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Honorable Mention

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Surprising and sudden: Here are six other short-short stories that made us chuckle, gasp and squirm. Before we could finish our cup of coffee.





Dust to Dust

by Stephani Rodgers

It is important to keep the ashes, she thought.

Important for future generations.

Think about them, she coached herself, as she dropped more ashes into the urn.

Ugly urn, ugly like my insides, her brain whispers.

Keep adding the ashes, her conscience urges. Think about the future generations.

Stupid old urn, stupid like they were, before I turned them to ashes, her brain whispers.

At least the whole family fits.





Poison Apples

by Raymond McKinney

The old woman carefully inserted the needle into the apple and depressed the plunger. When the fruit was plump with poison, she reached over and placed it in her basket.

She counted how many she had. Six.

It was probably too many, but you never knew.

The doorbell rang, startling the old woman.

Perhaps this was her now.

The old woman slowly rose from her chair and hobbled down the hall, basket in one hand, walking stick in the other.

She turned on her porch light before opening the door.

"Trick or treat!"

She smiled at the children.

Her watery eyes scanned them. A skeleton. A gypsy.

Spiderman.

She wasn't here.

"Don't you look spooky," the old woman cackled.

She laid down her basket and offered the little ghouls a tray of candy.

Their hands scrabbled through the pile of Snickers and Hershey's Kisses and Milk Duds.

"Thank you!" they yelled, already running back to the sidewalk where their parents waited with flashlights.

Later the kids would tell their other friends about this woman, shrouded in a black cloak, hook nose, bug eyes and warted cheek.

About how sweet she was.

About how creepy.

The old woman had a few other visitors that night --

Darth Vader,a cheerleader, another skeleton, Cinderella.

And then, finally, she came.

The doorbell rang and there she was.

Snow White. Pale and delicate in her satiny yellow skirt, dark blue bodice and short puffy red sleeves.

The breath caught in the old woman's throat as the little princess said in a small, nervous voice, muffled by her mask, "Trick or treat."

"Oh yes dear," the old woman said. "I have a special treat for one as lovely as you."

She reached into her basket and held an apple out to the princess.

Snow White took it from the old woman's clawed hands.

"Thank you," she called as she ran back down the steps.

The hair behind the mask was a dishwater blond instead of black. But that didn't matter.

That didn't matter at all.

What mattered was that there were no "once upon a times."

There were no "happily ever afters."

What mattered was the story itself, untethered in time, echoing endlessly, looping back upon itself.

There was only this.

Forever and ever.





Untitled

by Ian Willson

God only answers the phones the satellites have forgotten. The nun, suffering from mysterious stomach pains and untrusting of her private practitioner, decided she could stand the pain no longer and proceeded to the thrift store to make a purchase, as her and her sisters had done since the early '90s.

As she walked back to the abbey, the nun made the call using the code between the words in Galatians 6:11, only to be put on hold. As she listened to the harp in the background, her stomach took a turn for the worse, and she buckled over in pain on the sidewalk, cursing at the phone loudly for leaving her alone with the seemingly eternal holy muzak in a time of dire need.

After minutes of tearful almost patience, a voice came onto the other line, though it clearly was not God, probably only an intern working for wings. The nun screamed into the phone that her stomach was falling apart on the inside, and was once again put on hold, though only for moments this time.

- Sister Sally Fielden?

- Yes. Please, it feels like I'm dying inside.

- Apparently you were supposed to bring on the second coming, but it says on here you're not due for 8 months.

- You mean I'm pregnant?

- Yes Ma'am.

- Immaculate Conception?

- Yes ma'am.

- And nobody came down here to tell me?

- No ma'am, we've decided to wait until the second trimester this time around, in case you were to get cold feet.

- Well what's going on now? This is not morning sickness. Please! Do something!

- You see, there was a meeting last night, and God changed his mind about the timing of all this, it's apparently too soon, and he's curious about the future of home entertainment; we're terribly sorry not to have warned you ahead of time…

- I'm having a miscarriage?

- Yes ma'am, but we'll take care of it.

- When?

- Just a moment …

The nun felt a fuzzy pink cloud envelop her from the inside and felt her stomach tense one last time and then relax. She quickly stood up, threw the phone to the sidewalk along with her habit, and decided that she ought to reconsider the virtues of Western medicine.

Perhaps hearing her thoughts, the phone decided she hadn't thrown it hard enough and began to ring again. The nun gave faith one more millimeter and answered the phone. An automated voice awaited her on the other end, "Congratulations, you've just won a free pass to the side of our lord and savior for all eternity, and a free patron saint candle in your honor."

That wasn't fair, but she wasn't about to say no. How could she? The message was automated.





Remembering the Difference between Piss and Tears

by Michael Dulin

The wheels locked up I hit the break so fast. The bottle held between my legs almost slipped away. I was making good time, just enough time to see the sun set.

Then the tractor-trailer came pulling out from the chicken farm. Hard wind ripped through the cages spewing feathers as the rig banged through its gears.

I reached down and snugged the bottle under my thigh.

Pop said he'd take care of himself when he couldn't take care of himself anymore.

No one thought different that day the old man sat down in his chair and never got back up. That's how mom found him, as she always had, asleep in his chair after climbing out of the hole each dawn.

"That black lung is going to take all the good men," I remember my mom saying as she cried and made potato salad.

He was bagged up and hauled off to be placed back into a hole.

For 14 years the bottle sat tucked away in my tool shed. Tucked away but never forgotten in my mind, and so when life started going down,

"Its all down hill from here," pop would say as he barreled down Route 3 toward that scrap of hunting land he claimed. I knew where the bottle was and I knew where the land still remained. That's where I want them to find me, just like the old man, real peaceful like. Not that there is anyone to come looking.

I tried; I mean I really tried, just like my old man.

I knew it wasn't the sickness. No one wanted to admit he was just sad, sad at a life that only promised him more darkness. I must have sat in the living room for days staring at the bottle on his memorabilia shelf -- tucked between a Robert E. Lee figurine and miniature cannon. Pop bought the old bottle with the "Poison" label off the Internet.

The guy who sold it swore authenticity.

After they hauled pop away all I could do was sit and stare at the now half empty bottle.

The chicken truck really slowed me down.

The worn cages showed years of use. Most of the birds huddled together trying to brace against the cold. I reached down and felt the warmed flask of poison.

As the trees ripped by I glanced from cage to cage,

"Stupid shits," I thought.

One of them, a real sickly looking bird, had her neck stretched out through a gap.

She knew she was a prisoner.

I wondered who would find me.

The rig's engine fired as the driver switched gears. In a seamless burst the bird shot from the cage. She soared for 12 solid feet before disappearing under my truck.

Glancing back in the rear view I saw a mound of feathers lying on the road.

Twelve solid feet of pure freedom.

"Maybe I could catch some of the race," I thought, as I slowed down to turn around.





This Is No Easy Ride

by Sarah Beth Yuhasz

The phone was gray, heavy and stolid. It sat, listless in its cradle. He stared at it. The room was dim and the light from the buttons seemed glaring, somehow needy and desperate, much as he was.

His reason for the phone was a lie. He told everyone it was because of his extensive traveling. While he did disappear for long periods of time, he didn't travel in the true sense of the word. It was a withdrawal. It was a vacation, from the world, from life. Not the most pleasant trip. The walls of his apartment felt claustrophobic after a

few days. That particular shade of institutional green was not the sweeping vista he described on his "return."

He cocked his head toward the music trickling down from the apartment above. The girl who lived there was kind, slightly overweight but still passably attractive. They went on a date once. It wasn't intentional. They had run into one another, dining alone at the same neighborhood restaurant and haltingly, embarrassingly, combined miseries. The conversation was slow, tripping and stuttering through fits and stops. They both smiled, hiding their teeth behind their hands. He left her with his number, the one for his mobile phone. "To reach me anywhere," he quipped, impressed by his own bravado.

That had been weeks ago. They had passed once, in the hall, faces stiff and frozen by fear of true human interaction. He still hoped though. He still dreamed of her half-hidden smile.

So he sat, staring at the gray phone. It was nearly the same hue as the gun he held. He was playing a waiting game. "If the phone rings in the next 10 minutes ..." Then after 10 minutes, feeling the weight of the gun, saying, "If the phone rings in the next five minutes ..."

The gunshot was heard as a physical blow. She gasped and jumped, causing the record she'd been playing to scratch. She had been playing it over and over, staring at the number clutched in her hand. There was no time to notice the destruction. She pressed the final button.

The phone rang, and rang again.

There was no one left to answer.





Untitled

by Jennifer Kennemer

A person can drown in a bathtub full of water.

She says my name with meaning, her voice rising several octaves, the way it often does when she is afraid. At night, in the bed and just the two of us, she wants to be comforted. I reassure her with kisses and lies as best I can, tell her there is nothing to be scared of anymore. But still some mornings she wakes with a start, fearing for the worst, that I am gone again and she must start the day alone. When anyone used to ask, she told them, I'd rather he be dead than one of the missing.

There is a statue of a weeping woman on a shelf inside our house. The woman is praying, perfectly collapsed upon her knees. I do not know where it came from, but it was not here before and so it must have come after, after I went away to war. At times, I find that I cannot look away. A woman made of glass. A woman made of white.

"Where are you?" Her voice is distant, door-muffled. "Are you in there?"

"I'm here," I reply and then submerge.

… submerge completely, no, not completely, all but my toes are covered by a blanket of water, from pinky to big, left to right, they protrude above the surface, almost finger-length. Many men lost their toes, wives and lives but I've still got all mine. I feel as though I am a child hiding from a monster, using all my force of will not to be discovered, over and over, a mantra of invisibility but then, I worry that it can hear my thoughts and seek that blank eternal, what it must be like in space or death.

… no, that's not it, I'm just a man holding his breath and not nearly innocent enough to believe that monsters have claws or jaws, not when they have guns and knives. It is true that I am hiding, struggling to disappear in this remote part of the house, sure I trust the ceiling more than the sky but this is just another trench; yes, I know the walls are not made of dirt, its the shape, the tight quarters I remark upon.

… more than all of this combined, I want to get clean. I am like the children from that sacred garden, persuaded to become unclean and now there are fat, round spots on my soul. As many ways to live there is to die and I have seen them all. What normalcy can there be for me? Or any that have survived in the shadow of this war, we are poisoned, damned, full of foul fruit and misery. I see them out there, so many like me, walking the streets, confusing streetlamps for trees.

"I'll be out soon," I call to her, splashing back into myself. I only needed some privacy.



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