Now in its fourth year, the 101-word fiction contest has become one of our favorite traditions here at Boulder Weekly. We savor the chance to read the best flash fiction from writers in Boulder County and beyond. We had more submissions to this year’s contest than in any year prior, and we think it shows in the quality of the winning entries.
Here are the nuts and bolts of how we determined the top 20 entries:
As in years prior, each writer was limited to five submissions. Many of the writers who entered the contest submitted more than one piece, but we did not take abundance of entries into consideration while judging.
And about that judging: There were five judges who assigned a score between one and five on each entry. It was a blind process, as the name of the writer was stripped from each entry before reading, and we only learned of the winning identities after tallying up the scores. Thus, you’ll see some writers appear more than once in the list of winners. Bully for them.
In the case of ties, we put the pieces into a mini-competition and rescored them to gain a final order.
We ended up with five winners, five honorable mentions and 10 additional finalists, however there were plenty more we wished we could have included. The top 20 finishers have been published here.
Thanks to all who participated in this contest. We hope you enjoy this year’s selections as much as we did. We’re already looking forward to the next batch in 2019.
101-Word Fiction Contest Winners
Weird little things remind me of her. I don’t know why. Cabbage for instance. She was always cooking the stuff. Her apartment smelled of the pungent odor of pirozhki, borscht, and cabbage pie. Yes, she took her Russian heritage seriously, which I suppose was tolerable in her kitchen but when we met at the coffee shop and embraced, I could smell metallic old-lady breath followed by that waft of cabbage emanating from her pores.
But now I miss all that.
My 1st Best Friend
Norman was my first best friend. We went to war together and killed hundreds of krauts by the time we were seven. His backyard was crawling with them. We took breaks from the killing to munch cookies from our fathers’ mess kits. Sometimes we’d get shot, too. Clutching my gut, I’d cry out and drop. Bleeding out, I’d close my eyes dreaming of Mary from next door nursing me back to health. A few years later I found Norman and Mary kissing behind the school. Bayonetted through the heart by my best friend. And Mary wasn’t really a nurse.
I don’t plan on living in irrelevance, here in the middle of nowhere, like you,” the son declared, but the father had tripped on the skulls of his great, great grandfather’s cows in this ranch’s earth. Older still, he’d seen rock-shard butchering tools buried alongside bison bones below these bluffs. Buffalo, a different cattle, had once been driven from the cliff above by different men, different temporary caretakers. Every life was a dust-thin footprint in the striations of cruel, beautiful eons visible on that cliffside. “We’re all irrelevant,” he replied with reverence, hoping his son would understand in time.
Sitting on the porch, life unfolds around me. Children play games in the street and dogs join the mayhem. Barbeque grills are lit. Neighbors visit back and forth stopping by to say hello. My loneliness set aside for a brief interlude.
I have family. My children call daily with a reminder to take my pill. They have my best interests at heart. No pun intended. At ninety with aching bones and a sharp mind, I have chosen to boycott the pill. I want to stay up, watch the night sky and see the sunrise in all its glory one more time.
October. American Spirits. Closing your eyes till I guess the color. The way you look on Sunday mornings. Socks with sandals. Campfire coffee. The curb beside the mailbox. The sunrise over Mt. Sanitas. A bass line. Whiskey, on the rocks. The art of delivering a proper apology. My feet in your hands. Salted chocolate. A gallon of water and a mug of wine. The super blue blood moon. Asleep beside you in the desert. Asleep beside you in the canyon. Asleep beside you on the airport floor. Your hands in my pockets. Agreeing we can’t be better people. Agreeing we tried.
101-Word Fiction Contest Honorable Mentions
Wobbly Toilet Seat
I’m prepared when my migraine visits, laying perfectly still in my darkened bedroom, counting breaths through a sacred sequence, eyes closed behind night shades, my naked body under cool cotton sheets and the ticking clock silenced; the melody, harmony and rhythm of my life completely halted and replaced with big grey archival boxes in my head, all boring and empty now, but their corners still hard and piercing. The trigger could be anything, from food to light to smell to, anything. All I know is that without fail, when my migraine visits, the toilet seat is always wobbly.
Max woke up tasting Maggie on his lips, a second from calling out her name. He was relieved to see he hadn’t, looking over at his wife sleeping soundly. He had the sudden urge for a cigarette; it had been years since he’d quit, but he’d never been a good quitter — he was much better at getting people started on things. He flexed his forearm, watching the veins, remembering what he started Maggie on and why she wasn’t here to grow old with now. That version of him wasn’t here either, he reminded himself, biting his cheek until he fell back asleep.
The house sold,” my landlord said when it wasn’t for sale.
“I have a spare room,” my friend’s cousin said. He had never met me.
“You can’t do that,” my mom said.
“The divorce is final,” the court said.
That first weekend, I watched my roommate spend considerable time in the yard hacking at bushes and trying to tame a sour cherry tree that had gotten “too leggy.” I wondered if maybe that was why I was in Colorado. To be pruned? Straightened out so I could grow up instead of sprawling all over?
“Nah,” I thought. “I’m gonna stay wild.”
It is a Sunday morning, early, and in the bathroom of the Atocha train station a woman uses her sleeve to wipe grime from the mirror. She pulls a squashed tube of toothpaste from her purse and squeezes a dollop onto her finger, sliding it into her mouth. She spits, rinses, and splashes water onto her face. When she stands to face the mirror again, she sighs at nothing.
A young girl watches through a crack in the stall. What had her mother told her about ghosts, vampires, monsters who don’t appear in mirrors? Surely not that they brush their teeth?
Yellow Toadflax is a noxious weed, there is also Dalmatian Toadflax, more difficult to kill, and both kinds are early flowering, that is, early in the growing season, thus depriving native grasses and plants of moisture and growing space, since native plants begin their growing season much later. Because we had sex before you knew me, while still in wedding outfits, well, mostly, with champagne and crappy hors d’oevres in our stomachs and loud stupid sentimental sappy crappy music screaming around from the backside of the bar, I think, like toadflax, ripping out at the roots is probably best.
101-Word Fiction Contest Finalists
Cost of Living
I hate this place,” said Frankie. His shift was over. He searched inside his slim black wallet for the ten dollar bill he saved for a bottle of Kombucha.
Hair like Jesus. Teeth like Seabiscuit the Wonder Horse. His frame made you think, ‘Where is Waldo?’ Frankie had happy expectations that radiated out of his hair, teeth and wiry limbs.
Frankie quit the community college two miles from his mom’s house and moved to the Rocky Mountains. He found a job as a cashier for a small nostalgic grocery store. And he found that Nostalgia has a high price tag.
He must have been near 100 when he sat next to me at the diner counter. Roger said he was a rancher. When I said I was from Florida, he told me about the time he caught a baby alligator there and brought it back to Montana. They let the gator loose at the hot springs. They figured he might like it. He did. The bathers didn’t. The waitress had often heard this story. Before he thanked me for talking to him, he told me he was a millionaire. I didn’t believe him until months later, when I got the letter.
In 8th grade English we had to read Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and write a poem about it.
I got the gist of the book – It wasn’t the monster’s fault. And that was very relatable to me.
My poem got an A, and they even wanted to put it in the school paper.
“No,” I said.
“Really?” they said, “but it’s so good.”
“No,” I said.
So it never went in the paper.
People who relate to monsters do shit like that sometimes. It’s not their fault.
I think I want to be in the paper now.
Stepping in Shit
Walking along the shallows of the creek his bare foot suddenly felt a cool muck. It was the same consistency of the dog shit he stepped in as a barefoot boy, at an age when his mother wiped the tears and shit away. He accidentally found the man they were looking for, hidden in the flotsam near a storm grate. The waterlogged shirt moved like a trout waiting for a midge to fall in the cold spring current.
When the police finally arrived they gave him a blanket to wipe his feet but for both men the tears never stopped flowing.
I get monsooned. My dress feels like a handkerchief after a funeral for a baby. Electricity goes south with the storm. No hot kettle for tea. Shape my soggy straw hat on a chair, set my dress to drip dry, and observe the segmented garden through bars of open window. Rain brims pond and sprouts small rivers as though it came up from the earth as it blooms and bubbles forth. Clouds lose their train, forget what they were doing, wander off muttering. For a moment, between rush of motos, something like silence hovers. Something like patience sinks in.
I walked a mile to the light rail station where I hopped on the E and took that to Union Station where I walked downstairs to the bus depot and got on the FF which I took up to Boulder and called an Uber that took me to Chautauqua Park where I climbed up to the top of the mountain and felt nothing but wind so I came down and found my way to the visitor’s center where I walked across the lobby and into the restroom, stared into the mirror and found what I was looking for the whole time.
He promised her, for 65 years, that he would stay alive longer than she. She demanded it, so fearful of being alone. He loved her, adored her, so promised her without hesitation or regret. Agreed to dialysis at 93 — four hours of giant needles piercing him three days a week… because he promised. Dead man walking, he knew. She refused to give him permission to renege. He loved her too profoundly to make it a lie. So I did, when he was in such pain that he could not speak. I did — a gift that will always haunt me.
The Last Animal
The last animal died on August 17, 2213. After years of debate, the WGO finally ruled the resources needed to maintain DeAnne the dolphin and her nine-square-meter tank were no longer justifiable according to World Law. There was no formality to the euthanasia, yet it appeared ceremonious due to the massive media presence and 24-billion worldwide Screen viewership. DeAnne’s body was immediately delivered to a local energy port and reutilized into the System. The site was deemed residentially viable, so construction on a 300-floor studio tower began that afternoon.
Back 2 Haunt U
When I finished, Steve said, “That will come back to haunt you.”
“Any of it. Even if one part of it is revealed, it will all come out, and then your shit’s in the breeze.”
I realized he was right. No one must learn of any of it.
“Who have you told?”
Steve was one of the few friends I had left. Not a great friend, though. Not completely trustworthy. Always playing the angles.
The corners of his mouth curled slightly.
So, I shot him. Steve was right, it will probably come back to haunt me.
Grock, the resident raven, greeted me with shrill alarm calls when I leaned over to pick wax currents near my cabin. I stood up and saw that she wasn’t the only one watching. There was a crouching cougar. His yellow eyes locked onto mine as I stumbled backwards, tripped and fell.
Struggling to get up, I saw the cougar whip his head around. Grock had pulled his tail. Safely back in the cabin, I looked through the window and saw Grock on her favorite tree. A black feather lay on my stoop the next morning.