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55 Fiction: Short, but not necessarily sweet, the winning tales for this year's annual mini-story contest are in

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ILLUSTRATION BY LENI LITONJUA
  • Illustration By Leni Litonjua

Each year, we take story submissions from across the country for our 55 Fiction contest. People send us miniature novels, short but not necessarily sweet. The briefest stories in the world weave tales about murder, loss, love, family, pets, pouting, and more. In 55 words or less, we get the characters, the tension, and the gist. This year, some of our authors are first-timers, some are seasoned 55 Fiction vets, some are locals, and some are from far-flung places. We received hundreds of submissions over the last year, and our judges at New Times narrowed the winners down to the following stories.

A promise is a promise

She was 50; he was 30.

Madly in love, they wed.

Just one vow: that he'd never leave her for a younger woman.

He was 50 when he came home, holding hands with 30-year-old handsome Harry.

Though heartbroken, she graciously wished them well, joking weakly, "You certainly kept your promise, darling."

Chris Risk

Orcutt

The price of liberty is often repentance

The police search resembled a band of roving toddlers. Wrong house, wrong guy, but he ended up in prison anyway. Noose-bound, his heart became wolfish. The lawyer worked at freedom while he planned escape.

Just as the sun burst across his face, the judge granted the pardon.

Probably shouldn't have killed that guard.

Steven Stone

Santa Maria

A very special wish

"Make a wish," my mother says.

I blow the candles hoping my wish comes true, and it does. A little puppy barks around my kitchen.

"Aww, you wished for a puppy," she speaks again.

"Close," I say. When the puppy picks up a pencil and starts doing my homework, I know my wish was granted.

Khadija El-Refaie

Pewaukee, Wisconsin

Heaven

Cindy and her older brother, 7-year-old Tommy, were learning about heaven in Sunday School. The teacher said that, in addition to good people, all loved animals go to heaven. Cindy started crying. "I don't want to go to heaven," she said. "Why not?" her teacher asked. Cindy pointed at Tommy. "Tommy loves dinosaurs!"

Renne Gardner

San Luis Obispo

Compensating

I had a new '66 Ford convertible, a full tank, 50 bucks, and a blonde beside me who said the miniature purple heart on my lapel was adorable ... every time she thought about the right arm I didn't have to put around her shoulder. But she liked handling my shift lever. You learn to compensate.

Peter Sheats

Lompoc

Senior voyeur

Old people lament that they are invisible. Like it's a bad thing. But not me. I love being invisible, eavesdropping on private conversations, spying on the neighbors, skulking around closed-door meetings. A ghost, a vapor, a very curious spirit. Taking in the youthful lives of others. This and Medicare. The perks of old age.

Jane Brechler

Morro Bay

TSA or AST (American School Trouble)

I urgently snatched my bags to give myself time for when I arrived. The line to get my bag checked snakes around the entrance. Five minutes remaining. The bags are checked and I pass through the metal detector. A man then pats me down. One minute left to make it to class on time.

Francesca Smith

Oconomowoc, Wisconsin

Unexpected call volume

Due to the same unexpected call volume we receive every single day, we are unable to take your call at this time. We'd like you to believe your call is very important to us. Please stay on the line until you realize it's not. Your call will be ignored in the order it was received.

Steve Recchia

Reno, Nevada

Ti-girl

It was the principal's idea. He was the one who sacrificed me to the tiger. Inside the body, it was scorching hot, and I could feel my face in flames. But it was worth it. The crowd roared as I clapped my paws together. It's game day, and I wouldn't rather be anywhere else.

Ella Piscatello

Northport, New York

The ring

"I don't want it!" The diamond in that engagement ring seemed so colorless and cold.

Everyone had gone except the gray-haired, formally-dressed man. "You're young," he said. I was sixteen. "You don't know what you want."

He slipped my mother's ring off her finger and dropped it into my hand just before closing her casket.

Sara Smith

Harvey, Louisiana

Break-in

The door creaked and groaned as it reluctantly swung open, as if it knew the horrors that awaited inside. The walls whispered eerie secrets to each other, their dusty surfaces seemingly alive. The floorboards yelled with each step, as if begging the intruder to leave before it was too late.

Noah Fohey

Hartland, Wisconsin

After the honeymoon

In dead silence, he drove to their new home. Just nerves, she thought.

After all, he's never lived with anyone before.

Nothing was said as the last suitcase was brought inside.

"Honey, what's wr ... who's this?"

Avoiding her gaze, he murmured to the small child, "Meet your new mommy."

"Not again! Daddy ... you promised."

S.M. Chon

San Luis Obispo

An American school

I sit in school, looking at the daily agenda for Spanish.

Lights off. Block the door. No moves. No noises. No phones. I tuck my head and anxiously stare at my Converse.

Footsteps. Another round. More footsteps.

The officer knocks. "You guys passed and can resume class now."

The drills aren't always drills anymore.

Katherine Thompson

Pewaukee, Wisconsin

Magnificent

Competitive juices flowing, I get right down to work. First word that springs to mind starts it. Knee jiggling nervously, I watch tiles methodically turning, some in my favor. I recklessly type again. As a sea of green unfolds, I hoot with delight, alerting my poor husband, stuck on five. "I got Wordle in two!"

S. Bernstein

Arroyo Grande

Cats

"Oh my god, you can talk!" I said to my cat. "How long could you do this for? Where do you go at night? Why do you bite me? What does a mouse taste like? Do you love me as much as I love you?"

I eagerly await his response.

"Can you feed me now?"

Christian Berry

Hartland, Wisconsin

The voice of wind

I see the cars below speed ahead. It's cold out in the dark of night, but no one will see me until it's too late. As I try to convince myself to go, a brush like wind says, "I got you" in my ear. Looking around, there is no one but me on the ledge.

Emily Biwer

Delafield, Wisconsin

Parole

Eighteen years. It was a long sentence, but she endured it all.

Her good behavior paid off. She'd be released tomorrow.

One stupid teenage mistake ... well, it's over now.

Barely 40, she still looked good.

She heard loud honking, then yelling.

"Hey mom! Dad's shouting to hurry your ass, we're gonna be late to graduation!"

S.M. Chon

San Luis Obispo

Untimely

The gondolier in black rows me across the dark river.

A family reunion awaits, a celebration of life filled with love and memories.

Cold waves crash over the bow, filling the boat, trying to drown me.

Everyone's waiting for me, missing me, but the Styx is unforgiving, and now I'm late to my own funeral.

Autumn White

Glendale Heights, Illinois

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