Our 13th annual Fiction 101 contest exceeded all expectations: In 2013, readers submitted 170 stories; this year, we received 220, giving our judges a wide selection from which to choose 2014's best (shortest) local fiction.
The contest's simple rules remained unchanged: Contestants wrote works of fiction exactly 101 words long and a panel of judges, unaware of the authors' identities, chose the winning entries. This year's panel was comprised of local luminaries Rick Ardinger, executive director of the Idaho Humanities Council; Jessica Holmes, co-founder of Story Story Night; Britt Udesen, executive director of The Cabin Literary Center; and local author Christian Winn, who released a volume of short stories in 2014 titled Naked Me.
Some highlights from the judging: whether or not a submission should win some kind of prize based on two words ("tan daddy") or not place, based on one word ("moistened"). Other curiosities included one submission in which a young man gets a little too friendly with a tuba, and a creepy trend toward stories of matricide (almost all of them featuring wives offing their husbands. Dudes, take note: Maybe help around the house a little more).
After hours of reading and much deliberation, we present the best of 2014's Fiction 101, once again brilliantly illustrated by local artist Erin Ruiz.
Join us for a free reading of the winning works at Rediscovered Books (180 N. Eighth St.) on Firsty Thursday, Feb. 5 at 7 p.m. In the meantime, we thank the writers, the judges and our readers for making Fiction 101 one of our favorite features of the year.
First Place $500
"4:51" Doug Kizer, Boise
That morning I learned the nature of fire, windows breaking, smoke, chasing kids and dogs out the door. The grass was damp and a fireman handed me slippers, in my house the shoes were burning.
As the roof caught, he returned; "we saved your books" placing one in my hands, like a delivered baby or rescued pet.
Others emerged from the ruins, arms full, filling the trunk and seats of my old Saab, as we shared something more than flames.
Years later, when I open a book, even new ones, I can smell a hint of smoke, and feel the warmth.
Second Place $300
- Erin Ruiz
"Under the Causeway" Kathryn Wiese, Boise
We built an igloo under the causeway. There was only enough room for my daughter, me, and the snowman we shaped out of slush. She'd write him notes on scraps of cardboard. Dear Slushman: Get a job. Dear Slushman: Take a freaking shower. Dear Slushman: You suck. Her wool hat smelled like exhaust; her gloves, puberty. She'd look at me with eyes like her mother's, steel cold, and sap me of every assurance I'd ever known.
The commuters above took photos of our igloo as they spattered past. Charming, they thought. Our cook fire glowed through the packed snow. Yankee Candle idiots.
Third Place $200
- Erin Ruiz
"Jackpot, Nevada" Lacey Rowland, Boise
It's almost noon, the sun burning my neck, the backs of my arms, itching my scalp. I've forgotten my sunglasses in the motel room, but it doesn't matter now. You're laying in the gravel to change the tire. A line of sweat between your shoulders. Too many complimentary bourbons, too much money lost. You woke up naked and hugging the pillow. I never shut my eyes.
You wrench the tire iron. "Next time I'll teach you." The wind whips.
I don't mention the money or the black eye. Check my cash-out slip. Just enough to get us out of this place.
Honorable Mention $75
"What Dad Gave" Brad Ortman, Meridian
On allowance days my dad's shirt read: I GIVETH UNWILLINGLY.
On birthdays, it was: ANOTHER YEAR CLOSER TO DEATH.
Nearly suspending agnosticism on Christmas it was: WINTER!, and we received Halloween's chocolates fixed to lousy homemade cards.
On New Year's Eve he drank heavily to dull the pain of the coming year.
When we left for college he gave us a single prophylactic and said, "Don't overdo it."
We thought, it's a fresh start. We married and made families of our own. We tried for optimism and made up for ill times until the seeds of cantankerousness blossomed also within us.
Honorable Mention $75
"1972" Doug Kizer, Boise
We escaped to the Colorado wilderness as the draft lottery decided our fate for the next two years or forever.
As I fished beaver ponds climbing escalator mountains, Eric ingested nameless drugs. I found him slumped against a tree, fingers dug deep into the soil. While I cooked the trout, he spoke in echoes and pulled nourishment from the ground. At night I ate among the trees, watching Eric hurl rocks and insults at the stars.
Later, we found that the draft and the war had passed us by. Out of relief, we went our separate ways and never spoke again.
Judges' Picks $50
Rick Ardinger's Pick
"Farmer's Wife" Marguerite Lawrence, Boise
My mom can move a day from first light to porch light like no one else.
At dawn, she shuffles downstairs, gazes out the kitchen window over the fields and skies, grabs her apron, rattles pans, and gets to work.
At night, while my brothers and I do homework, she and Dad sip decaf around the table and talk crops, livestock, and us kids.
Mom's not a smiler and I used to wonder if she was happy. But once last summer when she thought not a soul was watching, I spied mom in her garden, singing and dancing with a rake.
Jessica Holmes' Pick
"Squirrel" JSP Jacobs, Huntington, Calif.
Frank isn't sure how he became a squirrel, though he strongly suspects his dead wife whom he never much liked.
With each day that passes, Frank forgets human things: How his grown son needed to borrow another $1,200. How his grown daughter siphons gas from his car. How his grandchildren tell him his Christmas presents are "dumb," steal bills from his wallet.
Now, there's only the warmth of his body; the exquisite balance of tail as he jumps from tree to tree; this smell of peanuts a woman is trying to coax him to eat from her palm, which he probably will.
Britt Udesen's Pick
"Bent" Doug Kizer, Boise
His wife was a contortionist and we hated him for it. As her friends, we saw her fold into a box whenever he entered the room. As silent as he was crude she would twist into a lamp, wall sculpture, or piece of furniture when he ignored her or worse, didn't. We tolerated him for her, not knowing all he did, as she walked with a backwards tilt.
One day, when he wasn't looking, she began to unfold, arms, legs torso straightening, taller than we imagined. We watched, her body telling the story of her days as we struggled to understand.
Christian Winn's Pick
"Conky" Michael Hopkins, Boise
His name, was it Corky or Cory? I don't recall now. We buds in those high school years.
Earlier, in middle school, we stole his pop's monster Buick Special. Took an overnight joyride. Pops called the cops into it. Got our careers off to an illustrious start.
Later, in juvie, picked up dictionary, paper... started writing. Kept me out of trouble, mostly.
After, I referred to him as Conky. Never said why. He never asked. He had been called worse.
Now, if he were still herein, I would tell him, "You are a fungus among us. You shaped my tree."