For the second year in a row, we invited our readers, people just like you, to think up a tale and spin us a yarn. We only asked that they keep 'em short-no more than 101 words to be exact-and stick to 101-percent unadulterated fiction.
While our inaugural effort was wildly successful, the response this time around was overwhelming. After receiving more than 300 entries-that's more than twice as many as last year-sifting through them in search of the winner proved to be quite a task. Our distinguished (ha!) panel of judges spent a weekend sorting through a mountain of typically dark and disturbing tales about suicide, lost love, dismemberment and feces.
What follows are the results of that effort. No, we weren't able to include all of the entries we liked, but we did manage to single out a few superior screeds and include most of those we thought were worthy of ink.
So what makes a Fiction 101 winner? We're not sure we know exactly or would tell you if we did, but as a general rule, the submissions that received our attention were the same ones that received a reaction. In other words, those that weren't so, er, predictable.
To those authors who made the cut, congratulations. You're now a literary master, free to adopt an air of haughty disdain for the unpublished masses. To those who didn't, congratulations as well. You get to spend the next year plotting tales of amorous fecal freaks who, rather than surrender, end a murderous rampage by taking their own lives-after severing their own appendages.
Just keep 'em short.
-Daniel StrumpfIllustrations by Scrojo
Lucy was 7 when she came to know her father. In through the door, hinged on a wire, he swaggered with a pompous gait. Tall, cool, with leather and pomade. He's been busy. Life is like that.
A pile of defeat and wrinkles, mother sulks in the corner. One eye shut, fingers drawn together. Tightly they squeeze. She fears him. She needs his return.
Ringlets of smoke interlace with Lucy's curls. A second-hand dress, too big for her stature. Her cheeks are still rosy but her eyes are dim. She has seen life enough to know how this one will end.
Jeniffer Thompson, South Park
“What'd Moe say? Is it your timing belt, or the alternator?”
The phone connection crackled like a live wire.
“It's much worse,” the monotone man relinquished. “It's a worm hole.”
The statement hung on the line, weightlessly held by the electric silence.
“He thinks two washers on the carburetor had been rubbing together for some time, and the friction created a tear in the fabric of the space/time continuum. He lost two wrenches trying to figure out what it was.”
“What'ya gonna' do?”
“Get a second opinion.”
Aaron Carr, Talmadge
The windscreen cracked. Thin layers of Kevlar held it as rounds slammed repeatedly into the vehicle.
Rudy looked at me soberly and closed his eyes.
“We can't stay here.” He opened his eyes. Tension, weariness, maybe fear were evident. I hoped that I looked better.
“That alley. Over there.” Rudy nodded.
I pulled my pistol from the holster on my thigh.
Rudy winked at me. I popped a grenade from my vest, and he fired a controlled burst into the street.
“Mission accomplished?” he asked.
We started running, shooting and cursing.
“My ass!” I yelled again.
Curtis E. Ochocki, Hillcrest
End of the Hall
Her daily indulgences enumerated-
1. Baked Bacon Breakfasts.
2. Soapy afternoon romances.
3. The cooling evening pattern of news, Wheel, Jeopardy, sitcoms, news, news.
-Beginning in the late Eighties, after Walt died, after the wheelchair, and to be repeated forever.
Or until this morning, when the television broke with a bang and smoke. Now she sits, tonguing bacon crumbs from her dentures, looking past the piles of unpaid bills and that cathode eye with its terminal glaucoma, out the window, watching a civilization speed past, in cars, destinations everywhere elsewhere.
She's hasn't screamed in decades.
Jon Oropeza, Hillcrest
Just a Job
There were fables of acidic saliva, involuntary eyeball removal, and iniquitous curses. Nina had heard the frightening rumors, but she needed a job and old Miss Rapkin had one to offer. Don't you dare, Nina's friends had advised her. She once killed a housekeeper for spilling lemonade.
Nina paid little attention and took the job anyway.
One day after lunch, Nina had been instructed to clear the table. In the middle of her task, she remembered some dirty clothes left soaking and ran upstairs to wring them out. The butter was left melting on the table.
Keighty Lautz, Carmel Valley
Tell It Like It Is
“Do you still love me?”
Startled, he looked up from his paper. “Of course. You know I do.”
“How about it then? Do you still love me?” he said.
How can I tell him, she wondered.
She must know how I really feel, he thought.
“More coffee, dear? I made it just how you like it.”
“Sure. It's always good.”
She poured the bitter brew. He took a sip and tried not to shudder. She loaded hers with cream and sugar and hoped that would help. The clock chimed and they went back to their morning paper.
Carolyn Angell, Chula Vista
The Best of the Rest
A Knock at the Door
“You eat steak? Sorry to bother, eat steak?” He wears a jacket black and green, sneakers. Looks around, twitches. I stare from my hastily donned jeans and cracked door with uncomprehending eyes.
“You eat steak? Chicken? Fish? You eat meat?” My head shakes, I don't understand. What're you doing at my door asking these questions? Are you with the census? Selling something poorly? Robbed a butcher, maybe.
“Do you eat meat? You don't eat meat? You don't eat meat.” I stare.
He glances across to number forty. “Nobody here.” He runs down the stairs and I clumsily climb back in bed.
Casey Baker, North Park
A Letter from Cousin Arlo
Tuesday is Tuesday. And today's Tuesday. So's yesterday. So's tomorrow. So are the days after that, I suspect. Here at Camp Happyland everyday seems to be Tuesday lately. Every Tuesday we play volleyball. Today we played volleyball, too.
Life at Camp Happyland is a lot simpler than what I'm used to. I don't have as many synonyms for the words around me. I mean the things.
I heard a rumor that the day after tomorrow might be Monday. And if not, then probably the day after. I hope so, because, Lord's nose, I'm getting a little tired of volleyball, thank you.
Casey Baker, North Park
How Danny Got Fired
Danny no longer drove around with three gears only; he had to take the bus now.
He woke up an hour and a half earlier to sit at a bus stop. Not that he could sit though; benches are always full of dew.
The bus came, he paid his $2.25, he watched his feet as he walked down the aisle, thinking: fuck the bus.
He fell asleep open-mouthed, woke up with an erection, dude sitting next to him saw the lump, smiled-Danny got off the bus.
He walked to work late, told the truth to his boss: Danny got fired.
Niko Beope, Rolando Park
Senshi, Yoshi, and Mazo pulled up to the vending machine on the corner of Hodai and Hamazuki streets. Senshi let the Mercedes idle in neutral.
To Mazo, “Go.”
Mazo blinked, continued to lean against the leather upholstery.
“Buy the disposable camera, top shelf, third from right,” Senshi muttered quickly.
Yoshi stared in the vanity mirror. Mazo shuffled to the machine, inserted his change. The bullet exited the chamber of Yoshi's gun at the moment the camera flash popped. Stepping over Mazo's corpse, Yoshi retrieved the fallen camera. He and Senshi drove to Mazo's home and left the camera on the doorstep.
Adrienne Bischoff, Serra Mesa
Early this morning, the cherry blossoms bloomed, tinting the overcast sky a powder pink blush. A pair of popinjays played in the birdbath filled fresh with last night's rainwater. The children of the town slept later than usual without the sun's bright hands nudging them awake. Their parents would come to bask in the peacefulness of having slept solidly through the night. In fact, nearly every bed in the Tudor house on Vicar Lane was still warm with occupants except for Josie's, whose lavender eiderdown lay half on the floor. She awakened early to wipe the jizz off her face.
Adrienne Bischoff, Serra Mesa
Me had a polaroid of the wookiee who stole me kookies, snaggletoothed, stanky breath, fraggly looking lunatic, me with an empty jar I couldn't hold with me hands tied. I yearned for pain, to wash away the film, undeveloped, immature, unripe, choosing to lose, the name of the game, the game of the name, it's all the same, plain, lame. Without that polaroid, I'd be destroyed, I toyed with the thought of hiding, but then deciding my fix is pure, sure, I must endure, clicking my heels, spinning my wheels, making deals. Must find that wookiee! He stole me fucking kookies!
Felix Blau, Normal Heights
The Czarevitch was a sonuvabitch. His corpulence was exceeded only by his crapulence. And his heralded appetite for peaches could be outgrossed only by the capacious quantity of peach-pit liqueur he quaffed continually. He was an insufferable gourmand. He also suffered from gov't and goiter and God and who knows what else. Which impelled great trepidation in one particular proto-proletarian serfette who had suddenly became the knee-jerk, thigh-slap object of desire for his rotundity as he passed through the Carpathians to Odessa or Chula Vista. “Hubba hubba” slobbered the Tubba Lard, while simultaneously snorting and farting.
Terence Burke, University Heights
Good Thing Children Don't Grow on Trees
“Now that Mr. Fritter has passed I don't see any need to maintain doctor/patient confidentiality.”
From the case files of Michael Zelner, Psy.D. (transcript follows):
MR. FRITTER: When I first pursued hypnotism as mind control, I had ideas of grandeur. I was going to create an army of mindless children. After the initial trials it turned out that the only thing that would follow me mindlessly were coconuts. And they had to be running downhill.
DR. ZELNER: Did this anger you?
MR. FRITTER: At first. But coconuts can be very charismatic when they want to be.
Aaron Carr, Talmadge
I once dreamed that Richard Wagner and Leon Trotsky walked into Kensington Video, Wagner from the back door and Trotsky from the front.
“How dare you stride in here after what you did to Levi over Parsifal!” shouted Trotsky.
“Better him than you, snake,” rebuffed a shaken Wagner. “I demand satisfaction.”
Instantly the tall, longhaired counterman produced two flintlock pistols, and the two men went about dueling. Unfortunately the guns only fired spaghetti, and I woke up in a cold sweat.
Jake Christie, Spring Valley
They bulged forth, two firm, round tomatoes hanging from a scrawny, midwinter vine. Her adolescent spine bowed with the weight of them. Her unacquainted arms encircled them, locking beneath them as if the tendrils of the vine shamefully strove to hide this unseasonable-unreasonable-fruit. And we had to ask, “Has she had them done?” “Yes,” we were told in hushed, scolding tones. “Yes, but you mustn't notice, you mustn't see.” So we tried to smile and look away, squinting before the glare of the taut, shiny fruit, silently wondering to ourselves who would pluck them.
Ruth Gallant, Ocean Beach
A Rainy Night on Wall Street
Two men stand under a small umbrella.
“I won't lie Mike.”
“I'm not asking you to.”
“It's too big.”
“People make mistakes.”
“Me sitting in a cell for ten years isn't going to change anything.”
“I'm not asking you to lie. I'm asking you to not talk.”
John turns away.
“No one will know John.”
The city dwarfs them both; grey, immense, and empty. And they're just two men on one corner, on one night, alone.
And time goes on and on and on.
“We punish ourselves for what we do John. That's enough.”
It'll have to be.
Jeff Hirsch, South Park
I don't talk much, but that night we candy-flipped I couldn't stop. Tricia tried to shut me up by putting herself in my mouth, only it didn't work, it just muffled the words. When she began grinding her hips down on my face, I explained to her about evolution and reproduction and she said, “Don't stop talking I'm about to come.” I told her I felt like Martin Luther King and her body throbbed uncontrollably.
Peter Holmes, Pacific Beach
Smiley Happy Clowns
Thomas was an artist. He loved to paint pictures. Thomas liked to paint pictures of clowns. Thomas painted pictures of clowns using blood. Blood from the clowns he's killed. Thomas loved the circus.
Dan Jesse, La Mesa
I once met a man with a glass eye.
It was damn scary.
Dan Jesse, La Mesa
Mr. Peanut consulted a psychotherapist.
“I've been wearing this monocle and high hat all my life. Lately I've been feeling as if no one knows me, as if this persona is a shell in which I'm hidden.”
“Hmmm,” mused the shrink, “tell me more about the invisible you.”
The famous goober proceeded, “It's as if I'm two people, one in the spotlight and the other backstage.”
After a pause, the therapist offered, “It appears to me that you are a classic multiple personality. It will take time to fuse these opposites into a harmonious ego, especially since you are both nuts.”
Tom Kelly, Oceanside
I Can See Clearly Now
“We need a description of the woman you were with tonight,” says the cop, hovering over my hospital bed. “She may have information on the whereabouts of your missing appendage.”
In my head flashes the description. Pale, overweight, nude body. Me, disgusted, wishing she would disappear after I rid myself of the poison. The poison that had me drinking my senses away, sacrificing my dignity, rejection by rejection. Thirty-two. Dead end job. Tiny apartment. Fat pig in my bed.
The hospital room fell silent when I matter of factly stated, “I cut it off and flushed it down the toilet.”
Ken Leek, Mira Mesa
Yesterday a woman called my phone. She said don't worry about it, I took care of it. What an asshole.
“What?” I said.
“Fine,” she said, “guess what? I told him about us-how long we've been at it.”
I checked my phone for the number. I didn't recognize it, it was an area code that had not shown up on my caller ID before.
“Who is this?” I said.
“Right,” she said. “Look, I'm going over there to get some of my stuff, say goodbye, then it's just you and me babe. Just you, me, and our money.”
Bart Schaneman, Encinitas
She sits at a train depot in a skin-tight mini dress and tries to remain inconspicuous. She doesn't know those heels aren't helping. No one is surprised when the smiling old man approaches and asks for help with the ticketing machine. She feels obliged. Satisfied, he takes his ticket and sits down. She walks to the bench opposite him and bends down to fix her sandal strap. But it is no use. Standing in full daylight with head up and shoulders back, she smoothes out the wrinkles, realizing there isn't enough room for her and modesty in a dress like that.
Dorothy Simpson, Encanto
Straining, wrinkled and red, a face scrunches into itself while leaking a barely vibrating note of futility. A gasping puff quickly escapes to be replaced with a gulp that is immediately compressed once again. Contracted on top but trying to relax below, the complex and inscrutable workings are once again put to an urgent but pointless mission. Huffing pants hit the hard ceramic to rebound on re-pressurized, deaf, blood filled eardrums. A squeaky whistle comes from somewhere, a clarion of action, a harbinger of hope. Red to burgundy to purple, determination is rewarded by a clear but concise, “plop.”
Mark Uelses, South Park
First you'd scope her pad to make sure she lived alone. When the moment came you'd sweat profusely, salivating, peeping into her bedroom. Her body lying safe asleep, sometimes you'd imagine a corpse entombed. Your knife cut the screen, and you'd slither in-the snake in the Garden. Something about shoes-when you could you'd stick your fingers in her pumps, rub her sandals on your face imagining a microscopic film of sweat and skin. Then to her bed and body-caressing, groping, licking where you could. You always knew just when to run. From the alley you'd hear her screaming.
Bryan Varela, Downtown
“New ‘BOC' Has Half The Carbs”
Trying to keep up with the latest dieting craze, the Vatican announced today that the body of Christ will soon be available during communion in a “low-carb” version.
“Imagine tasting all the salvation of God with only half the carbs!” said Ronald Whitman, Chief Vatican Nutritionist. “After years of mixing, praying and countless gentile taste tests, we have our winner.”
According to Bishop Leonardo Spicoli, the new “BOC” was specifically designed for today's hectic Catholic lifestyle. “With everyday life weighing on you, isn't nice to know that the body of Christ isn't?”Todd Wente, Point Loma