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Flash Fiction 2016 

Got a minute?

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Then you've got time for a story. Our readers cranked out 113 trim tales of 99 words or fewer for our annual Flash Fiction Contest, proving once again that Humboldt contains multitudes. There were brief romances, lonely wanderings, presidentially foul language (consider yourself warned) and bloody murders. Lots of murders, actually. Maybe look into that, writers.

Our esteemed judges, professional readers all, included College of the Redwoods English professor David Holper, retired children's librarian JoAnn Bauer and Booklegger proprietresses Jennifer McFadden and Nancy Short. Enjoy these brief escapes into other lives and other worlds. It'll only take a minute.

— Jennifer Fumiko Cahill

Overall winner, chosen by NCJ

A Question of Love

By Christopher Christianson

"Do you love me?"

"Yes, I love you," he said, but his voice went up on the word yes, and they both knew it.

There was a small silence. He sat up and tried to hug her, but she turned away and covered her face.

"I ... I'm sorry," he said.

She said nothing. He lay back down and looked up at the ceiling. A siren wailed somewhere far off outside. It was a long time before anyone moved.

"This story turns on a single word, and a tone of voice that betrays its meaning. We were impressed by the subtlety and sophistication of this piece — how a momentous revelation happens in such a quiet moment."

— Jennifer McFadden and Nancy Short

"In case you needed reminding how quickly everything can go to hell. This stripped-down moment mirrors the challenge of flash fiction: to break a heart, alter a world with a few words (79!) or even just one."

— NCJ

Murder on the Line

By Alexis George

I set out in search of the gang just arrived to town. They were flocked at the corner of Samoa and V when I found them, looking disheveled in the rain. 

It was hazy, but one thing was clear; they weren't from around here. The cows bellowed in protest. They didn't like what was going on, and neither did I. 

"Scram!" I yelled. The jig was up. Their leader looked me in the eye.

"Caw!" Spreading their wings, the crows took to the wire above.  

I tipped my hat, "I'd head south if I were you." 

"I enjoy collective nouns and a murder of crows is especially intriguing. I love the way this writer spun off from that term into a great Noir riff. Since I've read this piece, I find myself looking at crows in a whole new light."

— JoAnn Bauer

Lifeless

By Christopher Christianson

The stuffed animals were still on the couch where she'd left them: a white and red horse; a small pig; and a doll, dressed in overalls with a beanie that never stayed on. She'd lined them all up in a row, facing the TV. He couldn't bring himself to move them.

But she was ready. "Patrick, it's time we put these ..."

"No!" His eyes glistened. His voice cracked. "No." This time softer, almost a whisper. She hugged him. He kept staring at them. The doll's eyes looked back, but there was no life there. They were all lifeless.

"A snapshot of the loss of a child that brilliantly never mentions the child nor the loss."

— David Holper

Whatever Works

By Sheila Evans

Harvey was on time but his wife was uncharacteristically late and he was concerned. Opportunities like this didn't come along every day, and he didn't want to miss out. He was near the front of the quickly moving line, so he decided to keep going. When it is his turn, Harvey answered the qualifying questions, and was invited on board. The massive doors closed, countdown began, and the Branson Galaxy Shuttle blasted off.  As Harvey leaves the planet, he wonders what his wife will think.

She isn't thinking at all. She's singing "50 Ways to Leave Your Lover."

"I may be too fond of O. Henry and Guy de Maupassant, but I do have a weakness for twist endings and Flash Fiction lends itself to this technique. I thought the first part was very well written and then the end came out of nowhere and I laughed out loud."

— JoAnn Bauer

A Red Satin Bra

By Peter Mehren

I meant well, of course, but the saleslady in the lingerie store smiled patronizingly after I'd held up my cupped hands, saying, "She's about this size."

   "Did you tear her underwear?" she asked.

   "No. I just thought it would be a sweet Valentine's Day present."

   "Your girlfriend, not your wife?"

   "Yes."

   "Don't. Men buy underwear for their girlfriends for the same reason people buy paper for wrapping gifts, imagining removing them to find the presents."

   "No, but —"

   "Indeed, no buts. Come in the store now and then, and fantasize. But as for presents, just get her candy or flowers."

"Advice on buying women's underwear that reveals all."

— David Holper

Curses

By Christopher Christianson

"He called me a vagina."

"A vagina?! What a dick!"

"I know. He's an asshole, right?"

"A total prick."

"A shit-head."

"A cunt."

"A fucking pussy."

"He's got no balls."

"I can't believe he called me a vagina."

"Who would say such a thing?"

"Oh, don't look like that. You watched the election coverage. We picked this one for the shock of what no longer shocks us."

— NCJ

Winners

By Sheila Evans

Diner regulars, Chick, Rose, and their three daughters, always come on Friday nights. They all squeeze into a booth, laughing and elbowing each other, a fun family, and a pleasure to serve. Molly, their redhead, orders her grilled cheese with ketchup and oregano.

They stop coming in when Chick hits a big lottery jackpot.

A year goes by, Chick and Rose show up: He is wearing a diamond stud and a leather jacket, she looks much older.

"Where are the girls"? I asked.

"Ungrateful bitches" Rose snarled.

They slid into a booth, ate in silence, left a dollar tip.

"A wry twist on the common desire to win the lottery, with the big prize being a broken family and a miserly tip."

— David Holper

How I Learned to Love Mushrooms

By Peter Mehren

A poor teenager, I parsimoniously took a girlfriend to a pizza restaurant.

Party at next table got up to leave, just as their last pizza arrived. One asked, "Would you kids like a mushroom pizza?"

Before I could make a disgusted sound — although I knew not why I thought I didn't like mushrooms — she said in delight, "Oh, yes, please!"

I could either swallow my pride and a bite of pizza or I could appear an unsophisticated jerk. Thinking of her beauty, I took a hearty bite.

Now I can distinguish between shiitake and Portobello with my eyes closed.

"[This] conveys a sweet innocence in pursuit of first love, and its accompanying inadvertent growth."

— Jennifer McFadden and Nancy Short

Mexican Revelations

By Lauri Rose

She slapped the water out of her teenager's hand, "Don't drink that! Only the natives can drink it, they've grown up with it."

John stared at the red plastic cup lying on the ground. Domingo stared at John, then at John's mother, then down at the cup on the ground. Shame flamed his face.

That night, golden-skinned Domingo's cock tight in his ass, John lost his virginity. Afterwards he drank a tall glass of cold water, the condensate cool against his hot hand. Years later he would remember he never did get sick from it.

"This economical story about growing up and discovery manages to show a parent's protective concern in sharp contrast to new horizons the parent likely didn't even know were in the picture."

— Jennifer McFadden and Nancy Short

Gulp

By Kristina Patterson

He hadn't told her that his parents would be at dinner. The three of them grinned impatiently as she settled into a chair.

She had the pasta, blandly sauced and sprinkled with inane conversation. Said no to dessert. She couldn't wait to get out — of the restaurant and the relationship.

"Cheesecake all around!"

Sigh.

The first bite was sweet and velvety. The next grazed her teeth. In it was an object — metal, circular, large. Two karats, at least.

Three anxious faces stared.

With a closed-lip smile, she took a swig of wine, and swallowed the entire mouthful. 

"This is another unexpected ending, although when you go back and read it again, there's a lot of foreshadowing. What an awkward situation and it left me wondering what in the world the boyfriend and his parents thought happened to the ring! I enjoy a (very) short story that leaves the reader wondering what happens next."

— JoAnn Bauer

"Well, that was awkward. We loved the humor in this one and the character's fast (if shortsighted) thinking. We hope your Thanksgiving dinner goes better."

— NCJ

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