The 101-word fiction contest has become one of our favorite traditions here at Boulder Weekly. It’s a chance for us to read the best flash fiction from writers in Boulder County and beyond. Without a doubt, this was the best round of submissions we’ve received in the five years we’ve held the contest, 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.
There were four 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 the scores. Thus, you’ll see some writers appear more than once in the list of winners.
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 2020.
Cowboy Red and the Mermaid
As the pink sun vanished, the crowds on the pier were replaced with taffy wrappers and cigarette butts.
A red-bearded cowboy walked alone, plug of tobacco in his lip, eyes of fire, boots made of mermaid skin.
He walked with purpose, each step a heavy clunk-clunk-clunk on the wooden slats, the ocean sloshing far below.
He passed two quiet ladies with big eyes and smoldering coffee cups.
There were no shops now — just railings and pay-per-squint binoculars.
When he reached the end, it was up and over.
Into the deep green sea, boots first.
This time, he’d finish her.
The phone call came the morning after he blew out his birthday candles. Had he known it was cancer, he would have wished for something other than a new skateboard.
Days were spent hunting for four-leaf clovers, and blowing white tufts off of the dandelions that littered the lawn; eyes tightly shut, wishing his mother home.
His little brother crawled into bed with him again. He heard his grandmother downstairs puttering about; she never slept anymore. He crawled out of his window, and onto the roof.
Every night it was the same, desperately searching the sky for a shooting star.
THIRD PLACE (TIE)
Mr. Been There-Done That had arrived.
He managed to get his B.A. on the seven-year plan, despite the demonstrations, Friday afternoon clubs and other distractions of college life in the turbulent early ’70s. He majored in poli-sci, secured a government job and even joined a country club.
Today, at his coffee break with his co-workers, he would not leave any doubt that he was still a bad-ass revolutionary. He sported his Friday dress-downs, wrap-around Ray Bans and Che on his chest as he belted out his order, “A grande soy latte to go, please.”
—Daniel A. Martinez
THIRD PLACE (TIE)
A voice burst into the room. A woman’s voice. Singing in a foreign language. Melodic yet cautious, as if proper pitch exacted too hefty a price.
An alarm. Did I do something wrong? My mind, as if suddenly commandeered by an elaborate Rube Goldberg machine, began to connect the musical dots. One epiphany led to another, which triggered yet another. I could hear only silence.
The small, shiny steel ball came to rest. Its terminus reached; its journey complete. The nurse, noting the absence of any family members and the waste basket not emptied by the previous shift, left the room.
The morgue would have to be called. She wondered if handsome Pedro were on duty.
You noticed me when others turned away and bestowed the gift of acceptance despite my imperfections. We became inseparable. Times were tough and money even scarcer, but we shared what little we had. Nights ended with you snuggled up by my side providing warmth and comfort. Winter arrived. The bitter cold and snow blanketed the landscape. Two of us laid down one night and only one woke up. My faithful friend stood guard until they discovered me. Homelessness made me feel invisible in a sea of people. Loneliness my only companion until Scout rescued me. I died knowing I was loved.
The Night Sky
Astral cytoma. Or that’s what she heard, but by then the steroids mangled new words. Why did they give her all those Perc-10s? Oh yeah, she’s asked for them. But now it was impulsive night with no sleep. She lugged the heavy canoe off the top carrier and steadied it at the shore. Her feet were cold in the shallows. She remembered everything this time — even a pillow. All there was left to do was row until the lights were distant enough. As the bottle rolled off her fingers she settled back to watch the stars.
The Universe City Boy
Mary was a young fair-haired social worker in her mid-20s assigned to our family. She took special interest in me. I was 16 and at risk of dropping out of school.
“How do you spend your time away from school?” she asked.
“I like drawing and reading a lot, mostly science fiction,” I replied.
Then I heard her say, “Would you like to cross universes with me?”
“How’s that?” I answered quite stunned.
“I said, would you like to go across the way to see the university with me?” she emphasized.
“Oh, yeah… sure,” I came back down to earth.
—Daniel A. Martinez
Her name, Cisza, is Polish for silence,” Anna said as an ambulance raced by LaBella Nursing Home, where we worked.
Cisza jumped when she heard the sirens and then swept all of the food from her table into a bag.
I winced. “And our names will be mud if she keeps hiding food in her room.”
“Relax. Her son said that she is acting from memory. She risked her life, during WWII, to feed friends hiding from the Nazis.”
“OK, we’ll just clean her room and no one has to know.”
“Si, in cisza.”
Along the Border
Hummingbirds go into torpor, an energy conservation state, when it’s very cold. One lay inert on the icy concrete yard. I stripped off my shirt, and wrapped him in it. Shivering, I hugged the bundle and felt him move. When the sun warmed the yard, I unwrapped him. He jumped onto my index finger before tentatively fluttering his wings. I raised my hand.
“Fly, amigo. Fly.”
With an iridescent flash, he took flight, and circled twice, before going through the mesh and barbed wire encircling the detention center.
“Fly, amigo. Fly.”
Letter to Grandma, 2042
Three years now, our croplands under water. Our fibre? On fire. The State of Oregon, give or take, has burned.
Our grazing acreage out west is parched. Resistance to most diseases has disappeared. Our roads are too dangerous, even for a Hummer.
Did you read about our latest tornado? It was reported as an “F6.” It tossed around the wreckage left by the last one.
Our electric power shows up only sometimes. A loaf of bread costs $30. When you can find one.
If we could, it would be nice to see you again. We miss you!
Three times a week she goes to the gym with her stopwatch. Twelve laps, the equivalent of one mile, measured carefully in minutes and seconds demonstrated her senior’s resolve. Each visit to the track, she believed, was putting the skids on mortality. Reasonable people know there is no way to predict when or how a person dies. She knew this, but somehow incorporated this belief, a talisman of sorts, providing magical benefits to those who followed the ritual. Watching as others declined, she held fast to her duty. Unfortunately, however, her stopwatch held only so many seconds; her time was up.
Each month Jean-Claude, a genteel elderly man recently immigrated to NYC from the French countryside, carefully selects a rabbit from the front-window display, pays cash and whistles melodically as he leaves the pet shop on Madison Ave. Five rabbits later, the curious shop owner had to remark, “You must really enjoy your pet rabbits, Sir.”
Pausing to consider this while adjusting his beret, Jean-Claude replies softly, “Très bien.”
“Would you like to purchase supplies for your pets?” offers the shopkeeper.
“No merci, mon bon homme. C’est pour le dîner.” Amid mortified shouts, he slips out to disappear rabbitless into the crowd.
—Missy and Bob Carrier
Catching Butterflies Instead
Tracy cried when her father gave her a fishing rod for Christmas. She was six.
That spring she choked down the orange roe her father had fried in butter. The thick membrane popped as she chewed. The contents squish out like the guts of a caterpillar.
“Your mother loved roe. Maybe you’ll like fish better.”
“I’m not hungry and fish are gross.”
“Your mother didn’t think so. If you stop your pouting, maybe I’ll let you choose where we go the next time.”
“The Butterfly Pavilion. And if you smile maybe they’ll let us catch the butterflies instead.”
She sat and listened to the conversations around her. Pointless conversations about the weather, school, and daily plans. Like well-trained ballerinas dancing around the one squeaky board on stage so no harsh sounds would interrupt the dance, the conversations skillfully avoided the truly important topics. Screams echoed in her mind, nothing would change unless people chose to truly talk. She silently screamed, but said nothing. She had been taught not to talk about such things. But now was no longer the time to stay silent. Now was the time to change. She stood up, opened her mouth, and changed the conversations.
A Genuine Authentic Indian
A little olive skin man, no more than four feet tall, led me to this place. Soon after, he disappeared. So here I am on my own with my newly discovered Indian blood (16 percent, according to 23andMe) standing proud in a dark study in a dilapidated adobe home. Across the room, behind a desk, are four silhouettes with hints of Indian headdress, seemingly one dimensional, a cardboard council if you will.
And as I wait for something a little more authentic, a voice like an arrow penetrates my being, “Are you for real?”
—Daniel A. Martinez
In a moon-lit studio, Ned stood in front of another artist’s self-portrait. His shadow darkened her image as he muttered to himself and scratched out her signature.
“Angie, you threw this away before you died. I rescued it. It’s mine. I’ll sell it and go to Hawaii. Watch me fly.”
Ned raised his arms and rhythmically moved his fingers. A shadow puppet bird flew across the canvas. Suddenly, he pulled his hands down.
“Am I a shadow man, a fool?”
He turned and ran out of the studio, into a dark hallway. Without his shadow.
The End of an Heiress
This scotch is 50 years old,” Claude says to the heiress.
“Impressive,” she responds, unimpressed.
She crosses her legs in the Parisian chair as he pours liquor.
“No ice?” she asks.
“Like sauce on steak.” he says. “No thanks.”
He extends the tumbler and she takes a slug, wincing.
He sits across from her.
“Now let’s talk, Miss Bognelle.”
“My dear Claude,” she says, “Business already?”
“About the wire on your chest and the poison in your glass,” he says.
Their eyes meet.
Clicks her red nails on the tumbler.
“No thanks,” she says.
And finishes her drink.
After splashing water on my weary face, I pause to stare at the reflection in the mirror etched with deep wrinkles, crow’s-feet, and lip lines that are especially troubling. I look old. Friends show up at events looking years younger. Botox, fillers and face lifts tricks of the trade. Tears begin to flow when suddenly I feel the comfort of your arms wrapped around my chest and face nuzzled close to mine. We stare at our reflections. You whisper words of wisdom. “Honey, please don’t change a thing. Our faces are the road maps of the extraordinary life we’ve lived together.”
The Girl Who Flew
The crane towered 150 feet above downtown Boulder, dangling a massive wrecking ball. Below, Mavis scurried by, giving it as wide a berth as possible, considering that the excavation extended right up to the temporary walkway on the street’s edge.
A steamshovel clawed away nearby, stinking of diesel mingled with the exhalation of wet earth. Its driver called, “Hey, sweet cheeks.”
Mavis considered climbing the chain-link fence to punch his lights out. Disgusting pig.
“Watch out,” he screamed. She looked up. In the 2.9 seconds that the ball plummeted toward her, Mavis had the distinct sensation that she was flying.
Let’s call them leaves. When the leaves fell, they crashed. You had to stay out of the way. My rover suit was working fairly well, and I wanted to climb to the peak for a view of the valley. Finally I arrived, and that’s when the flying things came.
They were big. I don’t know if they were alive or manufactured, but they swooped in loud and close. One of them bumped me. I thought I was doomed, but then they flew away. Maybe they are harmless. I’m telling you now so you won’t be nervous when you encounter them.