Short Story Competition: Seventh Batch Is Open for Voting!
I thought this week we would have the final batch of stories, but we still have one more to go next week. We were left with 15 stories, so instead of making a bigger batch, we will have 8 competing today, and 7 next week. That way you have more time to read each of the stories and vote on your favorite one!
After that we will have a final round with all the batch winners (8 of them), competing for the first place and for the prizes.
1. Friends and Enemies by John B. Moss
MILES CRAY was steering his car with one hand while reaching over the back seat to grab another can of beer from the open case sitting on the floor behind him. Seated cross-legged in the passenger seat, SHEILA BARMIS was dreamily rocking back and forth to the CD playing in the HIFI system. Miles hadn’t seen the kid on the bicycle coming from the left into the path of the car because of his attempt to twist his body to retrieve the beer, and both of them had an open beer in their hand at point of impact.
What happened next wasn’t in slow motion, but telling it makes it seem so; the kid, a boy about age 13, went flying through the air and landed in an oleander bush. The bush probably saved his life, but didn’t cure the broken legs that left him in an unconscious bundle.
Miles jumped out of the car, after he got it stopped, and ran to check on the kid while Sheila recovered from the dreamy state and ran to a nearby house to call 911. They were both standing by the kid when the police and ambulance arrived. The police questioned Miles, and Sheila answered questions too, all the while the scene contained the open beer containers and, short of the point of impact, no skid marks. Miles was handcuffed, read his rights, and taken away in the police car. The kid was placed in the ambulance which raced away to the hospital. He would be all right, as it turned out.
Miles, when he got to the police station, was fingerprinted, booked, and a hearing set for three weeks later. After making a phone call Miles had his bond posted, and right away contacted Sheila. He asked that she get his car and come pick him up.
With a sense of relief they joked about what a close call they’d had, and how they were glad the kid was going to be all right. In this spirit of relief they took pictures of each other pretending to be drunk, and one shot of Miles peering out of a fake barred window with an empty beer can held upside down. Posting the pictures on MySpace, they edited them to say ‘Lucky break” and “How dry I am”. They admired their handiwork, laughed, and called their friends to share the MySpace humor.
The DA got a call from Sheila Barmis, who had been having second thoughts about her involvement with Miles and being on the scene, and her picture being posted on MySpace. When the DA saw the MySpace pictures, he put together a PowerPoint slide show and, in court, told the jurors that there was no evidence of remorse on the part of the accused. The judge agreed and the resulting guilty verdict resulted in two years of jail time for Miles Cray.
Who needs enemies, when your ego cries for MySpace and your friends desert you?
2. The Gig by Rhonda Franz
It all started innocently enough when I was shopping at the farmer’s market a few weeks ago, as I tried to explain to everyone.
A couple of guys played folksy tunes as people strode through the crafts section. Soothing rhythms of acoustic guitars streamed through the crowd. I walked up close and listened. During a break in the music, I commented on their cool sound.
One guy with long hair and tattoos took off his sunglasses, revealing tired, red eyes. His clothes were clean, though wrinkled, and he nodded politely.
“We just finished a gig a few hours ago over at Kurt’s Bar,” he said. “I’m glad we’re still able to make a few folks smile on just two hours of sleep.”
“Well, you sound great,” I told him. “What’s the name of your band?”
“Hell on Wheels,” he said. I raised an eyebrow. “I know, it’s kind of an intense name for early Saturday morning, but we play here mostly for exposure, and we still enjoy actually hearing one another’s instruments occasionally.” He grinned and leaned toward me. “The music we play at the bar isn’t exactly low key, if you know what I mean.”
“I think I do,” I replied, laughing. “It’s just the kind of music I wasn’t supposed to listen to growing up.”
“Me either,” he admitted. His partner strummed a soft tune as we spoke.
“Now,” he said, “We just have to find a drummer by Friday.”
He told me theirs abruptly quit the night before after being offered a band spot in his hometown. It was take it or ditch it offer the drummer couldn’t refuse, but this left the band hanging with a summer full of scheduled gigs.
Dropping money in the open guitar case I wished them luck on their search. I walked away and then stopped. It was a crazy idea. Here I am, a stay at home mom almost ten years out of high school, playing occasionally for the church worship band. What am I thinking?
I turned back, walked up to the guy, and spoke before losing my nerve. “Look, I played in high school and was pretty good. I play now with a….church band and I’d be willing to drum a night or two with you, just until you find someone.”
I looked through my tired, red eyes and wondered if this explanation was going to suffice for the crowd gathering before me Sunday morning: my sister and brother-in-law, their teenage sons, the pastor, three deacons, and my mom and dad. A video clip of the band playing at Kurt’s had been shown on the ten o’clock news Saturday night.
“So” I continued, “I practiced with them every evening that week after my husband came home to take care of our little boy.”
“And that’s how I ended up doing this…,” I said with a straight face. “…Drumming at a bar two nights a week for a screaming heavy metal band.”
3. The Photograph by Becky Thapa
They looked so happy in the portrait; the long wiry mustache framing his smile, and the straightened blonde hair lying gently on her shoulders; while I sit smiling on my mom’s lap oblivious to the turmoil in our small world. Despite the photo being so dated, with her striped crotched sweater, and his vest covering the polyester shirt, they are a handsome couple. My mom, Ann had dressed me in a fluffy off white dress with a blue sash. I have never looked so happy in a picture until my own sons were born 5 years later.
Our family portrait surfaced after my grandma died at age 83. My dad, John, handed me the portrait that day so proudly, as if to say ‘see, we were once a happy family.’ Coping with the death of my grandma over the past couple of months was hard enough, while seeing a portrait of my parents and me for the first time at age 25 was shocking. There was never any mention of my parent’s lives together, despite the fact that they had produced my younger sister and me. I had only seen a few physical artifacts of their union. An extended family picture, with all of the aunts, uncles, and cousins, always hung on the wall of my grandma’s sitting room. There was also an LP of the Beatle’s hit ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’ that my dad had given my mom when they were newlyweds, which I found once in my mom’s dresser.
I gladly took the photo that afternoon, and immediately began to ask him questions about the past, although he was not prepared and didn’t even attempt to answer. That same day my sister, Catherine, received pictures of my father’s senior prom, with my mom as his date. According to my mom they began dating right before the prom, just several months after the death of her mother.
My dad and his sisters had recently finished packing my grandma’s town home when they discovered the photos stuck between pages of an album, nearly hidden. I had hoped there would be more pictures surface, but they never did, which was surprising considering how much my grandma had loved picture taking. The memories of my parents had all been erased. My parents had at one point been in love enough to produce my sister and me, and yet there were no birthday photos of their first born. Worst yet was the fact that there were no pictures of Catherine except for the informal Hospital picture from the day she was born. My mom left my father when she was just 6 months old and me 3 years old.
Catherine and my mom moved out of our Raytown, Missouri home leaving my Dad and me to our own devices for the next 2 years, until she came back for me and we left for Oklahoma.
I proudly display my new photo on the dresser near my bed. Their faces haunt me.
4. The First Party by Kisha Wilson
I tingled with excitement as I dressed my son in his Spiderman costume. My childlike anticipation was probably due to his look of elation as I gave him a kiss before lowering the mask onto his face. It would be his first costume party and I wanted him to enjoy it.
Andrew could not contain his amazement as he was greeted by the birthday boy, his cousin, Mark who was outfitted from head to toe in a Superman costume. I could imagine his eyes widening in awe under his mask as he spotted Sponge Bob, Dora, Mickey Mouse and many other familiar characters. He quickly loosened his hold on my hand as he ventured into my sister-in-law’s house.
One of the afternoon’s main attractions was the Bouncy Castle. Every child that stepped onto the backyard lawn, immediately made their way to the huge inflated palace, and Andrew was no exception. He quickly took off his red boots and placed them alongside the other sneakers, sandals and glass slippers that were lined up at the castle’s entrance. I watched him jump up and down, marvelling at the joy that such a seemingly monotonous action brought to the little faces.
One of the most pleasurable things is watching those faces at play, and this party provided a great opportunity to do that. There was the utter joy on one child’s face after realizing that she was the last one sitting at musical chairs. A contrast to a few minutes earlier when Andrew ran crying to me after being unsuccessful in the first round of the game. But his sadness was quickly forgotten with the arrival of Mervin, the magician.
The uncharacteristic silence that came over the party as he performed was interrupted by squeals of laughter and gasps of amazement as he pulled coins from the ears of unsuspecting children and turned his wand into a line of brightly coloured handkerchiefs tied together. He held their attention with his fanciful tricks and with the ease in which he included them as their voices rang out with quick answers to his sometimes funny questions. Andrew and the other children giggled and laughed throughout it all and unwillingly bade him farewell at the end of his performance.
Mervin’s magical paraphernalia was quickly replaced with a huge Superman cake. As the children gathered, Mark easily chose his cake cutting partner but ensured that Andrew was also at his side. Even though it was not his day, Andrew’s big brown eyes sparkled with happiness and the reflection of the candles, as he witnessed his cousin make a wish and eagerly joined him as he blew them out.
With his face smeared with icing, Andrew made his way towards me, party bag in hand. His mask was dangling from the back of his costume and his sleeves were rolled up. He smiled contentedly even though his eyes betrayed his fatigue. He had made it through his first costume party and had thoroughly enjoyed it.
5. One Shot by Frank
Every night Raymond shot at the same cans—two chicken noodles, three tomatoes, and a cream of mushroom—after dinner in the backyard while his mom washed the dishes and his father read the paper. It was a 22 caliber rifle; the machine his father said Will fill the family’s dinner plates when he became a man.
He’d been shooting at the cans for months, ordered by his father—You need to learn to shoot a stationary target before the real thing—but the novelty was wearing off. What was once a thrill (I wonder how much of it will fly off?!) shifted into an intolerable bearing. He knew how much of the can would disappear when he hit—he could knock the bell’s right off with enough concentration—and could care less about shooting; but every night his father sent him out: rifle over his shoulder, repetition in his eyes.
It was Friday, the cans emaciated (Raymond’s mother would replace them on Saturday, after a week’s worth of dinner), resembling shrunken ocean sponges, and Raymond wanted more than anything to go inside. He lifted the butt of the rifle to his shoulder, aimed at a decimated chicken noodle, and a trigger pull later watched as minuscule sparks floated next to nutrition facts. He took five shots, each one less deliberate than the last—missing the last two, souvenirs into the waves of grass behind the fence—before he decided to close his eyes. The targets never change, why not test myself? he thought, holding the butt at his shoulder, barrel blindly pointed as his finger smothered the trigger. The first shot screamed—a loud crash followed by the ting of metal on metal. Raymond smiled, readjusted himself, and closed his eyes. The second shot kicked the butt into his shoulder, tripped him onto the ground. When he stood up he saw the deer—limping through the field, craning its neck back every other step to lick the red leak at its hind leg.
Raymond picked up the rifle, ran inside. His father looked up from the paper, asked how the recycling was going (He didn’t like the joke, but laughed for his father’s sake). He nodded, put the gun on the table, sprinted upstairs.
Raymond watched from the bathroom window as the doe hobbled through the uncut grass of his backyard. It staggered as others passed—bounding effortlessly while the doe dragged itself. He traced its path with his fingertip along the window until it departed into the woods. Raymond backed up, pressed his palm into the wall above the toilet and cried—cursing the full plates of his family—as his dinner sprang from his stomach.
6. Holding On by Alex McElroy
The first time the girl was eight and didn’t understand; even though everyone at school did. Other parents told their kids what happened; it’s easier to explain that sort of thing from a supercilious distance. Her mom didn’t tell her the truth about her daddy: what he did and where he’d be for 2 weeks. She said it was his vacation to San Iddy, where he’d learn to swallow his pride instead of bottles of pills.
The second time she was 12 and understood a little better, was more apt to deal with the blank-faced, reassuring nods of her classmates. Her mom sat her down this time, told her, “Daddy isn’t happy; he had an accident with a razor; but he’s going to be alright and loves you very much.” He must have loved her more than she did; her bags packed when he came home.
So the third time she’s 17; cut school and caught him on the stool, tying the noose. “So you gonna succeed?” she asked, walked by to grab a soda from the fridge. He looked at her, holding the loop above his head like a halo and said, “Aren’t you gonna stop me?” She sucked her nail after opening the can. “Why? Your body usually does it for you.” She walked up the steps, never looked back.
The fourth time, she’s 40, and he succeeds. Well, not him, but life; in his hospital bed, dying off IV’s, his palm asphyxiated by hers. It’s been that way since he jumped off the stool, went upstairs, looked her in the eye and said, “I’m sorry, but what do you want me to do?” She stood up, took his hand. “Live.”
7. Election Day by Jonathan Keller
A pugnacious looking fellow came up to me the other day and asked “Your vote could decide the Presidency. Who will you vote for?” With a grin and a smile I gave the man a button and quickly walked off. Certain of his expression, I did not look back as my cell phone buzzed incessantly in my pocket, no doubt increasing the odds of infertility down the years. I let the thing ring and my mind race. Events were happening and I had to be a part of it.
You see, as a third party candidate for president of the United States, I was the most important man in America. The imputation of my arrogance will of course be understandable but please bear me out my tale for you will assuredly agree once I explain.
Since running for office makes honesty an expensive commodity, the only message that becomes affordable are the ones that appeal to everyone and to no one. The fear that one’s words will be used not to draw in but to expel out becomes the modus operandi of all political campaigns; in other words, the negative becomes the desirable. Not offending is better than promoting; superficiality over profundity. To reveal one’s desires or intentions instantly stakes a claim that anchors the politician, leaving no room for escape when the tides turn. But that above advice is predicated on the assumption that one must act to ensure the most votes in order to win. What happens when the goals change? You see how things can get turned on their head?
Since, as a third party candidate, I have no chance of winning I am free to be honest with my messages. If the goal is not to win the most votes but to cipher votes away from a competing party, than the rules most certainly change. There is a weakness to treating the public phlegmatically; and that is the key to my success. Although my message wards off a good many people there will be many who, due to the nature of the masses, will vote strictly on an issue they profoundly agree. Just as it is very easy to dissuade people from siding with you based on one clearly stated issue, it can just as easily draw in many who will uphold their conviction to your advantage on Election Day.
Hence, my job is an easy one. Hired by a main party, I am to do the dirty work. To get the public to vote for me and in essence, give up on their candidate, will allow the candidate they like least to win. I will have skewed the election to my favour and win my candidate the presidency. As I picked up the phone to receive party instructions, I thought of Democracy and its meaning today. Winston Churchill once said “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried”. I’m not sure if he was right.
8. Holding On by Renee Newman
I had never seen my parents together. They divorced when I was only 6 months old. I always dreamt that one day they would be together, and our family would be happy again. The personal damage of the divorce was undeniable, but it was the way things were. There was no point in wanting it to be different now, but a girl can dream.
I was a junior in college when my sister announced that she was getting married. Her soon-to-be husband was from Nepal and we are Catholic…well, we were Catholic, before the divorce. So now we are Lutheran, because they accepted us. However, we always identified with the Catholic Church from a distance.
She decided to have two ceremonies, one in a Catholic Church and one in a Hindu temple. Her sari was beautiful. She looked like an Indian princess, if you could overlook her Irish freckles and pale skin.
When we entered the temple, my breath was taken away. There were elaborate colors and everyone was talking at a high decibel. The ceremony started and the chatter continued. This was nothing like a Catholic ceremony where talking is forbidden. This was just a big party, where a wedding ceremony just happened to be taking place. I had no comprehension of what was going on, the language was unrecognizable and the customs were foreign. There was passing of fruit and money. This exotic ritual was very dowry-like, and it was all very exciting.
Then my parents were summoned to join the festivities. My mother, step-father, step-mother and father all joined my sister and her groom. They were then asked to join hands and I almost fainted. My heartbeat quickened and my underarms became damp. This was not happening. There they were, my father and step-father holding hands and my mother and step-mother also joined in hands. I thought the temple may instantly ignite from all the years of hatred, battle for custody and competition over their two female commodities. They held hands as I snapped many photos. I memorialized the moment as proof that it actually happened.
I had wanted to see my parents together for so long, but now that I had, I never wanted it to happen again.
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