Short-Shorts — more from the pros and a contest open to all Minnesota writers

Here are two more examples of short-shorts by distinguished Minnesota writers (reprinted with permission). Enjoy these pieces about characters of different ages and situations in contrasting seasons.

Then try writing some short-shorts yourself. Tell your own compelling stories, developing characters, plots, and settings.

Choose your favorite and submit it to our short-short contest. Only one short-short by an individual will be accepted. Contest is open to all Minnesota writers.

Submission deadline: Friday, Dec. 18.

The judges will be from The Loft Literary Center’s ‘We Like Short-Shorts’ class. First, second and third place winners will be announced January 11. The prize will be a surprise short-short something.

Your short-short must be under 800 words — 100 words for each letter of MinnPost. Please put your Last Name and Short-Short Contest in the subject line of the email. Include your name, address, telephone number, email address, word count and a brief biography (up to 150 words).

Send your entry — in the body of the email, or as an attachment — to mbarrett [at] minnpost [dot] com. The file must be saved in Word.

“What Happened During the Ice Storm” by Jim Heynen

One winter there was a freezing rain. How beautiful! people said when things outside started to shine with ice. But the freezing rain kept coming. Tree branches glistened like glass. Then broke like glass. Ice thickened on the windows until everything outside blurred. Farmers moved their livestock into the barns, and most animals were safe. But not the pheasants. Their eyes froze shut.

Some farmers went ice-skating down the gravel roads with clubs to harvest pheasants that sat helplessly in roadside ditches. The boys went out into the freezing rain to find pheasants too. They saw dark spots along a fence. Pheasants, all right. Five or six of them. The boys slid their feet along slowly, trying not to break the ice that covered the snow. They slid up close to the pheasants. The pheasants pulled their heads down between their wings. They couldn’t tell how easy it was to see them huddled there.

The boys stood still in the icy rain. Their breath came out in slow puffs of steam. The pheasants’ breath came out in quick little puffs. One lifted its head and turned it from side to side, but the pheasant was blindfolded with ice and didn’t flush.

The boys had not brought clubs, or sacks, or anything but themselves. They stood over the pheasants, turning their own heads, looking at each other, each expecting the other to do something. To pounce on a pheasant, or to yell Bang! Things around them were shining and dripping with icy rain. The barbed-wire fence. The fence posts. Even the grass seeds. The grass seeds looked like yolks inside gelatin whites. And the pheasants looked like unborn birds glazed in egg white. Ice was hardening on the boys’ caps and coats. Soon they would be covered with ice too.

Then one of the boys said, Shh. He was taking off his coat, the thin layer of ice splintering in flakes as he pulled his arms from the sleeves. But the inside of the coat was dry and warm. He covered two of the crouching pheasants with his coat, rounding the back of it over them like a shell. The other boys did the same. They covered all the helpless pheasants. The small gray hens and the larger brown cocks. Now the boys felt the rain soaking through their shirts and freezing. They ran across the slippery fields, unsure of their footing, the ice clinging to their skin as they made their way toward the blurry lights of the house.

Jim Heynen is a writer and teacher of the form. His collections of short-shorts include The Boys’ House and The One-room Schoolhouse. He lives in St. Paul.

“Solstice” by Richard Terrill

“Life used to be fun,” my mother says a few days before her eighty-ninth birthday. “Now it’s shit.”

It’s hard to argue with her. Her memory is such that she asks me questions and by the time I answer, she’s forgotten what she’s asked. Our conversations take on an Abbot and Costello circularity. Suddenly disagreeable, she starts every sentence with “but.”  She no longer remembers my father, twenty years gone, and calls me by my brother’s name.

“You just have to get out of bed and start your routine.” I tell her. It’s a lame proposition, I know.

“Why?” she asks.

Her contradictions, out of character for the person she used to be, are now the most rational feature of her discourse.

“I just want to be somewhere where I can help someone,” she says.

She will never help anyone again, not even herself.

“I’m trying to be a person.”

I walk her down to the lunchroom of the nursing home and sit with her next to her roommate “What’s-Her-Name.” Six months older than my mother, roommate Mabel has a broken knee that will now never heal, and a mind as cloudless as a mid-June day.

“When we got the farm, I cleared sixty acres of rocks,” Mabel tells me. “Sixty acres. . . .But I loved it.

“This?” Mabel adds. “It’s a hell of a life. But as long as I have my wits about me, I’ll get by.”

I know that Mabel is referring to my mom, and am thinking Mabel needs someone to point to who’s worse off than she is. Maybe we all need that.

After lunch I leave the nursing home and drive for the woods. I’ve forgotten my fishing gear back in the city, but on Audie Lake I paddle my kayak on a day that’s a poster for Wisconsin in early summer. Wild irises are in bloom wherever sun hits the shoreline. Water lilies. The lake with many bays and inlets I can explore. There are no cottages; there is no development to mar the shore. There are two skiffs fishing, some kids’ laughter from a campsite out of view, a mother bald eagle tending her nest on a dead tree, wary of my little boat. Otherwise, only me. I drink two cans of beer in the sun and get delightfully toasted. I’m happy to forget who I am, one week before solstice, that mid point. It will be the longest day, but the hottest weather comes in July.

I load my kayak atop my car for the drive home. There in the sand of the parking lot is a painted turtle, just more than the size of my hand. She doesn’t move, though I could touch her with my paddle. Could kill her. Except I love turtles, love all creatures of the lake and its shore.

What is she doing here, seeing me, yet not moving away? Is she lazy, like me, avoiding something, enjoying something else? No, she’s laying eggs. On this one day when something in the water or the air or herself tells her it’s time.

She makes a kicking motion to cover the hole she’s dug, then ambles off, her shell pieces of a puzzle, black lined by orange, flash of orange from her underside. A yellow line along each cheek. Her legs ancient skin, sinuous. She can smell the lake and knows which way to go.

She’s crawling through a parking lot, so I step behind her to quicken her pace. I follow her all the way back to the water, which she crawls into the way someone tired might crawl into bed. She is beautiful to me. There is no way those eggs will ever hatch, ever bring forth life.

Heading out of the woods and on my way home too, six more times I stop my car, hurry turtles out of the sand, in the middle of the gravel road, before they’re run over by some driver who doesn’t care.

Richard Terrill’s books include Fakebook: Improvisations on a Journey Back to Jazz, Saturday Night in Baoding: a China Memoir, and Coming Late to Rachmaninoff, winner of the Minnesota Book Award for Poetry. He teaches in the MFA program at Minnesota State, Mankato.

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