|Winners of the 2005 River Cities’ Reader Short-Fiction Contest|
|News/Features - Literature|
|Written by No Author|
|Tuesday, 26 April 2005 18:00|
Thanks to the dozens of area writers who continue to flood us with their really short stories. We received roughly 120 pieces in this year’s contest, and here present a dozen of the very best. Before we begin, though, an apology: To anybody who was confused about the contest rules, we screwed up.
The contest was intended to have a 200-word ceiling, but because one ad mistakenly listed the word limit as 250, we went with the higher limit.
In spite of this, all but one of the stories we selected for publication came in under 200 words.
Congratulations to the 12 authors we selected as winners and finalists in this year’s contest. Look for our fourth-annual edition next year!
One morning a cufflink on a dressing table was surprised to feel a sense of consciousness. Not only was it aware of its surroundings, but it also noticed its exact match sitting on the other side of a wristwatch.
“Hey, pal, can you hear me?” the cufflink tried to say. No words were spoken, however, because cufflinks can’t speak.
“Are you like me? Is your mind alive?” the cufflink wondered.
The second cufflink remained silent.
“If only you could be the partner that I so desperately need,” thought the first cufflink, “then my existence would be complete.”
“Since I have these thoughts, shouldn’t other cufflinks feel the same way? Why is that other cufflink treating me with such indifference?”
Time passed and the first cufflink’s feelings vacillated between frustration, disappointment, and anger. It stopped trying to reach out to its partner. It turned inward and became bitter and resentful.
Eventually, the first cufflink came to hate the second cufflink. It began to develop elaborate scenarios that involved the destruction of the second cufflink. It even tried to turn other objects against it.
The second cufflink just sat there – and wondered if the first cufflink’s mind was alive.
There’s one story I can tell in the time it takes me to peel an apple.
I was six and had caught a mouse in the garden behind the tomato plants. Caught it right out of Lillybell’s mouth, our tabby. She’s always catching things. Like a cat ought to, Momma said. She still says it. But I didn’t agree then, when I was only six. I’ve learned otherwise since, but I didn’t understand about cats yet.
No I didn’t, so I scooped up that tiny little mouse with the tickly soft pink hands and put it into my only shoebox that I hadn’t made into a dollhouse. They’re paws, I know that, but then I was calling them hands. So I had it in an old shoebox under my bed for three days until it died, and then hid the box in my closet because I didn’t want Momma to know or Lillybell to eat it.
But dead things smell, so Momma found out and threw it out with the compost. Now when Lillybell kills them out back I don’t do nothing, ’cause it’s more efficient that way, Momma says. That’s just what cats do.
Want an apple?
Every Time I Say Goodbye
The vet will be here in an hour.
I hobble to the barn to say goodbye to the old horse. I remember thinking on the day he was born – when he turns 20 I’d be 70. He’s 32.
I put on his halter, wipe his face with a damp towel, and, as I brush him, we review what a pain in the neck he’s been. His grandmother was a saint; his mother a dream; his brother a gentleman. They taught me how to say goodbye.
The last of his line, this one is my nemesis; smart, curious and full of himself. He looks like a fine Arab until you get to his big Morgan feet. They have been his undoing. Today he is quiet and I acknowledge pain in his eyes.
His euthanasia will be peaceful and incredibly swift, a quiet, resigned ending to a full life.
The vet arrives. He takes a vial of sodium pentathol and a tranquilizer from his truck, and I watch as he leads him slowly towards the big elm.
He doesn’t even notice as I reach into the truck and slip a vial into my pocket.
Entering the fruit section, the old man stopped, hands trembling.
Melon or tangerine? Which one? Which one had Moira wanted?
He scratched his head. Rocked on his heels. Passersby stopped, concerned. He waved them off with an angry hand.
Then, after several minutes, he smiled. He laughed. He pushed the cart forward.
Because he remembered.
Yes, he remembered.
Remembered that he just didn’t give a damn.
He bought bacon instead.
The Little Things
“You do realize it’s unnecessary to describe the intricate details of the human immune system to a four-year-old, right?”
Denise was giving him one of those looks. Mike pretended not to notice, instead offering a cheery “Hi babe” over his shoulder. He turned off the hot water and began drying dishes. He swung around to face her. She had assumed her standard mock-stern pose: crossed arms, furrowed brow, knowing smile.
“I wanted her to know why daddy was about to inflict horrible pain on her. So, I told her about germs and how if we didn’t get that splinter out of there, it might get infected. It was a tough little sucker, too.”
“Well, from the way she keeps washing her hands and changing her band-aid, you’d think she was OCD. Did daddy tell her she would get necrotizing fasciitis from her boo-boo?”
“No, he did not,” feigning wounded. “But you know I think there was a case that started like that.”
“Are you serious?” Her haughty put-on dissolved into genuine concern.
“Yeah, I think so.”
Denise sidled up to him, closer to the kitchen window. From there, she could see Jordan riding her tricycle in tight circles on the back patio. Even at a distance she could make out the bright yellow SpongeBob band-aid.
Mike watched his wife watch his daughter.
“You know,” he added. “I might be wrong about that. Maybe it was E. coli.” He hoped that would make it better.
He’s not coming back, she thought.
She watched the door, which he’d slammed behind him. He’d left hours ago. She hadn’t moved from the couch.
She thought of a dozen ways to welcome him home: fixing dinner, writing him a love letter, changing the linens and turning down the bed ... but those things seemed so contrived.
So she sat on the couch, fingers clenched around wet, disintegrating Kleenex. The sunlight seeped out of the room. She didn’t reach for the lamp.
She was an accountant, and often saw their relationship in columns of debits and credits. Debits: cranky mornings, erratic outbursts, hostile in-laws, that glass she threw.
And credits? Their silly pet-names (budley and tootles) and love of kung-fu movies. Their ugly cat, Spike, who disliked them both so much it was funny. That quiet, sure feeling she got sometimes when he looked over at her from across the table with kind eyes
He was a poet; he never thought in lists. She quickly added “my list-making tendencies” to debits. It was over, she panicked. More debits than credits. It all added up to irreconcilable differences. Our relationship is doomed.
But then the door opened.
Margaret E. Farrar
Part 1 – Purgatory
In a flash, he found himself on a beautiful pastoral plain preceding forestal mountains straight out of a Maxfield Parrish painting. He neither questioned the well-dressed man before him nor did he ask about the giant silver and gold vault standing at his side. His only thought: butler with an oversized pocket watch.
“Would you have what is in the vault,” the man in the tuxedo asked, “or what is next to it?” He gestured like a game-show host.
“What’s next to it?” the man asked. “I see nothing.”
After a moment’s thought, he spoke. “Well, I choose the vault.”
Suddenly the earth trembled and everything fell away like cards in a diorama except for the giant vault in a never-ending sea of white from horizon to horizon. No blue filled the sky. No mountains or flowered pastures. Nothing but the vault and white.
The well-dressed man, his tux, too, white now, turned and walked away.
The man kept walking.
Still he walked.
“How do you open it?”
The man turned in the distance, chuckled, and replied, “You only wanted the vault.” Then he turned and disappeared into the distance.
He awoke from a dream and read aloud the name “Jane” tattooed on his arm 30 years ago following a rollicking night of laughter and lustful passion. Hearing her name she nuzzled closer and the clock rolled back.
“This is ridiculous,” she said to the uniformed guard.
“Please put your handbag on the conveyor belt,” he replied.
She put her hands on her hips. “Do I look like I’m carrying a bomb?”
The guard said, for the hundredth time that morning, “Your cooperation contributes to the War on Terror.” He stood silently until she deposited her handbag on the moving belt.
He asked, “Do you have any metal objects on your person?”
She groaned. “What are you going to do, frisk me?”
“Ma’am, I’m sure the people behind you would appreciate your cooperation.”
She turned around. A half-dozen people were glaring at her. A man said, “Lady, nobody likes it. Just do it.”
“When will this end?” she muttered, tearing the copper bracelet off her wrist. She slapped it into a plastic basket, and the guard sent it through the X-ray machine.
“Now step through the metal detector, please.” he said.
She sighed and walked through. No alarms went off.
“Have a good day,” the guard said. “There’s a half-price special on margarine over in the dairy aisle.”
Frank Mullen III
College football has never interested me. But when my girlfriend asked me to keep her company in the press booth during today’s game, I didn’t make her wait to hear me say yes.
Shaded from the afternoon sun, she scribbles notes on a yellow pad, the kind with the spiral wire binding at the top. We’re sitting at a window overlooking the field. She leans forward, intent on the game. I lean back.
Two guys announcing the game for the campus television station in the next room begin to yell everything. The crowd cheers. Our tailback has the ball and he’s running. They shout numbers, starting at 50, counting backwards in fives.
Following the players on the field, her neck extends. Her ass hovers over the chair, legs becoming vertical. I lean back further.
Word from the next room is that no one is going to catch this guy. They’re in the 20s now.
She bends at the waist, getting closer to the window. She’s up on her tiptoes.
The crowd erupts. I smile. According to the guys in the next room, we’ve scored.
Mark William Szemkus
Paid in Full
She should have seen it coming but she hadn’t – the notice from the family lawyer stating that Richard had filed for divorce and had already set the terms of settlement. Now she realized why he insisted that his name only be on deeds and accounts. It wasn’t his desire to relieve her of worry as he said, but rather a method of control. She had been granted a small house, a bare-bones portfolio, and an envelope addressed to her.
She pulled the envelope open and unfolded a sheet of paper. “Susan,” she read, “In appreciation for years of sanctimonious decorum, frugal housekeeping, and lack of fire in our personal life, I want to compensate you in full. Richard.” A dollar bill was taped to the note.
She left the law office. Stopping at a gas station, she impulsively bought a lottery ticket using the dollar that Richard had given her. Richard had been vehement about not buying tickets – gambling was a waste. She looked at the numbers, put the ticket in her billfold, and gave the numbers no more thought ’til she saw them posted as winning numbers on the evening news that weekend.
The crowds were eager and excitable as we faced off. Tension and heat connected us. Two crowds became one. The effect was deafening. Our voices and signs fought for the air. The crowd was everything.
Everything faded when I saw Protest Girl. She stood out amid chaos. She danced with friends. She sang dissent. Her sign, wittier than my own, bounced to the beat. Her face glowed under a blue bandanna. Everything revolved around her.
I imagined being her friend; her smile directed at me. Holding hands. Dancing … . As I daydreamed, the crowds began to shift.
Protest Girl’s dance moved. My mind buzzed as she neared. I put myself into her path. The noise of the crowd returned. The roar was everything. I was together with Protest Girl.
Spit landed on her cheek. Her eyes widened in horror. Shock took her voice. Her sign dropped. Her feet stopped. She no longer stood out.
The crowd enveloped me. It was just a crowd. The crowd was everything.
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