As part of this year’s One Read program and inspired by the grit, perseverance and the way those “Boys in the Boat” overcame the odds, we challenged writers to craft tales containing an element of the underdog for this year’s flash fiction contest.
We received plenty of stories about unexpected triumph on the playing field, but we also read tales of cheating death, of immigration and unlikely survival – all told in no more than 250 words. Thank you to everyone who entered and shared the worlds of your imagination with us. Our two winners are Carl Kremer and Von Pittman.
We are pleased to share with you the winning stories.
James Earl by Carl Kremer
James Earl, named for the great basso profundo actor (whom he resembles, except for being green) – is the biggest bullfrog in my pond. His great call silences smaller creatures in the area and attracts females (cowfrogs?) from miles away. Others who, while old enough to croak for sex – sound timid when James Earl occasionally tunes up.
He is a miracle, not just for his age (13 is ancient for his kind, and I’ve listened to his calls for nearly that long) but for his phenomenal luck, his resourcefulness, his amphibian intelligence. While he was part of a mass of thousands of eggs, most did not hatch, and most of those who did fell prey as tadpoles to snakes, fish, birds, raccoons and even other frogs. Some of his siblings were eaten as children by larger frogs, perhaps their grandparents. The struggle to survive was fierce, and he might have been a pollywog for years, while other tadpoles grow to adulthood in one season.
He has mastered patient vigilance, sitting in one moist spot for hours, alert both for prey – insects, small snakes, and even smaller frogs – and for predators. Stealthy cats haunt the edges of his pond at night, along with foxes, raccoons, snakes and owls. By day herons, kingfishers, and even hawks drop silently from the sky and he is a prize entree to any carnivore.
And still, aged, wise and wary, he sings, reverberant, stentorian, and deep – for love.
Obstacle Number Three by Von Pittman
Josh Carter stood number one in Tactics and number two in Seamanship, with just two weeks of Naval Officer Candidate School left. Nonetheless, he was about to wash out.
A six-foot wooden wall – Obstacle 3 on the obstacle course – stood between Josh and his ensign’s bars. Every officer candidate was required to clear every obstacle on the course at least once. They learned to run at Obstacle 3, throw a stiff leg at the wall, then let their momentum carry them over. The few OCs who had trouble tended to be short and pear-shaped, like Josh. Sixteen tries, sixteen failures. In spite of his academic record, he feared he wouldn’t be a naval officer. He would probably become an enlisted mess cook, slinging chow and swabbing decks.
Everyone in Josh’s training company wanted him to top Obstacle 3 and graduate. Suddenly, the 17th week arrived, his last chance. Josh ran, hit the wall, and got both forearms over the top. He struggled to lift his body, then suddenly pitched over the wall, head first.
Dizzied by the impact, he stumbled through the rest of the course. In the intensity of his effort, he never saw the two classmates who had grabbed his wrists and snatched him over, or heard the cheers from his company.
At graduation, Josh received an academic award in addition to his ensign’s commission. He figured that the lingering sprain in his left wrist had to be from falling over the top of Obstacle 3.