Our readers are weird. Don't get the wrong Idea, because we're a bunch of weirdos ourselves. This fact is most clearly evident when it comes time to judge our annual Fiction 101 contest where we ask readers to submit their best short stories. The catch is that said stories must be 101 words or less. This is challenging. Writing a heartfelt or poignant tale in just 101 words is like painting an entire mural with just one can of spray paint. That is, it takes a lot of improvisation and creativity.
For sale: Baby shoes, stitched together from the faces I peeled from men that never loved me. Maybe, I thought, I’d make my own person to love me back.
Cheeks make good shoe leather, cured with salt. Delimed and pickled. Stretched taut.
“Kiss me,” I’d say, but they’d turn their mouths from me. I’d land on jaws instead.
“I think I’m gonna go,” they’d say.
“I love your face,” I’d say and kiss them again on soft cheeks. They’d look away, tired.
Turns out sewing was easier than tanning which was easier than skinning which was easier than death.
— Leah Knox, Santee
THE BUDDY SYSTEM
“Don’t jump,” Andre shouted to Valentino, “You have so much to live for!”
Valentino stood at the edge of Coronado Bridge, staring at the purple sunset. Andre stared at Valentino.
“Really,” Valentino said, “Like what?”
“Ummm...” Andre thought, “You only owe $5,000 more on your Pontiac Aztek.”
“Hmmm...” Valentino murmured.
“The Chargers might still be around next season...”
“You bought groceries yesterday....”
“That’s true,” Valentino stepped away from the edge, “Thanks, buddy.”
Andre and Valentino hugged.
“Okay,” Andre said, “My turn.”
Andre walked to the bridge’s edge.
“Don’t jump,” Valentino shouted to Andre, “You have so much to live for!”
— Kareem Khalidy, University Heights
It was the kind of building that made no promises about our safety. We’d climb its crumbling walls, tip-toe along its roof, and yell at the moon while pounding our chests. Widows spun webs under our watchful eyes, and the secrets held there were sewn around our hearts.
The dust of that place follows me into my dreams like a sinister breeze, breathing unwanted whispers into my mind.
But today I wake up damp with sweat to the sound of my phone.
“Do you still think about what happened in the barn?” my sister asks. “I do.
— Monica Dubé, Hillcrest
A man on my bus shouted out poems that I fervently wrote down.
The other passengers stared at their own feet while absorbing his every word.
I moved closer to examine his eyes and the texture of his grungy hair. Brown and wiry.
He noticed me and said, “Read books to lovers to hear the words for the first time as they actually are. Then I warn you, you’ll want to keep eating books until your mind is full.”
He laughed and turned saying, “We are all on film.”
I closed my notebook and got off on 14th.
— Lori DuPont, Golden Hill
I was in a supermarket checkout line where silvery Mylar balloons in the shape of dolphins were tethered to the registers, some pink, some blue.
A toddler, sitting in a cart behind me pointed upward. “Fishies!” she squealed.
“Dolphins.” her older brother said.
The tot’s finger wavered between the differently colored objects.
“Why those blue?”
The boy replied, “That’s how they look before you cook them.”
A subtle smile appeared on the face of the clerk as she zapped my items—a jar of mayo, a loaf of bread, some celery, four cans of tuna.
— Alex Bosworth
BEST OF THE REST
“I’ll just jump in and out,” Sue said, walking towards the bathroom.
At her age jumping was not an option, especially once she saw the slick marble tile that lined the shower. She placed each foot carefully, clutching the shower opening.
“Not even a mat,” she thought. “Were they trying to kill us in this ritzy hotel?”
Then she heard Jessie mumbling. “What,” she said. The response was muffled.
Again wondering why the hotel would want her dead, she cautiously retreated all the way back out the bathroom doorway.
“What,” Sue said.
“Be careful,” said Jessie, “it’s very slippery in there.”
— Michele Garb, Clairemont
LOVING A MONSTER
“Get me another, Boris,” I said The poor fool. He was a monster and I don’t mean the abusive, ravenous male type. I mean he had tentacles for arms and sprouts of hair at the tips of his crude appendages. Bulging eyes with quite the bulging package, he had a strange fixation with the underside of my bed and I quite liked him there.
But darling, he was a man, or at least more of a man than these other sappy fools. Boris was gregarious, kind and he never spilled a drop of my gin martini. That’s how I loved him.
— Aubree Miller, South Park
Even though I can’t see anything through the closed bathroom door, Pappy’s definitely on the crapper whackin’ horse-flies with newsprint again, his lip curled on the bourbon flask. Listening in, I can hear him swat, stomp and cuss.
Suddenly, Mammy’s pale, speckled frock brushes my cheek and her shrink-wrapped knuckle hurts my ear as we clop down the hallway. Back at the kitchen table, she makes sure my hearing’s intact by cranking the TV volume all the way up and yelling at me to finish my vocabulary homework.
She sounds serious, so I practice spelling Pappy’s favorite words with my peas.
— Mark Abel, Point Loma
MILK AND COOKIES
My wife turned to me in bed. Quietly and sleepily she whispered, “Did you leave out the milk and cookies?”
I smiled thinking of our two children.
“Yes.” I closed my eyes.
“The peanut butter ones or the chocolate chip?” she asked.
I opened my eyes wide.
She grabbed my arm firmly.
“You put out the special cookies?”
We jumped out of bed and ran down the stairs.
Embers still crackled in the fireplace.
A large man in a red and white coat was snoring on our couch with an empty plate on his belly.
The milk was gone.
— Matt Lane, Chula Vista
She turns the wire hanger, reshaping it. The corkscrew end twirls; the hook gouges her gripping palm. She imagines it’s long enough to spell his name, that she will not need to start over.
She’s done that before—destroyed what was just begun. He was not yet teething when they took him away. Momma’s his momma, for now.
She must remember what’s important, why she stays this time. Keep her hands busy. Make them create.
She finishes and presses it to her bosom. See—I can hold and not harm. See—Nathan. And some left over.
— Jeff Curtiss Welch, University Heights
WONDERFUL SOUTH PARK
I walk down this street often. I am not sure where I am. Don’t worry I am walking on the sidewalk. There are so many trees and flowers. They smell good and they are quiet. I like to feel flat surfaces. Fences. Brick walls. Grass. I like to dig in the dirt. It is very relaxing. There are the cats. I say hello with my hands. They are soft and they purr. I smile when they purr. I am not sure where my house is. I do know to follow the cats. At home, I give them milk. Then eat them.
— Greg Cusick, City Heights
It’s been a long time since I drank champagne.
It was the night we said goodbye. We danced a long, embracing dance. We cried.
I took her home and held her for the last time. We kissed. She slipped from my arms. Our fingers lingered together, then she was through the door and gone. I walked into the darkness alone.
It’s been a long time since I told someone I loved her.
Tonight, I will try both again.
—Martin Roy, Hill La Jolla
SAN DIEGO RENTERS LAMENT
One morning while doing dishes, the clangy rattle of the Can Man’s shopping cart distracts me. He’s in the alleyway searching bottomless dumpsters for middle-class deposits abandoned for nobler compensation. Shutting the water off, I grab the plastic bag filled with plastic bottles from my plastic life.
Opening the backdoor, I approach, looking him in the eyes. I extend my humble contribution, his calloused hands accepting my returns. Under a weathered ball cap, an unkempt beard masks his sunburned face. His gaze drops as hidden lips mumble, “Thanks, Boss.”
Replying, “You’re welcome,” I head back, thinking I’m a paycheck away.
— Gerald Vanderpot, North Park
“Yes, yes!” He bellowed. Doctor Stein roared around his laboratory, cackling at all his inventions. I pretended to be inside his mind to peek into the bottled emotions Dr. Stein must have felt. These were raw emotions bubbling up from the champagne bottle of life... Dr. Stein ignored my presence; and I wouldn’t dare interrupt his passionate air. The confines of the room, however, did box in Dr. Stein’s frothing. His arms were strapped close to his chest, a jacket. Dr. Stein’s small asylum room allowed this brief excursion with knowledge while his body was trapped here, for safety reasons.
— Lucas Denton, Chula Vista