It’s pretty clear that our collective attention span is decreasing. The long, handwritten letters of yore that were replaced by short e-mails have in turn have been superseded by tweets. Hell, they don’t even make TV miniseries anymore.
But not all examples of brevity are bad. Take flash fiction, which boils the elements of plot, character and theme down to the pure essence of storytelling. Think of them as fiction nuggets: all meaty goodness without the pesky bones.
And if that’s the case, then we’re stuffed. There were hundreds of 119-word entries to this year’s Flash Fiction contest, including a heap of Armageddon scenarios, tales of scorned lovers and a handful that made us blush. Also murder. Some of you are kind of messed up.
But most of you are nearly as talented as your mother says, and so determining a winner was a challenge. Luckily, our panel of judges—including Nick Brown, Christie Chisholm, Marisa Demarco, Adam Fox, Laura Marrich and Simon McCormack—were too committed to be afraid.
A huge thanks to all who submitted. The best of these were intriguing yet satisfying, working with few words to suggest strange and compelling worlds. And please help us in thanking the following partners for their generosity, including Blue Mesa Review, Guild Cinema, Hinkle Family Fun Center, Just Muffin Around, O'Niell's Irish Pub and Tucanos Brazilian Grill. In addition, all winners and honorable mentions will receive heaps of books at our Flash Fiction party (see sidebar). Best Flash Fiction issue ever? I think so.
"Sheet Man" by Jason Quintana
Susan looked through her rear view mirror at the man in the back seat. He was covered in a white sheet, no holes. He quietly chewed on the fabric; drool lines ran down to his lap.
“I’m sorry, tell me again?” Susan asked. She tried to keep her eyes on the highway.
“I’m your guardian angel,” the man said with a mouthful of sheet. “I’m gonna take care of you. Tell you where to go.”
She was skeptical. “You appear out of nowhere and expect me to believe that? You have no wings!”
“Stereotype,” he muttered.
Susan sighed. “OK then. Where are we going?”
The man in the sheet leaned forward. “Branson.”
For the story that stayed in our brains more than any other, Jason receives two tickets to Guild Cinema, $40 in gift certificates good at Tucanos and a $10 cert to Just Muffin Around.
"Untitled" by Dawn Sperber
“Under all that hair, whatcha got under there?” That was the big question at Hairy Amanda’s call center, apartment complex and the corner store where she bought gin and 7-Up and their entire stock of LED lights.
Scissor Joe became her beau, and half his desire was curiosity to see beneath her auburn veil. One night, he couldn’t calm his barber’s blood, and amidst her mist of gin-and-7 sleeping breath, Joe ignored her wishes and started snipping.
Knee-deep in curls, he dropped the scissors in shear disbelief. Under the tangle, Amanda hid a tunnel deeper than she was tall, sparkling with lights like a state fair, a channel into mystery. Long-gone Joe kissed her entryway and fell right in.
Dawn was last year's first place winner, and this year comes away with two tickets to Guild Cinema, a $20 Tucanos certificate and a cert for $10 at Just Muffin Around.
"The Tooth" by Jane Mahoney
The tooth poking out of the freshly tilled garden was tiny, a reddish stain marking its jagged edge. Too large for a cat, yet impossibly small to be human, the enameled fragment was a minor mystery amongst the seedlings. The farmer pocketed the ground's offering in the recesses of his overalls and returned to his plantings.
The noontime sun was blazing when he felt the jarring pain, a gnawing agony from thigh to knee. Then another, then nothing.
Years passed before the woman unearthed a femur remnant, threads of denim clinging to the bone, its ivoried surface marred by a tiny tooth-like intruder.
She slipped it into her pocket before sowing the carrots she'd never see grow.
Jane's creepy yarn earns her two tickets to Guild Cinema, a certificate good for $10 worth of fun at Hinkle Family Fun Center and a $10 gift cert to Just Muffin Around.
"His First Kill" by Sarah Shafer
He had been watching the man outside the wall through the scope of his rifle since his shift began. The man was well hidden beneath a cluster of shrubs; but the guard on the day shift was planning on hunting rabbits he had seen there and was watching that spot. The man was on his belly, carefully assembling the explosives into his vest. The convoy of contractors that came to the fortress with supplies at sunrise was slowly making its way up the road. He watched the man rise and move toward the gate, and he slowly pulled the trigger. The morning dew had settled on the ground, so no dust rose as the man fell.
"Paradise Lost" by Nila Anaik
Fat Mr. Bajwa fell off a ladder at the Paradise Motel while adding magnetic letters to his “Vacancy” sign. They were to say “American-Owned,” but, because God thinks He’s funny, he fell before he finished, and it read “American-Ow” for some six weeks until the city sent a letter. He’d already nixed the turban, got a haircut, had his teeth whitened. Twenty years he’d slaved at his asshole cousin’s Motel 6 saving up for his own place, but what more could he do? So when a man named Ned called in November and made an offer, he sold. After all, he’d clutched those very three letters as he lay sprawled on the asphalt. It had to be a sign.
“The Break-up Song" by Aurore Diehl
The Legal Stimulants rehearsed in a ramshackle house at the end of a dirt road unlisted on any map. Nearby was a dimple in the earth which became a frozen brown pond in the winter. It was just starting to melt when Grant announced, “Guys, we gotta talk.” The others slid down the walls to sit on a carpet recently denuded of catshit.
Grant and Kelley were leaving. Too few gigs and too much stress. They kept their mirror shades on until they drove away.
Kari had heard that Beethoven wrote his “Moonlight Sonata” upon learning he was going deaf. When she heard Ryan play it that night on his battered piano, she knew this to be true.
"Flow" by Isidro Gonzalez
The brain and prostate serve the same functions, I guess. They both suppress and release. I get up in the middle of the night, back aching, unstable knees and words spill out on the bathroom floor: monotheistic, agnostic, atheistic. They're always multi-syllabic and somehow related. The urine stops, starts. Memories hesitate, flow. I wait impatiently. Short streams: malignancy, micrometastases, carcinogenesis. I start back to bed and feel the omnipresent pressure. I go back to the bowl and spray: reconciliation, acceptance, acquiescence. The doctor said nine months. Back in bed, I dry the salty moisture. I pat her side of the bed two long years cold. Her image tries to fade again. She won't have to see me suffer.
"HOROSCOPE (By the Cranky Psychic)" by Len C. Hiller
If your birthday is this week, you're really a piece of work. You're overwhelming, as an underachiever. You moved up at work recently, but that was only because the janitor got a better job. Your workmates there would recommend you for just about any position. In Tajikistan. At least your friends would trust you with their lives, if you had any. You love your pets, and they love you too, but what choice do they have—you feed them. Wear red this week. You might need to distract a charging bull from a group of orphans.
"Revenge" by Marcie Summerlin
Bothro, space bum, shoved his way through the queue of legit travelers and flashed his pirated Anywhere Pass at the sensor just when the airtram’s hatch was closing. Flicking his nose filter at the sputtering man he’d bumped, he barreled past the officious robo-stew. Fury propelled him to the barpod, where he felt his bile rise at the sight and stink of his prey in the corner booth. By God, now he’d take care of avenging the past thirty torture-packed days. Did they think they deserved to live?
“OK, who the hell picked this drivel?” he snarled, yanking from his weapon sack the current selection of the Intergalactic Book Group. “Next time, suckers, I’m choosing the damn book!”
"Moon" by Gina Marselle
On the llano, underneath the star-infested sky, Moon howls.
I glance down at Moon. He looks up, panting tongue, ancient eyes. He’s unsightly. But he’s loyal.
Each day, we walk to the edge of Phoenix, pick a corner. I hold my sign. He holds his, “Will Howl for Food” sign. Got a can of chow for that, Lady drove by, looked at me with dismay.
“Poor dog,” she dug into a bag, tossed a can out the window of her Chevrolet.
Generic, it’ll do, tipped my hat.
Nothing for hours, I change signs, “Veteran Will Work for Food.”
Moon whines. I want wine.
We head back to the llano.
Moon howls. We eat from the can.
"Rules Dismissed" by David Doyle
There were things that you just didn't do at the dinner table. Talking with food in your mouth. A big "no." Asking for more of anything without saying please. Another big "no." Bryn had grown tired of her mother and father telling her how to eat and speak. One evening, without so much as a smirk or a snarl to warn the seated family, with creamed corn dripping out of her braces, she told her brother, Hans, "Pass the damn meatloaf or whatever we're calling it tonight." Families of course have built in mechanisms for dealing with the grossly unexpected; Father got drunker than normal, Mother got sadder than ever and the children couldn't stop laughing!
"Safe" by Amanda Faye
The day she cut her hand topping onions in the field, she knew her father was a good man.
It was July and the sun was melting her brown sugar skin back to its molasses roots. The cloth she used to wipe the sweat from her neck was wet with her hard labor. Just one second too tired to retract her arm back to her body and there was blood, dripping down onto the clay earth.
He worked twice as hard that afternoon, filling both their buckets. But when it was time to weigh out, his bushel came up short. "Mi'ja," he whispered, "I can work anywhere, you need to stay here, in the fields, where you're safe."
We here at the Weekly Alibi love words, and not just the ones that come out of our own mouths. We love writing and reading, and talking about writing and reading. And beer; all of the above with beer.
Maybe you’re like us in that your world, at some point, has been dramatically improved by something you’ve read. Now imagine your life without that moment. For many New Mexicans who are functionally or fully illiterate, this opportunity has escaped them. That’s why it’s very important that you come to O’Niell’s this weekend and have a beer, where we’re raising funds for the New Mexico Coalition for Literacy. They desperately need your dollars to improve the lives of our fellow New Mexicans, and you desperately need to have your beer habits sanctioned by charity.
Saturday, June 20, 5 to 8 p.m.
Beer Good. Helping Gooder.
Alibi staffers will be behind the bar at O’Niell’s, serving up pints with the charm and grace you’ve come to expect from us. For every beer you order, fill out the provided card. Each card sends $1.50 to the New Mexico Coalition for Literacy.
Sunday, June 21, 5 to 8 p.m.
Flash Fiction Reading Frenzy
Did you win a prize in our fiction contest? Did your entry get skipped over by a bunch of myopic jerks? Do you just wanna meet some new people and listen to tiny stories with a twist? Regardless of your motivations, be they noble or centered on revenge, there’s a place for you at our first-ever Flash Fiction Reading.
Winners of the contest will read and receive their promised loot. Special guests such as The Pajama Men, Lisa Gill, Gwyneth Doland, The Handsome Family and more will regale you with teeny, tiny tales sure to delight and offend. And anyone else who wants to sign up can read and compete for prizes, including fabulous books donated by the equally fabulous Blue Mesa Review. There will be music provided by Cassyle, goodies and yet another opportunity for you to donate what you can to NMCL. There is no downside to this! Even if a story is terrible, it’ll be over in 119 words. What other entertainment option promises you that?
For more info, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 346-0660 ext. 255. See you this weekend!