she heard soft whispers in a tiny voice.
"Prevent the end of days―"
"I am the prophet―"
"I'd prefer if you brought cashews next time."
A sneeze broke through the stillness of the park. The squirrel, startled, dashed away.
It was at times like these that Ellie thought that refusing her medication was not such a bright idea.
"This morning I shot Hitler" by Cara McClendon
I got the pistol from a guy who works at the gas-station across the Freeway.
Since 1945, and the alleged cyanide-suicide fiasco, Adolf Hitler's been living in a basement in Leadville. I don't remember who found him first, or why we were even in the basement of the Kum-and-Go, but be sure, we tied the bastard up ASAP with a bunch of rope somebody found. Everyone seemed satisfied, just knowing we'd captured the infamous Hitler.
I, however, wanted to end the madness for good―even though, as far as I could tell, the guy never killed any Jews in Colorado.
I must have good aim, I only shot the thing twice.
"Untitled" by Chris Buchanan
It rings through his head. She’s leaving him, after three years. Don’t leave, I still love you. That’s not enough, Johnny. I need to have my own life. He wants to fix things. He wants another chance. Enough chances, she said. How many times before he understands? Just one more, please. He'll do anything. He knelt down, crying. Get up. Begging won’t work. Why don’t you just move on? You can find someone else. Stop the obsession. She doesn’t understand. He wants to be with her forever. And he can, if she stays in the cellar. She has to stay down there. It's cold there. If it wasn’t she might spoil.
"Piss and Vinegar" by Chris Lopez
I told him Ash was a funny name.
He just laughed.
He always comes in to check the work of the other nurses. Always looking for a mistake.
“What’s in those tubes they got in my arm?”
“Piss and vinegar, mostly,” he always says.
He usually looks at my chart. “That’s interesting,” he’ll say. Then he’ll tell me a joke before he leaves.
Sometimes he looks tired. “Some of these patients,” he tells me, “They put up one hell of a fight. Are you a fighter, Harry?”
I nod. He smiles.
Once, they almost lost me. “Crashing,” they called it. When they brought me back, I asked Ash to come closer.
The nurses said, “Who’s Ash?”
"Surprise" by Christine Montoya
Her last day was just as ordinary as any other.
In fact, Death did not have her on his list. She merely caught his eye sitting on a bench alone, pretty and pale with her nose in a book. Pink lips softly murmuring the passages, almond eyes caressing the text. He was intoxicated. His duties forgotten, he sat next to her and breathed in her perfume.
She smelled of heaven.
Leaning inch by inch he watched the soft rise of her chest and mourned. He cursed his weakness. As he leaned back, she turned toward him. Her lips softly ran against his cheek. Two gasps from the bench and the girl lay limp.
"Untitled" by Dan Clark
She's dating an older man. Drop that shit bomb right before the end of your shift. I don't want to know that. I don't even like her. Like I'm impressed that she is dating a guy with a kid our age. Big fucking deal. I need a cigarette. Two nice things about working here: no one cares if you're underage and smoke and the god-pod, the room on the third floor with the huge windows. You can see forever from here. Oh look, how cheesy, miss slutty has to cross the street to meet sugar daddy at the coffee shop. What is my dad doing at that coffee shop? Why is that whore talking to my dad?
"Flock" by Dan Otero
My mind feels like a functional jumble of meaningless mumblings thinking of some other thing.
I remember the words of the song that I heard but I cannot recall what you say. I remember the man at the finger bread stand but I don't understand what you say.
I'm out of practice, I nibble on cactus, I think I'm the blackest of Sheep. I don't remember July and December I'm lucky if I get to sleep. I walk in the morning, my mind is an organ by Johann Sebastian Bach.
I'm in a family, what a reality, needing to stand and I'm being a man, ‘cause you can't run away, no you can’t run away from the Flock.
"Jars" by David H. Doyle
She liked a band called The Sundays. He liked Dinosaur Jr. She was nineteen. He was seventeen. When they met at the video store where she worked, they talked about themselves. Their definitions of each other were formed by these bands. She jangled. He moaned. She almost breathless. He completely distorted. When she broke-off the relationship that never quite got off the ground, he listened to both bands for days and days. Though his preference leaned toward the melodious wailing of J. Mascis. She paid no attention to his telephone calls, the ones where he put the phone up to the speaker: "In a jar the scars are plain to see/I hope somehow you know I understand."
"Untitled" by Dave Panek
Stop wheeled steel box. Out. In. Coffeehouse aroma. Laptop weight. Discs on pedestals, banc. Sit? Sit? Sit. Alone. Uncase laptop. Unfold. Cords. Power? Power? Outlet. On. Sugarfree vanilla latte skinny. Loud. Impress people. Screenglow front, to right, to left. Invisible cubicle walls. Eyes front. PA music. Earbuds. Alone. Focused mini-spots. Email. Drudge. Steamer scream. Huffington. Blogs. YouTube. Enough socializing. Off. Outlet. Cords. Fold. Case. Coffeetrash. To go? No. Out. In. Steel box. Alone. Start. Park. Out. In. One room. Bed. Stove. Fridge. Table. Chair. TV. Sit. TV soap. Cook. Eat. Game show. Reality show. Clothes. Bed. Alone. Sleep. (Repeat.) (Repeat.) (Repeat ...)
"Miracle" by Dennis Yelton
Boarding the train, we sat across from a woman nervously eyeing my wife’s leg braces. Hesitantly, the woman asked how long until she recovers. We amicably told her, “Never.” The woman burst into joyful tears, bringing out a small package. Reverently, she gave my wife a Virgin Mary medallion with trembling hands. The woman was returning from a religious retreat where several had witnessed the Virgin’s miraculous appearance, but was devastated because she had missed it. In consolation, a nun gave her the medallion, explaining she would witness a true miracle when she encountered someone in need of its healing powers. We marveled as we watched this rapturous woman being healed by the miracle growing in her heart.
"Chillin’ with Saddam and Kiss" by Dominic Ortega
I walked into the theater with KISS, who had dressed in full costume. Gene Simmons pointed to the balcony and told me, “Saddam Hussein is upstairs. He probably thinks his makeup is better than mine.” To my surprise I noticed Saddam wearing Simmons’s makeup―eerie right?
The next day I went to the theater and noticed Saddam. I decided to kick it with him this time. He was wearing Gene’s makeup again. I watched as KISS came into the theater.
“My makeup is better than his,” Saddam said indignantly while pointing at Gene. I looked at Saddam and told him to shut the hell up!
"Untitled" by Erik Teixeira
I told Stubby not to dig through the trash can. He was elbow deep in egg shells and onions skins before I thought to check on him. “Where is it?” he whined as he dug. Had I known this was going to be a fatal endeavor, I would have tried to stop him. I was three feet away pouring milk into my cereal when I heard him scream. By the time I looked up, all I saw was bare feet and ankles disappearing behind the rim. I tell you this story as a warning. The trash can monster is real, so make sure no one else wants to read the Alibi before you throw it away.
"Shamble" by Fernando Fresquez
Russell Rasmussin bled to death very slowly from a gunshot wound to the stomach after exaggerating his hand and then proudly showing it to a man named Jack Pardy. Having a boundless thirst for revenge and various energy drinks, Russell returned as a flesh eating zombie. His first act as a reanimated corpse was to call Jack and leave the following message:
Pardy, familiar with basic KiZombie, moved to a Virginia where he continues to avoid justice. Morose and unable to kill himself, Russell turned to poetry and soon became one of Albuquerque's most beloved slamsters, despite his complete lack of higher brain function and persistent odor.
"Clubhouse" by Gareth Berger
"Next up, paint. We got red or blue."
All nine kids shout at the same time.
"Calm down," Richard says. "Who wants red?"
Four hands go up.
The other five hands shoot up.
"No way," Manny says. "Ernie and Vinny each count as two."
"Why would they count as two?" Richard asks.
"They have a pool."
"No one gets more than one vote."
"It is true, though," Ben says. "They have all kinds of stuff."
"Didn't you vote for blue?"
"I sense opportunity."
"Well it doesn't matter. All votes are even."
"Ok," Manny says. "All in favor of Ernie and Vinny counting as two?"
Seven hands go up. "Ha! Motion passed."
"Untitled" by Geneva Garcia Ellen
It had been a strange, long trip for him. Things hadn’t turned out as expected. First of all, he was “dead”. He had spent the last three days sitting in his tomb, thinking about his time on Earth. It was hard to tell if his ideas had made an impression. The people of this planet were far more primitive then he expected. Maybe I’ll come back, he thought, but not for thousands of years; they just aren’t ready. At the end of it all, with great sadness, he let his energy leave the tomb. He looked up and in his own telepathic language said something like, “Beam me up Scotty,” and Jesus went home.
"Untitled" by Gina Marselle
Heart pounding. Oh, hush.
I stare at the painted brown door. It stands tall. Ominous, tightly closed. Should I open it? No. I’ll wait. Someone will open it.
But why would anyone want to open it? Shh, someone’s coming. Think. Calm down. Oh, damn, that wall clock is ticking. It’s deafening. Wait. Is it louder than my heart? Yes. No one will know I’m here.
My heart and clock now tick and tock as one. Nerves wired. Whispers from behind the door come closer. Who’s there? Wait.
Heart pounding louder, my hand reaches up. The door, oh, the door, oh. Tick tock, heart pounding.
The door swings open.
“The Doctor will see you now.”
"Untitled" by Justin Armstrong
In the farthest corner of Mr. Browns' pasture sits a buddha stone faced atop a wind blown cast, watching spring melt into summer, followed by fall and winter, belly bulging boldly under folded fingers, gaze fixed on Mr. Browns' house. Green sprigs of grass bend in the wind at the feet of stone buddha. A daylilie blooms nearby, every once in a while, kept warm by the rising sun. Years unfold as cavs are born into the pasture staining the grasses red, disturbing the silence with their lowing. Years go by as the herd gets thinned, slaughtered for meat and hide, unaware of what life just went by. And still the buddha watches, eyes fixed on Mr. Browns' house.
"Death of a Salesgirl: A One-Act Play" by James Nathan Post
She: Would you like to do a couple of lines, Good-lookin'?
(A delicate trace of blood begins to trickle from her nose.)
He: That’s just for beginners, Baby. Let me show you how we do it uptown,
and your dreams will all come true.
"Untitled" by Jim Dahl
His broken voice uttered; “I can't remember,” in spite of his interrogator's desire. The crass, spittle laden, drone reminded him of Marlboros floating in flat Budweiser.
No need to ponder whose fault. Her! Perky like those cooks on cable, 'Do I want to screw or have her make me a sensible meal?' he recalled. Either was a recipe for woe. Once entangled, events dominoed like a road trip with Gonzo, waking up not sure if that taste was cheap lipstick or urinal cake.
Now what? Take it like a man? Hope for a gimp freeing tirade? What would an accountant do with a thousand hits of that shit anyway? With the interrogator frothing, he once again tried to speak.
"The Choice" by Jim Connolly
"Your first choice is the wisest to follow." The cryptic words of the homeless bum had been eating at Joe for the last few hours. "What's to choose? There's nothing to choose, nothing to follow. This guy is just a homeless jerk. Why am I letting this get to me?" Joe was adrift, indecisively frozen, unable to decide anything. Suddenly he noticed a woman across the street, someone he thought he knew. He made a deliberate choice to step across the street to say hello. The last thing he saw was the flash of a speeding express bus. His last thought, "That homeless asshole."
"Scouting Report #557396324" by K.A. Bate
Relatively small, mediocre planet located in an obscure point of space approximately 9473165 light units away.
Strategic value assessment of zero.
Dominant species appears to possess limited intelligence and exhibits acute aggressive tendencies. Species must be eliminated in order for settlement to be considered.
Although the planet was ideal for colonization, the creatures are callously consuming and polluting all natural resources. Pollution levels render viability for settlement inadequate. It would involve several light turns to take the necessary steps to correct environmental damage. Currently, the planet is unsuitable for habitation.
Our vision would be better served forgoing this planet in favor of one with less damage.
"American Dream" by K.A. Bate
Lonely Always the third wheel. All I had was a good job.
In our culture, being single is a grotesque abnormality.
All those around me, all twos I am one.
Then, she came Soulmate? Irrelevant Now, I’m a two.
She had no car, so she claimed mine She wanted a home, so I bought one.
College? You can quit work I’m your financial aide.
Maybe it’s not such a good job, now that I’m buried Married?
What happened to aspirations of changing the world?
I forgot that in our fascist society, my dollar is the only vote they hear.
I sacrificed it for hollow companionship.
I began idealistic, and became caged by desire.
"Fate" by Sheryl Gratton
Damn dog! Why this morning? I have that early meeting. Now I'm going to be really late. He's hurt badly. Loaded in the car we're off to the vet. Impatiently I wait, pacing the room, checking my watch. Later the vet returns. "He'll be fine. We've located the owners from his collar."
" That's great." I say and head for the door, "Send me the bill."
My phone rings. It's my husband. "Thank God you're all right. " he says worriedly.
"What are you talking about?"
"Aren't you at work?" .
"No." I said, explaining my morning
"Wow. Look to the East."
That's when the world stopped. The Towers enveloped in smoke. The world changed forever. My life changed forever. Fate.
"Untitled" by Shelby Workman
The day the world ended began the same as any other. Ended the same way too. The sun rose, but by the time it sank the land was dead and blackened as through ravaged by fire. Close your eyes, open them, but the nightmare won’t go away. So, gather up what you still have, scan the dead landscape, see if you can find your dog through the dancing waves of heat. There he is, good old Bluebone. But wait, hasn’t Bluebone been dead for years? Doesn’t matter now. One world is as dead as the other, take your pick. This ghost you see won’t be the last.
Here Bluebone, here Bluebone, here boy.
"Drr and Grrd Have Some Fun" by Scott Merrow
Two aliens named Drr and Grrd were in their disc-shaped spaceship, hovering above a large American city. They were zapping people with a neutron-pulse ray gun.
"I love zapping the black ones," said Drr. "They really sizzle."
"But the white ones scream more and flop around," replied Grrd. "They're a hoot."
"Hey, look! There's a crowd by that river. Let's go over there."
As the spaceship turned, some writing on the side of the ship rotated into view. In bold letters it said:
][ \ ~~ ]~[ ]^[ ][/
which, in the Wexonimec language, means, "Galactic Pest Control."
"The Last of the Squeegee Men" by Merris Hall
His raspy waste-
"Clean your windshield, buddy?"
I shook my head, tapping the "No Rudy" tat on my arm.
He nodded and passed the line of long-haul rigs to approach the van that had just pulled in. I watched him talk to the driver.
Sitting in my wind-pitted '90 Dakota pickup I wondered how I could pull my old lady away from the slots in the casino across I-40 and explain that it was time to pack up and move on.
"See Ya" by Kay Lyn Wiley
I sauntered in, sat down, surveilled somewhat surreptitiously, stood up, smiled slightly, said, "So long, Sweetheart" and split.
"Ka-Ping" by Kay Lyn Wiley
Pigeons attempted an aggressive takeover of my roof.
I bought a pellet gun.
The pigeons are gone.
I still have the pellet gun and plenty of pellets.
Coo, coo ...
Here, pigeons! Here, pigeons!
"penne" by Dave Farina
"my feet can't wait to sit down" she said.
"i'm talking tired dogs."
she plopped into a kitchen chair with a whoosh.
"o wow," she signed.
he turned the heat up to high
under a pot on the stove.
"maybe if you wore better shoes," he told her.
"i mean, without proper support
you might as well go barefoot."
"i appreciate you sympathy, Dr. Scholl," she said.
"i'll try to keep it in mind."
she poured a glass of wine and silently sorted
through the mail.
"is this all there is?" she asked.
he dumped pasta into boiling water
and began to stir,
a cloud of stem rising
around his head.
"i hope not," he said.
"grievous angel" by Dave Farina
"i couldn't find the CD you recommended," Rosalie said.
"so i bought the anthology."
she pushed a disc into the player.
"i drank too much last night," Derek told her.
"So not too loud, ok?"
although even with the volume down,
the introspective lyrics
and the long, straight road lulled him into dangerously deep thoughts.
by the time they arrived he was feeling worse
then when they started.
"listening to him always makes me feel
like i'm living a lie," he confessed.
"like i'm not being true to myself."
she looked at him warily.
as if uncertain what might come next.
"i guess i must be missing something," she said.
"i just like the music."
"Untitled" by Stacey Tade
The stink came on Monday. Mondays always bring bad things. It wafted dead something, but I couldn't find its origin.
The stink stayed through Wednesday. I scrubbed my apartment with bleach and checked my shoes for dogshit. But, by Friday, the stink grew from a waft to a burning hammer.
Neighbor lady gives drunks a bad name. Her scowl frightens stray dogs. She's grandmother-age, but children never visit. No one ever visits.
The sweaty fat lady banging on my door wears a Social Services badge. I answer her banging with a hungover grudge.
"Sir, have you seen your neighbor, Cordelia, lately? I need to check on her."
"No," I choke.
"Could you call me if you see her?
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