It doesn't sound like much, but 55 words can cover a lot of ground. The shortest stories in the universe tie up loose ends, surprise people, kill people, and love people. This year's stories were cheesy, mushy, dark, funny, and sad—some talked about Trump, COVID-19, aliens, time travel, and God. But out of the hundreds and hundreds of stories that were submitted, only two handfuls of stories were good enough to get published! Each year, New Times and the Sun bring you the best reader-submitted stories for our annual 55 Fiction contest, which is now more than three decades strong. Our 2020 judges include Calendar Editor Caleb Wiseblood, Sun Staff Writer Malea Martin, Associate Editor Andrea Rooks, and Senior Staff Writer Glen Starkey. So get ready for tall tales, short turnarounds, and a laugh or two.
Grandma used to steal horses. She talks about it in her sleep. She cries when the men catch her and screams when they put the rope around her neck. Every night before she hangs, I wake her up. I hand her the crumpled photo of her childhood horse, Mija, and watch her escape them again.
Terek Cy Hopkins
Startled, heart racing, I glared angrily at the dark, diminutive beast. Its fiery red eyes flashing back at me. Its piercing, incessant screeches racking my every nerve.
But looks do not, in fact, kill. Unfolding my fist with a violent burst, I slapped the unwelcome intruder into a silenced submission.
Nine more minutes ... .
This just in: God cancels holy days
In an announcement this morning, son and spokesperson J. Christ said his family cannot support the ongoing racism and hatred parading around as patriotism within its supposedly "good Christian" client base, adding: "Easter is out, forget about Christmas, too, if you don't like it, feel free to go to hell."
Freedom's unattainable on Earth. James learned that in prison. The government tells us we're free, they feed us the illusion of an American dream ...
They lie. Bars can be invisible.
James slung blankets over razor wire, scaled the chain-link, and fell to muddy ground.
A shotgun cocked, a muzzle flashed.
Federal Correctional Institution
"You're yawning a lot."
"I had trouble sleeping last night."
"Did you try counting sheep?"
"No. I got up and read fantasy."
"Fantasy? Sorcerers, princesses, and magic potions?"
"No. That's way too realistic for me. This is about a couple with three teenagers. All five of them are extremely happy together, and they never argue."
It seemed like hard work but I needed the money.
The ad read: "$25 a cord for stacking wood."
I figured I could make a few hundred a day without too much effort.
"Neat stable stacks, 4-by-4-by-8 feet required," read the six-month contract.
The company name—Toothpicks Galore.
Goodnight rotten children who whine a lot.
Goodnight flooded toilet;
Goodnight missed girlfriend dates.
Goodnight grouchy husband who works way too late.
Goodnight barking dog,
Goodnight rotten cat (who just knocked over my water—thanks for that).
Goodnight Advil PM (and Tylenol, too).
Tonight I'm so thankful each day is new.
Palm to face
"I respect your medical judgement, doctor, but this isn't medical. Speaking as your financial advisor, don't do this. It's a Ponzi scheme. You'll lose everything."
"Thank you. Speaking as your physician, do get vaccinated. This is medical, not financial."
"Never! Any idiot knows COVID's a hoax!"
"True. Any idiot knows that. Don't be an idiot."
Panting breath. Muddy shoes. He ran and ran and ran.
Fear filled his eyes as the sweat dripping down his face seeped into his clothes, burning his skin with the dangers of what was yet to come.
"I can't get caught."
"Tag, you're it!" said 6-year-old Jake.
As Tom tightened his grip around his brother-in-law, he could see he was turning a nice shade of blue.
He hated him as long as he could remember.
Knowing he would not regret following through with it, his only worry was, would his sister forgive him?
He decided to do the Heimlich anyway.
Marie loved big cities. Even tonight, driving her drunk husband to the hotel after the party, she had fun.
Bright lights flashed in her mirror.
She pulled over, rolled down her window. "Officer, you can breathalyze me? Only my husband drank."
"I believe you ma'am. But here in Dubai, women don't drive, even sober."
Can I request substitutions?
"And what can I get for you?"
"That depends. Can I request substitutions?"
"Absolutely. We always welcome creative substitutions."
"Thanks. I'd like the lamb burger, but with basil pesto instead of garlic aioli. And coleslaw instead of fries."
"Certainly. Anything else?"
"Yes, please. Could you substitute the gentleman from the next table for my husband?"
She slumped on the couch, exhausted. "The doctor says it's growing fast."
"We're going to have to change some things," he said.
"I know. I've been putting it off."
"The kids have to be told. We should do it together."
"Yeah. But let's wait a week. Then we'll know for sure. Boy or girl."
Kansas City, Missouri
The child moved frantically. She hurried through her room, picking up her toys strewn across the floor.
"This will fix it," she thought, tears streaming down her cheeks. A glass crashed against a wall in the kitchen. A father roared and a mother screeched.
"I can fix this," she whispered. "I can fix this."
San Luis Obispo
Drenched from an illicit dip in a country club pool, in skivvies and cowboy boots, we strolled through 7-Eleven, tossing a packet of Ring Dings, calling each other babe. I was drunk, and he was bipolar. Apart we learned to hide it better. Lately I've craved a nosedive, but I remember the pavement
A deadly deed
She chooses her victims carefully before slaughtering those whose screams are inaudible in these silent fields. She smiles as she kills, peacefully humming as she strips them of their beauty. And at the sound of a dinner bell, she skips out of the field with the lifeless corpses resting in her woven basket.
Alien evidence littered our world, but never with lifeforms. Everyone feared the worst.
The monstrous spaceship's platform descended. Menacing organisms were standing as if their godly rite.
"How did they find us?" "What's their intention?" "Is this the end?" Collective breaths were held.
Finally, the apparent leader spoke. "Greetings from Earth! I'm King Elon Musk."
A final tea
Jenny ate with delicate bites. Chewing slowly and deliberately, keeping her mouth closed just as Ms. Wharton taught them at this wretched school. Leaving the tray out for the others, she retired to her room. The biscuit's flavor lingered, buttery and sweet. "Why," she thought, closing her eyes, "you can't taste the cyanide at all."
Just ask Grandma
"You haven't seen her for over a year. She's only 15, but looks 23. The dress she bought is all cleavage and thighs! She looks like she's on the prowl! Will you talk to her, Mom?"
"I asked your grandmother the same question about you 35 years ago."
"What'd she say?"
"Payback's a bitch. Bye."
Fighting fire with fire
He's become totally paranoid. Keeps saying there's a plot against him. ... Total madness ... I definitely had to get rid of him. I told him there was a conspiracy against me and it'd be unwise to keep in touch. ... That scared him off. Funnily, it got him thinking too ... I think he thinks I'm paranoid.