2022 Online Generative Workshop Short Short Contest
In the spirit of generating new work Writing By Writers held our 10th annual Short Short Writing Contest to win free tuition to the 2023 WxW Generative Workshops. The rules were simple. The piece could be fiction, non fiction, memoir or poetry but it must contain a food known for its consumption during a particular holiday, the name of a deciduous tree, a lyric from a song from the seventies, the name of a breed of horse, a geologic event and the name of a constellation.
Winners: Jessica Barksdale, Paris Morgan, Eva Churchill, Maria Fernandez-Gimenez, Jaime Grechika, Sophie Hall, JM Huscher, Kristin Ito, Caroline Kessler, Jonatha Kottler, Kathryn Kukula, Pirette McKamey, Lebogang Jessicah Monyela, Michael Owl, Charlie Stephens and Matthew Trujillo.
Finalists: Kelli Bean Miranda, Lauren Muehlethaler, Dean Phipps, Mana Taylor, Elizabeth Tucker and Jenny Williams
Sparks Ignite (excerpt) by Jessica Barksdale
When my mother was a girl, she rode a Palomino, a horse I had to look up in the Encyclopedia Britannica. Her favorite tree was a deodar cedar. She could point out constellations in the night sky and whisper, “Ursa Major, Hydra, Cetus.” When the earth shook under our house, she’d make us hold hands as we huddled together under the doorjamb. Her father was a doctor, and she went to Stanford to study chemistry but after graduation ended up in our house in the suburbs rolling out pie dough.
Now my mother now asks me if I am an only child. She has forgotten how to hold cutlery. She doesn’t remember my father. But at night sometimes, I wheel her out to the patio, and we both look up, watching as the stars open up, bright and wild.
“There,” she says slowly. “There.”
Reading The Signs by Paris Morgan
“It’s 80, all the way,” Stewart said, as he returned the map to the gas station stand. We were running away, from Oakland to Park City, through the Donner Pass.
Going 90, the windows whistled, the car shimmied and rocked as it was slapped and released by sudden violent gusts. A cold, flat hand landed on the back of my neck, even with the heat blasting.
At altitude, colossal moguls crowded every bend. Warnings of “Falling Rock” “Runaway Truck” “Bridges May Be Icy When Pavement Is Dry.” I felt as barn-sour as a spoiled Cleveland Bay.
On a stretch of Nevada, in five degrees, constellations put the “firm” in firmament, the night was humbling, as reckoning as a tin roof. Siberian elms appeared as icy brains.
F.M. returned, belting, “LOVE HURTS...”
Orion's Belt intersected with the belly of the Bonneville Salt Flats, as cosmic lovers. Seawater pooled on a high desert plain. Ghostly ice separated Eastbound from Westbound lanes.
On the other expanse, occasional trailer trucks were decorated for Christmas: hirsute wreathes thrashed in fog lights; methamphetamine white and “green cherry” bulbs alighted cabs; per usual, red reflectors shone along the bottom and top edges of long trailers...
Was I feeling queasy before my slack-jawed torpor transfigured them into the densest ever fruitcakes, or just after?
Awakened, I blinked away the hallucination. Only then, and undeniably, the trucks re-emerged to me as glowing arrows, one after another, streaking back the way we had just come.
Landslide, by Eva Churchill
“I took my love, I took it down, I climbed a mountain and I turned around…” Landslide played in the black Audi.
“Is this song really playing?” I asked.
Nick smiled. It was early, cold and we drove past naked maples and dark houses.
“I suppose there isn’t a better ‘We’re Going to the Psych Ward and We’re Gonna Get Medicated’ song,’” I said to the tune of Going to the Chapel. Nick turned into the garage.
“You can just drop me off, you don’t have to do the whole thing.”
“No, I’m coming in.” Like a St. Bernard or a draft horse, he was hauling me to safety.
The tectonic plates shifted so fast after my husband left. It was a Last Straw leaving – there had been so much leaving for so many years. Then I desperately wanted to leave, too. When a friend found out there’d been a noose hung in my basement for weeks, she deployed her husband Nick to take me in.
“I hope I can remember what it’s like to want to be alive,” I said to Nick in the emergency room, “Did you know there’s a cluster of stars in the Southern Hemisphere called the Jewel Box? I might like to see that.”
When the nurses came for me, I hugged Nick. “Here,” he said, handing me a fistful of Hersey’s kisses wrapped in red foil for Valentine’s Day, “hide these in your bag so you have a little something when you need it.”
I Stopped Dreaming, by Sophie Hall
Her hands on her Mustang
wheel, new things wrapped in velvet,
folded limbs, off-kilter Little Dipper. I coughed
so much syrup, bullfrogs blackening
under the tucks of tires: sounds were different then
another name for a name outgrown, in poems
what’s become: father and in stories: Dad
but together we just say he
a whisper almost capital. Last we lived we buried turkeys in feet of snow
little grocery netting around the ankles cutting flake
by flake. She’s living
in a cool green farmhouse or
she’s tattooed the wrong longitude wrong mountain range
a single footprint
misplaced—it was coldest
the winter we weren’t there.
We weren’t daughters, just girls.
Slept in glaciers. Salamander bones beneath the maple.
Almost pretty. But I lie to you, lie
A Single Entry from the Complete Index of My Mistakes: May 2021, by JM Huscher
My old Subaru struggles to keep up with traffic, so we kickoff another round of “my car.”
There’s an old convertible with white walls ahead. “My car that blue Mustang!” I shout. My five-year-old son in the back repeats me. We ignore the enormous Chevy Suburbans and lumbering Toyota Sequoias barreling past us.
It’s my 40th birthday, predictably spent sitting in what Stevie Nicks called, “the stillness of remembering what you had.” I remember when I had a simple cake, replaced now with these annual museum trips.
At the planetarium show, the night sky spins above us, and Taurus comes into view.
“Here are his two, tall horns. And here, near his tail, are the Pleiades.” We fly together through the darkness of space to see the cluster up close.
“It’s a Subaru,” my son whispers.
We watch the rest of the show without a word. When the bass from the orchestral music crescendos into an earthquake, he gives up. He presses my hands to his ears, turns sideways, and lies down on my lap.
For 20 years, I thought my Subaru was an Australian car. I made the obvious assumption about the Outback and The Outback. I thought the careful arrangement of stars in the oval logo was the same Southern Cross constellation as on the Aussie flag.
We drive home with Fleetwood Mac on the radio. The Pleiades is embossed on the Subaru’s steering wheel.
In the stillness, I remember thinking I was right.
Birch Bark, by Kristin Ito
Curly is the name of a Beanie Baby that Amelia gives me. He is tan with strands of coarse yarn for a mane, a soft white diamond on his forehead. I don’t really like horses, but Amelia is all about them. She’s the richest girl in school and has the biggest room I’ve ever seen, with her own bathroom and a shelf bordering the room near the ceiling just for her Breyer horse figurines. Some are dark coal, others the color of pumpkin pie. All are muscular. But Amelia isn’t a typical horse girl. She’s blonde and has aqua eyes, and when she crimps her hair and wears Strawberry Kiwi Comet Lip Smackers, I think she looks part sea nymph, like Casseopiea bridling a tsunami. My grandma, who’s four-foot-eleven, sees Amelia in photos and says, “She could be a model.” My grandma not only means that Amelia is tall, but that she looks like Barbie, that her skin is lighter and brighter than the rest of ours. Amelia and I play in the backyard most Fridays after school, and we peel gauzy layers of birch bark off the trees. It feels so delicate and beautiful in our hands. It feels like the moment when dizzy A minor scales shatter the air on the dance floor full of 7th graders that night, and Amelia looks at me from across the room and mouths: “At first I was afraid, I was petrified.”
Tectonic Plates Are Meant To Shift Over Time (excerpt), by Caroline Kessler
When I asked the blue oak how it tolerated
the California drought, placing my hands
on its pebbled bark, I heard the phrase,
it’s in my nature. I had to put my ear close
to something bigger than myself to escape
the situationship of the moment. Haven’t
we all—tried to escape some creation
of our own making? In this case, several years
living in his world, caring for his young child,
while he bought a house with a million-dollar
view that I didn’t want and can’t be insured
against the next earthquake we know is coming.
For guidance, I touch my third eye,
I look for Pegasus in the ink sky but I’d settle
for an unwinged-animal, like the Carter Reservoir
Wild Horse I know roams in the desolation
of the Sierra Nevada, the same way I’ve climbed
the serpentine paths of the mountain of you should
have known and the valley of which way is west—
What Eleanor Needs, by Jonatha Kottler
Eleanor wants to get really fucked, for hours on end. Preferably without the man attached to the dick seeing that her thighs look like twin fruitcakes. She thinks of her body as a transportation system for her brain, and as such, has not maintained it to a “dicking strangers” standard. She wants Vesuvius eruptions, draft horse stamina, her back slammed against the bark of a majestic oak tree, scarlet leaves raining down with each thrust.
It isn’t that Stanley, the fellow brain with whom she has been in matrimonial consort for nearly thirty years, isn't pleasant to engage with. He will, for example, always reply to her saying “What a lovely place” with “what a lovely face.” Will always swoop a discarded tomato slice off the side of her plate before a single seed oozes out. It’s more that Eleanor feels that there is a place inside of her that hasn’t ever been touched. She has tried great literature, and good works, and she thinks that it’s probably that she requires a completely different penis to really get in there.
She imagines arching into the stars, reclining against Orion’s belt, and spilling out an ecstasy of starlight. It’s a good look. The thighs are good. Her hair, silvery blue, streams into infinity, thick and shameless. Her brain is not fronted in the image. This. This. She deserves this. She types “sexy male companion for sex” on her laptop, but in an incognito browser, because she knows better than to not.
Boundary, by Kathryn Kukula
Going out the door that night I knew a few things for certain: The pumpkin pie was burnt and I was over you for good.
“Get more wood!” you’d shouted across the room, and I’d gladly stepped out into the cold. Here were things that had never let me down – the frigid snap of zero degrees, Orion’s Belt pinned overhead in its mid-winter position, and the path to the woodpile, foot-smoothed and along a wall built with stones dropped by the Wisconsin Glaciation, which marked its terminus here. Even glaciers had their limits, I thought.
The split wood was frozen, sugar maple stuck to bitternut hickory, every seasoned pile marking a year we’d somehow stayed together. The door opened, letting loose a blast of music, and Bobby popped out and grabbed bottle from the porch. Someone had put on Supertramp again – “Take the long way home.” Oh I will, I thought, looking at my car in the driveway. Not a Thoroughbred, like your new truck, but good enough to carry me away – to drop me somewhere new and escape this boundary that had held me far too long.
MY FUTURE CHRISTMAS, by Lebogang Jessicah Monyela
Starring unconsciously at the old oak tree outside my bedroom window.
I daydream about how this time of the year would be for me and my future little family. Hyping the festive season, making everyone excited for the fun moments we are about to experience.
From baking gingerbread houses from scratch to devouring a whole Christmas turkey on a dinner table filled with laughter.
'Rooty-toot-toot and a rump-a-tum-tums', I softly sing as we stargaze looking at orions belt on a starry Christmas evening.
Like the infamous thoroughbred Winning Brew, my mind fast paces through the fun activities I would do with my husband and children during this eventful time. From backyard picnics to the mini vacays and excursions under the sun
Starring unconsciously at the old oak tree outside my bedroom window I snap back into reality and smile
"What a time it will be"I said to myself...
Sit Cassiopeia by Pirette McKamey
The wedding was small because we were old, and he had been married before. My friends gathered days before the ceremony and helped set up the farm house we’d rented in Sonoma. Lila’s bubbling Sopa Azteca had our tongues wagging:
Pedro flying from the Pride celebration in Mexico City to the protest fires of Quito. Trapped in the airport loop until his Uber driver risks driving through the heat, the air thick with flame retardant.
Nina and I in Barcelona. Her drinking red wine, singing reunited and it feels so good to my sticky back as we walked the streets of the Gothic Quarter, and getting up early for Flamenco class, slender hands flitting like leaves of a quaking aspen.
Omar crawling out of his teetering car after it went off the side of Route One and got stuck in a Sequoia. “Oh, I forgot to tell you about the brakes,” his mother said when the police dropped him off at their apartment.
Willa’s Ketamine hallucination. Floating in a frigid ocean, sure of death. Cassiopeia the W of Water, of Wait, of Wrath, making cold endurable.
Dancing done, legs splayed, Nina’s gray curls were thrown over the back of the velvet settee, and she was telling my sister that the journal where I recently published for the first time wasn’t what it used to be. In college, she was the mustang.
A glacier moves forward, calving blue ice into a sound. Underwater, Pacific salmon and cutthroat trout ride the undulations.
Tradition, by Michael Owl
Malcolm waited at the bar and watched his blurry future father-in-law play bon vivant. Philip was youngish - he’d had Sara at seventeen - and an alcoholic. But he was also fun and functional, and he owned Kelly’s, where Malcolm drank for free.
Should’ve done it earlier. There’s an optimal intoxication level for this. Much earlier.
They’d all sat down to corned beef and cabbage, but Sara had left early (“too loud, too crowded, too tired”), leaving Malcolm and Philip alone, but Malcolm needed more liquid courage.
Now he couldn’t tell if it was an Appaloosa or a zebra underneath the oak in the photograph on the wall.
Maybe a cow?
When Philip went out to the patio bar, possibly to see if it had enough green beer, Malcolm saw his chance and followed him.
“Need to talk when you’re free,” Malcolm said.
“Sure. One sec.”
Malcolm moved away from the masses and waited . . . and drank . . . And waited . . . tectonic plates shifted as he drank and waited. Bored, exhausted, and deep in the cups, Malcolm looked up at the cloudless sky.
Orion stared back.
How small and stupid this must seem to the great hunter.
Malcolm hiccuped. Then turned to leave.
“We’re not talking?” Philip bellowed.
“Baby we can talk all night!” Philip’s hand slammed Malcolm’s back. Malcolm stumbled but caught himself.
“Sir, uh, I wanted to ask your permi—“
The vomit landed mostly on Philip’s pants.
Later that night, as the bathroom spun . . .
I’m sorry, Sara. Orion was right.
Queen, by Charlie J. Stephens
Tobias sits alone in his bedroom and smears pink glitter across his cheekbones, feels the metal, fairy-dust of it under his thumb.
Under the bare Sycamore tree outside, his sister Lucy spins in ever-tightening circles. She counts backwards from 10,000 by 888s, her shoes and ankles brown with mud. Her voice is small and piercing—rhythmic in the counting—with no need to pause or second-guess at the math she’s doing, at the numbers as they vanish. She’s nine now and these days this is the only thing that calms her.
More and more often lately, while Lucy spins, their mom retreats to her room and pursues the study of disjointed ideas with intensity. She reads about horses, then astronomy. While passing in the hallway, while folding laundry, or while tying her shoes, she tells them in low mumbles what she’s learned. She says Arabian horses only have twenty-three vertebrae while most other breeds have twenty-four, and that King Poseidon once tied Cassiopeia to a torture chair.
Tobias feels his cold bare chest, examines its flatness in the mirror. He turns to look at himself from different angles, uses his slender hands to imagine cleavage and warmth. He touches the glitter to each of his collarbones, sings in a whisper, “Too late, my time has come, sends shivers down my spine, body’s aching all the time.”
He goes downstairs where a cold pumpkin pie on the table fissures and cracks—quicksand, an earthquake.
Outside, Lucy finally stops spinning and waits.
Palomino Maple, by Matthew Trujillo
He stops by the drug house, he sees the clientele jamming up the venue. He parks his whip and heads inside. The staff know him by a first name basis. At first, they refer to him as the black tea guy. Rightfully so, he gave them his middle name on numerous occasions getting his fix. He dismantles a classic, destroying the lyrics to a song he's humming, "no place for hiding baby, no place to run, one trenta black ice tea, unsweet, one with ice and another without." Then he add his Rez Rocket whip in the song, "Palomino Maple baby, you pull the trigger of my, love gun." The added words go well in his head, he's a caffeine phene. At the counter his phone goes off. He looks at the text message, its her. He tries his best to remember her, he doesn't. She's from a communist country, California, that's all he remembers. She asked him, where are you? He says I'm at work, she says not at the coffee shop? He looks around and kind of surprised, I am, why? She was in the drive-thru and seen him inside. He walks outside, smiles and greets her, they talk for a few minutes. They catch up and she invites him to a star gazing event, true north around winter, Orion shines bright. The setting at Shiprock Pinnacle, some star gazing, he's thinking to himself, sure, I'll go. Call it a date, I'll bring some turkey legs.