It doesn't sound like much, but writers can do a lot with 55 words. They can kill someone, love someone, and surprise someone. And this year, yes, people from around the world submitted stories about the Trump administration, discrimination, and COVID-19. Some were cheesy, some were mushy, and some were dark. But only a select few wrote stories 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 three-decades strong. Our 2020 judges include Associate Editor Andrea Rooks and Senior Staff Writer Glen Starkey. So get ready for tales with surprise endings, lots of laughs, and a death or two.
Let's say it straight: Though he had the gun, the money, the property, the armor, the helicopter, the restraints, the sneer, the cuffs, the badge, and the public, he was the one terrified of me. No small wonder, this perverse power (force of history) that keeps getting me killed: Hands up, and they still shoot.
"Did you see his tweet?"
"I didn't read it."
"It was labeled inaccurate."
"I thought Twitter's mission was to ' ... give people power to share ideas and info without barriers.'"
"Apparently there is a barrier—a filter."
"Twitter—the arbiter of truth?"
"You prefer Trump's truth?"
"God is the only source of truth."
We Do The Best We Can
"How long have you two been married?"
"We've been together for several years, but we're not married. We've each had a couple of previous disastrous marriages."
"So you're living together in sin?"
"No, we live apart. But, when we have time, we try to live apart together as sinfully as possible."
I love space. It's so vast, so unique. I've never seen anything like it. Some people say I'm weird and I spend too much time thinking about it, but I think they're crazy. How can you not love it? Galaxies are so amazing, too, especially the Samsung Galaxy S10e ... it has the perfect space bar.
We're All Tourists Here
The attorney shuffled the leaf of papers together.
"Alright, Mr. Cabot. We're set here. We've taken care of all of your final wishes."
Cabot stared at the veins beneath the wrinkled skin of his hands.
"You forgot the headstone," he said.
"Of course," the attorney replied. "What should it read?"
San Luis Obispo
Love in the Time of Corona
The apple falls from her hand, bounces, rolls, and stops in front of my shopping cart. "This would have been my chance to hit on her," I think. I look up. Eyes so beautiful they could tame lightning. But our masked smiles speak caution. We go in different directions. That's the loving thing to do.
Walking down trail.
Horrendous gunfire from left.
Crawling, firing, to get out of line of fire.
RPG explosion, medivac down.
Perimeter set up, best friend killed from friendly fire.
Darkness, wounded moaning, praying, Lord speed daylight.
Finally morning, medivac for dead and wounded.
Saddle-up, press on, 286 days left in the 'Nam.
Coronavirus, Romeo and Juliet
Romeo: Did you drink my tea?
Juliet: I had some. Why do you ask?
Romeo: I have the coronavirus.
Juliet: Now we can die together.
Romeo: But I don't really have it.
Juliet: Now you do; you just drank my tea.
Jarien de Ham
Emme explained to her dad that she had never felt such despair. The president actually called the press "the enemy of the people." All she dreamed about, studied, worked for was to be a journalist. What could she do about this president? Her dad looked up from his paper and smiled. "Vote," he said.
A Matter of Principle
After waiting 30 minutes in line, Cynthia was about to enter.
"Sorry, masks are required."
"I know. ... I accidentally left mine at home."
"Can't let you in without one."
"I won't stay long. I have everything else, even gloves."
She started forward anyway.
"Ma'am! Stay back!"
Cynthia left. There were other masquerade balls.
San Luis Obispo
I am What I am
"You're a product of your culture," her father said. "Media is your messiah. You follow social fads, and adopt conflicted ideologies and incompatible lifestyles."
"Synchronous and synergetic," she said.
"Call it what you will, but it is impossible to be a vegan vampire."
San Luis Obispo
Chivalry is Dead
She waited ages for a knight on a white horse. At last, in the woods where she gathered oleander, he appeared. He escorted her home and drank her tea. As he lay dying, she murmured into the mare's blond mane, "I've longed for a good horse. Plus, I needed a sword. These woods are dangerous."
"Would you please repeat back to me what I've told you?"
"You've already told me several times."
"True. And you've told me several times that you understand. But, despite my asking, you have not repeated it back to me, even once."
"Sir, I speak six languages."
"Impressive! In how many of them do you listen?"
Missing the Joke
Dermatologist to note-taking assistant:
"Patient has a little Tinea Pedis."
Stifled grins. Adds for clarity, "Athlete's Foot."
Later, at home, wife asks:
"How was your skin check?"
Pulling out "Care Instructions":
"Doctor says I have a little (struggle to pronounce) ty-knee-uh pee-dis."
"Awe, Honey. It's not that small."
"Sorry Mrs. Smith, it won't happen again," she said entering the classroom tardily.
"Why are you always late to my class?"
"I had to go see my doctor and always have a doctor's note."
"She's so lucky," another student whispered.
"And why do you think she's lucky?" replied Mrs. Smith.
"Her sister's a doctor."
I Want To Be
As I age, I become more angry inside. I don't want to be that way.
I want to be like the lady who resides at the nursing home. One side of her is paralyzed, so she sits in a wheelchair. Unable to speak when I help her, she throws me kisses.
She makes my day.
Monster Under the Bed
This kid won't shut up. It's 3 a.m. I can't keep my three eyes open. I just want to sleep, but nooooo, apparently the kid's never been tired in his life. How would you like it if I jumped on your bed when you were trying to sleep? That's what I thought, jackass. Shut up.
Glen Ellyn, Illinois
The Way to A Man's Heart ...
You said, is through his stomach:
So I fed him, Momma.
Through the cheating and the beatings,
The insults and the lies, ... I fed him
Thick steaks, cheeseburgers,
Onion rings and fries, ice cream,
Cookies, cakes, and pies, I fed him.
Doctor said she'd never seen
A man's heart explode like that!
They were watching him. Their eyes peeled his flesh away down to his marrow. Judging him. He knew there was nothing down there but rot and failure and shame, knew they could see it. All of it. All of him.
He stood. It was his turn.
"Hi, my name's Jon, and I'm an addict."
San Luis Obispo
Under the Pier
I've heard all sorts of things about what happens under there.
I've seen it in movies.
Read about it in books.
Pondered if any of it is true.
But right now, I just want it to be where my car keys landed when they fell out of my pocket on the pier a minute ago.
San Luis Obispo
Once May Be Enough
"No fair! Hers is bigger, Mommy!"
"No! His is!"
"How can both halves be bigger? Hand them over. Hmm ... this one may be ... let me just ... "
"Hey! You took a bite from mine!"
"Mmm, yummy! But now this other one's ... "
"Hey! That's mine! Stop!"
"Mmm! Delicious! But now this first one's a little bigger, so ... "