Check out the 2014 Short Short Story Contest winners.
Once again, we celebrate the tremendous amount of creative writing talent here in Chattanooga with the winners of our annual Short Short Story Contest. The three winners and two honorable mentions are all published here for the first time. Congratulations to the winners and many thanks to everyone who entered a story. If you didn’t...there’s always next year!
This year’s judges included:
• Frequent Pulse contributor Cody Maxwell, who is the author of “Chattanooga Chronicles” (History Press), as well as a collection of short stories due out this fall.
• Former Short Short Story contest winner Stratton Tingle, a New Orleans native and a Chattanoogan by choice. When he’s not recruiting new clients for Decosimo or playing music at JJ’s Bohemia or Sluggo’s, he’s probably road cycling, dancing, tubing on the Ocoee, or catching a flick with the Mise En Scenesters film club.
• Pulse interns Christopher Armstrong, Jake Bacon and Madeline Chambliss (judging as a group, lively disccusions here!).
By Ever Flanigan
“Breakfast Special—$2.99.” The price was appealing and I approached the diner’s glass door with three days’ hunger in my gut. My first meal in western Pennsylvania promised to be small and bland. After all, what are you going to get for three bucks? It would be filling and that’s all I cared about.
The 1,200-mile drive it had taken to get there was hampered by December’s predictably poor weather. And the traffic that comes with it. I had trouble finding the motel and didn’t get checked in until after midnight. With five hours sleep I wandered out into the cold darkness and crossed the parking lot toward the only light I could see.
The first thing I noticed when I walked in was all the people taking notice of me. Clearly it was a local joint, which I thought odd, considering its proximity to an out-of-the-way motor lodge. The door had barely closed behind me when I looked across the counter and saw the potatoes. The mountain of semi-frozen spud chips occupying more than half the griddle was, well, a little scary. There were still ice crystals on the outside, and the bottom edge was nearly burnt. The situation was being tended to by a slightly awake man wearing an apron that was likely once white. His squinted eyes worked hard to stay focused. He gazed past his nose and beyond a stack of ashes that only resembled a cigarette. It barely stuck to his bottom lip. I never even saw him take a drag. Great. I hoped the toast was edible.
The waitress, a ringer for Rosanne Barr (minus the smile), followed me to a table in the far corner with a full cup plus saucer. I guess everyone got coffee, whether they wanted it or not. Something told me I would need it. She was armed with pencil and pad before I even picked up the menu. Her name tag said “Jolie.”
“One Special?” she asked with a measurable amount of certainty.
“What’s the Special?” I asked.
“Two eggs, potatoes, bacon, toast, and coffee,” she said with a sigh.
“O.K.—but no potatoes.” I could still see the griddle and the back of the barely awake cook.
“Take the potatoes,” she said. She rolled her eyes.
“I don’t want the potatoes.” Polite, but firm.
“Take the potatoes.” She waved her pencil and pad with separate hands in a gentle gesture of desperation.
“I’ve seen the potatoes. I don’t want them on my plate.” I hadn’t even had a sip of coffee and already I could feel my blood. She sighed and walked away.
The food was better than I had expected. Maybe it was just my hunger, but my belly felt good. I got up and approached the register.
“That’ll be $7.32” said Jolie.
“But I had the Special. $2.99.” I replied.
“You had two eggs, bacon, toast, and coffee. $7.32. I told you to take the potatoes.”
Fairy Tale American
By Clifton Patty
Get this: It’s summertime and on a popular beach the water turns to thick red soup. Above the tar-water thousands of birds collect and they swirl and bark and fight. It stretches for miles and miles we think. No one ever bothered to measure it, but it’s all a pretty big deal.
Now the beach looks like God’s putrid liver and one morning the tide sinks lower than usual and from the ocean a colossal whale washes ashore. Within a week the beach is a celebration of our freedom. We charge for visits and spew aspersions at the government and take off work to get wasted and if there is a part of the buffalo untouched it’s simply not profitable.
It’s a sign from every god. It’s mother earth’s dead canary. We are all united around the great whale. Most of us at least. The poor countries probably didn’t hear about it.
But, get this! The bloated carcass bursts under the heat of the sun and out of it spills blood and chunks. And people. All hell breaks loose. Pale bodies spread out like the seeds of a dropped watermelon. Most of them dead. The ones that lived are blind. Their skin hangs loose and diaphanous. They’re instant celebrities.
They tell handed down tales of the original survivors. Swallowed decades ago. They say other communities live in the whale. In the lesser of the stomachs. They’d sent a man to communicate with the peasants of the second stomach. Father Pate. He never returned. And, lord, they are all just hideous.
Huge machinery storms the beach and cuts and digs and rips into the whale. We stand in anticipation to watch them climb from the decaying mausoleum and we are going to cheer and cry and laugh while they walk into the light like rescued puppies. We make T-shirts. 2nd > 1st. That’s what they say.
They’re found soon enough. More of them alive than the first wave. Bodies better acclimated to the less-than-stellar living conditions of a whale’s stomach. Their bodies short, eyes grey. Their English simplified. Their community was founded by emigrants who abandoned the first stomach’s oppression.
The great whale continues to rot. Sleeves of skin slough away like pond-mud and you can dig into the whale with your bare hands. More and more people dump out. A survivor from the third stomach writes an autobiographical novel. The legend of Father Pate carries on, his status has become a likely apocryphal legend. We make T-shirts. Free Pate. That’s what they say.
Get this: I’m on the internet one day and what do I see? Father Pate has been found. In the fifth and final stomach. There were no inhabitants left there. Supposedly excreted. Only Father Pate. The savages had killed him. He was hung from a sliced tendon. Illegible symbols carved into his body. What a show. They find a journal on him. Make a movie out of it. I read some reviews but never go to see it.
Too Much Schlitz
By Bob Gilliand
A belly full of Schlitz and fuzzy sparks scattering in your head. That is the way to enjoy a back road in Georgia. Let the moonlight play with sputtering pulses of blue light, and a growling GTO convertible to ice the cake.
For the first time in my life I felt weight come off my shoulders. Lifted away like a chain hoist was clacking above me. My inner weirdo vanished and the costume fell away. I wasn’t a hippie or a square, just a longhaired beer drinker who loved the moonlight and roaring wind through a convertible.
Dennis was in control. His left arm hanging off the door, right hand swaying with the wheel. Taking those dips and humps without letting the front end get away. Into curves real tight, hitting the apex, and letting the tail slide through smooth. Not even a chirp of the tires.
Over the next hill he cut the wheel into a lazy right curve and put the tires onto the soft shoulder. Dennis’ hand slipped too far and the big car moved fast and sure. Something about those bias ply tires grabbed the asphalt tight and we were off on a real ride.
Our asses were glued into the seat for half the rollover. On the upswing centrifugal force shot us high into thick June air like meat rockets. We went from the howl of wind blowing to absolute silence as we soared and momentum took us far beyond the road.
That fat moon showed me the most beautiful sight I’d ever seen. Dennis floated up between that gorgeous blue orb and me. Hush Puppies shooting away from him like suede bullets. For a moment he hung in the air with his arms forced down to his sides and legs perfectly straight. He was spiraling as he floated past the moon. A dark silhouette, he was like a man on the moon in mid-stride.
Tall yellow pines line every Georgia road like sentinels. We floated into their grasp. I don’t know if I thought this or if Dennis yelled it in that split second before the pines ate us, but I heard a voice. “I’m coming, Jesus!” Dennis went into the branches and trunks sideways and it sounded like a melon busting open. I brought up the rear but heard no sound.
I now float in celestial ecstasy, free of binding flesh. I’m bathed in light and warmed by golden rays. I understand almost all things, but I still don’t know if Dennis yelled. All I do know is I haven’t seen hide nor hair of that boy, and I’ve been out here for what seems like an eternity. I guess Jesus didn’t take him up on the offer. Maybe he lost too many points by screwing that preacher’s wife long ago. That Dennis was always up to something.
By Holland Youngman
I live in a deep deep hole in a river, and am old like the rocks and the current. I outlive my lore, centuries over. The land people curious enough to dive down beyond the light don’t often resurface. They are my sustenance. Most stay shallow where their inherent fear of the dark depths preserves them. But the few brave, foolish souls who strain their lungs and courage...pulling themselves down down down into my cold dim realm...do not breathe air or feel sunlight again. A flick of my claws, a snap of my jaws, and their lives are extinguished. Only the briefest flash of terror before death, as my presence swirls around them.
My doomed visitors are rare. After one fails to resurface there is much fuss with those waiting on the shore. In recent times others have come searching with breathing tanks and lights. I let them prowl about as I coil into unseen places. No need for a massacre, so they carry out their fruitless search and surface without answers. And then there will be no one for years and years. The dread of what is down here, the tale of the disappeared, keeping the inquisitive away. As stories fade through the generations, again they are drawn by the allure of unknown depths.
They are more than food. For that I have the fish, algae and mussels. The people feed my soul. Not only do I absorb their nutrients but also their memories—their emotions, thoughts and dreams. While my gut digests the meat and bones, my soul is filled with the lives they have led. I have felt their joys and fears and have loved their loves. Smells of treasured children, lovers’ electric caresses and the laughters of friendship. Thousands of senses flow from their energy to mine. It is how I know the world beyond my own. It is how I comprehend the ethos of a prolific race, and experience the duality of creatures both imprudent and wise—loving and cruel—aware and oblivious.
Throughout the millennia I have consumed them, experiencing the constance and the change in their world. Their relationship to the earth and the great beyond. Their understanding of the spirit and connectedness of all life, and the loss of that perception as more domineering forces prevail. As they manipulate and devour their surroundings, through some misguided marriage of necessity and greed, their essential link to a lifegiving earth weakens. They foul the air, degrade the soil and poison the water. Elements so key to their survival they continue to abuse, and bequeath to their children. And so I wait in my watery world. As the synthetic chemicals build and the fish decline, I wait for my next morsel from above. What news will that body bring? What greater consciousness may be evolving in these beloved creatures, so helpless in their power? What hope may be building for such a conflicted race, and what hope for the world around them?
By Alan Carey
…and suddenly Sam found himself on the beach. With no explanation of how he got there, where he had been going or why, it was one of the more sobering moments of his life. He scratched his head and began walking when his feet bumped into something in the sand. He picked it up, examining the object. It looked like a golden magic lamp from a Hollywood movie. Sam rubbed it, expecting nothing to happen, but was not surprised when it started to glow. A purplish smoke spewed from the nozzle and materialized into a genie.
“I am the genie of the lamp. You know the drill. Three wishes, no funny business, don’t be stupid about it.”
The genie seemed depressed. Sam raised an eyebrow. “Why are you so bummed out?”
“I don’t want to talk about it again.”
“Fine,” said Sam. “I wish that a beautiful woman would fall in love with me.”
“Of course you do,” said the genie. He folded his arms and nodded. In a flash of light, the most beautiful young lady appeared next to Sam, fell into his arms and kissed him more passionately than he’d ever been kissed before.
“This is wonderful!” said Sam. “No sense in rushing my next two wishes!”
So Sam married the woman in a lavish affair. After a few years together though, Sam began to resent her. There was no conversation with her except about how much she adored him. Eventually they had children, but as an extension of her, even they wouldn’t talk about anything else.
One day, Sam remembered he still had two wishes left. He summoned the genie once again.
“Genie, they’re so devoted to me that I can’t get a single moment to myself. It’s maddening!”
“So what do you wish for?” he asked sardonically.
“I wish I had time to myself.”
The genie sighed. “Of course you do.”
Suddenly, Sam found himself alone in his house. “Finally, some me time. I’ll have to be really careful about this final wish.”
After playing on the internet for a few hours and watching some movies without his family fawning over him the whole time, Sam felt good. He wondered when his wife would be home with the kids, so he called her phone, but the number didn’t work. He went to look for them, but could find no one outside. There was no one anywhere.
Sam searched for days. Days turned into weeks, months, but there was no sign of anyone. Finally, he used the lamp again.
“Genie, where is everyone? I’m so lonely.”
The genie shook his head. “You had everything, and you were ungrateful. Now you have nothing, and you’re still ungrateful. This happens every time. You never get it right.”
Sam felt tears well up in his eyes. “Well, for my final wish, I wish I could try again.”
“Of course you do,” said the genie. Smoke enveloped Sam…