208 Fiction competition results

Welcome to the third annual Sandpoint Reader 208 Fiction contest, in which we invited any and all writers to submit a work of fiction totaling exactly 208 words for consideration by a panel of judges including Reader Publisher Ben Olson, Editor-in-Chief Zach Hagadone and Staff Writer Soncirey Mitchell.

More than 50 entrants paid $5 per piece for consideration this year, 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 and honorable mentions.

Reader Staff


‘Bo Breaker: Face facts’
By Jeffrey Keenan


Breaker parked outside the warehouse. He already knew what was inside, but he dreaded it anyway. Someone had to do the dirty work. Two linebackers guarded the door.

“It’s Breaker!” one said.

“Hey,” Breaker said, “you got something on your face.”

“Huh?” said the first man.

Breaker threw a switchblade into his forehead and the man dropped. The other ran at Breaker.

“You have something on your face, too,” Breaker said, roundhouse kicking the man. “Got it,” he said.

He walked inside. Children were working in the sweatshop, wearing onion sacks and Kleenex boxes. Standing over them was a man with an Uzi.

“Hey, there’s something on your face right there,” Breaker said, throwing a ninja star into his cheek. He roundhouse kicked the Uzi from his hand. Breaker caught the Uzi and shot three henchmen in the face and one in the gut.

“Damn,” he said.

The children screamed and ran.

Breaker cartwheel-double-punch-double-kicked another henchman.

Breaker stopped and grabbed a kid and said, “Where’s the big man?”

The kid’s eyes bugged, “He’s up there.”

Breaker saw the big man, sitting on a pile of cash, twisting a kitten.

“Time to make a withdrawal,” Breaker growled.

“What’s that!?” the big man shouted.

“You’ve got something on your face.”

Judges’ notes:

Zach Hagadone: I don’t even know where to begin with this one. For me, it’s the winner because of how wide the author was able to go with 208 words. We have an entire character formed out of one line: “You got something on your face.” Just from that, I can conjure Bo Breaker: muscle shirt, acid-wash jeans, wraparound sunglasses and a whoopass mullet. It’s a perfect example of ’80s cheeseball action movie satire — right down to the Uzis, ninja star and “the big man, sitting on a pile of cash.” Not to mention that I can’t stop laughing every time I read it. Bravo. Now someone please make a short film featuring everyone’s roundhouse-kicking hero, Bo Breaker.

Soncirey Mitchell: This piece proved the age old English major belief that short stories are the most impactful written form. Not only did I cry while reading it, but I’ve been saying “You’ve got something on your face!” every day for three weeks. In summary: life-changing.

Ben Olson: This one crept up on me slowly, like a mulleted hero about to snap the neck of a henchman from an ’80s action film. At first read, I thought, “Huh?” It wasn’t until I re-read it with tears of laughter running down my cheeks that I was convinced this was our winner. It’s just so ridiculous. The author understands modern satire and had a rollicking good time jam-packing these 208 words with truly iconic lines. All the little details are perfect. The children wearing, “onion sacks and Kleenex boxes.” The big man “sitting on a pile of cash, twisting a kitten.” Even the single, “Damn,” uttered by Breaker after the Uzi bit. It’s too much. Take the money.



‘The hunt’
By Liz Gollen


“He used to be a crack shot.”

Chester Kane’s grandchildren sat in the fug of their grandfather’s living room. The whitetail from Gold Mountain, the muley from Bonners and the moose from Hoodoo hung as proof.

“Face it, he’s losing it.”


“Maybe he’ll get The Old Boy this year!”

Stink eyes all around at that statement. 

“Tomorrow’s the day,” their grandfather promised last night at dinner. “No more pussyfooting around. Me and The Old Boy go head-to-head.”

Furtive looks passed like a red-hot potato around the dinner table. Words like “dementia” and “delusional” hung unspoken in the candlelight. 

Grandma patted his hand, “The Old Boy won’t dodge the bullet this time, Chester. You’ll see.” A few thumbs-up rose and, reconsidering, dropped. 

The next morning, Chester Kane froze behind a bull pine. One thick antler was barely discernible above a copse of spirea. It was him — now a six-pointer, a monster. 

“Two more steps, you rascal, just two.” He raised the Winchester thirty-thirty as the buck slowly stepped out. Chester Kane’s rheumy eye sighted the bead above the beast’s shoulder; he eased his calloused finger against the timeworn metal of the trigger.

He smiled.

He lowered the rifle to his side.

“Merry Christmas again Old Boy, Merry Christmas.”

Judges’ notes:

Zach Hagadone: This story checks all the boxes: Every word is obviously chosen precisely for its function — add or take away one and it’s diminished. It has a story that’s advanced by dialogue; a beginning, middle and end; and the ending contributes to the whole in a satisfying, somewhat unexpected way. This writer is clearly very well practiced in their craft, managing to construct an entire family dynamic with its inner and outer worlds out of precise, evocative details. A textbook example of 208-word fiction.

Soncirey Mitchell: Gollen immediately drew the reader into the story by developing a unique voice for each character, painting a vivid picture and wrapping it up in a bow. This is technical perfection incarnate.

Ben Olson: Of all the stories, this was the most rounded effort. It’s a tender story and the author uses each word in the right place. I like stories where the hero overcomes assumptions, and this one checks that box beautifully. Well done.



‘The price paid’

By Tim Martin


Royce, during his twelve years, had often heard his grandfather say, “The beauty of our Lake is not free. It comes with a price.”

Today, if the legend were true, the bill would be paid.

Royce paddled, his grandfather and father riding up front, heavy in the ancient canoe. 

He lifted his paddle and drifted. The men stayed still where they were.

“Is it really here, waiting, just like you always said, Grandpa?” Royce murmured, rising, moving forward between them, scanning the water and trying not to tip the canoe. 

Royce knelt. He hadn’t expected to be here for many years and never imagined both these men would be with him.

The sun rose over the Cabinets. It was time.

The surface of the water roiled and foamed as the Paddler broke the surface, creating a swell that nearly threw the boy overboard.

Royce used the motion to his advantage, rolling the men — limp and twisted from the terrible crash on the bridge — over the side. 

The enormous creature took them and dove, a shadow, fading, then gone.

It had been this way forever. Each generation taking its turn. 

Alone, Royce turned the canoe toward home… thinking of the future, and when the next payment would come due.

Judges’ notes:

Zach Hagadone: Yes! Ask for Lovecraftian Paddler fiction and ye shall receive. I love the idea of turning the Paddler into some amorphous, semi-supernatural beast that must be appeased, and I really like that the ritual (which at first appears to be a sacrifice) is left kind of vague — cueing up the apparent twist toward the end that the main character’s dad and grandpa appear to have been dead the whole time. Overall it has an eerie, dreamy vibe that ends with a touch of grim suspense as a chef’s kiss.

Soncirey Mitchell: This piece felt like the beginning of a horror novel that I’d read in one sitting. It strikes a great balance between dialogue, imagery and ambiguity. In other news, I won’t be swimming this year.

Ben Olson: This one about the Paddler hit the right note. I love the unspoken “tribute” that is paid to the creature and the ethereal vibe throughout this story.

Honorable mentions:

By Charles Mortensen

The feathers were key. He had often used them to hide the children.

Jane and the colonel, clueless as ever, of course, were known to bore the snot out of cocktail guests with endless renderings of what they thought were whimsical stories about Patches and his love of birds.

I once happened upon cousin Patches out on Blanket Island during the early years of the cormorant invasion before their droppings had completely killed off the cottonwoods. The hunting cabin was still standing, despite the random vandalism of incurious townies. I had paddled the canoe out in a gale. My bones were strong then and I was brave.

Patches was sheltered in the cabin playing a game of old maid with a band of waifs he’d picked up on Grindstone. The children were festooned in cormorant feathers, and Patches, dazed, was smeared in what appeared to be blood and cormorant feces.

The Barque, filled to the gunwales with dead cormorants and listing nervously to starboard, was anchored on the lee side, motor running. I waded out, hauled in the anchor, ran the bilge pump, and headed to the mainland. 

I never heard how Patches got all those kids off the island in the canoe, but we haven’t spoken since.

Judges’ notes:

Zach Hagadone: Shades of Winesburg, Ohio. There are really rich images and settings here, with hints of exotic mystery that are made all the more compelling by a sinister undercurrent. One thing’s for certain, I wouldn’t want to accidentally come upon Patches’ cabin in what feels like could be some forgotten corner of a delta backwater.

Soncirey Mitchell: The vivid and surprising details — coupled with all that was left unsaid — makes this piece feel like a story your grandfather might tell you while perched on a park bench.

Ben Olson: I like stories that leave us wanting more. I feel like I just whizzed by at a low altitude on this one, getting a brief glimpse before speeding away. The author blended cryptic imagery and ideas beautifully on this one.

‘Flat Rock’
By Steve Johnson

The old field has been cleared again — trees and rocks removed and brush piles burned. This spring, I’ll prepare the seedbed and plant timothy and orchard grass. I will farm around the large, flat rock that has anchored the old field for generations. I will await the blessings of rain and sunshine and marvel at the miracle of tiny green sprouts. The Flat Rock will wait with me. It nurtures the field, the farm. It nurtures me.

I stand silently on the Flat Rock. I find Mom and Dad, find my brothers, find my sweetheart and our children. I embrace that vibrant life before the dementia, before the morphine drip, before the pancreas quit working. I hold the gift of life as the cord is cut and tied. I hear “Silent Night,” smell the fresh evergreen and taste the foamy cocoa.

I stand on Flat Rock and know I’m with family — with sacred Earth. I feel the certainty of “I do,” the passion of “I have something to tell you” and the finality of “I’m not really leaving.”

When the moon comes over the mountain, when the snow melts on my upturned face, I will find you here. All of you here, with me, on the Flat Rock.

Judges’ notes:

Zach Hagadone: Lots of nostalgia, which makes me suspect that there’s more non-fiction than fiction here. It is really nicely written, though, with strong, evocative sense-heavy images.

Soncirey Mitchell: Johnson captured the essence of short fiction by conjuring strong feelings of love and loss.

Ben Olson: The things the author says between the lines are important and leave me wanting to find out what plagues them, what feeds them, etc. I want to know more about the Flat Rock, yet I’m satisfied with this brief glimpse.

‘Growing Pains’
By Claire Christy

They all died and the town died too.

Papa Christy died first. His ’91 white Ford pickup had an American flag sticker, “Proud? You bet.”

Every night after, when the horses were fed, I kissed his sign in the barn that read “please turn off the lights.”

Grandma was next. I stayed with her, cared for her. Mostly, I learned from her. We had our 10-acre, $450 holdout rental at the base of that mountain. Parts of me died with her, but I held onto home for as long as I could.

Then came my mother. She was too young, unexpected. Her Pine Street chair is still there. Her morning glories too. 

The last was my father in June. He was the derby man, the hunting man, the recluse that no one knew. 

They all left town before I could. Right on time, I’m sure. This world was not meant for them. The trees, the payphones, and the credit line at the local store… all gone. 

Dad and Papa built that big ol’ bank, what a feat. A betrayal to the town they loved and chose. If not them, who? 

How do I make my own roots now that they’re all gone? What do I do? Where to?

Judges’ notes:

Zach Hagadone: Pretty heartbreaking and all-to-familiar to anyone who has more than one generation of family history here. I really appreciate how all the characters are distinct, despite not having any dialogue and only being described second hand.

Soncirey Mitchell: The line, “If not them, who?” sold me on this piece. A poignant and timely story that reflects both the trauma of the past and fears for the future.

Ben Olson:I dig the dour tone of this one. It evokes a sense of loss and hopelessness, which many of us in Sandpoint feel in one way or another.

‘Not Local’
By Vickie Graeff

My name is AInette.strong. I moved to this ZIP last year. I have not met any humans yet, but I am trying.

Does it really matter where anyone is from? It only really matters where we are going.

My next-door neighbor, a local, has a robo dog — so far my only friend. The dog’s name is “[whistling sound] Buster.” My neighbor calls him from his front door. That is how I know his name. The dog’s.

So where am I going? Today I am going to collect images of trees. Endangered trees. Then I am off to the library to upload several volumes of banned, soon-to-be-erased, books. Later, I will be able to photograph, and therefore immortalize, the moonrise, the path of Jupiter and Sirius and hopefully some shooting stars. Big data!

Zip 208 — what a beautiful place! I hope to meet someone interesting today, or at least, someone who will say hello back. But, after all, I am just a panegyrized chip juggler.

I grab my bicycle after I look up the word “loneliness” in my dictionapp.

As I am hopping my bot onto my cyberbike, a little girl says, “Hi neighbor!” and hands me a fistful of dandelions. I feel my algorithms sparkle.

“Wanna play?”

Judges’ notes:

Zach Hagadone: I like that it localizes the story, and I’m not sure if it was the writer’s intent, but I interpreted this to be somewhat of a dystopian scenario in which Idaho is gobbled up and processed by “friendly” A.I.; which I guess reminds me that a tech dystopia wouldn’t look dystopian to the tech. “Wanna play?” comes off way more ominous to me in that context.

Soncirey Mitchell: The narrator’s distinct voice set this story apart. I’m holding out hope that AInette.strong and her young neighbor will rekindle the world’s curiosity.

Ben Olson: It gives a glimpse of a dark future without any of the soul. It’s hard to tell a story in 208 words, but I wanted a bit more from this one, because it had a lot of potential. Extra points for swinging for the fences. Close, but no robo-cigar.

‘Last Visit to Cocolalla’
By Jim LittleBird

I lift Molly out of the Suburban by the top of the ramp. As the old Retriever’s paws touch the ground, she tries to balance her arthritis against gravity for one more short stroll to the water’s edge. She looks around for the dock — as her two favorite spots are lying on it or patrolling underneath it — but it has been removed for the winter. The old dog puts two and two together and paws at the water, and I see her surprised expression as she realizes it’s not iced over. I don’t think that she will get the chance this winter to walk on the water one more time.

We both sit by the lake’s edge, feeling melancholy. Lots of memories are buried here, along with her cousin Buddy. Molly gives a little whimper and nuzzles me for a head rub. Maybe her arthritis is overly bad today, maybe she misses the love and joy that used to happen here, or maybe she knows that sooner or later everyone and everything leaves and her ashes will be scattered here too. Like Bud, she’s been a good dog; my best friend here through it all. We’ll come to Cocolalla only one more time, to lay Molly to rest.

Judges’ notes:

Zach Hagadone:  I like this one, but felt like it sacrificed imagination for blunt emotion. Also, it doesn’t feel very fictional. More of a sad memory than a full narrative. 

Soncirey Mitchell: How dare you make me read this. I need to go cuddle with my dogs.

Ben Olson: Damn, this one got me. I love the subtle line, “I don’t think that she will get the chance this winter to walk on the water one more time.” That’s the story in a single sentence. It’s the disjointed feeling we get in North Idaho when winter is nothing but rain and fog, coupled with the immensely difficult experience of losing a friend in the near future. Really good job by the author.

‘Bud’s Truck’
By Trine Grillo

“Where’s my truck?” cried Grandpa Bud. He shook a fist and ducked beneath a tree.

“I’ll get you, thief!” I didn’t see a thief under there.

Gram said, “Bud’s thoughts are like sea waves. Some roll high and clear. Some lie flat, slipping in and out like his memories.” 

When Bud had high waves he remembered my name, and fireworks. Once when his waves were flat, Bud dug a hole.

“My keys are here,” he said.

Gram whispered. “That old rattletrap broke down years ago, Bud.”

When he rushed toward the highway, “Bud! We’re not allowed on the road!” We held hands and walked home. Everyday Bud dug.

When I tripped, “Graaam! Tell Bud to stop digging!”

When he drove my truck through puddles, I grabbed it.

“No! That’s mine!” Bud sat beside the puddles, mumbled in Italian and cried. I shouldn’t have grabbed it like that. I parked my truck under the tree. After supper, I went with Bud to search for the thief.

“I knew it!” he said. Bud hugged my truck. Then a high wave came.

My truck carried you the day you were born,” he said. 

I let him hold mine a while. Afterwards, we built a road in the mud through the puddles.

Judges’ notes:

Zach Hagadone: I like this one quite a bit — especially how it flips the script on “Grandpa Bud” being more child-like than the narrator. There’s also some sweetness amid the essential tragedy. I love the lines, “Every day Bud dug,” and the emotional crusher, “My truck carried you the day you were born.”

Soncirey Mitchell: There are some lovely, heartbreaking elements — “ … he remembered my name and fireworks” is my personal favorite. Replacing some of the dialogue with description would really make it shine.

Ben Olson: It bogs down a bit with the clunky dialogue. I want to lose myself in the cryptic characters and actions, but I don’t have enough imagery or information to form a parachute to make the leap. But, the character is built well and carries us forward. Good job.

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