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Fiction 101: The Judges' Picks

Judge's Pick: Russ Stoddard


"I'm going down to the casino to spend my nickels," Theresa told Rafael.

"Mommy's going to go spin her nipples," Tadpole said. He was three.

They laughed. Tadpole too. Rafael watched Tadpole and blood sports on the motel TV. Tadpole slept.

Theresa hit; slots, keno, craps, even won a two-minute stint in the money cage. Later, she dragged it all back, dropped a pair of pasties on Rafael's hardened bare stomach, waking him.

"Where'd you get those?" he whispered.

Theresa giggled. "Money can buy anything."

Almost, Rafael thought. Theresa spun for him then, forever neon lights flaring the glittering, golden threads.

—Michael Prenn

Judge's Pick: Shea Andersen


The tornado had passed and Dad pulled each of us out from under the bed. The rain beat down hard and the house pitched with each gust of wind. Ma sat on the edge of her bed and looked out the window toward Arnold Hill. "There comes my baby home!" We could just make out the taxi light through the rain where it lay in the ditch. The door flung open and there stood Theona, sopping wet with the baby under a blanket. "Take this thang she's yours. I don't want her." She threw Kay into Ma's arms and was gone.

—Rita Dixon

Judge's Pick: Paul Shaffer


My child read an article—"Little Girl's Feet Sliced off at Ankles on Carnival Ride"—asked me, why. I said I didn't know. Bad things can happen to good people. He bit down on his lip, said, what if she wasn't good. I said, define good. He knelt on the carpet, tucked his feet underneath, and thought. Outside two big dogs fought on the lawn, all teeth and necks. Eight years old, black and white mind, virtue defined by who does their chores, my child said, I don't want to go to the carnival. I gave him a cookie and agreed.

—A. Wolf

Judge's Pick: Tom Peele

Water into Wine

The Black As Sin Coffeehouse serves this town's tastiest cup. But those who took offense to the name were truly outraged when the Sin opened Sundays.

What they don't understand is this: After hours each Sunday, the Sin's staff of goth girls and lipsticked boys launch into a raucous worship all their own, pleading for the townspeople's souls, openly weeping, collecting their tears in carafes and cans.

Mondays, parched for their morning fix, the townspeople rattle the Sin's doors. They covet those beans like manna from heaven, though it's the water, sanctified by the love of neighbors, that satisfies their souls.

—Greg Likins

Judge's Pick: Amy Atkins


Saturday night at a motel built on pilings, every room jumps with sex.

Ministers screwing family values. Lawyers discarding their briefs. Heavy beauties heaving beautifully. True lovers, pickups, married couples, a menage a trois in rented costumes, simultaneously thrusting and bucking.

They hit a rhythm, love's tectonic plates grind together, everything shakes, no one can stop it, oh yes! oh yes! The pilings sway, give way.

"Oh f***!" groans a panting builder. "Oh, The Rapture!" cries one believer.

Coming together, all ride it down in a riotous tangle of beds, bodies, joists and juices.

It's one hell of a simultaneous orgasm.

—Eric E. Wallace