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55 Fiction: Keep it short, keep it sweet, and if it’s good enough, you’ll read it this week

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You can say a lot in 55 words. You can kill someone, love someone, or save someone. Tell stories about torture, divorce, or family drama. Make political statements. Riff on societal issues. 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 as far away as the Netherlands and as close as San Luis Obispo. Our 2018 judges include Proofreader Andrea Rooks, Senior Staff Writer Glen Starkey, Staff Writer Chris McGuinness, and Calendar Editor Caleb Wiseblood. So get ready for tales with surprise endings, lots of death, and a rabbit or two.

—Camillia Lanham

A Shot at Romance

Eye contact. She smiles. He signals the bartender.

"How about a refill?" he asks her. She moves to the stool alongside his.

"Sure. What's your name?" The bartender fills both shot glasses.

"John."

"Taylor?"

"Why, yes." She downs her drink, shoves some papers into his hand and heads toward the door.

"Consider yourself served, John."

Tom Corona

Los Osos

Penance

They left him there, bound in the snow. The cold feasted on him, devoured his warmth, made him a disciple of pain. He roared against the elements, against the gaping maw of nature, against his transgressions that put him there, against everything. Despite his bonds, he stood, and followed the tire tracks in the snow.

Kip Lorenzetti

San Luis Obispo

(untitled)

The crane's cable had snapped. The Chinese take-out's elegant new marquis lay completely destroyed on the sidewalk, its fall hardly cushioned by the body underneath. The investigator pulled a slip of paper from a broken fortune cookie lying next to the victim, "Watch for a sign from above."

Dan Gilmore

San Luis Obispo

ILLUSTRATION BY LENI LITONJUA
  • Illustration By Leni Litonjua

Frozen in Time

My family is a clock. My mother and father are the hands, crossing paths for only a second. My brother is the time, always changing. I'm the gears working hard to try and bring this family back together though I know this clock will be broken forever. For eternity.

Kalynn (age 10)

Templeton

Why Are You Telling Me?

I'm deaf, but I can still imagine and dream. I can hear nothing, but there's a crowd in my head. Words, thoughts, and dreams keep replaying in my mind. I'm only 5. I've always made the best of it, but I just want to hear my parents say, "I love you."

Emily (age 11)

Templeton

A Period of Inactivity

"Your palm, the cards, and your astrological chart, with progressions and transits, are all very consistent. I see a period of intense anger and denial, then, soon a prolonged period of ... inactivity. I see a funeral ... ."

"I'm not going to any funeral!"

"You'll definitely be at this one. I'll need payment in cash today."

Steve Recchia

Reno, Nev.

ILLUSTRATION BY LENI LITONJUA
  • Illustration By Leni Litonjua

Story Time

"Tell us the story again!"

"Yeah, yeah!" the young'uns chanted.

"He got tired, I kept goin', slow and steady wins—"

"No, the real story! Please, Grandpa!"

The elder sighed. His scaly beak curved into a smile: "That dumb ol' rabbit didn't know that I cut through the racetrack!" The reptiles exploded with laughter.

Collin Shen

Atherton, Calif.

My Gucci Bag

He's filthy. Baggy clothes. Mismatched shoes. Unkempt hair. He's black. I watch as the clerks eye him suspiciously. Customers veer around him. He strolls the aisle seemingly oblivious to their scrutiny. The front clerk calls for assistance. As the pimply assistant manager bravely walks toward him, I slip the bottle of perfume into my purse.

Ellen Morrison

San Luis Obispo

To Save the World

"Daddy?"

"Yes?"

"Why is the world so evil?"

Daddy's brow furrowed with concentration as he buttoned his son's jacket, all the way to the top.

"Because it is a fallen world, condemned by God."

"But I will be saved?"

"Yes. You will see paradise. Now, remember: Let him get close before you press the button."

Sean R. Shealy

San Luis Obispo

ILLUSTRATION BY LENI LITONJUA
  • Illustration By Leni Litonjua

Drive or Die!

All I want to do is get home, and this jerk is creeping along in the dark in front of me. As I near my house, I swerve left and scream past the startled idiot. I flip "the bird" for good measure, and I glimpse the driver's shocked and familiar face.

Oops! Sorry, Mom!

Linda McClellan

Whittier, Calif.

(untitled)

He was drunk again and calling from jail. He directed her to his secret stash of cash. Fumbling, she found the wad of envelopes. It was then she noticed the lacy script of another woman. Love letters. Dozens.

The money would more than cover her ticket to Los Angeles. She packed immediately.

Ana-Lisa Siemsen-McQUaide

Burbank, Calif.

Midnight

Who is that woman staring at me?

Her pasty face is disgusting; it sags like a melting marshmallow.

Her eyes are rabbit pink.

Her hair is a faded striped awning.

Oh God. There's an old man behind her.

"Come back to bed," he says.

He touches my arm and I follow him.

Dana Istre

Lompoc

(untitled)

Drifting in surf off the sand spit, I felt peace, connection, the movement of the swells. Without warning, I was rocked by an explosion of pain, ripping flesh, an unnatural force heaving me through the water. I blacked out. When I regained consciousness, I lay on a deck. I writhed, flailed, gills sucking air.

Geoffrey Land

San Luis Obispo

IBS

ILLUSTRATION BY LENI LITONJUA
  • Illustration By Leni Litonjua

The elevator stopped.

I'm trapped. My stomach hurts. Bad. Can it wait? No! I have to go. NOW! Crap.

Literally. What a disgusting mess.

Then, the elevator started moving again. And opened on the next floor. The waiting crowd gasped.

"It was like this when I got in," I mumbled.

"And you stepped in anyway?"

Cassandra Ward

Los Osos

Unconscious Uncoupling

Unbuttoning his pants, he eased the tattered recliner back and scratched his ample belly. "Why would she ever leave ME?" he wondered, belching loudly, taking another swig. With tobacco stained fingers, he wadded up and tossed her letter, eyes already transfixed on the Married with Children rerun, her crumpled heart falling onto his dirty boots.

Mara Sanchez

Paso Robles

In the Wool

"Four weeks ago, you couldn't move your left side. Now you're walking again. These medications will decrease the risk of another stroke."

"I might need to have another stroke."

"Why?! You could become totally disabled!"

"Because now I lean to the left when I walk. I'm a conservative. I want to lean to the right."

Steve Recchia

Reno, Nev.

A New Lease

In my haze, I hear ... monitors beeping?

I smell ... antiseptic?

I sense pain across my chest, and involuntarily, I whimper.

A warm hand caresses my face.

"Shh-shh-shh!" a nurse whispers. "You're going to be OK! It was benign."

I feel ... ecstatic.

Linda McClellan

Whittier, Calif.

Father's Day

His gnarled trucker's hand drops the fork, trying to feed himself.

Clanging pans mingle with antiseptic smells of the cafeteria. Reaching over, I wipe his chin.

"You will come again, Son?" rheumy eyes welling.

"We'll see, Dad. We'll see."

The lump in my throat is painful. I climb into my rig.

Anna Salazar

Lompoc

After the Breviary of Renaud and Marguerite de Bar, Metz ca. 1302-1305. - ILLUSTRATION BY LENI LITONJUA
  • Illustration By Leni Litonjua
  • After the Breviary of Renaud and Marguerite de Bar, Metz ca. 1302-1305.

Human-Tested Product

Blood stained the tile scarlet. Men wandered, their hair matted and red. Glass walled them in. A tide of chemicals enveloped the people, burning their flesh and ripping anguished screams from their lips.

"Experiment 401 complete," sounded a clinical voice. Standing over the table was a white rabbit in a lab coat.

"Please dispose contents."

Emily Niebuhr

San Luis Obispo

Confessions

They sought refuge from the sweltering heat under a tree. The two teenagers ate their shaved ice, hers cherry and his blue raspberry. Across the horizon was a setting sun, compelling the two to say what they've bottled up for years. Three, two, one. In unison.

"I'm studying abroad after senior year."

"I love you."

Charlene Collado

Santa Maria

Metamorphosis

The music danced in the air with me that night, wine inspiring my calloused feet. The basement dirt floor patted down from my nightly routine—wine, the mirror, the ... dress. Silk kissed my skin, so inviting, so sexy. Tonight "Jeremy" ends; tomorrow "Jessica" begins. I grabbed my disgusting manhood, and plugged in the saw.

Mallory Bissett

Glen Ellyn, Ill.

Arrival and Departure

The baby came through a vertical incision, a radical C-section. The mama couldn't walk for weeks and slept propped by pillows: her chest the baby's bed. They gazed out the window at verdant trees and nursed. The papa left two days after birth. She knew he would go, had already forgiven him. She sent photos.

Marni Lynn Ager

San Luis Obispo

(untitled)

Steve and I grew up together. It seems we were the only ones from the old neighborhood to survive. We were swimming upriver, trying to reach the place were we were born ... some big orgy or something.

Then, Steve says to me, "Dam!"

"What is it?" I asked.

"A big concrete wall blocking the river." Δ

Dan Gilmore

San Luis Obispo

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