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 ...
“Fat Cat” by Michael X. Goodrich
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?
“Giant Robot Eats City” by Kendall Lovely
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.
“Friends” by Dodici Azpadu
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.
“Featherweight” by Michael Manalo
Kathryn noticed she was floating as we walked with our morning coffees, just a fingertip’s width off the ground. The scientists came with their instruments, computers and theoretical models, explaining to us in their techo-speak that she continued to rise at an exponential rate.
“There’s nothing we can do,” they said. “It’s only a matter of time.”
One morning she floated out of sight, taking the cavernous purse we’d filled with gum, a book, lip balm and umbrella ... everything we’d calculated she’d need. She left behind just one empty shoe.
Years after I’d stopped scanning clear skies for her silhouette, a lone book page dropped nearby. The smeared note in the margins read, “You’ll love it up here.”
"Gallo Negro" by David Cervantes
I come from a long line of champion Roosters, from the family “Cervantes.”
Grandfather was the first. Called “La Mancha” because of the red stain on his chest. After his famous loss he went to “Aztlan The Hall of Great Warriors.”
Father was a henhouse favorite, a breeder and a fighter, they named him “Sancho.” He too went to “Aztlan.”
Today, I, “Gallo Negro,” fought “El Molino de Viento.” He blinded me and cut my wings with his Gaffs. I have lost.
The odor is strong and unpleasant, I am in a dumpster! How can this be? Where is Aztlan? Why must a warrior die like this?
Cockfighting is now illegal? It seems the world has moved on ...
“Man in the Tree” by Jason Quintana
There was a man stuck inside a tree in my backyard.
He called me over one afternoon. “Hey, kid. I’m thirsty. Help me!”
I walked over and looked into the large, dark cavity in the trunk. “Are you in there? I don’t see anything.”
“Of course I’m in here! One hundred years ago I napped in a field and this blasted bole grew up around me.”
“Oh.” I was not entirely impressed.
“Well?” He sounded gruff. “Get me something to drink.”
I walked into the house and returned with a pitcher.
“I hope you like grape Kool-Aid.” I poured two liters down the hole and waited for a minute.
“Tell me,” he said, “will my roots reach the privy?”
“1970” by Justin Mohr
He was without pants. Again.
Chuck sighed as he glanced up from his homework to see the same man standing in the threshold of his dorm, in only his underwear, calling out to the girls walking past.
“Woo, girl! You are a brick house and you are just lettin' it all hang out!”
The man in the doorway laughed to himself as Chuck rose to his feet and approached him.
“That one's a bad mama jama! Just as fine as she—“
“Dad! You got to go, I have homework to do.”
Chuck turned his dad around and looked him in the eyes.
“Why don't you go back home and sing for mom?”
Even more flash fiction that we didn’t have room to print — here!