Stranger Fiction

Meet the Winners of SFR's Annual Writing Contest. This Week - Fiction.

 It’s become a well-known fact that, when it comes to our annual writing contest, SFR makes Santa Fe’s many talented authors jump through a few hoops. Fiction writers were allowed to write about any subject they wanted, but with one caveat: They had to include the words “Susana,” “howling lampreys” and “insidious” somewhere in their stories. In the nonfiction category, with a nod to one of 2012’s biggest news stories, we asked them to write about drought—literally, metaphorically or however they could envision it. Poets were asked to use the phrase “It’s a trap!” as their starting point, and the three winners (as poets are wont to do) offered us no shortage of imagination.

SFR will publish the three winning fiction stories this week, followed by the winners in nonfiction and poetry categories next week.

2012 Writing Contest Winners


Dawn Sperber is a writer and editor living in Eldorado, whose fantastical stories have appeared in Gargoyle, Hunger Mountain, Moon Milk Review and elsewhere. Look for the upcoming issue of EcoSource: A Guide to Sustainability in Action, where she highlights public transportation’s gifts and Santa Fe’s resources. For editing and tutoring, you can reach her at

A Santa Fe long-timer, Sally Rodgers draws on more than 40 years of environmental and social justice advocacy in her writing. She is working on two books: a young adult adventure novel about global warming, and a fact-based, science fiction thriller that intertwines invasive species and genetic engineering with the corrupting influences of corporate empires in politics. Her life is full of blessings—biological and adopted children and grandchildren, good friends, good animals, organic homegrown fruit and veggies and the sustaining wonders of nature.

When he’s not creating or promoting his art displayed at Dinosaurs and More, a local meteorite and fossil gallery, Doug Bootes can be found with family, gardening or meditating with the cats that share his studio. He has written a novel, several short stories and a backpack full of poems while studying creative writing at SFCC.


Ben Saucier is from Sarasota, Florida. He studied journalism at Hampshire College in Amherst, Mass. He lives in Santa Fe with his wonderful girlfriend, where he cooks to pay the bills and paints/writes to ease his soul.

Paula Nixon lives in Santa Fe with her husband and two cats and loves exploring the Southwest. She finds writing to be the best way to understand life as well as being a great excuse to ask questions. She is honored to be among the winners of the Santa Fe Reporter’s 2012 writing contest.

Jenn Messier: I am a mid-30s mama from bitter-cold Maine. I came to Santa Fe randomly chasing some sun. Now I’m off to Hawaii ’cause I’m craving water and that’s where the daddy got a new job. I have been secretly pursuing art for a while now, and also the mystery of life. It ain’t here. Just kidding, take care Santa Fe.


Cynthia Broshi recently returned to New Mexico after nearly 40 years in the San Francisco Bay area. As well as practicing poetry and visual arts, she teaches Jin Shin Jyutsu, a hands-on art of harmonizing energy flow in the body ( She lives with her husband near Cerrillos.

Daniel Bohnhorst studies poetry at Pacific University, and repairs string instruments at the Violin Shop of Santa Fe. He recently appeared in Poesía de México, the ninth production in Teatro Paraguas’ Poetry Tribute series. He can be found contra dancing at the Odd Fellows Hall on Cerrillos Road.

A painter as well as a poet, Judith Toler has been an editor, an English professor and a faculty union organizer. She started writing poetry after retiring and moving to New Mexico. Since then, her poems have won several awards and have appeared in over 15 publications. She recently completed her first collection of poems, In the Shine of Broken Things.

Fiction—First Place

We've Already Been Invented

by Dawn Sperber

“Let me tell you about your hair,” the businessman announced from the next table over at Burger King, a piece of French fry on his lip.
The guy was so bald, that’s what got Kyle, who was about to take a sip of Mountain Dew and, with the straw inches from his mouth, froze like he’d been caught in the basilisk’s gaze. If he were still in the Dungeons & Dragons: Baldur’s Gate, 1999 edition computer game he’d been playing almost continuously since it came out earlier that year, he’d have to wait powerless for two plays ’till he could move again.  
The guy didn’t hold the suspense. “We invented your hair.” He was real impressed with his joke, all right. His three friends in suits laughed, their gray-shadowed cheeks full of combo meals. They were attorneys, or maybe corporate salesmen, men with their eyes on the prize. Baldy raised his eyebrows at his seatmates in triumph, licked the fry from his lip and confirmed to Kyle, sitting at the neighboring table, “We did.” As if Baldy even knew Kyle. As if Baldy even had hair.
Kyle locked eyes with him, slid the straw between his lips, and loudly slurped Mountain Dew as if it were Stone-to-Flesh elixir. He gave a deep burp.
The man in a suit picked up three French fries, swiped them through his streaky ketchup pile, and said, “We invented your burp, too.” He popped the fries in his mouth, chewed, then added, “And your insolence.” He nodded as he swallowed, and his portly tribe chuckled and continued inhaling the burgers that maintained their buoyant midriffs.
Kyle flipped back his long bangs, then messed his hair into a shaggy spectacle, points going everywhere. His friend Brian watched it all in his heavy-lidded stoner way. Who’s to say how much Brian took in; he might have still been back in the D & D game paused in the basement.
Kyle turned to the man, crazy-haired, and lisped, “Sorry, perv. I don’t dig the old guys.” He squeaked out an elongated kiss, winked and took a humungous bite of Whopper.
Baldy raised his own Whopper in toast and also ate a bite. The men at his table started another conversation, but Kyle could still feel Baldy’s attention. He wondered if the guy could smell weed on them, if he even knew the smell of it. Kyle and Brian hot-boxed the game room right before leaving the house, so chances were they reeked.
‘If I had my choice,’ Kyle thought, ‘which spell would I blast him with now?’ Fireball was the winner, and he imagined the fake wood-paneled restaurant blazing white, right before the boom and flashing orange, boom boom boom boomboom. He was advanced level now and his Fireball spells got six explosions instead of the novice three or four. ‘Yeah, I’d annihilate you,’ he thought at the guy, his mind full of insidious flames as he kept chewing.
Baldy swallowed loudly, adjusted his pant leg, and asked over to their table, “Let me guess: you go drinking in the woods?” He scratched his scalp with his middle finger. “You guys make bonfires and smoke big joints and screw girls in the dark under the sycamores?”
“Why are you talking to me, man?!” Kyle yelled, eyebrows diagonal. He shoved the last of his burger in his mouth, stood up, and swiped his burger wrapper, full of fries and ketchup, to the floor. He grabbed his skateboard, and Brian, sensing the trend, balled up his burger paper with half his meal inside and stuffed it in his sweatshirt pocket. There was a short fry left on the table, and with a shrug, Brian came to life. Spotting the opportunity, he took aim and flicked the fry at the businessmen’s table.
It hit the edge and dropped. “Have fun, tough guys,” Baldy said and ate three more fries.
Kyle and Brian’s hands slapped open the Burger King doors, and they skated down the mall hallway, wheels clacking on the ridges of the tiles. Brian pulled some fries from his pocket, and ate as he skated. And it was stupid, but as they passed the regularly spaced yellow wall lamps, Kyle couldn’t stop thinking about that damn guy’s woods, with the trees flickering in orange light, not from Fireballs but bonfires, the woods where that guy went when he was young, when his friends passed him a joint, and then he drifted away from the fire like smoke, to lay beneath the tall trees and stars with a girl, probably someone classy like Susana, who bummed a cigarette at lunch.
Kyle and Brian skated the three flat streets to his house and thundered down to the basement game room, still muggy with stale pot smoke. Kyle pulled his kicked-out chair back to the computer, and Brian moved the mouse to wake the screen. His thumb hit the space bar, and their D & D game restarted as if they’d never left it.
“Damn Baldy doesn’t even have hair,” Kyle fumed as he shot an ogre herd. “You don’t know me,” imagining his targets were that guy and his bloodsucking friends screaming like howling lampreys. What really sucked was that it had sounded fun, but this side of the city didn’t even have woods anymore—they’d been flattened by subdivisions and stripmalls. He’d never sat by a bonfire, looking up at the sycamores with a girl in his arms, and that guy had. And one day, Kyle would go bald.

Fiction—Second Place
The Joker’s Wild Card
by Sally Rodgers

The invitation, shaped like a witch’s cauldron, was addressed in murder-red lettering that oozed down its envelope. Steven winced when he saw the return label.
“Hope this doesn’t ruin Linda’s day,” he mumbled.
Mail in hand, he followed the spicy scent of Saturday breakfast to the kitchen where his wife was preparing her specialty burrito, smothered in a Christmas of Chimayó red and Hatch green.
Steven leaned to kiss salt and peppered curls and slid one strong arm of a varsity wrestler’s frame around her waist. With the other, he held the envelope in front of her.
“Want to open it or shall I?”
“Why don’t you read it to me? Then we can suffer together,” she cracked.
As a state Senate leader and as political manners dictate, Steven and Linda were obligatory invitees to Chip and Susana’s holiday parties—theoretically, nonpartisan events.
He held a wood stir spoon like the microphone he used on the Senate floor, winked at Linda, cleared his throat and, in a sonorous voice, said, “Mr. President…I rise to…,” then he read:

Come If You Dare
Join us for costumes and champagne and find out who’s haunting your house. Spooktacular prizes for guests whose costumes match who they were in a past life. Our own Svengali will hypnotize the curious and reveal your previous incarnation – or – if you’re not brave enough, come as your favorite fantasy movie character.
Date: October 31, 2012 Time: 7 to… Place: Chip and Susana’s
Loch Nessie and her Howling Lampreys backup singers will return to entertain us with their eldritch rhythms and haunting lyrics.

Steven chuckled. “This is weirder than Susana’s usual creepy ideas, but at least she gave us different costume options than last year. Her version of ‘Right To Choose,’ I suppose.”
“Wait, I almost missed the tiny print at the bottom. Oh wow—more ideological OCD. Get this…” He continued to read from the invitation.

If you’re not staff or an appointee, bring your driver’s license and birth certificate to ensure admission. Failure to do so may result in spending the rest of your evening with I.C.E.

“Her sense of humor, all right. About as funny as her education agenda,” Steven grimaced.
“Or her vetoes—slashing funds for Main Street jobs, women’s health, nursing home abuse reporting,” Linda chorused. She put their steaming plates on the breakfast table and gestured to Steven to sit down.
“Let’s not forget her executive orders that the New Mexico Supreme Court struck down, or her tax giveaways to the Smuck brothers’ oily pals,” Steven continued.
“Stop it. I’m eating,” Linda admonished. “Sweetheart, you’re in her super PAC’s crosshairs, so why would we go this year? I’d rather volunteer to clean up the dog park.”
“Because Mr. Citizens United himself is going to be there, and I’m curious to see which dirty dozen corporate lobbyists he’ll attract. We have comp tickets, but the grapevine said the suits will shell out high five figures per ticket. W’s Supreme Court institutionalized pay-to-play, and Kerk Strive wrote the new rules,” Steven answered in a voice that mirrored his anger and frustration.
With an understanding sigh, Linda said, “It might be fun to watch her squirm if I go as Margaret Sanger.”
“You know Linda, you resemble Margaret Sanger—the same compassionate brown eyes, full of strength and determination.”
“Ahhh. I love you, too. But really…this could top last year’s party.”
“Maybe,” Steven mused as he secured the invitation between the ‘Yes We Can’ and ‘Stop Voter Suppression’ refrigerator magnets. “But last year’s party…such lousy options—a scary ocean creature, your favorite Southwestern disease or its vector. Kind of hard to find the fun in hantavirus, plague, West Nile or valley fever. No surprise she gave the monster prize to her chief of staff Heath Farmer for his Giant Poisonous Jellyfish outfit.”
“That wasn’t a costume. It’s what he wears to work,” Linda laughed. “You have to give them creative points for a rock band of opera understudies and orchestra interns. Love the name—Loch Nessie and her Howling Lampreys. It’s so descriptive of her Queendom’s court jesters. I really liked the Lampreys’ body bag costumes that looked like coal slurry slime.”
“And—those primitive-brained lamprey heads with razor-toothed mouth holes that suck the life out of everything. You know, they did look like her rubber stamps on the Environmental Improvement Board when they overturned the global warming rules,” Steven added. “Of course, she missed the irony. The diseases, their vectors and Giant Poisonous Jellyfish are worse because of climate change.”
“No, no,” Linda giggled. “They looked more like the Oil Commission at the hearing on the pit rule. But those General Bull Moose good ole boys would need to look more like unlined oil pits seeping into groundwater.”
“Her staff’s vector costumes weren’t imaginative, though. Way too many deer mice squirting water guns labeled ‘mouse pee,’ blood-drooling mosquitoes and flea people who kept jumping on everyone. Apparently, no one could figure out how to make something that looked like a soil fungus,” Steven surmised.
“I just hated the flea people. Every time I got a drink, one of them knocked it out of my hand. Spilled red wine all over my isopod costume. Ruined it! I spent hours making those cute pill bug legs,” Linda complained.
“Have you noticed the insidious drift towards the macabre in her themes?” Steven asked, swallowing the last of his coffee.
“Her parties…or her policies? Both, actually,” Linda answered.
Steven nodded agreement. “Next year, we’ll have our own Halloween party. I’ll tell sewer mouth Heath he has to come as Edward Scissorhands for the way he reaches across the aisle.”
“Enough of this sport. We’ll go, and make the best of it,” Linda summarized.
On Halloween night, Steven and Linda were greeted at the Residence by a parking valet attired as a zombie. Written in orange Day-Glo paint across its grey-green forehead was the word ‘UNION.’
“We’re doing things a bit differently this year,” the zombie informed them. If I may see your invitation, my assistant here can then direct you to one of our three reception lines,” he said gesturing to another zombie with a pelt of a Mexican grey wolf draped around its neck.
“Why three?” Linda queried.
“There are different events planned for each room. Ah, I see you’re going to the Dungeon. You lucky folks will be the first group to meet Svengali. When everyone is done being processed, uh—I mean, finished with your assigned room’s events, then you’ll come together in the ballroom for music and dancing.”
“What are the other rooms?”
“Well, there’s the Swift Boaters Clubhouse and the Samhain Inner Sanctum room for our staff and appointees.” The zombie’s smirky reply made Linda shudder.
“I didn’t want to ask the zombies, but what is a Samhain?” Linda whispered a few minutes later to Steven as they walked towards the Dungeon line.
Steven snuggled her to his side, his protective Batman cloak wrapped around her shoulder and answered, “Samhain is the Witches’ Sabbath. So appropriate. Hang in there, love. This couldn’t be worse than sitting through a State of the State speech.”
With a gentle nudge, Steven said. “Linda, look around. I just realized everyone in the Dungeon is a Democrat. There’s almost a caucus—of both houses. Tommy even drove up from Roswell. He looks good as Wolverine, doesn’t he? There may be unplanned entertainment if he and Heath are in the ballroom at the same time.”
The hypnotist Svengali, whom everyone immediately recognized as Ray Messky, made a grand entrance in his Magneto costume. A faint smell of sulphur wafted in behind him.
“It’s the currents in the cape,” he said, addressing his audience’s pee-yew expressions. “Must be a short.”
Summoning his meager store of charm, Magneto proposed a toast as soon as he saw that each guest had a glass of champagne: “To a history-making 2013 legislative session.” Everyone politely clicked glasses and downed their bubbly.    
It wasn’t long before people were woozily looking for a place to sit down. Conversation ceased.
“Keep your eyes on the spinning mirror ball,” Magneto crooned in a reassuring voice. “That’s it. Relax. Close your eyes. Now, repeat after me…”
Steven struggled to speak. “Linda, what happened? I can’t remember anything after the toast.”
Her voice equally strained, Linda replied, “Me either. That champagne must have been pretty strong. Had a strange taste, too. Oh well, let’s go to the ballroom and get this over with.”
Susana had transformed her favorite prom dress into a Marie Antoinette costume, and waved her fan like a semaphore. When fully open, it proclaimed, in her signature red ink, ‘Let them eat bologna burritos.’ She was giddy as she joined her mentor Kerk Strive, attired as the Joker, in the ballroom.
They were soon surrounded by mewling suckup-ophants from the Swift Boaters clubroom. Teapot Dome past lifers muscled their way to the head of the circle, brandishing their checks like Marie Antoinette’s fan. They were joined by Magneto.
“Yes or No? Did you get the job done?” The Joker required results.
Magneto crowed, “I did them as a group. Legislators got the same post-hypnotic suggestion. On opening day, before the House and Senate elect their leadership, they will rise in unison and announce they’ve changed parties. Their spouses will be in the gallery primed to raise ‘Go Susana’ signs. I will, of course, alert the press to expect a wild card surprise in the leadership elections.”
The Joker hugged Marie Antoinette and hissed, “Money is power. Destroying your opponents by any means is a virtue. Never forget these things, my Queen. I’ll have Intersections GPS and ALEC email you their to-do lists tomorrow.”
“Magneto, come with me,” the Joker commanded, gesturing to a nearby hallway. “Here’s your to-do list: Notify the multinationals. Get in touch with the yellowcake guys and assure them they can start using those uranium tailings piles to make cinder blocks for low income housing on the Rez—and in Santa Fe. Tell the coal boys to start building Desert Rock. Let Carlsbad know it will soon be a crime to oppose anything they want to do.”
Then, rushing to the ballroom, the Joker grabbed the Howling Lampreys’ microphone and boomed, “Swift Boaters—tell our people they’ll never have to worry about regulations again. New Mexico is open for business. Our business.”
Returning to Belen after their evenings out, Steven and Linda usually shared their thoughts. But not this night. They both had headaches. Steven wiped the sweat from his face.
Back home in the kitchen, Steven begged “I don’t know why I’m so hungry…but love, could you make us some bologna burritos?”

Fiction—Third Place

Auditioning Waves in Venice
by Doug Bootes

Sailing past the Palisades, Raven swoops and dips over the sidewalk on her red mountain bike, deftly weaving through pedestrians flocking like seagulls to the Santa Monica Pier and nearby beaches. Her straight ebony hair blows in sun-brightened, bleach-blond tips like tassels of gold, contrasting sharply with the cerulean sky and layers of pastels composing the masterpiece surrounding her. Just another day in Southern California, she thinks. Lean and sharp, her commanding air of confidence gives no hint that she’s only 17. Her calcite-green eyes, shielded from the sun by dark Ray Bans, take in everything.
It’s a 14-mile ride from the Malibu Beach RV Park (Where the summer spends the winter!), which is currently home to her dad’s gray VW Vanagon. He’s still snoring loudly with her cat Frog at his feet, the midmorning sun threatening their slumber through dusty windows.
She cruises by Navy, then Rose Avenue, as they empty onto Venice Beach, which smells like fruit that’s slightly overripe year-round. Patchouli incense greets her as she passes a gypsy fortune-teller smoking what must be the longest cigarette made. A blue cloud of low-grade marijuana smoke bathes a pod of aging hippies staring at skimpily clad nubile bodies shining with coconut suntan lotion as she arrives at the Sage Man’s stand.
Upright and tall, his ivory teeth flash in shadows of dark skin under his Chinese coolie hat. As he wraps smudge sticks, his bars of sage soap are displayed on the table before him. Graying dreadlocks cascade to his narrow waist, and his bare feet are calloused and broad. Picking up two bars, she looks at him and asks,
“Can I pay you later?”
He nods, smiling.
“You’re awesome, Abraham!”
“How’s your father doing?
“Same as always, sleeping late and partying all night,” she says, then asks, “How’s the weather?” in reference to the cops and gangs that patrol the beach.
“Partly cloudy. Slice is making his rounds, so beware,” warns the tall man quietly. Then, returning to his normal baritone, “Tell your father he’s a lucky man to have such a powerful young woman for a daughter!”
“Word. Talk to you later, Abraham.”

The Venice Boardwalk is a winding river of flesh; a spicy curry of jugglers, lunatics, bikers, skaters, rockers, punks, addicts, alcoholics, body builders, porn stars, pyromaniacs, celebrities, surfers and tourists. Alternately dubbed the “Creative soul of Los Angeles” or the “Last great slum by the sea,” Venice doesn’t care; it just keeps dancing on the sand.
As soon as her backpack hits the pavement, Raven’s iPhone buzzes with a text, synchronized with the arrival of Todd, a camouflaged artist inhabiting the alleys off of Speedway.
“Whassup, Rave?” Todd asks. His feral red hair sports debris and he emanates odors of stale beer, armpit and moldy mint.
She ignores him, checking her iPhone. The text, from her best friend Elliot, reads, “Cu at 4:30.”
She texts back, “Sidewalk Cafe GTG TTY,” as two Los Angeles policemen pass by. She watches under her sunglasses, recognizing them both. To her, cops are just another gang, no different than the Crips or the Venice13, whose tags cover the lightposts, dumpsters, alleys, even the palm trees—layer over layer declaring war in spray paint and blood. Slice is the collections man for the Crips and particularly enjoys his job when someone refuses to pay, which hasn’t happened since he removed the ear of a defiant artist last year, now known as Van Gogh, despite his drab paintings of sunsets.
“You going to paint today?” Raven asks.
“I don’t know, man,” Todd gazes despondently over the blue green water as a small plane drones overhead. “I’m looking for some inspiration.”
“Inspiration costs money; did you sell something?”
“Yeah, the Ted Turner on a frozen hash brown box.” Todd’s colorful paintings are stenciled portraits executed with Krylon spray paint on discarded cardboard.
“Why don’t you just get a prescription? Then you can get weed at the dispensaries,” Raven asks.
“You know that shit’s rigged,” he says, lowering his voice and darting his eyes. “It’s all an insidious conspiracy, dude, they get your name and then you’re on a list. Besides, the stuff your dad grows is the bomb.” Locally dubbed the Sandman, it is the best on the beach, and Raven knows she will sell all she has brought by noon.
A turban-topped electric guitar player on rollerblades with an amplifier strapped to his white tunic whizzes by, backwards, gracefully arcing in and out of the crowd without missing a note of his psychedelic melody. He’s followed by a tall man attired in fluorescent lime polyester accented with white-rimmed sunglasses. He’s carrying a sign that reads, “LORD, PLEASE SAVE JODIE FOSTER FROM THE HOWLING LAMPREYS.”
“Come back in a while, I’ll save you one,” Raven says.
“The doctor is in!” Todd triumphantly exclaims.
Raven shivers as she thinks of the time he told her, “I love you like I love the smell of Krylon.” Impatiently, she says, “Get out of here before I change my mind.”
Before he can go, she sees Slice coming toward them with two of his enforcers.
“Wait,” she says, grabbing his dirty sleeve.
Three shadows darken her space.
“Disappear.” Slice sneers menacingly to Todd, who obediently vanishes. He lowers his sunglasses and scans Raven from head to toe.
“Where’s daddy? He shouldn’t leave you out here to run his business.”
“Here,” Raven says as she retrieves a roll of ten 20-dollar bills from her sock.
One of the big men behind Slice takes the cash and checks it.
“Not enough, daddy’s girl. Tell pops it’s four bills a week now if he wants to keep doing biz. Meanwhile,” he leans closer and winks, “let me know if you need anything.”
Raven unconsciously draws back, trying not to show that she’s trembling.
As the menacing trio moves to the next vendor she locks her bike to a palm tree covered with graffiti and leans on the trunk. Fifty yards away, she senses the ocean’s pulse bring her racing heartbeat back to the soothing rhythm of the waves falling and breaking. An uneasy feeling has been growing inside of her lately, a need for something solid. Her freestyle life with her dad gives her no security; it’s as if she’s walking on thin ice over quicksand.
Her eyes drift to a white elephant of a building at the back of a vacant lot where a large black bird surfs an updraft. The shadow it casts on the old wooden structure sends a chill up her spine, causing her head to tickle unpleasantly.
The old man in the next space, who she just started seeing around here, is polishing a small sculpture of a nude woman lying on her side. Out of the corner of her eye she sees Psycho Sue coming up the wide cement path. Susana Johansen, aka Psycho Sue, is a semi-retired prostitute prone to violent outbursts and crack binges, the latter of which partially account for her weighing less than 85 pounds. Her tempestuous brown hair is wilder than usual this morning, and Raven sees her ferociously intense gaze focus on the nude sculpture. She erupts, loudly squawking,
“COVER HER UP! COVER HER UP! Why would you leave her out there like that?”
The man looks startled as Sue snatches it up like a cat on a mouse, demanding,
“Don’t you know? They found a girl dead this morning in the alley by the Hotel Erwin, she was lying just like this, naked, just a little girl. They were taking pictures and drawing lines, but no one would cover her up!”
As they stand staring at each other Raven can see the man’s dark eyes, so dark they pull her in like smoldering black holes.
“Please, cover her up. Be gentle with her,” Sue croons, her voice empty and far away. He obliges and places the carving in his backpack.
Trying not to stare, Raven can’t shake the creepy feeling from looking in his eyes.

By 4 pm, the clouds are heavy and ominous, holding the beach hostage as a cool mist coming off the water empties it of tourists. Sighing, Raven lights a cigarette, checks her nails and wonders if her dad will make his daily appearance.
Each afternoon, his mercurial groupies gather, and their laughter, arguing and singing celebrate the setting sun. They are not only attracted by the wicked weed he grows and shares; it’s his tall tales and the laughter in his eyes, the passion with which he spins them like a dervish. Her father embraces the hallucinogenic hopes and dysfunctional dreams of the creative spirits drawn here, holding them in his heart, where they incubate and keep his own fertile imagination warm.
She has been with him since she was 10, when her mother was hit by a brown Toyota Corolla while out for a walk one evening. He’s been traveling back and forth from New Mexico, where he grows the pot, to California for 20 years, with an annual three-week foray to “look for treasure.” His dream is to find a lost Mayan relic that was said to be hidden by pirates in south Florida, where he grew up. He loves to tell her how he’ll find it and buy a 32-foot ketch with teak decks and a mahogany cabin where he’ll spend the rest of his days drifting the high seas. “You can come, too, mate!” he snarls in his pirate voice, “AAARRRR!” Raven gathers up her stuff and rides to the Sidewalk Café. Seated at an inside table, she orders a cappuccino and a hummus plate big for two.
Elliot shows up, wet and breathing hard. Angular and thin, his afro makes him look even taller than his six feet two inches. His dark eyes light up when he sees the food.
“It’s getting pretty gnarly out there,” he says, flipping his skateboard up and leaning it against the wall. In one swift move, he uses a piece of pita to scoop a pile of hummus into his mouth.
Braving the elements, a procession of Hare Krishnas jangles the boardwalk, spreading their message of bliss. As they pass, an electric guitar’s wail blasts from an amplifier hidden under an umbrella-covered lawn chair, shredding a psychedelic cover of the Beatles’ “Rocky Raccoon.” The chanting and electric wailing compete, and then grow apart as the devotees disappear into the mist and the benediction fades, the last notes drowned by quarter-sized raindrops.
“Weird,” says Elliot.
“Yeah, well, I’ll tell you what’s weird,” Raven says, and proceeds to tell him about the old man and Psycho Sue.
Deciding the weather is too foreboding, Elliot dials his mom’s number and asks her to come and pick them up. Raven calls her dad; no answer so she leaves a message. “Hey Dad, the weather sucks so we’re going to Elliot’s house. Give me a call, love you.”

That night, asleep in the guest room of Elliot’s parents’ house, she dreams of a pirate ship with tattered sails impossibly slipping through the narrow canals of Venice. She feels herself in the water; a bony, icy hand grabs her leg and pulls her under blue-black waves. A face appears: the old man from the beach, pulling her along the ocean floor. Her chest feels like it’s going to burst; she’s dizzy and looking into black eyes that are swallowing her, glinting with malice. There’s a parrot on his shoulder, a feathered Psycho Sue squawking “COVER HER UP, COVER HER UP!” She bolts upright in the bed, sweating and gasping for air, her heart pounding.
What the hell? Chilled to the bone and shivering, she pulls the sheet and comforter up and checks her phone. 3:22. Nothing from dad.
3:23 am. Still nothing from dad.
She pulls the covers tight, hugging the crispy clean pillow.

The Judges:

Gabe Gomez is a poet and music critic. He holds a BA in creative writing from the College of Santa Fe and an MFA in creative writing from Saint Mary’s College of California. Gabe has taught at the University of New Orleans, Tulane University, and the College of Santa Fe. His first poetry collection The Outer Bands was awarded the 2006 Andres Montoya Poetry Prize by the University of Notre Dame Press. His new poetry collection The Seed Bank was recently published by Mouthfeel Press. Gabe is the Director of Communications for St. John’s College and was recently appointed to the Santa Fe Arts Commission. He judged the poetry entries; SFR’s editorial staff judged the fiction and nonfiction entries.

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