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We received more than 100 submissions of very short fiction (about 500 words) in response to a prompt issued Aug. 29 by Molly McNett. McNett is an award-winning author and English faculty member at Northern Illinois University. Her prompt required an opening sentence describing "an outrageous, inexplicable situation." McNett selected the following winners:"Losers Weepers," by Marie Watson (First Place);"The Glass Children," by Ashley Keyser (Second Place);Two stories tied for Third Place:"A Popload of Cash," by Andrew Kopecky;"The Tragedy of Childcare," by Ben Covey.The winners were heard during Morning Edition from Tuesday through Friday, Oct. 4-7. Scroll down on this page to see videos of the authors reading their work.McNett also selected six other writers whose work she believed deserved "honorable mention." Videos of them reading their work are collected below.

Flash Fiction Winner Definitely A 'Keeper'

Carl Nelson

Of the 110 submissions for the WNIJ Flash Fiction contest, "Losers Weepers" impressed our judge the most. Author Marie Smysor Watson sent her story in response to a prompt issued by Molly McNett, who selected the winners. The prompt required the opening sentence to describe an outrageous, inexplicable situation.

Watson is from Kewanee. She's seeking a publisher for a short-story collection and is writing her first novel.

McNett says "Losers Weepers" won her over right away because of its use of language:

Notice how everything is really described in detail so that we see the scene in front of us. The tone is lyrical and sweet; but what’s actually happening is dark, so a sense of foreboding grows as we read. This is also a complete story, even though it’s so short; and, because it’s short, it necessarily leaves us dangling uncomfortably, and you get the sense that this is where the writer wants us. I’m a big fan of titles, and this one is great—it’s the back half of a well-known playground sing-song. It’s catchy, but it’s also doing some work in the story, suggesting the eventual outcome for the protagonist.

We include the full text of Watson's story beneath this video of her reading for WNIJ. And we hope you'll read the other winning stories of our Flash Fiction contest. You'll find links to them at the bottom of this article.

                                                        Losers, Weepers

                                                 by Marie Smysor Watson

Emmy found the baby between the half-grown tomato plants, looking up at her solemnly.  His eyes were white; she could just barely see the faint outline that marked his irises.  He was wearing only a diaper, the old cloth kind.  It was pinned at the bend of his chubby legs with yellow pins that were shaped like elephants.  It was muddy on the outside, as if he’d been hiding there for a long while

Oh, you poor thing, Emmy said, after she’d gotten over her shock.  Really, it wasn’t every day that you found a baby with white eyes in your garden – she could be forgiven for being a little taken aback.  How long have you been here? she asked, her voice rising to a pleasant pitch.

He smiled at the soothing sound of her voice, exposing soft, pink gums and tiny, pointed teeth. 

Oh my, Emmy said, holding a hand over her empty breast, where her heart jumped a little.  He was odd looking for sure, but Emmy’s insides tugged at her all the same, reminding her of everything she had lost.

So when a little girl with clinking braids stopped her bike in the alleyway behind Emmy’s house, Emmy stood up straight and, even though she wasn’t very tall, she made an imposing figure as she stood there, a Madonna of the Tomatoes.

‘Scuse me, lady, the little girl said.  She was very small, this girl, and Emmy heard the hesitation in her tiny voice.

What do you need?  Emmy’s own voice was hard.

Have you seen a baby? A baby boy wearing only a diaper?

No, I’m sorry, I haven’t, Emmy said decisively.

Oh, Gawd.  I’m gonna be in so much trouble, the little girl said sorrowfully, settling back on her bike. 

If you find him, don’t get too close.  He’s a Bad Baby, the little girl added over her shoulder.  Then she rode away, her braids keeping time.

As soon as she was out of sight, Emmy turned back to the baby in the tomatoes.  He was still gazing at her with his watchful, white eyes.  As she moved toward him, he raised his arms up to her.  Her heart bloomed at this ancient gesture.  She scooped him up, settling his earthy weight against her hip as if she had been mothering him for a thousand years.

Finders, keepers … she whispered into his hair, hair that smelled like the loamy dirt and so many other things that Emmy did not recognize.

(But she had never been a mother, so how could she? Oh, she had so much to learn! She was almost giddy with the thought).

She walked quickly, with him tucked into her side like a gift, towards the house.  She laughed merrily when he bit her shoulder with his pointed teeth, the sharp pain giving way to a pleasure that would make all of her losses worth it, in the end.

If nothing else, she could be absolutely sure of this.

Good morning, Early Riser! Since 1997 I've been waking WNIJ listeners with the latest news, weather, and program information with the goal of seamlessly weaving this content into NPR's Morning Edition.
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