Pin It

A very bad joke? 

John Denver, Sisyphus, and a survivor Twinkie. This assortment of characters has all the makings of the worst joke ever told. Or the best assortment of short stories ever published. You’ll have to be the judge.

I can’t believe that the cold, clinical measurements and algorithms of science and math could ever be applied to literature. Which is why each fresh batch of 55 Fiction entries is no less daunting or thrilling than the last. There is no formula to determine that a story is good or identify which eager author—many submitted multiple entries—merits publication, only the gut response to any good writing: a pleased smile or an involuntary laugh. So, it’s useless to harangue our stalwart judges about their methods or qualifications. They’re lovers of literature and, though you might be able to argue logic or reason, you just can’t dispute the instinctive, irrational glow that quality reading material produces.

click to enlarge short_pencil.jpg
At any rate, local writers have very little to complain about this year. Sixteen of our 20 winners are local, hailing from all corners of our fair county. And that has nothing to do with nepotism. After all, we gathered all 863 entries together, threw them in the air, and blindly grabbed the first 19 stories that happened to fall within arm’s length.

And before you begin sharpening pencils for next year’s competition, bear in mind that one of those local writers managed to tell a great story in a mere 25 words, raising—or perhaps lowering—the bar for all you competitive writers out there. Beat that.

-Arts Editor Ashley Schwellenbach


All the dead writers were here at the Dead Writers’ Annual Convention.

Up from hell were publishers, editors and attorneys hawking afterlife wares. Reincarnation was big this year.

A small group of writers sat around a table reminiscing about lives past. They argued about everything—agreeing only on one thing.

They missed life’s debauchery.


Mike Chambers

San Luis Obispo, CA


Awake at Dawn

Awake at dawn, Boy Hunter will chase his prey all day across the Central Asian Steppes.

Riding fast now! He is the Mongol pony and bow. Prey is tired and vulnerable. He howls with excitement, cheeks covered with rancid butter wind protection. The arrow appears instantaneously lethal, and pierces the blood of the setting sun.


Lonnie Cunningham

Los Osos, CA


The wind blew through the birch grove. Steve stood in his white suit, straight and still. When the pretty girl in the pink dress passed he whispered, “I love you.” She looked around but saw only white tree trunks. He looked at her and saw a rose garden. Love can be so playfully blind.


Christine M. Ahern

Los Osos, CA 


Broke a Tooth on the Sun

My mother insists it was a marble I had found and placed in my mouth, mistaking the swirled glass for a gumball. But I distinctly remember that day, me four years old, the day I pinched a star from the sky to taste its glossy hot smoothness and broke my back tooth on the sun.

Tyler Enfield

Walnut Creek, CA

Don in the Dumps

Don had it all. Then, he didn’t. That’s life. Least, it was Don’s. Taking the trash bins to the curb, he decided, “that’s it.” Dumping the trash out, he climbed in. The next morning, as the arm of the trash truck lifted him into the air, Don thought, “should have gotten in the recycling bin.”

Mike Roe

Paso Robles, CA

It Could Be Worse

The boulder slipped Sisyphus’ grasp, rolling down the hill: again. A dung beetle caught his eye, rolling its own burden up and over the apex.

Now that would be a curse…thought Sisyphus, a lowly insect; and the feces.

Existing in perpetual futility…lamented the beetle, thankful for its own purposeful life; and the feces.


Ross Lesko

Lakewood, OH

Keeping in Touch

When she took pictures of herself tongue-kissing a mirror and sent them to distant relatives Dana didn’t really expect to be disowned. She was just bored and didn’t know how else to keep up the lines of communication with Grandma in Toronto and Aunt June in Detroit without making one or the other jealous.

Tyler Enfield

Walnut Creek, CA

No Talking in Church

In the church pew I sat listening to a boring sermon on patience. My butt was falling asleep so I shifted positions and my mom whispers, “Would you please sit still!”

I went ballistic! I yelled out, “This pastor is so fucking boring God should condemn him to hell!”

Mom never talked in church again.


Mike Chambers

San Luis Obispo, CA


At dawn I saw some Old Folks kissing in the parking lot. Sneaky lovers? Probably. As she drove off he gave an imaginary golf swing.


Nanette Liepman

San Luis Obispo, CA

Organic Smorgasbord

We hear the sirens blaring when we wake. The Plant has melted down. It’s too late to reach the highway.

The man in the street thinks he’s a magician. He’s directing traffic. None pay mind.

The wind is blowing strong. We can taste the radiation. The Chickens in the coop wince and sigh…

Making breakfast.


d. gorman r.

Cayucos, CA



Worm and Rock were talking. Rock lamented about never getting to travel.

Worm said, “I travel but it’s slow and tiresome. I fry if I don’t use sun block 1000.” Suddenly, Worm was snatched up. Worm shouted, “And fucking birds!”

Rock watched and thought—that lucky Worm traveling again—this time by air.


Mike Chambers

San Luis Obispo, CA


Half naked Pussycat dolls dance in porcelain bathtubs above me. A smoky, private booth drenched in vodka surrounds me. A fedora-clad girl begs me to dance.

The host leans in, “Can a few stray businessmen share your table?”

By six a.m. I’m the wife of a Canadian banker.


Waverly Wallace

Shell Beach, CA

Snack Cake

The nuclear winter was brutal, but Twinkie was safe and snug in his cellophane sleeping bag … safe from everything but unrelenting discontent. Would his creamy filling and spongy goodness remain unappreciated?

A scuttling sound and flit of shadow revealed probing antennae.

Cockroach and Twinkie pondered each other … possibly the last survivors of our modern world.


Jen Barnes

San Luis Obispo, CA


Miranda begged, rubbed up against me, practically purred, so I gave in, said I’d teach her to read.

She mastered the alphabet and flash cards then pawed through a set of Dr. Seuss. She’s into the classics now. War and Peace should keep her occupied.

There’s sunlight on the stairs. It’s time for my nap.


Paul Alan Fahey

Nipomo, CA

Untitled #1

The Buick flew over a ditch before landing on its back. It looked like one of those black beetles you see on the ground, helplessly inverted.

Teresa, inside the car, accomplished a lot in those five seconds. She forgave her father, imagined the twins’ faces as adults, and squeezed in one last hurrah with Frank.


Devin Wallace

Morro Bay, CA

Untitled #2

“A coyote, Fran.”

“No. I think she was kidnapped.”

“Why would anyone kidnap a cat that looks like a dumpster rug?”

In retrospect, it wasn’t the right thing to say. Her worst suspicions about me were confirmed. “Women do like the truth, Gus. But they like it served up warm, not ice cold, you asshole.”


Devin Wallace

Morro Bay, CA

Untitled #3

With an ability to paint a very life-like self-portrait, she could go anywhere. Her walls were lined with her adventures in oils. There she was in Tokyo, and there, peeking around a corner at Stonehenge, and you’ll just have to trust that she’s the one in the space suit there on mars.


Bryan Easton

San Luis Obispo, CA

Untitled #4

When she offered to make him a cup of tea, he said he’d have his the way she had hers. Not a completely scientific method of character judgment, just a slight compatibility test. He was just looking for a sign. If they both had the same idea of “just sweet enough,” then that was something.


Bryan Easton

San Luis Obispo, CA

Untitled #5

His book, he explained, would change forever our conceptions of American history and culture. “It exposes,” he said, “John Denver as a KGB agent.”

“Really,” I said, looking about the room for rescue.

“Take Rocky Mountain High, for example. It’s about the U.S. missile defense system. That song, my friend, nearly destroyed the free world.”


Devin Wallace

Morro Bay, CA

Note: Our judges like the following story so much that New Times is making an exception by publishing it without a city address, which the author did not include. Shame on
you and congratulations, Gina!


There was once a depressed dancer named Susie. All day she would dance to Mozart and at night she would dance with no partner to Brahms. She did this every day and every night like clockwork until she danced right off her apartment building to Bach.

Gina Krauss


Pin It


Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Search, Find, Enjoy

Submit an event

© 2023 New Times San Luis Obispo
Powered by Foundation