This year's panel of judges kicked off CityBeat's fourth-annual Fiction 101 judging session with this in mind: Though our tastes tend toward tales filled with death, dismemberment and scatological humor, that doesn't mean our readers' do, too.
Not to say that dark matter is absent from this year's winners-our picks from a field of roughly 350 entries of fictional tales of 101 words or fewer include stories about drugs and depression and embarrassing erections. But likewise there are giant purple bunnies, dogs who retain attorneys and-keeping to the dog theme-Seadog, who we hope finds some solace in the fact that at least he resides in San Diego (as opposed to, say, landlocked Lincoln, Neb.).
We encourage you to, as we did, read these stories aloud. Organize your own Fiction 101 reading party, perhaps. And discuss amongst yourselves, too: What's the significance of the handbag in “True Fiction,” for instance? How should we feel about the mother in “Family Values”? And, indeed, what is a pataphor?
God of the Ants
The boy watches the lines of red and black ants converging on his sandwich. They wage a bloody war for the prize of mayonnaise-smeared white bread and dry turkey. The boy wants the black ants to win. The red ones are Communists, his big brother told him.
“Better dead than Red,” the boy says, and pulls out a magnifying glass. The tiny pinpoint of light signals the defeat of the red army. The blacks kill the last stragglers, and march their prize home. The boy fantasizes that they will make a tiny statue of him, and pray to it.
Justin Childress, Chandler, Ariz.
I want to tell my boss why there's a broken bench out front. The seat's bent downward. A trail of red leads from it to the sewer's manhole.
I saw it happen at night while closing, alone. There was a pounding on the window. A drunk had his bare ass pressed against it. The manhole cover shot upward and thick dark tentacles like pythons sprang out. They grabbed the man's limbs and bashed him against the bench before pulling him down into the sewer. The manhole cover landed in the empty parking lot.
My boss would never believe me.
David J. Kralik, Hillcrest
This Moment Will Last Forever
Marie hung up and sighed. Dazed, she returned to her guests.
“Who was that, dear?”
She couldn't think of a lie. “The police.” Her voice was miles away. “They've found Henry.”
The question was answered when she said nothing else. She knew the terrible business of outliving your child would someday haunt her, each night fearing the telephone's shrill ring.
They looked up, faces crinkled in empathy. Marie wasn't a woman to be consoled.
It wasn't supposed to be like this. Not at tea on a Thursday. Once it sank in, though, she felt only relief. “Can I freshen anyone's drink?”
Adam Sullivan, Vista
My grandfather, WWII vet (decorated colonel), sits alone by the Christmas tree at Edgemoor Geriatric. Only not too close-last night he tried to eat an ornament, a tiny cluster of stars on a red ribbon.
Silvery chin stubble, a gash on his forehead where he fell, and just above that a Santa hat, cocked to the side.
And here's a memory:
Me at 7. Dinner, tacos.
Him to me, Heinz in my hand, “Damn kids would put ketchup on your cereal if your mother let you.”
Rob Williams, La Jolla
Kaylie's liver was sexy-shiny and moist. Her ovaries were ripe and swollen, fallopian tubes cradling them like a tension setting hugs a Tiffany diamond. Sometimes during sex, lucky boys caught eager glimpses of them through the delicate folds of her intestines. But Kaylie wasn't happy. Her spleen was too small and her left kidney was puckered and wrinkled. So she plumped her spleen with Restylane; the kidney, BOTOX. By the time she noticed the cancer on her translucent skin it was too late.
“Such a shame,” they clucked over her coffin. “It's always more tragic when they are beautiful.”
Sarah Iantosca, Point Loma
What's a Pataphor?
We sat in the park talking for hours. We were like two poker players trying to read each other. She said she was getting too old not to be in a serious relationship, betting half her chips. “Yeah, me too,” I called and then raised with, “I suppose marriage is nice for some people.” It was a stone cold bluff. She went all in. “I want to start a family soon. I want a big family, maybe five or six, all girls. I actually have their names picked out.” I mucked my cards and walked away from the table.
David Russell, North Park
I saw the rock too late. My front tire smacked it and I was launched over my handlebars. I didn't see my life flash before my eyes. What flashed before my eyes were the best sex partners and wildest sexual experiences I ever had. All to the tune of a hit by The Eagles. Then I saw nothing but darkness.
I don't remember what happened next. I remember waking up in the hospital and hearing Trent laugh because the EMTs told him I had an erection when they arrived and I sang “Peaceful Easy Feeling” in the ambulance.
Gary Schwind, Laguna Niguel
Her wig doesn't fool me.
“Packed book signing,” she says passing me her copy, her eyes slitted.
Scars all over her face, she forges a smile. “True story?”
Echoes of her last scream flood my mind, as I pick up my pen to sign. From her right shoulder hangs that velvety purple handbag, again. Christmas 2005, on my credit card.
“By Adam Newman, eh?” Anger now dominates her voice. “ ‘The Ravine' by New Man? Clever. New twist, Mr. New Man. Heroine survives push into ravine; narrator dies instead.”
From the handbag she pulls my old semi-auto.
Leo Hepis, Hillcrest
Red, Pink, and Blue
She sat on the toilet, eating Flamin' Hot Cheetos while she waited for the stick to turn blue. There was still awful red shit on the corners of her mouth when she found out she was pregnant.
“Aw, fuck,” she whispered, then passed the back of her hand across her mouth and licked it off.
She hadn't even washed her hands since urinating all over them to get a proper sample.
She threw the Cheetos and the belligerent stick in the trash, crossed her arms over her knees, and hung her head.
April Hiller, Kensington
The Best of the Rest
My momma is 5 feet tall with piercing blue eyes and pretty brown skin, like a little nut berry. They say she is Indian.
Her momma came from some reservation in Oklahoma, but it ain't talked about. She was an artist that painted beautiful pictures of deer and Indian faces. But she smoke and drank, too, and didn't really want to be a momma or an Indian.
I always wanted to raise her right, to teach her things about her ancestors, but I can't, cause she's my momma and her momma is her momma and that's the way it is.
Amanda Lee Dahl, Clairemont
He's a Tramp
“I blame Disney,” she said, applying tornado force to what was left of the cigarette.
“What?” the counselor replied.
“You know, tramps being honorable; alley cats saving the day.”
“But for the divorce papers-”
“Don't you see?” she stabbed the ashtray with the denuded butt. “To get a prince, you had to be fucked up first. Have some sleeping sickness or evil stepsisters. Tramps and alley cats were cool, savvy... fun. Pfft, what a load. Good-for-nothing layabouts.”
“I'll just mark irreconcilable differences.”
“Whatever,” she jabbed at the form, “but I want Walt there, too. Freakin' Disney. He should pay.”
Beatrice Graulau, La Jolla
5 O'Clock at My House
Clink, clink. Ice cubes in a glass. Pour. You could set your watch to that sound. The escape of the bored genius doctor's wife. Cigarette in one hand and scotch in the other, reading glasses perched atop unkempt hair, she shuffles in slippered feet to her position as matriarch and stepping stool of our family. Puff, puff, sip. Hovering over her crossword puzzle, bathrobe flapping in the patio breeze, she smiles at me with sad eyes. Puff. Sip. In the dusk I finally see that an early grave is her only escape from us, the ones she loves the most.
Sarah Iantosca, Point Loma
Murphy had just worked up the nerve to talk to the waitress when his brains exploded. They splattered over the waitress' pretty face, and fell into the French onion soup she was holding. The sight was revolting. She dropped the bowl and tried to run away.
But she slipped on his brains and cracked her neck. It all happened so quickly. A buxom waitress and a meek little man in a lemon suit-both sprawled out like twin dummies on porcelain tile. None of it made any sense. The cook spoke first. “Maybe it was just their time” he reasoned.
Matt Balmuth, La Jolla
Rollin' with the Holy Hellions
Shit, do I really want to be seen on the freeway in this? An Econoline? Stuck with a bunch of church ladies on the way to the casino to see a male revue. The bumper sticker reads, “I brake for Jesus,” and in another two hours they'll be breaking twenties for singles to stick down the g-string of some greased-up dancer named Sven. Oh man, I need to get them there in one piece. They won't get a piece of me. Martha downed her second shot and Liza's giving me a funny look. Hope it's fiber-related.
Andie J., College Area
They moved him from the bed to his chair.
“How's he doing?”
“Today is a good day.” She wiped his face with a warm towel. She combed his thin hair into place. It didn't matter she'd been forgotten.
Of the photos on the dresser, he smiled when told he was the handsome soldier on a street in Italy. “Nice couple,” he said of the wedding photo, but didn't know their names. He talked of his day at the office, and said he just had a bath.
“I love you,” she said, and goodbye until next time. He thanked her for coming.
Jeff Carr, Poway
Roger opened his eyes and met the morning light. He didn't want to go to work. He didn't want to go anywhere or see anyone. No more dry meetings, kissing ass, and reflecting the can-do attitude.
As the water fell, Roger braced himself against the shower wall and wept uncontrollably, interrupted only by his agonizing screams. “Ahhhhhhhh,” he screamed. “Ahhhhhhhhhh.”
Composed and now dressed, he leaned forward to get a close look in the mirror, tightening his tie. Leaning back he straightened his coat. At the door he took a deep breath, painted a smile, and walked out a warrior.
Jeff Carr, Poway
George threw some bacon into the pan. Juices spat. He needled the pork, flipping and separating the pieces, then cracked two eggs, saving the yokes.
His meal prepared, George eased in before the bacon, eggs and bread the toaster browned. The chair opposite stared-empty, silent, its place unset. Yellow oozed. Bread sopped it. He viewed the chair, wiping egg from his cheek.
George fixed the bacon chewy. It was always best chewy. Finishing off the eggs and toast, he leaned in over the plate. Realizing his mistake, George sighed. The bacon. Once again he'd cooked for two.
J. Michael Niotta, National City
Story of My Wife
Ying-Ying, 6 years old, stood in the backyard throwing stones at a tree. The noisy birds would quiet, then slowly begin again. Her brother showed her how. She threw until the neighbor screamed about a broken window.
Ying-Ying, at 7, threw stones at a different tree, same reason, until one came back down and bloodied her eye.
Ying-Ying, now 29, stands in the backyard, throwing stones at a noisy cat. The stones sail over the fence into the neighbor's yard.
“Honey,” I say, stepping outside. “What the fuck are you doing?”
“I'm throwing stones at the cat.”
Adam Sullivan, Vista
Thumbing A Ride
It was hours before someone acknowledged Martin's jutting thumb. Almost dusk.
“Hey listen,” the cheerful stranger said. “I'll give you a ride, but you gotta promise not to stab me in the neck.”
It was a bluegrass station, and he hated bluegrass.
“Sorry,” he said. “I can't make that promise.” Martin may have been a lot of things, but he wasn't a liar.
Adam Sullivan, Vista
Tuesday Bruno whined at the neighbor's door. Robert yanked gently on his chain and the Rottweiler followed him down the torn linoleum of the third-floor hallway.
Wednesday Bruno scratched at the door and barked, “Hey, there's something in there, stupid.” Robert sighed. “Okay. Okay.” Robert knocked and waited. He heard buzzing over Bruno's panting. Bruno whimpered, so Robert knocked again. He opened the door. Flies surrounded a man's naked body on the carpet. On the wall, a blood-drawn swastika defaced a poster of Hitler. Bruno wolfed down a pair of pork chops from the kitchenette counter.
John Mullen, Poway
Marty had 101 reasons for marrying Kathy, and only one reason not to. That's what he was thinking when the small woman bumped him outside of the coffee shop. She was trying to navigate around the paunch of his stomach.
“'Scuse me,” she muttered as she squeezed by.
Marty watched the violin shape of her back as she moved away from him. He could still smell her scent. Like jasmine or oranges or something romantic, he couldn't tell what. He watched her tight little ass in her blue jeans, and sighed-101 reasons for marrying Kathy, and two reasons not to.
Stephanie Friedberg, Los Angeles
She carries a purse full of credit cards and curled up cash, but she's not going shopping. She opens her compact, sets it on the bed and quickly hides her reflection under a pile of white. With the skill of a surgeon she goes to work cuttin' and slidin'. A perfect 111.
Three sniffs later her panties hit the floor and she looks at me with those Jejo eyes. The body of a goddess and a model's face all covered in dust. I used to want to clean her up, but I've since learned to enjoy the ride.
J.P. Logan, College Area
Artist as Fool
Five a.m. and Scotty rolls over to look at the face of his lover next to him. Jumps up, scratches his ass, and stretches his huge frame.
Clean and shaven, Scotty opens his closet and pulls out a huge worn bunny costume. He squeezes into the jacket of the outfit and zips it up, and then pulls his rabbit ears out from under the bed and crowns himself with the final touch of his bunny fantasy.
In the mirror he beholds the magic lavender fool he his become. Scotty walks out into the new day.
Larry Caveney, University Heights
I think my dog and I have grown apart. He barely wags his tail when I enter the room, and he can't be bothered to read the comics with me anymore. To top it off, the other day I sez to him, “Who's a good dog?” and all he could answer is, “Me, I guess.” If this keeps up... I don't know what.
I saw him again the other day. He was walking out of his attorney's office. He looked happy. I didn't want to see him, so I crossed the street. I hope he is. Happy, that is.
David Russell, North Park
Mom was at Work
I was baby-sitting dad.
I'd put him down for a nap, then become quickly hypnotized by a PBS special of the migratory geese.
During a pledge break I discovered him missing.
Damn, had to get him back before Mom's check-in call!
Truck keys on counter? Good, he was on foot.
Front curb. I heard him. I laughed.
Two garages down, Dad had somehow Shanghai'ed an electric guitar and speaker.
The “Star-Spangled Banner” la Jimi Hendrix echoed the cul-de-sac.
That disease might have eaten up all his memories, but it hadn't dented his talent.
Mike Andreen, Encinitas
For No One
Kevin rolls over in his bed. He can't understand how she could just leave him like that, so cold and cocksure. He should've known, though. She moved into his place, but never quite settled in.
He lists back and forth slowly like an injured ship, lost in the sea of her lingering scent. He still smells her. He hasn't washed his sheets since she left. Her smell is almost gone though, smothered by his malaise.
“My love for you is dead,” she said. Just like that. Point blank. The words wormed their way into his ear like a thick, dirty finger.
Greg Gerding, South Park
Sonia rubbed the dirt off her swollen foot and adjusted her weight on the lone battered suitcase her boyfriend, Lou, had thrown at her. She had waited hours on the busy street. Her parent's Chevy Nova finally pulled to the sidewalk and her large mother struggled out of the car.
Sonia stood, relieved as her mother approached. She imagined spending the rest of the pregnancy under her mother's firm yet doting care. Lou didn't matter anymore. But a slap across the cheek sent her back to the ground. Her mother bent down to Sonia's face and snarled, “Stay on these streets.”
Carla Martin, Rancho Penasquitos
Bob Wainwright wandered the aisles at Wal-Mart looking for a knife. He wanted to murder his girlfriend who he had seen fucking his best friend Charley.
He found a sturdy meat cutter with a serrated edge in the kitchen section that would do the trick nicely. He liked the way it felt heavy in his hand. He imagined her terrified face as he killed her with it.
“No!” she'd scream.
“Who's fucking who now, bitch?” He'd yell as he stabbed her.
But later he stopped in the music department and found a CD he knew she hated, and bought that instead.
Jay Armstrong, Imperial Beach
And, Just For Fun
In Sail Bay, sounding the seal, the seadog swims. Born on land, Seadog sings for lost sea siblings. He dives for rocks his human throws. There is no joy. All Seadog really wants is the return to the kelp beds, where endless swimming and diving fill all hours. Again, he returns to his dry house, smelling of salt. There, he dreams of the return to the shore. Maybe then, the seals will come for him. He will call them. One day, they will answer. Seadog is sure. Then, he will swim in the Sargossa.
Tatjana Grzenia-Eggink, Mission Bay