98-word Short Story Contest
Thursday, December 17, 1998
If you see us on the street corner, red-eyed and bleary, it isn't necessarily because we've been hitting the egg nog early. This year's Short Story Contest was record-setting in terms of numbers of entries; there was a lot of reading to do. We received approximately 170 entries from our readership at large, and more than 100 others from various classes around the county. Congratulations to Allen Martin from Pacific Grove for his first-place finish, and to Rosemary Wright of Seaside and Josh Weinstein of Monterey for taking second and third place, respectively.
The misting fog swirled around Harold as he desperately clung to the rocky cliff. The night draped over his body like a wet sack cinching tighter and tighter. His breath came in short quick gasps.
To climb was certain risk.
To let go was certain death.
Hours passed. Hallucinations shattered the silence.
The pounding voice in his head returned again and again assuring him safety was at the top. As his hand slowly released, feeling for the next rocky hold, the ledge below crumbled.
Harold''s flailing arms grabbed only gray; his mind grabbed only memories.
We''d known each other for over five years. I remember the day we met each other as if it were yesterday, gazing into each other''s eyes and holding hands: "Love at first sight." I thought it couldn''t end. But somehow I thought the day we would have to part would be tougher on him than on me. I was wrong.
He told me, "You can leave now," as his hand slipped out of mine. As I walked away, tears filling my eyes, I realized my baby didn''t need me anymore. It was his first day of kindergarten.
ROSEMARY C. WRIGHT,
Postcard from Heaven
I met God yesterday. He''s pretty regular, for God. He said it actually gets boring here-that''s why he started helping sports teams win games. Then he showed me his act; I liked the earthquakes and floods, but his tornadoes and hurricanes were too similar. I suggested frogs again. He''s considering it! Also, did you know he screens the calls that come in after sneezes? He only blesses people who ACTUALLY stop breathing, and that''s pretty rare. I asked if it''s the same with calls during sex. He said, "I''m married-who remembers?" See? Pretty regular, for God.
Mrs. Sutter''s Burden
My mother, Mrs. Sutter, muttered that my brother''s bourbon is her burden. My surgeon, Dr. Gergen, uttered that my brother''s mother should be his burden--not his bourbon (my brother being a nerd blurred by bourbon).
Dr. Gergen heard a blurb in Berlin that a disturbed nerd''s bourbon urge could be curbed by surgery merged with clergy. But my fluttered mother, Mrs. Sutter, sputtered she verges on the urge to put a bird in the nerd''s bourbon to purge that burden so it won''t surge on, regardless of Dr. Gergen the surgeon''s word on curbing the nerd''s bourbon.
Mother''s long combat with cervical cancer had wiped out our parent''s savings. A week before Thanksgiving, after Dad got a mortgage on our seaside Victorian of five Bradford generations, a downsizing merger took his Silicon Valley job.
Came February, we watched the nadir of despair as El Ni¤o slowly sucked our home over a Santa Cruz cliff, forcing us into the care of second cousins. Three days after the house crashed into the Pacific, Dad followed it.
My sister Lisa, 12, asked me why God hated us so much. I was too numb to answer.
WILLIAM D. COX,
''Nother Day, ''Nother Dollar
Sonny smiled "thanks" to the Ford driver. His cardboard sign fluttered against his leg as he pocketed the change. As the sun''s warmth disappeared with the afternoon, people sympathized bigger.
The next six drivers avoided eye contact with him as they approached the stop sign. Then, a Cherokee stopped. The driver held a $5 bill.
"Get a real job!"
Sonny took it, smiled, and walked to the back of the nearby gas station. He got into his ''97 Nissan. Not a bad day''s work: seventy-three bucks. Tomorrow, he''d try the off-ramp.
Then, vacation time in Tahoe.
The homeless man wakes with a start. The library is dark and quiet. "Is the power out?" he wonders. The alarm''s ringing as he tries to leave answers that question. He''s been locked in. The librarians missed him at closing. Sitting in the same place day after day he''s become invisible to them. The cops come and question him until the library director arrives. "It''s OK," she tells them. "He''s a regular. Let him go." He trudges around back to get his shopping cart and leaves. When the library opens the next morning, he''s waiting at the door.
It is rigid and heavy in my hands, sliding against my palms. I touch, shyly at first and I like it. I''ve been taught differently. Years of lessons shot to hell. I giggle. Mother would cry. Father would yell. If they knew.
I feel dirty.
I inhale deeply, goosebumps surfacing down my spine. I feel the power. I massage its length, scared but fascinated. I lick my lips nervously.
"I''m not a good girl, after all," I whisper excitedly.
"What," he angrily growls.
"No thanks," I say, handing the pistol back to him. "These things can be dangerous."
A Fish Story
Me and Arlen, we was fishin'' for croppie at Hogback Lake. I was holdin'' the lantern while Arlen was baitin'' the minnow. "A little closer with that lantern," he motioned.
As I leaned over, I lost my footing and my lantern went flying in the lake.
The next year, me and Arlen went back to Hogback. Right off the bat, Arlen got himself a big one. He pulled and pulled to get that sucker out. Finally, he reeled it in. Lo and behold, it weren''t no fish. It was my lantern--and it was still burnin''!
Love and Hate
She wore her wedding ring proudly at first, until his campaign of abuse wore down her love. One morning in the shower, loosened by lavender suds, it slipped off easily and hit the tiles with a thin click. Moments later she watched her mirrored self place it, not on her hand, but in the red velvet depths of her jewelry box.
That was 20 years ago. She became a doctor. Married again. Had children.
Nobody would guess her story. But now and then she unlocks the box and peeks at her secret, hidden away in red velvet.
"What delicacy for tomorrow''s dinner?" he wondered happily. Susan''s culinary skills had been a pleasant surprise, not to mention her delight in heavy petting. Or would it be better phrased "dessert"? A throaty rumble of pleasure escaped his lips at the thought. He stretched deeply, then turned to eye her sleeping form with appreciation. Gently, he snuggled in closer. "Simon," she protested sleepily. Unperturbed, he nestled his face in the nape of her neck and breathed deeply the scent of her hair. Sighing, she rolled over, "Be good or you''ll sleep on the couch...with the other cats."
DEL REY OAKS
Red, White.and Blue
Feelin'' good and lookin'' good...struttin'' down this street. That man over there is flirting with me. It must be my new, red suede outfit. Men like red. That guy just gave me a second glance. Not bad for a forty-year-old divorcee. And my ex-husband said no other man would find me attractive. Ha!
There''s my bus stop. I won''t sit on the bench; I''ll lean against this white pole. That cute, young guy over there is lookin'' at me; now he''s walkin'' over. Yes!
"I just painted that pole!"
Long Ride Home
The valley road curved and straightened in the awkward silence. An occasional headlight cast shadows on Barbara''s hardened face. Ten miles from home, Phil broke the silence.
"What did I say?"
There was no answer. Barbara adjusted her Miracle Bra which now seemed ridiculous and peered out at the canyon horizon. The hills were black against distant black.
"Any hint?" Phil pleaded.
Still no response.
As Phil turned into the driveway and turned off the ignition, Barbara swung her head and stared between Phil''s eyes. Then she asked with an incredulous frown. "You really think Monica is sexy?"
LAURA CARLEY, SALINAS
He was tall and well-groomed in a military outfit, standing there under the lights. It was all there: the hair, the body, the face. My heart fluttered as I stood before him and he looked into my eyes, swallowing me up, speaking with full soft lips.
He put his arm around me and we smiled for the camera, whispering in tones reserved for lovers and shy people. His warm sensual power overwhelmed me when he murmured we would meet again.
I burned with desire as I walked away.
His name was Elvis and I was 13.
He leans over with his mouth at her ear, "Luke''s just social. I mean, you shouldn''t hold it against him if he talks to other girls." She looks over at the bar. Luke is laughing, his drink tipping dangerously. The girl opposite him is big and unnaturally blonde.
"I''m not the jealous type," she tells him, coating her words with annoyance. She watches Luke, wondering if it will be like this every time they go out. His eyes are shining, she can see that even from where she sits. She tries to smile and make hers as bright.
The judge awarded Debbie the house and the brand-new pickup truck. Charles rented a room near the service garage where he worked. Debbie forwarded the bills.
She kept in touch. She''d cruise by the garage with her boyfriend in the truck and honk, or telephone and wake him up, "Guess what I''m doing, Chuckie boy."
One of the bills Charles received contained a recall notice. He read it over thoughtfully.
"They passed me, must of been doin'' one-twenty," the sheriff told the coroner''s investigator. "Looked scared as hell. Looked to be maybe their throttle was stuck."
ROBERT S. EDWARDS
Could Have Been
He''s moving in with his secretary, Kim. A blonde. Twenty-four. How does a 39-year-old woman with three children compete? She doesn''t. She watches him pack. She tells the kids Daddy is just confused. She watches so many episodes of Oprah she begins to believe it must have been her fault. Something she didn''t do. If she''d just tried hard enough she could have been 24. Could have been blonde and skinny and interested in his job. Could have been funny. Could have been free to run away at a moment''s notice. Could have been her.
Bob unlocked the door and confidently ushered Michelle into his apartment, guiding her to the couch. He dimmed the lights, poured the wine, and settled down expectantly beside her. He put his arm around her, she turned her face to his, and passionately their lips met. Then Michelle heard loud squeaking and a commotion, and she anxiously glanced over at a wire cage in a corner of the room. Startled, she screamed, jumped to her feet, and headed for the door, exclaiming, "I''m not staying in this room with those rodents!"
As the door slammed, Bob muttered, "Rats!"
Potatoes in the pressure cooker, soon to be mashed. Stringy beef. Baked dry in the blue roasting pan. Grandmaw G., steamed glasses, apron over flowered dress, darts from pot to skillet, sink to table, looking sometimes through the kitchen door at the black sheep half of her family, expectantly.
Dad quotes us occasionally from "Life in These United States."
Fry in Hell, Dad.
Mum holds Grandmaw''s Bible tenuously; you''d think it was Catholic, and not just Presbyterian. Jack''s doing a puzzle. Bobby wants to go home.
"Son, say grace."
"Jesus ate. Amen."
The Devil''s Mistress
She woke in the morning sun and grinned while she thought about last night. The devil had been satisfying her for several years. But now she had to hurry since today was the first communion for her confirmation class. In class she gave the children final instructions then led them into church for communion with the congregation. The devil sat atop a beam smiling sardonically as the young girls filed solemnly to the altar rail. Afterwards, the teacher''s pet said to her, "I want to be just like you when I grow up." The devil chuckled.
DEL REY OAKS
Judy strolled the old street of her youth, thinking of the ring in the jewelers. She would have bought it for the daughter she had given up twenty-six years ago today. But sadly she couldn''t. She passed Emily their eyes meet as if they knew each other. Judy started to speak. But she stopped. What a fool. And kept walking. Emily walked into the jewelers. She picked up the ring. And thought ''I wonder if the woman who had given her up twenty-six years ago would like it.'' She thought yes and bought it.
MARCUS D. JENKINS,
You Do Not Ask
Mother sewed peyote buttons into the lining of your overcoat, gave you six days worth of tips for your ticket east, and stood in the chill of the San Francisco Greyhound station waiting for some backward glance, some gesture of affection that never came. Waits still.
A listless withdrawal, yours. A languid removal like needle eased from vein, and I not your child but mere residue; another side effect.
What I know: you wore no shoes, your lips were continents, and that when you walked (Mother says) away, your feet left prints like ashes.
End of the Line
I have become obsessed with living longer than my father. He was not quite fifty-one when he died-wrenched away by a faulty heart, overwork and high blood pressure.
I''ve abandoned my job to escape stress, watched my diet, exercised faithfully. I avoid germy crowds, foil road idiots by not driving. Two more days, and I''ll match his mark. Three more and I''ll have him beat.
Preoccupied with these thoughts while strolling I dismiss a looming shadow--a baby grand slipped free of its hoist straps just above me. A workman yells, too late to matter.
SHELDON E. ERLICH,
He left the room.
It was just the two of us. The only noise in the room was the life support machine.
I took hold of her hand. Cold and soft. She had never woken up. Her face was that of an angel; content and peaceful. I took a deep breath to steady my nerves. Words have never seemed so banal. I sat there gently rubbing her hand. Finally I looked up at the doctor in the doorway. I nodded. A click. A series of fast beeps. Then a hum that moaned slowly to silence.
Five years she''d waited for some sign he was returning.
He''d promised, romancing her with tales of lifetimes before, convincing her reincarnation was the universe''s natural order.
She''d grown tired of loneliness.
Lily leaned toward the candle''s glow, blowing softly. For the first night since his death, the light turned dark. Rebirth, she thought, was just a lie spit out of man''s fear.
From nothing, the candle flickered then flamed back to life. Finally, she felt his presence again.
Lily slumped to the floor as the pills slowed her heartbeat.
It was too soon, too late, to die.
A man decided to become a student of the sword, and, sought out the master. In the meeting, the master gave terms: "You will cook, clean, sweep, without questions."
The student began his duties.
Everyday, the master surprised the student sweeping, hitting him with a bamboo pole.
One day, the master jumped out, and the student did nothing. The master observed the situation, and said, "Now, we begin."
The student replied, "I already have. I poisoned your breakfast."
The greatest enemy of a master is his ego.
A Fair Exchange
When her children cried with hunger, she went to St. Angela''s.
It was miraculous that the church provided for her because, although she tried, her faith was not the best. Yet every time she dipped to one knee before the small box just inside the chruch door, then rose and, making the sign of the cross, said one Our Father, giving a blessing back--a fair exchange--the church provided for her. Always when she reached into the box, labeled "For the Poor," she found money that had been left for her.
The clan matriarch lay with open but unseeing eyes. Family members surrounded her deathbed; their desperate pleas and hands clutching at hers. The agonizing pain was far behind.
Her eyes snapped open suddenly, catching them all by surprise. They breathed a quick collective sigh of relief.
"I was at a train station," she said. "The train pulled up and stopped. Several people climbed aboard. Across the tracks I saw my mother and grandfather waving to me. I came back to tell you. The next time the train comes for me I must go."
In addition to entries from the general public, young writers and several classes from schools around the county contributed entries. Here are a few of our favorites.
From Chad Lincoln''s creative writing classes at Carmel High School:
I sat in the cold car listening to rain pound upon the window, afraid to return to the house that frightened me more than anyone knew. Last night was so vivid. Liquor ran down her soul into her heart. Demons arose from her stomach and began to show their ugly faces. I stood speechless, as it screamed a song of hate into my ears. My heart pounded, strong as the rain. I walked to the door and turned the cold doorknob. She looked deep into my eyes, making it hurt to blink. She said, "Never again, I promise."
Love Can be a Shadow
Gazing into the horizon, watching quietly as the sea falls away, a whisper passes through the air. In my daze, I start to question myself. My first reaction is to turn and look. There is nothing to be seen. Then I stare in dismay. Suddenly a shadow crosses my eye. There she is, sitting alone, crying for love. Glancing at her, I see a lonely tear fall from her cheek. Seconds felt like hours. My eyes start to gleam and my heart starts to pound. I gaze into her eyes and I know she is the one.
The red lights lit up my walls like a fireworks display, then faded while the siren''s wail echoed in my ears. I began to sob uncontrollably. Those nightmare images of the staples where her breast used to be still haunt me. How can she look so peaceful when my world is falling apart? This female predator had claimed yet another innocent, only this time it was my beloved mother and friend. I still hear her footsteps in the hall and her scent lingers in my room. How can she be gone, when I still need her so much?
Simon Hunt''s 10th grade English class from Santa Catalina School also submitted their efforts this year:
After a half an hour of deciding and trying not to overdo it, I finally finish my hair and makeup. I walk into my room and throw open my closet doors. I try on an array of outfits but finally, once I''m up to my knees with clothes, I''ve picked one. I then, realizing I''ve done all I can, sit on my bed and try to come up with other activities to pass the excruciating time. I look at the phone and think, "Will he ever call? There are only so many things that can keep me busy."
The Rest of the Story
Yesterday, after a long day at work, Humpty Dumpty went down to the local pub. He had a few drinks and was a bit on the drunk side. He was asked to leave by the pub owner on account of Humpty Dumpty''s uncontrollable behavior. Townspeople say that they saw him walk in the direction of the highest wall in town, where he proceeded to climb the wall. Unfortunately, he fell off. He was rushed to the hospital, where all the king''s men and all the king''s horses could not put Humpty Dumpty together again.
Reality Checks In
At a party, Joe was drinking soda. His friends were drinking and getting drunk, including his best friend Ben. He was ready to leave when he saw Ben. "Need a ride?" asked Joe. "No, I''m alright," answered Ben, walking normally to his car. That was the last time Joe saw him. At an intersection, Joe was worrying about Ben. The light turned, and he proceeded. Crash! Joe was hit by a drunk driver. He died on his twenty-first birthday, driving from his party. Who was the driver? It was me. I''m Ben, and I killed Joe.
These selections come from Paul Karrer''s fifth grade class at Castroville Elementary School. Many of the class'' entries dealt with Santa''s girth; several incorporated raccoons into the stories, some in unusual ways.
Why is Santa so Fat?
Every year, Santa Clause gets fatter. Some kids leave him cookies with milk. Some kids might even leave him chocolate cake with milk.
Before leaving his home, his wife gives him something to eat. When he goes to a house he leaves the presents and gets the cookies. If you''re out in the night you could see him in his sleigh eating the cookies. He follows the smells of the cookies or chocolate cake. You never know if the next day he has a really bad stomachache.
Please no more cookies or cake for the fat man.
Why Santa is so Fat
Santa is fat because he eats a lot every Christmas. Except how can he eat so much? Does he have two stomachs or one the size of a large raccoon? Or does he bring elves with him to eat all the stuff? But how does he get food during the rest of the year? Does he have chefs that cook him pizza? Does he like pizza? So I''ll put lots of food out for him. He probably gets all the food, puts it in his magical bag and eats it at the North Pole. Yeah, that''s probably it.
We also received a handful of entries from young Coast Weekly readers:
Portrait of Courage
Sometimes a death sentence is the best tool God has for giving new life to a perishing man. It was that way at least for David Gordon when doctors told him he had stage 4 adnocarcinoma and could expect to live no more than a few months.
David''s family sat around his body and reminisced about the good times they had shared before his painful battle. When they all finished, one of his daughters got up, stood over the now-still body of her father and said, "Now I get to hug my daddy and it won''t hurt him."
"A novelist?!" snarled Max.
"I can do anything with practice!" I yelled back.
Max walked away laughing. I felt my face turn red with anger. I stomped back home. When I got home I read my stories.
"They''re terrible!" I cried. "It''s stupid!"
My Grandma came the next day, heard what happened, went straight to my room.
"You can do anything."
"No I can''t."
"You''re a wonderful author."
"Anger can make you mad at everything."
"Do you think I could do it?"
I tried, and when I finished the books, most were novels.
ALISON GOMON, 10
And these selections are from those submitted by students in the Supportive Services program, which provides specialized classes for students with disabilities, at Monterey Peninsula College.
Over the Hill
The tortured soul on the grassy knoll looks out past the windswept trees, coat flowing in the wind, the sparkling sky meets the grassy hill as the wind sings its song of loneliness; it is cold as the unforgiving winter creeps in, stinging his worn hands, the sad-eyed lonely man looks in the distance searching with his eyes for something-never moving an inch; like a statue he stands there.
He may be a few years older but he still has some life in him. Poor man, he works too hard, thinks too much and has no time for himself. Every time I give him a massage, he''s always tense and can never relax. He says it''s because he has a hard time trusting. He believes that God sent me to him. I feel that I am a tool for those who need to find happiness in their lives. Some people wake up every day and forget to be happy. The smile on his face is my reflection.