—This Piece was an Honorable Mention in the 2015 Micro-Fiction Contest—

She let the wind of the waves negotiate her body, her dress, a tsunami in the water- wind. My father tried everything to make the boat-house a home. It didn’t even look like a boat. It was a two-story Victorian painted Friday-night-red. He gave it little windowpanes, planter boxes of petunias hung at their bases. The ever-ideal picket fence wrapped around the house like a jagged embrace. He even bought her a dog when we docked in Greece. We named him Catfish. 

She stood there still as a tree, anything with roots, as if she might simply slip from the last stair into the weight, away from the salty red window panes, away from the dishes clanking their lullabies, away from the chair rocking only a tattered bear with no eyes.

“This isn’t just seasickness,” my mother said. Whenever she said this, I would bring her tea with honey and I would brush her wavy, golden hair. She wanted a stillness that an ocean cannot possibly possess. My brother and I were some fishing line between my mother and father, the tug and tautness of battle.

The dreams aren’t as soothing as you might think when you sleep at sea. Instead of the tender shift of weight from side to side in a mother’s arms, it was a slosh of weight, a slap and slush, and too much great depth to live upon. To fall asleep I would pretend I was on a park swing, pumping my legs into the endless sky, like before. 

My mother was baking her famous cherry pie again. We all have dreams we can’t let go of.

We were cheering my father on, his swordfish whipping heavy, like a bad memory. “This is the one,” my brother shouted. He said that about everything, which was both disappointing and full of hope. The animal thrashed its deadly face, trying like hell to get back to the before. We admired its boundless muscle, its silvery beauty and my stomach tightened. I was part of its end and wouldn’t look away as its bright flesh dulled.

The dog barked. No one noticed my mother’s apron ruffling in the wind as she descended the perfect staircase my father had hammered together one Saturday morning, and further still, her supremely quiet slipping down into the sea, from light to darkness, a jelly fish fluttering toward another bloom.

Amanda Chiado is an MFA graduate of California College of the Arts. Her poetry has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and is forthcoming or appears in Best New Poets, Witness, Cimarron Review, Fence, Eleven Eleven and others. She currently works as the Program Coordinator for the San Benito County Arts Council and she is also an active California Poet in the Schools. Visit her at


—This Piece was an Honorable Mention in the 2015 Micro-Fiction Contest—

“Walter, put the plates in the sink,” Pam says. 
             We’ve eaten dinner. Pam and Patsy have just finished getting fancy, splashing color on their cheeks and fussing with each other’s hair. I put the dishes in the sink, wipe the table, and head for my room.
             “Nuh uh,” Pam says, while Patsy says, “Where you think you going?” And then they both say, “Wash them damn dishes.” It’s been two weeks of this. This getting bossed around. When I ask why I have to do everything they start telling me that just because I’m a man doesn’t mean I get to watch them do all the housework, which isn’t really fair because I haven’t even started shaving, and anyway, they never clean or anything. When I say so, Pam says, “Boy, you done lost your damn mind, talking to me like that.”
             “You sound like mom,” I say. “Who actually did lose her mind.”
             “I’m the mom now,” Pam says.
             “Yeah,” Patsy says. “Me too.”
             Pam slaps Pasty’s shoulder. “I’m both ya’lls mom. And I’m gone need ya’ll to clean up the kitchen. I’m going out.” She starts for the door, but stops at the couch, and then she just stands there, staring at us, her arms crossed, her foot tapping.
             Suddenly Patsy’s at my side, literally. She stands next to me, dangles car keys. “How about you wash dishes? Me and Walter gone go out.”
             “I just want to go read,” I say.
             Patsy flashes me a look. “Boy, I’m trying to help your ass.”
             “See,” Pam says. “He can’t appreciate nothing. Let’s go.”
             When they start for the door, I tell them schizophrenia is genetic, passed down from mother to daughter or father to son, and since our father is a runaway, not a psych patient, I’ll be fine. I don’t know if any of this is true. I certainly haven’t heard it anywhere. And anyway, our mom didn’t just drink, she sniff powders, too. White, mostly. But I don’t stutter, not even when I tell them drinking makes schizophrenia come sooner.
             “Wait,” Patsy says, nodding and biting her lower lip. “I’ve heard that before.”
             “He’s fucking with us, dummy,” Pam says. Then she follows my eyes to mom’s collection of empty beer bottles along the window sill. The bottle caps in the ceiling, mom’s other collection, a drunk’s Sistine Chapel. I haven’t seen the white of our downstairs ceiling since I started using Pull-Ups.
             Patsy follows me to the sink and runs water while I grab a hand towel. A stranger to housework, she squeezes in too much soap. A foamy mountain rises up from the sink. She dunks her hand in as Pam grabs a soda from the refrigerator. She sits down, sipping.
             “You read too damn much,” she says. 

Bernard Grant lives in Washington State, where he is an MFA candidate at the Rainier Writing Workshop MFA Program. His stories and essays have appeared or are forthcoming in Crab Orchard ReviewStirring, and Fiction Southeast, among others. His chapbook Puzzle Pieces, a winner of the 2015 Paper Nautilus Press Debut Series Chapbook Contest, is forthcoming from Paper Nautilus Press. He serves as Associate Essays Editor for The Nervous Breakdown


—This Piece was awarded Second Place in the 2015 Micro-Fiction Contest—

Anna Karina floats in the ocean, the shore just in view over a rip-curl. She heard someone say once that sinking is the quiet cousin of freefall. This seems wrong, thinks Anna Karina now, treading, tiring, her chin turned up to keep from dipping under. In freefall you might hear the swirl of air in the saucer of your ears, and maybe you’re singing, but it’s basically quiet—swish and done. Here, now, scissor-kicking at jellyfish, the sinking is blaring. The slush-slap of the tide like a slow-clap, the churning spiral of whales in schools, the grinding drag of clouds across sky, and a barracuda. It’s all so thunder-clatter-deafening that Anna Karina doesn’t even hear herself calling for help.
             Anna Karina swam out this far on a dare. The other girls said, For such a high-horse famous actress, you sure know how to act like a slab of driftwood. Anna Karina is not the famous actress, first name: Anna, last name: Karina. Anna Karina is first name: Anna Karina. Her parents claim she’s not named after anyone. The other girls are sixteen, like her, and its 2015 and they have no business knowing who old Anna Karina the actress even is. It wasn’t exactly a dare.
             Anna Karina can hardly see beyond her toes through the green fog, but the barracuda scraped past her thigh a few minutes ago. It was silver and long and thick as her leg. The bracelet of a sea monster, she thought.
             The actress Anna Karina wasn’t always an actress. Anna Karina looked her up. She’d run away from foster homes over and over, but always came back, like a tide.

Now, in the water, Anna Karina is like a slab of driftwood. The girls had meant boring and flat as a board, but here, sloshing against the waves, Anna Karina hopes maybe she’s smoothing her splinters. Maybe, she thinks, not too long from now she’ll wash ashore all light and rounded like a buoyant stone and be worthy of someone’s mantle. If you hold her the right way maybe she’ll resemble a mallard. If you squint, she might even have a face.
             Anna Karina’s arms itch. She can’t see or feel her toes and she wonders if maybe the barracuda snatched them while she was thinking. How long has it been? Hours? Days? She’s sinking so loud now she hardly hears the motor.

David Joseph lives in Philadelphia with his wife. He served as Co-Editor-in-Chief of Susquehanna Review for its 2012 and 2013 issues. His fiction has appeared in Hobart, Big Lucks, and the W.W. Norton anthology, Hint Fiction. David’s story “Overcast” was selected as winner of the 2015 Highlander Fiction Award at Revolution John Magazine. Connect with him on Twitter: @dfhjoseph


Phillip Sterling
October 2015

For me, a successful work of flash fiction must integrate three C’s of narrative impulse: character, conflict, and conciseness.  Characterization, of course, is the foundation upon which a story’s make-up is applied; with flash fiction in particular characters must be immediately recognizable and convincing (in the sense that their conflicts and resolutions stem from their circumstances).  It is in this regard alone that I can distinguish flash fiction from prose poetry: while a poem may have a narrative context, its primary intent is meditative or reflective, more the nuance of an emotional or intellectual moment than of story, more language than luggage. In a poem, a character may be presented; in fiction, a character develops.  And in the process of development something happens.  Call it what you will—conflict, complication, rising action, plot—the narrative evolves from a unique character’s personality and circumstances (which, for a reader to be convinced, must be clear).

A successful fiction, then, is a unity of characterization and circumstance that is unique to that narrative.  In addition, a successful “flash” fiction requires that uniqueness to be fully articulated in its smallest form; it demands conciseness.  The make-up must be applied so sparingly as to appear not to exist at all, a process more often associated with poetry than prose (and may be one reason for the on-going micro-fiction/prose poem dialectic).  Rather than selecting what narrative details are to be included, the writer of flash fiction selects what must be left out.  Thus, in a successful—or effective, or good—work of very short fiction, what is left out—what is implied or understood—is vital to the integrity of the whole.  It is not information or detail withheld from the reader in order to execute a kind of statement or climax—as is often the case of a “punch line” story (where we learn in the final sentence that the narrator is a dog, for instance).  Instead, it is a kind of negative space that—like a sculpture by Henri Moore—serves to define the body of the story (upon which the make-up can then be applied).

There is a fourth C, to be sure: Comic. The conciseness and density, the speed with which we read a piece of flash, lends itself to humor. Like a good riddle or joke.  But subtly:  more in the way of a pun than of slapstick.  More epiphany than guffaw.

That being said...

First Place:  “Shawl Pattern” by Melanie Dunbar

A small gem (emphasis on small) in the starry, metaphoric sense that its conciseness is brilliant.  Characterization captured in one or two sentences; the tension between what’s [thoughtlessly] spoken and what’s [thoughtfully] not; the conciliatory relationship implied in the resolution (that it is tenuous and momentary).  This story is remarkable in its understatement and subtlety.

Second Place:  “Anna Karina Floats in the Ocean” by David Joseph

What might have become just another story about the fatalistic and reckless decision-making of youth—another metaphoric take on being left “afloat” or “cast to sea”—is redeemed by the depths (sorry) and breadth of characterization, rendered in uniquely sensory detail.  

Third Place:  “Arch Made of Codfish” by Linda Nemec Foster

Playful and funny, in the manner of Russell Edson—a fabulist look at domesticity, in a dense and pun-ful manner, with its blatantly fictive (“Don’t-take-me-serious!”) and ironic tone.

Honorable Mentions (in no judgmental order):

“Saturday Night” by Bernard Grant

I like the nudge of this piece—its Carver-like minimalism and use of dialogue.  While there seems to be a tendency in recent short fiction to try and capture the big conflicts—the drama of death, disaster, destruction, dystopia (in 500 words or less)—here is a small domestic moment of huge significance and understanding, the moment a character discovers and defines himself in his relationship to the world.

“The Before” by Amanda Chiado

To describe people we love in terms of their “natures”—their predilections and obsessions—is to define ourselves.  We become the resolution of their antithesis—something that is often over-dramatized when it comes to stories about family.  But here is a new way of reconciling the dichotomy—through sensory language with a unique perspective.

“Oology” by Elodie Olson-Coons 

The title alone works the mouth, the tongue . . . the poetry of this story (language, again) becomes a character in its own right, taking shape from the details of the oologist’s obsession and pathos.  The densest in terms of involving the reader in poetic experience (tastes, smells, sights, textures), it is the most understated in terms of narrative sequence and cause.  For that reason alone—it’s uniqueness—I’m attracted to it, and wish to share it with others.   

NOTE:  While observers may argue a certain watery theme among all six selections, I would contend that it is more reflective of the selections overall than of any thematic preference on my part; if I lean, it is toward the use of sensory (poetic) language, which, in the greater group, emerged from characters in affinity with oceans, ponds, lakes, rivers, puddles, rain, snow . . . or [politically] the profound absence of...