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 traditionâ€”not so longstanding, but a tradition nonethelessâ€”of raiding New Times each year and printing the work from those writers, especially when those writers are locals.
This yearâ€”New Timesâ€™ 20th annual 55 Fiction contestâ€”saw winners from Santa Maria and Lompoc. Throughout 2005 and 2006, we also received entries from around the worldâ€”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 surpriseâ€”and after reading page after page of attempts at surprise endings, thatâ€™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 yearâ€™s contest. Then, use this weekâ€™s issue as a fuse for your Fourth of July bottle rockets or something. Weâ€™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.
â€” 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 goodâ€”or weirdâ€”to keep to ourselves.
David made a deal with the Devil.
He hadnâ€™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?
Graceâ€™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 werenâ€™t laughing.
We ran that kid right out of town. âˆ†
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.
Cedar Rapids, Iowa
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. â€œÂ¯Telefono?â€?
â€œMusica!â€? Steven yelped, and kept dancing that crazy step until Mr. Wilcox answered.
R. S. Steinberg
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 pedestrianâ€™s shoe.
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 wasnâ€™t me He was after.
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. Itâ€™s a virus, a virus of life. Soon, John would get stronger, meaner, hungrier, and hairier. But puberty happens to everyone eventually.
A View from the Hill
Momâ€™s furious. Two hundred bucks for forehead stitches. I broke our bucket, too.
â€œBe more like Jill. Sheâ€™s careful and listens!â€?
I hate my sisterâ€”the evil, little doppelganger.
Iâ€™m glad her knees are scabby and she got mud on her dress.
Sheâ€™s never a mess, but she is today.
The little witch pushed me.
In Defense of Ahabs
â€œThere is no white whale,â€? the mate says. Huddled behind, crewmen nod. Waves rock the moonlit freighter.
â€œGet the harpoons!â€? the captain says, pistol drawn.
â€œWhat harpoons? Itâ€™s 2006. This is a freighter.â€?
â€œLook!â€? the captain says.
From the ocean blackness, a pale titan breaches, puffs mist, sinks.
The mate says, â€œIâ€™ll get the harpoons.â€?
Where the Grass Grows Greener
â€œHi. Is this Rose Medvard?â€?
â€œThis is Gladys Greyborn, Howie Greybornâ€™s wife.â€?
â€œWife? I didnâ€™t â€¦ â€?
â€œHowie committed suicide last night and left a note with your name on it.â€?
â€œA note. To me?â€?
â€œWould you like me to read it to you?â€?
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, â€œArenâ€™t they gorgeous?â€?
The woman studied the mountains carefully.
â€œTheyâ€™re quite pretty, dear, but the they sure get in the way of the view.â€?
A Meeting in the Woods
Pursuing his arrogant agenda, he announces, â€œComing through!â€?
Her recognizable, colorful response: â€œPlease donâ€™t touch me.â€?
Disrespectfully imposing himself, entanglement occurs.
Still, he is graceful: â€œI grow here. Go around.â€?
Itching with frustration: â€œYou bitch! You are immensely irritating!â€?
Poison oak: â€œIf politely declaring my boundaries is being a bitch to you, so be it.â€?
Michele Oksen Morris
All in the Family
After the day was through, I was feeling blue. Wasnâ€™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.
â€œYeah?â€? I answered.
â€œWelcome to the mob.â€?
Her Motherâ€™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 heâ€™s a lawyer. Makes big moneyâ€”Iâ€™m near broke.
Donâ€™t forget to bring two roses to the cemetery Sunday. Daddyâ€™ll want his, and Billy, too.
Orange County Penitentiary
Stephanie N. Kurtz
Life Lesson with 12 Herbs and Spices
â€œYuck, Daddy,â€? young Nathan grimaced at the penguin movie he was watching. â€œThat seal ate that penguin.â€?
â€œThatâ€™s nature, son. Animals catch and eat other animals.â€?
â€œIâ€™m glad we never do that.â€?
â€œOh no. The Colonel does it for us.â€?
â€œHuh?â€? Nathan replied.
â€œNever mind,â€? sighed Dad. â€œJust eat your chicken and watch the movie.â€?
â€œOur daughter sleeps around,â€? she said.
â€œThe garage roof leaks,â€? he said.
â€œI read her diary. She does drugs. She sleeps around.â€?
â€œHow can I afford a new roof?â€?
â€œShe might have AIDS. She sleeps around.â€?
â€œA new roofâ€”that will cost at least $1,500!â€?
â€œA damn she new sleeps roof around,â€? they said.
Falls Church, Va.
Heâ€™d called for months.
This time, he screamed, â€œIâ€™m gonna kill you for leaving me!â€? 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.
Death by Diary
Screams echoed throughout the neighborhood. Plates were thrown in exchange for harsh words. The sixth time that week, Allison couldnâ€™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.
Youâ€™ve Got to Be Kidding Me
Geritol. Metamucil. Naw.
Pharmacist looks up. â€œHelp you?â€?
â€œCondoms,â€? he coughs.
â€œNo need for embarrassment, son.â€?
â€œNever needed these before, but thingsâ€™re getting serious. Her mother invited me to dinner. Tonight.â€?
This is it.
Front door opens.
â€œYes?â€? says the pharmacist.
William B. Naylor
I had to have these two charms, in spite of my meager budget. Inexplicably, I couldnâ€™t choose between them.
Reading the code on each price tag, the saleswoman smiled.
â€œThey came from the same bracelet. It was part of a deceased estate.â€?
Till death us do part, I thought, and sometimes not even then.
Amanda May Russell
Somewhere in the fields of Kansas, she suddenly said, â€œStop the car.â€?
â€œJust stop the car.â€?
He got out. The air was like an oven. Through the windshield, he could see her, sobbing into her hand, silently.
â€œSo,â€? he thought. â€œThatâ€™s it.â€?
On every side, the fields stretched on, flat and boring as plates.