A roundup of winning entries in a contest that honors the ability to keep it short

Somewhere back in the deep, distant past — 2003 maybe — the Planet introduced the Really Very Extremely Short Story Contest, asking for submissions of 750 words or less. We published a few winning stories, but then the contest seemed to take a Really Very Extremely Long Hiatus.Well, it's back — a whole new batch of bite-sized fiction, just in time for those Thanksgiving journeys over the river and through the woods when you would kill for something to read, or for those after-dinner doldrums when you need an edifying alternative to four more hours of football-watching with Uncle Marvin.

Some of the stories are recent entries. Some are buried treasures unearthed from the RVSSC vaults. All accomplish a great deal in very few words.

Chase Squires' "Lo-Flo" is a case in point. His is the shortest story of the bunch, but he manages in 366 words to do several things at once. He captures the scope and the particulars of an elderly woman's entire life, right down to her vinyl flooring; conveys the peculiarly insular world of a home show at the Trop; and addresses the influx of new development in St. Pete. At the same time, the story can be read as a dead-on parody of a certain American author (you'll know who when you read it).

Brian Lott's "Martian Interstate 431-B" begins and ends with a man sitting on his porch in Ybor, having a drink and watching the traffic. But the protagonist's thoughts take us all over the map — from musings about Martian freeways to thoughts about a girl in his office to nightmarish images of car crashes. Somehow it all hangs together, anchored in specific details about the man's job and family (there's a great bit about what it's like to write for a shopper magazine) and driven by the tragedy at the center of his life — an event that Lott introduces almost off-handedly, and is that much more startling as a result.

W.S. Totin submitted two stories, one of which led to the other. In "Since 'Nam," set in a time between Vietnam and Columbine, four boys on "the precipice of 18" play war games until underlying anxieties suddenly explode. The original version of the story, Totin told us, ran close to 3,000 words. Cutting it down to contest size was a major pain, and a few weeks later — sarcasm therapy? — he entered another piece venting his frustrations about the whole process: "How to write a really short, short, short story (in 750 words or less)." We thought it probably summed up the frustrations of everyone who entered, and was very funny to boot, so we're running it as well.

Totin's mock guidelines include the acronymic KISSSS: "Keep it simple, short and sweet, stupid!" Thankfully, the stories in this issue followed only one of these rules — they're short, but they're neither simple nor sweet. We think they'll last in your memory at least as long as that Thanksgiving feast.

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