Welcome to the Sandpoint Reader’s first-ever 208 Fiction contest, in which we invited any and all writers to submit a work of fiction totaling exactly 208 words for consideration by an esteemed panel of local judges.
Those judges included Sandy Compton, Emily Erickson and Bret Johnson, who read more than two dozen entries and ascribed points to their top picks which, when aggregated, resulted in first, second and third place, as well as six honorable mentions (including one from the Reader staff).
About the judges: Compton began writing creatively as a teen. His essays first found publication in the 1980s, and his first editing project was The Cinderella Tree, by Werner Mayr, published by Keokee in 1991. His first book of fiction was published that same year. He’s been writing, editing, designing and publishing ever since. His website is bluecreekpress.com
Erickson is a writer and creator by day and a ravenous consumer of fiction by night. She’s responsible for the “Emily Articulated” column in the Sandpoint Reader and has had her writing featured in various publications and platforms nationwide.
Johnson is a short story aficionado and sometimes dabbler. He teaches English at Lake Pend Oreille High School.
Entrants paid $5 per piece, with first place winning $150 in cash and second and third place finishers receiving gift certificates courtesy of the Reader and its advertisers.
We enjoyed every one of the entries. Thanks to all those who participated and we extend our hearty congratulations to the winners.
— Reader Staff
FIRST PLACE: Winner of $150 cash prize!
By Jeff Keenan
I was driving home from work, listening to Enya and crying; it was a pretty standard Tuesday. The sun was down and the rain threatened to turn to ice at any moment. In the roundabout I caught a glimpse of a woman as my headlights illuminated the inside of her truck. Our masks tend to fall away when we’re in our cars, heading home, worrying, daydreaming of tropic breezes, reminiscing sweet moments, or even channeling our frustrations toward other drivers. Sometimes, our faces open like windows. The woman’s face, filtered through my tears, was warped, as if seen through a funhouse mirror. Her somber eyes reflected defeat, surrender, and a sullen calm. No funhouse mirror can hide our bad vibrations; it can only make them seem strange.
My headlights were past her in a flash, and perhaps I was projecting, I’m not sure, but I felt that she was wishing of being held, not in any sexual or romantic way, but like a baby at night, awakened, but facing lingering dream visions and praying for the darkness to end. If I’d pulled over and tried to do this, however, she might have run me down with her truck.
I wiped my face, turned Enya up, and headed home.
SECOND PLACE: Winner of $50 gift certificate to Eichardt’s Pub
Anton’s Holiday Prayer
By Dick Cvitanich
Anton considered a decision before praying. Should he call upon God or Jesus; it was like choosing between a Chevrolet and Ford. Based upon previous religious experiences, he considered them alike, although he believed God offered more horsepower because of His overall size. God had responded impressively when Anton was accused of inappropriate touching with a former student, accelerating from zero to sixty in no time; leaving the allegations behind like wind-blown trash. Jesus had proven equally effective, showing his talent when helping Anton win the club’s golf tournament.
In addition, God’s respect for rest intrigued Anton. Did he play softball, hike, barbecue or hang with angels on that seventh day? Jesus, on the other hand, presented as one who worked every day, forging ahead like a conscientious hedge fund manager. He never smiled, at least Anton didn’t recall any paintings of a smiling Jesus. Honest? Yes. Smiling? Never. Anton had visited dozens of museums and churches in Italy and couldn’t recall one happy faced Jesus.
God was the final choice because He possessed the stronger hand and a sense of humor. He was no George Carlin, but he did create giraffes, opossums and politicians. More than ever the world needed someone with a sense of humor. Amen.
THIRD PLACE: Winner of $20 gift certificate to MickDuff’s
You Can’t Hang Dead Men
By Ben Woodbridge
Bill, with his sons beside him, sat in the wagon. The wagon moved down main street as The Marshal rode towards it.
Bill was a harsh man, had always been a grim man, even before the last few months.
Bill’s hollow eyes watched The Marshal approach.
“Bill… Been out east beyond the river lately?”
An unsaid question hung between them in the cold morning light.
Bill moved the reins to his left hand, his right moving to rest on the handle of his revolver.
“I’ve been out hunting. Marshal…” Contempt filled Bill’s voice.
“Hunting what, Bill?”
Silence greeted him in reply.
“Bill, let the law bring in justice. For Emily.”
Bill lowered his head, the brim of his hat hiding his eyes from The Marshal.
“Don’t say her name.” Now anger filled his voice.
The Marshal’s hand now found his revolver.
“Have faith in the law, Bill. We all want the men responsible hanging from a rope.”
“I no longer believe you can deliver that. Marshal…”
The Marshal stared back intently, sighed, and moved aside. The wagon again started moving, passing by The Marshal.
“Father, why don’t you believe …” His oldest son started, then stopped.
Bill stared ahead.
“Because, boys. You can’t hang dead men.”
By Desiree Aguirre
Raphael the Tinman loved the sound of Uriel the Timekeeper’s voice. He loved the way she dotted her eyes and crossed her tees with the shape of her lips, the cadence in her eyes, the bend of her swan-like neck. Raff loved to hear Uriel sing, her vocal chords swooping and swaying like a starling in the winter, rising above the clouds and then falling, slow and gentle, like a thousand snowflakes, each one an individual miracle.
Raphael, a box of a droid with a can do attitude, was a master at making do. When his base squeaked he found a case of WD-40 and added a monthly lube job to his maintenance routine. When his left telescoping arm got stuck in the extended mode, he used his outer gripping arm to rip it out of place, and replaced it with a folding ladder device that he could tuck into what he called his belly, next to his drills, wrenches, screwdrivers, and hammers.
If Tinman were in charge, he would have a mouth, lips, tongue and vocal chords, so that he could give Uriel the Timekeeper the greatest gift — a two-way conversation that danced between them, a sensual tango, a smooth waltz, a feisty jig, a long march.
By Jeff Keenan
The tripod withstood many winters, finally collapsing long after anyone had the interest or ability to watch what it’d captured. The camcorder contained magnetic tape; every time it reached the end, a little gadget would click and rewind the tape, and it would begin recording again. In summertime, critters would scatter at the mechanical sounds.
Its angle changed after the video recorder fell to the ground. Most of the film was a blurred white after that — snow covered it for nine months out of the year — or pitch black — during the winter months. This made for a sad film.
The camera experienced nothing, I think.
It was uncovered by an Arctic fox one day and dragged to her den. Her nine pups sniffed it, licked it, and made a great fuss over the machine. When it clicked and whirred to rewind the tape, the pups watched it attentively; Mom had gone out for food. It was nearly pitch black in the den; the light signifying that the camcorder was recording had burned out years ago. The pups were soon piled around the warm machine.
When spring came, the camera emerged ready for her life on the tundra: white fur, small eyes, and shortened tripod legs — to retain heat.
By Patricia Hofmann
“Get a life, Bert!”
I slam the door on her cruel words, tired of her arguments. But as I sit alone in the garage, in my crumbling naugahyde recliner, next to mother’s equally decrepit hand-me-down car, I begin to wonder if she’s right. Studying the old sedan with disgust, I begin to daydream. With elbows resting on stained brown armrests and hands positioned at 10:00 and 2:00, I fantasize that the gray flannel Ford has been replaced with something Porsche-like, turbo charged, and righteously red.
I mind maneuver this car out of the garage. The engine, fuel injected with high-octane adrenaline, begs release. Clutching the cold, steely gearshift, I drop it into first and stomp down on the gas, fishtailing a scorched trail of rubber and smoke.
The G-forces of acceleration force me deep into the plush, black leather, and I become the demon of speed, the master of fast, eating up the pavement. The wind races through my hair as the horizon beckons, and I howl at the vehicular power at my command. I am the pilot of this dream machine, racing down the road to sweet freedom, headlong towards blessed oblivion, looking for that sweet spot between highway and sky.
Get a life indeed!
By Chris Park
It was close, but the community and the city pulled together and succeeded in purchasing the University property, saving it from development. The eighty acres of exceptional farmland and wildlife habitat, with a year-round creek, was dedicated as a community farm, nature park and wildlife sanctuary. Now, a decade later, the wisdom of this decision is clear as food production flourishes, families picnic under stately shade trees, children splash in the creek, bicyclists pedal quietly down bike paths and numerous birds and animals find refuge. Local schools hold regular outdoor classrooms where students learn about and engage in ecology, biology, soil science and organic agriculture. There is a mycology project growing edible and medicinal mushrooms, herb gardens, pollinator gardens, bee hives, a seeds savings bank, community composting and soil building projects. Currently, the agricultural fields and orchards are meeting over 25% of our town’s produce and fruit needs. Potato sheds have been built for root crop storage, solar dryers preserve food using no electricity and greenhouses with solar collectors operate year-round. We have a thriving farmers market and fully stocked food bank. Food security and the well-being of our community has prospered.
To think this land would’ve been covered with homes no local could afford. Now that’s criminal!
By Levi Batchelor (with a tiny bit of help from Grandma)
It was a warm, sunny day and I wanted to go to Grandma’s but, it was my little sister’s turn. I was sad it wasn’t my turn and I love Grandma, she laughs a lot.
Then I got an idea. Dad was making a shrink ray, “Hey, this could be a test drive. I could use the shrink ray and jump into Grandma’s jacket pocket?”
I climbed upstairs, went into the attic, and stood on the pod, pushed the button and ZAP!! There I was as tiny as a mouse.
The problem was, how to get back downstairs. I thought of the toy grappling hook in my pocket I had been playing with earlier. I took it out of my pocket, pressed the button under the hook — SLING! It hooked and WHEE! I flew down.
The second obstacle was the stairs where a Hot Wheel had been left. I jumped in, pushed and… went down. It was a very bumpy ride.
The third obstacle was climbing to the hanging jacket. You know what I did? I am an excellent climber having practiced on trees. I climbed with my hands and feet to the top of her jacket pocket, let go and dropped into the cushion of her pocket.
Ode to Wood by Jubilee…
By Lizbeth Zimmerman
My time has come after witnessing much in the hundred or so moons I’ve slept under. I didn’t expect to end up like this, like all who have gone before me — firewood, fuel for industry, clear cut for cattle, coffee and palm oil, milled into boards, chopsticks, toothpicks. Turned, lathed, sanded and lacquered. Pulped into paper and hoarded during hard times.
Look at me, I am the lungs of the world, my naked branches look like lungs when they shed the leaves that shade you when it is hot. I shelter the creatures that give you comfort and wake you with their morning song. Oh the palette I share with every shade of greens, reds and yellows.
Without me, the Wood Wide Web would not exist. Who would feed where terrestrial life began hundreds of millions of moons ago? The decaying mass of my ancestors giving everything to the fungus, lichens, bacteria and mycelium and in return, sustaining more life.
I sense a transition. I feel a hot, burning sensation in my bark and hear glee in their tiny voices. I topple over and am dragged away. Soon I will be covered in twinkling lights, ornaments and tinsel. Boxes made of me, wrapped in me share my destiny.
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