Here at BW, we don't shy away from a good debate. But when our team of readers and reviewers sat down to hash out the best of the Fiction 101 entries we received this year, it got heated. Everyone had favorites, and they defended them with vigor. Happily, no food was thrown. Judges for this year were Amy Atkins, Bingo Barnes, Juliana McLenna, Phil Merrell and Shea Andersen. Entrants were clearly from all over the southern Idaho map. We had plenty of material to work with: This year, BW received more Fiction 101 entries than ever before. Boiseans like to write about their lives, the good and the bad, and some of you like to take off in flights of fancy we could never have imagined. We saw lots of Boise in these stories, lots of ripped-from-the-headlines material, but also lots of eternal themes: loss, joy and some heavy navel-gazing. Fortunately, we had rules to abide by, and entrants know them well. It was a pleasure to see how people worked within our rules to create tight, tiny universes. To those who didn't win: Thank you for your effort, and yes, we read every darned one. To our winners: You made us work hard, but you also taught us a thing or two. Thank you for that.
--Shea AndersenGrand Prize Winner - $650
Horseplay and Ashtrays
The ceramic horse on Brandy's desk hadn't spoken in months. Things had cooled between them and now Brandy suspected it just wanted attention.
"So dark the con of man," it said.
"You've got to be kidding me," Brandy replied in disgust.
"No seriously," the horse emphasized. "There's this conspiracy with the Catholics I need to tell you about."
Brandy thought back to the thrift store where she bought the horse. She remembered their first conversations and how the horse used to make her laugh. Things were uncomfortable now. She wished she had bought an ashtray instead. Ashtrays weren't so goddamn needy.
--James McCollySecond Place Winner - $400
The Smoky Marriage
"The neighbors are moving the shrubs again," she declares, looking out the back window. "See how much smaller our yard is today?" She takes a Polaroid of the back yard to add to her collection of identical pictures.
He issues a non-committal noise and makes a mental note to refill her prescription.
He wishes he smoked, and then he could go out tonight for a pack of cigarettes and not come back. Who knew online dating could lead to his current sorry state. The worst part is that sometimes when he looks out the window, the yard really does look smaller.
--Rachell McCollyThird Place Winner - $250
Judi lowered a basket of fish into the bubbling deep fryer. Snow crusted the sidewalk beyond the diner's steamed windows. A lonely man at the counter, dreaming of kiwi fruit, finished his salad.
Judi pushed her sleeve above a vermillion tattoo--roses entwining her wrist. Her fingers plucked a stray from the oil.
"Ouch," the man said, kissing his fingertips.
Judi crinkled her eyes, saying, "If you can't stand the heat..."
He shook Tabasco roses onto his tongue. At the door, he traced a message on the wet glass. Every digit of his phone number, like his eyes, filled, then wept.
--Bob SandbergHonorable Mention - $30 each
Julie whispered, "How can someone iron for so long?"
We lived within thin walls.
Our neighbor's ironing: the hisses of steam, worrying of the iron, the creaking board.
Our landlady was taken with him. "He's the softest man I know," she said.
One night, his door slammed shut. Two pairs of sloppy, drunken footfalls passed. Julie said, "I'm going in there."
We crept in. Julie's eyes lit up. Surrounding us were racks of shirts: salmon through everything. It was beautiful: an apartment of shirts. Shirts replaced the wallpaper. In the middle of the room sat a cooling iron.
Franz made robots. He built a small robot designed to replicate itself. Franz watched like a father as the machine gathered various parts from junk piles in the workshop. His dog barked. It did that.
After a week, there were two robots. The robots multiplied exponentially, although each was slightly mutated. Franz discovered that the imperfect replications allowed the robot population to evolve. When the workshop was bare of materials, the robots continued to find suitable substitutes.
When the police arrived, Franz and his dog were gone. The police found a hive of assorted machines, some partially comprised of polished bones.
Return From Neptune
A probe from Earth sails past the bright side of Neptune and months later, blinks off the screens at Houston Mission Central.
Continuing, the probe bounces off the strands of a large net and settles into a fold in the net, where it is immediately tended to by aliens' hands thinned by millennia in space.
The NASA symbols on the probe are deciphered in a spacecraft parked in the shadow of Nereid, by computers with batteries long past their design life limit.
A vote on the spacecraft is to escort the probe back to Earth, hopefully in exchange for fresh batteries.
It felt as though my intestines had weakened their chokehold on my stomach a little. I breathed hesitantly. She shut her eyes, lowered her face, and--like a school nurse who separates shafts of hair to look for lice--mulled over my freshly finished explanation. Countless seconds--each with an eternity in tow--trudged between us in heart smothering silence, as inside her, potential responses fought not to die. She swallowed. Her head began to rise. It's before this decision that I wish I could've made like Medusa and frozen the moment so the look of longing never left her eyes.
The man was a fossil, a burlap sack stretched tightly over bones. Hunched over his work, his glasses were buried in a shadow like an artifact, some anachronistic relic from ancient times. Arm quaking, he handled the paper gingerly. Folding, turning, inspecting, and folding again. The man's eyes were yellowed and myopic, his movements ungraceful yet slowly deliberate and certain. He gazed at his grandson seated across the cluttered desk with fiercely puckered lips and an angled brow. To the boy, his eyes appeared large and comical behind the colossal lenses, but there was nothing about his look. It was expectant.
The obvious end came when he didn't want to even try to understand the dream. "You're the bear, Bill." He's staring out the window, irritated. "OK, I'm the bear. I'm an asshole." He never did appreciate my natural intuition. His beautiful dark eyes follow a blonde carried by a lengthy stride. I can already picture his hands in her hair. With tears in my eyes, I throw my head back and walk out the door. Pity! It was a rockin' nine days! My fingers jiggle a song in my pocket with his key. It rattles and is lost with the rest.