How 'Bout a Quickie?
The winners of the Alibi's Ridiculously Short Fiction Contest
By Steven Robert Allen
Unless you're getting paid by the word, there's absolutely no legitimate reason on God's green earth to ever use 20 words when three will do just fine. Amateur writers never seem to grasp this. They just keep blathering on and on without a thought in their wee little brains, convinced to the bitter end that volume somehow equals quality.
Let me let you in on a little secret: It doesn't.
Nothing could be more difficult than to write a smokin' short story in 117 words or less. If you think it's easy, that's only because you've never tried it.
Thankfully, plenty of our readers did try it, and the results were pretty damned fine. Alibi editorial intern Katy June-Friesen and I had a fine time digging through the mountain of entries and pulling out those worthy of the coveted Alibi seal of literary approval. It wasn't easy picking out the winners, but we did our best. (All complaints should be directed to email@example.com.)
Three scoops of gratitude to this year's sponsors. Master masseur John Wolfe from Knot Works (8220 La Mirada NE, Suite 100, 489-2788) donates a life-altering one-hour massage to our first place winner, Gail Miller. Everybody's favorite independent North Valley bookstore, Bookworks (4022 Rio Grande NW, 344-8139), gives a $25 gift certificate to our second place winner, Kelly Sterns. Finally, everyone's favorite independent Northeast Heights bookstore, Page One (11018 Montgomery NE, 294-2026), offers a $25 gift certificate to our third place winner, Anastasia Andersen.
As if that weren't enough, all three of our winners will receive $40 worth of gift certificates to the Monte Vista Fire Station, four passes to the Guild Cinema, plus a packet of delicious Quaker Oats Instant Oatmeal (either Apple/Cinnamon or Maple/Brown Sugar, depending on the luck of the draw). Just in time for the bugs of summer, we've also generously thrown in a collectible heavy plastic Alibi flyswatter, for your mosquito-squashing pleasure. Congratulations to everyone, and heaps of thanks to all who participated.
Keep those pencils sharp. We'll begin accepting submission for our 14th annual Haiku Contest, the grand pooh-bah of Alibi literary contests, sometime next month.
"Pearl and Loretta Go Roof Climbing During a Storm"
He looks over here, spatters us with raindrops like grease from an overheated
skillet when the potatoes are first dropped in. Mama said He was black
as a skillet. He's crooked, too, from the damp. Pearl saw Him warming up those
big, old bones of His on the sun before. I'd rather lean by the oven when Mama
The woman falls. Her husband wonders how a photographer can work without the
protection of thick goggles and lead apron when stretching atoms like taffy,
lopping off the third dimension ... compressing blood, bone ... the substance
of yellow capri pants and sunglasses. ...
He scratched his upper lip with the barrel, tasting the heavy tang of the metal, the hint of bluing and oil, and inhaling deeply the sulfurous residue of the first two shots he had idly fired through the trailer wall a half-hour earlier.
Unexpectedly, from outside he heard the playfulness of young voices, fresh
with the discovery of an abandoned trailer, a target for innocent, youthful
vandalism. It was a bad place to die.
Penelope Cordial and her brother, Lemmon, simply loved snakes, especially larger
snakes, like the Anaconda. They spent years studying them, and were considered
to be experts amongst the residents of their small town of Carbonated Soda,
Iowa. Being experts, they knew that snakes could never achieve sizes any larger
than 40 feet or so, due to the inability of serpent organs to circulate fluids
properly in a cold-blooded beast of that size. This was a comfort to them. They
had no fear of giant snakes like many children do, because they knew such creatures
could never exist. Sadly, 20 feet is plenty long enough to kill a youngster,
which is why Penelope is now an only child.
My mother told me when we were young she broke down crying in the pea patch one caramel-sticky day in June. I was spraying my brother in the jaw with the garden hose. My sister was dismembering the marigolds. This is not the life she wanted, knees chapped by dirt, three imp children under the age of three. She had studied in New York. She was supposed to be an orchestra conductor, baton poised in air with the gravitas of a goddess.
"But mom," I said, "the white butterflies fluttering in arpeggio around your
head, the fluted cornstalks, the timpani sun, your Valkyrie children storming
the heavens ... Wagner, mother. It was pure Wagner."
Until I turned 14, that is, and ran against him—on a platform promising no school or chores for the kids, and a taxpayer-funded cleaning service for my mom.
I won, too.
My dad beat me good for that—assaulted a public figure, I should say—so I had
to have the state troopers come pick him up.
"Why I'm Not a Pony in Freud's Dog and Pony Show"
Once there was a queen the size of a penny. She was small and round and flat. She was called upon to make a royal decision, life or death by coin flip. She landed tails.
While the convict was being buried, the queen was polished to a high gleam in between the flipper's fingers. His forehead sweated with responsibility. Did he flip the queen too softly? He hadn't wanted to drop her. Now a man lay in the ground whose fate he'd held in his hands.
The people called it royal mandate, but the flipper knew the queen was a figurehead.
He made a wish to be freed from guilt and flicked the penny in the grave.
You turned, stroked her cheek, and pinched her bottom lip like a kiss. "No," you whispered and let her go.
She picked up her luggage, stepping on the spilled popcorn and spearing it on her heels, and stumbled out of the bar.
I spun on my barstool with victory. You counted the money you'd stolen from her and stuck it back in your pocket. I picked one of Angel's feathers off the counter and blew it in your face.
"You're a smart man," I said. I slid my hand down your back, already picking
your pocket, and gave you a flicking slap with my red tail.
"Employee of the Month"
Their flesh joined and produced a musky fragrance, permeating the lady's room of the Wal-Mart he had been cleaning. She knew from the moment she laid eyes on his sinewy, dark frame she was destined for this.
Gazing into his limpid brown eyes (her ass on the cold sink edge) warmth came
over and in her. She broke the spell, glancing at his tattooed chest. In blue-black
ink it read: "Made in China."
Author's Disclaimer: This is fiction not fact. Any resemblance to anyone living or dead is simply coinkydink.
And once he saw Bruce his eyes poped out. Bruce looked so handsome!
Ryin was jelas!
But Ryin had a plan!
They desided a slep-over. Once Bruce was aslep, Ryin got a per of sissers.
And he cut Bruce's toe's off with them! Tody everyone call's Bruce Sissy-no-toe's.
Once a boy named Sissy-no-toe's had a play-day with his friend.
"Against, because I've been there," I say and walk. On to Anodyne—that is not a euphemism. I order an elixir. I smoke a cigarette, and see death, smell blood, feel suffering.
Reaching for the drink I shake. Reflect. Grasp. Tremble to the lips then sip.
I've been sober for two years. Damn! The ghosts come back from a time of long
hair, long legs, and a five-foot bong named Fang. I am older now, ancient.
My lives crash into each other and beat their drums on my dead skull. Somewhere
a bell tolls for me.
"My Mother was a Ghost"
And so on the eve of her suicide I smoke another cigarette watching the glowing
red numbers move me further into night, wondering was she ever really there.
More real to me in death than she ever was in life. My mother is a ghost.
"Postcard from Fort Peck Indian Reservation, Montana, June 1968"
How are you? Still stationed in Saigon? Last letter said your platoon was moving out. I'm O.K. Just finished manuscript and off-ed it to agent (Remember Dan?) Title? Maybe "Cinders of Shame," don't know yet. Big electric storm over rez last night. Old Joe said lightning hit one of his chickens.
Well, it's been almost a year now since your aunt has passed. Still feel empty but staying busy helps. For awhile there I thought the horse's head was turning my way but have put down the bottle. Maybe earth and sky and one can make two. Please be careful.
Proud of you,
Uncle 2 Guns
I remember another summer. I am 6. Mom and I have just moved. We have a grand piano and washing machine. Mom buys a Persian rug. We eat crosslegged and escape the midday heat on the rug. Its tomato and mulberry muted tones and nubbly texture form the geography of my childhood. By third grade, every picture I draw has the same Persian border.
I am now 51. My leg is in a cast. I chat on the phone with my Persian doctor
and friend. I will be able to walk next summer in Iran. Enshallah!
"Go right," he had said.
He looked crazy.
Of course, all the old men on the bus looked crazy to me. Especially ones that stopped swatting imaginary flies long enough to stare at me so intensely that I could not look away, even scared as I was by his certainly contagious dementia.
Again, the Demon spoke.
And out of stinking, yellow breath spewed forth the words, "Go right."
Damn if I was gonna catch his madness.
I got off, and immediately ran across the street to my left.
I never saw the truck coming.
I should have gone right.
At dusk the American left the Hotel Intercontinental Karachi in a three-wheeled jitney for a destination known by the driver as the source of 'sheesh. Familiar territory was soon buried deep in the mercy of the less fortunate. Puttering to a halt, the driver disappeared down the dirt road's bank into the dusty underworld. With heart racing through the wait, our American was all alone. The driver was faintly heard emerging from some gloomy shack below, and of a sudden rematerialized in our victim's tricyclic waiting room announcing 'sheesh! One whiff verified the brick's validity.
Earlier that day, a clay brick ascended through six pairs of hands to be lodged
in a wall of Quaid-e-Azam's tomb.
“We Met a Modern Dancer in Rome”
In awe, he walked tentatively over to the fellow who managed the feat.
"I think you might be my hero." He said as a way of introduction.
The man in the booth wiped away a portion of the sauce coating his chin, gave a small shrug, and replied with a grin:
"If that's so, why don't you buy me another?"
Vamos a Leer Book Club at Bookworks
This month's selection is He Forgot to Say Goodbye by Benjamin Alire Saenz.
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