CityBeat's first-ever short-fiction contest was wildly successful. We put out the call to our readers for some very short stories-the only two rules were that they be fictional and written 101 words or fewer-and we're absolutely giddy about presenting the results here for you.
By way of introduction, I'll pass on some of the comments from the judges:
One judge noticed a pattern of "... aliens, lovers and psychotics... I was encouraged that so many people put themselves out there like that. Fiction is not easy to write, and attaching your name to it and sending it in to be scrutinized by skeptical, yet fun-lovin', media whores that you don't know takes some doing.... I would certainly struggle to write a complete story in 101 words, and I think that's why the winner won: it was a story waiting to be told, all the set up and insinuation without the snappy literary tricks or punch lines, a scene without beginning or end...."
Another judge noticed "lots of knives and blood. Death-from the death of a dog to the death of Grandma. Abuse-abused women, dysfunctional relationships."
Our deep-thinking judge offered this: "If you're trying to communicate anything meaningful, 101 words ain't much; it's a small canvas. The best entries, whether excerpted from larger plots or just striking snapshots in time, said more between the lines than the printed words themselves-in many of them, no traditional narrative ever emerged. San Diego's better self-styled writers adopt the aesthetics of West Coast minimalism-Raymond Carver, Charles Bukowski-integrating it with a noir-ish, anti-formalist streak. They want their stories and characters to view the world through rosy mirrorshades-that still reflect the fleeting, disconnected relationships and deep fissures just below the surface of (post)modern life."
And finally, "sudden death, hangovers, sexual longing, grief, theft, love/abuse and jabberwocky. Flying wieners, falling pianos. I was deeply moved."
Thanks to everyone who entered. We'll be doing it again next year.
A blonde woman in a car is on a silver phone. She looks down. She's crying.
There is a man on the sidewalk with a prosthetic leg smoking a wrinkled cigarette. He has given up.
A trolley shudders and a car horn sounds. Pedestrians turn to look and a boy on a bicycle yells and points his finger.
The woman wipes her nose and eyes. She's finished crying for now. She looks at the man. He flicks the cigarette and nods smoothly in a way he used to when he combed his hair neatly to impress the girls. And he remembers.
Before I ever read ‘White Elephants'
The two waited for the bus at the junction of Witherby and Vine. She sat, he stood. The occasional car swept the intersection.
"I love you."
A tan Volvo smoked.
"We can do whatever you want."
"I mean it."
She viewed her shoes-worn canvas Chucks, metal eyelets out, white tips scuffed. They were comfortable-seen her through each day of high school. Her eyes panned up, lips found a smile as her eyes found his lips the same.
The bus pulled up and both got on hand in hand.
J. Michael Niotta,
His Nickname Is "Doc"
Doc claims he can tie cigarettes in knots. Doc once sold newspapers in 90-degree weather in a full body cast and begged a co-worker not to beat up the old drunk who was bothering him, because the old drunk was his dad. Doc himself got a DUI in 1983 and still lives with his mom.
Doc seems white trash worldly to me. I ask him, "Have you ever been out in the cold?"
He replies, "Hell yes! I work the frozen food section at Ralph's."
Doc freezes his ass off and doesn't care because he swears he'll be married at 41.
Impact: T Minus 1 Minute
"Good evening. We come to you live from Harrington, Nebraska. What has been identified as a baby grand piano is falling from the sky. According to one Captain Eldrich, the reclusive millionaire Daffron Gerghaty, while riding in his converted C-5A, has fallen out. When a fuse malfunctioned, opening the bay doors, many of his possessions were swept away. In attempts to save what was, to quote Eldrich, ‘One damn fine piece a' wood,' Gerghaty's now hurtling towards the Earth in his robe, still clutching the piano. There he is, in a nosedive.
"Stay tuned. We'll bring you more after these messages."
The life of a wiener in flight is 3.2 seconds long. I'm timing them as they launch from the wiener cannon, sailing toward stadium lights, high above the third base line.
Apparently, lobbing meaty victuals at unsuspecting baseball fans is a great way to enhance brand awareness.
They're blasting a marching band version of "I Wish I Were an Oscar Mayer Wiener."
A wiener girl lubes up the 3-foot silver shaft, pops a plump dog into the top-loading cartridge, aims high and fires away. Money shot. The wiener takes flight, pink flesh against bejeweled night sky.
Open up and say ah.
We perch on adjacent stools, two apparent strangers waiting for their dates. I swirl my ice.
"Are you going to be good company tonight?" she asks, stroking the condensation on the side of her glass.
"Am I ever?"
She thinks a moment. "No."
Later, we will kiss relentlessly, pressing tight, her eyes closed, mine watching the streetlight glow purple through the blinds. A grunt to shift positions, a quick trip to the bathroom, a mumbled excuse.
"Know what I was thinking?"
She swivels to face me. "What?"
I sip my drink. "Nothing."
In the silence, her relief is palpable.
Just This Once
"Don't wear a bra today."
"You really want that?"
"I always do."
"You have a great body."
"I'm too big. People will stare."
He didn't answer.
Turning to look at him, she sighed softly. He was seated on the edge of the bed, wearing a look of intensity and desire. He used to make her so nervous.
"Just this once. Don't ask me again."
She reached into the open drawer and pulled out a light, soft, cotton sweater. As she brought it down over her head, she took a deep breath.
She smiled back. And blushed slightly.
Curtis E. Ochocki,
I meet a Greek painter. He hasn't showered but with artists you never mind. Reproductions of nude children and women are everywhere, and on a table, a bronze lion. The garage, bathroom and kitchen are all that are left of his house. The stone pool and granite deck are like a parody of ancient ruins, mired in a matrix of yellow tape and wood dowel.
We drink wine. I act like a silly girl who wishes she is an artist. Though he asks for it, I never send him the photo of me at 3, standing on a Puerto Rico beach.
Maria Elena Medina,
Guantanamo Bay World
"Donald, you're busy-I'll get right to it. I handle killers. I'm the man who nabbed wild Shamu in '65. Back then I was branded the ‘Orca Amusement Park' kook-now, I'm livin' large off hot wax whale sculpture royalties.... Hear me out. There's franchise potential in your ‘unlawful combatant' thing. I'm not saying these al Qaeda Mohammedans need to put on Shamu-quality whistle and jump shows. We just have to keep the front row wet-and who needs a big tail for that? Caged Devil is plain sexy. Keep that Cuban lease right and sell churros. People will pay."
We also liked...
The rest of these stories didn't win, but we thought they were good enough to publish.
It was late, almost midnight. Nica, our hairless terrier sniffed the leaves in our backyard for the perfect spot to pee. "That's strange." I walked, dragging Nica with me next to my wife. She gestured with the flashlight to the flowerbed.
The rose bush I had planted earlier was now upside down, just the roots protruding from the ground.
Before I could react, Nica decided to relieve herself on my left shoe.
We turned and walked towards the house, accompanied only by the sound of crickets and my next-door neighbor's snoring.
"I met a guy who says he knows you."
"Really? Who?" She rifled through her clothes, distracted.
"I don't know. Some guy." He buttoned his jeans and plucked his socks from behind the couch pillows. "I met him a couple of days after we got together last week."
She looked at the calendar quickly, then opened the top drawer of her dresser.
"But he swears your name is Tuesday. I guess he had the wrong day, huh, Wednesday?"
Laura wrinkled her nose as she hurled her packet of days-of-the-week underwear into the trash.
HER Stock Was Rising
1930 was a magnificent year, but it was 2003, and she was clinging to a man who was his own Great Depression. Not that he couldn't hold down a job; he rambled into dozens. Not that he couldn't love her. He simply treated her like a revolving door, a Chrysler Building to admire, return to and leave again at five. The day he came back selling Bibles was the day she signed her own New Deal, proclaimed a bank holiday, and moved closer to an era of her own. After all, 1945 had been a great year for homecomings.
The Flat Tire
From the cooler I got a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and a beer. I ate while he sprayed that can into the tire. It didn't inflate at all, but some foam oozed out of the gash. I was glad I realized it was hopeless from the start and didn't worry over it. I remembered my arm and looked at it because I'd never had a cast before, imagining cute punker girls who'd think it sexy. There's a Bessie Smith song called, "Gimme a Pigfoot, and a Bottle of Beer." I tried remembering how it went as dawn in Baja began.
A Girl I Know
My friend who is a girl and whose bed I would like to be sleeping in tells me for like the eleventy-seventh time that she doesn't speak with her mother and because who-knows-why, I say, Don't or won't? She asks, What the hell would I know about this and I say, Nothing, my parents died when I was 14 and she says, Shit. Sorry, I didn't know. I cough and tell her that that's a lie and now it's going to be three more weeks before I am sleeping in that tall, firm bed with soft, pink sheets.
Michael J. Fox
I'm sitting on my girlfriend's couch watching an old episode of Family Ties on my girlfriend's television, straining to notice if MJF is trembling yet when a commercial comes on for a ceiling fan store named Fandiego. I wait for the number and am now on hold about to say, whenever I get off hold, "Have some goddamn restraint," when I realize that my girlfriend said she'd be back about now and all of my things should be gone, because this is the stuff I do, so I drive out to the desert and see so many shooting stars it's retarded. Steve Caldes,
My Good Eye
I'm watching a biography on some '80s band. I have one eye closed because I was puking this morning and one of my contacts came out, and hell if I was going in to get it. They are at the part where they talk about the groupies after the shows. This is my favorite part. It always makes me think about the STDs after the groupies after the shows. The door opens and I open my other eye because my girlfriend can't know about the contact thing just yet. Everything seemed fine on the surface, but backstage, things were falling apart.
She sat in the shallow water, alone, her knees drawn to her chest to hide her pale, bloated legs. The faucet dripped.
Under the surface, a pull-chain snaked toward her like some worm writhing out of the drain.
"Soak it three times a day," the doctor said in his clinical monotone. "Or whenever you feel discomfort."
A dead fly in a V-shape floated on the surface of water, wings for rudders, propelled by the dripping faucet. She stared, disgusted and immobile, as it sped toward her, and tangled itself in her hair.
Next door, someone turned on the shower.
Just a Little Dream
Amanda emptied her purse: small rock, bent spoon, propane lighter, surgical tube, old syringe. She tied the tubing around her left bicep, placed stone on spoon then heated both with the lighter. When the pebble liquefied, she drew its contents in the syringe and injected herself. As smack began coursing through her veins, her eyes rolled in her head and she saw the room: broken bottles, cockroaches, trash. A faded poster of Martin Luther King Jr. hung on a whitewashed wall. "I too have a dream," she said to herself, "just a little dream. I hope I find it this time."
Her eyes, locked onto mine, begging for complicity, motioned towards the store clerk. Suddenly the insight came-I dropped my bottle of orange Jarritos soda. A fizzing, frothing puddle burst into existence with a crash, piercing shards of glass clinging to my socks. He looked up, alarmed, and approached me, his brow furrowing. She exited through the glass doors, a box of wine under her jacket. Later, the rendezvous in the storm drain: we shared the wine and she gave me a sticky, bungled kiss for my efforts. Her hair smelled like cherries.
Christopher D. Lovett,
Early Morning Fix
He gave me a knife and told me that if anybody fucked with me I should stick it in their face. Hard. Locking the car door, he slammed it and walked away, leaving me there alone. The sun would be up soon and he would drop me off at school. Second-grade wasn't so bad, but this was real life. My stepdad always brought me along-we were a team. I sat there for a long time in the cold, just thinking, watching out the window for the bad people. He returned and put something under the floor mat. We drove.
Christopher D. Lovett,
Barely peering over the steering wheel, the elderly lady ignored the police sirens behind her and the helicopters above her. Looking at the oversized clock next to the still-blinking turn signal, she thought, "Only six minutes left."
An orthopedic shoe stomped the accelerator. A truck driver honked when she cut him off skidding and screeching into the parking lot. Expertly using her walker she made it to the doorway.
"Am I too late?" she asked the waitress.
"No ma'am, the usual?"
"Yes," said the lady.
The police waited patiently and didn't arrest her until she finished the senior special meatloaf.
The United States of America
Well it all started with receding hairline, which led to a daily dose of Propecia, which led to impotence, which led to using Viagra, which led to an addiction of unprotected sex, which led to genital warts, which led to a bout with depression, which led to a drinking problem, which leads US to happy hour at the Olive Garden.
Something's crawling all over my face.
It could be worse.
What? We've been drinking our own piss for a week now. The shit we eat the animals wouldn't even smell, and, besides, we can't hold them up.
It don't matter. We've got our orders.
Fuck our orders. I wasn't born to be a hero.
Neither was I. But believe me, if you even think about splitting, I'll shoot you.
I'd be better off.
Quiet. You hear that? Is it them?
Can't see shit.
See them trees rustling over there? No, over to your left.
Ready? On three.
Sundays. Two men, leathery, Rancheria music. Attacking chemical greenery with muddy machinery, the chest-beating of their equipment killing all windchimes and birdsong.
We usually half-watched while crossword sharing. She tackling down, I across. A reliable ritual. Until one day. The landscaping suddenly ceased, like silence following thunder. Our attention was drawn.
Their F150 packed, standing side by side, staring at us with curious sympathy. Then embarking, their truck collapsing into a silver disc that soared up high into the azure sky, glittering like a lonely diamond.
Looking at me, she whispered, "I told you they were aliens."
We rode in the car, laughing and drinking, on our way to Brandon's get-out-of-jail party. Five of us, three guys, two girls, celebrating our friend's return to life. We had only seen pictures for the last three years; last year, his brother came back with scary ones. He looked different. Brandon was pumped up. He got huge in the big house. Tattoos. Sideburns and a goatee. A new scar completed his evolution.
We turned a corner and saw the house. A police car flashed red and blue lights. We drove by slowly and didn't stop.
In bed, Sabrina cuddled the telephone while speaking to William. "I just thought you were using a pickup line at the coffee house. It's embarrassing that I couldn't remember you from the party. Guess I was just too wasted," she giggled.
Very pensive, William listened. Hypnotized, he stared at framed photographs of Sabrina, then his window covered with photos of Sabrina drunk at the pool party, then turning back to his computer where he was editing Sabrina footage. Behind, on his bureau, a pyramid of used coffee cups with lipstick marked lids.
"William, can I see you again?" she asked.
Vicente E. Salgado,
"Hurry up with the damn keys and let's get the hell out of here," bellowed Ralphie as Diane checked their "condo" for the last time. "What's the hurry, Fatso?" she blurted, flinging the keys at his feet.
Covering embarrassment with forced laughter, Ralphie scooped up the keys, straightening the "Sold" sign as he followed Diane down the hill toward the parking lot. There he passed the keys to a Realtor as two beaming Newlyweds stood waiting to lay claim to their new home. They hurried to their "Love-Nest," failing to notice the old couple as they left in separate cars.