What a devilish contest. The annual Fiction 101 Challenge asks entrants to paint a scene or tell a story using no more than 101 words (title not included). It’s tougher to write short than it is to write long. But dozens of contestants were up for the task and we’re happy to present the winners. Point Loma’s Hunter Gatewood impressed our panel of judges and took first place. Rico Gardiner of Mission Hills took second and third place went to Linda A. Warren of City Heights. We’ve also included four entries that earned honorable mention. And that’s a 101-word introductory paragraph.
Mr. O was yelling blue murder as Evan stepped onto the ward. Morning meds. Evan went right over, careful to keep his face away from the spittle as the hunched old man turned to him.
"I don't trust! I don't trust!" Mr. O screamed in his thick accent, eyes rheumy and bulging with fear.
Evan patted Mr. O's hand. "I know, buddy, I know." It was easy to be patient with a Holocaust survivor.
Kim handed Evan the little pill cup. "You do it. Hey, did you hear? His records came from Napa. He wasn't a prisoner, he was a guard."
Hunter Gatewood, Point Loma
It was hot in the Tenderloin, there was no elevator, the stairwell was narrow, the furniture was heavy. The disgustingly stained mattresses a clear indication that no tip would be forthcoming. Mr. El Cheap, the fat, smug owner sat in an easy chair and smiled, unaware of the hatred.
"So what goes first," he asked on the sweating factotums. "The back, right? Or the legs and shoulders?"
"The mind," replied the last honest mover.
No tips were received. Some items never made it to the final destination.
Rico Gardiner, Mission Hills
The Narrow Life
For so many years, I lived in a hallway—a six-by-eight foot midsection of the house trailer Mom, Dad and I called home that was more thoroughfare than bedroom.
A built-in bed sat across from two slim closets separated by a pair of Formica-topped drawers. Dissecting the space was a hallway so narrow adults brushed against my bed as they passed from the living room to the bathroom beyond.
In all the years since, I have lived large, medium and small—but never again so narrowly that bodies brush against me unbidden in the night.
Linda A. Warren, City Heights
A Guest for Dinner
Shelley likes champagne at fancy parties. Frank prefers beer in sports bars. That's their marriage; constant conflict, total opposites except for one thing: their mutual craving for fresh flesh.
The counselor tells them to think and act like newlyweds.
Frank brings home two dozen red roses.
"Flowers, my love."
"You never bring me flowers. I knew it. You're having an affair you adulterous bastard."
"No, wait. This is just another worthless suggestion from our extortionate counselor."
Shelley smiles. "Perhaps it's time to have him for dinner."
Afterwards, they scrape the remains into their incinerator.
Bill Fuhrer, Bay Park
Those Who Forget the Past Are Condemned
Jackboots clack the cobblestones outside. Pounding thumps the door. "Show us your papers."
"Makeup applied?" I ask Juanita. "Hide the brown children."
She nods and instructs them under their bed.
Another round of pounding and shouting.
"I'm coming. A moment, please." I open the front door.
Flashlight beams sweep the room, examine papers. The uniforms consult. One passes his beam to illuminate my wife's face. "Everything seems to be in order."
The other applies white paint outside. "We're done here." His hand goes up in the familiar salute. "Long live President Trump."
Jeff Curtiss Welch, University Heights
It was raining hard the night I met her. She was wearing that red scarf she likes so much. Just a stranger on the bridge, but then I saw myself in her eyes and everything changed.
It wasn't magic words but my strong, confident demeanor that changed her mind. She fell in love with that strength and confidence. I fell in love with her.
But sometimes I wonder what will happen when she realizes what I was doing that night on the bridge in the pouring rain. I dread the day she realizes that her strong, confident man needed saving, too.
Brendan Hart, Bankers Hill
Maybe We Might
So many buildings and I chose this one. This apartment. Next to hers. With a year lease.
She didn't recognize me when we passed in the hall. No surprise in her eyes. No shame. Maybe I should say something—she deserves to be uncomfortable. She deserves worse.
Our hallway encounter replays in a loop. Her face. Her smell. Her voice brushing against me: Sorry . But she never was.
She's everywhere. In this building, in my head. So maybe I should think about everything. The worst things. Enough to still hate her.
Then maybe we won't fall in love again.
Katherine Memmel, El Cajon
BEST OF THE REST
A Closet Full of Skeletons
DEATH appeared to a man whose wife was upstairs, preparing for bed.
"Tonight you will die. Your wife will wake up with a dead man."
"Can I say anything to prepare her?"
"Tell her whatever you wish."
That night, deciding he had nothing to lose, he revealed all of his deceptions and betrayals; everything he never dared to share before.
In the morning he awoke, bewildered and ashamed. He asked his wife if he'd said anything while drifting off the night before.
She ignored his question, and said his breakfast was ready.
Jess Goodman, Pine Valley
Tara: Hey, girl, sure it was upsetting when u came to get Hannah and I was upstairs away from kids.
Tara: So sorry, sister.
Ash: Doing drugs. During playgroup. When supposed to be watching 5 kids. Plus your own!
Ash: You are not my sister.
Tara: It wasn't like that! No! I was cleaning up from last night.
Ash: By putting it up your nose?? Please!
Ash: From now on, it's best if you don't contact me.
Tara: What? Wait, I'm calling you now.
Ash: Please don't.
Ash: Spoke to Heather and Jen. You and Ezra are out of playgroup.
Hunter Gatewood, Point Loma
She's obsessed with locks: deadbolts, chains, combination locks; doors, windows, car (even while driving). There are nights she wakes up screaming and nights she doesn't sleep at all. She flinches when I touch her and it's been three months since we made love. I can't tell her I understand how she feels because I don't. I don't tell her I'll make it better because I can't. I want to hold her to me and protect her from the bad people in the world. But when she needed me I wasn't there. I'm useless to her. It's like he raped our marriage.
Brendan Hart, Bankers Hill
"Oh my gosh! Can I take a picture with you?"
Smile. "I'm not Kevin Faulconer. Also, he doesn't seem to be the type who frequents bars."
Her shoulders slumped disappointed. The trio whispered with each other and glanced at me throughout the evening. At closing time, I stood up and announced, "BY THE WAY, I AM YOUR MAYOR!" I walked over to the woman, gave her a Singapore kiss, threw everyone the peace sign and ran out of the bar.
Claire Tilton, East Village
What Happens at the Lake
What happens at the lake stays at the lake. Right? Right?
You know that I consider myself a serious person, predictable, not frivolous, with a strong sense of propriety. A quirky sense of humor, maybe, but not inclined to impulsive behavior. Actually quite dull.
The lake in the fading twilight was enchanting. The soft evening air, thickening with the rising dew under a sliver of moon, the calls of the loons in the distance. Our murmuring voices mingled with the slapping of the waves on the edge of the dock. Lovely!
What happens at the lake stays at the lake. Right?
Jerome Neumeyer, Mission Hills