WINNERS OF THE 53-WORD STORY CONTEST
January 2019: “The Village Elders in the San de Christo (Blood of Christ) Mountains” by Jolene Thibodeaux (forthcoming in Issue 151, April 1, 2019)
December 2018: “Cold War Paper” by Meg Freer (forthcoming in Issue 151, April 1, 2019)
November 2018: “Inside Out” by Jo Ann Hoffman (Issue 149, January 1, 2019)
October 2018: “Everybody=Nobody” by Robert Engel (Issue 149, January 1, 2019)
September 2018: “Taking the Fall” by Mike Tuohy (Issue 149, January 1, 2019)
August 2018: “Nuptials” by Emily West (Issue 139, October 1, 2018)
July 2018: "The End" by Michele Partain (Issue 139, October 1, 2018)
June 2018: "Low Tide" by Annie Dodson (Issue 139, October 1, 2018)
May 2018: "The Gift" by Nancy Jorgensen (Issue 137, July 1, 2018)
April 2018: "Hailstones" by Laura Ruth Loomis (Issue 137, July 1, 2018)
March 2018: "Might Get Lucky" by Anne Anthony (Issue 137, July 1, 2018)
February 2018: "Bedtime Shadows" by Joyce Ann Wheatley (Issue 131, Apr 1, 2018)
January 2018: "Taking Stock" by Meg Freer (Issue 131, Apr 1, 2018)
December 2017: "Inheritance" by Colleen Maloney (Issue 131, Apr 1, 2018)
November 2017: "The Little Transient" by Lorri McDole (Issue 127, Jan 1, 2018)
October 2017: "Homecoming" by Noël Rozny (Issue 127, Jan 1, 2018)
September 2017: "The Shed Is Best" by Donna Kennedy (Issue 127, Jan 1, 2018)
August 2017: "Dance on My Grave" by Hannah Ambrose (Issue 113, Oct 1, 2017)
NOTE: Prior to the August 2017 contest, our winning stories were published in Prime Number Magazine along with the author's 53-word biography. You'll find these winning stories below. Enjoy!
Prompt: Write a 53-word story about something hot
Judge: Kate Hill Cantrill, author of Walk Back from Monkey School
In the Oven by K.C. Mead-Brewer
Texas, July, a busted AC, and now this—a rustling, skittering sound. Mice. The idea alone made her itchy as hell, but scratching only clogged her nails with sweat. Hot air piled in her throat like mulch. Mice in the walls. Trembling, she touched her growing middle. Mice crawling all through the walls.
Prompt: Write a 53-word story about a break
Judge: Gerry Wilson, author of Crosscurrents and Other Stories
How Amelia Earhart Comes to Understand Gravitational Pull by Joanna Thomas
To the roof of the shed, she cobbles a ramp, then rides an apple crate down the slope. The wooden box splinters upon impact. Split lip, ripped bloomers, and a snoot full of exhilaration, she exclaims, "Oh, Pidge, it's just like flying!" Later, over the Pacific, the flap, flutter, thrill of another plummet.
Prompt: Write a 53-word story about a flower
Judge: Kevin Morgan Watson, Publisher and Editor-in-Chief, Press 53, Prime Number Magazine
Daisy Chain by Aamna Kaul
You meet a girl and want to fall in love. Her name is Daisy so you give her some. She puts them in a vase and introduces you to her brother. His grip is tight. A wasp hovers over the daisies, then stings you. Daisy lasts a week. You never forget her brother.
Prompt: Write a 53-word story about a shower
Judge: Chauna Craig, author of The Widow's Guide to Edible Mushrooms
Jackpot by Peter Wise
They placed their bets—he lost, she won. Spent her jackpot on a shower of glass, marble and gold. Each day now, they return from work caked with dust, and she leads him up the creaking stairs of their farmhouse into her Las Vegas oasis, where sulfur-tainted well water rains like silver coins.
Prompt: Write a 53-word story about a march
Judge: Kelly Cherry, author of Twelve Women in a Country Called America
Chamomile by Sharon Louise Howard
It was the march of sugar ants that dismantled the world as she knew it. It was early. She’d wanted to surprise him. The unexpected ants led to a used cup in the sink. Lifting it, she smelled dregs of chamomile tea. A tea she hated, but a favorite of their neighbor’s daughter.
Prompt: Write a 53-word story about a full moon
Judge: Wendy J. Fox, author of The Seven Stages of Anger and Other Stories
Waiting by Katherine Schurk
Just like I have awaited the full moon, a pearl high in the sky illuminating the dazzling shore, I have awaited your return. For thirty days and nights, I have left the front porch light on, I have eaten each meal by your empty chair, and I have filled only half my bed.
Prompt: Write a 53-word story about a penny
Judge: Gerry Wilson, author of Crosscurrents and Other Stories
Fair Trade by Claire Foxx
“Some rock” was his initial appraisal.
“I always thought so,” she said.
He inspected the ring, reached into his mustache for a real number.
“Tough break. Give you 350.”
“How much for that?” She pointed to one of a dozen revolvers shelved under the glass countertop.
“That's a deal. Keep the change.”
Prompt: Write a 53-word story about a chill
Judge: Clifford Garstang, author of What the Zhang Boys Know
The Last by Greg Hill
From his sparse pile of twigs, he looked up at her and surrendered a sigh. “That was our last match.” A chill brushed the back of her neck. She shifted her weight and folded her arms. In all directions, the desert offered no promise of rescue lights, just the cold flicker of stars.
Prompt: Write a 53-word story about stirring
Judge: C.D. Albin, author of Hard Toward Home
Nine O’clock Evening News by Laura Hunter
“Don’t be stirring me up now.”
“I’m not meaning to, Mama. I’m needing to tell you something.”
“You slammed that door again. Turn and face the corner.”
“But this is important.”
“Nothing more important than doing what I say.”
The kitchen light flickered.
“Daddy’s in the barn, stobbed by the bull,” Carol cried.
Prompt: Write a 53-Word Story about an anniversary
Judge: Dennis McFadden, author of Jimtown Road, winner of the 2016 Press 53 Award for Short Fiction
Cosmic Birthday by Ryan Riggs
Thirteen point eight two billion years: that’s all we know.
No day. No month. No decade. No century. Not even some millennia to narrow it down.
If you want a date you'll have to guess. Or choose.
I guess today’s as good as any.
Happy birthday, reality.
I hope you like chocolate cake.
Prompt: Write a 53-word story about a turn
Judge: Curtis Smith, author of Beasts & Men and Bad Monkey
Victorian Blue Jeans by Scott D. Anderson
The turn of her ankle interests me. This girl, no Victorian, not bustled to hide her features, wears jeans, close fitting, comfortable in her own skin. She doesn't hide, she knows this ankle, enough to tempt, will draw others to more prominent features. I envy Victorian men, how much they had to discover.
Prompt: Write a 53-word story about something melting
Judge: Jeffery Hess, editor of Home of the Brave: Stories in Uniform and Home of the Brave: Somewhere in the Sand
Gettysburg, July, 1863 by Theresa Wyatt*
One soldier took a bullet which shattered his femur. The next day he woke up in a cellar with a woman leaning over him picking wax from his beard. She apologized, said the doctor needed light to amputate in the dark. Candles melted down to nothing were stuck everywhere, even in her bonnet.
*This story was selected for inclusion in MICROFICTIONS: Exceptionally Short Stories to be published by W. W. Norton in 2018.
Prompt: Write a 53-word story about independence
Judge: Jen McConnell, author of Welcome, Anybody
Self-Reliant Animals by Leigh Ward-Smith
First, make them dependent on you. But know: you're building a discrete organism. One atom at a time. Little by little, you change the covenant. Push when they cling. Make them walk. Until the membrane between you and them almost bursts. Then you let them go. Ribs uncaged, hearts exposed to the world.
Prompt: Write a 53-word story about a bug
Judge: Jodi Paloni, author of They Could Live with Themselves
Altar Call by David E. Poston
“Why will you not turn from your wicked ways?" asked the preacher, as the choir sang about the precious blood of the Lamb.
I laid my head in Mama’s lap and gazed upward.
High above me, moths kept circling, endlessly battering against the globes of light hanging from their rusty chains.
Prompt: Write a 53-word story about a ride
Judge: Steve Mitchell, author of The Naming of Ghosts
Circle of Life by Tripp Reade
There’s a carousel at the mall, a merry-go-round, with all the usual suspects: horses, zebras, unicorns, etc. She adored it. And yes, Heraclitus has that saying about no one rides the same carousel twice, so I was warned. But she climbed on when she was small, and now she’s not. Now she’s not.
Prompt: Write a 53-word story about Nature giving life a twist
Judge: Hedy Habra, author of Tea in Heliopolis and Under Brushstrokes
In Passing by Skip Keith
The iceberg felt the fracture then a split second later she fell away from the glacier. A sense of sorrow and dread filled her. She would float south to warmer waters and grow smaller and smaller. The one bright spot in her journey would be the night she felt the Titanic rub her.
Prompt: Write a 53-word story about madness
Judge: Joseph Mills, author of Exit, Pursued by a Bear and five other poetry collections
Snow Angels by Bill McStowe
Out the slider they go, excited for winter’s first snow.
My hunt begins for hot chocolate, mugs, and marshmallow.
The slider opens. Closes. A mitten needs fixing.
Opens. Closes. Snow in the boot.
Opens. Closes. Opens. Closes. Opens. Closes.
Where is our hot chocolate, they want to know. Where is our hot chocolate?
Prompt: write a 53-word story about something sweet
Judge: Kathleen McGookey, author of Stay
Honeybees by Peter Wise
The stonemason, hands hard as granite, knelt before the hive and gently pushed aside the bees. Later, as he spooned honey from a jar into his wife’s mouth, she discovered the stings, red and swollen like pomegranate pips. Slowly, she kissed each wound, tasting the bees, while her husband’s heart hovered and droned.
Prompt: Write a 53-word story about something cold
Judge: Wendy J. Fox, author of The Seven Stages of Anger and Other Stories, winner of the Press 53 Award for Short Fiction
Warm Heart by Teena Shields
I much prefer hearth-side to outside, but my little guy loves snow. Schussing down the hill in the yard, the crisp air steals his breathy, joyous cries. Red-cheeked and needing to pee, he comes in and brackets my face with snow-clad mittens. Cherishing that sweet contact, before he outgrows it, I flinch anyway.
Prompt: Write a 53-word story about something slipping away.
Ancestry by Mike Tuohy
A month after the stroke, Mama started getting names in the photo album right.
“That’s Reverend Kelso with Mr. Echols, holding the beagle. There’s your daddy and Mrs. Tate. She had the diabetes.”
“Hold on, Mama. That’s Dr. Stotts, not Daddy.”
Seeing her horrified expression, I felt half of my ancestry slip away.
Prompt: Write a 53-word story about something dreaded that becomes a gift
Diamondback by Martha Petersen
The first time I spotted you—rattling, uncoiling—I’d have hacked you into sections. I was young, with tranquil pale skin. But now. You stretch against the asphalt, absorbing November’s last heat. I have no need for the axe. We live. You, with your sun-darkened scales, me, with my sun-cancered arms.
Prompt: Write a 53-word story about falling
Junior, the Bastard by Ty Stumpf
Dad stayed long enough to call me Junior. Now, I’ve got a chemo pill bottle with his ashes. His wives got remains in whatever I found with a top in his bent-up trailer.
I about flushed mine, but I’m gonna pour them off the overpass and watch them fall. Like he did me.
Prompt: Write a 53-word story about labor
52 Breaths by Cory Metzinger
Sweat dripped from my nose. My breath was short. My heart raced so fast I could hear it in my ears.
I’d practiced every day for this moment, but nothing could ever prepare me for the overwhelming pressure I now felt.
“Please, don’t fall over,” I whispered to the growing house of cards.