Usually, I’m that guy. The one in the corner, nose stuck in a giant book. My best blow-off at a bar is to ask guy what he’s reading and then tell him all about my “favorite” book, the Mahabharata. “It’s, like, eight times the length of the Iliad and the Odyssey combined!” I announce to the poor sap. It works every time. And no, that’s not actually my favorite book. It just scares people and I have read a big chunk of it and there’s this whole part about the land of the snake people that’s really weird and not what some dude at a bar wants to talk to a girl about.
Clearly, the books people read and the stories people write tell us a lot about those people. Last week, I finished the 500-plus page The Museum of Innocence by Orhan Pamuk and the hundreds of entries submitted to the Alibi’s Flash Fiction contest. They were a little different from one another—and I’m not just talking word count. Museum told the story of a man obsessed with a woman for nearly a decade. His obsession leads him to dine with her family for eight years, stealing thousands of objects from her—things like cigarette butts, hairpins and empty soda bottles—and creating from those stolen objects a museum dedicated to his love for her. In those 500 pages, I think I read a description of every object in the museum. One chapter uses the word “sometimes” in more instances than the word count allowed for our Flash Fiction entries. Pamuk’s wordiness goes well with his character’s infatuation and need to justify his collection. You didn’t have that luxury; you had to write a complete story and use each and every single one of your 119 words with care.
You did a damn good job. Choosing which stories to publish was hard because there were a lot that really jumped out. So, how did I pick the winners? Well, first, I tried to make sure they were about a variety of themes. You people like cats. A lot. I do, too, so I was right there with you, but this easily could have turned into the Cat Fiction Issue, and that’s not very alternative. It’s kinda creepy—like your exes, or your made-up exes, or, let’s be honest, you guys. Quite a few of you lurked in the corners watching your former flames as they moved on without you. Maybe y’all could get together and create a support group? That, however, might lead to a killing spree, at least if the amount of murder in my inbox is any indication of your inclinations. Please, you guys, don’t make me turn your entry over to police to show how unsound of mind you are.
OK, so this totally unfair. Flash Fiction entries topped out at 119 words and here I am, close to 500 myself. Let me just thank Guild Cinema, Zorba’s Fine Greek Cuisine, Chillz Frozen Custard, Talking Fountain, The Cube and Seferino’s New Mexican Restaurant for offering up kick-ass prizes for our wordy winners. Thanks all!
And now, without further ado ...
He had the fattest cat he'd ever seen. Maybe the biggest there was, he didn't know. He sort of blamed Wal-Mart.
See, they had an ice cream shop, and the cutest woman ever worked there. So he'd go in, buy cat food as an excuse while scanning for her red hair, then go get a scoop of vanilla. Talk to her for a minute, maybe, but it was always, always busy. “See you tomorrow!” Sigh.
And he'd go home, set out the cat food and then set down the ice cream. He couldn't even eat it. Lactose intolerance.
Was ice cream bad for cats? Better call the vet. Wait, wasn't the vet a cute redhead?
Clang! *Pause* Clang! *Pause* Enter screaming, fleeing citizens. No, this was not happening to Tokyo, but a metropolis in God-blessed, pie-loving America.
Our hero, caught up in an administrative nightmare, was unaware of the terror threatening the city. At her desk, his receptionist held up the line. Personal call.
“Sorry, Mr. Justice,” she said, doe-eyed and wearing that tight, button-up blouse. He could forgive her, and he did so with a charming, justice-inducing smile. She continued her call.
Big John and his girlfriend Jillian climbed La Luz Trail one spring afternoon. They were inexperienced hikers, and before they reached the crest overlooking the city, they were parched for more water than they carried. At the peak, they found a 50-gallon drum of melted snow water hidden where they had been told to look for it. There, they drank their fill.
After an intimate tangle shaded by a boulder, they fell asleep and woke at dusk. The day’s successes—climbing and lovemaking—pleased them. They filled their water bottles and started downhill.
Big John slipped on loose rocks, fell and rolled, badly bruising the crown of his head.
And Jillian came tumbling after.