If you've been reading our annual Fiction 101 issue since its inception in 2003, you know that our judges favor stories that veer more toward silly, surreal, edgy, imaginative and/or clever than earnest and straightforward, unless they're beautifully written.
That was true again this year, when pieces about a public defender for monsters and Twitter in biblical times won first and second place. Third place went to one of the shortest stories we've ever honored (22 words). Oh, about the second-place winner: Yes, we know that one of the tweets is well over 140 characters long—we'll just assume that in Jacob Gardenswartz's fictional world, tweets can be longer.
We don't often provide constructive criticism, but we will this time: Work on those endings, folks. There were many stories that had so much potential but didn't make it past the first round because they fell apart in the last sentence.
Just a little helpful hint for ya.
Congratulations to the 20 contestants who got their stories published—especially to our three winners, as well as Colin Jones and Michela Rodriguez, who got both of their entries in print.
Do-gooder of the Year
The honoree was Connie, a public defender since her days in the old country. She was quick to represent the vampires. "Everyone needs vitamin B," she argued. Always a friend of fiends, Connie marched arm-in-arm with ogres, working mummies and trolls. She supported the gravediggers' strike, calling it a win-win for cannibals and epicureans who come to braise their loved ones, not bury them.
At the latest feast-on-friends-frenzy, the keynote speaker was brief. "She fought in every fracas then stepped into her final fray. We honor Connie today. Dibs on her tender heart."
Peter Thomas Franson Hepburn, La Mesa
Gardenofeden on Twitter, 4000 BC
@therealAdam: So lonely. @therealAdam: Wish I had someone else with me!
@therealAdam: In paradise but my rib hurts from God making my companion. #firstworldproblems?
@therealAdam: Naked and so don't care. #datedenmentality
@EveNotSteve: You could've at least made us something other than figs!
RT @God (official): All of creation and life in less than a week? Not bad for six day's work #andontheseventhdayherested
@God (official): @EveNotSteve: Stop complaining.
@snake224: @EveNotSteve gurl you have to try this new "apple" thing #orgasm in my mouth
@EveNotSteve: @therealAdam: Why are we naked?
@God (official): Fuck this shit #sendintheflood
Jacob Gardenswartz, La Mesa
When she left for work, he rolled over to her side of the bed. This was the closest they would ever be.
David Kinsey, Golden Hil
Frank's Shitty Day
Frank bit into his sandwich—which, by the way, was full of worms. "Fuck," Frank said, "my sandwich is full of worms; dinner is ruined."
It had been a bad day for Frank. He woke up in a pile of dead bodies, got ketchup on his favorite shirt and found out that his roommate was sneaking into his room at night, lying naked next to him on the bed and forcing nightmares into his brain.
Still, Frank could not be discouraged. "Tomorrow will be different," he thought out loud.
Colin Jones, Ocean Beach
I was eating a hamburger. Before I bit it, it bit me.
That evening, I cut myself shaving. I bled mustard. The next morning I was a hamburger.
My wife left me because she's vegan. She was cheating on me anyway, I think. Whore.
I also got fired. I couldn't type on a computer anymore. Hamburgers don't have arms. Whatever. My job sucked.
My cat, Doctor Claw, kept licking me.
When I was a human he ignored me. Prick.
Yesterday I turned human again. My wife came back. I got my job back. And Doctor Claw is ignoring me again.
Kareem Khalidy, Normal Heights
"It's too tight."
"It's supposed to be."
"Well, I can't swallow. It's making me nervous that I can't swallow."
"I'll loosen it."
"A little more—at least a finger's width of space."
"It'll look stupid; you can't just have it hanging loose like a slob."
"It's around my neck, for chrissakes!"
"Now my throat's dry. I couldn't swallow, now my throat's dry. Do you have any water?"
"I'll have to whisper my speech."
"You'll seem mysterious that way."
The ground disappeared beneath his feet and the noose snapped his neck without as much as a whisper.
Colin Jones, Ocean Beach
Eddie still didn't have a tree. The sales lots were closed, so he snuck into Mrs. Jensen's back yard to steal her pine.
It was dark. Her car was gone. He lifted the saw.
He whirled around, saw no one. I must be hearing things. He shrugged, and pressed the blade against the trunk.
"I said stop!"
Suddenly the tree began moving. Branches engulfed him and tightened like a python. He couldn't breathe, couldn't scream. He struggled, grew dizzy. Then darkness.
Mrs. Jensen came up and began to pet the tree.
"Good boy!" she said. "Good boy."
Fred Longworth, Normal Heights
The best of the rest
Handy Mr. Esselstein
"He's doing it again," whispered Catherine as she snuck back into the break room.
Everyone at the office knew the boss masturbated in the handicap stall when things weren't going so well at home. Last year, when Mr. Esselstein and his wife were going through their separation, Thom found Japanese soft-core stuffed into the toiletseat-cover dispenser. It was gone the next day, but that was the first year they all got a Christmas bonus. "Eww," Sherrill winced as she swallowed the second half of an overripe banana. "Maybe this year I'll get a new flat screen."
Bob Bobertson, University Heights
I gave birth to your mother in the back of an ice truck. How I found myself in the back of an ice truck heavy with the weight of your momma is another story for another time when you're older. But, oh man, was I hollerin' as that truck driver chugged along down the highway, spillin' my guts all over his wares. Your momma came sliding out slippery across the ice and damn near got frostbit. I've never been partial to the cold since then, but I reckon that's why your mother ran away to Siberia with that damned Russian.
Hanna Tawater, University City
The Three on the Hill
Atop the hill slept Ergador. Giant blood was $1,000,000 / ounce. Hence, he was attacked 24/7.
Normal weapons couldn't harm him, but magic might. So, Wizard Margez blasted Ergador with fire, but the fire died when it hit him.
Infuriated, Margez left. That evening, King Barg attacked, using his diamond sword. When struck, Ergador gasped his last word: "Wizard!" Margez appeared, and when he saw Barg, shot fire at him, and Barg was ashes. Then he took Ergador's blood and set off.
500 years later...
Atop the hill slept Margez. Wizard blood was $1,000,000 / ounce. Hence, he was attacked 24/7.
Oscar Arnold (age 11), Scripps Ranch
"We've found a new place for you to live."
She knocks her porcelain cup over, and the jasmine tea soaks into the white tablecloth as the words soak into her wrinkled skin.
"Karen and I are moving the kids to Marin. The schools are better there. But we don't have room for you."
She is silent, remembering the plane ride with her son from Hong Kong to San Francisco, when he held her hand during takeoff and pressed his nose against the window during landing.
"But we've found the best place possible.
You'll be so happy." She pours herself more tea.
Michela Rodriguez, Poway
Lucille and the Little Green Man
"Take me to your leader."
"OK." Ernest led the little green man into the house where Lucille was washing the breakfast dishes.
Raygun in hand, he asked, "Are you the—."
The little green man blasted the frying pan as Lucille bashed him on the head.
"Ernest, I told you to keep the door shut so the forest varmints couldn't get in."
Pleased with the frying-pan bottom's new shine, Lucille placed the pan in the drying rack.
"Sorry. It won't happen again." Ernest gathered up the broken little body and buried it beneath his prized American Beauty roses as fertilizer.
Patrick J. Donahoe, Mira Mesa
The Bliss of Ignorance
The train ride is noisy, but that doesn't stop the woman sitting next to me from talking. "You have a nice accent," she says, and I brace myself for her next question. "So, where are you from?"
I could simply say "Iran," but after decades of an American life, I resent being blamed for my homeland's political conflicts. "I'm Persian," I finally say and wait for the outpour of ignorance.
A smile lights up her face. "Ooh! I love Paris!
I exhale hard and return her broad smile with one of my own. "Me, too, dear. Me, too!"
Zohreh Ghahremani, La Jolla
No Country for Old Vampires
It was Edmond's 650th birthday. His friends cheered as he unwrapped his present: a bound and delicious-looking young man whose supple physique watered the elder vampire's mouth. Edmond licked his new dentures and felt the sharpened fangs with his tongue. He knelt down beside his gift, all eyes watching. He bent down and bit into the man's flesh, feeling a rush of blood like juice flow into his mouth. Moments later, Edmond stood and wiped his lips, satisfied. He licked his gums and looked down at his dentures still firmly fixed upon the young man's neck.
Samer Naoum, Rancho San Diego
This isn't how it should be, he thinks, cemented to the barstool, elbows on the counter, a waitress counting tips on his left, no one on his right.
"Can I get you another Pepsi, Arnold?" Libby asks from behind him. Her voice perky, her eyes solemn. They can pay her to smile. They can't pay her to help.
"S'alright, Lib," he murmurs. "I should head home."
She takes his glass. Arnold stares at the white space on his finger.
"I should head home."
The waitress on his left leaves. Arnold sits on the barstool, his swiveling, creaking island of a home.
Michela Rodriguez, Poway
She'd gone to Paris to find herself but wound up finding an artist named Pierre. He worked with oils. The language gap was part of the fun. Eyelashes batting and lips pouting told Pierre everything: She was here to experience France. They traipsed from the Louvre to Les Halles, from the Eiffel Tower to the Arc de Triomphe. He kissed her outside a café on the Avenue des Champs-Elysées. It rained, she danced. She'd found her niche.
Years later, she spotted Pierre in a bar in Santee. His friends called him "Pete" and he ordered a PBR.
Fuck France, she thought.
Lesley McCaskey, Ocean Beach
A Strange Morning Out West
"I ain't really never seen anything like it," grumbled Old Roinihan, scratching his bald pate from underneath his hat. "Did a number on ev'ry dam' chicken I had, an' what's left got strewn all over the barnyard. You just can't trust them rabbits—that is, the ones what walk like men."
Behind him, the halfwit Douglas crooned sorrow over Betty, who would never cluck again.
Keith McCleary, Normal Heights
Don at Dawn
Don fears illness and death. A creature of habit, he carves deep grooves into his routine like the nightly practice of brushing off last night's detritus of skin flakes and dirt bits from the fitted sheet or the morning ritual when he swallows dried goji berries to stave off cancer. Last night, he fell into bed too drunk to care and, at sunrise, ventured outside, the berries ignored, to fetch the paper. From the Torrey Pine, the stealth owl mistook the man's head for a rabbit, diving in with her talons, pulling two bloodshot eyeballs out and away like gooey taffy.
Christina Burress, Del Mar
It was oddly verdant for a cemetery, like Piper remembered it. And, of course, there were flowers—huge bouquets placed on the ground for what exactly? Once they were meant for the departed; now, it just seemed like a contest for who missed their loved one the most. The baby's breath Piper was holding for her grandmother paled in comparison to the plethora of white carnations honoring Mrs. Puckett. Piper wondered if Puckett's granddaughter brought those, that pompous Mary Sue. But no matter. Maybe next year Piper would bring some carnations, too—or a Weed Whacker.
Ashley Davis, Chula Vista
Mama's Last Party
My old sick mama is unhappy at the nursing home, so I sneak her out at midnight and drive east on I-8. We go over the mountains, into the desert, to the dead-end of a rutted road. We talk and drink from a case of beer. She thinks I'm her boyfriend and flirts with me. I tell her she's beautiful.
Blazing sun in the windshield wakes me; mama's stiffening body leaning on my shoulder. I bury her under sand and flowering sage. As I leave, buzzards circle overhead.
OB Laureate Lloyd, Ocean Beach
Back on the beach with the lady—broke.
"Paradise is free," she says, fingers crabwalking my back.
"It's December, not a chill in the air."
"You're depressed. Perhaps more sunshine? A hike?"
"I have an appointment in the morning with a specialist. He says there's a fix."
I skim the newspaper.
"People are dying out there."
"Didn't the doctor tell you to think positively?" She kisses me. I don't feel a damn thing.
"This can't be December," I whisper to her. "Will it ever get cold?"
Aaron Philip Clark, City Heights
The sun shone through the open window and made the table warm to the touch. Bronzed and golden brown, he felt warm, as well. Inside and out. The aroma of roasted spices filled the air, and it felt as though they cloaked him. Cumino, ancho, piquin. Cinnamon? Yes, even cinnamon. As the curtains waved back and forth, casting shadows across the length of his being, he imagined a cabbage, sliced thin, chilled down, dressed in crema fresca. To him, the right salsa meant vitality. Rejuvenation. Serrano, cebolla y tomate. He was complete. He was at peace.
He was a fish taco.
Anthony Medina, Chula Vista