Less is more

Enjoy these small wonders from near and far



Each year, New Times and our sister newspaper Santa Maria Sun join in staging the celebration of brevity that is 55 Fiction. The papers’ founder, Steve Moss, invented the pointedly devilish contest years ago, inviting writers from around the Central Coast—and world!—to pen tidy little tales that wrap up in less than 56 words.

Four staff judges rated every entry by awarding individual points, regardless of author or location. The stories that ultimately earned the most points are what you see before you now. You’ll notice tales from neighborhoods next door and across the seas. You’ll even see some repeated names.

Love them? Use them as inspiration for your own entry into next year’s contest. Hate them? Craft a better story next year.

As with any judged contest, there will be agreements and disagreements, and we’ll surely get a note or two saying “My entry was better than all the stuff you printed!” Not to dissuade any such note senders, but might I make a suggestion? Pour that emotion into your writing. Then send the writing to us. The clock is already ticking for next year’s contest.

Contact Executive Editor Ryan Miller at


Pym’s Song

Sealed within a frigate hull, a glowing candle stump robs my oxygen. Currents rise and tumble. For company, the stench of my dog’s body. My trust in a liar buried me here. Above, they laugh heartily at my predicament. To this ruinous melody, I slide my painful bag of bones headlong into silent, thundering sleep.

Alaoui Youssef

Morro Bay


One Way to Deny Darwin

The venturesome amphibian slithered deliberately out of the ooze, as if to learn what evolution would make of him, and began to cross the highway. But his date was with an elderly evangelical speeding to church, all opposable thumbs behind the wheel, who didn’t hear the random crunch.

Scott Corngold

Avila Beach


The Voices in My Head

The voices weren’t bad in the beginning. They were soft, unintelligible. They grew worse over the years, screaming horrible things, threatening me, family members. My husband and the doctors were sympathetic, but couldn’t make them stop. Drugs left me numb to everything. Then one day, the voices stopped. The quadruplets had gone off to college.

Jeff Portney

Arroyo Grande


Five Open Books

75 feet up a vertical granite wall, one hand jammed into a crack to hold my weight, 10 numb toes pressed flat against a flake, beads of sweat make my grip tenuous and eyes sting. Movement captures my attention; a lizard scales the very wall I climb. And then the little creep starts doing pushups.

Mark Lodge

Los Osos



A man jumping from a skyscraper notices a beautiful girl jumping after him. “Why’d you jump?” he yells. “Because you didn’t look scared,” she screams back calmly. “How’s it working out so far?” And, about a second before he hits the ground, he smiles at her and answers “Well, it’s going good so far.”

Terek Hopkins



Death Rattle

The day was so clear, so still, so blindingly beautiful. It made perfect sense that this would be the day that her lungs would slowly fill with fluid in front of my eyes. Her rattle of death, volume blasting, pierced straight through my eardrums and down to my heart, shattering it.

Melissa M.

San Luis Obispo


Cadaver Clearinghouse Hotline

“Hello, Cadaver Clearinghouse Hotline.”

“You sent Yale Medical School the wrong cadaver. A student walked into the cadaver lab and there was his grandpa, laid open nuts-to-noggin.”

“Cadaver name?”


“Shit. He was supposed to go to Purdue. Sorry. How’s the kid?”

“Transferred to vet school.”

“Keep grandpa at Yale then?”

“Why not.”

Dan Stephens


Family Business

Move to the left. Now to the right. Careful. Okay. Now tilt it. Good. Now let’s do the next one.

It took seven laborious hours to get it right. Relocating a piece of furniture was one thing, but burying seven family members in the back woods was humorous. At least, the priest thought so.

Patricia Fields

New York, N.Y.


Progress and Poverty

The clothes hung on the line like prayer flags, blessed by the wind. Miranda and her sister frolicked through the hanging laundry. It was the backdrop of their imagination.

Their Mom saw it as a symbol for poverty. She bought a dryer so the clothes could be scorched discreetly. The girls never forgave her.

Gloria Wilson



Destroying Evidence

The teller’s boss stared at him with disapproval for a few seconds before okaying a fifth and final smoke break for the day.

This was the one that mattered, though, thought the teller, as he carefully wrapped the security code around his cheap tobacco and met his friends behind the bank.

He’d done his part.

Rob Meyerson

Shanghai, China


Making History

“Cut!! Same word agaaain.”

“Sorry, Stan. Acting’s hard.”

“Ladder scene. Take 23.”


“That’s ...”

“Cut! There’s a Coke can in the shot! … Somebody get that … sweep over your tracks.”

“Ladder scene. TAKE 24.”


“That’s one small step for man …”

“Cut! Neil, it’s a man! For a man! I give up! Use the first take.”

John S. Simpson

Florence, Ariz.


A Faulty Foundation Exposed


The word crawled dryly from the doctor’s throat. Nick knew its meaning.




It meant that he was crazy.

But his faith in God would protect him, as it had before. He had heard his Lord—the whisper of Jesus in his ear, shepherding him—guiding him always.

“Hallucinations,” explained the doctor.

Rob Meyerson

Shanghai, China


Lover’s Quarrel

“Well, do something,” I said.

“You do something,” came the reply.

“But I always do something, and frankly, tonight I’m tired. Why can’t you just this once take the lead?”

“I swear, when will you get it?” came the response. “And you call yourself a writer?”

I snapped back, “And you call yourself a keyboard?”

Erik Paul Rocklin

Phoenix, Ariz.


La Fortuna


On the sidewalk Marisella clutched tightly the winning lottery ticket, fervently thanking God.


Señor Enrique stepped forward, despairing.


Santiago, Chile (AP)—Police say that a suicide on Wednesday caused another death as well when a ruined investor jumped from the 12th floor of a building and landed on a cleaning woman below.

Marc McGinnes

Santa Barbara


Silent Witnesses

Nine cats lined Lillian’s windows, tails twitching.

All saw the murderous merchant bludgeon the blonde barber with his cricket stick, tucking the bloodied torso into his lady’s garden shed, slipping the necessary clippers from the intruder’s formerly white pocket, snipping all but one thumb into their empty bowls.

Paula C. Lowe

Arroyo Grande


Shop Talk

Like a crowded beauty shop.

Cover-up gowns hiding designer jeans, seated, waiting, magazines.

The warm patter of woman talk: new techniques, styles of scarves and hats.

Waiting for their turn.

“My daughter started crying.”

“Mine refused to let me drive her to school.”

Serious, silliness, while riding the fuzzy, bald-headed chemo train.

E. W. Crockett

Traverse City, Mich.


The War

It raged for years, little noticed by neighbors. One side had commanding power and was oblivious to the destruction wrought upon the other. The smaller army never lost hope, though their forces were ripped asunder regularly. The ant community could feel the earth tremble before each onslaught of the enemy mower’s blades.

Tom Harrington

Morro Bay


One more pull for the road

Louis sat hunched over in front of a slot machine at the casino across town. A half burned cigarette dangled haphazardly from her overtly red lipstick as she raised her skeleton arm to pull the lever. She squinted through her bifocals watching the number rolling into place. JACKPOT! Followed by MYOCARDIAL INFARCTION! Followed by death.

Brandyn R. West




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