Miniature Literature

At long last: the winners of The Inlander's second 101-word fiction contest.

See the Winners

Eight of the writers whose work appears below will compete in Get Lit’s “101-Word Fiction Showdown” tournament, presenting new stories on Sunday, April 19, from 4-5:15 pm at the Magic Lantern Theater, 25 W. Main Ave. Free.

Can't get enough flash fiction? Read the stuff we couldn't fit into the paper here.

All fiction is flash fiction. Even when you’re immersed in a long novel, you read it one paragraph, one sentence, one phrase at a time.

So it’s not simply a gimmick, this 101-word limit. Writers are quite capable of crafting characters and symbols and implied action in a confined space — as you’re about to see.

Of 430 entries, we’ve published the 29 best. Choose your favorite. Read it aloud. It’ll be the most enriching half-minute of your day.

— Michael Bowen

A Conspiracy
It was incongruous. A mundane stretch of sidewalk with the sweet caress of violin music filling the air. The unlikely source was sitting cross-legged on the stoop of an empty store, fiddle case open to welcome spare change. Eyes closed, he fingered his well-worn instrument, playing frenetic gypsy whirls, classics or dreamy serenades.
   The kid rounded the corner, shoelace flapping. He stopped and listened. "Hey, mister."
   The musician opened his eyes.
   "Your old fiddle's got no strings."
   "I know. Promise you won't tell anyone."
   "No, mister, I sure won't." The boy shuffled off, shoelace flapping as the music soared. — Darlyne Lamb

Pronoun Cycle
I and me are sufficient but that never lasts for long. Soon enough there is us and we and even ours. Mine becomes yours. You hold on to me and relate us to happiness. Eventually and always, this and that begins to get in the way. Nondescript specifics you can’t avoid. Everybody meets somebody else. I becomes dependent on we and can’t think about me. Eventually this and that force us into you and I. Each takes a little of each other. I miss you; it’s in the past now. Some of mine is still yours. I want it back. — Maria Pringle

Alibi Falls Scenic Overlook
“I’ll just stay in the car, honey.”
   She got out with the camera and was standing too close to the edge again. He couldn’t watch.
   What if she fell, he thought. What would I do then? Fifty-eight, receding hairline, 48 waist, I’m no prize. Who’d do my cooking, my laundry? I’d have to get in shape first. Maybe get hair plugs, drop to a 36 waist, go to a tanning salon. Start dating again. Or, maybe, wait about six months, then call her friend Heather. I should do OK.
   Well now, he thought, suppose she does fall? — Michael Phillips

Cornflake Girls
They’re the kind of girls who talk too loudly, like their whole self-worth depended on being heard. He detests these girls with their shiny hair, new clothes, and all their makeup. He confuses them for archetypes for all women and has developed a remarkably misogynist inner monologue that plays on repeat in those public places where those kinds of girls tend to coalesce.
   She’s that kind of girl. She forgot her voice long ago. “Maybe,” she thinks, “it’s there — in layers — like one Britney-Tiffany-Tasha over the other, and maybe that’s all there is.”
   She notices him staring. She wants to talk. — Naaman Cordova-Muenzberg

He Knew the Rotten Orange Would Save His Life
Lewis slowly sorted oranges, searching for a rotten one. A cart squeaked behind him; he looked over his shoulder. Adjusting his grandpa’s old cardigan, he resumed. In 562 trips to various supermarkets, he’d found nine.
   Eating rotten oranges was new. Before a truck killed his wife, it was green bananas. Now, he longed only for oranges.
   One thudded onto the floor. Genevieve picked it up. Like Lewis, Genevieve had short, home-cut hair. She disliked only two things: people who ordered skinny lattes and eternity.
   “Looking for the perfect orange?” she held out the fruit.
   “I…” He liked her dull brown eyes. — Kate Reed

To Know Thy Works
Her husband breaks the rules and it bothers her, his ignorance, though there’s no reasonable expectation for him to know you don’t buy pre-sliced fruit and one sink always stays empty and educated people mute the damn commercials, and he, wearing his shoes right inside the house, and she, remembering Shinagawa and the years she lived in Japan, single and longing not to be, wonders if love always disintegrates into this mutual incomprehension, embarrassing in its irrational inflexibility but still so right inside.
   This, she thinks, is how people deteriorate from joyful rabbit-sex to acid remarks in front of the grandkids. — Holly Doering

A History

    thx for tonight. had such an amazing time

me 2. next time we'll both have to have “double frap mochas”
    lol. no way, thats my drink.
can't believe we never talked before today

    wanna get coffee?
stop by, i'll be down at the diner tonight

    lov u

remind me again, next time i see you

things are really confusing right now. i need some time to think
i'll call you in a few days

    hello? just got your msg. whats the matter?
    i'm going to come over

so sorry i missed you
lost my phone, wish i would have known.
— Rajah Bose

Missed Signals
She smacked her gum incessantly. How else would he notice her pretty face and perfectly formed lips with her boobs hanging out like that? Her nearly sheer, skintight tank and bright pink, patent leather mini left little to the imagination.
   He stared at her, all right. Not in lust, mind you, but disbelief. He was gay and she had no idea.
   “Hey, why don’t you come over here and buy me a drink?” she dared in her smoke-ridden voice.
   “Sorry, sweetheart, but I’m an ass man.”
   She pursed her lips, slowly turning her back to him. She wasn’t angry, just desperate. — Brittney Nelson

Jovial Bananas
Janet was jovial while selecting bananas. Shoppers would see her in the store and think she was mad while she laughed, grinned, and boisterously chatted with Mr. Walker.
   What was so much fun about his produce? And why was Janet, a normal married adult, so entertained in his store?
   Then I noticed her wedding ring missing, her eyes glazed like light bulbs in the frozen food cases, her supple hand slipping over the small of Mr. Walker’s back. That’s when I realized: She’s no more jovial about bananas than I am. — Rob Holzman

The Falling Man
Susan and Sam entered the 62nd floor stairs, moments before a man on the 70th slipped and fell down the center of the stairwell. Susan, busy applying lipstick, only felt a small breeze, but her boyfriend Sam screamed as a man in a business suit tumbled past him. “I just saw a falling man.” Sam told Susan, but Susan wouldn’t believe him. They rushed down, but by the time they reached the ground floor, the mess was cleaned except for a small unexplainable crack in their trust and the floor. — Matthew Netzley

When I Was Hit By A Car
When I was hit by a car a fraction of a second ago, it harvested a reaction in me the likes of which is not unique to my experience. To be sure, I’ve never been hit by a car before, and I don’t mean to suggest that it isn’t unpleasant. It’s just that what I’m feeling now, cartwheeling through this air, which breathes so well through the pores of my synthetic running shirt, is something I’ve felt before.
   Yes. Three hours into your labor with Hayden, a moment before you ended and he began. Oh, Maddie, we’re suspended in air again. — Ross Carper

Two [   ] Who Meet for the First Time
Hi, my name is _______.
   Hi, I’m  _______, nice to meet you ______. (Acts like he/she is attempting to remember the name.)  So… [positive comment about current setting or location].
   Yeah, totally [half-hearted agreement]. So, ______, what do you do for a living?
   Oh, I [slight glorification of what they do for work] but I also [excuse for their job position and brief statement of their plans for the future]. What do you do?
   Wow, that is interesting, I [even more glorified life description that must top the previous].
   Well, nice meeting you.
   [They never see each other again.]                
— Drake Wilcox

Career Decisions
“You smoke too much.”
   “Bite me.”
   “You’re not as marketable as you used to be, princess.”
   “I’d like to see you cop four thousand dollars a trick.”
   “Hey, I just scored a trip to Monte Carlo, and all I had to do was take off my shirt and go walking down Hollywood Boulevard in the afternoon.”
   “Sidewalk slut.”
   “Yes, indeed. There’s an impression of my pecs in that sidewalk. How far along are you?”
   “What are you talking about, queer eye?”
   “We haven’t enjoyed your time of the month yet. Who’s the father?”
   “I don’t know.”
— David Harker

Bennett’s End
The house knows that we’re leaving her. She’s been acting up at night — running both toilets, flickering lights, phantom smells — but that isn’t why we’re moving.
   Lately I’ve been keeping her clean. Like an unspoken apology — if I scrub her counters and cupboard door knobs, maybe she’ll understand. Maybe she’ll forgive us. And when we’re gone, something of us will remain. Not just holes in the walls or carpet stains. Something else. Something like Christmas Day and too many beers on the porch June nights and the two of us side by side asleep that first night beneath her peaked beams. — Tania Van Winkle

Stuck in the Cannery Again
From the moment Erik’s arm reached out enough to create separation between his rain-jacket sleeve and vinyl glove, Chris knew he was in for a challenging summer. In faded, blotchy ink across the bottom of Erik’s wrist were the letters “KKK.” Chris, fresh off his first year of college, barely caught a glimpse and had no time to consider the significance of such before out of the corner of his eye a gleam of silver appeared. A knife blade entered Chris’s peripheral vision, and then struck a headless, gutless sockeye salmon as it made its way down the blood-stained conveyor belt. — Bart Mihailovich

The Matchbook
The face of an elegant Japanese woman stares up from a matchbook cover. Tokyo, 1946. Grandpa served in the army in Tokyo that year.
   What did he do while Grandma and their baby waited back home?
   Marian imagines soldier Grandpa in a Tokyo bar sipping scotch and watching an alluring Japanese dancer in long kimono and decorative hairpins.
   “Dance with me,” he invites, holding her close, breathing her sweet fragrance. She moves toward the stairs. He follows. She waves him off. He grabs a matchbook, exits, wedding ring still intact.
   Marian bolts upright. What about our Japanese cousin? — Mary Jane Blanpied

Taking Time for Self-Care
Mac was the crustiest ex-LAPD homicide detective with three ex-wives, two mortgages, a greedy daughter wasting time at college, a gay son playing folk in some Sacramento dive, and a liver so bitch-slapped by cheap vodka it looked like a bag of yellow fat, who ever walked into my floral and gift shop. He asked for a single black rose and a nice sympathy card. He looked like he wouldn’t care that black roses were actually dark red, spray-painted black with floral paint. I said, “Good combo,” as he paid.
   He said, “Something for me,” and walked out. — Robert Salsbury

Theez Dayz
At the local gas station, a man in pajama bottoms pumps gas without getting off his motorcycle. There’s a long line at the DVD dispenser. An extra-large woman in black sweats, lavender underpants showing through holes in the back, pops a pop-top.
   Willie Nelson’s look-alike, yellow mullet and weathered skin, steps backward, verifies the pump number, and walks into the station. His passenger, a boy in his late teens, sits in the pickup. Willie Nelson returns.
   “You could’ve pumped it,” he says.
   “I have this problem,” the boy says. “It’s called being lazy. They have medication for it now.” — Shanti Perez

Age 6, to Peter, meant camping with his father. Peter would sit on river rocks in mottled sunshine, grinding war paint and craning his neck like a sea snake. Or he'd lie on the forest bed giving names to his trees, warming the earth, his body feeding the universe. I'll let out roots and grow into the ground, he thought, fusing myself to the wild American West.
   Then Ron picked up his son, hugged him and swung him around.  "I love you, boy," he sang. "Peter, don't ever let them blur your stars. You're fields of love and great light." — Thuy-Dzuong Nguyen

The Desperate Housewife of Dingle, Idaho
On the eve of her 50th, Margaret began the Renaming, referring to her husband only as “he,” “himself,” and sometimes “Poop Deck.”
   Her daughter Tansy found it funny, but the Post Office didn’t, returning Margaret’s communiqués to Tan See and Ton Zee with stern regularity, as if they refused to believe her daughter capable of exotic house guests, possibly Chinese; as if Margaret were some old broad in a La-Z-Boy, spilling raisin-flavored Thunderbird onto postcards of Provence, some troglodyte too trashed to spell her own daughter’s name.
   On her 51st, she stopped answering to Margaret, Mom, and Grandma, in favor of Xanadu Firewind. — Holly Doering

Walter Z.
Walter has told me these things: He has half a brain, his eyes are off-balance, and he’s really a millionaire named Larry. I tutor him in his home, every Wednesday. We sit in an orange room, on an orange-striped couch. There’s a bookcase showcasing his collection of ceramic owls, in every shape and color, but these owls are really everywhere: in the window, on top of the TV — a few hung over the doors. Today, his tufts of downy blond hair are angelic when he says, “Owls have no teeth. They tear cats apart, into small pieces. Then they swallow.” — Jessica Bryan

His soft brown eyes search me before his small hands unlock the car door. A week’s scruff and tattered flannel jacket reflect from those eyes. My head hangs low, weighed down by the cardboard sign around my neck.
   He’s the first who looks me in the eye, and the first whom I cannot.
   He counts the thirteen dollars and sixty cents. “You did good today, Papa,” he says, smiling between the dimples.
   I climb into the cold car, out of the cold world. They’ll take him away soon. But tonight, we’ll eat our food together in an all-night parking lot. — Michael C. Cliff

Grease Dreams
The stench of whiskey heavy on his breath bears witness to the crap that fills his everyday.
   Broken bottles and tinfoil burger wrappers. A box of Pall Malls, though he hates the name. A pocketknife, lifted. An old porno mag.
   Jack sits still on the mattress he dragged through the trees, underneath the bridge by the river where no one looks, so no one sees. He broods in his stink.
   He hopes this week he can get the featured burrito from Taco Bell, piled high with sour cream. Maybe some root beer, too.
Snow again tonight. — Rachel Brow

The Dog Learned To Bark at Little Girls Carrying Candy
Me and five guys committed suicide together. It was like a pact, I guess, but we did it in the name of Terror. Afterwards, we chased single mothers around the parks shouting out blasphemies to the Slime Lord and found a stray dog. Now we’re all hiding under the bridge north of Hampton. Samman found a can of beans, but we don’t really know if we should eat anymore, what with all of us being dead. Frank keeps talking about going to the movie theater and replacing all the film with our parents’ old pornography. He thinks it’ll work! — Zack Berkoff

That One Guy
65 feet: He looks familiar.
51 feet: He introduced himself at that department meeting last week, didn't he? What's his name?
42 feet: Look away, it's too early to make eye contact. I didn't know tulips bloomed this early. They're beautiful.
25 feet: Surreptitious glance to see if he's looking.
24 feet: He's looking, smiling.
20 feet: Smile back. Not too big, or he'll stop to talk. Don't wave.
18 feet: Walk faster, with purpose.
3 feet: Small nod as we pass.
-1 feet: Glad that's over.
— Chris Heinrich

Jill’s Way
Jill saw the stars when she closed her eyes. She saw nothing when she looked toward the night sky. She rocked in a footed chair, but threw up from swinging. She smelled people and places in her library books. Perfume stung her nose. In her sleep, her mind replayed the sounds she could not hear when awake. She began painting the sounds she’d replayed in her sleep. She then played the paintings on her pan flute, hearing in the music the conversations contained in her paintings, and with her eyes closed, she began reliving everything that had happened all the days before. — Shanti Perez

Beer Run
Three quarts down, half-drunk, I half-step stumble up (double-time) down to the 7-11 with three fins and three ones, for 24 more 12-ounce 4 percent AY BEE VEES — that’s PEE BEE ARR – to see me three deep in queue.
   I goose the juice from the frost and sluice ten paces across five brain-scraping minutes as the cash jockey smatters banter over the beaded boys’ faces. At last he grabs my greenbacks, but barks garbled gargle to get me to goggle.
He thinks I’m drunk but I know he’s stoned, so I win this round. — Chris Dreyer

The Napkin
With one minute left, the two men embattled in the great pancake-eating contest had eaten every available pancake. Both contestants looked confused, searching for one more pancake to break the tie. The spectators booed the organizers. How can there not be one more pancake? Finally, contestant Bob Wilkinson stood up and announced, “In order for this tie to be broken, I’m going to eat my own napkin.” For half a minute, the crowd watched a large man struggle to eat a napkin. When the bell rang, the contest was judged a tie, as the napkin was “not an official pancake.” — Matthew Netzley

Some Things Just Won’t Go Away
Josh created a mullet documentary in fall of 2006.
   “Do you know you have a mullet?” he said, sticking his microphone in front of a 4-year-old boy visiting his mom on High Drive.
   “Do you know you have a mullet?” he said to an 85-year-old woman waiting on an STA bus.
   “Do you know you have a mullet?” he said to a Labradoodle at Franklin Park.
   Josh’s goal was to collect 101 interviews from people living in Spokane who sport mullets. It took less than 28 hours.
   He presented the mullet documentary to his seventh-grade class.
   Pow! — Shanti Perez

Can't get enough flash fiction? Read the stuff we couldn't fit into the paper here.

Photograph 51 @ Spokane Civic Theatre

Thursdays-Saturdays, 7:30 p.m. and Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through Feb. 5
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About The Author

Michael Bowen

Michael Bowen is a former senior writer for The Inlander and a respected local theater critic. He also covers literature, jazz and classical music, and art, among other things.