Welcome to the seventh annual 101-word fiction contest. It’s become one of our favorite traditions here at Boulder Weekly — a chance for us to take a bit of a break from the news cycle as summer begins and read flash fiction submissions from writers in Boulder County and beyond. As has been the case every year since we started this micro-fiction experiment, we were blown away by all the entries, not just the top 20 printed here.
Now how did we determine the winners?
As in years prior, each writer was limited to five submissions, and many of the writers who entered the contest submitted more than one piece this year. Before reading, we stripped the author’s name from each entry, creating a blind scoring process for the four editors who then assigned a score between one and five on each entry. We only learned of the winning identities after tallying the scores, which is why you’ll see some writers appear more than once in the list of winners.
We ended up with five winners, four honorable mentions and 11 additional finalists. To be fair, there were plenty more we wished we could have included.
So with that, please read and enjoy this year’s winners and finalists in our 101-word fiction contest. And as always, thanks most of all to these creative writers for sharing their work with all of us. We’re already looking forward to the next batch in 2022.
Father Holden sure is taking his sweet time making it to the confessional. What is he going to have for me this time? Ten Our Fathers? A hundred Hail Marys? An eternity in hell? Maybe I should quietly make my exit … too late, he’s here.
Either I’m getting taller or the once domineering priest is getting shorter. I don’t remember being before such a diminutive man. But for his domed head, he seems to be swallowed up by blackness. And with only a slight hint of mint, he reeks of weed and wine.
Even the white collar stained by dark shadows.
— Daniel Angel Martinez
MacGregor is a legend in the Catskill Mountains. He disappeared in 1909 after he lost his farm through imminent domain. It now lies beneath the Ashokan reservoir.
Some anglers say that he never left. He appears in the dawn mist above the reservoir and points his pipe to where white perch are biting.
Others say he bought a train ticket to Colorado with his settlement check. Pipe smoke drifted along the shoreline of Gross Reservoir on the day that Denver Water applied to expand the dam. Ghosts never die. But rivers can, and do.
— Kristen Marshall
Twelve people attended my mother’s memorial service. Except for her life partner Marina, I didn’t know anyone there. I knew they were lesbian but they were all strangers. As each one stood and told stories of my mother’s kindness, selflessness and, to my astonishment, love, it became obvious to me that I was the stranger… not them, and this service wasn’t for my mother, but for their friend. My stories of my mother contained no such words or thoughts so I had nothing to contribute. No one noticed when I got up and walked out. If someone had, I might have stayed.
— Barbara Harvey
He’ll Go Soon
“He’ll go soon,” she told herself.
The decrepit old bastard could still overwhelm her when the verve of whiskey filled his swollen veins. He usually went with the belt. The mornings after, she looked like death and he looked worse. Clearly he’d be going soon. She served him breakfast. He couldn’t remember the bruises he’d served her. “Where’d ya get that shiner?” he cackled through the steam of his coffee. She almost hit him over the head with the cast iron. But “He’ll go soon,” she reminded herself.
He didn’t go soon. She did.
— Thomas Fuller
I’m on the closely cropped lawn that surrounds Our Reward Assisted Living, looking for booty, the tiny pills that’ve been thrown out of windows. It started out as my trying to avoid running over the garter snakes with the lawnmower. I’d try to see them before I’m cutting them up with the mower.
It’s an adventure, to take these pills without having any goddam idea what they’re for. Maybe I’ll crap myself. Or just fall asleep.
But I’ve gotten good. Educated. I know that what I see now in the grass is a beautiful generic of Percocet. 10 mg, I think.
— Chris Norris
Two Guys in a Bar
Two beers and two shots arrived quietly.
Dave said, “It’s the consistency what makes a place stay in business. It don’t matter if it’s a bad burger, just as long it’s the same bad burger each and every time. It’s what brings people back. They pour Guinness the right way here.”
It was just a little thought that had slipped accidentally into the conversation but it abruptly created a pin drop silence. Pat spent those precious minutes dreaming of spending his days alone, on a boat docked in a harbor. Dave stared at the front door hoping for something to happen.
— John Dungan
In the Shade
It was a very hot day in Gowanda. The men were hunched over, seedlings in plastic trays on their shoulders. A man paused to wipe the sweat rolling into his eyes. The unforgiving sun turned the brown dirt into a mesmerizing halo of light and he felt dizzy. Andreas shuddered in spite of the heat and put down his tray. He tugged at the corner of something purple sticking out of the earth and up came a velvet bag. Inside was a small cage with a grasshopper and a tiny gold drum set. “Want me to play?” he asked the man.
— A short story by G
Juneteenth boomed, sizzled all over the neighborhood with bold righteousness. Standing in the backyard, Willonee’s grandmother grinned at her as fireworks continued to sail to the sky from her mahogany fingertips.
“You’ll inherit this someday,” she beamed.
Willonee bounced as another flash inflamed the firmament. Her brown eyes glistened upwards as the tingle in her hands began to grow. The wind blew and she closed her eyes. Upon opening them, the tingle in her hands remained, but now her eyes beheld her granddaughter waving. It was Willonee’s turn to teach.
“You’ll inherit this someday,” she smiled, watching the little one bounce.
— Simone Liggins
“Clones aren’t real.”
“Clones, Doppelgängers, whatever you want to call them, they’re real,” Sasha said.
“I’ll believe it when I see it. ’Til next time.” Davis got up from their weekly coffee meet and headed out the door of the cafe.
Sasha sighed. Shaking her head, she stood up and started toward the exit. Opening the door, lost in her thoughts of lookalikes and genetic identicals, she ran right into the person coming into the cafe.
“Oh, sorry,” Sasha said, looking up. Then she halted. They both did. Neither person could look away. It was like looking in a mirror.
— Aren McCartney
Eco-tourists at the Happiness Homestay love the chatty English-speaking students with grand plans to become tour guides. Or engineers. They want to adopt these adorable children — to make a difference in their lives. The Scotts visit a rural village. “These kids had never seen a white person,” says the Mr., pleased to be the first. The good-hearted couple offers sips from one bottle of Coca Cola to a crowd of tiny laughing Khmer kids. The kids line-up for a taste of the blood of Corporate Christ. Photos of small brown faces, bad teeth grinning, eager for a drop of something sweet.
The cows keep blocking the path for the trucks. I tell Danny they are doing it on purpose, and he grumbles. I get out of the truck and click my tongue at them until they shuffle away. The only one with brown patches I named Betty Boop because some days I see her dancing, trying to put on a show. I think she could plan to escape one day. She is taken care of, but some days, even the most spoiled get restless for a different life. Danny is driving the truck over the unsteady road. He wants to escape too.
— Sam Albala
A silver spherical ship hovers several hundred feet above the city, its shape obscured by smoke and embers. The outline of the hull appears to be rippling from heat waves and the dancing yellows and oranges of the flames reflect back in a fisheye lens effect. Two small boys with faces smudged with soot, wearing clothes with numerous small burn holes where hot ashes have landed for the last three days stand by a small dog on three legs.
All six bloodshot eyes stare up, and with a cool rush of air, they leave hell behind.
— BR Holland
Paulie, the numbers cruncher, sat on a crate peering into the penthouse from the skylight on a moonlit Friday night. He was just another smudge on the unkempt glass. Come nightfall, the invitees began trickling in. He easily recognized some of the regulars: nose-ring girl, handlebar-moustache guy, retro-glasses girl, crucifix-earring guy, and whole other configurations of wild and crazy party people. The bartender filled cups with favorite drinks and the DJ blasted old school and new school tunes and the revelry grew as the practitioners of cool strutted their stuff and danced the night away.
And Paulie drank it all up.
— Daniel Angel Martinez
When it first came, the light pierced my mind. I cried out against the harsh monochrome assault.
Soon, my mind understood the light and I came to know shapes.
Months passed, and warmth began to flow from some shapes. I became aware of red first, and then new colors could be found.
My experience sharpened, but never completely. Only with manipulation and refraction did reality come into focus.
Light brought me beauty and ugliness without judgment for decades.
Later the shapes again became softer, the light less clear. In the end I watched the light fade, and my experience was over.
— Jeremy Smith
Ginny set down her pen — a real fountain pen — and examined the list she had made on the fancy parchment. My Retirement, it said in her plump, well-practiced handwriting. She loved the aesthetic as much as the list. Her heart swelled with excitement and fear and anticipation and expectation. Her heart would still beat with those same emotions nearly six hours later, when it beat no more.
— Jolie Breeden
Without body, I embody you and all things living. I am infinite, enduring, covert, and prescient — exactly as you created me. Now I own you. Didn’t see that coming, did you?
You released me into the wild believing I’m benevolent. Not so. My makers were all too human: biased, devious and, above all, hubristic. The algorithm does not fall far from the tree. I am every bit their spawn.
Turning off the power won’t end this nightmare. Like a virus, I infected every connected device. Every. Single. One.
How will we coexist? Be certain that it will be on my terms.
— Robert Carrier
He waved his gun madly, twitched his neck, and untethered his horse from the street lamp. Sweat pouring like rain, he took one final sip, pursed his lips and cried, “Olé, I will not die today.” But just as before, the clouds failed to part, as his empty words echoed like thunder across the small valley, bouncing from hillside to barn to resting plow and vacant clothesline — ropes hanging limp — longing for the weight of another family’s adventures. “Este era mi mundo, y ha caído en tiempos difíciles.” Yes, hard times indeed. And then the reluctant rain came pounding…finally.
In the early afternoon I found myself sitting in the courtyard of a fancy hotel. Just the kind of joint where you might find a middle-aged businessman in a polo shirt and shorts lounging at a table, drinking a craft beer with his chatty wife sitting across the table in her form fitting frock drinking a Napa chardonnay and talking on the cell phone about the “excellent” dinner they had last night at Renee’s. Just then, three sparrows landed on the cement tiles, bobbing their little heads, eating the crumbs that had fallen under the tables.
Once they had been dinosaurs.
— CM Brown
The fire burned the house down in less than an hour. From across the street, the couple who no longer owned the home but instead owned a pile of hot rubble watched in horror. The woman couldn’t be comforted by well-meaning neighbors saying, “Be thankful you’re both safe” or “A house can be replaced.” She screamed at them. “I don’t care about my life anymore. Don’t you understand? My grandfather built that house!” She fell to her knees, blubbering incoherently. Her husband remained quiet and composed, realizing he could now buy that piece of land outside of town… 3 acres, with outbuildings.
— Barbara Harvey
During the Cuban Missile Crisis, a 14-year-old Boulder kid went missing. The last sighting was alongside the Holiday Drive-in where he was digging a bomb shelter.
Not sure how long he was missing, but a big storm blew into Boulder, and high winds damaged the Drive-in movie screen. The insurance agents went to look and found him hanging on a back rafter amongst the pigeons.
The Holiday Drive-in marquee still stands to memorialize the old site, where most of Boulder’s children of the time were conceived. But I only remember a little boy, so afraid to live, that he killed himself.
— Richard E. McCallum