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55 Word Short Stories
The idea is simple: write a short story in 55 words or less. A complete short story. With beginning, conflict, and end. Not a poem. Not a journal entry. A short story. A very short story.
The 55 Fiction contest was created in 1987 by New Times, an alternative weekly in California. It quickly caught on, and created a new genre: "flash fiction." New Times (and its sister publication, the Santa Maria Sun) now receive a thousand or more entries annually, from around the world. Winners have been collected in two highly praised books. You can learn more about the contest at Wikepedia.
In 2007 I entered for the first time, and they picked three of my entries. (Another writer had five entries published. Between us, we were more than a third of the winners!)
The judges wrote: "If you've only got space for 23 entries, maybe it isn't fair to allow a couple of authors to get multiple works published. Who cares? These were some of the best we got."
In 2008 I entered again, and another of my stories was chosen.
The first four stories below are my 55 Fiction winning entries. Others follow.
* * *
SEE A WOMAN BURNED ALIVE! the marquee screamed. ONLY $5!
Inside, she was tied to a stake, coals piled around. She wore a bikini kind of thing. They lit a match.
She struggled and screamed. It took about ten minutes.
It was okay, but not as good as when they strangled that guy last week.
Once a month I drive to New York City and rent a motel room high over a busy sidewalk.
Inside, I unpack plastic bags containing my turds of the past few weeks.
Then, one by one, I empty the bags out the window.
I love watching the reactions!
I guess I'm just a people person.
The roach was at least four feet long. It was lightning fast and it lunged at me.
I slammed the door shut just in time. I heard it bang repeatedly against the wood.
I went back to the manager and handed him the key.
"That room is simply unacceptable," I said. "Do you have another?"
The phone rings and rings and rings and rings.
But I won't answer it.
I'm afraid it might be me, calling me, again.
And I don't think I could stand that.
Not a fourth time.
Four AM or so. I was half asleep, channel surfing, when I hit channel 254. The man in the blue suit spoke directly to me.
"Go next door. Kill everyone."
I was helpless. Hypnotized.
Back home, blood-spattered, I turned the TV on again. But there was no channel 254. Everyone says there never was.
My car radio went silent. Then a voice screamed, "Go on, ram the car in front of you!"
Turns out some nut broke into the station and grabbed the mike.
Of course I didn't ram any cars. Nor did anyone around me.
But it took over five hours that day to get into the city.
They kidnapped me and cut off my arms, legs, penis, ears, nose, and nipples.
A doctor kept me alive while they cooked it all, carving artfully to disguise it, flavoring with the most marvelous seasonings.
Now that you've finished eating, they've brought me to explain it.
My tongue, they tell me, will be your dessert.
Phone Call From The Dead
No, he's not here.
Everyone's dead here.
The neighborhood. The city. The country.
Everyone. All dead. Except me.
You're dead, too. Like them, you don't know it.
So you keep walking, talking, working, sleeping, excreting.
Look, I gotta hang up now.
I'd say goodbye, but what's the point, you're dead.
Black Ski Mask
I put on a black ski mask. Then I dialed her number.
"Ha! You don't know who this is, do you, you bitch!" I laughed.
I then launched into an obscene, threatening tirade.
I was shocked how quickly the police tracked me down.
Okay, I wasn't thinking all that clearly.
Flea Market Find
He recognized it instantly, though it was filthy and covered with cheap paint. He paid the surprised seller the first figure quoted.
Home, he burned incense before it, reciting the required words in a language unheard for 10,000 years.
He spoke nonstop, no sleep, no food, for the mandated three days.
Then the world ended.
"I'll give you anything for your soul," the Devil told him.
"Would you stop torturing those poor souls in Hell?"
Years later he arrived in Hell. Everywhere was unimaginable suffering, torture.
"When I stopped, they started doing it to each other and themselves," Satan explained. "Hell is now worse than anything I ever conceived."
A Dish Best Served Hot
There are numerous ways to kill someone without leaving a trace. Or to make it look like an accident. You can find many on the Web.
But even though I knew this, I decided to douse him with gasoline and set him on fire.
Because I wanted him to suffer. And I wanted to watch.
In the dark theater I waited for the movie to start.
Suddenly my photo flashed onscreen.
"This is his face."
Shots of my home, wife, and workplace followed.
"When you find him, kill him."
The audience nodded. Shortly I eased out, head lowered.
I've been running ever since. I don't understand any of it.
Liberators From Space
A space ship approaching Earth broadcast a message: they were coming to liberate all oppressed beings from their tormentors. They would set them free and severely punish the tyrants.
Many people cheered, until the saucer doors opened and out came creatures that looked very much like cows.
Such a charming town. Freckle-faced kids, big porches with swings, smiling faces and warm greetings wherever you go.
They keep the Jews, homosexuals, blacks and vegetarians in a concentration camp just north of Mount Pilot. Everyone will tell you the thick black clouds of smoke you occasionally see are from the furniture factory there.
Penis Enlargement Peril
He bought every penis enlargement pill the spammers advertised, but none worked.
Depressed, broke, he decided to commit suicide. He swallowed hundreds of the pills he'd wasted his money on. He fell unconscious.
Officials never knew what attacked the city. Police were helpless. Air Force bombs finally destroyed the giant, writhing, snakelike one-eyed thing.
What Time It Is
He was always worried about the time. He glanced at his wristwatch many times per hour. Clocks were in every room of his home.
"What time is it?" he constantly asked friends and strangers alike.
Then one day he suddenly died of a heart attack.
And it was never o'clock, forever.
No One Really Believes It
No one really believes those old men were once young.
Later, no one will believe it about you, either.
At the Gates of Heaven
"'Love thy neighbor as thyself,'" Saint Peter quoted to me. "You forgave everyone... except yourself."
And how surprised I was when he turned me away.
Bartender, give me a drink.
No, forget the glass, just open the bottle and pour it here, into this funnel I've shoved down my throat.
He read about Ferdinand Demara, the "Great Imposter," who successfully masqueraded as psychologist, surgeon, lawyer, and more, before being caught.
He wanted to try, too. But surgeon? Lawyer?
No. Too hard. Too risky.
Instead, he would pretend to be... an utterly ordinary man. Ordinary job, ordinary family, ordinary life.
Success! No one ever found out.
The Screaming Room
Just a stupid local superstition, I laughed. Sure, for $50, I'd spend the night there alone.
At three AM it began. Hideous shrieks, wails, moans, of anguish, despair, rage.
Louder, louderů and then I began to dissolve...
Now I, too, wait for the next person to enter. My screams will blend with all the others.
Ed Opened the Letter and Began Reading...
"Dear Ed: You got me. I'm dying. But... I managed to mail this. Turn it over. See you in Hell. -- David."
Ed flipped the letter over - and screamed at the familiar words:
"Dear David: Even as you read this, the poison I've dusted it with is entering your system. Agonizing certain death awaits you. -- Ed."
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