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

amethyst geode.

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

her.

“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

(Bitterroot babes)

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,

Martha.

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

kindness.

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,

dazed.

“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.