This year we kept it simple, just like submitters kept it brief, and New Times staff members from different departments wrangled through the stacks of words that made up the last year’s worth of 55 Fiction entries. They corralled the chosen ones into a short pile meant for print in our 28th annual 55 Fiction issue. The judges were Proofreader Andrea Rooks, Owner Cindy Rucker, and Executive Assistant Giselle Griffin from New Times, and Sun Arts Editor Joe Payne, with our sister paper to the south. And if you disagree with the stories we picked, don’t blame us—blame the staff members who’ve parted ways with us since last year.
A Ghost Story
In the morning’s sensible sunlight Henry reluctantly but obediently searched the rose garden where last night Natalie swore she’d seen ethereal forms dancing menacingly. Of course Henry didn’t believe in ghosts and found no evidence of them. Natalie waited timidly on the veranda, pale and trembling. “Nothing,” Henry reported smugly to the long-dead Natalie.
It’s a dying morning, the kind where the sun can’t be bothered to show. I watch the captive. Still stretching to chase away a night of tortured reflection, he dons his uniform, his numbers and name visible: no need for personality in that place. Through the grill, I ask him for a Sausage McMuffin.
Cape Town, South Africa
She opened the bag. “Magnets from each city I visited, just like you asked,” he said. Little things he did like this made her happy. As he walked to the coffee machine she saw a receipt from the liquor store for six magnets. Time stamp: forty-six minutes ago. “We’re out of cream,” she said.
San Luis Obispo
From Here to Eternity
While driving my religiously fanatical mother to her doctor, I got an earful of hell and damnation.
“Why don’t you accept Jesus?” she asked.
“Just need a sign,” I scoffed.
We immediately passed a billboard for Bacardi that simply said, “WE HAVE PROOF.”
I pull over and accepted Christ. After all, it was a sign.
Can You Hear Me Now?
Wet and sandy, he grabbed his phone off his beach towel. A message from his pregnant wife: “Urgent! Call!” But no bars! He jogged to the pier, to the sidewalk, across the street: Nothing! There’s an AT&T store! He ran in.
“Help! No connection!”
The salesperson looked at his feet. “Sorry. No shoes, no service.”
She threw the first punch. The boy’s nose began to bleed, and other kids began to cheer. Her surge of energy was surreal and frightening. He had it coming, didn’t he? The sense of accomplishment was fulfilling. She opened her eyes. Nothing changed. Nothing ever would.
Rotating Red Lights
Red lights, two figures standing in the doorway, one with hands on hips, the other holding a paper.
“Mister and Misses Villa? We must inform you there’s been an accident involving your son, Noel.”
Mom frightened, “What happened?”
“Here’s the police report number, who to call.”
Dad dialed; Mom listened. The phone picked up.
Finally: the mansion, the pool, the acreage overlooking Lake Champlain. The money had been secured slowly, to avoid suspicion.
At last, a beautiful woman took an interest. She combed over the property, then him, then frowned.
“Oh no,” he said. “Please tell me you’re not one of those gold-digging types.”
“Worse,” she replied. “IRS.”
Crows on a Wire
They were out there every day gossiping about the neighbors. They had insulting nicknames for almost everybody, even children and the disabled. The only people unscathed by their scorn were bicyclist whom they found hilarious.
“Look at those klutzes trying to fly!” they cackled gleefully.
San Luis Obispo
Love of the Game
The referee’s whistle pierced through arguing players and a screaming crowd, bringing everyone’s attention to a raised red card at centerfield.
Martin stared forward, knowing the paramount importance of the next few seconds.
As he raised his pint to his lips, he prayed he had bet on the right team.
“Good evening,” he had nodded. He was handsome, rugged. Maybe he was a bit old for me, but being noticed felt good. The cashier handed me my receipt. I walked out, my palms sweating. He was still there. Our eyes met. I smiled. He opened his mouth.
“Excuse me ma’am, can you spare any change?”
Uncle Paul Marries Mom
Mother married Paul, formerly Uncle Paul, when I was 11. They rode off to Vegas in his hot red convertible. Before that, men moved in and out of the house like the wind, blowing in laughing and loud, then suddenly disappearing, leaving an empty breeze. Waiting at Grandma’s, we wondered if they’d come back.
She absently rubs her bulging belly, staring at gunmetal thunderclouds. The expiratory light makes a perfect sunset of blue and pink cloud swirl, a fifty-fifty guess, boy or girl. The reveal party is tomorrow. She doesn’t have the strength to tell her family about this third option, not yet, not with a storm approaching.
The New Arrival
The way he looked at her made my heart sink.
The way he held her made my jealousy flare.
How could this girl steal his attention from me so easily?
Why does everyone flock to her?
She’s loud and usually stinks.
“Don’t you want to see your new sister?” my father asked.
I hate her.
New Hope, Minn.
Pacing Back and Forth, Unsure, Not Knowing
It waited, sitting there with an impatience that ripped at her. The writing burned through the off-white crinkled envelope. Postmark: August 1945. She didn’t know what to expect. The writing wasn’t the same, or was it? Fear and nausea gripped her heart. She ripped it open and began to cry.
“I’m coming home my love.”
She Wishes it was Different
Three sets of locked doors, a nurses’ station, and roommates. Random screams puncture the night. Her only visitors are five cigarettes doled out each day. This is her forever home. Meds dispensed, doctors visit, but nothing changes. A life sentence: schizophrenia. “I’m really a very good person,” she says to everyone and to no one.
There’s Gonna Be A Lot of Crying
On Monday, Colleen called. “Mom has a brain tumor.” Her mom is my only sister, Jan. Three years older than me. We finally became best friends in our sixties. And now this.
On Tuesday, Colleen called again. “It’s cancer. Gliobastoma. Very aggressive.”
On Wednesday, I went to Sephora. Bought waterproof eyeliner.