WORDS WORTH READING
Last Updated on Friday, 10 May 2013 02:41
THE SHORT LIST OF OUR SHORT STORY WINNERS
Intro by Amy Patton
The short story as a literary form, in my opinion, is highly underrated. Often hard to find, and even harder to find a large readership, most avid readers do not consider short stories when looking for something to read. Short stories have so much to offer though, if only society at large could realize the potential. The short story form allows for experimental formatting and stylistics, as well as highly concentrated plots and imaginary worlds, leaving a reader with a satisfying read. Whether reading or writing, the short story deserves your attention. The short story has a very full history, drawing inspiration from the Greek Fables, Roman Anecdotes, and other oral storytelling traditions. These evolved into some of the earliest examples of printed short stories, Bocacio’s Decameron and Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, both of which were printed in the 14th century. From there, the genre has expanded and now includes arguably the most diverse selection of reading out there.
As the name would suggest, short story writers have to set up a believable scenario with a fully developed plot with minimal space. There is no room for unnecessary fluff. Thus, the reader does not waste time reading, nor does the writer feel obliged to write, pages of unwanted exposition. The short story gets right down to the meat of it, and in roughly 5 to 20 pages the reader can experience the whole universe the writer has created. Even more concentrated, the Short-Short Story form forces the writer to tell a story in 300 to 1000 words. The short story form satisfies the reader in minimal time.
For the writer, short stories are challenging. Sure, you don’t have to worry about stretching a believable plot over hundreds of pages, but at the same time, you are limited to the few pages you are allotted. It is fun to experiment, and often rewarding. The short story allows you to stretch the bounds of reality. If given enough dedication, the results can be highly creative and the concentrated form will draw your readers in.
The fluid nature of the short story allows readers and writers alike to explore ideas, perspectives, and formats unlike any other form of literature. Short stories coax creativity from the writer and results in a nuance that is riveting for the reader. Short story writers have the freedom to tweak perspective and typical plot formula. Its refreshing newness is welcomed by the readership and the results are stories that can be so peculiar that you can’t put them down.
Some of my favorite short stories are so interesting because the authors set up a world entirely different from the one in which we live, but they do this so believably that I am able to set aside the setting and clearly focus on what they are teaching me through this medium. It can often be difficult to know where to start when looking into the short story. In a society where the short story is brushed under the mainstream rug, it can be hard to find a place to start. I recommend starting with contemporary pieces and working your way back to older stories, but that’s just me. This week we opened up these precious printed pages to those of you who felt worthy of our attentions. We’ve received piles of stories [Editor’s Note: one pile, and a small pile at that] and these are the entries that have caught our eye. Whether from aspiring author to sifu of the short story, the tales here are all by CSULB students. So next time you pick up a pen, or are craving a good read, consider the short story. It is distinctive, succinct, and worth your time. Who knows, your name might end up here one day.
WINNER: 700-1,000 wordsTHE DRIVERby Nate Musser
It isn’t the nicotine he craves anymore. Really, he’s just gotten so use to having the stick between his fingers that he feels unbalanced without it. He takes his smoke breaks around 11 and then again at two; his receptionist keeps a scented aerosol can at her desk to clean the stench every time he walks by. Don’t breathe so much, he’ll sometimes tell her with a teasing smile. She chuckles, only because she gets paid to do so. Throughout the day, the man squints at numbers and columns on his computer screen. He rearranges them, types new ones, and squints again. His mind stops for nothing except hunger pangs and that wobbly feeling just before 11 and two.
His day ends at five, just like the rest of the world, and it’s the perfect time to sit in an hour’s worth of traffic, his favorite part of the day.
By design, the man brings three cigarettes to work every day. He neatly lines them in his shirt pocket, and takes one out for each break; the last one is for the ride home.
Traffic is especially bad today. Construction in the downtown area has cars lined up well past the Stockett Street onramp where the man now sits. Every window is rolled down; he’s looking for some mercy from the swelter.
There isn’t much of a wind, and when it blows, it’s warm and dry, a product of the week-long heat wave engulfing the city. Tiny beads of sweat begin to develop at his brow as he eases off the brake just a little, and merges slowly onto the freeway.
he gridlock is official. Some vehicles inch forward now and then, but it feels more like they’re packing in tighter, not really moving forward.
He releases pressure off the brake for a second. The imbalance starts to overcome him. The man closes his eyes, caulks his head both ways and feels normal again. He winces. A few minutes, and only ten feet later, he can feel it again. His equilibrium fades and his vision blurs. It’s something like being an inexperienced tightrope walker he thinks, or a baby after a thimble of whisky taken for a toothache. In the dry, smoke-stained interior of his car, the man forgets about the heat, about the traffic, about numbers and columns and finally fades towards January.
He’s with her now, tightly holding her against his body. It’s unbelievable, he thinks, how perfectly his hands rest upon her hips. He tells her so and she pulls him tighter, as if his arms can make warmth spread like chicken noodle soup. It’s so bitter cold that his fingers are numb, hers too.
It’s freezing, he says, trying to coax her inside, but her feet are planted strong, and wordlessly she convinces him to stay out, just a little longer. She starts to talk about her mother. This is the first time she’s ever said a word about either one of her parents. For some reason, it always seemed a sore subject, so he never brought it up.
“My mother,” she starts, “would have loved this place.” He’s silent, only listening, and swaying softly. “She used to light up a cigarette and go to the kitchen window while I was out playing in the snow,” her voice is solid, though her body trembles. He tightens his grip again. “She wanted to keep an eye on me when the sun started going down. I would look over towards the window and see her face blurred by the condensation. The smoke from her cigarette would always creep through the hole I’d made in the window the summer I was five.” Her body stops shaking. “The day she didn’t come home the snow started melting. I remember feeling
the slosh between my toes when my dad walked me home from school for the first time. He didn’t say a word,” she pauses.
In the moment, he can’t understand exactly what she is telling him or why, but each word comes out with an absolute uppercut of truth and vulnerability. He isn’t sure if he’s taken a breath since she started speaking; maybe neither of them has. She turns around to face him, her eyes stuck in his, as if in a trance.
The words hang over them like the icicles from the roof. He didn’t say a word.
His hands hurt. They’re stiff and it feels
like they’ve forgotten how to move, but he grasps her hands as best he could.
“I can’t feel a thing,” she says, her face relaxing to a subtle smile, “but it feels really good.”
It takes him just a second to think of what to say. It’s something he’s been thinking for the past two days, almost constantly.
“We can stay here forever if you want.”
The blaring honk of the car horn from behind him yanks him back. He jolts, and quickly pulls his foot off the brake, moving the car forward into a new patch of open asphalt. Reality hits him like the first day after morphine. He reaches for his shirt pocket, his fingers all too nimble. The cigarette lights on the first try and he breathes in deep. A steady stream of smoke emerges from his lips, pouring through the window into the city before it finally dissipates, just like a dream.
FLASH FICTION: 300-500 words
HERE WE ARE NOW
by Nate Musser
Mona drank white wine. John sipped a nice whiskey. The rest of the room was filled with Coors Light-sipping 21-year- olds. Mona watched the bar. John cracked a peanut but did not eat it. “Smells Like Teen Spirit” came on the jukebox.
Mona grinned. “What was the name of this album?” she asked, leaning in closer to her husband.
“What?” John furrowed his brow.
“This album,” she said a little louder. “It had the baby in the pool on the cover.”
John said nothing.
“Do you think any of these kids even know this song?” Mona asked. “We’re only a few years older.” A kid with no sleeves stumbled off his barstool and bumped into John. “Whoa, sorry sir,” the kid said. John waved his hand and cracked a thin smile. “No problem, dude.” Mona spun her ring around her finger, then sipped her wine. She smiled at John, but he stared through her, his eyes locked on a television set that showed the Dodgers game. Cobain screamed the chorus, and Mona tried to sing along.
She played with her long black hair and thought of when it was short and pink. Her husband’s once-ragged hair had long been trimmed, gelled and styled into a perfect part. The jukebox was right behind her, but the music was miles away.
“Damn, it’s really bugging me,” she said. “What?” John asked.
DON'T BE A NO-TRY GUY
by Alex HerreraInhale. Hold. Five-four-three-two-one. Exhale. Drink chamomile lavender tea right before, your mother advises, to calm the nervous system. It’s not that you want to be No-Try Guy, but it can be hard to find your voice when your heart decides you’re a hopeless cause and attempts to abandon ship. Good morning Communications Class, I’m going to present my topic on Star Wars in a ridiculously engaging manner. Insert universally hilarious joke. But no, your feet and words stumble, your eyes stay glued to the fourth wall. Idiot. You didn’t even remember to tell the punchline: because until he hooked up with Leia, his name was Hand Solo. Damn.
And now that pretty girl Stacy won’t talk to you after class. She wants Cool Smile Guy. You’re certain because you found her on Tumblr once, and all she ever posts are pictures of him and turtles. You sport neither six pack abs nor a bony plastron. No chance.
But you remember telling yourself that the worst sin in the Bible is sloth, because how can you build a fucking arc and save dinosaurs and pandas if you don’t even try? Not that you’re religious, but when you read that as a kid you found it profoundly deep. So you try again. And your heart runs away. And again. And your heart jogs a short distance ahead of you. And again. And your heart walks right alongside you. Pretty soon you toss your supply of chamomile lavender tea. You’re still not Cool Smile Guy so Stacy still doesn’t want to talk to you, but Irene does. She said she liked the way you talked with your hands, and that’s enough to make you try again tomorrow.
by Rachel Clare
Chewed up pens and a trashcan full of crumpled papers are all he has to show for his work. It’s two hours into the day and he’s idly sipping from his coffee mug. The liquid is cold, dark, and leaving a temporary stain on the white ceramic, but it gives him something to focus on aside from the figures and Excel sheets on his computer screen. A post-it next to his keyboard holds a sketch of a cat playing cards. He smiles, smoothing down the piece of paper and setting his mug back down on the desk. A phone rings in a nearby cubicle. Someone answers, asks a question, takes notes.
He clicks at a box on the open Excel chart on his screen, dragging his cursor over rows and columns of numbers. Pointless. Pointless. Pointless. He opens a desk drawer, closes it when he remembers he isn’t actually looking for anything. The office is mildly quiet. Coworkers talk about their weekends between business calls. He turns back and forth in his chair, letting the momentum slowly blur his line of vision before he is once again facing his computer screen.
A stack of papers sits next to his coffee mug. More information to be put into the Excel sheet. More numbers.
He flicks a paper clip across the top of the pile, a metallic flash beneath the fluorescent lights. It flip-flops to a stop below the mini calendar pinned to his cubicle wall.
He nearly groans when his eyes catch the date.
Monday. Only Monday.
Shoulders slumped, he picks up his nearly empty mug, swishes the remains at the bottom, and heads for the break room.
This day is going to need more coffee.