The stories we tell
They dont have to be tortuously long to stir the imagination
A culture lives and dies by stories.
In the United States, we have our fill of storiesmostly what we get from the news medialoaded with fictions, scandals, rumors, and often touched with the indelible hand of spin doctors.
There are the coffee-shop variety of stories, too, which are often just more elaborate fictions of what has already been relayed through the quirky news stream.
Without these stories, whether true or not, our lives would be flat and meaningless. They give us a center point for agreement and debate. If told well, stories engage our reason, stir our emotions, and, more importantly, our imaginations.
We need them as much as we need our daily food because the stories we create, circulate, and tell about ourselves, whether fictional or not, give soul to a people, to the time and place they occupy in history.
And, as New Times readers know, stories dont have to be tortuously long to have their impact, to reach inside and ring our bells with a touch of wonder, amusement, humor, and even horror.
Our 55 Fiction conteststarted in 1987 by New Times Publisher Steve Moss and which has since resulted in at least two collections in book form, "The Worlds Shortest Stories" and "The Worlds Best Shortest Stories (of all time)"shows how powerful words can be, even when arranged in such small doses.
As indicated by the name, the short stories of this genre are all fiction. And, as youll see from this years selection, some of the best stories are short in content but large in impact.
We received countless submissions from authors around the country and selected what we hope are the most delightful and dramatic. The selection process was simple: If we couldnt put the story down, it went into the "yes" box. If it died in our hands, it went into the incinerator.
And we kept a pile marked "psychopaths," which we forwarded to the FBI in Santa Maria. If you dont see your story here, look for it in the ashes or expect a knock on your door any day.
I love a good story.
Associate Editor Stacey Warde
The richest man in the world is dying, but agrees to see the worlds greatest salesperson.
"I have everything. What could I possibly be willing to buy on my deathbed?"
"A ticket to heaven," says the salesperson.
"Ive given to charities. Never cheated or lied. Ill get into heaven on my own."
"But its roundtrip."
John K. Redding
North Attleboro, Massachussetts
Be Careful What You Wish For
"Only one wish?"
"Times are tough," the genie shrugged.
Hubert looked at his pudgy body, thought of the teasing.
"I wish I had the body of an athlete; lean and muscular."
Huberts mother walked in and screamed, pointing past him.
On his bed lay the naked body of the school quarterback,
Stephen G. Wessells
Greensboro, North Carolina
A Knights Tale
The knight looked at the monster confronting him. With a snarl it leaped past his useless sword, crushing him to the ground. All was lost for the brave young knight; death was near.
"Kids, whats going on out there!?!"
"Nothing, Mom!" said the pink-clad monster.
"Get back inside!"
The knight cried out in despair.
She Hit the Brix
Charlotte DNae loved him at first blush. But Merlo liked to hang with his seedy bunch.
With her character and bubbly personality, Char had aspirations.
Despite her dry humor, Merlo fell over the barrel.
Char hoped to blend their complexities smoothly.
But Merlo wouldnt leave his cru, so the grapes separated.
Char was crushed.
He kneeled, at his bedside, beginning his nightly ritual.
Clasping his hands, he asked once more, "Dear God, please help me win the lottery."
A beam of light suddenly appeared before him. Stunned, the man froze, mouth gaping as a thunderous voice replied.
"Cant you meet me halfway? At least buy a lotto ticket."
Bainbridge Island, Washington
They were born on the same day, alike in most respects but different in others. They watch themselves carefully for both flaws and beauty; for what one possessed so does the other. They hate their dependence on one another, for without one the other could not exist. She sighs and walks away from the mirror.
Brampton, Ontario, Canada
"But, my dear, youve always been able to go home."
"The Ruby Slippers." Glindas eyes glinted.
"Just click your heels three times and repeat, Theres no place like home."
The little girl and her dog vanished. As the others stepped back, terrified, Glinda the Good snatched up the smoking slippers.
"Mine at last!"
Stephen G. Wessells
Greensboro, North Carolina
The Making of Gold
Edward looked at Stephen, confused.
Stephen inquired, "Whats he doing? Is he brewing a potion?"
Edward noted, "Yeah, it looks like it. I wonder what elixir hes concocting."
Stephen said, "Doesnt he have an Existentialism test tomorrow?"
Giuseppe mumbled, his eyes glazed, "Must make goldneed lead."
Edward said, "Ahhh, I see. The philosophers stoned!"
Dog Eat Dog
"Who ate the last piece of pumpkin pie?!" I cried, my eyes swarming the refrigerator like a trapped housefly. The slice I had strategically hidden in the egg drawer had suddenly vanished.
"I cleaned the refrigerator," replied my husband, a faint orange smudge kissing the front of his shirt. Orange was not his color.
Brooklyn, New York
His ex was visiting.
"Im a Buddhist," she said. "Ive detached myself from worldly desires."
"Im not," he responded. "I still want you."
He considered trying to kiss her, and imagined making love right there. She contemplated leaving.
Instead he poured coffee, and they reminisced about the things to which she was no longer attached.
"Expensive restaurant," she thinks; asks him: "Come here often?"
"Im a regular."
She loves his blond curls. Very Aryan.
He asks: "What do you teach?"
"Give me an oxymoron."
The waitress appears, sees them in mid-conversation; waits for the womans answer:
The waitress seals their fate.
"Rabbi, theres telephone for you."
Ragel L. Nel
The Last Patient
Her father had died too early, plagued by schizophrenia.
An experienced psychiatrist now, shed devoted her life to treating mental disordersconvincing her patients that they werent seeing ghosts, goblins, or God.
She knew the human mind created all these things.
One night, working late, she was asked, "You ready to go?"
"Not yet, Dad."
Dr. Frankenstein, I Presume
"Igor," said Dr. Frankenstein, "I need some parts for my new creation."
At midnight, Igor grabbed a sack and headed for the cemetery. Once loaded, he heard voices. Sack in hand, he fled, unaware there was a hole.
"Did you get everything I needed?"
Igor looked in and replied, "I only have eyes for you."
Joei Carlton Hossack
In my head, the neurons misfire and consummate unnaturally, bearing children. I became aware of them when I blurted out, loudly, in a restaurant that Ben had said something. No one at the table knew who Ben was. Since then, Ive had to hire babysitters. Haldol quiets the children, and the Zoloft helps quiet me.
The Devils Lament
"Dont get me wrong, I like my job," said Satan to Azrael, "but Im unsatisfied."
"Sex life dull?"
"Ive hordes of lusty succubae at my command."
"Humanitys shift toward goodness and charity?"
"That messy environmental lawsuit over sulfur emissions?"
"Weve no shortage of attorneys."
Wistfully, Satan looks heavenward. "Im not God."
The CHiPs siren slowed her down.
Stopped for speeding! Oh, well, shed talk her way out of this one, too. No one could resist her beauty, especially her shiny black hair that hung in serpentine ringlets.
The officer faced her and wrote the ticket while she stared, mesmerized by her image in his mirrored sunglasses.
"Just one pair?"
"Yeah, dogs ate the others."
"Well, just received these today; popular these are, not as wild, from overseas."
"Are they sturdy?"
"Ah, sure, just give em a good polish when they need it."
"Well, Ill see how they fare."
Yanking on their shackles, he led his purchases toward the plantation.
Bainbridge Island, Washington
"Hes going to leave you again!" she shrieked.
"You know what sets him off! Dont say those things! Dont do those things! Why dont you listen to me?"
As he walked out the door, and the credits rolled, she slapped the video into the rewinder.
"Maybe youll listen to me next time, Scarlett," she sneered.
On a Barstool
Kevin saw a chick from high school across the bar. Freak, they always called her. So, she had finally turned coolgrew out her hair, wore a little red dress. What legs. He scrambled for an opening line. She headed for the door.
Her name escaped him.
So did she.
Strangers in the Night
Through her drug-induced haze, Meg strained to get a glimpse of the stranger across the room, but could not see past the swarming cloud. Her heart raced with anticipation as he made his way toward her. When at last his eyes met hers, she grabbed him and kissed with abandon her newborn son.