Lou Beach’s new book of very short stories – 420 Characters – packs vivid descriptions into tiny narratives.
We want to read your 420-character story!
Submit yours below to enter our contest.
→ The story must be 420 characters or fewer -- including spaces.
→ Only one entry per author will be considered.
→ The deadline to be considered for our contest is 11:59 EST December 31, 2011.
The winner will be announced on the show and will receive a signed print of an illustration by Lou Beach.
Pam (revised version with slashes as stand-ins for line spacing)
At the Beach, Jeté Finds Faith: 2 POVs / On the day she was strangled, Jeté drank agave, quit smoking, beaded her hair, gave her Datsun to the church and floated on the night ocean. Except for the zygote she and the preacher had made, drowning as it swam for harbor in her womb, her new tattoo told us everything. / Her soul was ready. I often light a candle in the tequila jar. Women walk to it, barefoot on the sand.
The train car screeched. His eyes narrowed. Stupid lady, bumping me with her case. "She'll be sorry," he gripped the knife in his pocket. The car lurched, squawked, broadcasting the next stop. On three, he thought. Accidentally trip and stab your knife in her chest. “One, two—” Someone tugged his coat. "Mommy say happy new day... I mean, new year," the boy giggled. “Hmmm, a new year,” he exhaled, and left the train.
The boy looked up at the sky. It was so blue today and the clouds seem to beckon him to sleep. He closed his eyes and felt the warmth of the sun on his face. He didn't hear anything - a low buzz drowned out everything. He could smell the street and the people moving about him. He opened his eyes and watched the ground dance at their feet. He tasted thick smoke and metal. He smiled - so warm today. He felt free.
The most eccentric thing someone I know ever did? You’d think it would be a sex thing, but there aren’t any unique sex acts. If you only could make love with someone’s tongue in your nostril, you could probably join a club and get a T-shirt. But this one guy would carefully slice a clove of garlic, then cut a ripe pear with the same knife and reverently serve the pieces, one by one. Better than sex.
On mile 12 of this 17-mile underground merry-go-round, I played a practical joke on the world’s physicists and traveled faster than light. One should not call his or her quest a search for the "God particle" and expect no... irregularities. Earth's larges machine, the universe's smallest objects, and more PhDs than all the sand in all the beaches in all the world.
Every muscle was engaged, stretched, flexed. Her hair was wildly misplaced, and delicate beads of sweat gathered at her temples. The weight above her was crushing, yet exhilarating; she accepted, gave in, and craved the energy that galloped unremittingly towards her, through her. Yet, she met each moment with her own defiance. He could feel it permeating, could see it in her eyes, and he knew: in those early morning hours, he was invited, accepted, and wanted in a place where no one was allowed.
Doc Coe blinked 3 times as he stared intently into Mrs. Cesti’s eyes. She glanced away 3 times, but saw none of the photos on his wall. Her husband did not even breathe. “Alice, I’m afraid your memory is failing because you have Alzheimer’s disease.” “Oh, I know, but, I’ll be just fine. My Harry will take care of me.” She looked over to Harry as he stared back, a flat smile on his lips. How could he tell her?
Christmas: Ben, Josh and Scott are discussing the purchase of a new TV. Nancy and Jen went shopping. Adam and Mike are watching TV. Morgan, Ryan and Trina are playing. Harper is doing homework. Kate just finished watching a movie. Ashley and Brian took Emma to Penn Station. Rose is asleep. Chris and Cohen are at work. Gab is at home with Sarah. Andrea is in Minnesota until Thursday. I don’t know why we’re together.
Settling by the empty house a sleek sphere spat out Enginkik.
“Bummf. Verified, begin to determine ‘being’ qualities.”
Inside, A LifeBox sounded, “If bleeding of bowels begins, or nausea..
Next, Enginkik scanned symbols: Leader Lies, Sexy Hair, Beat Belly Fat.”
“Substandard....will not satisfy our quest.”
Swuum, SHUUM, Swirl.
The tears were blending with her mascara and slowly sliding down her face in tar colored rivers as she stood in the shabby restaurant bathroom. She had desperately dressed up for dinner, glad he had invited her somewhere, anywhere. She had bought a sequined dress that was too small and stretched uncomfortably over her stomach. He smelled like a perfume that wasn’t hers. She should really invest in waterproof mascara.
There was nothing he could learn from the books he had not already learned from the old woman. She did not speak, or perhaps could not, but had revealed her secrets in gestures and glances, in subtle signs she traced in the dirt floor or across the cold, still surface of water from the well outside. No book, not even the gold-leafed pages that lined the magician’s shelves, could offer the boy that. And so he left.
The shadows were getting longer as I drove down the familiar lane towards the house. The driveway hadn’t changed; two gravel paths with a roundish mound of sparse grass in between. I walked the few steps to the front door. The old screen door creaked. I struggled to get the time-worn lock to give; it rolled over and I pushed lightly with my right shoulder. The big door opened. The nightmare was about to begin.
She always discarded them, those holiday and birthday cards with their not so clever words. Empty greetings that came meter stamped, from either her doctor, her dentist or her insurance company. Today, however, on her eighty eighth she retrieved them from the trash and scotch taped them to the wall.
He dangled from the yardarm in the dark, a nearly hanged man kept alive by the reek of Cooky’s grub rising from the galley where twenty mutineers cried for more bacon as they enjoyed the last of the rum. Soon, he knew, the poisoned meat would do away with his troubles, except for the cook, a dratted vegetarian whose loyalty to any captain lay only in his inability to navigate the way home.
It was her guilty, unspeakable secret. Whenever she
saw the orb of sapphire light tinged with lavender,
her neatly stitched day exploded into a billion
useless fragments. The wheezing 12:15 bus lumbered
by unheard. Today, a barely visible male had come to
greet her. Was this to be a Persephone or a Metatron
moment? She grasped his outstretched hand and again
declined her afternoon.
the villager who
prized the wing bone from the red-crowned crane,
drilled seven holes,
and a smaller one
below the last,
to fix an off-key note;
who rested the flute against her lip,
blew across the opening,
covered and uncovered the holes,
fingers flitting like a hummingbird
exploring the octaves
sloughing the sharp edges off
that Neolithic place—
I, too, hunt the sweet songs.
Beth shook off sweat and opened her eyes. Clock said 4:12. With one deep breath and a little shiver, Beth forced her eyelids down. The test was tomorrow. At 50, she wasn’t used to studying. Would she pass? Her daughter was certain. Was it too late to try something so hard? Another deep breath, it was this or sink into poverty. It would take a year to finish the program. With luck and her savings she would survive it.
40 years later and there you are in a rented gold Chevy, arm waving out the window in case I had forgotten.
Me now zaftig you bald but with those blue eyes still; lightening straight to my heart.
Christmas in July, we unwrapped, sitting here at my mundane kitchen table while flowers withered in the heat and the air stood breathless.
'Re-bonded, not rebounded.'
You were always clever with words.
She gazes at the camera. The waiting area has been drained of passengers. Hair tucked back, the gate attendant spies it as if it were light. She recalls the couple so recently warming this seat. How they dashed when flight called. She picks up the camera – holiday lights, skylines, shoulders hugged – deletes each shot, one by one. How glorious, she thinks, to be so full of life that you can leave even memory behind.
The dark man approached across the lawn, cloak flapping from his shoulders, face shadowed black beneath his top hat. His feet didn’t touch the grass. Mom and Dad scrambled, voices fluttery, palms moist, pushing me into the china cupboard, closing the door. Then the knock, the excuses, the deathly silence in response. At last his voice, from the stone bottom of a well: “Why is all your good china out on the table?”