2021 Online Generative Workshop Short Short Contest
In the spirit of generating new work Writing By Writers held our 9th annual Short Short Writing Contest to win free tuition to the 2022 WxW Generative Workshops. The rules were simple. The piece could be fiction, nonfiction, memoir or poetry but it had to contain the name of a continent, a horse's gait, the title or a lyric of a song from the 90's, a food you would want to eat for your last meal, the name of a gemstone, and a zodiac sign.
Winners: Sophie Amado, Tricia Chaves, Kathryn Garfield, Janet Huntington, Janila Lynn, Margaret MacInnis, Ladane Nasseri, Sara Probst, Allison Ragan, Charlie Stephens, Randall Van Nostrand, Jenny Williams, and Amy Zaranek
Finalists: Allison Field Bell, Allison Ellis, Julie Friesner, Anne Gudger, Rachel Leon, Avvy Mar, Lauren Mertz, D. Miller, Lauren Muelethaler, Arvan Ram, Molly Ritvo, Alyson Shelton, and Sidney Woods
The Brown Line Talks, by Sophie Amado
Maybe the voice is a father. Maybe the voice is not a legal North American citizen. Maybe the voice
likes to go Monday night bowling with greasy buffalo chicken fingers. Maybe you’re misgendering
the voice. Maybe the voice has been altered. Maybe the voice is a Virgo.
When the voice on the train starts saying something new, your ears perk up to the tonal differences,
the way it says “nose” when prior you’d find it strange to hear it say that word at all. Stranger even
to hear it say “mask.”
You didn’t really give much attention to the voice on the train until the messages changed. “Face
covering” traveled to your cochlea like a shot of lightening. You used to ignore the lull of the voice
saying, “Doors closing.” Now, the voice has a new, closer tune.
It was one of those moments when you realized how much the world changed, how many people
affected—a non-comforting universality.
Or maybe instead, this really is a marvel, a diamond in the rough, that we are all in something
together. War tends to feel far away if you don’t know anyone in it, if it’s abroad. This, somehow
still, is invisible combat.
When you ride the train, there’s a swirl it; you cannot go against its gallop. In order to stay upright,
your feet must be planted, sway with its motion. And as you ride inside of its body, realize the voice
is traversing through all of this with you.
From a Distance, You Look Like My Friend (Excerpt), by Tricia L Chaves
Our four-pound dog Tango being trampled by a trotting horse during our first weekend on the job
was a bad omen, only I was too busy nursing him back to health to notice.
Soon enough, we’d let a Trojan Horse inside our home, too.
I was pulling a scratch-made pot pie from the oven when they showed up with a jagged
Necessities, by Kathryn Ganfield
This is not horse country. The bedrock is high in the Canadian shield of the North American
continent, and bare outcrops make slippery footing. Pasture is full of rocks. Ticks fierce from
April to October. Snow heavy all the other months.
She’s put up with it. A horse is her necessity, just as firewood and Finnish saunas are to
everybody else up here. The man’s the nicety. In the cabin down below where she rides, Leo’s
making supper. The man can cook. Roast chicken, or maybe just a plate of his own smoked fish,
bread baked from beer’s spent grain.
Jasper must sense her hunger for home and picks up a steady shuffle, the hallmark of his breed.
The barest of Appaloosa blankets splays across his rump, like the Milky Way spied over the
small suburb. He is handsome. A handful still at seven.
“You wreck me,” she wants to say. “You break me.” Words that sway like her hips in the saddle.
She clucks her tongue and tries again, aloud this time. “You wreck me, because I have to have
you and I have to be here. You break me, because you belong here, and I never did.”
Leo won’t want to hear it, when she tells him over roast chicken and spent grain. She’ll cluck her
tongue and say it again, slow and easy, like she’s soothing Jasper on a stony trail. Leo will balk,
but it’s like a horse trainer told her years ago: “Ask. Tell. Make.”
A Little Bit Closer by Janet Huntington
"I've never been there, but the brochure looks nice," Sheryl's whine loops between my ears, and
I know that today, hell, right now, I'm out of here. Being just shy of ninety doesn't matter a lick; I
got to get a move on before this earworm torments me to death. My granddaughter says I run
because I'm a Sagittarius, and I'm born to follow the stars. What a load of crap. The girl knows nothing.
An old molly mule lips weeds on the back forty while she waits out her last days. I remember
her bright-eyed and wicked, long teeth quick to nip, and her hide so shiny it glowed amber in the
sun. Nowadays, she's blind, toothless, and shaggy year-round. Sometimes she startles and stares
at the mountains through her cloudy blue eyes, lets her chaw of grass drop, and starts to bray. It
makes a person wonder. I call her Oceania after a place we'll never see.
I slip half a pie off the counter and into my pocket as I head out the door. When the scent of
sugar and apples draws the mule, I'll catch her. Her single foot's smooth enough for my bones,
the old Navajo blanket off my bed will soften her sharp edges, and I don't weigh much anymore.
If we make it over the pass, we might hunt up that place we'll never see. It will be a day or two
before anybody misses us.
Homecoming by Janila Lynn,
She’s barely turned one, yet her eyes reflect an awareness of his every move. She stares
when he brings the cup to his lips, pulls his phone from his pocket, taps his foot.
He wonders if she can see the heavy clouds and heathered shadows that waltz around
his figure and weigh down his neck and his shoulders, this careening assemblage of
grays and blues and lightlessness. A clang of silverware disrupts their focus.
Leo’s carrot-colored tufts jounce through the kitchen and disappear intermittently
behind adults as he gallops brandishing a serving spoon full of cake. He pursues a
screeching cousin who refuses to admit to nor eat the chili-crusted concoction. Miriam
threatens to ship them to Antarctica as she wipes the splattered food off the floor. She
looks to her sister, who laughs uncensored and remarks that play is good for the kids.
Alex, he notices, sits in the floral armchair, its serotinal velour grown patchier over the
years to match the umbers and marigolds of the crackling fire, light splaying citrine
against the hearth. The homecoming warmth of Etta James, slow and fervid, noticeably
louder now, retrieves memories seeped into the sheathings of this house. They rise like
vaporous ghosts to settle into his bleak overhead strata. Guffaws spiral through the
living room. When she catches him looking, she beams at him, pats the armrest beside
“Say it ain’t so: my favorite brother.” Their conversation sits below a shout. Suddenly, he
finds there’s too much noise.
Crab Apple Love, by Margaret MacInnis
Ruby dreamt of a Triumph convertible kind of love, cool and sleek, low to the ground, but Leo
was horse and buggy, old-fashioned, with a steady trot and a loyal heart.
It was never enough.
“I want to go to Europe,” she reminded him again, lightly tapping her tambourine. “I
want to ride in a gondola.”
He should not have bought her those encyclopedias.
“If it makes you happy,” Leo said, but it was already too late.
The clock on their kitchen wall ticked steady as an eardrum. Ruby only chuckled while
tapping her sling-backs to a song no one else heard. In the early dawn, Ruby rested, humming, a
Triumph in idle. After tea and buttered toast, Leo combed out Ruby’s tangles one by one until
skunk curls framed her face.
Cradled in his arms like the baby they never had, he carried her to the sofa under the crab
apple tree; her tambourine could not carry even that small sour fruit. In her youth she blamed
Leo, whom she said could not reach the last button of truth. Ruby did not elect these back-road
days as long as winter, then nights that would not fall. She followed the lighted path to the pond
where she emptied her bucket, untied her knotted apron. Under the soft sofa cushions she
fingered for the gemstones weaved in her hair. Later that evening as the canoe docked, Ruby
would be waiting to play the overture on her crab apple tambourine.
The Days of the Horse (Excerpt) by Ladane Nasseri
My father leans against the wooden fence, watching Comet pin me to the wall, launch into a sudden gallop, throw me to the ground.
A revolution followed by eight-years of war: Baba’s many woes were more pressing than watching me tame the onyx-colored Turkoman horse he gifted me. But in those early morning hours, the air still fresh and the ground cool, all he wanted was to see his young daughter overcome adversity. This, he tells me now.
Earthquakes by Sara Probst
How do I know that he died, you ask?
Things got quiet upstairs is how. I used to hear footsteps. He always shuffled across the room
with his boots on; the heels clattering on the hardwood floor like hooves. One foot always on
the ground, like an Icelandic horse. Tölt, they call that kind of trot.
I remember seeing a documentary about horses in Europe. It featured a woman who was
riding a hose while carrying a full pint of beer in her hand. She didn’t spill a drop, which must
have proved a point she was making.
That was years ago. They say people like me have a sharp memory. “They” being my mother;
“people like me” being Scorpios.
I ran into him down by the mailboxes once. He was one of those men who wore ludicrous
amounts of jewelry – chunky cuffs, turquoise rings. “Bills, bills, bills,” he said in an old man voice and waved a bunch of envelopes like
they were small white flags and he was trying to make peace.
He proceeded to offer me a slice of his pizza. I caught a glimpse of a piece of pineapple and
politely declined. He smiled, unapologetic about his choice of topping. He struck me as that
type of man. Unabashedly himself, whatever that meant exactly.
How is that relevant, you ask?
I have always taken comfort in knowing that he was there, upstairs.
I find solace in knowing that people like him exist in the world.
Bitteroot, by Allison Ragan
Dragging dust down the winding ranch road
a burger and a beer in each of their bellies
the truck slides on the gravel as they sing:
I wanna be the only one
for miles and miles
their voices broadcast into the obsidian night
a thousand stars clapping in the Wyoming sky
Aquarius, Gemini, and Libra—
forever trussed by this summer, this song
the horses canter and collide in the night, startled
as the headlights sweep the lower pasture
the CD on repeat, rings against the canyon walls
the one from Australia, lanky and lean
long cowgirl’s legs in Wrangler jeans
She did not know this place would become her home
and where she would raise her babies
the queen with her striking height,
and patience, braver than any other woman
preferring to stay alone in the trapper’s cabin
at the end of the dirt path
where electricity does not reach
the wanderer, the seeker,
surveying the wild to heal the haunts that follow
until stillness stitches her together.
Years pass before a reunion
always bound by the West, the horses—
the dark giving way to dawn’s light,
the Wind River carving time
just outside the window.
Metal Heart, by Charlie Stephens
Luca is beautiful with his amber eyes and long dark hair, but he’s been in a bad way for a
long time. On his eighteenth birthday he’s leaving for South America with money he saved
working at Pollo Palace. He says he’s getting the hell away from here. I don’t know if he means
getting away from Mom or just getting the fuck out of Texas. I don’t blame him either way but
don’t know what I’ll do without him. Once when he caught me crying he said I’ve got to make
my heart harder, like it’s metal so it won’t break no matter what.
Our house can be peaceful, but then there’s the banging-hitting-punching, and once there
was a steak we couldn’t afford thrown against the wall in a fit of rage. No one ate anything that
night. Mom apologized later, but they’re just words—nothing changes. I catch Mom watching
Luca sometimes, his sloped shoulders curling inward like he’s trying to disappear. Mom says
Luca is a tortured soul because he’s a Scorpio, but I know that’s not it. Mom says I’m a Taurus
and nothing’s going to stand in my way, least of all myself.
“Metal heart, you're not hiding, Metal heart, you're not worth a thing.”
Luca leaves on his birthday just like he said. I watch him go at a flying pace, outrunning
headlights, metal clanking off him until he’s just tender flesh, and then he’s so gone it’s like he
was never here at all.
Antarctica by Randall Van Nostrand
Addie lay on the picnic table freezing her tits off and trying to breathe. She stared at the blueberry black
sky looking for their stars. If Martha was here, she’d find them.
Twenty years ago, when the doctor told them their mother's lungs were riddled with cancer, Lyla said,
“It’s been a good life," stubbed out her cigarette and shrugged.
Addie had no such shrugs. She wasn't done. She wanted more- more life, more love, more time. She
wanted endless tomorrows. The mass in her lungs resembled Antarctica. Last year’s eighth-graders, all
pains in the ass, would appreciate the irony. They’d called her Ms. Ice-witch instead of Isewidge.
She hit the picnic table. Why her? She’d done everything right- ate kale instead of ice cream, exercised,
flossed, practiced gratitude. How had Antarctica found her? She didn’t even smoke.
Her nieces, three little monsters, screeched as they galloped through the house. Addie strained to hear
her sister’s voice. Imagined her joining the game. Hell, she’d probably started it. Nothing compares to U,
When the noise softened, Addie wiped her eyes on her sleeve and stood. The thought of leaving them
made her shake and she hugged her arms tight. If she had her way, she’d never leave. She’d tag the
house with emerald light and sit in the black space between the Gemini stars watching over Martha and
her terrible beautiful children forever.
Addie put a smile on her face. She would tell Martha soon, but not tonight.
Bloom by Jenny Williams
Four years after we divorced I met my ex husband for a walk. It was the first time he’d seen our dog since
I traded the city for the mountains, since I traded our marriage for the kind of unknown that gets into your
muscles, like an ache.
“He’s smaller than I remember,” my once-husband said.
What isn’t? I wanted to say. And also: Inside small things sleep entire universes, waiting to unfold.
We started down serpentine paths under a gray sky. He was chatty and cheerful. I was grateful for this
I’d come to tell him I was pregnant, and single, on purpose. But first, the missing years. Jobs and friends
and hobbies, and the dog set the pace so we moved in fits and jolts.
He was thinking about moving back to Europe, he said, to be closer to his parents in Germany. “What if
they get cancer? Or worse?”
I was choosing my confessions as I might truffles from a chocolate box: secretly saving the best for last.
Finally, the moment came. “I wanted to tell you--”
But he halted. Grabbed my arm. He was looking out over the cliffs to the muted sea below. He blinked,
“I’ve never been here before,” he said. “All the years I’ve lived in this city.” He laughed, delighted.
We stood there together, each of us holding a tiny mystery. Marveling at its perfect shape. Gazing out at a
shrouded horizon, alert, always, to the possibility of bloom.
High Stakes by Amy Zaranek
In the owner’s box, Kathleen cut into filet mignon, served trackside in South America
with champagne instead of the whiskey she knew back home. She was raised on the high plains
of Wyoming, eating beef branded with her family’s initial until she met and married Mateo. He
was hired on the ranch for a summer they both thought would be a fling before he swept her back
to his family’s Thoroughbred farm in Argentina.
Her Spanish was stunted, limited to colors and directions and the occasional tool name
learned from supply runs to the Home Depot in Sheridan. At first, the language barrier added to
the glamour of horse racing below the equator. The galloping hooves and the taste of steak felt
like home to Kathleen, and through Mateo’s translation, she could charm his friends with tales of
brandings and barbed wire. Five years later, though, she was nothing new—no longer the
American cowgirl with friends in low places. Her stories of the West had all been told.
Now, Kathleen was just Mateo’s wife, attending races on his arm, always outfitted in the
latest couture. With the last season’s wins, they had appearances to uphold. Through the
floodlights on the racetrack, she couldn’t see the constellations changing through the seasons,
Gemini to Cancer to Leo: the bright diamond pinpricks that made them fall in love—or at least
fall together—all those nights ago, huddled around a campfire, their horses grazing nearby.