UPDATE WITH WINNER - LitReactor's Flash Fiction Smackdown: December Edition

Flash fiction: A style of fictional literature marked by extreme brevity.

Welcome to LitReactor's Flash Fiction Smackdown, a monthly bout of writing prowess, in which you're challenged to thrill us in 250 words or less.

How It Works

We give you a picture. You write a flash fiction piece, using the picture we gave you as inspiration. Put your entry in the comments section. One winner will be picked, and awarded a prize.

The Rules

  • 250 words is the limit (you can write less, but you can't write more)
  • Any genre
  • Give it a title
  • We're not exactly shy, but let's stay away from senseless racism or violence
  • One entry per person
  • Editing your entry after you submit it is permitted
  • We'll pick a winner on the last day of the month
  • LitReactor staffers can't win, but are encouraged to participate
  • All stories submitted on or before December 28 will be considered. We'll run the winner on December 31.

This Month's Prize

Remember Patrick Wensink, the author of Broken Piano for President, our September 2012 Book Club Selection? Well, he has a new book, and he wants to give you a copy! Winner of this month's contest gets a copy of  Everything Was Great Until It Sucked, his first book of nonfiction.  Here's a little bit more about the book:

"I've never known an American economy that didn't smell like Red Lobster's dumpster," begins Patrick Wensink's (bestselling author of Broken Piano for President) long-awaited essay collection.

Zipping together heartbreak and hilarity in one neat package, this book is one man's journey along the front lines of America's economic nightmare. These nonfiction pieces feature Wensink selling his own BBQ sauce, tying the knot in a doughnut shop, getting fired from more jobs than most hold in a lifetime and struggling to make ends meet as a stay-at-home-dad.

In the end, Wensink perseveres in typical self deprecating fashion, chronicling his unexpected rise to bestseller status when Broken Piano for President goes viral thanks to the World's Nicest Cease and Desist from Jack Daniel's.

These essays originally appeared in Huffington Post, Thought Catalog, and more.

And here's a little bit more about the author:

  • Patrick Wensink is the bestselling author of Broken Piano for President, as well as two other works of fiction.
  • He has appeared on NPR's Weekend Edition, The New York Times, Wall Street Journal and more.
  • The New Yorker once wrote one whole sentence about him and he nearly had an aneurysm.  
  • He lives in Louisville, Kentucky with his wife and son.  

Your Inspiration

Photo via 1x.com

And the Winner Is....Carly Berg

I enjoyed the pacing of Carly's entry and the clear plot arc and believable twist at the end. I especially loved the taunt. Well done, Carly!

Zita Pita

I wasn’t allowed at Journey’s because they were trash. Her parents were always drunk and broke. They had six kids, in a trailer.

At Miss Zita’s magazine stand, I bought a Coke.

Journey held a Snickers. “Susan, can I bum a quarter?”

She mooched too much. “If you say ‘Zita pita, smell my feeta.’ You chicken?”

Journey banged on the glass and yelled, “Zita pita, kiss my feeta.”

The window opened. Miss Zita said, “You are not-a nice girls.”

Journey, charged up from talking smart, flung the money.

The old woman picked it up with shaky hands

Journey walked hands on hips like she was big stuff. She had scared an adult.

“I said to say ‘smell’ my feet, not ‘kiss’ my feet.”

“Let’s see you do something, then.”

“Well,” she said, “Are you gonna stand there all day, chicken?”

“This goddamn Coke is warm!” I banged on the window with the glass Coke bottle, just as Miss Zita opened it.

Her nose gushed blood.

We ran.

The policeman came at dinnertime. He said, “Were you at the magazine stand today with Journey Hoolihan?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Someone assaulted Miss Zita with a bottle and broke her nose.”

“Mercy!” Mom said. “Those Hoolihans are nothing but trouble.”

Father said, “Susan won't be near the Hoolihan girl again, Officer.”

“I expect Journey’s at juvenile hall. You’re lucky, Susan. You have good parents.”

“Yes, sir.”

My parents were right. I should stay away from trashy kids like Journey Hoolihan.

Part Number:
Taylor Houston

Column by Taylor Houston

Taylor Houston is a genuine Word Nerd living in Portland, OR where she works as a technical writer and volunteers on the marketing committee for Wordstock, a local organization dedicated to writing education. She has a BA in Creative Writing and Spanish from Hamilton College and attended Penn State's MFA program in Creative Nonfiction. She has taught writing at all levels from middle school to college to adult, and she is the creator of Writer’s Cramp, a class for adults who just want to write!

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Andreea Mihai's picture
Andreea Mihai from Bucharest, Romania is reading Dance Dance Dance - Haruki Murakami December 5, 2012 - 6:35am


It's difficult to start writing this piece.
The longer I stare at the picture, the longer it takes for me to be inspired.
I understand that you want answers, you want to know the hows and the whys, but I can't give you that.
I can't even lie to you. I’m not sure that I want to either.
She’s Maria. That’s all I can tell you.
She sits there, in the window, surrounded by pictures and headlines and newspapers, and everything seems so strange and bleak.
She looks old, but not bitter, as one would expect. I wonder where her hands went, where is the rest of her body.
She looks lonely, but not sad, her striped shirt making her a bit younger than she really is.
Or should I say “was”? Is Maria a “is” or a “was”?
I can’t tell, and the little bits of info don’t help me at all. Italian mixed with English. Everything seems weird and out of place. I don’t know why you keep asking me these questions, I don’t know what to tell you, how it all went down, how did it start.
Let me close my eyes for a moment; let me think of her again.
Maybe this time to story will have an outline, a timeline, a phone line and other kinds of line that I still don’t know.

After a few hours, there is still no answer.

Jov Ati Ram's picture
Jov Ati Ram from Manila, Philippines is reading Greek Drama December 5, 2012 - 8:48am

A Love Story

Andrea looked at the magazines at the stall along a dusty pathway near Thessaloniki. It had a tarp for a shed roof and, since it was high noon, the stall looked dark compared to the outside.

She smiled at the woman tending the stall, but the woman stared back at her impassively.

Andrea was looking at the Italian posters. She wanted to ask if the woman was Italian, and why there were no Greek books on sale. Then the woman spoke.

"Those - from one of my past husbands. Every single one here - from past husbands."

Andrea's eyes widened in shock. The woman softened her gaze, rubbed her forehead, and half-smiled. 

"It must be your first time to hear something like that.”

“Sorry - it really is my first time.”

“It's OK, I know you don’t insult. I know real judgment as I see a person’s eyes."

"I'm so sorry about it."

"No. All these will be gone in a few months, then - finished! You are young."

Andrea nodded, and, remembering that they must hurry back to Athens, looked outside. Ioannis was already coming toward them. The woman went out of the stall and embraced him.

"You must take care of your wife, never leave her alone in need..."

"Yes, Mama, I know."

"Just reminding you. Andrea - she looks like my young self!"

Andrea then saw her mother-in-law flash a full smile at her, kiss her on the forehead, and bid them a hearty farewell.

Luis Oliveira's picture
Luis Oliveira from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil is reading Iliad by Homer December 7, 2012 - 6:38am


  Every place has its particularities. The woman who stopped in front of the newsstand now has the eyes of her adolescent life. She throws her reality back to the good old days, when she was just a passionate little girl, living in Palermo, Italy, studying fine arts.
  While people pass, take buses and taxis, drive, while people talk, yell, say sorry, say fuck, while people buy magazines, sell newspapers, rob, give flowers, while everything seems to occur around her, she lives inside her own mind, pleasing herself with the nostalgic memories. She remembers the winter, the amazing nature, the cobblestoned streets, the caffè next to the university, the hilarious, neurotic professor, the handsome green-eyed boy whose paintings were majestically beautiful. What she sees is tagliatelles, wine bottles, espressos, mustaches, Roberto Baggio's jerseys, and, instead of English words, she sees a world of Italian phrases, questions, and exclamations.
  "Can I help you, ma'am?" The signor tries to interrupt her thoughts.
  "Hm... No! Grazie."
  "Crazy lady!"
  She is not crazy. She is just at a confused moment in life. The meaning of things wanders without an ordinary course. She is not crazy. She is past, present, and future. She is there, and there. Every person has their particularities.

Robert Scotch's picture
Robert Scotch from Everywhere & Nowhere is reading Ambrose Bierce's Civil War December 5, 2012 - 10:31pm

“Eternally yours, Buck…”

My stomach lurched as the train shot through the tunnel at blinding speeds then stopped abruptly at the station.  With doors barely opened, I shoved past the crowd, lunged onto the platform and began to heave… but to no effect – all retch and no sick.
          Still doubled over, a pair of gleaming wingtips stepped into my view of the spotless depot floor; my muddy boots were shamed in their presence.
          “What do you expect will come up, exactly?” he asked with clear amusement.
          I stood, wiped nothing from my mouth and met the wry smile of a smartly dressed man.
          “Bit of advice… don’t look back,” he said. “Best to leave your baggage behind.  Come.  Follow me.”
          We swam through the crowd of aimless shufflers toward a gathering huddled about a newsstand. Tending the kiosk was a glum, elderly woman, whom he introduced as Frau Schadenfreude
          “She offers all the best stories, with none of that hopeful drivel,” he explained. “The doom and gloom crowd here doesn’t care for it. Give us a bit of anguish with a dash of degeneracy, and you’ll find loyal subscribers.”
          Distracted, I watched the sea of travelers break off in waves. Some headed toward a terminal, while others toward a pier.  The rest milled about the depot, as did I and my new friend.
          “Don’t mind them” he said. “You’re not destined for any place but here, I’m afraid.  While it’s a shame, it is an honour.  We’re all big fans of your work.”

WesFord's picture
WesFord from America (CO, NE, NC, AK, NY, WA) is reading We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson, Portable Atheist by Hitchens, 20th Century Ghosts by Joe Hill December 6, 2012 - 1:29pm

The Lam

     The feeling you get when your face is on a local newspaper doesn’t even come close to the feeling you get when it’s on the cover of international magazines. Your face could have been there because of the cochlear transplant you gave an infant, the limbs you lost in Afghanistan, but you were never smart enough for pediatrics or brave enough for war.

     Instead your face is there because of the chain of broken hearts you left behind you.
It’s not your fault that none of them were the one. You gave them all a chance to prove their worth, but they failed you.

     Lying there, letting you inside, believing they were giving you their heart. They weren’t. Their hearts you had to take from behind the calcium armor plate in their chest. You had to show it pressing against your fingertips. Their eyes telling you that they understand how alive they were. That only now they’re truly dead inside.

      You better move. The toad behind the counter doesn’t speak your language - or is it you don’t speak her’s? It’s her country after all - but she recognizes you.

Just nod at her and smile. Set her at ease. Let her see your nice side that has a chance to be loved. Let her know there’s nothing to fear from you.

     She’s not your type anyways.

Joe Whitten's picture
Joe Whitten from Alabama is reading Martin Chuzzlewit December 6, 2012 - 2:48pm

Family History Secrets

Mama never talked about my daddy, Walter, who died before I was born. Mama’s brothers and sisters loved to talk,  to tell how he could play any stringed instrument, how he rode bulls with Uncle Roy, how he couldn’t hold his liquor.

And they whispered that I had a half brother. “Wasn’t Walters’s fault,” my aunts said. “His step-sister crawled into bed with him. She was loose.”

They told how he got drunk one night at Bob Jetter’s house, picked up an ax and started chopping down a porch post. Bob didn’t like that and stopped it with a shotgun blast.

Yesterday one of Walters’s cousins called. I mentioned Bob Jetter, the ax, the chopping.

“My Lord,” she said, “That’s not what happened! Nathan went down to Rosie Hixon’s, and you can guess for what. Well, Bob Jetter wanted Rosie, too. That’s why he shot Walter. Wasn’t no ax, or chopping. Walter was drinking, but he wasn’t too drunk to know what he wanted.”

A light came on, and I thought, “That’s why Mama never talked about him.”

I used to feel deprive that I never knew him. Any boy wants to know his daddy. But now, I’m not sure I even like him. There was Mama three month’s pregnant with me, and daddy, horny as hell, hound-dog sniffing at another woman’s bedroom. Wonder how many other brothers and sisters I have?

Mama had sense enough not to talk about it.

Some family history should stay secret.

Dino Parenti's picture
Dino Parenti from Los Angeles is reading Everything He Gets His Hands On December 12, 2012 - 6:32pm


          In Milan, during a photo-shoot heaving with designer hags and braying supermodels, I abscond to my café on the Escher-like edges of the Piazza del Duomo where, amidst unspeakable beauty of marble and flesh, she still stands.
          She has no name that I’ve heard, she who runs the kiosk of glossy fashion monthlies. She who snarls in Serbian through the pursed lips of a ventriloquist. She who peddles on a third-degree braised drumstick right of a second-hand prosthetic. She who sports a mug that, even unblemished by scars, would be a tough-enough sell to a parent. 
          She who, for the decade I’ve been shooting here, has vended high-end periodicals with a frequency to make crack-dealers shit their Dickies.
          Butt-ugly, the new Italian business model?
          Sure, sales are mostly to tourists (the exquisite, sneering, local Milanese have generally ignored her), but I ain’t buying that restructure.
          Her baffling, cagey poise?
          Not enough Americans to bite that.
          Then one day last July, the inexorable flame-out: Coaxed by a sublime, cartwheeling child, she cracked a smile.
          Teeth so skewed and misshapen as to screech the wind blowing through them.
          Realizing the tragic slip, she cupped hands to her mouth and scurried away.
          And here she is, still pushing magazines adorned with my covers, though not as gainfully. The tourists aren’t buying from her like they used to. Today, it’s mostly the lovely locals who do, grinning naked sunny-days her way.
          If she’s grinning back, the surgical mask she now dons seals the deal.

FupDuck's picture
FupDuck from Beavercreek, OH is reading American on Purpose December 17, 2012 - 2:41pm

- Pariah Grandfather -

In the fall of 1941, grandfather left Italy.  Lou Solonio told his pregnant wife that he would send money.  When he had enough saved up, his bride and son would join him in America.  She never heard from him again.

Father said, "Promise me you will take care of Nana."  He had sent her money since the mid seventies.  Since cancer took him, every month I wire a Western Union money order to Milan.

While helping my daughter with her family tree assignment, she asked me about Great Nana's husband.   Instinctively I spat into the air and barked "Lou Solonio was a bastard!"  That was the first time I'd spoken his name in years.

Sophie didn't want to believe the story I shared about her Great Grandfather.  She began researching genealogy websites and sending emails to distant relatives.  She discovered what really happened to Luigi 'Lou' Solonio (his legal name in Italy).

Sergeant "Louis" Solonio (incorrect on his enlistment papers) joined the war effort in exchange for an expedited citizenship.  Because he spoke fluent Italian, he was rushed through boot-camp and joined Army intelligence.  Unbeknownst to both my grandparents, his letters were confiscated under suspicion as Italian national.

September 1942, his death in North Africa went overlooked.  His misspelled name and confiscated paperwork left Grandma Solonio completely oblivious.  Through Sophie’s efforts, the State Department returned all confiscated letters, back pay, death benefits...  and his honor.

Nana simply cried.  Exonerated, my pariah grandfather will forever be remembered a hero.

Marc Ferris's picture
Marc Ferris from Carmel, California is reading Animal Attraction by Anna David December 17, 2012 - 3:08pm

Nonna Vender 6.0

     I fish the coins from my pants pocket and put them on the counter. The voice thanks me in a polite tone broadcast from the small speaker over the vender’s head.  After eight months living in Tropea it was still creepy buying a newspaper from a crude robot. The sentiment was honest enough; to make the few survivors remaining in the city feel less alone, and to create of the illusion of life before.

     I wonder if they’d modeled her after a real person, and shudder thinking of my own grandmother’s face on a glorified vending machine.

     The internet was long gone here. Mt. Stromboli had seen to that. The infrastructure is still there, but the people who made it work are all dead. So we get our news the old fashioned way. I sit on the steps of my apartment building to read in the sun. The news is the same as yesterday, but I read it anyway. They’re piping Italian pop-music over the city’s sound-system today.  Looking toward the harbor the ownerless boats gently bob in their slips, and I notice the flag at the end of the breakwater shift. The wind now comes from the north-west.

     I reach over my head and find the respirator mask. I press it against my face inhaling to ensure a good seal, and I reach back to turn the air valve on. It hisses past my ears in the tube, and smells like the old slide steel slide on the playground back home in Santa Cruz, California. This is all done before the warning sirens begin to wail. Soon the gas clouds from the old volcano will fill the city again. I pause at my door looking around. I miss the birds.

Razvan Teodor Coloja's picture
Razvan Teodor Coloja December 17, 2012 - 3:38pm


The bedsheets were rotten flowers were pungent the way you'd think of embalming fluid would smell like. Crossing the hills of her curves there was my elbow. From above it would have looked like I was hugging a corpse with a grip similar to that a Baptist priest would give you the moment he'd push your head under water. That and the thought of drowning keeping pace with the rapid breaths - gasps for air really - shameful and proving everything. And there we were, staring at the ceiling, crammed in that little place you usually wake up in early in the morning, not smelling of sex and hair and fluids you get to taste on special occasions.
Except it was night time and I had this desire to fill my lungs with smoke until my throat would have been pestered by useless, hungry, deadly cells.
"This is how total ignorance must feel like" I heard her lick her lips. Then it was relative silence, an angry driver honking his car twice on the other side of her window. Long and cold fingers started to make a claim on the hills covered in dry snow and the hand that touched my arm had much finer nails than hers. I remember saying something along the lines of "Christ..." and I heard a small laugh but her lips didn't move. Then I saw a dark-red Sun rising beyond the hills, curly hair around a pair of sleepy eyes.

rebelbagwan's picture
rebelbagwan from Queensland December 18, 2012 - 12:33am

That Was My Girl

Love is a strange unpredictable force of nature, don’t you think? Can anyone really explain why attractions begin and end? I first saw Madeline in the little news-agent-booth pictured above. Isn’t she a darling?

I just loved that girl. She was chili hot, not just any chili either but the Trinidad Scorpion Butch T Chili in the flesh, and for people who don’t know their chilies that is the official hottest chili in the world.

She’d been hiding there since escaping from the Albanian Mafia and one sighting of her was it for me. She told me the same thing later. If you believe in fate this was it, if you don’t perhaps we could have long philosophical discussion about it some time.

Of course we’re not together any more, how could we be, the flame of love burned so hot, so brightly and  so briefly  it scorched our hearts and left us aching for more, or in my case, a little less. Less physical action more of the emotional stuff. The truth is Madeleine couldn’t talk about her feelings; she was more of a bedroom chick.

The biggest problem we had apart from the language barrier (let me tell you sign language sucks) was in bed. You see for me bed is for sleeping, as soon as my head touches the pillow---out like a light. For her bed is for romance. No one gets passed that.

Christian Mott's picture
Christian Mott from the inside of a raincloud is reading The Chronicles of Narnia December 22, 2012 - 11:43am

Carnevale Gunman


     You know those hard times when each day feels like the next link in the chain of excrement departing a comatose victim’s rectum? The extent of life seeping down that tube, journeying until it’s dropped into that bag. That tube is where I’ve been for years.
     Carnevale, my sweet, you are my only hope, my one chance at relief.
     But who is the comatose victim? The Divine? Or some other entity that governs everything I live by? Either way it’s clearly incapable of helping me. That’s one plug that needs to be pulled, indeed, so my existence can all be tossed in the garbage or dumped in the toilet, flushed into oblivion. If that happened, so many people would be grateful, if they knew what I know—trust me. Yet my days never end.
     Which way am I headed, the bag of crap or the butt?
     Which would be worse to suddenly sink into?
     Of course there are many other more important, more solvable questions I could ponder while time wastes away behind this booth, but I usually leave those kinds of things for someone more sensible who has a brighter future. When your life consists of crap and magazines, not much else matters.
     At least I’ll know the worst thing that’s happened to me and what I have coming. That much I can prepare for.
     Just a few more to sell, and I can buy the gun.
     Carnevale, my love, I am coming.

Stratton's picture
Stratton from Phoenix December 27, 2012 - 8:39am

Ninja Grandma

A hobo stops pushing a grocery cart long enough to pick up a discarded Mountain Dew bottle in the grass. Struggling to find room for it in her cart, she places it ever so delicately on top of her mobile trash heap—all her worldly belongings. One man’s junk—her treasures. The Mountain Dew bottle totters on top just for a moment before toppling half of the pile to the ground. Gravity trumps her reaction time. Her leather hands perpetuate the tumble when she feebly attempts to catch the falling debris—her everything. Magazines, newspapers, cartons, and more surround the grocery cart’s three good wheels. Through her sunburned wrinkles, she remains stoic. One by one, she picks up each individual can, jug and periodical, and rebuilds her litter pyramid—her Sphinx. Once reconstructed, her cart squeaks past two boys horse playing.

“My grandma could kick your grandma’s ass.” Tony playfully punches a welt into Gino’s shoulder.

“Nuh, uh. My grandma used to be a ninja.” Gino returns the gesture with a shove to Tony’s chest.

“Dude. My grandma eats ninjas with her oatmeal and washes them down with Ensure.”

The boys’ voices fade into the hobo’s background on the way to her post—her emporium. She blankly watches the world hustle past her, waiting for someone to trade coins for periodicals. Food for treasure.

Tony and Gino appear from around the corner. “I don’t know, man. That woman could beat the shit out of both our grandmas.”

kimbee's picture
kimbee December 23, 2012 - 5:40am

Two Phrases

“E ‘giunto il momento!” she said.

“Che cosa?” I asked. One of the two Italian phrases I knew.

I had never seen the woman before. I was in a strange town in a strange country at an increasingly strange newsstand. I awkwardly glanced around at my choices of literature, hoping to find something with pictures to account for my language disability.

“E ‘giunto il momento!” she repeated.

“Scusi. Lo non parlo italiano,” I said. Phrase number two.

There was an odd darkness about the woman, even in the pre-dawn sky, she seemed to hold her place in the black hole of the newsstand, yet an obvious tenderness radiated from her short frame.

I became increasingly uncomfortable as her large alarmed eyes stared through me, so I chose what I assumed to be a sports magazine (the man kicking a soccer ball on the front cover led me to this conclusion) and placed it on the counter.

Her brute arms lunged across the counter enveloping me in slow motion and fear turned to panic in nanoseconds. As my life began to flash before me (in other words, my ninja escape plan starring a more fit and knowledgeable version of myself), I felt plump, wet lips upon mine, and her sweaty body clinging to me.

She backed into her booth unshaken and stated “cinque euros,” with a smile. Slow moving, I slid my money over the counter, cautiously grabbed my magazine, and stepped away.

Kevin Maddox's picture
Kevin Maddox from Melstrand, Mi is reading Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut December 23, 2012 - 1:13pm

Death Photo

     She knew no other world, but knew the world well enough to need to ever leave.

     Buildings would rise and fall around her. The people of her small town would change.   Technology would improve, but she would remain.

     Loyal customers she knew for years started appearing in the obituaries. New faces of young citizens would replace them with foreign requests that she was uninterested in hearing.

     The old woman knew all the kids and some of her own peers were getting their news and stories on digital books. New compared to the old world she was born into, she couldn't change with the times.

     She  lost her home over five years ago, and no one had the heart to tell her she couldn’t stay in the news stand. She stayed, and people bought the daily press and old magazines from time to time.

     She had to eat. People in the neighborhood couldn’t face the guilt of allowing someone to starve to death.

     She wore her best clothes. Like she knew. I knew as soon as I passed in the morning, but no one else would have known for hours. She looked the same as always, except maybe a bit more relaxed.

    There was plenty of time to run home and grab the old camera. It just seemed right to use the old process. I’ll have it framed.

     I left two coins to cover the cost of my daily press. I hope they put them on her eyes.

Carly Berg's picture
Carly Berg from USA is reading Story Prompts That Work by Carly Berg is now available at Amazon December 24, 2012 - 2:47am

Zita Pita (micro version)

I wasn’t allowed at Journey’s because they were trash. Her parents were always drunk and broke. They had six kids, in a trailer.

At Miss Zita’s magazine stand, I bought a Coke.

Journey held a Snickers. “Susan, can I bum a quarter?”

She mooched too much. “If you say ‘Zita pita, smell my feeta.’ You chicken?”

Journey banged on the glass and yelled, “Zita pita, kiss my feeta.”

The window opened. Miss Zita said, “You are not-a nice girls.”

Journey, charged up from talking smart, flung the money.

The old woman picked it up with shaky hands.

Journey walked hands on hips like she was big stuff. She had scared an adult.

“I said to say ‘smell’ my feet, not ‘kiss’ my feet.”

“Let’s see you do something, then.”

“Well,” she said, “Are you gonna stand there all day, chicken?”

“This goddamn Coke is warm!” I banged on the window with the glass Coke bottle, just as Miss Zita opened it.

Her nose gushed blood.

We ran.

The policeman came at dinnertime. He said, “Were you at the magazine stand today with Journey Hoolihan?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Someone assaulted Miss Zita with a bottle and broke her nose.”

“Mercy!” Mom said. “Those Hoolihans are nothing but trouble.”

Father said, “Susan won't be near the Hoolihan girl again, Officer.”

“I expect Journey’s at juvenile hall. You’re lucky, Susan. You have good parents.”

“Yes, sir.”

My parents were right. I should stay away from trashy kids like Journey Hoolihan.

ImpulsivelyMe's picture
ImpulsivelyMe December 24, 2012 - 2:04am


The routine never varied.
You picked the paper or the mag, tossed the coins, and made your way. Nose in news, you walked away as quickly as you came, oblivious to her watchful eye.

She was one of the unlettered folk. She gathered her news from the photographs. Loved-up teens, scheming bankers, forgotten celebs, bereaved parents, nature’s fury, man’s wrath, the glories of success, the ignominies of failure, there was nothing the images couldn’t tell her.

One day you took a picture of her perched behind the counter, hemmed in by her wares. Her eyes bored defiantly into your camera lens, neither granting nor refusing permission.

The next morning, you picked the paper, tossed the coins and a photograph with your initials on it, and made your way. There was nothing the image couldn’t tell her.

News of her death, a few weeks later, made it to the front page. Her torso had been sawed through neatly just under her breasts. The bust-like remnant had been propped up on the counter, where it had stood erect for three days before the stench let slip the truth.

The papers carried a picture of her perched behind the counter, hemmed in by her wares. You recoil as you remember how you picked the paper, tossed the coins, and made your way. Nose in news, you walked away as quickly as you came, oblivious to her dead eyes.

You’ve been framed.

Nick Johns's picture
Nick Johns December 27, 2012 - 3:37am

All My Sins Remembered

I could not see her body, just a head in a hatch.

It hung there, in the gloom, like some desiccated trophy, exquisitely positioned by a capricious witch, to serve as a warning to others.

What had she been before her terrible fate had overtaken her?

I made a surreptitious study of the evidence whilst pretending to browse.

Where were the traces of her innocent girlhood that many women show in their aging faces? Nothing but faint salty stains, memories of long dried tear tracks, betrayed her past.

Had thankless children etched those lines around her rheumy eyes?

Had the absent husband been ushered into an early grave by the stodgy food that dulled her own pasty complexion? Or had he left her, run away to sea or driven into the arms of a voluptuous vixen by her relentless, disapproving frown?

She regarded me, unblinking in the eye straining half light of the kiosk.

I would not buy anything I knew, even as I continued my listless survey of her yellowed stock.

What sin she had committed to have been consigned to this half life existence?

The atmosphere smothered me like a musty pillow and I fled for the door. Even the bright ding of the bell at the door was diminished, swallowed by the hungry shadows.

I gasped like a drowning man as I burst into the daylight, leaving the woman wallowing in her monochrome misery.


240 words

Kendall Brunson's picture
Kendall Brunson from Florida is reading The Year of The Flood December 27, 2012 - 9:52pm



I don’t know why I bought the paper. To commemorate the anniversary? Some anniversary. What should I do? Frame it, hang it off the split plaster above the cello I can no longer play? I still can’t read Italian, but I needed proof of survival.

“Survival,” my counselor said. “You survived. That’s the most important thing.” 

“It doesn’t mean life.”

But I’m still here. One year down. My left eye droops to the left and the crook in my cheek from the knife also seems permanent.

The men here call after me, Bella, while making kissing sounds. Then I turn around. The women don’t dare let their eyes linger. Even the harsh woman selling the newspapers softened her glance downwards as she asked for the two Euros. I fidgeted with my chain purse, always encountering difficulties with my missing pointer and thumb.

“Why the most beautiful country in the world?” my sister asked over cappuccinos the day after he went to prison for his work. “You know,” she leaned in closer as if he took away my brains with my looks. “Because you’re, well...”


The only movement she made was to take another sip.

“I don’t know, but at least I’ll have the time to figure it out.”

KSM's picture
KSM December 31, 2012 - 10:01am


Pon20's picture
Pon20 from New Hampshire December 28, 2012 - 9:50pm

The boy who was shot from a cannon and never came down

Her arthritic hands struggle to twist the rubber band from a stack of Dailies around the doorknob of her 4x8 newsstand midway up 22nd St. amidst the towering steel pillars at the center of the modern world.  A long, white overcoat passes pushing an antique stroller as the newborn inside begins to cry.

The wailing reaches her ears and pain shoots down her fingers. Dammit. She stares at her palms. 47 years. Tries to straighten her fingers. I can still feel the pulse fading. The sweat and the struggle. . .


The release.    

A paper slams down beside her. Faded corduroy jacket a cheap cigar. Him. Third time this week. Men: something she had always failed to avoid.

“Any news today?”

The infant still ringing in her ears, she composes herself, “not sure. . .haven’t read the damn thing in 20 years.”

“Ha, Probably repeating the same shit from when you did, right? War, poverty. World collapsing every day. Sells though”

World Ain’t collapsing, it’s expanding. “For 2 Bucks. Same as yesterday.”
And swallowing everything in it.

He passes two singles her way, “Same time tonight?”

From two blocks away the babies cries still carry over the din.
Only way out is to escape young.

She stares into the glow of his Maduro with the promiscuous ambivalence of a nihilist pornographer. “Yeah. Same time.”

It didn’t matter. It was too late for her own escape.
Her place is here. Pushing $2.00 programs to the circus of decline. 

Jose Chaves's picture
Jose Chaves December 29, 2012 - 11:44am

The Prayer

Pasquina felt her way up the Avenue, stopping to genuflect at the precise location of her lover’s promise; one part owl, one part lunar moth, she thought, fingering the nape of her girdle, as a quiet frost crept in the city.  Her lashes were as long as the months she waited for him, first in Naples, then in Paris, and now Rome.  Would he come to her like last time, and bequeath upon her the frankincense and myrrh of forgetting or would she end up with a trunk full of dead roses. 

She stopped in a small café, and pulled out the small book of poems she’d been writing in his absence; the first one began with a regretful spondee, followed by two woeful iambs, trumped by silver moonlight.  A river ran through her mind and into the dark. 

She checked her watch, as rain began to fall; Bizet’s Carmen play softly on the radio behind the counter where an old man was chopping onions.  There was another man sitting across from her reading a newspaper, and when she realized she could love this stranger more than her lover, she knew her lover was not coming, and that this was a sign it was over.

She could feel it in her bones; she could read the auguries of dead leaves.  She threw away his poems, and walked into the rain without an umbrella, and for the first time since she was a girl, let each drop caress her skin like rain.

Jonathan Riley's picture
Jonathan Riley from Memphis, Tennessee is reading Flashover by Gordon Highland January 2, 2013 - 9:16am

Congrats Carly.

Loved Zita Pita