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55 Fiction 2014 

We like short stories and we cannot lie: This year's 55 Fiction winners



How much can you really say in 55 words? Maybe you could recite a knock, knock joke or two—but that’s not original content, and if you’re going to say something, at least say something fresh and unexpected. Is 55 words enough space to create characters? Establish a setting? We might be giving out spoilers here, but we know that it is, in fact, possible to do all of these things with a mere 55 words, and we know this because 27 years ago New Times founder Steve Moss began the paper’s annual 55 Fiction competition.

For the second year in a row, we invited guest judges to wade through the stacks of 55 Fiction entries and impose order on chaos, selecting the very best to print in our annual 55 Fiction issue. The judges were San Luis Obispo County District 3 supervisor and former Cal Poly English lecturer Adam Hill; vinyl collector and long-time bookworm and bookstore employee Ken Samuels; and New Times Managing Editor Ashley Schwellenbach—unless, of course, you disagree with their selections, in which case: A pack of wild monkeys broke into the office and made the selections for us.


Once, a bird

Daddy pulled a dried baby bird from his ear, once. We were gathered around the table, chewing on corn flakes. He tried to hide it in a napkin, then his lap, but I noticed. He took us to the park that afternoon. I watched his eyes well up with tears while gazing at the trees. 

Youssef Alaoui - Morro Bay

An Odd Pair

Sally loved to argue so she became a lawyer. With such a demanding career, she didn’t have time to search for love. Fortunately, it found her in the park one sunny afternoon. She’d thought she would fall for a professional type. Instead, she fell for a mime. With one gesture, he could disarm her entirely.

L. G. Keltner - Radcliffe, IA


Knocked Out of His Wits

After his head injury he began to hear things. When no one believed him, he stopped talking about it. But it left him in constant awe. Everyone was singing. The trees, rocks, animals, bugs, everything. People thought he was crazy and avoided him, but he merely pitied them in their bland, ordinary world.

Alyssa Rose - San Luis Obispo



She sets a plate of his favorite foods on his highchair. She smiles lovingly throughout dinner. Afterwards, her husband settles her in bed, then cleans up. Routinely, he dumps the untouched food into the trash and crawls in next to her. He prays to their departed son, and counts out his elderly wife’s morning medicine. 

Amanda Gallagher - Wallingford, PA


Immortal desirous

Fifty “F***!”s in the car alone, slamming my hand against the wheel, radio blaring, speeding down a dark, tree-lined highway without headlights, still can’t erase that feeling. Complicit, you promise to forget me. The ache was so sweet we had to. The grinding of our heavy bones lit sparks beneath the sheets.

Youssef Alaoui - Morro Bay

Guerrilla Garden

I was preoccupied watering when a uniformed man approached, demanding, “Is this your garden on My Property?!”

Who is this guy, Mr. Railroad? And why did it take three years to realize I had planted a garden here? The flowers enraged him; he threatened to throw us all in jail as they sparkled, dancing.

Alyssa Rose - San Luis Obispo


The First Time

They went to the beach to embark on her maiden voyage. It was almost dainty, rustling on the narrow blanket, delicately avoiding the sand. Afterwards, he swam; she explored his wallet. Found the photos of the wife, children, the ring squashed by the credit cards. Would they ask how he got sand in his hair?

Grey Harlowe


Counting Fingers Again

Geraldine feeds the wolves ice cream, steak, hands full of scrambled eggs. Long tongues, sharp teeth wrap around her fingers, release and lunge again. A nip, a bite. She counts lumpy fingers. The pack forms around her, sweeps her into the darkness. She has frosted sugar cookies. With sprinkles. Her pockets are full of them.

Mary Stebbins Taitt - Grosse Pointe Farms, MI


For a friend

He dragged the Cross through the streets, up the Hill, then nailed Hands and feet. No one gave him a Smoke or something to drink. But I’ll Bet He would have liked a Final smoke I imagine. Him, nailed up there with a Cig dangling from His lips (from Mary M). I forgive You fucks. 

Lee Hammerlund - Morro Bay


Circle Girls

Behind the red barn, as the summer sun descended, the circle girls yearned for their roots, but their budgets dissolved into grains of corn.

In fact, I heard they failed to see the wounded wildlife within themselves. 

Marnie Parker - SLO


The Editor

The sidewalk lining Central Avenue is packed, a queue of restless vagrants stretching around the corner. “Try substituting the word ‘struggling’ for ‘having a hard time,’” she says. “It’s all about economy of space.” To the next in line, “’Spaceship’ should be one word.” She shakes her head tiredly. So many panhandlers, so little time.

Brett Clay Miller - Broomfield, CO


Either/or: a love story.

Eleanor spent much of the party sorting shit from Shinola: 

Screenwriter or paralegal? Flirt or nympho? Wittiy or off-putting? Starving artist or bulimic?

Finally looking away, she opened the bathroom door:

Lipstick on highball glasses. Needle playing dust on the turntable.

Eleanor, pausing, would now vacillate between scratching her watch and winding her ass. 

Lisa Messner Funk - San Luis Obispo, CA

The Cat Clock

In the attic was a cat clock who switched its tail and rolled its eyes. Spooky enough, but then it started ticking backwards, blinking its shifty, shiny eyes. I’d go out and everything that had already happened was just about to happen. Spooky turned terrifying when things started disappearing as the cat clock grew fat …

Alyssa Rose - SLO


On and on it droned

Five performers were speaking five phrases over and over, one after another, so that all one hundred and twenty possible permutations of those five phrases would be formed. 

The audience squirmed. Some left quietly.

Finally it was over. A few kind souls clapped lightly. Then, from the back of the auditorium, someone shouted … MORE!

Daniel W. VanArsdale - Lompoc


Everlasting love

I was impressed, seduced, first by his intelligence, knowledge. Why the sky is blue, IALA-B, dianadromus fish, Afghanistan, fumaroles …

It ignited my passion, stoked my love, engulfed my life.

Chomsky, Cabernet, 401K.

Adiabatic, Theolitic, Chardonnay.

Ten years later, he’s perfect, and I realize, as I look into his eyes …

Lord how I hate this man.

Don MacRae - Avon, CO 


The Dare

Although secretly terrified, he couldn’t refuse, being only twelve. He was famous for taking on any outrageous or dangerous dare. But this Redwood was an ancient behemoth hundreds of feet tall with spirals of branches no thicker than twiggy fingers.

Eventually, he did it. The problem was, he lost all desire to go back down. 

Alyssa Rose - SLO


Yours to look at, forever

Sprites scattered the living room when I entered this morning. Emptiness filled it, as if everyone stopped talking. I will buy that bus ticket today. And marriage? Take this photo. Place it somewhere, your favorite mirror. I will hover among layers of powder and memory. Your window, I’ll float in tree limbs and storm clouds. 

Youssef Alaoui - Morro Bay

Send comments to Executive Editor Ryan Miller at [email protected].



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