Read this year’s Indie 500 flash fiction contest winners

REALLY SHORT STORY: Amy Manikowski is the winner of the flash fiction contest.
REALLY SHORT STORY: Amy Manikowski is the winner of the flash fiction contest. Photo by Sarah Hooker

The grand-prize winner of this year’s Indie 500 flash fiction contest, sponsored by Xpress, is Lucky Stars, by Black Mountain-based author Amy Manikowski.

Entries for the short-form writing competition had to be no longer than 500 words and include a recognizable local landmark. The final judge — author, playwright and educator Jamieson Ridenhour — says, “Lucky Stars does what a good piece of flash fiction should: give a quick sketch, setting up a situation and moving it forward without feeling the need to give back story or full explanations.” He adds, “Extra points for the deft historical setting.”

Runners-up for the contest, which received more than 30 entries, include Winsome, by Eugene McLaughlin and Small-town Superhero Trains a Sidekick, by Zack Lindsey.

Lucky Stars

by Amy Manikowski

“You ain’t keeping that thing in here,” Ma said, giving him the eye of certain death. “I don’t want no crazy white man’s gun in my house.”

“Could be useful,” George replied, “protection.”

“No. Hide it, sell it, throw it in the river.”

George liked the cold heaviness of it, and he also knew that if his manager at the Grove Park Inn had found the gun in the “crazy” writer’s room, he would make the writer leave the hotel.

“I’ll get rid of it later,” George said, taking the piece to the bedroom he shared with his ma’s paying boarder.

As he walked back out into the kitchen and sat at the table, the boarder, Martin, returned home.

“Oh Thank the Lord!” Ma said, rushing to where Martin braced himself, slightly hunched, in the door frame.

“What do you mean, ‘Thank the Lord?’” George asked.

“A girl got killed at the hotel, the Battery Park, two nights ago,” Ma replied. “You’ve been so wrapped up with that writer, you don’t even know when someone’s murdered.”

“How’d that happen?” George asked.

“How should I know?” Martin replied. “Someone got her good, though; blood everywhere. They keep asking us — where was you when? Like I could sneak into some white girl’s room at night.”

He moved from the door frame to the back bedroom and laid down on the bed. Ma rushed to his side, tenderly tucking him in just as she had George when he was a child.

As she shut the door behind her, three policemen burst through the front, storming into the kitchen, filling up the whole space.

George didn’t move, but looked towards the back bedroom, expecting Martin to come out to protect them.

The men pushed Ma out of the way and kicked in the unlocked door, the cheap wood splintering easily under a heavy black boot. George could see Martin sit up in the bed, naked, his skin dark against the yellowed sheets.

“Where’s the gun?” one man shouted as he hit Martin across the head with his club. Martin rose slowly from the blow and was hit again.

“He doesn’t have a gun,” Ma shouted. She glanced nervously at George, her eyes asking where he had put it. George didn’t move, stuck in the bad luck that was swirling around them like a tide-pool.

“Found it,” one officer said. The corner of Martin’s mouth was bleeding as it hung open in confusion.

“That’s not his,” Ma said. No one listened. Martin towered over the officers as they pulled him along in handcuffs. George avoided his eyes.

“Tell them …” Ma pleaded with George.

He didn’t. He wanted to forget Martin like all the other boarders that had moved through Ma’s house. This was just bad luck: Martin drew the wrong straw, worked at the wrong place, slept in the wrong bed.

It just as easily could have been him, and George thanked his stars it wasn’t.

Gene McLaughlin. Photo courtesy of the author
SYNONYMS ARE HIM: Eugene McLaughlin penned the WNC-set story “Winsome.” Photo courtesy of the author

Winsome

by Eugene McLaughlin

Winsome.

That’s how she described the Western North Carolina Mountains. How she spoke of them as the train rolled up the tracks laboring against the increase in elevation. I didn’t know what the word meant. She often used words I didn’t know, but it didn’t matter much to me. I liked the pleasure she took in saying them. The way there was almost a spark in the air in front of her lips as they came out of her mouth.

Murky.

That’s the way she described the French Broad River as we rode by it in our carriage. This word I knew and I agreed with her as we watched the water flow by. The spring rains had made the water fast and cold. The driver told us the river was an old one, and I took him at his word. It felt old that day. It is possible it felt that way because I felt old. Sometimes it is difficult to disentangle descriptions of such things.

Charming.

That’s how she described the building when we arrived. I could understand why she said this. It was the best we could afford. The elements that made up the word charming were present in the building. I said nothing, not wanting to darken the mood or any positive thoughts she had. There are times when your thoughts run counter to a loved one’s and the best course of action is silence. Charming was not my word for it. Not my word at all.

Palliative.

That’s the word he used when we sat in the leather chairs of his office. We heard the familiar sound of coughing in the distance. Neither one of us had heard the word before, but we both understood what it meant. His eyes and posture said what it meant. It was a promise and apology of sorts combined as one word. We had known this was the case without knowing the word, but all had to be explained. All always had to be explained. Words used as braces and props, pinned, not stitched, to an unnamed thing.

Rhododendron.

That’s what they called the flowers that surrounded the hills behind the sanitarium and bloomed in the early summer. We knew them from other places, but not like these. They were vibrant and strong and had no qualms about the fickle weather of the Blue Ridge Mountains. We held hands and looked at them saying little most nights. Words were scarce by then.

Riverside.

That’s the name of the place I buried her. It was late fall and leaves around me were bright and brilliant. In those days, the cemetery did brisk business and I was not the only mourner. I don’t know if it was easier on me or harder, knowing it had been coming for so long. I only have the words to describe what I encountered along the way. I try to speak them with a spark like her. Not yet, though. Not yet.

Small-town Superhero Trains a Sidekick

by Zack Lindsey

The first thing you’re going to want to remember is this: bring a book. This ain’t the most action-packed corner of the globe, and some nights you’ll be sitting in this parking lot all night, sipping coffee with your ear bent to that scanner for something worth chasing. You’ll hear all kinds of mischief coming out of that thing: street fights, hookers getting too close to the decent folks, drunks littering the sidewalk with whatever fluid is most coming to them at the time. Lots of drunks shuffling around in the middle of the night, always looking for a brain to chew on cause they left theirs in some bottle like one of those drowned worms on the sidewalk after a hard rain. Then they try to drive and end up greasing some poor bastard. That ain’t for us, though. That’s what they pay cops for. We’re after the thieves and rapists and killers — the ones that left the rest of society behind long ago. There ain’t many of them around, small town like this, but when those devils come knocking somebody better be ready to knock back. What I’m trying to tell you is that this ain’t Gotham City. It’s a lonely job, but somebody’s got to make the world better.

Just be sure you’ve got something to keep you occupied. Lucky for us some dirtbag tries to knock off the Hot Spot every couple months. Gives you a little excitement to look forward to. Most the time being the hero is just plain boring. Night after night I sit in this Camaro, eating turkey on white bread. I watch the bums sneak away to hide their day’s catch in a deep hole somewhere; I watch the potholes grow on Patton; I watch the streetlights burn out, and I watch this guy scream at his girl. He backs her up in a corner and raises his hand, and she shrinks down to nothing—kind of disappears right before your eyes. Lots of stomping and shadowboxing, then they get in the car and disappear. I watch it happen night after night. He’s no villain, but everybody’s got the Big Bad Wolf in him somewhere. Some folks hide him better than others, but sure as I’m sitting here now that Wolf is going to get out sooner or later and go have himself a great big meal. It ain’t our job to trap him and stuff him back in his cage. You’re going to see lots of people for the first time ever, and some of them you’ve known since school, but the second thing to remember is you’ve got to keep your identity secret. That’s a hard thing to do in a town as small as this. That’s why we wear masks. Keep your head down, and stay out of the fights that ain’t your business. It’s a real lonely, boring job keeping all these secrets, and sometimes you need a place to hide. What do you think we wear these capes for?

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About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall is the arts section editor at Mountain Xpress. She's lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. Alli is the winner of the 2016 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize and the author of the novel "How to Talk to Rockstars," published by Logosophia Books. Follow me @alli_marshall

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