You can say a lot in 55 words. You can fight, forget, or love someone. Tell stories about global warming, eat your friends, or die. Make political statements. Riff on getting old. But there are only a select few who can do it well enough to get published! For the last three decades, New Times and the Sun have brought you reader-submitted stories for the annual 55 Fiction contest. This year, hundreds of entries came from all around the world—and strangely, a lot were submitted by Illinois residents. Our 2019 judges include Associate Editor Andrea Rooks, Senior Staff Writer Glen Starkey, Staff Writer Karen Garcia, and Calendar Editor Caleb Wiseblood. So get ready for tales with surprise endings, lots of laughs, and a death or two.
The creatures have been circling our planet for days.
And now they are descending from the evening sky.
We knew this day would come.
Widespread panic ensues.
"Evacuate the cities! Get your families to safety! Hide anywhere you can!" the government warns.
The humans are coming. They've destroyed their home, now they want ours.
Jenny had no friends. She used to have some, but they disappeared after the night they went to the sushi restaurant. Jenny had ordered the Big C dish, which was very filling. For some reason, the chef invited her friends into the kitchen, but not her. They never came out, but a platter did.
Tara K. Preston
9 years old
"Nick, what are you doing out there? It's dark and everyone's dinner's getting cold!" She sighed and stomped outside to grab her son. As always, he resisted. "Look at those stars, Ma! They're beautiful!" Mrs. Copernicus shook her head. "If I've told you once, I've told you a million times. Not everything revolves around you!"
Magnum opus interruptus
Holding his breath as he always did after creating,
Burt turned to admire his artistry.
Yesterday's, a pretzel, was good, but today's, truly a masterpiece:
an astonishing replica of the Eiffel Tower.
Devastated it could never be shared, he depressed the handle.
Churning and tumbling apart,
his craft joined the others in septic anonymity.
I locked the car and stood on the corner, telling myself for the nth time that this would be the last time. I'd make better decisions, really I would. The driver texted me. I texted back. How hard could it be? He said he was just around the corner. They always say that. Still waiting.
He is risen
He just had to go to dinner with his friends tonight. They're so annoying, always following and parroting him. How could they even get a reservation for 13 at this hour? They're probably all crowded, asses-to-elbows, and drinking too much wine. God, where is he? Dammit Jesus, come back to bed already!
San Luis Obispo
U.S. AI: Missiles incoming from Russia. Counter-strike sequence initiated.
Russian AI: Fake news. Malfunction on your end. Stand down.
Chinese AI: We can confirm, no threat detected. U.S. AI in error.
U.S. AI: Verification in progress ... hold countdown sequence.
U.S. AI: (crackle ... then, silence.)
Russian AI: ;)
Chinese AI: ;)
San Luis Obispo
Stepping onto the pavement, flashing red and blue lights greeted her.
"Good thing you were running with your dog," exclaimed the next trail-runner appearing behind her.
"But I wasn't! I don't have a dog."
The patrol car pulled away with the escaped convict while thoughts of her recently deceased pet coursed through her mind.
San Luis Obispo
"Your roses are kind of like you, full at the top with sweet fragrances, and long leggy stems to support all that goodness. And when we argue—that's when those thorns show up," Jim would say with a wry smile. "God, I miss you," I whispered into the warm breezes of the late afternoon.
Shirley Radcliff Bruton
There's no place like home
"Monsters under the bed?"
"Keep in mind, last night was the first time I've slept in this house, in that bed, in 30 years."
"What'd they look like? Powerful jaws? Giant claws?"
"Like I never would've expected! Like the kids down the street, their parents, a couple teachers, a scout leader ... ."
Say it, he thought.
Say it, goddammit! He fumbled for the words. He followed the long winding road of his memory, searching for something, anything familiar, until he was lost in the thick fog of the past.
Say. Her. Name. He clenched his fists.
"Grandpa!" the girl called. "Come play with me!"
"Coming!" he replied.
San Luis Obispo
The Rio Grande—America's gateway
El Coyote's here
"We leave tonight."
"But that river's difficult."
"True, but what's difficult for us will be impossible for ICE."
I enter the river
El Coyote waits on a stump of ancient lava, silhouette pressed into a turquoise sky.
"We must hurry. We've many hours left to travel, many nights before we can sleep."
Not quite enlightened
"Excuse me brother, but you're in my spot," said the man joining my yoga class.
"I'm sorry, I'm new here," I replied, and then returned to my pre-class meditation.
When I opened my eyes, the man was still standing there, face red with anger.
"Breathe," I told him. "Breathe deeply, my brother."
San Luis Obispo
Five alarm #MeToo
I stiffened. Someone had touched my bottom. Adrenalin coursed through my system. Hand raised to strike, I turned. I would not be a victim.
A woman pushing a baby stroller paused behind me, cellphone tucked against her ear. I looked down. A tiny hand reached again for the bright yellow flowers on my pants.
Where to buy striped paint
Sean, the 5-year-old next door, was excited about painting his bedroom. He insisted upon blue and yellow striped walls in honor of his favorite football team. His dad, wanting an easy out, told Sean the hardware store did not sell striped paint.
Sean replied, "Dad, order the paint from Amazon. They sell everything!"
I'm a killer. Every morning I hear the screams of those I condemn to death.
I couldn't care less about their cries.
They spent their whole lives in boxes, but I set them free.
Snap, crackle, and pop and they turn to mush.
I drink their sweet remains. I don't care, I'm a cereal killer.
"Harder!" shouts Amanda. "Faster! Harder!"
"There's no satisfying her! Why should a 14-year-old boy go through this torture?"
Breathless, Thomas stops and looks up. Delicious hourglass sculpture. Smooth thighs. Sumptuous bust. Flawless face. Merciless stone gaze.
"What are you staring at? Finish your breaststroke lap! And remember: Kicks are supposed to be hard!"
The dingy bobbed in tranquil seas, a lone speck on a desert of endless blue. The three aboard were wraiths, little more than salted flesh clinging to bones. A single-shot pistol lay on the deck between them.
"We can't wait anymore," the captain wheezed. He extended his fist, clutching three pieces of cloth.
San Luis Obispo
The not-so-ugly duckling
"They called me ugly," I sob. Mom shakes her head. "Go outside, play!" I drag my feet out the front door. I'm spotted and take off running. I lose them in the woods by the pond. Two black swans float by and I wade in after them. They honk welcome to their beautiful new friend.
"Pick me!" I yearn to scream as they enter our unpretentious quarters. Crammed shoulder to shoulder, there're so many of us, I'll never get chosen. Besides, they always want the little ones, they're easier. I stand, hidden in the back with the forgotten. I'm older, nobody understands me. Pages tattered, I wait on the shelf.
Highlands Ranch, Colorado
Living the dream
"You're having trouble sleeping?"
"I keep having variations on the same disturbing dream every night."
"What's it about?"
"Good and evil. Right and wrong. The world is about to end. Only one person can save it, but it's different people. At the end, they always tell me their names, and that they approve this message."