My inbox runneth over. This was my first go-around with the Bohemian‘s annual fiction contest, and I didn’t know what to expect. What would the turnout be? Would we get many good submissions? Well, I needn’t have worried. I was overwhelmed by both the number and quality of the stories I got—141 in all.
My goal was to pick one winner and four runners up. It wasn’t easy. There are some really talented writers out there, and it was a lot of fun to read about all those vampires, avenging cats, murderers, talking fish, wistful lovers and extraterrestrial gigolos.
We chose the winning stories based on how well the writers incorporated the opening and closing sentence prompts (“Suddenly, it all made sense”; “And she had the corpse to prove it”). We looked for good reads that entertained us with well-told stories or the surprise ending. And I’m a sucker for any story that involves the death of Justin Bieber.
The winners here reflect a range of genres and styles. The winning story was by Jeff Cox, who happens to be the Press Democrat‘s restaurant critic. He didn’t write about food, but rather spun an old fashioned who dunnit in the spirit of Agatha Christie. The other winning stories were variously fun, surprising and just plain ol’ weird.
Enjoy and thanks to everyone who took the time to submit a story. We’ll do it again!—Stett Holbrook
THE GOD’S EYE
By Jeff Cox
Suddenly, it all made sense. Of all the people at the party where the diamond disappeared, Colonel Murray would have been the least likely thief. He was a decorated Vietnam War veteran who had lost his sight in that conflict.
The party was given by Jim and Tootie McTavish for the graduation of their daughter, Sara. On the night of the party, Tootie wore her prized diamond brooch pinned to her sequined jacket. No one noticed that the central diamond, a magnificent five-carat flawless stone, was missing until Tootie’s friend Grace asked about it. “Do you keep it somewhere for safekeeping?” Grace asked.
Tootie looked down and, panicked, realized that the diamond was gone. “No. It was there when I put on the brooch.” She looked quickly around the room. “Jim!” she called to her husband. He rushed over. “The God’s Eye is gone!”
Jim, a practical man, immediately had two thoughts. First, the diamond must have somehow dislodged from the brooch and was somewhere on the floor. Or—someone had found it and pocketed it.
He called for quiet, explained to the guests what had happened, and asked them to search the floor for the stone. For 15 minutes, 18 guests crawled and stooped, examining every inch of the hardwood flooring and the Chinese rug, even looking under the cushions on the chairs and couches. Nothing.
Jim told the guests he was going to lock the doors and call the police. Every pocket of every guest would be searched before anyone could leave. Later, after the police searches were fruitlessly completed, Colonel Murray threw up his hands. “Enough,” he said. “I’m leaving.”
“Not so fast,” a detective said. Colonel Murray drew a pistol and moved toward the door: “I said I’m leaving!” The detective drew his firearm and fired. Colonel Murray slumped to the floor.
“I’m afraid Colonel Murray took the diamond,” Jim said.
“How do you know that?” the detective asked. Jim pulled a glass eye from his pocket and showed it to the guests. “Colonel Murray had taken out his glass eye and hidden the diamond in the empty socket. No one could see behind his glasses. My wife told me who must have taken it when she found the glass eye under the couch.”
Tootie had the smarts to see that. And she had the corpse to prove it.
I’M A BELIEBER
By Evan St. Andrew
Suddenly, it all made sense. Charlene turned toward the nearest fan, a fanatically screaming teenage boy, and unleashed a backhanded blow so severe it broke his neck. He crumpled to the stadium floor like a spider crushed with a newspaper. Cleaning, cooking, washing clothes, packing lunch . . . Hot Pockets, Montel Williams . . . her whining, bratty children, der uncaring beer-bellied husband, Bud. She couldn’t take one more second of it. But now she had a purpose. Charlene knew what her destiny was.
No one had noticed the boy. The crowed shouted and cheered along with their idol— “Show you off, tonight I wanna show you off (eh, eh, eh).”
Charlene was still wearing the pink pajamas she had run off in all those months ago, but instead of their usually clean and cheery appearance, the PJs were ripped, tattered and unrecognizable. Visible underneath were no longer layers of fat, but taut sinew and hard muscle, slowly developing as she made her murderous pilgrimage to the Carnegie. Charlene’s voice pierced through the music, her primal and blood-frothed scream touched with insanity:
“HE IS MINE! JUSTIN BIEBER BELONGS TO ME!”
Like a snarling wolverine, she lashed out at anyone in sight, fans being thrown left and right like hay in a thresher. The entire stadium fell into disarray as the thousands attending ran in any direction they could. Justin’s bodyguards, even through the bedlam identifying her as a lethal threat, opened fire as Charlene closed in on her deity.
She used an unlucky fan (wearing an “I Bieber” T-shirt) as a human shield. Hurling him like a javelin into the guards, Charlene vaulted onto the stage. The men attempted to restrain the mad housewife as she howled unintelligible gibberish and broke their bones like some of kind of demented Hercules.
All three soon dispatched; Charlene saw only Him. JBieb only managed a few awkward, shuffling steps before she was on top of him, her fingers digging into his windpipe. “Oh Justin . . . ” Charlene weeped, her saliva and tears mixing together as they dripped onto his pale face. “I’m all you need—a beauty and a beat.” His arms flailed uselessly against her. She leaned forward and planted a warm kiss on his now cold lips.
She had done it. She had become Justin Beiber’s No.1 fan. And she had the corpse to prove it.
Evan asked to give a shout out to Mrs. Bogomolny’s creative writing class.
SUNDAY, BLOODY SUNDAY
By Karen Rasore
Suddenly, it all made sense. The baskets were proof. I didn’t go looking for them, hidden away in the back bedroom where Great Grandma died, but our families were packed into the ranch house for the holiday and the room had the only other bathroom. Kids never used it because it was dark, there were weird old dolls everywhere and you had to turn on the light by a pull switch over the bed, which was too high for kids to reach. The desperate need to pee trumped my fear.
I ran across the room, jumped onto the bed and flailed my arms about wildly until I found the cord. The room lit up and the army of dolls came alive. Fear turned to elation when I saw the six baskets overflowing with ribbons and chocolate bunnies. Then, just as quickly, injury replaced my happiness. They had lied to me. My friends were right: there was no Easter Bunny.
Grandma convinced me every Easter morning when she went to her garden armed with her shotgun. “I’m going to get that little son-of-a-bitch this year. He’s not hanging around to eat my garden.” I knew she kept meat rabbits and chickens and that she was capable of murdering a bunny, but she was Grandma so I forgave her for her vendetta against my rabbit hero. Besides, she always missed. Now I knew it was a trick and I was going to call her out.
“Grandma, got your shotgun ready?”
“Yep, gonna get him this year.”
“I saw the baskets and I know you’re lying.”
“Baskets? Where?” Now I had her.
“In the back room.”
“So, that’s where he’s been keeping them. I knew he couldn’t carry all of those baskets. I’m gonna use those as bait.” Now she was going too far.
“OK. Grandma. Shoot him, I dare you.”
I woke early, eager to catch Grandma in her lie. I went to the kitchen, ready to expose her, and then I heard the shot. Oh, my God, was I wrong? I wasn’t feeling as confident as I did the night before. I opened the door and saw Grandma walking toward me. She had her shotgun hanging in one arm and a buckskin Rex dangling from her other.
“Now do you believe me?”
She was right, the Easter Bunny was real, and she had the corpse to prove it.
CONVICT ON THE RUN
By Cody S.
Suddenly, it all made sense. Meat lover’s pizza on a beach at sundown, olive film on a trash chard, a car bomb in the mouth of a newborn. He dreamed of a thrill, flying over roof shingles of the tiny, hoods disappearing in deactivated nighttimes and drug trees, the only thing that made sense in the first place, the expanding blobs of blindness undulating nebulously across the light boxes. Pizza, more important than human life, than a celebrity child, blonde, a teenage smile, or a sunset holding a disappearing ship, or a vacuum swallowing a nebula, or a black coal in the burn crevice. Burning in the moment, he blacked out and faced the steamy glass man, offering a cardboard mailer dripping with blood tomatoes, a boat that carried refugees from the food chain, pyramid, amoeba, to larger celled organisms to absorb and merge. It takes a village to really love a food. If you love a food, let it go, and see if it comes back. Some you are acquainted with, others strangers, still others food enemies, keep your friends close but your food enemies closer. A sadistic gaggle of retards and troglodytes and mongoloids queued in the square. They looted and dipped their booger-tainted paws into the river and came out holding the prizes, a short prayer later laughing. They anointed the voodoo makeup of babyhood, desperate prairie of the mind. Keither was this way, holding a slice, terrible justice, a limp memoir of himself and his place in the town, the town absorbed by a larger one and consumed by a city and the expanding mucus giant with its heavy cement fingers carving the creek beds to run dry in the summer far away from the market, a gray blob streaked untraced across the value chart of our concrete sunrise. Bite, the heavy taste of salt reaching, slipping around his bacteria-stained tongue erect and provoked. Primitive logic call sounded, a bushy unibrow arc and a simian slap on the ambiguously sweat-colored shirted helpmate seated within reach on this cold industrial bench and they raised their bones in victorious and feverish frenzy, grunting and howling entwined sterile hospital walls that lied with gluey placards. A sick smile swelled on sparsely stubbled folds, a maw flecked with forgotten smallers and olders and the ones that fit inside something else, weeping sores passing the granulated, the fibrous, the flaked oiled and seared. A guilty smile, a convict on the run. And he had the corpse to prove it.
By Mark Bellinger
Suddenly, it all made sense, and Ms. Young wished it didn’t.
“You have the wrong number, Michael. This is Ms. Young. By the way, I hope to find more formal English conventions when I read your Poe essay tomorrow,” she typed back, slowly.
A moment passed, then her phone vibrated again, indicating a new text message. “wat u mean?? u aint jenjen?”
She thought a moment, and responded, “In the parlance of your generation, Michael, I believe you have been ‘punk’d.’ Don’t fret. The last would-be suitor she fooled in this manner texted pictures.”
“how dija know im me??”
“Your spelling of ‘jenjen’ was unmistakable. Michael, please only text me with questions about American literature.”
Ms. Young, who thought of herself as “Ms. Young” even when wearing pajamas, set her phone back down on the nightstand. She had barely closed her eyes, though, when it buzzed again, twice.
“sory ms Y,” came the text from Michael’s number.
“Ms Young this is Jen Im sorry Mike texted you were out atthe movies and I though it would be funny.”
That surprised Ms. Young, since at school Jennifer worked very hard to appear as friendly and personable as a blackberry thicket. For her out to be at the movies with Michael was unexpected. For children their age to be on their phones during a movie was typical.
She replied to them both, “I will see you both after class tomorrow. Until then, goodnight.”
Her phone started buzzing incessantly.
“hey jenjen so this ur number kk thanx ms young”
“Yeah thats me now stop with the phone Mike and pay a tension to me.”
Ms. Young turned her phone off and sighed in frustration. She supposed she should be happy for young romance, but that travesty of grammar, syntax and spelling left her with a pounding headache. Scholars could claim that English was a living language, but Ms. Young knew better. English was dead, and she had the corpse to prove it.