Welcome to Boulder Weekly’s Second Annual 101-Word Fiction Contest. Just as we had hoped and expected, this year’s competition grew significantly over last year’s inaugural event — the number of entries more than doubled. And once again, we were pleased, to say the least, by the overall creativity of the writers. You folks have quite the imaginations.
There was no limit on the number of submissions a single writer could make and a lot of our submitters entered more than one piece. When it came to the judging, the number of submissions by a writer was not taken into consideration. As a result, you will notice that some writers have more than one piece published while others will have to try again next year to get their work into the final 25, which we have published herein.
There were four judges who assigned each piece a number between 1 and 5. After the judging, the numbers were added together with the overall highest scores being the winners. In case of ties, which there were, the pieces which had originally received the same score from the judges, were rescored in a mini-competition just between those two or three entries in order to gain a final order.
In the end, five winners were selected along with an additional four entries being chosen for honorable mention. We have published those nine stories along with the other 16 of our 25 overall finalists.
We did do one thing a bit different this year. We allowed BW’s editorial staff to get in on the fun, sort of. Our editors were allowed to write their own 101-word fiction pieces this year but those entries were not judged as part of the competition. You can find them listed separately beneath the finalists.
As for prizes and this year’s fiction party, we are still working out the details, but we’ll be sure and notify all of our writers in this year’s competition as soon as we get it sorted out with all those little nagging details like where and when we are gathering.
So with that, please read and enjoy this year’s winners and finalists in our 101-word fiction contest. And as always, thanks most of all to these creative writers for sharing their amazing imaginations with all of us.
— Joel Dyer, editor
101-Word Fiction Contest Winners
Like a Rabbit
“Take your time and kill it clean.” My father leaned in over my shoulder. His breath, bitter with last night’s whiskey, blew hot on my ear. The rabbit’s eye wandered back and forth between the .22’s irons. The rabbit warren surrounded us, its dark burrows leading every which way under the dead prairie grass. “A wounded rabbit screams like a woman.” I thought of my mother, of her brittle silence and her fresh black eye at the breakfast table, of my father’s heavy hands. I took a deep breath and tightened my finger on the trigger. Please, I thought, no screaming.
— Sam Larson
Old Palsy Hands
His old palsy hands reach for my throat and take hold. I’m startled, but I don’t react. I haven’t been this close to him in decades. His hands, they smell like … menthol and something sweet, maybe a little rot. His mouth. The lozenges he sucks on.
His hands are stronger than I would’ve thought, and I am happy for him, for his strength that remains. I smile a little, and his grip tightens.
Then, his grip loosens; He is leaning against me. I hold him up. But it isn’t enough. He lets go my throat, and we hug, sort of.
— Chris Norris
The First Day of the Rest of His Life
He started every day looking at the crack in the ceiling. It seemed to be getting bigger. That would do it, wouldn’t it? The ceiling just falls on him while he’s sleeping. A family of four crashing through from the hotel room above. Right on top of him. With great force. No suffering. And it would probably happen in the middle of the day. “Why was he in bed then anyway,” bystanders would ask while leaning into the yellow police tape. “Oh, he was always sleeping,” the hotel receptionist would reply, “Sleeping his life away. Never had a family. Till now.”
— Jonathan Brown
I shoveled caked manure patties until the cicadas started screaming and owls began negotiations.
Mother rang the cast iron triangle as the soggy soil belched beneath my cowboy boots.
After a soak in the tub it was time to go.
Our land barge was a silver Lincoln that levied ruts on the dirt road.
I lounged in the backseat, munching candy cigarettes and chewing bubblegum cigars.
The eight track whined with distress and speakers blared gunfighter ballads.
The cool leather seats were cracked and supple in their disintegration. I sought to solve a cube of many colors with random twists.
— Joseph Sterling
It’s a challenge to the big-bodied TV set I’m watching. I’m bloated on beer and curled under a stained sheet. Who gives a shit? The languages leak under the door like smells and lead out to this country, almost dripping off the globe.
John Prine sings about his Mexican home, and it’s the best damn song I’ve heard.
No sense in its replacement. Again. It beckons: the voices, the strings, the studio buzz, the underpowered lamp above my bed, a Patagonian wilderness a horse-neigh away out my window. Glaciers be damned, friends. There is more that is melting than ice.
— Ryan Slabaugh
101-Word Fiction Contest Honorable Mentions
The family next to me became visibly upset after my tenth cotton candy. “Some people,” the father said loudly, putting his arm around his wife’s shivering shoulders, “would have you believe there wasn’t a war on.” He glared while I licked the sugar from my fingertips. “Some people would act like nothing was happening.” Above the train station bombs walked like thunder. None of us were going to survive the night. I finished my cotton candy and threw the paper cone down onto the tracks. I could hear rats fighting for the scraps, scuffling in the darkness. I love cotton candy.
— Sam Larson
When he was five, he chose to have one marshmallow now rather than two later, and they said he’d always lack restraint. Aged 21 at Stanford, he got swept up in his role as guard, and they called him a potential Nazi. Based on resume and wage data versus women co-workers, they considered him unduly privileged by age 40. Then at 65, he waited in a room with candy meant for children and lied about the amount to which he helped himself. They sighed and checked the data, happy to see average life expectancy gave him only 13.7 more years.
— Kate Jonuska
The gray house tilted in the early evening fog. Sigrid’s aunt Beatrice sat, still and cold in the rocker, her eyes closed. Sigrid answered the door to emergency men in heavy coats, damp from the mist. Red lights washed the house.
“She’s resting now.”
“Ma’am, please let us inside. You will need to come with us.”
“I don’t understand. It’s almost dinner time.”
Two ambulance men escorted Sigrid to the waiting vehicle.
“Please, she needs me.”
A thin breeze lifted the fog and dried leaves swept the rocky drive.
From the house came a frail voice.
“Sigrid, where is my tea?”
— Geoff O’Keeffe
This is Life
“This is the life,” she’d said earlier that night, her voice now taunting him.
He focused on the brightness where the orange turned to yellow turned to white. Crackle and pop sending the tiny sparks scattering blindly like waterbugs disappearing up into the night sky. “Best entertainment,” he heard her say. He’d miss her. He tried to smile the way he would when apologizing to her. The warmth on his face. Tightness there where his tears had dried. He was now alone. But not for long. They would find him. And the bone fragments. They would put him away. For life.
— Jonathan Brown
101-Word Fiction Contest Finalists
The Locust Killer
At lunchtime, he wasn’t sure he could eat. A hangover had set, caused by the poisons he had spread the night before. They always crept into him like a sickness, no matter how many shields he built and masks he wore. The pests he doused — God-damned if God-damned is literal, he explained to his wife, minister, diesel man, loan officer and anyone who would listen — they’re like a monster without a head. It triggered conversations about how, exactly, to kill ‘em best.
Made you a grilled cheese, she said.
Should we pray first?
Never did no harm.
— Ryan Slabaugh
Not All Monsters
His voice will leak into you like cold coffee. He will stare out from black-hole eyes, with curls like coal smoke over his brow, and he will flash his teeth. He will say, “Don’t look at me like that.”
You will feel the splits in your ribs, the burn in your belly, the blood on your body, the breaking of your bones, the smell of yourself like an acid rain; you will feel your mother beside you. You will feel your mother inside you. And you will say, “You know what you are.”
You will hold out a handful of teeth.
— Lexi Schwartz
Few Bhuddists could walk their talk like Gomden. He’d been in the sangha for at least two decades, though he wasn’t ordained. His shaven head gleamed like a freshly minted bowling ball. And his discourses, they swept your mind clean like a spring Chinook melts snow. Ignorance. Suffering. Impermanence. Enlightenment. You could see the cold fire deep in his eyes, almost perpetual, monolithic even. Nobody had ever seen him get vitriolic, petty or mean. We all agreed: He’d cornered the market on equanimity. Then he blew out the back of his skull with a Glock. The suicide note was brief. “No Friends!”
— Tim Gale
Not a House or a Neighborhood for Privacy
Catholic Church bells toll through the windows at noon. The old mother of six children sits in her recliner by a window in an afternoon sunspot. The house sold quickly. She imagines the new family: adding dents to the one bathroom door, banging “let me in” kicking “hurry up,” notching out nooks of solitude under beds, in closets, in a tree, cursing at buzzing alarms, not their own, chiming too early, tasting the ink of fresh newspapers carried in the steam of some other house’s coffee, and getting as used to it all as you are to your own morning breath.
— Jean Thompson
Dadio’s biting pencils during breakfast. He loves the way they crunch when he clamps down on their orange paint, leaving imprints of his teeth in the wood.
He doesn’t touch the erasers but enjoys smelling them. Why he bites I’ll never know, although maybe he’s trying to leave his mark on the world. The taste of pencil serves as a starter for his main course of a boiled egg and Sanka, served by a muumuu matron pretending to be my mother. “Bring pepper,” Dadio scolds, swinging a spoon to crack his shell.
— Kirby Wright
Spirit – Unafraid
In the dream she walked toward the empty lot where cement steps told of a house now gone. Taking the steps, she reached for where the doorknob would have been. She saw nothing, but felt something firm in her palm. A sharp turn to the right, and the door that was not there opened.
The motion of stepping inside the house that was now gone set her spirit free, and she flew through the dark molding rooms, unafraid.
Spying an open trap door, she flew down into the basement where demons lurked, but she flew around pipes and forgotten memories, unafraid.
The Last Hamburger
Late August. Eighty degrees. Three friends under a summer night sky, stars shining through the elm leaves.
“Won’t see you guys for a while,” I said. We were going to separate colleges.
After my buddies walked away, I headed to our favorite diner whose neon tube signs were always inviting. Millie, waitress and night chef, greeted me.
“Hi ya, kiddo. Where are your pals?”
“How about the usual?”
From a drawer next to the grill she pulled a circle of red meat wrapped in wax paper.
“Guess it’s a good thing they’re not here. This is the last hamburger.”
Most days you wake up but one day you wont. That’s my motto, along with others, but that’s my favorite. It was inspired by the one day she never woke up. She had always hated sleeping, the idea of being helpless for that long scared her. The gasoline was next to her, apparently alcohol hadn’t been enough. The song Sleep Forever stuck on repeat. I had found her, my childhood hero, I thought she was merely asleep until days later when the fatal epiphany hit me, you get what you’re scared of, mom got eternal sleep, and now I have loneliness.
“Scientists and diplomats quibbled over the temperature cap (1.5 or 2 C?) while CO2 and methane spewed unchecked. Populations expanded, pressuring limited resources. Gun violence pervaded, ISIS slaughtered, Taliban murdered girls, Evangelicals thumped bibles, income and wealth inequality were standard, voting and civil rights trampled, tolerance and civility gone, 24×7 news droned on.
The super-volcano swelled on geologic time, unnoticed, until all hell broke loose. Spaceship Earth turned itself inside out. An immense fury of heat and toxic gas engulfed the world. A global environmental reset was effected. Humankind was extinguished, forever. They never knew what hit them.
The cockroach survives.”
The lunch rush was winding down. The trash needed emptied and the pots and pans sink was almost full. But there was still time to step outside, and why not ask the red headed waitress who had laughed and joked with you when you were running out of clean forks and glasses and the busboys kept asking, and the cooks wanted more shrimp peeled, and your phone rang and it was your girlfriend but you didn’t pick up because she was just so depressing. She says sure and you smoke in the alley and the pots and pans wait.
The lights were extremely bright and intense. Disorienting. He accepted this was the intended effect. The red/blue strobe lit the shrubbery near the gate in front of the house with the white pillars and the three car garage. He wished for the comfort and familiarity of the unkempt lawns and bungalows with pealing paint on his own street. His mother’s Buick idled roughly even though she was still making payments on it, payments left behind by his father, along with everything else. He rolled down the window and reached for his license but saw only the repeated muzzle flashes.
No Name snoozes on the steps of this porch as he has done for the past ten years, long before I called it my porch. His pale, mud-colored fur is eaten by mange, plagued with fleas, rheumy eyes, one blind, overshot jaw that never closes. The only time I’ve seen him run is when he’s dreaming. There used to be a pup here, a bounder who wanted to play. No Name barked in his face. That pup ran out into the road. Killed. No Name takes his rest easier now, ‘tho he still tries to catch that pup in his dreams.
Mr. Szabo was my European history teacher in 11th grade. He was Serbian, an emigrant, accent thick as sour cream. He taught part-time and had a carpet shop. We knew he loathed The Commies. First off he assigned us “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich” by Solzhenhitsyn. I’ll always remember Ivan hungry in the gulag stashing his spoon in his boot. Mr. Szabo had a PhD and bushy eyebrows. He must’ve been considered one of the intelligentsia. Before Christmas he told us how in prison his female interrogator made him drink a gallon of water before walking on his stomach with her polished boots.
Fever dreams. My bed is on fire. Every fold in my body contains a river. At four in the morning it’s 100 degrees. All the air has been sucked out of my room. Why so much heat? Is this really necessary? Turn it down, Cambodia. The earth smells like melted crayons, like a burned out asteroid, like a crematorium at sunset. Where are the monsoons? The bindings in my books have lost their grip. They dive off the shelf, fall to their death. No matter. Words are no use in this desert. Water is a mirage beyond the horizon, just fooling.
Do not destroy the spider web in the window. See the craftsmanship, the silky concentrics shimmering in the breeze? It nets a view of the Vltava, floating ducks, the ash-soiled tiles of roofs. There is a hill in the background stuffed with maisons and pensiones. I like the orange one best — it reminds me of sherbet.
The web has no spider. Still, its careful construction waits. How many homes on the hill are missing their masters? Curtains hide the windows in the hotels. Ghosts? They cross Lazebnicky Bridge in the dark morning, long after the last restaurant closes.
The Adventures of John Ruhn
For most folk out in the country with hardly a soul in sight there wasn’t a lot to do. Christian liked to put round objects on a variety of surfaces to see how they’d roll. For example a rock. “And…roll!” he’d instruct and wait for the magic. Marbles worked best, especially the whites and blues. His sister Jazz would occasionally pop in on his independent, experimental games. “You can watch this funk, just don’t touch, punk,” he’d rap, “Or you can listen. It’s easy listening.” He once tried a shotput ball as an alternative but the heavy metal didn’t do much.
BW staff takes a crack at 101-word
The wind was just coming up as he made his way into the trash-lined ally behind the hotel and turned towards the bus station. A block down he stopped just long enough to look for the dead pigeon he’d seen in the puddle of oily water the day before. It was gone. Luis craved such mysteries. For as long as he could remember, he had always occupied his mind by pondering the oddest of things; why a leaf chooses to fall at a certain moment or the yellow patterns made by Rose’s eggs when he punctured them with his fork. These were his secrets alone… and they made him happy.
— Joel Dyer
Sitting down in the grass, I kick off my shoes and lean against the tree. It’s nice to take a moment — feel the earth underneath me, soaking in the sporadic rays of sunshine coming through the leaves. I don’t take the time to do this enough.
I’m awakened by my own shriek, my vocal chords erupting, my heart pumping blood into my ears. My eyes skirt back and forth, looking for him. I know he’s here.
I jump up, and start walking away, sinking into the grass as the roots and thorns punish my bare feet.
The moment is gone. Forever.
— Caitlin Rockett
He smiles and takes my cash, our fingers meet in the exchange. I anticipate the receipt, the chance to touch again.
“Have a good day, ma’am,” he says, putting the receipt in my bag, looking me in the eye before turning back to the waiting line.
But I keep looking at him. His beard hides his age. The smile lines and sunspots expose mine.
“When did I change from a miss to a ma’am?”
The question sits there in the space of my mind — unasked and unanswered — something to mull over another time, in a different place.
“Thank you, you too.”
— Angela K. Evans
The woman sat at the diner, absentmindedly fiddling with the menu, checking her watch every dozen seconds.
“Can I bring you a piece of pie?” the waitress asked.
Startled, the woman answered, “For me? No, no. I’m fine.”
As the waitress sauntered away, the woman called at her, “Cherry! A slice of cherry pie, please!”
Minutes later the waitress returned. Now a curly-headed boy was sitting across from the woman. They sat silently as the waitress put down the plate and politely declined her offer of something else.
“Well,” he said. “At least you remembered cherry was my favorite flavor.”
— Amanda Moutinho
Jim and Claudia
Claudia wasn’t home much. Something told me she didn’t really like Jim, not anymore. She had spent her life thinking they were special, but those days I think he made her feel ordinary.
Her frequent outings gave Jim lots of time to sit ten-year-old me on his lap, feeding me sips of beer and drags off his tobacco pipe. Drunk and high, he would let me pull on his long, grey beard while he told me stories.
I would come home smelling of smoke and booze and wearing the guilt of loving another woman’s man while she was off running errands.
— Sarah Haas