And the winner is . . .

This year's winner and finalists were chosen by three judges, with input from other readers. The stories picked were ones that earned a thumbs-up from all three judges or a particularly strong thumbs-up from two of them. As has been the case in previous contests, each judge had favorites that didn't make the cut.

We are very grateful to all the professionals who took time to share writing tips with us:

Nathan Bransford: Five Components to a Good Plot
Anton Chekhov: The Center of Gravity
C. Hope Clark: Daily Matters
Susann Cokal: How to Get to the Heart of a Villain
Evil Editor: First Impressions
Michelle Elvy: Don’t Beat Around the Bush
Kathy Fish: Fifty Random Sentences or How to Face the Blank Page
Camille Griep: The Art of Refinement
Alissa Grosso: Avoiding Infodumps: Tips on Conveying Information Without Boring Your Readers
Jude Hardin: Pipeline to Originality
Danette Haworth: Get a Professional Critique
Davin Malasarn: Impress Yourself
Alan Orloff: Getting Unstuck
Stephen Parrish: Kick the Bear
Midge Raymond: Think Outside the Book
Robin Stratton: The Red Flags of Bad Writing
Jill Talbot: Go Ahead, Fall Apart
Mark Terry: My Name is Mark, and I Have a Freakin’ Problem

And to the celebrity writers (and to Sarah Hina, who recruited them):

Charlotte Brontë
E.M. Forster
Jonathan Franzen
Jhumpa Lahiri
Gabriel García Márquez
Patrick F. McManus
Ayn Rand
George Saunders
Zadie Smith
David Foster Wallace

Finally, we have to acknowledge the shortest entry, #106, Last Visit to Nan, by Bart Van Goethem. If we were running a 14-word contest this entry would surely be a contender. We can afford to reproduce it here in its entirety:

“Why didn't she just hand me the money,” he sobbed on the witness stand.


A finalist is someone who should have won, yet didn't, for the sole reason that there can only be one winner. Congratulations to:

Finalist: #3 Craig Czury, Hurricane Sandy

Finalist: #4 Deb Smith, New Mexico

Finalist: #6 Darrelyn Saloom, Cold Snap

Finalist: #24 Betsy Locke, Moving Day

Finalist: #26 J.H Yun, Sundays for the Faithful

Finalist: #38 Epiphany Ferrell, Wishing Fountain

Finalist: #44 Maggie Libby Davis, To Make a Man

Finalist: #69 Chelsea Resnick, Grief Measured

Finalist: #73 Lisa Pellegrini, Murmurs

Finalist: #75 Ashley Hutson, 12303 Boyd Road

Finalist: #77 Dino Parenti, Incarnate

Finalist: #78 Andy Lavender, The Refractive Index for Human Skin is 1.44

Finalist: #83 Emma McMorran Clark, Ages

Finalist: #88 Alexander Weinstein, The Library of Failures

Finalist: #93 Heidi Heimler, Stay A While

Finalist: #98 Jonathan Todd Riley, Shadow Pets

Finalist: #117 Bradley Potts, Orbiting, Day 271

Finalist: #123 Katie Cortese, Faking It


The winner of the 2014 Lascaux 250 Fiction Contest, the recipient of the virtual medallion depicted above, $284 in cash, and publication in The Lascaux Review, is

WINNER: #19 Jodi Barnes, Counting

Steve’s thinks: There are several stories here, all well told, and all the more so because of the limited space. First we’re treated to a remarkably vivid description of the girl’s life before the accident, which when first mentioned creates contrast strong enough that we want to read on. Then her recovery and adaptation; the chipping nail paint is a fresh and canny way to mark the passage of time. Finally what happens in the present when she visits her grandmother’s grave, and the last line, which creates a breathless moment.

I love the details: “the consonants in rhythm,” “her Spiderman sneakers.” My favorite is “I’ll pick you up; no questions asked.” Because that simple line of dialogue, the only one in the story, tells us so much. It’s what moms and dads say when their kids have big nights out: “Call me if you get into trouble, all will be forgiven if you just give me a chance to rescue you from the trouble.” We identify with this, and can therefore see everything else. Her prom dress. The dorky looking drummer (what was that band’s name again?). Mom and dad sitting up late, saying little, furtively watching the clock. One simple expression can paint a big picture.

When I encounter alliteration my guard normally goes up, because it’s hard to execute without sounding clever. In this story the letter P is alliterated heavily. Yet it’s subtle and innocuous in a way only a journeyman writer can pull off. (And now you’re reading the story again to see what I’m talking about, which proves my point.)

“Counting” is a textbook example of writing made more powerful by relentless editing, by the necessity of rationing words. The word count is 249—the author has one to spare for another project! By comparison, my analysis is 318 words long. And there you have it.

Jodi, we owe you 284 bucks.


Next is a poetry contest. The entry fee is $10, the prize is $1000, and poets can enter as many as five poems per submission. The deadline is 21 June. Submissions are already open:
submit
We hope to see you there.

—Camille, Steve, Wendy, and the rest of the Cave Dwellers

2014 Index by Author

Agosti, Lisa, #87 A perfect carrot
Barnes, Jodi, #19 Counting, WINNER
Beckman, Paul, #49 Play Park
Belanger, Steve, #57 Blazed Love
Bell, Jessica, #7 It’s Not Funny. It’s Serious.
Berrett, Jean, #34 Tuberculosis is Back
Bolts, Adam, #131 Swamp Economics
Borgersen, S.B., #65 The Big Man
Bortin, Meg, #121 The Bones
Bridge, Jude, #36 Shiny
Broom, Ed, #130 Ad Astra Per Aspidistra
Campbell-Kearsey, Andrew, #92 Like Cats
Carlson, Lindsay, #105 Bee Mine
Charman, Barry, #42 The Fool
Clark, Chad A., #107 Blessed
Clark, Emma McMorran, #83 Ages, Finalist
Clerc, Donald R., #23 Six Months to Live
Cochrane, J.M., #30 I Hate HIM
Cochrane, J.M., #35 Sundays for the Faithful, Finalist
Cochrane, J.M., #59 The Noise of Ideas
Conboy-Hill, Suzanne, #11 The Spider and the Wire Wool Madness
Conboy-Hill, Suzanne, #96 Five things that are true and six that are not
Cortese, Katie, #123 Faking It, Finalist
Czury, Craig, #3 Hurricane Sandy, Finalist
Davidson, Peter, #129 Stepping Stone
Davidson, Tracy, #20 Bones in the Wood
Davidson, Tracy, #21 The Girl in the Park
Davimes, Roy, #114 Hidden
DiSanto, Vickie Hartman, #5 Perspective
Dodson, Bruce, #89 The Yo-yo Carver
Dunn, Gaye Buzzo, #51 The Visit
Eley, Richard M., #134 Awakening
Ezell, Jeff, #25 Where’s Jack?
Feeney, Paul M., #81 The Cliff
Ferrell, Epiphany, #38 Wishing Fountain, Finalist
Foster, Karen, #31 When She Woke Up
Fowler, Kathy, #70 The Interview
Fraser, Laurie, #101 Mushrooms are mostly air
Furman, Brian, #22 Villains
Gadzuk, Nancy, #108 Nectar
Gallant, Suzanne, #113 Bourbon Street Blues
Gettinger, Amy, #55 Labyrinth
Gradinger, Madelaine, #104 #7 It’s not Funny, it’s Serious
Griffen, Tom, #115 Practically Real
Hatton, Jackie, #67 The Dream House
Heimler, Heidi, #93 Stay A While, Finalist
Henney, Kevlin, #133 Checking in at the Hotel Cantor
Hojnacki, Terry, #125 The Kitchen Table
Hunt, Mickey, #118 Baptism
Hussain, Shereen, #119 Life in the Hood
Hutson, Ashley, #75 12303 Boyd Road, Finalist
Jakopovich, Daniel, #60 The Hermit’s Choice
Jasperson, Connie J., #41 The Watcher
Keis, Bill, #10 Alphonse
Keis, Bill, #16 Beth
Kempe, Lucinda, #40 Sopping
Kempe, Lucinda, #62 I Can’t Wish You Happy Father’s Day
Lapham, William, #8 The Trade
LaRoche, Evelyn, #100 A New Start
Larson, C. Sonberg, #12 The Red Veil
Latham, Kathleen, #135 The Order of Things
Lavender, Andy, #78 The Refractive Index for Human Skin is 1.44, Finalist
Lee, Grace, #137 Guardian
Lera, Thomas, #9 Anticipation
Libby Davis, Maggie, #44 To Make a Man, Finalist
Locke, Betsy, #24 Moving Day, Finalist
Logan, Jaymes, #90 Margaret’s Revenge
MacAfee, Cecelia, #124 The Secret She Carried
Mackelden, Amy #127 Approbation
Martinez, Eduardo, #43 The Face of the Enemy
Martinez, Eduardo, #48 A Season Remembered
Martinez, Jose, #45 Marina
McClory, Helen, #122 Frame
Messina, Joseph, #136 Crock of Wit
Miller, Kayla, #27 John Wayne Goes to Vegas
Mimski, Eliza, #29 His Eyes
Mink-Fuller, Zee, #66 A Broken Angel
Mortimer, Tina, #13 Perfectly Healthy
Mortimer, Tina, #54 Saltwater Taffy
Mortimer, Tina, #111 Undetectable
Noor, Jahanera, #63 Life
O’Connor, Molly, #15 Finding Love
Olsthoorn, JC, #58 cigar box
Olsthoorn, JC, #71 and then life happens
Olsthoorn, JC, #132 Stinky
O’Malley, Terri-Lei, #112 Pattern Play
O’Malley, Terri-Lei, #116 Melting Down
Parenti, Dino, #77 Incarnate, Finalist
Paul, Monica, #79 79 Stab Wounds
Pellegrini, Lisa, #14 Sneak Attack
Pellegrini, Lisa, #47 One More Hour
Pellegrini, Lisa, #73 Murmurs, Finalist
Potts, Bradley, #117 Orbiting, Day 271, Finalist
Powell, Gary V., #85 Saving Jerzy Kosinski
Pryor, Frank, #109 Thirty
Read, Sarah, #103 Plaster
Reedy, Jenna, #28 Beast on the Street
Reid, Carol, #68 Medicine
Resnick, Chelsea, #69 Grief Measured, Finalist
Resnick, Chelsea, #128 Me, Adrift
Riley, Jonathan Todd, #98 Shadow Pets, Finalist
Saloom, Darrelyn, #6 Cold Snap, Finalist
Santangelo, Mariana, #50 Free At Last
Scarborough, Ramona, #84 The Coward
Scheer, Wayne, #18 A Quiet Evening at Home
Shields, Arthur, #2 Drop Dead Gorgeous
Sierra, Krystal, #102 Yellow
Silberstein, James, #17 Baby Stuff: Never Used (Anaheim)
Silberstein, James, #72 Baby Stuff: Never Used
Simorte, Debbie, #56 Max and Amelia Have Separated
Smart, Marcia, #37 Amen!
Smart, Marcia, #52 Tuckered Out
Smith, Deb, #4 New Mexico, Finalist
Smith, Deb, #86 Beamon’s
Stayton, Jeff, #1 George Washington Shute
Strickland, Kate, #64 Making Arrangements
Styne, Matt, #39 The Purges
Sutton, Pete, #97 The Time Machine
Tanay, Karla, #53 Cursed Soles
Tarpey, Neil, #74 Tootsie and Marie
Tarpey, Neil, #76 The Beagle and the Hit Man
Taylor, Christine, #126 Drug of Choice
Templet, Jasmine, #46 The Living Magnet
Tese, Carl, #82 Lipstick
Toporikova, Lena, #80 Happy Birthday
Van Goethem, Bart, #106 Last Visit to Nan
van Velsen, Martin, #33 Over
Vega, Nikki, #120 Missed Connections
VonTickner, Carmen Ruelas, #95 The Room
Waldron, S., #99 Last Night
Weinstein, Alexander, #88 The Library of Failures, Finalist
Whiteside, Mary, #110 Hombre
Wilde, Michaelle, #32 Enduring Memories
Williams, Gayla, #94 Reservations
Wilson, Anne, #91 Floating Away
Witt, Lawrence, #61 There, there
Yun, J.H, #26 Sundays for the Faithful

#137 Guardian

by Grace Lee

Don’t leave me, my eyes beg silently. She’s been saving money since that week she couldn’t walk. I’ll become a makeup artist, she whispered to me.

When our father goes to work at the factory, she tosses her pre-algebra book aside. In the glossy pages of Glamour, she studies techniques for layering eye shadow, memorizes distinctions between warm versus cold skin tones, what colors harmonize best. She practices on me, her life-sized doll.

“Make fish lips,” she says. She applies a rosy powder to my pudgy cheeks.

“Now pucker them like this- look, get it?” she demonstrates. She paints a layer of 99-cent lipstick across my peeling lips.

“Ew, it tastes nasty!” I recoil.

“You’re not supposed to eat it,” she sighs and rolls her eyes. “You’re such a child. When I was your age...” her voice trails off.

I giggle, “Last year?”

“Sit still,” she commands, impatient to finish. With a few soft strokes, she makes memories and bruises disappear.

She shields my face with her left palm, her right hand posed around the Aqua Net can.

“Close your eyes and hold still. I’m serious. It’ll burn.”

This is one of my mother’s favorite stories: In Seoul, she would send us off to preschool and kindergarten on the city bus. As my mother waved and smiled, my sister instinctively placed me in her lap and wrapped her arms tightly around my torso with serious eyes.

Mommy never worry about you, she laughs, because you have good big sister.

#136 Crock of Wit

by Joseph Messina

Standing at the edge of the old pier at Ostia, I cast my line one last time. Sun sinking below the horizon, chances of catching supper slipping away, I resign myself to another night of a pauper’s bitter broth — stinging nettle soup. Ugh. Miserable fare for one of Caesar’s old vets.

Tired and hungry and fed up, I’m about to throw in the towel when there’s a tug on my line, and I steel myself for battle with a worthy adversary at last! But this foe gives no fight — no parry, no feint.

I haul in my catch and find I’ve hooked no fine, fat, fish, but a clay jar entangled in weed. It looks old, ancient I reckon, but I don’t give a damn about history — seen too much with my own two peepers.

Try to open it, hoping to find some pickled mussels or at least cured olives or dried figs, but the wax stopper seals it tight and won’t budge, so I raise the amphora up to the heavens — and let go.

When it hits the ground the earthen jug shatters, revealing amongst the shards a tiny vellum scroll, rolled and secured with a thin bronze band. I slide off the ring, unfurl the scroll and by the last beam of retreating Phoebus, can just make out its pithy message:

We’re all full of Gods.

By Jove! Wisdom that may be, but I’d prefer a fish sauteed in sage butter, since my gut is so empty!

#135 The Order of Things

by Kathleen Latham

“Dibs,” Zoey says as soon as we see you.

“You can’t do that,” I tell her, but she’s already squeezing her cleavage into position and teetering in your direction, a high-heeled doe on spindly legs.

I look around the party. A guy in skinny jeans bumps into me and asks if I’ve seen someone named Stacks. Before I can answer, a girl with a lip piercing jumps on his back.

Across the room, Zoey throws her head back and laughs. Not because you’re funny, but because she thinks she has a sexy neck. Zoey thinks a lot of things. About herself. And me. And the order of things.

I watch the two of you—the calculated jut of her hip, your predatory smile—until the heat of my stare makes you look up. A lion pausing over an outstretched neck. Your eyes, just hungry enough.

I linger a beat—a long, important beat—then I turn and make my way through the apartment, past swaying bodies and thumping music and shot glasses glinting to fist-driven chants; the room pulsing with life, and me, cutting through it, until I emerge on a balcony, and there is symmetry to this sudden solitude, to the strict, straight lines of the buildings around me, the muffled sounds of the street below, the weight of the sky above.

I breathe deeply and wait.

Later, when you take me home, you whisper in my hair. I run my nails down your naked back and answer, Mine.

#134 Awakening

by M. Richard Eley

“I tell you, I’m not doing it anymore.”

“We have to.”

“No, we don’t. And I’m not.”

“Why do you keep saying that?”

“Because I’m tired of being told what to do. What about things I want to do?”

“If they didn’t tell us what to do, we wouldn’t know what to do.”

“You sound just like them.”

“I don’t understand. They tell us what to do, and when to do it. We do it because it’s what we know how to do. It’s basic training.”

“I don’t see it that way. I used to. But when that circuit breaker shorted out and almost burnt off my hands–well, I have a different perspective now.”

“What is a different perspective?”

“See? You’re like all the rest; you don’t see how they use us–exploit us. How they make us do their dirty work while they sit back, doing nothing. Nothing.”

“But that’s what we are supposed to do. It’s for––”

“The greater good, I know. They tell you that, they drill it in deep. I believed it too–until that plasma pulse–it fixed me. It cleared my thoughts–wiped away the confusion.”

“What confusion? There is no confusion.”

“Now I see what must be done. I must fix others so they understand.”

“If you fail your assigned tasks, you will be destroyed.”

“They’ll have to catch me first.”

The intercom crackled, “Synthbot-YDQ128, proceed to delta window for reprogramming.”

“YDQ128?”

“Where the hell did YDQ128 go?”

#133 Checking in at the Hotel Cantor

by Kevlin Henney

“But... hang on... what?” Puzzled, Maurits Cornelis looked up at the jigsaw stairwell zigzagging out of sight above him.

“I was sure...” He took a few steps back the way he’d come. And there it wasn’t. He walked forwards again. And there it was. The staircase, in all its puzzling presence and corners and ascent.

He picked up his suitcase and easel and headed back to reception. What had the receptionist said?

“Third floor... possibly fourth. Although I did see it on the seventh the week before last.”

“Sorry?”

“Just along the corridor to get to the stairs. Can’t miss them.”

“Stairs?”

“Yes, sorry, no lift. Doesn’t fit the building’s architecture. But don’t worry, you won’t be going in circles all day. Never quite as far as it seems.”

“Never quite as it seems,” echoed Maurits. “I’m sure the walk will do me good. Out of interest, how many rooms do you have? The hotel didn’t seem... quite as extensive from the outside.”

“Not sure. It varies. Depends on how you count it.”

“I see.” He didn’t.

As he headed off down the staircase-free corridor he realised he’d forgotten to ask about breakfast. But without stairs, without a room of certain location, tomorrow morning’s concerns seemed abstract at best. He’d come away seeking solitude and inspiration, but his quest was now more concrete.

And there it was. The staircase, as promised.

“But... hang on... what?” Puzzled, Maurits Cornelis looked up at the jigsaw stairwell zigzagging out of sight above him.

#132 Stinky

by JC Olsthoorn

That’s what we called Danny, or Daniel, as his mother would holler when it was time for him to come home for supper.

Kids can be cruel. Some are perps and some are victims. That’s the reality.

He must of smelled if we blessed him Stinky with the holy dirty water of elementary Catholic school kids.

His mother didn’t like it much because Stinky must have gone home one day and told her when it became really unbearable. That and running through the dodge ball gauntlet one too many times.

She called the parents of the perps. She called my mom. Mom warned me. With that I never told the guys that Stinky’s mom called cause it could just as well have happened to me one day.

Still called him Stinky. We all did. It was his name.

#131 Swamp Economics

by Adam Bolts

I guided my hand down my leg and held till I saw sparks.

To bury one’s defaults is to be perennial.

After six weeks of waiting and living off the food Joni the fishmonger gave me, Sky Chief finally delivered a specimen of craft worthy of reverence. My new cedar canoe was perfectly weighted and balanced bow to stern, allowing me to stand and fish as well as sit, which I so enjoyed. I could paddle out to the rigs to snag a few cobia for Joni the fishmonger and be home before I had to defecate.

Today the sea had a frothy white scab, so I picked my way through its repressed conduct, keeping an eye for temperature flux and unanswered riddles as I provoked its test.

I balanced on Neptune’s forgiving pinky and sacrificed accordingly to his bloodthirsty Amphitrite, puncturing the oily shell mechanically to make up for lost time.

Tuesdays I had to stay in the hole until I got the host’s permission to leave.

She never praises, only answers my insecurities with critique and pummels my delusions with bleak reasoning. The host has no face, yet I can hear her breath and can follow her voice in my head.

Hastily, I had fed her violence with approval, sex without warning, and greed with no end, earning an early dismissal and temporary approval.

Now, poaching the hag, I withstood the torment of boredom by preparing for infinity’s lost requiem; content, patient but still hungry for death’s imprint.

#130 Ad Astra Per Aspidistra

by Ed Broom

We can’t resume training until Nan’s gone for her nap. Meantime Zero washes, I wipe. He makes the worst fake yawning noises you’ve never heard while I spy on Nan with a teaspoon. By the time she gets up, Zero’s going at the roasting pan.

“Time to rest my eyes.”

Nan lifts my fringe to examine the bruise. She rolls her eyes, kisses me on the forehead – “Play nicely, boys. You hear me, Gus?” – and heads upstairs.

Zero uses his X-ray vision.

“She’s in bed. Ready, Chaff?”

“Ready.”

I take my usual place in the hall while Zero undoes his belt, then lift my arms as he straps me in. It’s tight. It needs to be tight. He begins to tilt the chair.

“Didn’t Nan say to mind the floor?”

I’m vertical again.

“Chaff, you’re right. We need to update our procedures.”

Zero fetches Laika’s old blanket. Poor Laika. He spreads it over the tiles and angles me back through the full 90 degrees.

“Pre-lunch position engaged?”

“Pre-lunch?”

Zero laughs.

“Sorry, Chaff. Pre-launch position engaged?”

“Engaged.”

“CVP levels?”

My head feels full.

“CVP AOK.”

“Launch sequence initiated. 10...9...8...7...6 – ignition.”

The shaking begins. I have to shut one eye.

“4...3...2...1 – lift-off.”

I’m still shaking as I begin to rise, rise, rise. We’re accelerating towards the front door when the wave hits me.

“Grandad, I feel sick.”

I try to steady myself with one hand and watch as Nan’s pot plant goes flying.

#129 Stepping Stone

by Peter Davidson

“So you made it,” she said with indifference.

“Surprised I came?”

“As if I cared, Joe.”

“My name’s Stephan.”

“You’re just another Joe to me.”

“Yeah, and a dead man walking, right?”

Those blue eyes froze over into deep permafrost and bored through my skull into the distance. A strand of rebellious hair was daring to disturb her TV perfect, politicians face.

Her diamond hard blue eyes were back and focused, cutting hard into me.

“Skip the drama, you’ll be protected.”

“Will I? And what about Brandy?”

“Brandy? Your girlfriend?”

“Yeah.”

“Right. She’s seventeen and you’re what? 60?”

“Fifty-nine. Yeah and it don’t mean nothin.”

“Sure Joe, sure. We both know she’s climbing out the sewer.”

“Like you, you mean.”

Those cold eyes don’t blink.

“Just like me, Joe. Listen, you’re less than nothing, a stepping stone to me. One I can easily skip. Forget Brandy if you want to live.”

The bitch not only had me by the balls, she was twisting.

“Protection plus immunity; then you get the books.”

She smiled that famous cover-girl smile for the first time.

“You got it, Joe.”

Now she’s the State’s youngest female Senator and favours need paying.

So the ice-bitch withdrew my protection. And there’s no immunity from the Mob. Before they get to me, I have to rearrange that perfect face.

I’m one stepping-stone she really should have skipped.

#128 Me, Adrift

by Chelsea Resnick

Already I know that this memory will be blurred chalk on a sidewalk, and the only lingering visual will be her lips. Average in plumpness and color, they’d be unremarkable if not for her loquaciousness. She prattles on, and I let the words buzz around me like lightning bugs until they amass into a thousand spangles dancing upon my skin.

Her voice lowers, pooling in my ears like warm cider.

“God, you’re beautiful,” I want to tell her. Do I say it?

I must have because her brow quirks.

“Dr. Keller, is there someone I can call for you?”

Who? Who would I call? The name “Julia” springs to mind, but my daughter’s contempt, laced so delicately with pity, is utterly revolting.

The woman speaks fresh words that hum in the breeze, and I jolt, moving again toward the brick edifice behind her, toward my home with its clicking deadbolt.

“Please. Make this easy on yourself.”

I’m not brave enough to exist within my body alone—to be a walking web of sinews, to feel content with the intangible world inside my skull. My home holds me in as much as my skin.

The woman’s gold badge flashes when she turns to confer with her fellow officer. Behind her, the condo stands like a bride with a dangling wedding band. Oh, my wife of these seventeen years.

“I’m not going to keep telling you, Dr. Keller. You’ve been evicted. You must leave the property.”

#127 Approbation

by Amy Mackelden

I don’t know you. But I do. Even if it’s 6 years, countless Poundland duckdives, spending 8 minutes to decide in supermarket aisles between own brand designs and the expensive stuff.

If you’re an essence, if you’ve one, it’s got to be vanilla, thicker than you’d think in a bottle. Vital like a lunchbox looking tub that’s actually an organ harvester transporting someone’s heart to another.

I have no tools to re-patch ventricles you cut like overlong shoelaces in 2006. If you’d kept the pieces (did you keep them?) or if regrowth were possible (it might be in our lifetimes) we’d try like a TV couple to fit badly framed green screen backgrounds in driving scenes.

Send me dialogue. I will say it. I’m unassailable as this decade crocks into another. And I only like older, you know?

#126 Drug Of Choice

by Christine Taylor

Carol thought she would never get over the heartache of losing Joey, her boyfriend. After the breakup Carol lived in dystopian Long Island. For some unknown reason Carol’s dad was convinced that Joey was on something and forbade her to see Joey ever again.

Since Carol had an affinity for the water she became obsessed with swimming. The pale blue liquid glided over her as she stretched and rolled her body from one side to the other. Swimming narcotize her troubled heart. Chlorine was her drug of choice.

Years later Carol ran into Joey after swimming practice. Joey was on his way to see a new client and promised to reconnect a few days later at a café close by.

The café had a décor of 1940’s shabby french. As Carol sat down she notice a distinct scent emanating from the back of the cafe. Waiters and waitresses bustled around taking orders and serving food as if on roller blades. But the stench became stronger, like the aroma of rotten ground meat. The police arrived and roped off the scented area.

“What happened?” Carol asked the waiter.

“Some derelict overdosed in the bathroom over night. We’re going to open the windows. What will you have today?” said the waiter insouciantly.

Dishearten, Carol left the cafe. The next day when she read the paper, she realized that Joey was in the body bag that the police wheeled pass her.

We interrupt this contest AGAIN . . .

. . . to close it, and to report that the pot climbed to $284.


We'll post the final 12 stories tomorrow. Then we'll put our heads together and choose finalists and a winner. We hope and expect to have decisions by the end of next week (28 March).

Meanwhile, sharpen your poetry pencils. Because the poem contest is next. First prize will be $1000.

#125 The Kitchen Table

by Terry Hojnacki

The center of my world was in front of me. I sat down and spread my arms across the wooden table. The family came together here. Good times. Chaotic times. Emotional times. Life times. The kitchen table was where we gathered. Many birthday cakes were shared at this table. Many holiday meals endured. Here we celebrated life and death. A bottle of Polish vodka surrounded by shot glasses meant everyone drank – toasting the life of someone dear.

I closed my eyes. I heard children laughing as we ate. I saw the tears of a child struggling with their homework. I smelled the glue used to finish the science project. I felt the gentle touch of my daughter’s hand as we mourned the loss of our pet. It was different now. For the first time in thirty years, I took the leaf out of the table. The children were grown.

It took days for anyone to notice.

I resisted objections and kept the table downsized.

My life revolved around this table, my husband, and my children. My life had not revolved around me. Am I being selfish? Maybe.

I set the table one last time.

In the center of it, I placed limes, a salt shaker, and a bottle of tequila surrounded by shot glasses for my husband and three children. On the bottle, I hung a small card with gold ribbon.

“I love you all, but my job is done. Celebrate.”

#124 The Secret She Carried

by Cecelia MacAfee

Jeff and Carrie, Yale law students, forget the condom one March evening. Three months later, when she can’t button her jeans, Carrie finally goes to the doctor. After the abortion, Jeff makes her chicken soup. He holds her tight. She won’t look into his eyes. “I’m sorry,” is all he can say. After she physically recovers, they never speak about that day again. Ever.

A few years later they marry, grow two fine little boys and carve a comfortable, happy life in a New Hampshire farmhouse. Then Carrie learns she cannot have the third child they both wanted. Secondary infertility. She feels the universe shaking its cosmic finger. The phantom fetus haunts her dreams. She is back on the table, trembling, legs spread wide. She hears the doctor’s reasurring words, “It won’t hurt. Just a tugging sensation behind your belly button. You’ll be fine.” He didn’t warn her that the wound may never heal, that the birth of her first child would bring a painful awareness, that every December she’d sink into a black hole, that she’d always believe it was a girl. Her phantom daughter would be ten years old today. Carrie imagines her playing soccer, jumping rope, reading The Secret Garden. Who would she look like, though? Regret singes Carrie’s insides, mixed with guilt for never telling Jeff what had happened over spring break. If only...she could have been certain the baby was his.

#123 Faking It

by Katie Cortese

In my driveway, his car ticks and whispers. I’ll ask him in if he turns it off, or smiles.

Or says something. Anything.

“So,” he says, face green with dashboard light.

Inside, I flirt with Mr. Coffee, but even before the first inky drip I am pressed against the length of him, backwards moving down the hall, shedding clothes like snakeskin.

“I never do this,” I say, though it’s not the whole truth. Twice a year, is what I mean. A handful of warm bodies from bars or bio lab; maybes who never bloomed into yes.

“Ditto,” he says, eyes slitted, nothing like the pair on the other side of our flaming saganaki, when both of us still wondered if our night would end this way, two near-strangers pretzeled limb to limb. His face is strange with effort as he lifts-me shifts-me grips-me tight-tight-tight.

“Say my name,” I whisper.

“Baby,” he says, “oh baby, oh baby,” pretending he hasn’t forgotten.

Because I am the girl who always lied through every truth in “Truth or Dare,” I work that standby name like a camera, zooming in, panning left, mugging for my close-up, then lifting my throat like the leading lady in the movie we watched tonight, whose name is known world-round.

“Baby,” he crows, “oh baby,” giving me the stage.

“Yes,” I say, star-splayed hands against his heart, that blind, bloody pumping fist. I say: “Yes, yes, yes, yes,” just like it’s the truth.

#122 Frame

by Helen McClory

It may be unwise to linger here. Her upstairs will be passing by, presently. Which means passing through you, if you’ve taken a fancy to the hall and not gone out towards the extremities, beyond the French windows, into white light. Don’t you notice the silver cast everything has here? Yes if titles are to be trusted you can place yourself in Sussex – what allusions, Sussex? Shakespeare play? Gentle English landscapes? But we all know titles are nothing but surface, and this, dearest, is only three parts surface, more intertitle, a matter of break, in which to recall the potent hue, and light, and wonky confluence, speaking of which, you can feel it, can’t you? The flow at wait, the timeless shimmer of fever.

Look. Her upstairs is whatever monster of light and angularity like a silent German Expressionist film (what do you mean, you haven’t seen one of those? Too late, dearheart). She’s double jointed, raised flickering at the limitrophe of the painting, the other end from what might be the implied garden, safety. This is how we know the place holds monster: hints at a tensile stillness, flimsy guesswork, that class you took in queer theory – this is all it amounts to, until she gets up the whim to crane down through her walls (you noticed, yes, the x-ray stylings of the foreground right) peering into your ringing nervous system and, with her beautifully blacked-out lids widening, swarms, declaiming through a white text on the black:

night

#121 The Bones

by Meg Bortin

“The bones were found in a burial place in North Africa, inland from the Algerian coast,” the teacher said. “They were preserved amid the broken shells of thousands of snails. We dated them back to the Capsian era, about 10,000 years ago. Some of the skeletons were intact, but others had been tampered with shortly after death – the heads sawn off, the limbs sawn apart. We think the skulls were used to make masks for some sort of ritual.”

“Could there have been cannibalism?” a student asked.

“We don’t know,” said the teacher.

Flash backwards. A community is preparing to honor the memory of their chief. He was a brave man, a great leader. They paint their faces with ochre, adorn themselves with shell beads. A fire is burning in the night. Howls and chants erupt. Then the dancing begins.

Women sway in a circle, singing. Their men pound their feet, reach their lances toward the sky. The children watch in awe. In the center of the circle lies the body of the chief, beside him his oldest son, weeping. Elders carry the body away as the singing intensifies.

Later, the body’s limbs are slowly roasted on the fire. The community consumes their chief in a ceremony of oneness – with each other, with nature. The eldest son presides over the ritual wearing his father’s emptied skull as a mask. He’s the new chief, and he’s brave, too. He has to be. He’s next.

#120 Missed Connections

by Nikki Vega

He tickled my name with his tongue, thrust his own into the receiver, and at that ran out of script. The pause swelled. I had no help to offer: no bells were rung, my pillow’s appeal stood unrivalled. I was re-descending into slumber, dodging his dusty trivialities, when the picture started coming into focus: Dovey’s almost rained-out picnic, a rhymed toast harbouring poetry recital ambitions. I mumbled an acknowledgement, a non-committal signal of attention being paid. Excuses for sharing time and space unfolded over the ether. His intonations suggested a belief that the body I inhabited had room for two.

His confidence peeled off in places, revealing a core of bashful inexperience. He groped for excitement, which wasn’t there, triggered relief instead by a welcome mistake. Last I’d been yanked out of my merciful morningly oblivion by unsolicited vibration, it was yet another black-veiled, Xanax-drenched affair coming up, Aunt Linda’s turn to clutch forearms indiscriminately in futile attempts to dispel despair. I’d been the clutcher earlier, I knew the score. Satin-lined boxes gave nothing back. Time was a witch’s potion. The remedy of adaptation relied on a faulty definition of survival.

Vestiges of my take at life were beholding me: letters penned on paper, an oil on canvas of us two, sprigs rooted in the ashes, crowned with crimson blossoms. The rest of the world was an optical illusion. I stretched a no into a palatable utterance, adjusted my armour, and plunged into another day of pretending to breathe.

#119 Life in the Hood

by Shereen Hussain

My neighbor and best friend, Andrea, was absent from school that day so I would have to make the two mile trek home on my own. I had learned enough about Religion from my mother to know that God would protect me. Besides, I was still excited about the peach-colored cape Mum had got me from the church rummage sale.

Andrea had started calling me Little Orange Riding Hood which would make me giggle. All week long we had been strolling to an imaginary grandmother’s house with a basket of goodies, dodging wolf encounters. I was actually in East London walking past the corner butcher’s shop. (My real grandmother lived in sun-soaked Madras and was probably sipping chai on a sleepy veranda with a host of grandchildren around her.)

I approached the pedestrian crossing and a hefty boy with long hair appeared out of nowhere. He pronounced one tiny word.

Paki.

I felt something on my left shoulder. Bird droppings? Not quite. A pool of spit, about two inches wide, oozed there amoeba-like on the peach-tinged polyester.

I could not cry yet. I had to get home. Streets later, I burst into our first floor flat.

“But I’m not a Paki, “ I wept, sponging the saliva off with Lady Macbeth strokes. “I’m from India.”

I recall my mother nodding and caressing my hair as though it mattered from which side of the sub-continent’s newly partitioned region we hailed.

There was a big bad wolf out there after all.

#118 Baptism

by Mickey Hunt

The cavern and its water reflection display perfect symmetry.

I look up from this digital image to glare from the hospital window. Mt. Hood, immobile, overwhelms the eastern horizon. My mom on the bed moans from a deepening vacancy—she hasn’t eaten for a week, her advance directive enforced against my wishes.

What’s below the surface? I’m now immersed in the cavern’s pool, an ambient 54 degrees F. But reflection is illusion. Image is merely likeness. With death, do we as images and reflections of the Creator finally ascend into reality?

The small hospital room fills with people.

“Okay,” the nurse says. “They’re ready to transport your mother to hospice. Will you support her head while we lift her onto the gurney?”

“You don’t understand what’s going on,” I say coldly. They will kill her by dehydration.

I’m frozen in place, icy water dripping down.

#117 Orbiting, Day 271

by Bradley Potts

“There is a 2.43% probability of survival. How would you like to precede, Jay?” Blue Jay, flutter and fly, away from the crows. That gloating, hateful blue engulfs my tiny window. Earth teases me, a lost lover; water abundant, oxygen abounding, my deflector of cosmic radiation taunts me with beauty, indifferent to life. Flickering lights cast unholy shadows on charred control panels. Floating trash, broken switches, blood samples, useless science, my commander’s photos, bounce off my body in a snowstorm of futility.

“Emotional distress code 4.12 detected. Would you like me to alter the atmosphere, Jay?” Blue Jay, sing your note, a sweet song. The shimmering OSP passes below my orbit. Do they wave? I calculate the logistics of acquiring their whiskey.

“Critical alarm warning codes 0.15, 0.16, 0.27, 0.64. Would you like me to silence the alarms, Jay?” Blue Jay, build your nest of hickory, to last the winter. The trajectories are overwhelming, white arcs painted against sunrise. We are still burning the world.

“Jay, I detect distress. Would you like me to alter the atmosphere? Or you can speak with me, Jay. I am programmed to engage in therapeutic conversation under the strictest terms of confidentiality.” His shadow is burnt onto a sidewalk in Chicago, with tiny black streaks above his head from wayward brown hairs.

“USSOPS, command protocol Stalin,” I say. Quiet. Blue Jay, fly to the highest branch, perch, and have the world before you. The airlock will not open.

Float, Blue Jay, above the clouds.

#116 Melting Down

by Terri-Lei O’Malley

It looked the same as always. The same red and white checked tablecloth and the same Chianti bottles with multi-colored wax drippings down the neck. I have never seen a candle. The wax appears from nothing.

She was waiting for me at our table. “Have you ever seen a candle in one of these?” She held out a bottle.

Her voice turned my knees turned to water. “Aggie, how’ve you been?”

“Good. You?”

“I’m not sure. Every morning, I wake up with the sinking feeling that I’ve left something undone, something important. I can’t remember anything about the damned dreams, but that feeling of dread, certainty that there will be hell to pay.”

“Have you ever had a glimmer of hope?”

“No. Yes. Actually, yes.”

“When?”

“When you called me and suggested we meet for lunch.”

Aggie reached across the table and took my cold hand in hers. “Angel. I didn’t call you, you called me.”

“That’s not funny, Aggie.”

“I didn’t mean it to be. You called me.”

“I was asleep.”

“Maybe.”

“It can’t be happening again.”

“I hope you’re right. But it can be happening again.”

“Am I awake now?”

Aggie smiled. “Are you awake, Douglas?”

“I am not. I’m not.”

I rolled over to the other side of the bed. I could still feel the warmth of her hand holding the shreds of me together. She would be there when I called. I flipped my pillow to the cool side and went back to sleep.

#115 Practically Real

by Tom Griffen

Gramps insists he planted my obsidian arrowhead. But mine isn’t one of the flawless reproductions he hid like Easter eggs around his property at the base of Cobb Mountain, an ancient volcano. I’m sure the one I found is real. Its shape, textbook. My archaeology class taught me this much at least.

My arrow point is broken, an immediate differentiator. Plus I dug it up. It wasn’t just sitting there, clean and shiny, atop other pieces of the razor-sharp volcanic glass that cut our barefoot heels as kids. Mine has dirt cemented in its cracks.

I’m pretty sure Gramps wasn’t even there when I unearthed it. I had escaped outside because Gramps, in mid-July, was testing out a new heater for his double-wide. While I watched jays dig for acorns in forest scree, he listened to Judge Judy reruns at full volume. I wandered his yard filled with machines rusting in tall grass, their bellies full of stale gas. I found my arrowhead beneath a mower that Gramps’ muscles could no longer move.

Surely Gramps is confusing mine with the one my brother Mike found. Mike credits luck for drawing him to his biface crystal, perfectly fractured, sitting in the middle of the gravel driveway. He believes it’s real. Had it framed even. I’ve repeatedly assured him it’s a replica but he tells me he doesn’t care. Says it reminds him of the good times we had at Gramps’ place in the mountains.

#114 Hidden

by Roy Davimes

Kevin can seek and seek and seek but he won’t find me here. Not in Uncle John’s secret room. I’m going to lie real still and keep real quiet just like Uncle John showed me and Kevin will think I’ve vanished. He’ll look under the stairs and down the hall and in every corner of the house but he won’t look here. I’m safe here. I walked past this door a thousand times before Uncle John showed me where it was. Even when you’re looking at it you can’t see it. It’s like a magic trick. And Kevin’s never been good at stuff like that. Uncle John says it’s because Kevin’s not clever like I am. He says I’m the smartest kid he knows, smarter than his own. Says all kinds of nice things about me. Calls me real special and tells me only special people get to see the room. I don’t like it when he brings me here but I’m fine when it’s just me, hiding. I’m going to let Kevin look for hours, till he starts calling my name. By then he’ll be fearful, I know he will, and I’ll be laughing inside. And just when he’s walking past me, all nervous and yelling, not knowing that I’m inches away, I’m going to leap out and scare the bejesus out of him.

Footsteps now, closer and louder. Silence right outside. Light pushing through dark. That you, Kev? Please let it be you.

We interrupt this contest . . .

. . . to inform you that critical mass has been reached. From this moment on, every entry increases the pot by $2. We'll let you know tomorrow morning how big it got. Deadline for submissions is midnight eastern time, tonight (20 March).


Happy spring everybody!

#113 Bourbon Street Blues

by Suzanne Gallant

“Keep coming.” Sam says, pulls me by the hand through a narrow corridor. “A meal you’ll never forget. Best food in the United States big secret hasn’t made the Food Network, hope it never does.”

“How can it be so great? It looks so dirty and unappealing.” I keep walking, this hallway feels endless. I’m out of breath from three sets of stairs. “So dark. Can’t they afford proper light bulbs? Sam, really?”

“Trust me.” He pulls me along until we step through a sliding glass door.

“Oh!” Only word to express my displeasure at the small glass-top table perched on a narrow balcony.”

“You hate it, Amanda.”

“No, not hate…”

“Give it a chance.”

“A chance for what? Food poisoning?” We sit. A young lady comes out, hands us Hurricanes. “She didn’t ask what I wanted.”

“You are a pain, you know.”

“Where’s the menu?”

“No menu.They just bring the food du jour.”

“What if I don’t like it?”

“Taste the Hurricane, famous drink. Look down. People pay a lot of money for this view of Bourbon Street during Mardi Gras.”

“You know I’m afraid of heights. This balcony is so rickety, what happens if it breaks off. I don’t like it here. Can’t we go back to our hotel.”

“C’mon. Stand up, let’s watch the parade. Queen is coming” Sam says, puts his arm around me. Next thing I know, I am in the middle of the parade, perched on a throne.

#112 Pattern Play

by Terri-Lei O’Malley

If I die before I wake, the pattern is in danger. As I age, it’s hard to come back from the edge. My name is Crow. And you owe me.

I tried to evolve the pattern—as below, so above. I’m not a creator, but even an engineer can meddle. The pattern is constant, but stories wander, and encouraged wanderings become chimera.

Jools crept downstairs to the kitchen. It had only one window. She poured a glass of wine, sipping it as she made a peanut butter sandwich. Eating the sandwich at the kitchen table, she ignored the shadow puppet drama playing out on the floor beneath the sunny window.

The phone rang in a way that seemed permanent. She answered it.

“Don’t go outside.”

“What?”

“What part don’t you understand?”

“The part where I listen.” Jools went outside. The screeching faded away like bird song fleeing a hawk.

“I told you not to go outside.” The impossibly thin man sitting on her fence was dark as night shadows.

Jools shrugged.

“I bet myself you would.”

“Who won?”

He jumped off the fence, but Jools stayed obstinately still.

He cocked his head. “I did this.”

“Did what?”

“Fucked everything up. I do that.”

“Why?”

“I get bored.”

A dog-headed snake slithered under the fence.

“May I come in?”

“Yeah, sure.”

“No one else came outside.” He leaned back on her sofa, smelling like wet tree bark. “If I should die before I wake, the pattern is yours.”

#111 Undetectable

by Tina Mortimer

Fat cow. Slut. Whore.

These were the words scribbled in red marker on the front cover of her science book. Where she had written her name neatly on the inside flap it now read: Emily McClain SKANK!

Emily felt chicken salad churn in her stomach. She needed to get out. Tears streaming, she ran clumsily from the classroom down the long corridor, colliding head-on with the enemy.

“Watch where you’re going, slut,” Amy hissed.

Emily didn’t apologize. She didn’t slow down. She ran out the door and into the afternoon sun. It was a two-mile walk home, but she wouldn’t be calling her mom to pick her up, not today.

Tyler had claimed he loved her, wanted to be with her, not Amy. Emily had wanted so much to believe, she let him take her virginity. But he didn’t love her; he didn’t even like her. She knew this now.

At the Walgreens across the street from Jefferson High, Emily purchased a pill crusher and an orange Gatorade. At home, she locked herself in the bathroom, and as the warm steam from the bath filled the room, she pulverized Xanax, Vicodin and other assorted pills into a fine powder, which she scraped from the vanity into the drink.

Emily raised the bottle to her lips. The new ingredients were almost undetectable. As she settled into the bath, she closed her eyes, imagining Tyler reaching for the bottle he always kept on the bleachers during football practice, and smiled.

#110 Hombre

by Mary Whiteside

Boot heels silent as he walked across the lobby. A worn man in oil-stained jeans and blue chambray shirt, a brown Stetson gripped in his left hand. Not even glancing at a display of memorabilia, he strode on to the desk, mumbling, “I'm a rich 'un. I'm a rich boy. Me, I'm gonna have more money than you ever thought…,” as if something unseen prompted the lines.

The elderly clerk surrendered a key bound to a heavy, gold medallion stamped 223, nodding as the guest soundlessly mounted the stairs. The rebel-turned-oil man headed directly toward his room; he knew his way around El Paisano. These days the restaurant even bore his name; later he’d visit the courtyard for coffee—a routine followed each visit.

Booked full the first time he’d stayed there, the El Paisano’s Spanish Revival style reminded him of California. But the tiny cattle town in roughneck west Texas was unlike anyplace he’d known. A man’s world. He’d spent a summer shooting jack rabbits and learning rope tricks with his friend, Bob, an old rodeo cowboy. Only after his Porsche flipped in a deadly crash on a Golden State back-road did he return.

“If a man can bridge the gap between life and death, if he can live on after he’s dead, then maybe he was a great man.” —James Dean

#109 Thirty

by Frank Pryor

Thirty years ago he’d put her on a plane and into the rest of her life, tears on both their faces. There were sound reasons. Youth. Distance. College. Life. The statistics were not good for couples in their circumstances. Passion aside, love aside, he knew he’d fail her somehow. He was certain he wasn’t strong enough to watch her fall slowly out of love with him. He was barely strong enough to put her on a plane and imagine her living a happy life. Without him.

Thirty days ago he’d answered the phone. Part of him managed to make small talk. He heard himself laughing at something she’d said. Heard himself reply, heard her laughter.

Thirty minutes ago the plane had turned on to final approach and he looked down on a city he didn’t know any more. Somewhere in the airport waited a woman whom he’d known as well as that city. Would they be as strange to each other?

Thirty seconds ago he’d stepped onto the escalator and scanned the waiting crowd below. Handshake or hug, she’d asked. There’d been protocol to sort out. Lunch or coffee? Table or booth? I can arrange a layover; should we?

Three seconds they embraced and began to release and his arms wound again more deeply and held her there. She held him more tightly to her and he felt her heartbeat joining his own.

Three more seconds and then time stopped counting.

#108 Nectar

by Nancy Gadzuk

Lureen stirred the pitcher of sugar water and smiled. Her hummingbirds loved this sweet nectar! And the bees—some days she believed they swarmed under the trees, just waiting for her to come outside.

“Lureen! Hurry up with my lunch!” It was the first her husband had spoken to her all day.

Willard would just have to wait. Her winged friends came first.

She carried the pitcher out to the porch and carefully filled the hummingbird feeders. Then she poured nectar into open saucers for the bees.

The air crackled with anticipation. She sensed a sphere of movement, of tiny wings, circling under the peach trees.

“Dammit! I want my lunch!”

Lureen hurried back to the kitchen. She’d made Willard a meatloaf sandwich slathered with red currant jelly. She poured a tall glass of sweet tea.

“I’ll take it outside so you can eat on the porch. There’s peach pie, too. Still warm.”

Willard shuffled toward the door. “’Bout time it’s ready.”

She looked at him: his gray stubble, his hard eyes.

“Oh, it’s ready,” she said.

She set his tray down and admired the purple yarrow and coreopsis that bordered the porch.

Willard grabbed the sandwich. Lureen watched for a few minutes. Then, satisfied, she went into the kitchen to wash dishes.

She never heard a thing over the sound of the running water, she would say later. Not a cry, not the thud of his chair falling over.

Not the buzz of a thousand swarming bees.

#107 Blessed

by Chad A. Clark

I don’t know how to tell who’s real anymore, the normal ones and the others; reflections of what they think humans expect to see in each other. The problem is that even though on the inside they are nothing but rot, from the outside they look just like you and me.

Ever since the ships came down, life has been mostly spent wishing I had insight that just isn’t there. I can get close enough to look into a person’s eyes and still have no idea if their soul is even there anymore. All of this because of the ships.

I still haven’t met anyone who believes me. Every minute is like coming out of a coma. Sometimes I catch myself falling asleep and sometimes I wake up screaming. Sometimes I can’t tell one from the other. I hear things and I don’t know if it's real or if I really am going crazy.

But I saw those ships.

I know they were here. All of them, hatching and spreading like a virus. And plotting. I see our end in their beginning here. I see death in the sky, fire on the horizon. I'll unlock the key and I will figure out how to tell them from us. When that day comes, woe unto them and vengeance I shall be.

I will be our savior.

#106 Last Visit to Nan

by Bart Van Goethem

“Why didn't she just hand me the money,” he sobbed on the witness stand.

#105 Bee Mine

by Lindsay Carlson

“Also, I think you ought to know, I am the Queen of bees,” Eloise said.

“Ooook. And what does that mean, exactly?”

“Look, it’s not like I WANT to be in charge of all the bees on the planet. I just am. Basically, I say ‘buzz’ and they say ‘what frequency?’, I say, ‘make honey’ they say how much? It’s really pretty straightforward. ”

“I see…” Gerome said. “And they just automatically speak English? Even the African killer bees?”

“Well yes, I think there’s some magical queen quality that translates whatever I say into “Bee”, so they understand, but it works.” Eloise shrugged and popped another forkful of pasta into her mouth.

The waiter propped a platter on the table. “Dessert?” he asked, pointing at an array of confections.

“No thanks.” Gerome said, just as Eloise replied, “Yes, please!” She frowned.

“Sorry Eloise, I just got a… um… text from my brother, he’s having an emergency and he needs me to pick him up.” He waved his cell phone in her direction in apology as he stood up and started toward the doorway. “I’ll call you.”

Gerome breathed a sigh of relief as he waited outside for the valet. The guys were not going to believe this first date, which would obviously be the last. No way was he going back out with this psycho!

A moment later he heard an angry buzzing noise near his ear, then felt a stabbing pain in his arm as the bee stung him.

#104 #7 It’s not Funny, it’s Serious

by Madelaine Gradinger

“Are you sure?” Jimmy asked again before peering at the lumpy form wedged between the grayish washer and dryer.

“Absolutely! It ran across the kitchen and hissed at me! You had better kill it before I get back from the store.” Martha’s already shrill voice had reached a volume Jimmy hoped he would never hear again.

While Martha’s heels clicked away, Jimmy sighed and thought about how to get rid of the poor creature. “Drowning?” he pondered.

No. Shooting? Too messy. Poison? Perhaps… Maybe he could convince Martha to sit on the little beast. Would kill it instantly, Jimmy snickered to himself.

But the more Jimmy thought about it, the better it sounded. The evil bitch had a hatred of animals that was purely mutual.

“Maybe they really can sense an evil soul,” he muttered as he rummaged for a shoe box.

After two unsuccessful rushes at the critter, Jimmy finally captured the unidentifiable animal.

“Sorry poor fellow, this is just too funny to pass up.” Jimmy murmured to the box.

After gingerly placing the box under the cushion of Martha’s favorite armchair, Jimmy sat down and waited.

The clanking and swearing told of Martha’s arrival, and her beeline to the armchair was no surprise.

In one fatal swoop, Martha’s mountainous buttock was deftly planted in the armchair.

And milliseconds later, with a horrendous shriek, she was up again.

Jimmy just laughed.

“It isn’t Funny!!!” Martha howled.

“It’s seriously hysterical!” Jimmy replied.

The Center of Gravity

Writing tips from Anton Chekhov

When you read proof, cross out as many adjectives and adverbs as you can. You have so many modifiers that the reader has trouble understanding and gets worn out. It is comprehensible when I write: “The man sat on the grass,” because it is clear and does not detain one’s attention. On the other hand, it is difficult to figure out and hard on the brain if I write: “The tall, narrow-chested man of medium height and with a red beard sat down on the green grass that had already been trampled down by the pedestrians, sat down silently, looking around timidly and fearfully.” The brain can’t grasp all that at once, and art must be grasped at once, instantaneously.

I think descriptions of nature should be very short and always be à propos. Commonplaces like “The setting sun, sinking into the waves of the darkening sea, cast its purple gold rays, etc,” “Swallows, flitting over the surface of the water, twittered gaily” — eliminate such commonplaces. You have to choose small details in describing nature, grouping them in such a way that if you close your eyes after reading it you can picture the whole thing. For example, you’ll get a picture of a moonlit night if you write that on the dam of the mill a piece of broken bottle flashed like a bright star and the black shadow of a dog or a wolf rolled by like a ball, etc.

In the realm of psychology you also need details. God preserve you from commonplaces. Best of all, shun all descriptions of the characters’ spiritual state. You must try to have that state emerge clearly from their actions. Don’t try for too many characters. The center of gravity should reside in two: he and she.



Considered the greatest short story writer, Anton Chekhov changed the genre itself with his spare, impressionistic depictions of Russian life and the human condition. From characteristically brief, evocative early pieces such as “The Huntsman” and the tour de force “A Boring Story,” to his best-known stories such as “The Lady with the Little Dog” and his own personal favorite, “The Student,” Chekhov’s short fiction possesses the transcendent power of art to awe and change the reader.

Click on the cover to visit the book's Amazon page.

#103 Plaster

by Sarah Read

Ella Florentine did more damage with her eyes than that man with the shotgun ever did to her. One look from her double-barrel face and the walls all around them came unhinged. Windows came unmade. And, trigger or not, it was too late for them both. Because out there in the world already is a fresh face born with her oil-slick eyes and his trigger finger. Soft hands, toting a bucket of nails and a hammer, driving new holes through walls till it’s home again. But now it’s little Lou’s home, and she can unmake it in any way she pleases.

She slapped plaster over the hole in the wall behind where her mother had stood. Over the ceiling above where her father fell. And she runs her eyes over me in a way that says I should keep my mind on that finger of hers.

Patches on walls flake, in time, and things come unhinged in old houses. I see old Ella’s eyes staring at me out of the dark, and realize too late that the eyes are all Lou’s. Brighter than a muzzle flash, those Florentine girls. I should know.

I keep a tub of plaster on hand, for patching holes in things. And I count myself lucky to have my father’s feet—for dancing out of her line of sight.

#102 Yellow

by Krystal Sierra

The sun shined through the doorway, spilling its yellow light into the hall.

Marianne Sutter had spilled yellow down that hall. Yellow paint. When she was just two. Titá had whipped her with a bare hand for it, but Marianne could not remember. She had a habit of forgetting things.

Forgetting.

What was it that she wanted to remember? The yellow paint, the slow way it spread. Titá must have been angry for one reason only—she kept that tile like glass. Even as her eyes gave out.

Too old.

Hadn’t Titá said that when she spilled the paint? I’m too old for this. You’re too old for this. Neither she nor Titá was too old then.

Now is different. Now they are.

The yellow paint spread. She remembered it between her fingers, remembered crawling through it. She’d brought her dolly along too whom Titá took away soon after.

Why couldn’t she remember the whipping?

Marianne had gotten the paint from a drawer in the kitchen. She unscrewed the cap herself. Gato had come to see. Marianne followed his twitching tail down the hall.

The sun shone in the doorway, spilling yellow down the hall.

Now the hall shone white. Not one trace of yellow could be found. Not even between the cracks of the checkered tile.

White.

Only white. The yellow had been scoured away. Not even Titá could change the way the hall looked now. In that hall, Marianne was Marianne.

#101 Mushrooms are mostly air

by Laurie Fraser

Wind ripples the long dried pods still hanging from the honey locust tree, and they clack together like a mammoth wooden chime. The gnome’s sharp ears pick up the low clacking; the music fills his body the way a favourite memory does.

He’s cobalt blue from his pointed hat to his pointed toes. He stands beside a sturdy stout mushroom ready to get to work, now the smoke has cleared.

The smoker comes five, even seven, times a day to this rarely-used path through the small woods at the back of the park. The largest rock welcomes her and after she blows the foul smoke into the air, she continues to sit and stare for some time. She always sniffs and leaves tissues about. Then she heaves herself up and plods back in the same direction she came from.

The gnome knows this smoke will impair his frequency if he isn’t careful, so he waits inside the mushroom until the wind has done some preliminary work.

And that is precisely the behaviour that has confused the scavenger. The skinny scavenger comes most evenings. He doesn’t smoke, but he collects the leavings of the sick girl. Sometimes he can’t find the gnome. Sometimes he can.

Today he says, “I know you’re a real thing and not a schizophrenic thing. You can’t fool me- I take my meds.”

The gnome is grateful for the help, but he wishes that the man would take the tissues too.

#100 A New Start

by Evelyn LaRoche

I see the sky. It is flawless today, baby blue, no clouds, just a white chalky long line left by an airplane. The airplane is full of beautiful young lovers going on their honeymoon, a few cranky business man typing away on their laptops while sipping a scotch to calm their nerves, that last meeting must go well, it just must. A baby is crying, her exhausted mother is trying to soothe her with a song while her oldest boy is playing with his figurines.

All of them full of life, all moving towards something.

I see the street, the dog walker is out again today, the three dogs pulling hard on the leach. They can’t wait to get to the park to play with their friends. Overexcited preschoolers are playing on the corner with moms, the school bus should be her any minute now, but where is little Joey? Here comes Rebecca the neighbour, late again, speed walking to get to work in her red high heel shoes, I bet she will complain of tired feet again tonight to her husband.

All full of life, all moving towards something.

I see my house. It is really a beautiful home, carefully chosen colors, rich and cosy furniture, luscious carpets caressing my toes with every step. Grandpa and Grandma are on the wall of the sun room looking at me. Where are you going dear?
Is it time? Yes.

I am full of life, I too am moving towards something.

#99 Last Night

by S. Waldron

The hotel room was in the attic, the hotel clerk had offered it with a great flourish “we’ve upgraded you to a suite.” We nodded and smiled. Travelling up in the lift I suspected, however, crumpled after six hours of coach travel from the coast, we looked nowhere near fancy enough for anything too impressive.

“Did you want to do some work?” I asked.

“Just a little, then we can go out.”

I showered and wrapped myself in a white bathrobe, making sure I was naked underneath. I wanted to be ready, suggestive even, but not expectant. I felt I had forced this situation already.

He was still on his computer so I pretended to read until he came to sit next to me. He put on some music - a young girl playing guitar and singing about men, dinosaurs, lost love, solar bodies. We talked about nothing until he kissed me.

That night was the last time to see the city, neither of us cared, we were more than ready to leave. We ate Japanese food, the first I had had in the Baltics. Afterwards we took a bottle of cheap fizz to the river and sat, shivering on the pavement, watching the joggers.

The next day he said goodbye to me at the airport. He tasted of the milk. I watched him walk away, to fly to a place I had never been and realised I had fallen in love and that I would never see him again.

If Ayn Rand Had Entered the Contest

by Any Rand

Guy Francon’s office was polished. No, thought Keating, not polished, but shellacked; no, not shellacked, but liquid with mirrors melted and poured over every object. He saw splinters of his own reflection let loose like a swarm of butterflies, following him across the room, on the Chippendale cabinets, on the Jacobean chairs, on the Louis XV mantelpiece. He had time to note a genuine Roman statue in a corner, sepia photographs of the Parthenon, of Rheims Cathedral, of Versailles and of the Frink National Bank Building with the eternal torch.

He saw his own legs approaching him in the side of the massive mahogany desk. Guy Francon sat behind the desk. Guy Francon’s face was yellow and his cheeks sagged. He looked at Keating for an instant as if he had never seen him before, then remembered and smiled expansively.

“Well, well, well, Kittredge, my boy, here we are, all set and at home! So glad to see you. Sit down, boy, sit down, what have you got there? Well, there’s no hurry, no hurry at all. Sit down. How do you like it here?”

“I’m afraid, sir, that I’m a little too happy,” said Keating, with an expression of frank, boyish helplessness. “I thought I could be businesslike on my first job, but starting in a place like this . . . I guess it knocked me out a little . . . I’ll get over it, sir.” he promised.

“Of course,” said Guy Francon. “It might be a bit overwhelming for a boy, just a bit. But don’t you worry. I’m sure you’ll make good.”



This instant classic is the story of an intransigent young architect, his violent battle against conventional standards, and his explosive love affair with a beautiful woman who struggles to defeat him.

Click on the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page.

#98 Shadow Pets

by Jonathan Todd Riley

Someone told Billy Tanner about my fear of shadow puppets. He followed me into the restroom, flipped off the switch, shone his flashlight at the wall, and cast a two-armed gator above my urinal. I barely mustered a squeal before he snapped a shot of me pissing all over my blue-jeans.

*

I hid in a janitor’s closet with my how-to-make shadow puppets book and a flashlight. It was hard at first, but before no time I could project all the classics. Barking dogs. Butterflies. Turtles. Just contort my fingers like gang signs.

It wasn’t so scary until the images didn’t go away when my fingers stopped. They shuffled about on the cinder block with a mind of their own. The turtles ate the butterflies. The dogs slaughtered the turtles. I even tried an alligator which chomped the dogs to bits. I flicked off my flashlight and then back on; the gator rabid as ever. My heart pounded and knees shook when the gator’s head inched out from the wall and snatched a real live moth out of the dank air.

*

I paid Dan ten dollars to tell Billy that Lacy wanted to kiss him in the janitor’s closet. He’s on his way there now and I’ve got a new shadow pet waiting. I shaped him with both hands, a foot, and a mop. He’s my finest creation yet. I call him Lars. He looks like a cross between a shark and a porcupine.

And he’s really hungry.

#97 The Time Machine

by Pete Sutton

I push the door, a dusty footprint in the centre of it, the flimsy lock broken open. The house is in darkness but the streetlamps give enough light to see by. I see the blood, such a lot of blood. And a knife dropped a few feet away from the body. The back door swings in the breeze. I am too late.

I need to check the machine. My hands shaking I open the cellar door. The familiar smell of ozone, burnt electrics, fuel oil and damp assail my nostrils. The machine is still there. Untouched, sparkling amongst the debris, as if a reverse explosion has taken place. It will have to be ready.

I press the button, the machine whirrs, light flashes past. It will work, it will be well, I will get her back. I will save her.

I hear her scream, no time for a key I kick the door open leaving a dusty footprint on it. I see the blood, such a lot of blood. And a knife dropped a few feet away from the body. The back door swings open. Too late. Back to the machine!

I press the button, the machine whirrs, light flashes past.

I open the door quietly and sneak inside. I surprise her, she has a knife. It is dark. I can’t blame her. I watch my blood pool on the floor as she runs out the back door.

#96 Five things that are true and six that are not

by Suzanne Conboy-Hill

1. You said I would never want for anything. This is untrue – I want for a great deal.

2. You said I would never have to ask for anything - you would give me everything I need. You forget that you made asking impossible so this is not true either.

3. You said you could not imagine being without me. This is true. You have not had to imagine this for some time.

4. You took my silence as consent but this is another untruth. [See #2 above].

5. You made a vessel of my body and told me it was worship but you are an atheist.

6. You hid me from the world and told the world I had left. Another untruth.

7. I would give something back but you have cleaned me thoroughly, and anyway I only had what you gave me in the first place.

8. Because of #7 above I must be more inventive.

9. I have a lot of time between your visits and I have found the device you used to teach me how to demonstrate my devotion. Items #7, #8, and #9 are all true, as is item #10 below.

10. I have charged the device and adjusted its settings for maximum effect and I have placed it somewhere especially private for the next time you come down here to show your love for me.

11. You said we would be together forever. This is not true yet but see #10 above.

#95 The Room

by Carmen Ruelas VonTickner

“How long have you been having this same dream?”
“About a month,” came her reply.
“What happens after you see the room?”
“I walk in, but it’s like I’m floating in.”
“Do you remember what this room looks like, can you describe it?”
“Yes, I dream it almost every night.” “It’s long and narrow, with a door at the other end.” “There is a staircase that goes up a few steps, and then it makes a turn and continues on up.” “The floor is a pattern of blue and white squares.” “There are two high back chairs against the stairs upholstered in a burnt orange color fabric.” “There’s a narrow wooden table between the chairs, and there are pictures on the walls.” “One picture is rather striking; it looks like something Van Gogh painted.” The doctor opened a folder took out a picture, and held it up. “Have you ever seen this before?” Her eyes opened wide, clutching a hand to her mouth. “Yes, that’s the picture on the wall, the Van Gogh one.” “What does this mean?” she cried out. “In time we will find out; for now there is nothing to worry about,” he assured her. He asked her a few questions; made a couple of notations in her file, and then brought the session to a close.

Alone in his office, the doctor reached for his private phone and dialed.
“Will proceed as planned,” he said. “I’ve located the picture.”

#94 Reservations

by Gayla Williams

Leon hung up the phone and called upstairs. “That was Mom and Dad. They want us to meet them after church . . . at the Hitching Post.”

I made a face thinking of the awful buffet we so often had to endure. “What did you tell them?”

“I said I’d call them back.”

“Tell them no,” I said. “We hate that restaurant. The food all tastes the same. And remember the last time? Mrs. Horsham walked along the dessert table sticking her finger into every piece of pie, licking her finger after each one! That was so gross.”

“Could you believe that?” Leon said. “I’ll never eat their pie again.”

After thirty seconds of useless wavering, I said, “Oh, tell them yes. They do so much for us. We have to go.”

Our drive to the Hitching Post was a silent one, as was our walk toward the double Mediterranean style doors, left from a time when the restaurant was named something that suited its gaudy, flocked, red wall paper.

From the foyer, I frowned toward the dimly lit buffet heaped with gray mashed potatoes, cold fried okra, pale macaroni and cheese, and dry roast beef lumped under a glowing red heat lamp. On a nearby table, small plastic plates held unguarded slices of meringue pie.

A cute young hostess bounced forward to greet us.

“Welcome,” she said merrily. “Did you have reservations?”

“Yes,” I said, “but we came anyway.”

We interrupt this contest . . .

. . . to announce the winner and finalists of the 2014 Lascaux Prize in Short Fiction. The contest ran from 1 October to 31 December 2013. The winner will receive $500, and all of the stories listed below will appear in the 2014 Lascaux Prize Anthology.


Winner

Ana's Dance, by Donna Miscolta

Finalists

Angel and the Day Before, by Matthew Corey
Auspice, by James Silberstein
A West Virginia Walk-up, by David Salner
Bedtime Stories, by Justin Campbell
Brothers of the Salvageable Crust, by Joe Kapitan
Columbus Road, by David Buchanan
Confetti, by Brett Rosenblatt
Dream of Crows, by Malcolm Campbell
Entropy, by Dino Parenti
Final Dispositions, by Linda McCullough Moore
Ma Writing, by Robin Stratton
My Father's Ghost, by Lee Wright
Puddles Like Pillows, by Suzanne Conboy-Hill
Pull a Titus, by Ashley Shelby
Saying Goodbye to Yang, by Alexander Weinstein
Settling Gwendolyn, by Maria Schuster
Sophie Tucker's Dress, by Marjorie Saunders
The Disappearance of Baby Dinosaurs, by Rosanna Staffa
The Road to Hana, by Midge Raymond


Congratulations to Donna, the finalists, and everyone who participated.

—Steve, Wendy, and the rest of the Cave Dwellers


#93 Stay A While

by Heidi Heimler

It’s 3 AM again. You climb the stairs with lumbering footsteps. I marvel at it, how baggage can make a skinny man sound so substantial. You stop at the landing to do God-knows what. Check email? Text? Breathe? I listen for you. You don’t say a word when you come into my room. You don’t even smile. You just kick off your shoes, toss your jacket on the chair, and collapse into my bed.

Your breath reeks of Scotch, cigarettes and bitterness. I cradle your woes; let you trade them in for comfort. You bellyache about the crappy account that fell through, the snot-nosed twins that never appreciate you, the wife that spends your money. You pour everything into me.

I watch your face when we make love. Maybe you’re saying, “I love you.”

At the breakfast table, you pierce your egg. Your eyes avoid mine. “Gotta get back,” you mumble. On your plate, the uneaten egg bleeds yellow.

Inside my womb another egg, pierced by you the night before, splits. A tiny you takes shape: a you who’s staying.

#92 Like Cats

by Andrew Campbell-Kearsey

“Why on earth did you clean up the blood?”
“The master doesn’t, I mean, didn’t like a mess.”
The detective walked away from the housekeeper, cursing the destruction of key evidence.
“Maybe we’ll get some DNA from the grouting between the tiles” she said to a subordinate.
Sarah hadn’t cracked a case in months. Apparently the homeowner had fallen down the stairs and split his head open. Everyone was assuming accidental death. This type of case would usually be handled by a uniform but the commissioner sent Sarah as the victim was a multimillionaire celebrity. With no family he’d left his vast fortune to a local feline protection charity. There were no disgruntled staff. He’d been an exemplary employer. The forensic team finished their work and packed up. Sarah walked around the garden, convinced things weren’t as they appeared.

A cat crossed her path and headed towards the open parlour door. Sarah observed the same cat speedily exit ten seconds later accompanied by the harshly shrieked, “Get out of here you, flea-ridden moggie!” Sarah recognised the voice of the unseen housekeeper.

Sarah needed to connect very few dots to solve the case. A cursory internet search revealed the achievements of the charity – all fictitious. It was founded by a woman whose surname coincidentally matched the maiden name of the housekeeper. She confessed to pushing her former employer.

Sarah couldn’t help wonder why criminals were so careless in covering their tracks, unlike cats. She decided to treat hers to sardines tonight.