The short and the short of it

The great American mini-novels are back again



New Times has a longstanding tradition of finding new and interesting writers. Writers who craft clever stories. Writers who get to the heart of their subject matter. Writers who are long on wit, but not on words.
The Sun has a tradition—not so longstanding, but a tradition nonetheless—of raiding New Times each year and printing the work from those writers, especially when those writers are locals.
This year—New Times’ 20th annual 55 Fiction contest—saw winners from Santa Maria and Lompoc. Throughout 2005 and 2006, we also received entries from around the world—literally. Some were bizarre. Some were confusing. Some were unintelligible. Some were downright scary.
But a few made us laugh or raise our eyebrows in surprise—and after reading page after page of attempts at surprise endings, that’s saying something.
After weeks of poring over pages and counting, counting, counting, we narrowed the field down to a handful of the obvious contenders. These are stories that had a grain or two of that X factor, that je ne sais quoi that sets them apart from the rest of the pile. Here they are, presented for your reading pleasure.
Disagree? Think you could do better? Well, put your pencil where your mouth is and dash off a submission to us for next year’s contest. Then, use this week’s issue as a fuse for your Fourth of July bottle rockets or something. We’re not forcing you to read it.
Just one note: Be sure to follow all the rules. We had to disqualify some real gems this year because they clocked in at 56 words.
— Executive Editor Ryan Miller


Spotlight on Morro Bay
One author in particular received high marks from everyone who sorted through the hundreds upon hundreds of entries. R. K. Meier of Morro Bay submitted several short stories, and we thought that they were too good—or weird—to keep to ourselves.

Canis Diabolus
David made a deal with the Devil.
He hadn’t meant to do it: If the Devil had come to David looking like the Devil should, David might have resisted.
But when the Devil appeared, he manifested as a Boston terrier wearing a mauve top hat.
And who could resist a dog in a silly hat?

The Favor
Grace’s price was $250; she rarely made exceptions. But for Stephen, $170 would do, as it was all he had, and since it was his first time, and because he asked so sweetly.
Stephen thanked her, and handed Grace the sweaty bills. She counted them, thinking money is money.
But to Stephen, it meant everything.

Dark Days in Derwinshire
Jody foretold that a great plague would be visited upon Derwinshire.
We scoffed at his prophecy. Who was Jody Plunkett but some myopic punk in secondhand clothes?
When we awoke one Monday to find sour Bing cherries falling from the sky like rain, we weren’t laughing.
We ran that kid right out of town. ∆

Our Ritual

My mother poured my usual bowl of frosted flakes, adding milk and a sliced banana. She placed my breakfast, with a glass of chocolate milk, at my seat at the kitchen table. Sitting adjacent, my mother turned on our morning TV show and waited for me to come down. Unfortunately, I passed away years ago.

Kari Kolsrud
Cedar Rapids, Iowa

Fancy Footwork
A rebel barricade stopped their tour bus in the mountains. The masked leader shot the driver who tried to radio; they let Amy keep her iPod.
Hands-free, Steven dialed her father at the embassy.
The leader brandished his machine gun. “¯Telefono?�
“Musica!� Steven yelped, and kept dancing that crazy step until Mr. Wilcox answered.

R. S. Steinberg
Cambridge, Mass.

Season of Love
They bumped into each other on a busy summer sidewalk. One was a woodworker, the other a soldier.
Without speaking, they sensed an immediate connection to one another. But could they ever be eternal soul mates?
The answer came suddenly when the last thing they felt was the bottom of the oblivious pedestrian’s shoe.

Dennis Witkowski
Santa Maria

The Truth of the Matter
We all met in a bar one night.
We drank. We talked. We laughed.
Then Harold and I danced, as He sat and watched.
He seemed so interested in me, watching my every move.
We sat back down; He bought us a round of drinks.
By morning, I realized it wasn’t me He was after.

Ashley Kraemer
Hartland, Wis.

Hungry Like a Wolf
 As he stepped through the door, the clock struck twelve. The change was setting in. A full moon tonight meant wreckage tomorrow, and there was nothing he could do to stop it. It’s a virus, a virus of life. Soon, John would get stronger, meaner, hungrier, and hairier. But puberty happens to everyone eventually.

Kevin Bersch
Pewaukee, Wis.

A View from the Hill
Mom’s furious. Two hundred bucks for forehead stitches. I broke our bucket, too.
“Be more like Jill. She’s careful and listens!�
I hate my sister—the evil, little doppelganger.
I’m glad her knees are scabby and she got mud on her dress.
She’s never a mess, but she is today.
The little witch pushed me.

Scott Bohlender

In Defense of Ahabs

“There is no white whale,� the mate says. Huddled behind, crewmen nod. Waves rock the moonlit freighter.
“Get the harpoons!� the captain says, pistol drawn.
“What harpoons? It’s 2006. This is a freighter.�
“Look!� the captain says.
From the ocean blackness, a pale titan breaches, puffs mist, sinks.
The mate says, “I’ll get the harpoons.�

Collin Grabarek
Fairfax, Va.

Where the Grass Grows Greener
“Hi. Is this Rose Medvard?�
“This is Gladys Greyborn, Howie Greyborn’s wife.�
“Wife? I didn’t … �
“Howie committed suicide last night and left a note with your name on it.�
“A note. To me?�
“Would you like me to read it to you?�

Harvey Kasser
Mission Viejo

A Matter of Perspective
The old matriarch left her home on the Nebraska plains for the first time. The girl greeted her at the Denver airport. Standing together, facing the Colorado Rockies, the girl said, “Aren’t they gorgeous?�
The woman studied the mountains carefully.
“They’re quite pretty, dear, but the they sure get in the way of the view.�

Jennavieve Joshua
Bellingham, Wash.

A Meeting in the Woods
Pursuing his arrogant agenda, he announces, “Coming through!�
Her recognizable, colorful response: “Please don’t touch me.�
Disrespectfully imposing himself, entanglement occurs.
Still, he is graceful: “I grow here. Go around.�
Itching with frustration: “You bitch! You are immensely irritating!�
Poison oak: “If politely declaring my boundaries is being a bitch to you, so be it.�

Michele Oksen Morris

All in the Family
After the day was through, I was feeling blue. Wasn’t sure how it was going to turn out. Throughout tryouts, I thought I shot well. I rarely missed. But today was it, whether I was in or out. As I thought about my future, I got nervous.
“Yeah?� I answered.
“Welcome to the mob.�

Mike Johnsen
Hauppauge, N.Y.

Her Mother’s Daughter
I took your advice and got rid of Billy. He never was good for me, like you said. I met a new man, Mama, and he’s a lawyer. Makes big money—I’m near broke.
Don’t forget to bring two roses to the cemetery Sunday. Daddy’ll want his, and Billy, too.
Orange County Penitentiary

Stephanie N. Kurtz
Hartland, Wis.

Life Lesson with 12 Herbs and Spices
 â€œYuck, Daddy,â€? young Nathan grimaced at the penguin movie he was watching. “That seal ate that penguin.â€?
“That’s nature, son. Animals catch and eat other animals.�
“I’m glad we never do that.�
“Oh no. The Colonel does it for us.�
“Huh?� Nathan replied.
 â€œNever mind,â€? sighed Dad. “Just eat your chicken and watch the movie.â€?

Tim Studer
Burnham, Ill.

Parental Chat
“Our daughter sleeps around,� she said.
“The garage roof leaks,� he said.
“I read her diary. She does drugs. She sleeps around.�
“How can I afford a new roof?�
“She might have AIDS. She sleeps around.�
“A new roof—that will cost at least $1,500!�
“A damn she new sleeps roof around,� they said.

Dan Campbell
Falls Church, Va.

Merry Christmas
He’d called for months.
This time, he screamed, “I’m gonna kill you for leaving me!� She was alone. He was coming. She locked the windows and barred the doors. The police would be too late. She lit the fireplace. Waited. Shivered. No one came.
Finally, sirens arrived. They found Nick.
He was in the chimney.

Anne Gentilucci
Los Osos

Death by Diary
Screams echoed throughout the neighborhood. Plates were thrown in exchange for harsh words. The sixth time that week, Allison couldn’t take it any more. Escaping to her bedroom, she left her mother to clean up the mess. In her diary, Allison wrote: I wish my mom would die. Considerately, the next day, her mother did.

Jackie Claure

You’ve Got to Be Kidding Me
Geritol. Metamucil. Naw.
Pharmacist looks up. “Help you?�
“Condoms,� he coughs.
“No need for embarrassment, son.�
“Never needed these before, but things’re getting serious. Her mother invited me to dinner. Tonight.�
This is it.
Knock, knock.
Front door opens.
“Yes?� says the pharmacist.

William B. Naylor
Sydney, Canada

I had to have these two charms, in spite of my meager budget. Inexplicably, I couldn’t choose between them.
Reading the code on each price tag, the saleswoman smiled.
“They came from the same bracelet. It was part of a deceased estate.�
Till death us do part, I thought, and sometimes not even then.

Amanda May Russell
Springwood, Australia

Wheat Fields
Somewhere in the fields of Kansas, she suddenly said, “Stop the car.�
“Just stop the car.�
He got out. The air was like an oven. Through the windshield, he could see her, sobbing into her hand, silently.
“So,� he thought. “That’s it.�
On every side, the fields stretched on, flat and boring as plates.

Michael Fiske


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