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. Maybe it’s because the pandemic shut writers inside their homes and kept them in front of their computer screens for weeks, but this crop of submissions were some of the best we’ve received in the six years BW has held this contest.
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 this year.
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. We only learned of the winning identities after tallying the scores, which is why you’ll see some writers appear more than once in the list of winners.
We ended up with five winners, six honorable mentions and nine additional finalists, however, there were plenty more we wished we could have included. The top 20 finishers have been published here and online.
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 2021.
Doralee wheeled her chair down the hall. “I’m going home,” she said. At the door, an alarm sounded and a harried attendant took the handles of the chair. “Let’s go to the dining room,” he said. “It’s almost time for lunch.”
After her meal, Doralee sat by her window. She said to the nurse’s aide, “I’ll be leaving soon.”
— John LeMay
She sat on the beach. Waves washed around her feet. She was dropped off here randomly. Mangroves and seagulls surrounded her. Rolled over on the sand and watched the sunrise. Odd start to the day. Odd start to a new life.
— Cyndy Van Sant
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 9 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.
I like it like this
Commute time 12.23 seconds. Dress code minimal. Service level outstanding. Price of lunch under $2. Interruptions slight. Background noise arcadian. Hair messy. Communications prompt. Window view mountains. Music selection eclectic. Chores list checked. Exercise frequently. Meal prep handy. Overtime acceptable. Road rage nonexistent. Laptop never forgotten. Soulmate nearby. Comfort zone adjustable. Stairs to climb none. Razor blades reduced. Happy hour flexible. Zoom meetings mutable. Shower optional. Warm sunshine. Cool breeze.
Don’t know what my dad looks like. Mom just said that he was a friend of Richie Havens,” Ionia told Charlie.
She was standing in his art shop on Tinker Street and searching a photograph of the Woodstock Festival. The lilt in her voice reminded Charlie of his sister, when they were children. A bird singing at dawn.
“After it rained, the concert grounds were a big mud pie. My mom’s left shoe got sucked off. She never got it back.”
Charlie stared at her. There was a muddy shoe, from the 1969 festival, hidden in his closet.
I awoke to the clangor of the doorbell frantically ringing and sprang bolt upright in the lounger, groggily trying to gather my wits. Stumbling to the front door, fighting dread and panic, I peered through the door’s peep hole. A flickering orange glow faintly illuminated the porch in contrast to the starless black sky.
Unlocking the dead bolt. I opened the door and cautiously peered out. The chilly air caressed my face. Looking down I discovered an amorphous object ablaze on the welcome mat. Instinctively, I flung the door open wide and stomped it out.
“CRAP!” I cried.
I leave my 94-year-old grandfather in a huff, angry about some silly chauvinistic remark. I drive around fuming, turn after furious turn, spending my anger clutching and shifting. Tears finally come. Fury dissipates. I remember I adore him. I forgive him his old-man ways.
Racing home, ruminating on his rapidly shrinking existence, I startle at the emergency vehicle parked curbside. My mind explodes with images of Gramps lying dead on a gurney.
Rushing into our living room, I see him sitting comfortably alone. He smiles his cherubic toothless smile.
“The broad next door’s got a gas leak,” he says. “Wanna beer?”
Trevor Boscoe stirred knowing that this life had ended yesterday and a new one would have to begin today. He rolled over and savored the break. When he finally decided he needed to leave the farm, he stood, and gathered what he could fit into the truck. As he lifted the last box the screen door slammed. He whistled for Roy to jump in front beside him, took one last look in the rear view mirror, then gazed out past his dog and across the vast, brown field. Answering Roy’s curious gaze he simply said, “Can’t stay. Dirt don’t bloom.”
We made it to the parking lot in a stumbling scrum of torn jeans, shallow gasps, and panic; a shaking pile of limbs that collapsed next to the car. Jacob asked if he was dying and we all actually thought he might be. His skin went translucent, he shook like a weird Elvis and finally stopped breathing: a perfect rockabilly vampire. I stared over our wrecked pile of youth at the Taco John’s. All I could think was, “do we have to do this across the street from Taco fucking John’s?” I mean, none of us had ever eaten there.
She did not possess the strength of steel. No, indeed, more like the adaptability of rubber able to twist and conform to fill the spaces in the lives of her loved ones. As a younger person collegiality, understanding, swallowing her voice seemed the right choice. Everyone must be pleasantly satisfied; that is how conflict is managed. Or is it? After years of suppressing her own thoughts and beliefs, suddenly a cancerous root was growing. Sadness took hold. She was a conglomeration of all the non-spoken feelings all backed up in her soul. Literally, she was rubberized — a gelatinous mess.
A mound of coastal tombs, sun burning stone markers red. Tree shadows broaden to take human form. 400 years before Christ. The Iron Age. Steel swords forged over open fires in forests of birch, trunks as white as bone. The Vikings? 1,000 years away. Bodies placed east to west in the extended position, eyes and mouths closed. Hands cross over chests. Heads on the side of the sunset. Listen. Hear whispers? Those below ground speak through the lichen clinging to the granite.
This is the time each year when the black widow mates visit the mortician. I just came from the local resource center. Similarities? Just call me “transient” or “independent.” No bicycle, no grocery cart. You won’t see me holding a sign at the supermarket.
I don’t like rules. All I need is the bus routes. What’s important is, can I vote? My ID shows where I lived two years back. My ZIP code now is 00000. “They” say I must live in “my” precinct twenty-two days to be eligible. Tough.
I’m on my way to my next flop. Where you goin’?
In Search for a Lost Friend
I followed him to this ghost town. Not the kind of ghost town found abandoned inside the belly of Colorado. Boulder is different. I call it a ghost town because you can see on the town’s facade the lingering dull gray shades of the past. Memories that stubbornly cling to the ribs of everything new. Also, it is cursed, by Chief Niwot. Entranced by the beauty, you stay forever and in staying, undo the beauty. I will not deny it is a thriving American community that Jim had chosen. But picked for its beauty, he too is missing.
I took a break from yard work to watch an old man shuffle past my house. His steps were slow and deliberate, I assumed for fear of falling. He didn’t pause to talk to people or to admire Laura’s prize-winning roses. He just shuffled, looking straight ahead until he eventually reached the end of my block where he turned the corner and disappeared from view behind a hedge.
I didn’t wonder where the old man was going, but instead I wondered where he came from and who he was before he became an old man shuffling down my street.
A Handful of Lint
Patty brought her old sweater to be washed at the laundromat. She did this every time there was a big change in her life. She didn’t quite fit in with regular customers: a young mother with a fussy baby, scurrying between laundry duties and attending to her child; a handsome young man delicately, meticulously folding clothes (probably gay); and a sixty-something woman, just outside the door, on a cigarette break.
The dryer buzzed, Patty took out the sweater or rather one huge ball of lint. Taken aback, she tossed it in the waste-basket and stepped out into the cold.
—Daniel Angel Martinez
A day after the hurricane snatched up a baby and pulled it out to sea somewhere near Houston, Devin killed himself. I don’t remember much about talking to his girlfriend at 4 a.m. after she found his body… the sunrise that morning was beautiful, though. Humongous. Cinematic. A hot neon ball you could fall into: a soft lava love seat. Moments later, so bright that it would just as happily burn your eyes out as look at you. I went to the march anyways. We were a pile of weeping limbs and I spent the day standing in a puddle of absence.
The Tree of Knowledge
Diabetes is god’s punishment for gobbling fudge at Martha’s Vineyard. Sugar-laced butter shriveled my kidneys and kishkes. I cringe catching my old man reflection in mirrors and storefront glass.
I ask Gabriel to fly me to the Land of Nod and lead me to Abel’s grave. I’ll hike west for the Tree of Knowledge, where Cain carved images of Adam and Eve in the trunk. I’m guessing that tree’s still alive. After all, it bore the divine fruit that spun man mortal. I’ll pull gold apples from its branches and hurl them into the sky.
There’s a unicorn in the garden again. She is eating the strawberries,” she announced during breakfast while gazing out the kitchen window.
“That can’t be,” he said, “unicorns only make wishes come true and I love strawberries.”
“OK. I will look again,” and this time she stood and craned her neck as far as she could to see as much of the garden as possible.
“Oh,” she said, “I think you are right. She is eating the beets.”
“That makes more sense,” he responded, “I only planted the beets because you insisted.”
“No matter, she is gone, for now,” she said.
My life fell apart on March 10th. I was a senior super star, a competitive race walker, a force to be reckoned with. Cartilage was my undoing. Now, climbing with a two-step approach, first left foot then right foot, and up I go one step at a time. Lost my flexible elastic connection; apparently used up my allotment. As is the case, in the process of living, there is no such thing as invincible. Age holds a deceptive grip. A tightly binding knee brace — my new fashion statement. I slowly join the ranks of those rickety seniors.
Nannie looked at her brother’s hand and saw the discarded skin of a garter snake.
“What are you going to do with it?”
“That snake didn’t want to carry it anymore. Why should you?”
“I’m going to be a scientist.”
“If you survive lunch. Bean burritos, again. They were donated because they’re past the expiration date. But just by a day or two. And here’s an apple. Eat around the soft spots. Just don’t look too closely. Would even make a snake skin crawl away.”
This year’s 101-word fiction contest may be over, but Boulder Weekly is always interested in running flash fiction and poetry from local writers throughout the year. Send your work (450 words/35 lines or fewer) to firstname.lastname@example.org for consideration.