Plain China

Staying Power

Justin Bostian · Columbia College Chicago · Honorable Mention in Fiction

It was always the same, walking into the large, wide open sanctuary. Hundreds and hundreds of seats, padded green cloth atop stark metal frames interlocked to form the most modern version of the pew, something to keep a congregation comfortable. Before the newest renovations, before the multi-million dollar construction of a white building that sat on the hill, echoing Zion, before the patronage was large enough to provide a steady income for the pastor and his family, there were real pews.

Short

Nicolette Ward · University of Iowa

I invented the humblebrag when I was nine years old, although you’ll never hear me talking about it. “J.J.—my hairdresser—J.J.,” I clarified at the lunch table, with a chuckle I hoped would suggest that I was both embarrassed and better than they were, “says that I have natural highlights. It’s like, what does that even mean?” It meant I had sleek blonde hair that shone prismatic in the warm Nebraska wind. The Springsteen song practically wrote itself. It meant brushes and combs, scrunchies, barrettes, pigtails, ponytails, braids. It meant others patting my head as though they could not help themselves. It meant there would always be a place to hide.

The Bath

Michelle Doughty · Rice University

The master bathroom is an over-focused picture of mirrors, marble, and silver. I am naked under its harsh lights. My arms and legs are coarse and tan against the soft white of my belly and groin. My blonde hair is as pale as my skin, my teeth as white as the corners of my eyes. I am seven years old.

The Hive

Abby Hess · Susquehanna College

My cousin shows me how to capture a firefly and hold it against the ground, two fingers splaying out its wings like a butterfly about to be dissected. She takes a twig and scrapes out the glowing abdomen, takes all its glow away and it stays lit up on the end of the twig like a wand—a green, pulsing light. She twirls it in the air in front of me and I watch the light stay for a while, a tail behind her strokes. She catches another firefly between her cupped hands and gives it to me. Now there are two lightless fireflies on their backs on the driveway lying next to one another, hollow and black, flinging their legs into the air until they both stop moving altogether.

On Dust, Endless Libido, and My Grandfather's Fingers

Danie Shokoohi · University of Iowa

“Do you want me to go in with you?” He’s such a beautiful boy. His ancestors tended desert flowers, while yours were drunk on God and wine in the rose garden. Dark hair, sand-darkened skin, crescent-moon eyes. And he loves you. But he’s not a boy, he’s a man.

The Fairly Quiet Hour

E.L. Deleo · Prescott College · Honorable Mention in Fiction

There is a liquid line between those who are called sane and those who are not. The night I am committed to this hospital, the intake woman leaves me waiting alone on a bench in a hall before beeping her way out through automatic locking doors. Feeling a confused mixture of boredom and terror, I watch normal-seeming adolescent girls approach the large desk to my right.

The Story

Rebecca James · Susquehanna College

I am woozy. We’re walking around his frat house and I’m so drunk my skin feels hot. He’s wearing a sweatshirt, a blue zip-up, and I’m wearing a sailor girl dress of my roommate’s, thin pin stripes. It’s a Friday night, a lifting of school induced stress, and we have nothing better to do. We came to visit my roommate’s friend. I’ve never had Mad Dog before and every room tastes like orange.

Love Like That

Kate MacMullin · Brown University

It is perhaps the most perplexing hairstyle I have ever seen. The braid containing his waist-length hair has been plaited with an incontestably artful hand. It is immaculate. Spectacular. There are no whisper filaments struggling to break free, not one of the three sections indelicately thicker than the rest: perfect. Perhaps the tie-dye slip of a thing that he is holding hands with is the one who has done it, using her hands again and again, hand-in-hand, hand-over-hand, adoringly braiding his hair in the freezing stillness of the post-alarm morning.

I Want to Be Polly

Kit Peterson · SUNY Rockland

I was a bean-like nothing in my mother’s womb, silently waiting to embrace the divinity of violence. Early into her pregnancy my mother filled an empty bathtub with about two inches of blood. I wanted her hemorrhage for my own, even then. The day I was born, there was a record-breaking storm, accidental deaths in the paper. I felt the cold cutting through my mother’s stomach as she trod through the icy hospital parking lot, barbs of snowfall and wind chill aimed at the both of us.

Helpless

William Lambert · University of Connecticut

Jimmy swerved into a tree. Drunk. I fix a pot of coffee. “He’s an idiot. An idiot with a broken arm,” my mother says, shaking her head with a brief, caustic laugh, “He blew a two-point-oh, Billy, can you believe it?” Poor woman, I think, suppressing a smirk at my mother’s manic dyslexia. With sadistic amusement I imagine her answering the door—grumbling all the while in fear that my stepfather would be woken up by the racket—before learning that Jimmy had been rushed to the hospital.

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