Summer Short Fiction Winner, Honorable Mention for Mo Wenneker's "Grayson's Corner"

It's time to share the winners! and news of upcoming anthologies of your creative work!




We set out to find local and regional writers who wanted to build a writing community here in Kansas City and beyond. With help from interns and volunteers, we put out contests on Submittable so we could share your creativity! While we had to shut down our anthologies work during most of Covid, we are glad they are back up and running this fall.


What did continue through? Our local 2021-2022 Writers group who met at AfterWords Tavern and Shelves this past year in rain, or sleet, or hail, masked and unmasked, who came to write and talk about our best story ideas. Thanks to this group and Sara Kaminski, who juried this 2020-2021 Short Fiction Contest. The C-Note Contest was about celebrating 100 years of short fiction! And you delivered! You sent in work celebrating the styles and genres of great classics in short fiction. Stories that take us to wild new worlds of wonder and delight. This summer we'll share four winners with you here starting with honorable mention!


Thanks for being a part of Flying Ketchup Press, readers, writers, and those who follow our FB group or come to events. We appreciate you. To see our upcoming anthologies schedule see below! We hope you enjoy this mysterious short story below about writer's block and the mind game-zone Grayson, a young writer, encounters just running for her word count, or maybe it's not in her head...


 

Grayson's Corner by Mo Wenneker

Wait, did I lock it?

Grayson leapfrogged back up the cement steps of the brick townhouse she shared with three other like-minded students. They’d all craved and paid for this proximity to the downtown’s action; their shared subliminal regret at realizing, rather stupidly, that the description “close to city center” translated to noise and smells in higher concentrations than first anticipated.

Yes, ok, locked.

Ever since she’d moved in, the daily act of stepping out the door in the mornings had become mindless. As a precaution, she’d taken to both locking and double-checking it. Purely for the sake of her own mental soundness, she sought the assurance that this entity called “city” would have to do more than just turn a doorknob to get in. Despite the occasional careless housemate’s forgetfulness, she hoped that if she herself locked and checked it whenever possible, then karma would be appeased and turn good.

The lock checked, she gazed out at a fresh Monday morning, resting her eyes across the street to the SHREDDED Gym. Empty. That was usual for any time before 7 am. This had always puzzled her since she’d assumed shredders would want to get an early start, especially on weekdays.

Amidst this near daily thought train, little flecks of rain appeared on her forehead and cheeks. It wasn’t quite a sprinkle, but the early beginnings of one that feels like when someone’s talking with gusto and accidentally sprays a bit. A kind of mild sea spray to start with, yes, but with the potential towards a hocking down of full-blown loogies.

Grayson adjusted her tan trench coat and pulled the detachable hood up over her hair. That was an extra feature. It cost extra, but why not get the max protection possible? The coat seemed, somewhat dejectedly, to be the statement piece since the rest of her outfit was black-short and sweet and practically silent: rainboots in ‘Noir,’ black leggings, complemented by a black turtleneck sweater. The only other color present was in her shoulder-length hair—red–perhaps a shade shy of auburn. Was it a second statement piece? She did give it thought when she dressed, and in any case, it must have said something because people had remarked on it all her life. Mostly good things but still the occasional generalization.

Nonetheless, in reality, there was no statement intended—Grayson was simply playing it safe. Basic black on black with some red. If this happened to bring words or phrases to others’ minds, then these were mere projections as far as she was concerned. Grayson strode on, comfortable in herself and secure in the look.

The spit spray turned to heavier drops, bringing the weeks’ old shoe dirt up through the pavement. It was like adding water to whisky, but instead, the moisture brought up through the cement, some very heady notes of garbage and urine. Despite this, she inhaled deeply, bringing its body into hers. Every scent, good and bad, was concentrated; easier to isolate. Two blocks later, her boots began to quelch, slipping a little as she rushed across the street to make the stoplight.

I’m gonna make it….three seconds and counting. She sighe when safely across the street and only a few steps from her endpoint.

“You have reached your destination,” the female car navigation voice in her earbuds, in shrill condescension.

Ok, shut up. End route.

She was fully in the motion of grabbing for the door to Joe’s Cafe when a thin blondish student in a bright blue parka came swinging quickly out of it. He almost crashed into her, but in retribution, he held the door for her.

“Sorry.”

“No problem, you’re good.”

It really was no big deal, except that when Grayson turned for a brief second glance at his parka, he was looking straight at her. Their eyes were deadlocked, and she felt like a worm after the rain suddenly caught in surprise at the returning sun. Panic trickled down through her lungs. She turned sharply away, stepping behind a coffee display and into the line.

She breathed out slowly, shaking off the odd feeling to inhale the morning scent of the cafe. Mmmm. Its main aromas were those of learned sophistication, focus, time to oneself. The scent ended with a smooth finish with a slight aftertaste of pretense, but nothing too bitter. Quite nice actually, and to Grayson’s olfactories, certainly a heightened improvement to the flavors outside.

Her usual order varied daily. Today she chose straight-up black coffee in massive amounts. Boring. Safe. Certainly disgusting in the amounts she was about to intake, but it didn’t matter because this was not a day for frills. There was too much to do, she had no capacity for distractions. Patience worn, hands folded, she stood mulling over the guy in the blue parka. A student, for sure.

Do I look like someone he knows? Have we met and I forgot? Is it my hair? What color was that parka retailed as? It looks like a catalog color. All-weather? On special? Did he choose it, or was it a gift? His mom, maybe? Do I look like his mom? No, hi stare wasn’t so much intense as certain; not to ascertain but instead to reaffirm an idea he already held. Did he want living proof or security in something he thought he knew—an assumption? Weirdly, he had yellow eyes (literally, like Scut Farkus from "A Christmas Story.") Grayson probably shouldn’t assume anything, but that guy definitely knows his eyes are a statement…so maybe the parka’s hue is to counterbalance rather than compliment?

“NEXT!”

She was up. She ordered a carafe of coffee and headed for the corner table, which most people avoided for its location. In the mornings, it was alright. On one side was the entrance to a somewhat questionable bathroom, and on the other, a trash can that grew more questionable throughout the day. Grayson would take anything she could solidly rely on, in this case, the table's routine vacancy.

After the scheduled nonnegotiable two-three minutes of fuss spent connecting to wifi, arranging her papers and texts on the little tabletop, she sat back and sipped her coffee. Bitter and reassuringly bad, it was strong at least. It had her inching towards perkiness, yet, the caffeine still wasn’t enough to get her senses completely locked in. Something was missing.

"Oh yeah— music."

With lo-fi cued and set in motion, she selected her ideal playlist. Her shoulders relaxed sunk back into the wood-like plastic industrial chair. Perfection. The music vibe meant a few thousand fellow listeners, each in their own zone, and perhaps time zone, but together with the pulse of the bass and the power of delay.

Maybe today was her day. Her writers’ block for the last week was still all-powerful, and although she’d practically nocturnalized herself, she still had nothing to show for it except dark circles. There wasn’t even an excuse, let alone a shred of new wisdom with which to justify the blockage. The last several days had been especially slow, and guilt was now the only thing flowing freely in her mind–besides music.

Recently, she’d developed a fascination with the synchronism of listening to her music with others: multitudes of live streams made it possible to climb into the ears of someone on the other side of the globe–potentially any place she could imagine. Nowhere certain, yet possibly everywhere. She was hooked. These were individuals like her, concentrating alone and together, streaming the same sounds at the same time, even if they were in the past or future somewhere else on the planet, or maybe even space itself– especially if the other sound sharers were using headphones. The sounds wouldn't be bent by distance or perception (like sometimes happens with live music). Everyone’s earbuds were like bugs tunneling into the auditory hivemind—a symphonic interface to the collective.

Now it was pushing eight am, like clockwork, the tingling of anxiety accompanied the vasoconstriction. The carafe of coffee was hardly inspiring anything except for a mild, clammy trembling of the hands. A pity not even good old Joe could substitute for the creative juices. Once again, she found herself staring at a blank screen. She hadn't even typed title yet. How to name something not yet in existence?

What was the effectiveness of getting going on something with no clue as to what it was, with no seedling of an idea, no name, place, mood, time, rhyme, or reason? Should it be a poem, something lighthearted? But if so, then on what? With what exactly in mind? And to what purpose?

The only concrete intention she’d set for the day had been to secure for herself the corner table at Joe’s Cafe by 8:00 am to start this next ‘project,’ whatever it would be. She hoped that embracing this Monday as a welcome beginning might tempt success–a desperate idea made in the hastened stresses of the previous night.

Gross what a stale idea, “temping early Monday success” seemed to be the dumbest of her self-weaselings to date. It reeked of the late night Sunday, guilt, excuses to counter early-onset shuteye. Now, in a state of morning hyper-caff...

Lying to yourself won’t unblock the stream of words, Grayson. She’d managed to deceive herself and also achieve absolutely nothing on the project for an entire week. Yet despite this, what she had succeeded in was mustering up the certainty that she’d do it… eventually. Her own muddled faith in herself had increased with each passing day, alongside the guilt.

Sunday night, she'd had the sad idea of crashing into yet another unfulfilled week where she’d finally forced herself to set an intention.

“Eight am tomorrow whether you like it or not. And you can’t leave until you start it. That corner table in the place down the road will do nicely. And if you secure the table, then you’ve secured the project. Equate the two things and convince yourself. Simple. Be Baby, but this time, put yourself in the corner, grow up, and get it done. Corner table and the rest will manifest.”

The security of this self-belief had been enough finally to lull her to sleep. After all, an intention could just as well be a starting seed as an actual idea. And yet, without an idea, there could be no narrowing down, no tough decision to be reached, no form to take shape.

You have to flesh it out and actually force it this time, was her last thought before falling asleep. And in fact, didn't she have a knack for creating self-imposed hoops—an expert mental hoop jumper since she was bouncy and on one all the time? The effort it took for this non-motion to jump through her own hoops was exponentially greater than if she’d just taken the hoops already set in place instead of creating personalized ones at unnecessary heights.

Sunday was the cliff’s edge because it was not only the seventh day of inaction but another night gone, marking technically an entire week. Her writer's block now required a wholly different scale of measurement doubling of her stress; squaring of her guilt. If she let it go, it might just as easily turn to a month. Time’s multiplication was much too slippery to ignore.

For Grayson, a project's accomplishment was not enough; she needed self-discipline. The assurance of a plan was everything. The rush of desperation from a deadline was like no other propellant. Time and space came together, and the placement of the hoops was essential for her to do anything. She’d closed her eyes on Sunday night, secure in herself that she had only one way forward, and the first obstacle on that way was the ‘8:00 am on Monday’ hoop.’ It was almighty and had taken all her previous week’s guilt to construct and procrastination to raise. One entirely hollow week had by now left it at such a height, impossible to resist—too good a challenge. Made and set. She’d rise to it, and Monday morning would see her rearing to go. It had to. It would. No way around it.

Grayson opened her eyes. The screen was still blank. It was just pushing 8:30, but at least a hundred more people were listening with her online than there’d been ten minutes prior.

Just a name, a place, write anything to get the ball rolling.

The bass thumped, and the pulse went on. Perfect spaceless synchronism.

I’m in these listeners’ ears and minds and vice versa. The seeds are already in existence, in every mind, and in mine too–if I can find them.

The computer screen read 8:31. Just then, something appeared in the blankness. It was an airdrop from Reese’s iPhone; a screenshot of the live stream she was listening to.

“Crazy I’m on the same one as you," her message read.

Crazier, though, was that she didn’t have any idea who ‘Reese’ was.

Were they a man or a woman? Didn't they have to be in the cafe, right? Wait… how does ‘Reese’ know I’m on this? I’m not signed into my account. What in the actual hell?

At the risk of seeming rude, since it seemed likely this person could see her, Grayson put on a slight look of amusement and took a sip of her coffee before responding.

“Crazy, small world :)" She typed, then glanced up from behind the laptop, moving her eyes in slow motion from table to table, but no one was looking at her. Strange,this corner seemed more secure than ever but her hands were shaking. She locked her gaze back on the screen.

Still blank, but this time it was laughing at her, and so were the thousands of listeners that were in her ears and in her head. Could Reese see the empty white document in front of her? Could they all see the hoop? Suddenly, she wanted to get the hell out of Joe’s Cafe, really wanted to, really really wanted to, but she couldn’t. Not unless she jumped.


 

Mo Wenneker studied History at the University of California, Davis. She currently lives in the Bay Area and works for a local charity organization. In her free time, she enjoys writing short fiction and the occasional poem, playing jazz drums with a local ensemble, and taking her dog for long aesthetic strolls in nature.



 

Thanks to our guest juror: Sarah Kaminski teaches high school math, but her real joy is to tell corny jokes to her students to make them cringe. Sarah’s short fiction has been published in several Of Words anthologies, as well as Running Wild Anthology and At Death's Door. Her contemporary YA novels and short fiction fiercely tackle the gamut of tough issues that affect real teenagers. You can find her in Kansas City with her two boys and her husband, where she’s often crocheting, singing aloud to music or snuggling with her dog, Loki.

 

Release Dates for Upcoming Anthologies


  • Tales from the Deep, Short Fiction illustrated by Alex Eickhoff, Holloween 2022

  • Night Forest, Folk Poetry and Story featuring poets Gary Baumier and Katharyn Howd Machan and artist Elke Trittle, Winter 2022

  • Sprouts Meditations: Artists, Poets & Writers, Spring 2023

  • Universe in a Bottle, Sci Fi Anthology March 2023

  • Path of Birds Poetry & Art Anthology May 2023


 

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