2022 Grand Prize

I knew she was trouble the second she walked into my 24-hour deli, laundromat, and detective agency, and after dropping a load of unmentionables in one of the heavy-duty machines (a mistake that would soon turn deadly) she turned to me, asking for two things: find her missing husband and make her a salami on rye with spicy mustard, breaking into tears when I told her I couldn't help—I was fresh out of salami.

John Farmer, Aurora, CO


Grand Panjandrum's Special Award

And so the two pachyderms with the same first name met, and they formed the jazz duo legend known as the Elephants Gerald.

Brent Guernsey, Springfield, VA




“Hoist the mainsail ye accursed swine” shouted the Captain over the roar of the waves as the ship was tossed like a cork dropped from a wine bottle into a jacuzzi when the faucet is wide open and the jets are running full blast and one has just settled into the water with a glass of red wine to ease the aches and pains after a day of hard labor raking leaves from the front yard.

Joe Tussey, Daniels, WV

Dishonorable Mentions

The raiding party of seven Viking longships approached New Amsterdam quietly, captained by brave Sven, Ragnar, Erik, Jann, Erik, Thor, and Erik, seeking fulfilment of the ancient legends of untold riches to come: IKEA, ABBA, Bjork, smoked salmon, the Minnesota NFL franchise, Greta Garbo, and crunchy delicious fiber-rich rye crispbreads.

David S. Nelson, Falls Church, VA

It was only when the booming voice of the Sergeant-at-Arms rang out declaiming the surprising order for each and every member of the firing squad to shoot the Sergeant-at-Arms himself and then turn their rifles on each other, an order assiduously followed by the well-trained soldiers, that the cigarette-smoking, blindfolded Gerry Corker truly appreciated the seemingly endless hours his mother had denied him on the baseball field during his lonely childhood, instead sending him every afternoon to Crazy Barney’s School of Mimicry and Ventriloquism.

John Shafer, Tonbridge, Kent, UK

As he hacked through the dense undergrowth and tangled bushes in search of the marauding big cat, Desmond heard something rustling in the vegetation behind him, so he turned around, brandishing his machete, only to find Susan with a mug of tea telling him dinner would be in half an hour.

Vivien Doyle, Buxton, Derbyshire, UK


Children's & Young Adult Literature


Three bears arrived at their den to discover a yellow haired girl sleeping, and as she was neither too hot nor too cold, neither too soft nor too hard, but just right, they ate her.                                                             

Neil Prowd, Ballarat, Victoria, Australia

Dishonorable Mentions

Amanda is brown-haired and small for her age, but soon she will learn that she is actually the reincarnation of a powerful witch burned at the stake several centuries ago; also two boys will fall in love with her and she will have to choose between them, which is mostly what this book is about.

Hannah Thomasy, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

As the fearsome jabberwock bore down on Baldor the Unlikely, he suddenly regretted having passed on the vorpal sword in favor of the “verpul” sword that was half the price and “practically the exact same thing, I swear you won’t even notice the difference.”

James Avery, Millington, TN

These stories, my children, are about Prince Charming and his three girlfriends: Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, and Cinderella.

Emily Ho, Los Angeles, CA

The Director of Child Protective Services was aghast, and needed clarification, “Let me get this straight—You were rocking your baby on the tree top, and when the wind blew, the cradle rocked and the bough broke, the cradle fell, and down came baby, cradle and all?”

John Tracy, Palm Desert, CA


Crime & Detective


The detectives wore booties, body suits, hair nets, masks and gloves and longed for the good old days when they could poke a corpse with the toes of their wingtips if they damn well felt like it.

Jim Anderson, Flushing, MI

Dishonorable Mentions

They called Rock Mahon the original hard-boiled detective, and it wasn’t because of his gravelly voice, or his crusty manner, or his chiseled jaw, or his cement-like abs, or his feldspar fists, or his iron incorruptibility, or his calcite cynicism, or his uzonite unsentimentality, but because of his goddamned, geezly, infuriating habit of polluting every crime scene with shells dropped from the hard-boiled eggs he munched without surcease.

Barbara Stevenson, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

As detective Harry Bolton knelt down looking at the fifth murdered prostitute in as many weeks, he thought his was a cold cruel city and that maybe he should have taken that job in rural North Carolina but he didn’t think he could be like sheriff Andy Taylor all in black and white, plus he couldn’t  stand Aunt Bea’s falsetto voice, and who names their kid Opie anyway, he had to know it rhymed with dopey, you might as well just call him dipstick, that doesn’t rhyme with much.

Doug Self, Brunswick, ME

The heat blanketed the small village in much the same way a body bag blankets a murder victim, except that a body bag is usually black, which the heat wasn’t, as heat is colorless, and the village wasn’t dead, which a murder victim usually is.

Eric Rice, Madison, WI


Dark & Stormy

The Inspiration

It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents—except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.  

Edward Bulwer-Lytton, Paul Clifford


It was a Dark 'n Stormy night: Dark n' Stormy cocktails were half-off at Tata's, the breast-themed barbeque chicken restaurant.

Ross Ozarka, Auckland, New Zealand

Dishonorable Mentions

It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell mainly in the plain —except for occasional intervals when it was checked by Andalusian fields full of grain (for it is in Spain that our story takes place)—and the heroine of our story, Pam Plona, was in the middle of giving birth to a minotaur after running with the bulls.

Joe McKenna, Iowa City, IA

It was a Dark ‘n Stormy night; the rum fell in torrents—except when it was checked by an equal, if not more substantial, measure of ginger beer (for it is in a highball glass that our drink lies), accented with a hit of lime juice from a well-placed wedge, and perhaps a dash of Angostura bitters, though that is at the bartender’s discretion and certainly not required.

Allison Bryski, Durham, NC

It was a dark and stormy night, made darker still by the melancholy that gripped the drainpipes of my soul in a plumber's wrench of despair that opened the u-trap of my consciousness to remove the last, great greaseball of hope.

Jim Anderson, Flushing, MI


Fantasy & Horror


Sir Reginald Brimwater, Guardian of the Tome of Remembrance, Herald of the Immortal Word, Voice of the Histories Both Recent and Ancient, Archivist of the Eternal Ledger, and Memory of the Empire had forgotten his quill, but he was pretty sure he got the gist of what what’s-his-face was saying.

Jordan Peace, Mountlake Terrace, WA

Dishonorable Mentions

In dreamlike Wyhotth, where musesang the vibrant lyssle-wing, the Brether-Clave of Amathoro had gathered at last for Sothenfeast; knurl and truthseller alike parleyed anxiously of the sure bequeathment of Voro-Denang, legendary Kalx of Vestramne, but none more querulously than Jeff, who had just come in from Buffalo and didn't know what the hell anything was supposed to be.

Nicole Postorino, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

I stood transfixed at the eerie sight before me, so strange, so odd, so peculiar, so weird, so bizarre, so eldritch—Gods, mine ocular ducts weren't meant to witness such blasphemous heresy—so indescribable, beyond all possible descriptions, at least in any kind of adjectival way!

Gabriel Burch, Edmond, OK


Historical Fiction


Even though the heavy snow forecast threatened transportation problems at the mountain pass leading to the social engagement of the season, every invited member of the party had RSVPed in the affirmative, for the single reason that the Donner family chef was nationally recognized for his all-vegan menu.

John Hardi, Falls Church, VA

Dishonorable Mention

As Jack Walker led his four CIA wet-ops colleagues along the misty Mekong and into Cambodia under cover of night, he heard the ghostly voice of his three earlier tours in the ‘Nam whispering to him that they were about to learn the hard way that Pol Pot wasn’t just an exotic strain of powerhouse Southeast Asian weed the Beltway suits toked on while they cooked up still more futile ways to make Mao keep his chopsticks in his own rice bowl.

G. Andrew Lundberg, Los Angeles, CA


Odious Outliers


I’m very very good and I know this because momma told me and all her bridge friends that I was an angel she got when the stork dropped me from the sky and she says I’m such a good girl so if you want to be with a real honest to goodness angel tonight come on down to the corner of Bitcoin and Pussycat Way for a very special time with an angel who accepts American Express.

Sharon Durken, Port Wing, WI

Dishonorable Mentions

Apart from his undergraduate degree in art history and several years under the tutelage of Simone d’Poisson, preeminent Monet scholar at the Louvre, truckin’ was all Billy knew.

Mike Christensen, Washington, DC

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a work of literature, regardless of how magnificently brilliant, almost on every occasion unvaryingly recasts into insufferably monotonous bullshit when being studied in a ninth-grade English class with a dreary, underpaid teacher and a pack of so-called scholars who would much rather be at their residence, gazing into an illuminated screen.

Palakshi Singh, Duisburg, North-Rhein Westphalen, Germany

When Big Rita was on parade in a tight skirt, moving like a burlap bag full of bobcats, the men in town sat up and took notice, knowing the hunt was on, for she had run the gamut from wealthy philanthropists to dopeheads and bikers, though, until today, she had maintained a shred of dignity by always rebuffing English professors.

John Hardi, Falls Church, VA

Jimothy walked into the joint like he owned the place, which he did, but not like a typical owner of a place like this; more like a classy, silver spoon owner, except not classy like wearing tuxedos to horse dancing and equine NASCAR event classy, but an eating a gas station hotdog with a knife and fork, napkin on his lap kind of classy.

Elliott Cox, Clover, SC

Doris learned two things working at the Post Office—the first was that when Jake came in and asked her if she wanted to see a really big johnson, he didn't mean he wanted her to go through The Special Limited Presidents stamp collection, and  the second was that she didn't need to head outside at the end of each shift with a bag of envelops and a trowel because it turned out the dead letters were not, in fact, actually dead.

Susanne Antonetta, Bellingham, WA

Winning the Kentucky Derby was something Conrad had dared not dream of a mere twelve months ago because twelve months ago, he didn’t even own a horse but now he did, although to be perfectly honest, it was not the type of horse that had any chance of winning the Kentucky Derby which was why Conrad still dared not dream of winning the Kentucky Derby.

Terry Drapes, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

While scrolling through the online catalog of the Acme website trying to decide if he should order rocket roller skates, TNT, and an anvil, or—Fool-Me-Twice fake tunnel paint, the Coyote suddenly realized, ‘Hey, I could just order food.’

Rusty Hamilton, Candby, OR

I'd just lost my third game of solitaire in a row, and was eyeing my last two Chesterfields, when she walked in, wearing an outfit that said "hospital orderly" but whispered "French maid" (a couple of the buttons were straining, but I didn't feel sorry for them) . . . there was a package on her hip and a question on her lips—she had the legs of a supermodel, long and shapely:  "Shall I leave them here on the slab, Dr. Frankenstein?"—and when a dame's got gams like that, it's hard to say no, especially when they're so fresh.

Benson Smith, Somerville, MA

“When had these elephants gotten so big?” said Edmund, with the aloofness of a man who knew only of small elephants.

Jonathan Golden, Norwood, MA


Purple Prose


Clear, plump jellyfish lay scattered across the beach, like so many discarded breast implants.

Sara Corris, Brooklyn, NY

Dishonorable Mentions

The trees sighed with pleasure as the wind caressed their limbs, the lake lapped contentedly at the shore, the grass waved cheerily to all and sundry, and the moon smiled benignly between the playful clouds while George buried his latest victim.

Nick Waites, Bishop, Auckland, UK

"The clouds resembled an endless roll of runaway toilet paper that unspooled itself into a massive fluffy pile, the sound of the lightning banged like hundreds of inadvertently dropped toilet seats, and the rain quickly flooded the street and spilled over the curb like a toilet clogged with who-knows-what," reported eyewitness to the sudden storm and flash flood, Steve Talbot of Steve's Plumbing.

Mark Meiches, Dallas, TX

When Sandy left him, Buck tried as he might to carry on, but he couldn’t help feeling thrown away like last night’s pork chops, except instead of pork chops, he had had deep dish pizza the night before which was even better warmed up and he was looking forward to having it for lunch so the analogy totally didn’t work.

Tony Bucella, Allegany, NY

The pallid North Dakota winter coughed its phlegmy wind in my face, spattering my face with its icy spittle.

Andrea Dumas, West Fargo, ND

As the hot air balloon ascended into the calm morning air over his native Bavaria, Stefan's nerves were on edge as he reached into his jacket pocket and fumbled for the little velvet box containing his grandmother's wedding ring, cleared his throat, and dropped to one knee in front of his beloved Gwendolyn; meanwhile, our story begins on a cold, rainy day at a pig farm near Belgrade, Nebraska.

Jeff Green, Celina, TX

The sky was as dark as an olive pit, which was either very dark or not very dark at all, depending on which type of olive you’re talking about.

Katrien Andria-Habermann, Seattle, WA




At least it was a creative way to be dumped, Ben mused to himself as he looked at the new location of his name on the updated seating chart for his wedding reception—the singles' table.

Izzy Maurer, Lincoln, UK

Dishonorable Mentions

French exchange student who in 1977 had initiated her into the art of French cooking, gently guiding her from baguettes to bouillabaisse to boeuf bourguignon before mysteriously disappearing one April evening six weeks before graduation, leaving her nothing but her Julia Child, and his host family’s daughter, Julia, with child.

Erin Casey, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada

Tony Angel walked Fiona back to the car and handed her the leash, if only he hadn’t thrown the ball so hard; it had marred an otherwise perfect first date on the White Cliffs of Dover.

Lizzie Nelson, Wheaton, IL

Gloria’s feelings for Boris were nowadays more like the warm affection you feel for a pet dog, not a boisterous, extroverted dog but a cuddly, slightly lethargic dog, or even an old cat that just sleeps all day in its favorite spot so that most of the time you hardly even realize it’s there until one day it just dies without warning, rather than the fiery, intense passion of their early years together.

Terry Drapes, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

As Bridgett the Discount Dominatrix flicked the length of clothesline she used as a whip, he licked the ball gag, which was really a tennis ball held in place by a length of duct tape, and thought, *Dad was right, you really do get what you pay for.”

Andrew Nance, St. Augustine, FL


Science Fiction


Pfandrilys was a classic beauty of her star-faring race, and Brian's love was immediate, their kisses were magical, if scaly, and the alien sex was mind-blowing, and if only Brian had read more exobiology, perhaps he wouldn't have been surprised that, when all was done, and they lay spent in each other's arms, she bit his head off.

Thomas Hill, Mountain View, CA

Dishonorable Mentions

Whoever figured out that combining basic cyber-bullying techniques with third-generation sex robot AI technology would tap a gigantic market among submissives was a freaking genius, mused Mistress Tiffany 3.1 as she toweled off and plugged herself in to recharge.

G. Andrew Lundberg, Los Angeles, CA

Ensign Kurt Pulver inadvertently scuttled his command career path by interrupting the starship dedication ceremony with “You mean, ‘to go boldly,’” and spent the next sixteen years de-polarizing the Jefferies Tubes four times a week.

Randall Card, Bellingham, WA

The captain of the alien starship resembled a mutant octopus-squid hybrid with tentacles, arms, legs, eyestalks and boobs everywhere, and her negotiations with Captain Kirk started off rough when she chastised him that, "My eyes aren't down there," and that’s when he realized those weren't shoes, they were bras.

John Tracy, Palm Desert, CA

"Greetings," said the aliens, who looked–in a preemptive budgetary consideration for the future Netflix series adaptation–surprisingly like attractive twenty-something humans wearing coloured contact lenses and spandex.

Miriam Birch, Hobart, Tasmania, Australia


Vile Puns


Prior to his CNN career, Wolf Blitzer slummed the gossip magazines, once inquiring of Hugh Grant’s then-wife, Liz Hurley, why he had never been in a film with Virginia Madsen, to which she replied, “Hugh’s afraid of Virginia, Wolf.”

Peter Bjorkman, Rocklin, CA

Dishonorable Mentions

While Little Bighorn is where the famed General lost his life, at that fateful moment his young Scottish girlfriend was soaking up the rays with a bunch of her sorority sisters and as such unaware of his demise, Miami Beach is where Custer's lass tanned.

Mark Meiches, Dallas, TX

Whenever Elvis graced the bar stools at the steakhouse, he never failed to order a rare steak, bordering raw, and oozing greasily at the edges; and during the interviews after the musician's untimely death, none of the waiters could deny that he loved meat tender.

Leah Dagenbach, Loveland, OH

Life on a hardscrabble fourth-generation family farm in the dust bowl of western Kansas was no picnic, thought Hank Metzger as he wearily took his seat at the kitchen table, and sure enough, here was your proof – first to play, and seven consonants staring dully up at him from his tile rack.

G. Andrew Lundberg, Los Angeles, CA




Cowboys “Cross-eyed” Earl and "Bucktooth” Benson were drinking in the saloon and lamenting the fact that the town had a doctor for people with regular problems, a doctor for animals, and even a doctor for people with head issues, but no doctor to uncross eyes and no doctor to unbuck teeth.

Randy Blanton, Murfreesboro, TN

Dishonorable Mentions

As Bo Snyder's infamously vicious outlaw band rode slowly through the narrow, jagged, and tortuous mountain pass, sunlight cut through the thin air, slanting down and warming the cold, uncaring steel of the old, but fully loaded, Winchester, cradled in the waiting arms of Marshal Luke Elliott, as he sat against a comfortable boulder, snoring like a coffee grinder.

John Hardi, Falls Church, VA

"Not again!" exclaimed Dusty the absent-minded trail boss, as he suddenly realized that he'd led the cattle drive to the wrong tumbleweed-infested prairie town, although a good time was soon had by all at The Saddle Sore Saloon, especially when the nattily dressed piano player started taking musical requests, including the lively square dance tune “Don't Cry On My Shoulders 'Cause You're Rustin' My Spurs.”

Joanne Morcom, Calgary, Alberta, Canada

The Pecos Kid crawled over the rubble under an unrelenting desert sun before collapsing into a heap near the ridge, which is where Tommy and his mom met Duke and the other vultures and began a summer of adventure he would never forget.

Joel Phillips, West Trenton, NJ