Short Fiction Winners Revealed

Thank you to everyone who participated in this year’s exercise and congratulations to the winner(s). You can read the stories by the selected winner, five runner-ups and ten honorable mentions below. Click here to listen to the podcast where we discuss and critique each piece but only after you’ve read all the stories, the show is full of spoilers. And you can read my entry here (it wasn’t eligible to win, thankfully, as it wasn’t nearly as good as many others).

 

Winner

The Genesis, by Chelsey Young

The door slammed shut behind him as he entered. It was quiet and dim, but the smell of fresh coffee was comforting. The ring of the silver bell that hung off the door handle didn’t attract any attention. They must have all been regulars.

“One large coffee, black please.” Boris responded to the old woman’s polite stare. And off she went to pour the freshly brewed coffee as the bell jingled again. Boris turned and saw a tall, well-built man enter. As the door closed behind him, the scent of stale tobacco and spicy after-shave filled the room, making Boris choke, bringing back memories of long fear-filled nights – he could almost see the bruises reappear on his arms.

“That will be two fifty-four, sir.” She pushed the coffee forward as Boris snapped back to reality and handed her a ten dollar bill.

“Keep the change,” he said and took his coffee to go find a table.

The ring of the door opening and closing soon became silent, lost in his head. Boris chose to do his work at the coffee shop as it seemed the most intimate place for modern people, the place where everybody exchanged thoughts, feelings, information. Quietly sitting on a worn black leather-covered seat, hidden in the dimly lit corner, he typed endlessly.

This feeling wasn’t really excitement, as he considered himself doing nothing but what was necessary, but he was elated. He was just doing what was right. He was simply taking the first step to show the truth to this country and everybody in it. Mainly the rulers, the people that were responsible for losing the truth and reality in the first place.

The process of coding went by a lot faster than he expected. With a chilled half empty coffee, Boris quickly put away his laptop and opened the door, hearing the bell ring again for a last time. He hailed a taxi and was on his way home.

As he rode in the old, ragged backseat, breathing in stale hot air, he ran through the thoughts that were cluttering his mind. He saw greatness as a descriptor saved for a very elite group. However, he believed that after what he had prepared today, he was deserving of the title. The great Boris Harkov. It rang well.

The taxi pulled up to his vintage apartment building. He handed the driver twenty dollars and shut the door slowly. He had nothing left to do now but finish writing the manual. A guide about how to operate after this greatness he had created would be exposed upon the world. The manual was a manifesto for the human race, a manifesto for society.

The stairs creaked, the same way they always had. The third floor empty, as always. Boris opened his door and entered his small, dark home. He didn’t bother to turn on any lights, just walked straight to the kitchen table, even disregarding taking off his shoes, something he had never done.

Epilogue. Now that you have read the manual, the guide to creating a successful society, go forth. I have done my part; I have created you a new blank slate. Some may see it as a disaster and just another problem to take care of. But it is not. It is a new beginning. Take my words, take my knowledge and create that which they have all been hiding from your sight.

For me, time is up. My purpose has been completed, I have passed the test. And I must go so as to leave you to learn that which I have known for years. Please do not disappoint and fall back into that which I have tried to save you from. Please forgive, forget, and build greatness.

Best of luck.

And with writing those final words, Boris placed the manifesto inside his secure briefcase for protection and walked to his room. The brightness of the moon now shone through his blinds, lighting the room as though it was daytime inside and night outside. The room was perfectly clean; nothing was out of place.

Boris stood next to the tidy, wrinkle-free bed and grabbed the twirled hangman’s sheet that laid on it. Next it was as though the moon had briefly grown brighter as if it was the sun while simultaneously the apartment became eclipsed in darkness. Nothing of significance existed any longer but a briefcase outside the door.

*****

Sunday, December 12th, 2009.

The New York Times: Hacker’s Virus Strikes Oil Pipeline Controls.

The Chicago Tribune: Mass Destruction as Pipelines Burst Causing Nuclear Plants Danger in Russia.

The London Times: UN Emergency Meeting to Take Place at 1 AM Monday for Russian Aid.

 

Runners-Up (in no particular order)

 

The Quest for Peace and Heavenly Virgins, by Laurie Lamson

More than anything else, Mikha’iil longed for peace.

Peace on the planet.

Peace in his community, among his neighbors.

Peace between his mother and father.

Peace between his younger brother, his older sister and himself. Peace in his growling-with-hunger stomach.

Peace in his perpetually agitated loins.

More than anything, he wanted to know the peace that seemed the most elusive: peace in his heart; peace in his soul.

When he saw the way his father spoke to his mother, with anger instead of love, sometimes just because she couldn’t spread what little food she could find far enough to fill him, it made him angry. Or knowing he could not touch his girlfriend below her hijab without threatening her family’s honor; when he read the news of all the chaos and injustice in the world, of all the upside down values promoted on American television, warping the minds of innocent children; when he saw the Godlessness of his enemies, it made it impossible not to feel rage burning inside his soul. It had a white-knuckled grip around his ribs and boiled from the pit of his stomach up to his ears.

And Mikha’iil knew he was not alone. It was an angry world that made peace impossible – that’s what made him so mad. How could his heart ever know peace in such a world?
But now everything was different. He had made a decision and it gave him a measure of calm if not actual peace. He could make a difference and be part of the solution – at least make a statement against all the injustice and poverty he and his family and friends were forced to accept as their lot in life, because of the greed and destructive nature of others. Clearly this was not the way God intended this world to be; it was what humans had made of it.

If there was one thing Mikha’iil was sure of, it was that God intended peace.
God had even prepared a special heaven for young men like himself – men who knew right from wrong. And he would be there soon. He could already see it. He saw the beautiful smiling faces of virgin women – pure, untainted by the ugliness of the world he was leaving, and full of love for him.

Mikha’iil felt a pinch across his ribs. As if tightening the tape around his chest could possibly quell the rage that had pulsed there so long. He took a deep breath and closed his eyes. Only the gentle touch of a brown-eyed doe as she removed his shoes and bathed his feet in milk; or the gaze of her sister as she performed a sacred dance; or her sultry cousin as she fed him ripe fruits, between honey-drenched kisses. Only they would help him to finally know peace.

He felt the jostle of the bus as it bounced over the unpaved roads and the tightness around his chest and waist bit into him. Not yet. Now was not the time. Mikha’iil was eager that his final moment should have maximum impact. That his anger should be completely burned out of him into a righteous act of God that would help him ascend to the highest and holiest of heavens, where he would be greeted as a hero by admiring beauties.

No matter how much discomfort he might feel as he bounced along, it was nothing to the suffering of his people. He would wait until he reached the city center.

It was close now. The road had smoothed and the noise outside the dirty bus windows was much louder. He was able to block it out with the sounds of the chanting of prayers of thanksgiving from the delicate throats of 700 pure-hearted, unsullied girls. Thanks and praises to Mikha’iil.

The sound was so sweet as he took his final breath and pulled the cord that would transform him into a gilded martyr and release him into their loving arms. With his last exhale he whispered, “Thanks and praises to Allah.”

But a strange thing: he no longer heard the chanting he had expected to grow louder as he ascended. The sound that now surrounded him was a mournful desperate wail. It was so anguished, he recoiled instinctively to shield himself from the pain, but it reverberated through him as if he were a gong.

Where was the bed of the softest down, the luxurious silken sheets, the sweetest fruits and sensual pleasures? Instead he found himself in a darkened room. He took small comfort in the realization that he was not alone, there were others sitting near him.

Close by was an angel radiating love while something like a holographic multi-dimensional movie began to play in front of him. It was a true-life horror of unprepared bodies being blown to bits, of shocked an agonizing pain, of mothers weeping over their lost children. His own mother desolate, his sister sobbing, even his brother wept quiet tears, their hearts broken, and he had broken them. He saw, and worse yet, he could feel a thousand hearts filled to overflow with wrenching sadness, and fear, and rage – because of him, because of his one action.

And he realized, though the angel now enfolded him in wings radiating its unconditional love, that he would not permit his own soul to know peace, not for a very long time.

 

Untitled, by Kenner McQuaid

By the time anyone reads this, I’ll presumably be dead. I’ve read that committing suicide without leaving a note adds to the profound sense of loss to the family and friends of the decedent. That’s why I’m writing this. My last requests are that this note be read in its entirety, as written, at my funeral and that my viewing be open casket as a testament to the high cost of mental illness.

I first remember feeling depressed in the fifth grade, when I was asked to move down a level in Little League because my athletic ability had begun to seriously lag behind that of my peers. I didn’t experience mere disappointment; I felt a profound emptiness that both burned and gnawed through my entire chest and gut after my dad sat me down at the kitchen table to tell me the news. I felt a deep sense of guilt and a loss of self-worth because of my perceived failure, which probably wasn’t unusual given I was raised Irish Catholic in Philadelphia.

I didn’t realize that this feeling of emptiness, complete inadequacy and guilt wasn’t typical. Except during my four years at the University of Iowa and the few years of post-college, relatively stress-free living I enjoyed, I’ve always felt this way. I’m 38 now. Twenty-eight years of fighting what Winston Churchill once referred to as “the black dog” gets old. It’s physically and emotionally draining. If you haven’t experienced it personally, you have no idea what I’m talking about. Consider yourself fortunate.

I was hit hardest by this demon called depression at a most inconvenient time: my 2L year of law school. I finished my 1L year with honors. By the time I graduated, my honors had turned into an overall GPA of 2.67. In the law, you are what your GPA says you are- and the managing partners of all but Philadelphia’s worst firms thought that I was a stone fucking idiot.

It was easy for me to dismiss the sleepless nights, racing thoughts and prognostications of utter doom in my own head as the confluence of my circumstances. I was taking 5 law classes. I was clerking 20 hours per week for a litigation boutique with an inventory of sophisticated cases. I spent more time sitting in traffic on I-95 and I-76 than a professional trucker. I was living on the couch in my parents’ basement to save money while classmates were living in Center City high-rises with skyline views. I dismissed my condition as stress. Who wouldn’t be stressed under such conditions? In my mind, anyone who wouldn’t be simply couldn’t be human.

I graduated from law school at 29. I didn’t even bother to attend the ceremony. The firm for which I was clerking decided to hire someone with ties to the managing partner instead of the guy that busted his ass for two years during law school. I lost out on a $75,000 starting salary. A partner took pity on me and arranged two interviews with other firms. They were both cancelled after they called my alma mater and asked for verification of my class rank. Law is a numbers game. I didn’t have the numbers. I became an ambulance chaser making $42,500 while carrying $87,000 in student loan debt. That’s a losing proposition every time.

I was fired from my first three jobs out of law school. That’s what it took for me to realize that I had a problem. A lawyers’ assistance program recommended a psychiatrist that treats failed or failing lawyers. I was diagnosed with clinical major depression and placed on three medications. The medications worked wonders. I felt like a new man. However, my law school transcript, class rank and piss poor resume would represent three albatrosses around my neck going forward. I worked a low-level job for two years and did get out of my parents’ basement for a spell. I finally scored a job with a firm that paid me $65,000 and wasn’t just a red light/green light practice. Then the economy became my enemy. The firm shut its doors, tossing me out onto the street and back to my parents’ basement.

Eight months later and flat broke, a miracle occurred. My best friend from law school called and said that his firm was in desperate need of help. Two attorneys left the office for lunch one day and never came back. I began representing plaintiffs in air crash litigation at a salary of $105,000. I was working on some of most sophisticated cases imaginable. I traveled the country while examining wreckages, taking depositions, and meeting with experts. I won 9 out of 10 motions that I was assigned. After my primary case settled for $17 million, I was rewarded with a phone call from my boss stating that I was terminated immediately. My secretary told me that this tyrant hated my professional demeanor and felt that “I wasn’t capable of slitting throats.” I’m quite capable of slitting throats. In ten minutes, I’ll be slitting my own.

Suicide is often called the ultimate act of selfishness. That’s bunk. I’m the only person that is forced to deal with my life every day. What’s it like? Look at your significant other sitting next to you. Look hard, because in five seconds that person will no longer exist. Kids? They’re gone, too. So is the house you worked so hard to buy. You no longer have a job, either, but have $87,000 in non-dischageable debt. Your bank account is measured in pennies. You have nothing saved for retirement as you push 40. Ask my poor mother for the keys to my car with 198,766 miles on the odometer and directions to your new residence in her basement. Live like that a few years. If you’re unwilling, you have no right to judge.

I’m sorry, Mom and Dad. You did your best. I ask that no one point fingers except at my own casket. This was my decision alone.

-Patrick

 

Happy Day, by Anonymous

I roll into the patio, and feel the warm breeze blow gently on my face. What a beautiful day. People look as if they’re casually sunbathing, but I know they’re here to celebrate us. This is the deepest blue sky I’ve ever seeing in my life. Looking at our yard now, with the chairs, the flowers, and the isle, it’s hard to remember how it looked like before. So many summer days I ran around this yard, climbing and chasing. That doesn’t matter now. I breath in the warm air, wanting to fully appreciate this moment. I want to experience it through all my senses. I want to be completely present. Other memories want to steel me from here. I wont let them. I want to feel the tickling grass, the dahlias fragrance, and even taste the sun. I laugh out loud. My young body shakes. I close my eyes to thank God for my happiness, and for the first time, I truly feel his presence. I’m not a 24-year-old woman anymore. I feel as great as the sky. I feel powerful and complete.

I open my eyes and am mesmerized by my own image in the mirror. I’m a modest person, but today I’m a princess marrying my prince charming. I’m a vision in my delicate white lace dress. I’m so beautiful. I’m so young. I’m going to marry the love of my life. I’m the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seeing. I was never pretty before, but plain and shy. Father used to get mad at me, when I wouldn’t look into people’s eyes, as I greeted them. It was too hard for me. I shook my head trying to stay in the moment. I don’t want to get lost in these silly memories.

Focus. Who’s here? My mother laughs and cries fixing my veil. She’s talking to me. What is she saying? My sisters and aunts talk lively. The children run around. The photographer photographs me as I admire my self in the mirror. I am so beautiful.

Mother likes sewing dresses.. The communion dress was her favorite. I don’t want to think of that, I want to remember every detail of this dress. This is my favorite dress. It makes my waist look so tiny. I wonder what my shoes look like, but my dress covers them. My heals sink in the grass. Alice plays with my veil. The guests stretch their heads trying to catch a glimpse of me. Mary yells at Alice and pulls her hair hard. I’ll never do that to my children. Mom looks mad and pulls dad by the arm. He’s irritated until he sees me. He’s saying something. I see tears accumulating in the corner of his eyes. Mom pokes him. That’s mom. I’ll never do that to my beloved, my love, my life. He’s waiting on the other end.. Is he nervous? Is he scared? I doubted it. We love each other more then anything. I feel the excitement building. Where’s Nana sitting? Who else is here? Mother holds father’s hand and cries.

I’m uncomfortable. I never liked being the center of attention. He holds my hand tightly. He looks at me as if he’d never seen me before. His eyes say so much. He’s not just looking at the white dress, the delicate flowers adorning my hair, or the white veil. He sees my soul, my essence. He recognizes his soul-mate, standing in front of him. I see my soul-mate standing in front of me. Nobody can ever take this moment from us. His eyes and mine are locked as we engage in this profound wordless conversation. We’re crying. There’s no one else here. It’s just my love and me. We’re tightly embraced although just our hands touch. Our love is immense. It reaches all villages, cities, and countries. If our love was light there would be no darkness in the world.

I promise to love and to hold you in good times and bad; in sickness and in health. I don’t know if I’m saying this words, but I promise. He promises too. We’re crying. So much love. We’re going to spend the rest of our lives together. He’ll always be my prince and I always be his princess in white.

My feet hurts, but I can’t take my shoes off. One of the children teared a piece my dress’ lace. Who’s here? People drink, heavily. I hate when father is drunk like this. I can tell because his face is so red. He stepped on my foot so many times today. His smell makes me sick. I have to make excuses not to be too close to him. Like the times when he wanted to read to me before bed, and I would pretend to be sleeping. But I don’t want to remember this. I want to be here. Be present. Focus.

My love holds my hand and again our eyes meet. Again we’re locked into this magic moment. Our bodies touching, his arm around my waist. I can feel how strong his shoulders are. He leans over and whispers in my ear, “I love you.” Time stops. There’s just the two of us twirling and singing and laughing.

I try to stand, but Maria holds me down.

“Don’t try to stand! You’ll fall, ” she says. “You need the wheelchair. Remember?”

I try to tell her today is the happiest day of my life, that they’re here to celebrate my wedding. She wants me to finish my jello. I close my eyes. Focus. Where’s my love? Oh, he looks so handsome in his tuxedo. He’s my prince and I’m his princess in white.
Nothing can take this day away from us. No sickness, no bad times, no death. We’ll always have this day. Forever.

 

Break, by Clutch/PoetHero

I take one last, long drag from the cigarette I’m smoking to avoid going inside, then drop the butt to the ground and stamp it out. It’s shit or get off the pot time. Andrea will be in there, and tonight’s the night I’m finally going to tell her I want to be more than friends. I always have. I take a deep breath of crisp November air, then tug open the heavy door to the bar.

I weave my way through the crowd, making my way to the back room and saying hi to some of the regulars as I pass. Those old guys have been here every time I’ve ever come in, and they’ll probably spend the rest of their lives on those stools. Their legacies will be seats without asses in them. Someone grabs me in a chokehold from behind and drags me over to a table.

“Hey, look what Dave found. The four horseman ride again.” The two sitting at the table raise their glasses in a mock toast. Dave sits back down, pours a beer from their pitcher, and sets it in front of me.

I take a sip. “You know, I always wondered which horseman each of us was.”

“Well, I think we can all agree that Mike’s Disease.”

“I told you guys that was just a weird zit. Besides, the guy’s name is Pestilence.”

“You keep telling yourself that. You home through the weekend, or do you have to go back?”

I lean back in my chair. “I’m planning on leaving Sunday afternoon. Don’t feel like dealing with all the idiots out shopping on Friday.”

“Oh my god! Todd’s here.” A girl comes over and tugs at my sleeve. “Dance with me.”

I shrug her off. “Come on, Kristi. I just got here. Give me a chance to catch up with the guys.”

She pouts, “Fine,” and walks off.

Mike leans over. “Dude, you should fuck Kristi.”

“She’s still into you and she filled out pretty well.”

“I think I’ll pass.”

“What, did you go gay on us or something?”

“Holy shit, are you going to come out to your family at dinner tomorrow?”

“That would explain some of the girls he hooked up with.”

I make a twirling motion with my hand. “I’ve missed this, I really have.”

“You know who I heard really is gay? Dan Kelly.”

“No way. Danny ‘Front Pew’ Kelly?”

“Yeah, I guess he went out east and married a guy and everything.”

Dave laughed. “I bet his parents nearly stroked out when they heard.”

I see Andrea walk in and my chest gets tight. I wave her over to the table. Her eyes get bright when she sees me. “Todd!” She hurries over and hugs me. “How have you been? I haven’t seen you in forever.”

“I’m pretty good, I guess. Better, now that you’re here.” Alright, this is going to happen tonight. It has to. I just need to get her away from these jackasses before I do it.

She pulls up a chair next to Dave, then leans over and kisses him. My stomach does a backflip, and I hide the look on my face by taking a drink. “Oh? So, you two are dating?”

“Yeah, almost a year now.” She beams. “Wow, you haven’t been home since last Thanksgiving, have you?”

I try not to let the crushing feeling show on my face. “Yeah, I guess so.”
Tony pours a beer and offers it to her, but she puts up a hand and laughs. “No, I’m fine thanks.”

“Oh come on, don’t wuss out on us.”

Her smile disappears. She slugs Dave in the arm, and his ears turn bright red. “You still haven’t told your friends?”

“I still haven’t told my folks.” She punches him again.

“What?”

Dave rubbed his arm. “We just found out last week. Andi’s pregnant.”

Mike laughs. Tony gets up to hug them. I can’t breathe.

I stand up. “I’ll be right back… gotta piss.” I walk past the restroom and out the side door to throw up in the bushes. Then I go home.

I’m pushing a soggy pile of stuffing around on my plate.

“So, Todd. Are you seeing anyone?”

I swallow the lump that appears in my throat. “No, Mom, not lately.”

“You know what you should do? You should sign up for one of those internet dating sites.”

“Pass.”

“Why not?”

“The same reason I don’t get my groceries from the dumpster behind the IGA. There’s usually a reason nobody wanted that stuff.”

My brother snickers.

The table sits in silence for a while before my father tries. “Well, how’s work going?”

I sigh. “Swell. I get to sit in a tiny box all day and double-check work that other people did, and it pays almost enough to cover my shitty apartment and the car with engine trouble that I still owe ten grand on.

Oh, and I get to wear a tie while I’m doing it. The world might just end if one of the two people I talk to in a day sees me when I’m not looking professional.”

“You should just be thanking God that you have a job in this economy.”

I give the stuffing a break and set down my fork. “You’re right. My top percentile IQ and I are absolutely blessed. Thank you, God, for letting me be less successful than a man who barely finished high school, works construction, and manages to knock up a girl that he doesn’t even fucking deserve.”
I stand up and storm out of the room.

Glenn at the front desk smiles at me. “Have a nice Thanksgiving?”

“Yeah, not too bad.”

I fucking hate Glenn.

 

Untitled, by Fareed Dhanji

“Look Angelo, I just need you to stay out of this.”

Markus Delaurien loved his brother, but with his high level of ADD it had always been hard to control him. When his mind was focused on something it was like trying to tear a hunk of meat out of a sharks mouth.

This was an especially bad time for Markus with the election this afternoon. He had always wanted to be district county judge. He was just as much in it for justice and truth to prevail, as he was with the power and privileges he would attain from the position. But things were not looking very good at the moment. For months he had campaigned with various judges, especially Judge Murdock who was head of the selection committee. Everything was going well for him until the story of his brother’s illness came to light. He was painted, no doubt by front runner Elenor Percel, as a soft, kind hearted man who took care of his brother in all aspects of life. Kind hearted was not what the public was looking for in a judge.

“Please Markus, this is my fault. Let me just show you that I’m not a screw up. Let me just do something to help. If I could just have 5 minutes alone with that lizard I can straighten her out.”

“NO ANGELO!” Gathering some patience he continued, “Listen brother, there is nothing to be done now. This is not your fault. Elenor had no right to leak that story and besides it’s no one business. They think I’m going to be soft on crime because I’m your primary care giver… what the hell do they know?!? All they have to do is look at my record, I’ve put away twice as many bad guys as she has… nonetheless she played the game better than me. I’ll just have to give a conciliatory speech. I’ll bide my time for another year and try again.”

“But you work so hard and that worm cheated!” Angelo pleaded earnestly.

“Calm down Angelo. I’m going to the courthouse. I’ll have to stay and play nice so I’ll be home late. Do you need anything?” Angelo declined and Markus left without another word.

When Markus pulled up to the courthouse he took one more deep breath, realizing this was likely to be one of the longest nights of his life. He was seated next to Elenor, who besides the initial sets of hello and photo ops ignored Markus knowing he was no longer a threat.

When the food was brought out the waiter bumped into Markus while he was setting down Elenor’s plate. He realized as the waiter turned to place another plate that it was in fact Angelo in a waiter’s uniform. He had the biggest grin he had ever seen. He winked, stared directly at Elenor’s plate and winked again. Markus knew he had done something to Elenor’s food.

Markus immediately got up and motioned for Angelo to follow him in the general direction of the washroom. “What the hell are you doing here? What did you do to her food!!!”

“Don’t worry brother. You’ve taken care of me your whole life, now it’s my turn to take care of you!”

Markus couldn’t bear to think this was real. “Are we talking diarrhea or what?”

Angelo realizing for the first time that his brother might not be ok with this plan looked at him sheepishly, “a little more permanent than that…”

“Don’t you realize what you’ve done?!?! They might catch you!” Markus realized that he had two choices; stop her from eating her food, or don’t.

The damage had already been done. The food already poisoned. No one was looking at them talking. No one might suspect. He could become the judge… he could do the things he’d always dreamed of… and so what if Angelo got caught? Markus had connections. He could likely get him out within months.

No that was ludicrous. He had worked his whole life to get this position of power and wasn’t about to risk losing it. If Angelo got caught he would fry and Markus chances of ever becoming a big shot might be ruined.

“Listen Angelo, you need to get the hell out of here. Discretely.”

Markus went back to his table in haste and sneakily pushed Elenor’s food off the table.

“You clumsy oaf!”, Elenor yelled in the heat of the moment, “don’t be a sore loser. But then again you were always a loser weren’t you? You’re done! It’s over and all I had to do was leak a story of you mommy-ing your retarded brother and these idiots just ate it up!”

Markus realized that every eye was on her. No way they were going to vote her in now!

Markus caught the eye of judge Murdock who ever so subtly nodded to Markus to follow him into the backroom. Ten seconds ago he wanted to kill Angelo, now all he wanted to do was kiss the magnificent bastard.

 

Honorable Mention (in no particular order)

 

Untitled, by Dara Jones

“When I get back, I might ask you to marry me,” he said, and I felt myself blushing despite the heat from the sun shining on my face. I paused for a moment, listening to the sounds of the water dancing in the creek behind us. I put my chin on my knees and resumed petting Charlie’s dog, Tess, an old black Lab with a graying face. She was on her back at my feet, with her eyes closed and her long, pink tongue hanging limply from her mouth. Happily oblivious to anything beyond my hand making circles on her fat belly.

I turned and looked at him, sitting beside me on the blanket, and watched his fingers pulling clover from between the long blades of grass. I studied him, his toes and ankles, his long legs, his dungarees with a worn crease down the front, compliments of his mother’s iron. His cotton plaid shirt, washed and sun-dried a hundred times, softer than velvet and rolled up to his elbows. His hands. The freckles on his arms. The back of his neck, the curve of his head. His strawberry-blonde hair, his new military crew cut. His boyish face, his dimples, his even teeth, his pale blue eyes. His body had changed a lot since the last time I saw him, but his face was still just exactly the same.

I leaned against him, pressing my face into his neck. He smelled like wind and soap and sunshine. I closed my eyes as he reached around me, pulling me into him. Remember this, I thought. I felt tears stinging my eyes and I blinked them back. “When you get back, I might say yes,” I said, trying to smile. He glanced at me with a slow grin, and I caught that quick flash in his eyes that I had noticed the first time I met him.

“Might, huh?” he said, pretending to be very interested in the small purple blossom he was holding.

“A girl can’t wait forever.”

“I am coming back, you know,” he said, laughing, plucking another flower.

I wanted to believe him. I didn’t want him to worry about me. And, of course, I would wait for him. Twelve months, I kept telling myself. Nothing bad will happen. It’s only twelve months. I lay back on the blanket, feeling the thick grass beneath me, the sun on my legs. Charlie stretched out, leaning over me, looking at my face, my hair. He’s studying me, too, I thought.

Remember this.

Twelve months. Twelve months.

I closed my eyes again, holding that thought. Breathing it. He kissed me. I smiled, tasting the sweet bread and butter pickles from our lunch on his lips.

Remember this.

I memorized his back with my hands, losing myself against him, under him.

Everything was deep blue and fireflies as we slowly walked back to my house, listening to crickets sing and holding hands, Tess stopping randomly to scratch behind her ears. We talked about unimportant things, pretending in small ways that this wasn’t goodbye. At edge of my yard the fear and sadness came spilling out all at once, and I stood there sobbing while Tess leaned against my leg. Nothing was said, or could be. My mind carried me to some distant land I would never know, where I see Charlie in unfamiliar clothes, stumbling. A bullet in his chest. His face painted with blood. His kind eyes filled with fear and pain. Alone.

I took deep breaths. “You have to get up early. Catch your train.” I said quietly. I couldn’t look at him. He lifted my chin and gazed at me seriously. “Listen to me. I am coming back. To you. Believe that.”

“I do,” I whispered.

One last kiss. Remember this.

“Come on, Tess,” he said, patting his leg, and I watched them walk away. He turned and waved to me as his figure grew smaller and darker, until I wasn’t even sure I could still see him. Finally, I made my way towards the house. I went straight upstairs and got into bed, not wanting to lose the taste of him on my lips, the smell of him on my skin. I wanted to go to sleep while I could still hear the creek, feel Tess’ warm fur under my fingers, hear Charlie softly moaning as we made love in the tall grass.

Go to sleep and dream, while I could still remember this.

 

Untitled, by Hortensia Azpurua

A wave of relief filled Summer´s heart as she carefully caressed her cello. She looks at her picture on the desk with shock and disbelief; she’s no longer that girl in the picture. Her life turned 180 degree after that single episode two summers ago. She can’t make sense how a single event can chained her perpetually. The dullness, slowness, and obsession took over her mind, drifting her away from her precious cello.

This afternoon is not like any other, for the first time in two years she knew exactly what to do. She decided she’s going to accept the invitation as a soloist during the fall Bach festival, but as an especial request she’s going to play her own piece at the end of the concert. Summer is determined to perform the most prominent concert of her life. The uniqueness of this constitutes of small fragments of her life. Until this afternoon it didn’t have an ending, but now she knows how it must end. It should express her freedom and now she knows how and what to color.

Music for Summer is visual; she can see all sorts of colors and play with them. Every color in her piece is tied to memories. They are as bright as her mother tenderness to as dark as her hollow self. She’s painting a picture with her cello, but nobody knows what she’s painting unless they know fairly well the contrast from pain and joy. Her cello becomes her only window to the outside world, too bad she didn’t seek it earlier.

Summer worked diligently over 9 months for this especial concert, but aside from this she decided to leave everything in order. She finally organizes a reunion with family and friends- people she loves, but for some reason she hid herself from. They were surprised, but please to finally see her up close. She knew how unfair and felt guilty over the time lost, but life is short and time is time. No one can go back in time; however, she knows she wouldn’t act differently.

Two summers ago she was a different person, but how on earth can she rescue old Summer? She needs her. She wants her. Is she dead? She knows the answer, but she can’t let her go. Perhaps if her memory was erased her pain will eventually go away and she’ll be back. If only there was such thing as a selective memory remover her problems would go away.

A silky, long, midnight blue dress, little makeup, a pearl necklace, and her typical ponytail will do the trick tonight. She’s not interested to be seeing, but mostly to be heard. If she could only hide herself with the cello everything would be perfect. She plays the classical pieces by Bach- Nothing she never played before. To her surprised she truly enjoyed playing them. Pleasure became unknown to her as the stranger took over her mind.

A small break comes before her piece. She’s extremely nervous and excited, but there’s something more; she feels her blood burning with passion. This was the greatest loss she suffered when the stranger took over. Now she knows that she’s finally getting a hold of herself. She’s going to play it flawlessly. It is all she ever wanted it. While Summer plays he piece, she feels more and more her old self. She starts to feel alive again, thinks of all the beautiful things in her life, and concludes that one single event is not enough to let go of her life. She regrets the time wasted and tears start roll over her eyes.

The concert is over and she’s drowning in joy. Summer can’t really make sense out of this miracle; she wants to live. Sadly, it is too late, as she swallowed several pills of rat poison before the concert. It won’t kill her instantly, so all she needs to do is wait for her painful death. In the meantime she’s in deeply lost in her memories.

 

The Only One in Black, by Tim Hodgson

The audience wants me to strip. First it’s just one voice, one lone drunk. Then a few more join in, and now I’m being encouraged. cajoled, egged on. These things just seem to have a way of happening. This bar’s gimmick—and they all have gimmicks, it’s part of the attraction—is its red ambient lighting. The place is packed, typical for a Friday evening, and I can’t see anybody because of the spotlight in my face. But the people here watching, they know me. I’m only too happy to oblige.

I’ll never be able to explain how I got here. One night you’re a drunk expatriate looking with bemusement at your first burlesque performance. Before you know it you’re one of the emcees, a character in the goddamn show, and you can’t connect the time between. As it happens I’m exactly where I started three years ago. It’s on this stage, in the back of this hilarious red bar, that I invented Johnny Crash.

The DJ gives me some music. The crowd, a healthy mix of girls and guys from the sound of it, goes nuts when I unbutton my shirt and expose my chest and stomach. Black shirt, black pants, black jacket. Johnny Crash is, of course, the emcee in black. (Burlesque is about ridiculous puns if nothing else.) It started as a joke because a black suit was all I had, but the all-black ensemble came to be my thing. People dug it. So there’s this unofficial rule where none of the other performers wear black if I’m running the show for the night. And tonight I’m the goddamned ringleader.

The song’s a rocker. I mime the lyrics of the chorus into the mic. “Does anyone, anyone want to be you?” More hooting and hollering, some of it ironic, some of it genuine. I violently swing my arm through the air in front of my body and the DJ cuts the music. “This ain’t boylesque,” I say. “Did you really come here to see me?” A few yells of affirmation. “Bullshit! No one came here to see my average-sized cock!” The crowd, fueled by liquor, loses its collective shit laughing. Aside from half a pint of Guinness I’m stone sober.

You’d think a part of me would be abashed or ashamed. I’m a transplanted Midwestern boy at heart, after all. By all accounts I’m a normal guy. I have a day job in advertising, for fuck’s sake. And I’m not the type to want to lead some kind of double life. Everyone knows I do this. Hell, I invited my brother and his wife out to see one of our gigs when he was in town. The reaction’s always the same when I say I hang out with people with stage names like Charlie Darling or Helena Hellcat or Johnny fucking Crash.

I make eye contact with a pretty young woman in the front row, one of the few people I can see. I know her, actually. She’s a performer, a relatively famous one who’s done a few shows around the country. She isn’t performing tonight. I ask her if we can get a little taste of what she’ll do next. She smiles coyly, stands, spins with a flourish and gives the crowd a little leg. “Oh, sit down already,” I say. “You’ll have to see her next Saturday, right here. Ten dollar cover.” A few mock boos and jeers. “Oh, Jesus, you fucking people. Alright, alright.” I open my shirt again to a short burst of distorted guitar and cheering.

To my left, just off the stage, waits the new girl. She’s performing tonight under the name Venus Sera. She became a regular gawker of our performances over the last four or five months. Hard not to notice those tattoos (full sleeves) and that hair (Uma Thurman’s haircut in Pulp Fiction) on the body she has (good god almighty). She caught me a few times after, said she was interested in maybe performing. I advised her to talk to some of the girls and see about lessons. Now here she is, dressed in a blue and white corset with blue garter belt and blue stockings. I allow myself a second to imagine the tasseled pasties on her tits. Maybe she’ll want to fuck me at the end of the night. More accurately, maybe she’ll want to fuck Johnny Crash. Even now she’s damn near batting her eyelashes at me. I don’t even know her real name.

Feedback screeches through the mic. “Whoa, Jesus, settle down,” I say. “Don’t make me pull it out like I did last time. Just kidding. I pulled his out!” I point to someone who vaguely looks masculine in the glare of the light. The stage is hot from the lights. I should be sweating. I glance at Venus Sera again. She is shivering like she’s caught in a blizzard wearing that getup. For an instant I feel a twinge of sympathy before I remember why she’s here.

Me? I can’t help myself. I love the attention. I love the lights and the crowds and the and the skin and the spectacle and strangeness of it all. And god dammit do I love being Johnny Crash. Knowing I created him one night three years ago—a work of fiction, an alter-ego, distilled from the ether in the heat of the moment. It’s happiness so much like pride in one’s work. Satisfaction in knowing one can become someone else entirely, just how easy it is if you work at it a little. And I keep getting away with it, every Friday and Saturday night.

The audience is getting restless. It’s showtime, Venus Sera, ready or not. I button my shirt and speak my rehearsed lines about her. I’m already disappearing, already going, already gone. Later I’ll hardly remember a word I’m saying. I’m beyond them all, absorbed in my performance, and the audience applauds as I give my heart away.

 

Thoughts of his Father, by Justin MacGregor

Ron’s eyes opened a minute before his alarm was set to go off. He laid in bed completely still, staring at the ceiling, knowing that today would be the toughest day of the year.

People knew that Ron was close with his dad, but nobody truly understood how close they were. Nobody could possibly understand how much Ron loved him. And even though Ron missed his dad every single day, it was today, his old man’s birthday, that stung his heart the most.

BEEP. BEEP. BEEP.

He sluggishly rolled over and silenced the alarm, staring at the red 6:00 am for a few seconds before rolling back and refocusing his solemn gaze on the ceiling. I miss him so much. So goddamn much.

He thought back to his childhood, to his father, to the memories of their old house on Stonybrook Road. He recalled one of his fondest memories: the first time his dad brought him to work.

“Hey sport, how’d you like to come to work with your old man today?” His dad looked so sharp in his suit and Ron was positive that he was the strongest man in the world. He wanted to be just like his dad when he grew up. At ten years old, he was sure of that.

And he remembered how ecstatic he was to be spending the day at work with his father. He sipped hot chocolate from a thermos on the ride to the first job site, feeling like he was on top of the world in the passenger seat of his dad’s van. When they finally arrived, his dad turned and looked at him with a stern expression on his face.

To this day, Ron can still recite verbatim what his father told him before they went to work.

“Son, you’re old enough now where you can start learning some things about the real world. Nothing’s free in this country Ron, and if you want to be successful in your career and in your life, you need to put in the work. You need to grind. You need to be persistent. And if you have the willpower and strength to bust your butt and put all your effort into it, then one day you can be just like your old man. You can be the best damn pedophile-rapist-clown in the business.”

The words rang in Ron’s ears. It was the first time his father had said something like that to him, and in that moment Ron admired and loved his father more than he ever had before.

He watched as his dad put on his red wig and round nose, noticing how careful he was not to smudge any of the makeup on his face.

“Are you ready to get going, buddy?” his dad asked.

“Yeah, let’s go!” Ron replied excitedly.

“We’ll OK then. Let’s go kidnap a young girl for me to beat and rape.”

Ron recalled the way the morning sunlight glistened off the large metallic slide in the playground. The monkey bars gleamed with the last of the morning dew, creating a little extra challenge for the elementary school students who swung across.

Before they reached the playground fence, his dad stopped him and explained what his role would be.

“You see son, there’s an adult at this playground, which means we’re going to have to create a diversion. Now I need you to go up to that brown haired lady over there and pretend you’re lost. Meanwhile, I’m going to put this ether rag over that little blonde girl’s mouth and drag her lifeless body back to the van. Got it?”

“Got it, dad!”

Got it, dad. He said it out loud in his bed, smiling slightly as the tears welled up in his eyes. Got it, dad.

He could still remember the butterflies he had in his stomach that day. He didn’t want to do anything wrong or mess anything up. He had to make his dad proud.

It was a surreal moment for Ron as he watched his dad throw the unconscious body of an innocent seven-year-old girl into the back of the van. Wow! My dad really IS the strongest man in the world! He was like a superhero to Ron. A superhero dressed like a clown.

“I’m proud of you, son,” his dad said on the ride home. “You worked hard today.”

“Thanks, dad.”

“And because you busted your butt out there, I have a surprise for you.”

“What is it?” Ron asked anxiously.

“Well, when we get home…” He paused for effect. “… I’m going to let you wave the smelling salts under her nose to wake her up so that I can brutally sodomize her in our torture dungeon!”

“Wow, really!?” He bounced up and down with excitement.

“You betcha, buddy. You earned it.”

BEEP. BEEP. BEEP.

The snooze on the alarm went off, pulling Ron away from his memories and back to reality. He rolled over and shut it off, then sat up on the side of his bed.

I miss you so much, dad.

Putting on his rainbow trousers was more difficult than usual that morning, but he tried his best to suck it up and get the day started. He knew his dad wouldn’t have wanted him to miss a day of work on his account. Don’t worry about me, kid. Get out there. Work hard. Never give up. And make sure you use their tears as lubricant.

I will, Dad. I will.

And as Ron dragged a five year old Asian boy into the basement that day, he couldn’t help but look up to the heavens and smile, making sure to keep his oversized novelty shoe on the boy’s neck.

I did it, Dad. I’m the best damn pedophile-rapist-clown in the business. I really did it.

 

Over Hanging, by Luke Jamieson

The phone rang. No, it thundered. It rumbled. It quaked and Lester, along with his bed, shook violently. As a result of the commotion his bed scraped against the wall removing another small, but not insignificant, layer of drywall making the gouge now a full sixteenth of an inch deep; it had begun as a scratch six months ago when he moved his bed against the wall but has slowly grown due to shoddy bed-frame construction, Lester’s frequent restlessness, and his genuine lack of knowledge of all things that are not in plain sight. The phone roared again and Lester shuddered.

Slowly emerging from his stupor, Lester threw his half-asleep arm across the bed in the direction of the phone. Blood had not fully reached either his brain or his arm at this point, so while his arm reached the phone he failed to grasp it. It fell to the floor. Lester panicked and nearly tumbled off the bed. He grunted and growled while he rolled over so he could search the floor for the rogue handle. After significant difficulty Lester managed to take hold of the phone and even put the ear piece up to his ear.

“Mmmro?” This was the best Hello he could muster.

“Les! You’re awake. Good. Wanna grab breakfast?” The voice boomed into his head – down the ear canal, all the way to the end, and up into his brain cavity. There it was like a hot glass thrown into a bucket of cold water. Cracks began to emerge. Existing cracks began to break. Each crack opened up new areas of his brain the sound could penetrate. Lester was sure his brain was about to fall out of his head in shattered little pieces.

“Errm?” Unable to process what was being said he gave the booming voice another chance to explain itself. He also moved the ear piece a few inches away from his fragile head.

“You’re not awake, are you?” said the voice.

Lester grunted.

“Lunch then?” The voice began to sound familiar but more pressing matters were going through Lester’s head.

“Time?”

“Now? It’s quarter to nine. Lunch, say twelve thirty?”

Cluing in, Lester let out a sigh, “Go’way Jeremy. More sleep. Call later.”

Jeremy, confused, was in the process of saying“You’ll call me later or should I call later?” but Lester didn’t hear. He had already thrown his arm, with receiver in hand, back in the direction of the telephone cradle. Fortunately for the now irritated and impatient Lester, it only took him three attempts to secure the phone into its proper resting place.

He laid there in silence, trying to relish in the dead air he had just spent the last forty-five seconds praying for, but found that now he was awake it brought him no solace. His heart was still rapidly pumping after being so abruptly roused from sleep. Fight or flight kicked in, except there was no one to fight and he had no intentions of leaving his bed any time soon. No. Now that all external sounds had been eliminated, all the silence had managed to do was give Lester a laser beam focus on the current state of his head, which he soon discovered was throbbing.

Slowly but surely Lester began to search through each pulsating neuron, checking, then clearing his schedule for the day. Jeremy will wait, he thought, today is not a day to think about lunch. Nor is it a day to think about food of any kind. Today is a day to recoup, gather strength, and prepare for the week ahead. His stomach gurgled and Lester shifted onto his side clutching the blankets.

Breathe in, breathe out, Lester thought to himself. This will all pass.

 

One Day at a Time, by Chris Panzarella

Edgar Merklestein quietly ate his breakfast as his daughter Suzie began her morning tirade.

“My life is so BORING!” she exclaimed as she poured her cereal. “Nothing interesting ever happens in this town, and you have such a boring job! I mean, working in insurance?! Why can’t you do something awesome, like fly jets or manage a racehorse stable??”

Edgar finished his egg and wiped his mouth.

“I’m sorry it bothers you Suzie, but most people don’t get to be superstars. In order for society to function people have to fill lots of different roles and many of those roles aren’t glamorous. They are, however, necessary.”

“Yeah, whatever. Now if you’re done rambling I need to go to class and hear about some boring stuff I could care less about.”

Edgar sipped his orange juice. “Suzie, I’m sure if you put your mind to it you can find something interesting about your classes.”

*****
Edgar pulled into his designated parking spot and walked through the front doors of his employer, EpicCare Inc. He glanced at his paper as he walked through the lobby, sparing a moment to nod to Barry, the large red-headed security guard. The polished steel elevator doors quietly slid open as he approached. Edgar cleared his throat.

“Good Morning Sycorax, Twenty-Third floor if you please.”

“Very good Mr. Merklestein, we’ll have you there right away.”

Just before he left the elevator Edgar paused to savor the warmth from the heat run-off, one of the pleasant aftereffects of dragon flame. Walking into his office he glanced at his secretary.

“Good morning Marsha.”

“Good morning Ed! I’ve marked your appointments for the day; it’s all on your desk.”

“Thank you, Marsha.”

Edgar walked into his office.
*****

10:00 am: Teleconference with small business owner (Client 2931) regarding employee health insurance package

“Good Morning Sir. Yes, I know your official title is ‘Your High Unholiness’, but here at EpicCare we pride ourselves on maintaining the highest levels of neutrality and professionalism. This includes the non-use of all client titles, self-appointed or otherwise as per Charter section 212313 paragraph 9.8c. Now, moving onto the primary point of business, I understand you are looking to set up a health insurance plan for the 2,327 employees who currently work for your Tactical Armed Response Division. Yes, your organization designates the group in question as the Black Devils of Red Death.

“So, what sort of deductible are you looking for in this policy? None? That’s very generous sir. And the co-pay? Very good sir. What’s that? Yes, we can certainly modify the policy to stipulate that in order to receive these health benefits members of said division must, in the event of death in ombat, agree to undergo reanimation and accept reassignment to the Post-Living Combat Division for a period of no less than two years, after which they will be summarily cremated with full honors.

“Do you have any other concerns at this time? In that case I’ll have the paperwork drawn up and couriered over to you. Are you still located at 6666 Doomfire Fortress, corner of Pain Avenue and Suffering Drive? Excellent, please contact me with any further questions. Thank you, I’ll be sure to sprinkle some virgin’s blood on my salad at lunch, take care.”

*****

1:30 pm: Troubleshooting with employee of Client 4813 re: damages claim on insured property

“Sir, while your credentials do verify your status as a High Archangel in good standing, that alone does not mean…yes, I do understand you have a sacred duty to hunt down and eradicate evil. Yes, I understand that ‘foul machinations of unspeakable depravity’ corrupted one of the Twelve Sacred Spheres of Creation. Furthermore, I understand that in destroying said corrupted Sphere you saved the immortal souls of a great many people. Before you ask, yes, your Divine Smiter’s Insurance plan does protect you from all liability regarding this destruction.

“However, EpicCare cannot…sir, your employer did insure the Spheres against material damages, but unfortunately that coverage does not extend to acts perpetrated by employees of His company. The policy only covers, quote, ‘damages inflicted by demons, daemons, Elder gods, primordial evils from Beyond the Veil, Abominations from Beyond the Grave, and any mortal of questionable ethics.’ You have a copy of this policy in writing sir. Because of the stipulated passage EpicCare is not required to pay out on your employer’s policy. I am very sorry, but please be aware that your actions could very possibly be construed as fraud in a court of law. Do you have any further concerns? Very well, have a pleasant day.”

*****

3:45 pm: Consultation with new client re: life insurance options

“Welcome to EpicCare sir. I understand you are trying to set up a life insurance policy with us. Here is a copy of Contract 1138, I believe other members of your organization have used this policy. Do you have any questions? Yes, the policy does pay out in the event of death by means of ‘heroic self-sacrifice’ as stated in section AA23. You can indeed designate your apprentice as the primary beneficiary, do you have any other questions?

“…yes, we updated the contract to accommodate that situation. If your death is perpetrated by your apprentice, who has ‘turned to evil after being seduced by Darkness’ the policy will instead pay into a fund overseen by someone of your choosing. The revisions can be found in section 21-87. Please return a signed copy of this contract within ten days and I shall take care of the rest. Thank you, and have a nice day.

*****

7:30 pm

“So did you learn anything interesting today at school Suzie?”

Suzie groaned as she stabbed at her spaghetti. “Yeah, in math the teacher talked about imaginary numbers! That means they aren’t real! Why should I care about something that isn’t real?!”

Edgar sipped his water. “Suzie, just because something isn’t real doesn’t mean it can’t affect our lives. I’ve told you before, imagination can change everything.”

 

Untitled, by T.J. Jacobs

CSSB:

“I was right. Admit it.”

“Goddamnit, Alan, I really wish you’d just shut the hell up.”

“You tied me down. You drugged me.”

“And I am aware of this. I was wrong, you were right. Christ, let it go already and let me figure this out.”

“You denied what I said. You. And you alone. All these years.”

“You stabbed a single mother six times, were found licking up her blood and you told the authorities that you were ‘trying to ingest her essence, so you could be saved from disaster,’ a direct quote, I might add, and you tried to escape into a sewer afterward. Ten years ago. You’re fucking lucky the jury thought you were too crazy to be a run-of-the-mill prisoner.. You’re lucky you only had me these past ten years and not the needle.”

“So? I told you she was another one of them.”

“Seriously, shut the fuck up, Alan. I’m trying to get a signal.”

“So was I wrong or right?”

“Please shut the fuc … hello? Hello? Anna? Baby??”

“So was I wrong or right?”

“Fuck you.”

“Can I at least ask that you tell me you’re sorry?”

“Seriously?”

“Yes. I want you to say, ‘I’m sorry, Alan, that I didn’t believe you about crossing dimensions and taking down an alien queen after all of these years.’ And I want you to say it sincerely.”

“Honey, I’m sure you might not ever hear this but I love you. I love you and the kids. I love all of you … “

“I’m waiting.”

“Fine. Fine, fuck it. Alan, I’m sorry that I didn’t believe you abo …

 

Buck, by Nadia Kudla

He wasn’t the biggest dog at the shelter, and he definitely wasn’t the
prettiest. His head was big and square; his fur was missing in patches,
the skin pink and scabbed. He was rough – I joked that he looked how I
felt – but there he was anyway, clowning around, jumping on the other
dogs, sticking his paws out of the cage to grab my jeans.

I always wanted a dog; but I was a poor kid and when I got to be an adult,
I had an animal hating wife. I let go of the idea without knowing it,
like how one day day you wake up and all of a sudden you can’t be an
astronaut or professional ball player anymore. It all came rushing back
as I watched him roll around, getting snapped at by his cage mate. A
thrill spread over me; there was no reason I couldn’t have him. I had my
own place, my wife had left me and the only person still talking to me was
my Aunt Kelly.

Buck came home that day, strutting into the place like he knew what the
hell. At first I had no idea what to do with him. I took him out in the
woods one night for a long walk and he was so elated that I made it a
regular thing. I cut back on the drinking so I could take him in the
morning before work, too.

It all came together around him, and he never said a word. I spent a year
chasing Ashley, begging her to come back, asking her what I did wrong. I
worked overtime to pay for her counseling and her new transmission and her
boob job. Everyone had a theory, they all told me what to do and what to
say. They were right – about everything – but I told them to shove it.

Lucky for me, Buck made sure that estranged friends got a king’s welcome.
Everyone loved him – except Ashley, who took his nose to the crotch as an
insult and told me to get rid of him if I ever wanted her “to even
consider” coming home. I told her not to worry about it.

We had a routine, me and Buck. Living together, rebuilding day by day.
About a year ago, we were on a walk when a kid tried to rough me up.

Give me your money, he says.

Fuck off, I told him.

He shoved me and we scuffled, he was just a kid really, and I threw him to
the ground. He got scared, I think – he pulled a gun. He shot me
straight through the leg. I fell fast and he got up, ran over to me,
screaming. Buck got between us, fur bristled, growling and spitting and
lunging like I’d never seen. Four gunshots rang out and Buck fell silent.

The kid ran off and we were alone again, the night still and cold. Buck
limped over and laid his head on my hand, his fur soaked in warm blood. I
wanted to call for help, I wanted to scream but I couldn’t do anything. I
pulled him in and buried my eyes in his soft coat, telling him over and
over that it’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay…I kept rocking him after he
stopped breathing.

My best friend died protecting me. He never asked for much, and he
probably thought he’d strut over, check on me and take a nap. Or maybe he
knew that he was going to die, I’m not sure.

In the mornings, I saw his furry snout on my pillow, all lit up and
excited. He curled up next to the bed every night, keeping an eye on me
in case I decided to go off somewhere and I might leave him behind. He
didn’t want to miss anything; he followed me around the house, watching
me. To Buck, I was the world and everything good in it. I don’t think he
had any regrets, living the way he did, a big heart and short memory.
Dogs don’t worry much; they’re goodness and honor all the way through.

It snowed today. Buck loved snow – rolling on it, digging in it, eating
it. He used to bring me balls of ice and look up at me expectantly, like
he was asking if I’d throw it for him. He could never find the snowballs
I threw but he was thrilled anyway. If here were here, I’d let him on the
couch tonight, even if his fur was all wet and musty, and we’d watch TV
before going to sleep. He would’ve loved that, the first snow of the year
and together on the couch, what a day.

 

Customer Service, by Will Dickstein

Every day I wake up with a new ability. Every night, I die. Not spontaneously, either. It’s always more out of coincidence.

Recently I woke up with the ability to talk to animals. I spent all afternoon talking with my goldfish, who somehow convinced me he would be happier living in my stomach. I’m now overweight, and he kept referring to my bulging gut as the, “fishbowl that moves.” He said he wanted a change of scenery. I choked when he realized he was being eaten. Suffocation is one of the worst ways to go. You can take that to the bank.

That is pretty much how my days go now that I’m in the forty-plus crowd, though. Even the exciting abilities don’t do it for me anymore. I pray at night that I don’t wake up a genius again. The money I make on those days has even lost its appeal.

I wasn’t always like that, though. I used to think that my daily abilities were gifts. I spent over two decades trying to look for people to help or save.

Have you ever worked in customer service? Stop me if you’ve heard this one.

I woke up one day in my twenties with skin that was completely resistant to fire. Would you believe that I’m so forgetful, it’s commonplace for me to drop lit cigarettes in my lap because I forget they’re in my hand? But I digress.

So I wake up, completely resistant to fire. Like, I couldn’t get burned if I tried. I was still pretty immature then, so believe me, I spent over an hour really trying. I mean, my hand was steady over the stove for at least twenty minutes before it felt even a little hot. As always back then, it wasn’t long before I broke out my police scanner and started listening for where I could help.

Oh, a house fire? I’m out the door.

I used to wear a costume and everything. Although, I didn’t wear it in that particular instance because it, unlike myself, was not resistant to flame. I opted for some thick jeans and decided to head down there shirtless, looking as tough as possible when I got out of my truck with my steel-toed boots wrapped around my denim pant legs. This was before I was overweight, of course. I probably looked pretty good. If you’re picturing me with muscles and a shaved head…you’re pretty far off. But go ahead and keep the imagery anyway. Only once did I wake up with ability to be beautiful on the outside.

So I save this little kid who ended up getting stuck in his attic. The firefighters on the scene already had the ladder out, and were ready to crawl in through a window. But the kid was stuck behind some beams that had caught fire, or something. I forget; it was so long ago. What I do remember is the look on his mother’s face as I carried him out the front door. No one even saw me go in but I came out without so much as a scratch on me. Not a patch of flesh was seared on either of us, as I had managed to keep him pretty well wrapped up in a blanket.

But that look that she gave me.

It wasn’t good enough that I had saved her son. I was still naïve enough that I couldn’t understand how she would even be able to be concerned with anything else but I understand it now.

She never had the opportunity to miss him.

He didn’t die in the fire, but her house did. Her house, with all of the things she spent so long waiting in line for. That was filled with what she still thought was her whole life. All of her possessions were gone.

Why couldn’t you have grabbed some of the jewelry on the way out? You had a free hand.

She said it with her eyes, but body language sent the message just as clearly.

That night the smoke did me in. I didn’t die from inhalation, though. Whatever enzyme my body produced that day to enable me to be resistant to fire also allowed the spores found in their asbestos laden walls to germinate and multiply much faster than normal. I had cancer by lunchtime. By dinner I was gone.

My point is, though, no matter what you do, some people won’t ever let it be good enough.

Eventually the world’s lack of gratitude just broke through. The general population will do anything, it seems, to kill your motivation. Occasionally I tell myself I’m still helping society by allowing it to help itself…

Either way, I just sit around. It’s been that way for the last eight years.

Maybe tomorrow I’ll wake up with the ability to care again.

 

Untitled, by Katie Dougherty

This is where the story ends. My back against the wall, my blood and brains splattered in a slightly disturbing but very interesting pattern surrounding my head. Life wasn’t always so tricky until a few months ago. I bring this to you from beyond the grave, where only the dead and what they call me, an in between, will know of. I can’t tell you where I am or what I have become, I can tell you the rest up until that final moment where I finally introduced the pressure in my head into the outside air.

I guess this is the best place to begin would be from the start of all the strange happenings that led me to the place where I now rest. It all started with this eerie presence around me all the time. I would be completely alone in a room and I’d feel it there, just watching, just waiting for the perfect moment to name me its prey and pounce. ‘As if something you can’t even see could kill you…’ I’d think to myself carefully checking around to make sure I really was in fact, alone.

The next few weeks were spent with very few words spoken to other people than myself. Mumbling about cameras in the house, on the telephone poles, the taps in the cell phones, the satellites, the voices, the shadows and my own destined suicide handed down to me from God himself at birth. I had figured all of it out on my own. The reasons my family was the way they were towards me, the abuse, the molestation as a child, the beatings, I had always wondered why I’d been the one that was singled out while both my sisters weren’t so much as bruised as a child without a visit to the doctor. Did a doctor even deliver me? Was I really evil just because I was born their only son? I was singled out; I felt it in my bones. And now in my 15th year, it had finalized itself into this over glorified ritual of self abuse. The burning, the cutting, the heavy drinking and pills, I tried everything short of jumping off of a building.

My mother, who had finally had enough of my mumbling, my ranting and violent outbursts finally sent me to this shrink. He tried to fill my head with the complete opposite of what I’d tell him. He’d tell me there were no cameras, no phones were tapped, my parents loved me, my family loved me…of course he was a long time friend of my mother’s who was surprised to even learn she’d ever had a son. If this shrink wouldn’t believe me than who would? I had no friends, my family hated me, I hated me…there was no where to turn.

Walking home from school one day, taking the long way through the bad parts on purpose…I stumbled across this gangster looking dude selling shit out of his car. I stopped and stared and he yelled something like “What the fuck you lookin’ at whitey?” across the street. I kept walking but returned the next day…on his side of the street. My mind was made up. I’d either get killed trying to talk to this guy or kill myself, assuming he’d sell me a gun or machete or something sharp enough that slid quick and deep enough across my throat to cut whatever major artery it is you need to cut. I’d done my research…you’d be amazed at all the websites dedicated to taking ones own life. He looked me up and down as if he was trying to get inside my head. Finally, he said, “Whatchu lookin’ to buy, son?” as if I were his son. Strange how people talk on this side of town, I thought.

“I need a gun if you got one.” I said, trying to sound like I knew what I was saying.

“What kind?” He asked.

This had me stumped…was there a specific type used to shoot yourself in the head? Or would anything work? I’d seen some movies, everyone dies different ways.

“Just a handgun” I replied, hoping I didn’t sound like someone looking to get their ass kicked. I’d had enough of that in my life.

“A’ight, little dude, I think I got somethin’ for ya…”

He walked back over to what I’m guessing was his gang and checked out his inventory in the trunk. I was shocked when I realized I’d been there 10 minutes and not one cop had driven by…in fact, I had never seen a cop within 3 blocks of here when I took this route home. As I was fascinating myself with these newly noticed facts, he came back and handed me a gun.

“How much?” I asked.

“For you, kid…$200.”

“I got that…gimme one hour, I’ll be back.” I said, a little scared of how I just told him what to do.

“A’ight, G. One hour, anymore and sale’s off.”

I ran home and up to my room, more like a closet if you ask me, but that wouldn’t matter soon. I made it back with 5 minutes to spare. Gave him the money and almost sprinted home. When I got there, I sat and stared at it for a long time…almost the entire night. I thought about the one person in my life that may have actually given a crap about me…I started feeling guilty when all of a sudden I got this feeling inside. I was right to do this; it was, after all, my destiny.

So this is where the story ends…in my room, which was more the size of a large closet than anything. Sitting up against the wall staring at the moon and stars, I put the barrel of the gun in my mouth and positioned it just the way it said on the web and everything went black.

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3 Responses to “Short Fiction Winners Revealed”

  1. […] Corman First you’ll want to go and read all the stories we talk about. The show is nothing but […]

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  3. Aideen says:

    Aideen…

    Short Fiction Winners Revealed « Shrink Talk…