The Very, Very, Very Short Fiction Contest

Compiled, categorized and introduced by Michael Bowen

Dickens and Dostoevsky don't read The Inlander. They're much too busy writing 900-page novels that educated people know all about but never finish.

The Inlander, on the other hand, happily solicits yarns and tall tales from all breathing mammals, then arbitrarily limits the length of those stories to just 101 words.

Dickens and Dostoevsky are giggling beneath their bushy beards. How can anyone write anything worthwhile, they ask, in such a cramped space?

Note to Chuck and Fedya: Here's how.

In July and August, we received 155 stories by 106 authors, ages 12 to 88. Most entries, of course, came from our distribution area in Eastern Washington and North Idaho, though some hail from Montana, Utah, California -- and even New Jersey.

What follows are the best of our miniature stories. (We selected 43 of 'em from 31 authors; eight writers are represented here by multiple selections.) From ironic to passionate, from sadistic to chirpy, from gritty philosophical realism to prominent-cleavaged fantasy, we've run the gauntlet of Lilliputian Lit for you, strewing our own silly categorizations along the way. (Some writers chose to provide titles for their mini-stories; many did not.)

Should you fancy yourself a scholar of contemporary fiction, you can read all 155 stories by clicking on the "Quick Links" button and choosing "Short Fiction" on our Web site at

Next year, folks, do try this at home.

Diploma in Family Dysfunction: Part 1

Our daughter Rachel has gotten pregnant by her invisible friend Oliver.

Oliver! Never once did I think not to trust him. He's always been so dear. Oliver's been around since Rachel started to talk. Rachel, our chatterbox -- in the back yard, in front of the TV, in the tub with her toys -- always talking to Oliver, a sort of rabbit creature according to her. I didn't consider pregnancy. Neither did our pediatrician. We thought she had the flu. My first question, of course, was who.

"Who, Honey?" I asked.

"Oliver," she answered every time. "Don't be mad at him. We didn't know."

-- Karen Seashore

Family Relationships, Color Category

I'm a red. Mr. Rice interrupted second grade and said so. A red? It left me in a spinning rage. I'd started out a blue in kindergarten. I'd never heard of anyone changing colors and besides, I really felt like a blue. My genius older brother had been an outstanding blue but he was already dead six months by now and at least 20 of the brainiest books in the school's library wore memorial stickers inside with his name on them: David Brown. It made me feel special in a way that being a red or even a blue cannot touch.

-- Becky Moonitz

None Dare Call It Puppy Love

"Two words," she said, flame-red hair up in twin firecracker pigtails exploding from her head. "First word -- peaceful." He smiled, confused but happy.

They'd met two days before, splashing, midday hot, behind the carousel: his wooly blond mop, river-dunked, draining slowly; her dainty kerchief dabs ... their eyes, meeting, unable to look away. So a date -- or maybe a dare: midnight, belly of the Big Red Wagon. They talked until sun-up, beneath warm stars. No touching. Yet.

Now, skipping downhill, she led him by the hand to a blanket hidden riverside, in trees: wine, a candle, two soft pillows. "Valley."

-- Dennis Held

Parenting Plaque

"Business Trip"

When I was a boy, father went on business trips.

Canada. Bangkok. Philly, PA.

Whenever he left, I prayed time would stand still. Prayed for rain, flash floods, blizzards. At school I prayed for bomb threats. A city-wide blackout. Anything to bring a screeching halt to life.

While others minced about on the playground, I'd cower under a raincoat staring at my glow-in-the-dark Timex tick-ticking the painful moments away.

But life doesn't stand still. It spins round and round. A broken record.

Then you blink. You're 35. Going on a business trip. And your son's crying in the airport terminal.

-- Robert Caisley

None Dare Call It Puppy Love, Yet

We were sitting on the calico blue floorboards of the porch, staring into the ankle-tall grass, when he offered me a bite of his sandwich. As I looked up into his shy, smiling eyes, I realized I was currently everything to him. With a halo of golden curls, a sheer cotton dress, an infectious laugh, and a Southern drawl way of walking, I was barefoot, freckled and had short, unpainted fingernails. I was as plain and as simple as a field of grain and twice as golden. I was his picnic table angel, and he was my tire swing soldier.

-- Samantha Kinlin

Passion Averted

Wanted: ripped abs, cute smile. Must dance good. -- Brandi.

Brandi, I say the body is the form and the boundary. Within these bars of flesh we strive for release, creating visions of freedom and strategies for dancing beyond the edge of the possible.

"Are you a good dancer?"

I plow my spring fields by dancing. Row upon row, I shape the ground with my exuberant feet and seduce Mother Earth to receive my seed. I dance to set the day alight. I dance with Saint Andreas himself.

"You're too weird."

Yes. But my rhythms could have driven your heart, Brandi. Goodbye. -- Neil Haven



I felt the heat of the flames on my face. The stench of roasting flesh filled my nostrils. Thick acrid black smoke billowed around me, making it difficult to breathe. I started to cough; my eyes watered.

Was this the end? I thought desperately. What had I done wrong that it had come to this?

A group of our friends were gossiping around a platter of freshly killed vegetables. From somewhere inside the house, my wife shrieked: "Honey, turn down the grill. You're burning the steak."

"Yes, dear," I said, reaching for the knob.

-- Aaron Thykeson


"Chinese Philosophers in a Western Bad Dream"

You know how you take a swig of half-hot soda pop in the park and you gulp-swish-gulp it down and the bee you inadvertently swallowed bites the back of your throat, gullet, stomach, intestines, back end, and it stings so horribly bad -- this bumble bee - it hurts so awfully bad you give birth to a bumble of corollary bees who catch the whiff of another unattended pop can, and this time it's your friend to whom the bees leave their secrets that you couldn't out-shout because your tongue was too thick, like a weighted parcel stuck inside your growing head?

-- Jaina Roth


"Elvis, Tennessee 1956"

Elvis shoots out of the jukebox at the Dairy Queen like White Lightning, ricocheting around booths, up Edna's skirt, under her sky blue sweater set.

All of a sudden, Edna wants love -- tenderly, cruelly, any way at all.

Holding the vibrating table, she watches her Deluxe Swirl Cup melting.

Eddie slouches to his Jeep and summons.





"Heartbreak Hotel."

-- Broeck Wahl Blumberg


Vomitous rage rose in my throat, rushing to spew acid-soaked rhetoric all over his self-satisfied, balding head. It's sad to be balding at 22. It's also sad to be a huge bastard and not know it, which makes his whole existence, and mine -- by proxy -- a damn tragedy. There's only one way to deal with men who have compensation issues so complex that they must actually have a concave place where their penis should be. An arched eyebrow. A suppressed grin, twitching slightly at the corners. The ever-appropriate, all-encompassing perfect response, devoid of inflection or meaning, but suggesting amusement: "Huh."

-- Christine Crawford


Helen Grant looked at her husband -- who had been watching war movies on the History Channel for six hours -- and hoped he would die soon. She imagined a semi on the Beltway plowing into his ancient blue Volvo. Some wild kid could gun him down during a drive-by shooting at Wal-Mart as he bought his gigantic monthly supply of Pepsi. Or maybe, on the way to one of his endless doctor's appointments, a very large and heavy object -- a grand piano or perhaps a meat freezer -- would fall out of a 10th-story window directly onto him. Splat. No more Amos.

-- Heather Sowers


Hannah Moon prowled the Outdoor Experience parking lot, nabbing the first empty spot between a Toyota 4-Runner and a Jeep Grand Cherokee. Crazy Daze shoppers swarmed over the sidewalk display. He would be here, she knew it, his calves tanned below the tight biker shorts. She drew in a sharp breath as she remembered the way his butt cheeks swelled against the blue Lycra. She checked her face in the mirror, pursing her coral-glossed lips and lowering her eyelids. The man wouldn't stand a chance. Hannah slid out of the Bronco and threw back her shoulders. It was show time.

-- Ann Clizer

It wasn't me she wanted but Farrell, taller and better at talk. Pretty Becky Gardner waltzed in. "Fat carrots you got today," she said, picking one up and wagging it my way. "That's how they come," I answered from my place behind the counter. She waited, like she was counting every whisker on my chin. "Feet get cold, sleeping in my bed alone," she said. In the back, Old Hepner sat listening. Becky bought two pounds of carrots and put them in an onion bag she carried folded-up inside her skirt. She walked out and left me with the old man.

-- Karen Seashore

Joe, a courteous and kind grocer anytime after noon, was not much for direct conversation in the morning. This morning was no different, with the giveaway disheveled hair and pockets of coal beneath his eyes.

Maybe, thought Faith, just maybe he could use some extra hours of sleep.

"A pack of hyenas looked better after weeks without food." She stared at him.

He returned her look with one of his own, then forced his visibly dry and stuck lips to part and ask, "What?"

"Oh, I just meant you look like hell," she replied, and turned to go on her way.

-- Tanja Pederson


The delivery van crept up to the security gates of the former Yellowhead mine complex. The driver sounded the horn thrice, as was dictated by the absurdly detailed "Purveyors' Instructions" sheet. He glanced at some of the creepier demands:

8) Do not offer any prayers to, or do not entertain any thoughts of, any gods, demons, or spiritual beings of any sort.

12) Do not litter, spit, or urinate on or near the compound.

17) Divest yourself of all thoughts of a sexual nature during deliveries. Abstain from sexual activities for 24 hours before entering the complex.

"Oops," he said, genuinely.

-- Steve St. George


Author's Note: I am 88 years old and this is my first story. I am a button collector and am selling my buttons. Was looking at them on the table and read your ad, so here it is.

"The Missing Buttons"

As Sara pulled the gold dress over her head, she thought it didn't feel the same, so as she straightened out the folds to swirl around her feet, she noticed the two gold buttons were gone from the collar. They were always fastened to the collar, as it shaped a fan around her head.

The buttons had been cut off.

This was going to be a happy night. She knew Jim was going to ask her to marry him, and he loved the gold dress.

But who would do such a thing? The maid, she trusted too much. The new butler?

-- Nina L. Bauer


It was a late winter evening, and the sun was setting at 6:10 in a shameless orange. Its defiance did not surprise me; I have seen the way that color retreats.

Orange does not lose easily.

In a photograph of my father, for instance: It's an old photograph, but the orange in his shirt is still formidable in the picture. Under it and under his shoulders, his back is slouched and tired. Orange shows the art but the body shows the pain, and the expectation of more pain, and the life-is-a-long-day-riding-the-bus-and-I'm-the-only-one-not-sharing-a-seat kind of pain.

Orange does not win often.

-- Gabrielle Harsch


"Homage to Xena"

"All homage to Xena, and to the loins from which she sprang!" Idiot God Azathoth rang out madly, discordantly, pulled by unseen hands, as lightning split the antediluvian night and the temple bells of the Blind.

"All Homage to Xena!" cry her vanquished foes, "from her gravity-defying breasts to the red-lacquered tips of her 10 evenly spaced toes, to the oxygen-inhaling perfection of her quintessential nose."

Across a gulf of 10,000 years, I only repeat what a savage cried just before he died, headless at her hand, beneath a haunted, gibbous moon: "Those boots, that leather, those thighs! Xena! All hail!"

-- Jody Forest


"Carlos is married -- you know that, right?"

"She couldn't have kids. He wants them," I said. "They're getting a divorce. They don't even live together."

"That's what they all say, honey." Mabel nodded, her jowls jiggling.

We stood a few feet from the Rancho Miramar hot tub. From the ridge up behind our place, she scoured the camp with binoculars. She never went anywhere except to the hot tub, so I guess she picked up some fine thrills peeping at the rest of us. If I ever get too old to have my own fun, I hope somebody just kills me.

-- Ann Clizer


She sat on the edge of the couch. She sat on the edge of the couch most of the day and into the night. She sat on the edge of the couch most of the day and into the night and ... She sat on the edge of the couch most of the day and into the night surrounded by magazines and junk mail growing as friendly as a forest of pine and birch.

Across the street they played baseball in the fog. She sat on the edge of the couch and ... She sat on the edge of the couch. She sat.

-- Anne Selcoe


Morris Mumm is a talker. He's a constant thrumming commentary. He doesn't tolerate reflective lapses of silence well. He reads billboards aloud even when he's driving alone. He can't help it.

Ersand Dancer has two left feet. He inherited them from his father, Tiny, a large man with unclever friends. Ersand's two left hands and stutter, he got from his mother, Sally.

Ersand knows his limitations. He is uncomfortably aware of his awkward gait and disconcerting tilt, his propensity to bump things and the need to say "sss, ssssss, s-ssorry" so much of the time. Ersand, however, is a good listener.

-- Jan Sarchio


The cake has slumped off to one side, its supporting columns tipped like Greek ruins. I notice tracks from where the bride must have slid off. She's hitched on a plume of yellowed grass, her feet caught in the snow so it looks like her dress goes on forever. When I take off my mitten and pick her up I'm surprised she's not plastic but sugar. I stand her in the frosting. There's something stubborn in the way she stares ahead. Meanwhile the groom rests on the knees of his black sugar tuxedo, tipping back to look up at her face.

-- Karen Seashore


"In the Wake"

One week later, Dave and I were heading home from Auntie's, where we'd bought a few books. The clerks had been in as much of a daze as we were; only talk radio hosts seemed to have recovered.

"How should America respond to its enemies?" the woman asked. "America is hurt and angry. America needs to do something."

I had never met America, although supposedly I had lived on its back for 25 years. I patted the floor in response to the woman's query.

-- Aaron Teschner


She's been lying about her age for years, since she was 12. She passed for 16 then, with the makeup she budged from the drugstore. By the time she was 16, she was drinking beers without having to beg someone to buy it outside the 7-Eleven.

Faith looks at the snapshot of her mom that her aunt Grace sent. The date is scrawled on the back: two months before she died. Thirty-seven years old, though she looks 10 years older. Bet she was lying about her age, too. Faith scrubs off her makeup, just to see who's beneath.

-- Rory Metcalf


I wondered, if I were to take my fork and stab him in the eye, would the eyeball just pop out? Would it just go "plop"? Would I just have a squishy ball on the end of my fork? Or would I have to pull hard, and when it finally gave, would my arm fly back towards me? Would there be lots of bloody tendon things attached to it, so that I'd have to pick up my steak knife and sever them? I imagined that the second scenario was more likely. Otherwise, people would lose eyeballs much more frequently. -- Hillary Park

We never told anybody about what happened that night. There have been a lot of close calls, but to our knowledge, none of us have spilled the beans. Until we encountered old Ray in the back of his shed one morning last May. He looked out of sorts, sullied, smelt a little more musky and rotten than usual and as elastic with his limbs as a monkey, swinging back and forth with that rope above his head. We sat down, smoked and decided to tell old Ray about that night. We ended. Old Ray, well, he didn't have much to say.

-- Guy Stancliff


"How Taste Buds Develop"

His mother said, "If it's not food, don't you put it in your mouth!" But touch-smell-hear-see was incomplete without the fifth part. And so he secretly placed copper-coated coins on the tip of his tongue to feel the jolt of metallic grime, licked his Elmer's-soaked fingers to memorize their milky pungency and chewed on used cupcake liners to relish the exotic blend of chocolate and cheap paper.

Someday there would be more acceptable delicacies with difficult names. Gewurtstraminer. Beluga caviar. Filet mignon. For now, however, there were plastic swimming toys, wooden blocks and salty PlayDoh to taste with incomparable delight.

-- Mary Ellen Greenwood

After chemotherapy, Lightfoot Webster whacked off her waist-length braid and gave it to Gator for safekeeping. With all the drugs, she had a hard time remembering where she put things; she couldn't sleep if she didn't know where her hair was. Lightfoot's black hair, the coarse mop she'd spent hours, maybe weeks, of her life combing out lay in a drawer, losing its shine. When neighbor women came to visit, Lightfoot couldn't look away from their hair. Even short, thin hair struck her as luxurious. Her hand would stray to her smooth head, flutter along the curve of her naked neck.

-- Ann Clizer

"Light's not just particles and waves," he said. She lifted her drink and watched her sister walk to her car. "It's an autumn afternoon after picking apples, riding in the car on the way back with the windows rolled down, looking out the window as the land rushes by in a series of light-opposed darkness. It's not noon in a desert." She nodded and let her eyes drift from him to her sister. "Light," he began -- her sister in the car, "is the sky at six o'clock in the morning in August, sitting on the dock and your feet swaying gently." -- Guy Stancliff


What I love about summer is house-sitting at the Clarks'. I eat their frozen entrees and float in the pool at night, communing with the pea plants that twist and flower over the red iron fence. In the tall lindens hang 13 birdhouses, constructed and painted by the highly accomplished Clark children, who are paddling in faraway canoes.

Sometimes I invite someone over to play badminton, someone I don't know very well, but I might owe them a good time, a better time than they could have at my actual house. Sometimes, then, I invite them into the water.

-- Becky Moonitz


Exiting with ease from tricky situations. Ducks: the skiff of their bodies. This world of ducks is minimal, according to my legless friend, Ricardo. Yet Lolita says the bird's sh** on your shoulder means good luck that comes with God. "Look and/or quack! My slippery slide needs fixing," the duck says to me. I hide my charm to be invisible. "Sometimes," the duck says, "they give to you things that easily go bad, like cherries." It only takes a moment to fade from reach, like the stained color of boat-wood under paint. Empty mind I didn't trust. A duck's skiff, either.

-- Jaina Roth


"The Boskopman"

Karl Rommel could see I was pleased with the land until we came across a native man digging a pit latrine -- the Boskopman, as Rommel called him.

"He should board it up," I said.

Rommel muttered in disgusted German. "Ja," the Boskopman said. "Ja."

He had done nothing of the kind when I came back the following day. When I pointed to the human bones scattered on the earth mounds like diamonds on Skeleton Coast, he gave a wild laugh. "German Sudwestafrika Protectorate," he said.

Men like him, I knew without being told, would never board up their pit latrines. -- Lily Mabura

Underneath an orange, polluted sky, directly in front of a white garage door that was sandwiched between blood-red walls dishonored with graffiti, sat Adri with Arnie the hog, who scavenged for scraps nearby. After placing another cigarette, she wiped a tear from her eye and snot from her nose with a small, dirt-crusted hand, transferring the filth to her face. "Almost done, Arnie." Arnie snorted a response; a few gulls squawked overhead. Adri giggled and tried to clear her face of her oiled hair -- it hung in the way -- she could hardly see. She leaned back on her heels, admiring her craft.

-- H.M. Hellion


"Circles for Landing"

One pigeon afraid of heights turns in circles on the girder. In a similar manner, my friend -- Truculent -- who normally only saves his mouth for expanding and contracting brief storage, slowly finds his circle stamped in ignorance or personal individuality.

This relationship is known only through other township pigeons in the pecking order, whose umbilical cords, when tapped, keep repeating in gander-style pigeon-speak: No free checking for those of your ilk. Truculent, if lured by a particularly dervish gust of wind, might learn to trust windowsills more. After practicing consistency, I could even love whatever brings his faded smile.

-- Jaina Roth

She looks for IEDs along the road, sweat trickling under the Kevlar. She looks for threatening movements as her convoy rumbles by.

She also looks for friendly faces. Boys who run alongside her vehicle, shouting too fast for her to understand. Girls and their mothers, waving shyly in response to her gesture of greeting.

She spots the old man who trudges to the market each day, his face as cracked as this parched countryside, his expression always severe.

Touching the uniform over her heart, she greets him in his own tongue -- badly, she suspects.

His smile is like rain. Soft. Welcome.

-- Rory Metcalf

"To Sleep on a Sofa, Near You"

Events, great thief of my days, squiggled at the end like smoke. I spoke using props like a sandwich and finger-puppets to tell you something last time. Since the future meant "unpredictable," I was completely unable to anticipate your arrival. I wonder if you will even follow me. Derrida said one's eyes never change; one's childhood exists in the look of the eyes and has no age. Then he told me to live right is to consider zero. I felt like the prettiest girl at the dance. An impossible confidence roiled in my gut. Was it someone or something I loved?

-- Jaina Roth


"Telecommunication (for Kel)"

Last night I burrowed through the phone line. My digitized message of love criss-crossed the nation -- worming its way, one telegraph pole at a time -- past watering holes, through urban sprawl, from coast to coast, buzzing into your ear like a glittering, mad, digital flea. My voice came to eat up your sky, plunk down roots on your shore -- graze your tall grasses and munch down your miles -- seek sunken treasure, hang my hat at your door. Last night while you were sleeping, curled up like a snail in blue moonlight, I kissed, emphatically, every square inch of your life.

-- Robert Caisley


Oahu, 12/6/41

As I carried their dirty porcelain to the kitchen, the engagement ring fell from Nick's cup. Fire leapt ... caught the glasses over the bar, the mirror behind the register and the bay windows in front. The caf & eacute; burned and wanted to burn until the ring fell into the traps of sand colored carpet.

* * *


All night she drank coffee from the couple's table and watched the lights in the harbor between the stenciling of the window sign. Her eyes never left the exposed screws of the Nevada as welding torches began to cut into the capsized hull.

-- John P. Sayles Jr.


This bear walks into the Rat Race Saloon and growls, "I'm a black belt, and I can take any rodent in the place!" Gophers dive behind the bar, squirrels leap for the rafters, and mice flee for their lives. The bartender, an old marmot, chitters, "Easy there, Karate Boy!" The bear rushes him, snarling, "Need a tummy tuck, yeller belly?" The marmot clocks him with a jug of mead, a fermented drink made of honey. "Bee swarm comin' in the winder!" cackles the marmot. Out the swinging doors sprints the mead-drenched bear, never again to give a rodent sass.

-- Eileen Edgren



Gravity and Levity watched from their positions inside a tomato plant. An elderly gardener shuffled up wielding a watering can.

"He is diligent," whispered Levity.

"Mmm," said Gravity. "Missed a day last week though."

The Twins moved to a slithering acorn squash. The garden shuddered slightly, then settled.

The old man paused, wondering.

"He knows," Levity breathed.

"Or thinks he does," Gravity said. "Nod your head."

Levity chose a giant sunflower, swayed its yellow noggin suggestively.

The gardener froze in mid-shuffle, inclining a wide rheumy eye at the seedy flower.

Levity laughed, and rows of towering flowers defied Gravity.

-- Rhett Jamesson


He figured this was "The Whimper" someone had once talked about.

A three-buck can of degreaser and a desperate prayer finally popped Frank's door open, but could do nothing for the refrigerator seal that had lost its suck overnight, but sucked nonetheless. This is how his existence would go, he thought -- not with a bang, but with the little things crapping up.

He turned his attention through the window to where Denise Feller lay face down in his front yard. Despite the liquor smell, Frank knew she was the one he wanted to be with when the world went out.

-- Kirsten Leiglan


My boyfriend is a writer. Ideas are constantly flowing from his fingertips as stray thoughts are fleshed out, turned into stories, or merged with older stories. Some of them will sit for a year or two, like fine wine, before he returns to them. He holds an entire world in his mind, and uses it as backdrop for some of his tales. Others revolve around themes that are central to him, have roots in experience, or are children of a wandering mind that keeps asking "what if?"

He's sold one story. Including the title, it was 16 words long.

-- Rakelle O.


To conclude our survey of micro-fiction, an excerpt from a submission for this contest by Guy Stancliff: "Who can tell a story in 101 words? What's the Inlander staff smoking? Of course, Hemingway had no problem with just six: 'Baby shoes for sale. Never used.' "

A complete collection of all of the entries we recieved can be found here:

Publication date: 09/09/04

Festival of Fair Trade @ Community Building

Sun., Nov. 27, 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m.
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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.