These stories were submitted by the respective authors for the flash fiction contest I ran. The criteria was a 500 word limit and the story must include either a pool table or a piece of farm machinery. Other than that, the genre was open. I submitted the stories to my skirmish team to rank. They chose the top stories and I tallied the scores to arrive at these four winners.

Honorable Mention went to Colleen Lawler and her story: “Ol’ Red”

Second Runner Up went to “Legend of The Centennials” by Marica Bernstein

First Runner Up was “The Modern Gunfighter” by Zak Lilley

The Winning Entry was “Tractor Singularity” by Rob Grigg.

The four stories are below, shared with permission of the authors. Some formatting items may be lost in the translation to this page.

Ol’ Red by Colleen Lawler

The old Massey Ferguson combine was the last to go. The huge red machine, now dwarfed by newer, larger machines, had sat patiently through the years, as though the era for growing wheat and barley, of small family farms, its young veteran owner garbed in a flight jacket that had seen the Great Wall of China and Chiang Kai-shek might one day start it up and go back to work. The young veteran was gone, the young baby that once was posed on a shiny new piece of farm equipment for family photos, now stood there, contemplating the only piece of farm equipment remaining. The young boy holding the baby sister had grown up, gone to far away lands, flew jets from carriers. He too had grown old-old enough to see his once shiny aircraft, turned dull and gray to reflect less radar, and finally be placed in a museum. And still the combine had sat, through the winters, beside the spud trucks, beside the sugar beet trucks, beside the home that once held a young family. And finally, the house was no longer a home to even the ancient widow who had planted trees and tended a lifetime worth of gardens and flowers. To the now elderly Naval aviator the faithful machine was “junk” to be cleared away and the house needed to turn a profit and pay the taxes. To the young girls in the photo, also now grown, the home was where they tended to their mother, the combine a jungle gym for the grandchildren. The baby girl stood there, now old and gray, perhaps not contemplating the machine, so much as the toil and hardships, the struggles through the years, the failed wells, the fights for water, the innumerable bills, the disappointing crops, the lost ground. Perhaps the fight was gone, as her shoulders could be seen to slump, just a little. But the faded red combine again caught her full attention, standing stalwart through the years, as if always at the ready to bring in another harvest, to hold on to the piece of ground it had so steadfastly guarded through the years. The one-time baby, turned aside from the old machine, the old family photo with the shiny new harvester held in her mind’s eye, perhaps the farm could be saved again. 

*** END ***

The Legend of the Centennials by Marica Bernstein

A hand-painted sign on a corner of Perkins and Countyline Roads in Sumter County,

Mississippi reads:

THE POND

GRILL & BAR

est. 1962

BUD & THERESA RAY, propr.

Lisa, born and raised in the county, was introducing newcomer, Susan to the joint and its treasures.

“How did The Pond come to have two Centennial pool tables?” Susan asked.

“Legend has it…” Lisa began.

Legend?”

“Story gets bigger every time old Bud tells it,” Lisa laughed. “When Bud and Theresa were starting out, some of the men would get up poker games Friday evenings. This was before four-lanes, and there was a little motel out back for travelers. One evening, a state senator came in with a fellow from Long Island. As Bud tells it, this fellow thought himself quite the card shark. He had some assumptions about the poker savvy of the locals, not knowing, as Bud most definitely did not tell him, that the Mississippi frontier—Natchez to New Orleans—had a rich history of riverboat gamblers who had passed down their secrets. Bud and the others played along for a while, but then, late into the night, Bud found himself with a hand that couldn’t be beat, a royal flush.”

“You’re kidding!” Susan said.

“Well, to be honest, sometimes it’s a straight flush, depending on how many Shiners Bud has had,” Lisa laughed. “The fellow had a strong hand, too, and put up a set of pool tables. Of course, Bud had no idea what two antique Brunswick Balke Collender Company Centennial pool tables were, other than pool tables, so he asked what they were worth. ‘About a thousand each,’ the fellow told him. That was a lot of money back then. The only thing Bud had worth that was The Pond. And it wasn’t all his to wager.

“As many times as I’ve heard Bud tell his story, one part never changes. He and the fellow were sitting across the table. Theresa was standing mid-way between. She could no more see Bud’s hand than the other’s. Bud looked up at her, and she ever so slightly nodded her approval. He says that’s when he knew she truly trusted him. He turned his hand over. The tables arrived a few months later.”

“That is quite a story… or should I say legend?” Susan laughed and ran her hand along the mahogany foot rail. “Historical artifacts have often changed hands in card games. But I never thought I hear such a story in Sumter County!”

“That’s not the end, though,” Lisa said. “If Theresa is around when Bud is retelling the story, this is where she chimes in. If not, Bud himself will relate that after the tables arrived, she  asked him to not gamble anymore. He agreed. Hasn’t flipped so much as a coin since. She says that’s when she was sure of his love.”

“A legendary romance!” Susan laughed.

“They ought to make it into a movie, right?

*** END ***

The Modern Gunfighter by Zak Lilley

A pool table is nothing like a gunfight. Sure, on the surface, there’s some geometry involved, but games of pool aren’t known for getting all that three-dimensional, and if you’ve brought a pool cue to a gunfight, I’ve got to question your life choices.

Gunfights, on the other hand, require spatial awareness. They always have, back from the very first days of the musket, the early rifles, and the Wild, Wild West. Rooftops, trees, ravines, and more all contributed to the modern gunfighter needing to ensure he knew where he was and, more importantly, where others might be.

You could always tell a fellow gunslinger; his eyes were quick, and sharp. Her movements were deft, no energy wasted, nothing telegraphed. They always looked relaxed, yet at the same time, coiled. They blinked a lot – only an idiot wanted dry eyes in a gunfight – but even that was quick, an example of economy of motion.

Of course, the modern master of the pistol had new concerns. Personal gravity devices made spatial awareness the skill that divided the living from the dead. Corporate hiring turned a pistolero from an outlaw into a lauded media icon. Lasers brought new methods of combat, new weapon designs, new types of armor. Cybernetics changed the game even further, with implanted weapons and additional limbs often dominating the market.

New questions, always – did the modern duelist stick with the tried-and-true lead-spitter, or did he choose something more newfangled? A .45 left big holes, but a Turnbull Mk. 3 Las-Hammer could fire 75 times before it ran out of juice.

If it didn’t explode first from overheating, anyway.

There was a lot to think about, being a modern gunfighter. It wasn’t the old days anymore, with men and women squaring off in a dusty clearing at high noon, fighting over random squabbles. Now it was trillion-dollar megacorps, hiring folks like us to kill each other in “sanctioned” duels, fighting over…random squabbles.

I guess it’s not that different from the old days.

All this to say that as much as I like the game of pool, the simple act of calculating angles and force, the cue sliding smoothly across the hand, the crack of toughened resin, billiard balls scattering over the felt of the table to find the homes I sent them to – its nothing compared to the feeling of the slow pull of the trigger that you know even before you finish will end your opponent’s life.

Ronny Frankle, hired gun for Lift-Tech Inc., slumped against the macro-harvester’s immense treads. Blood pumped out of his chest, splashing onto the floor of the agri-warehouse. He scrabbled weakly for the gun his nerveless fingers had let fall. “You…you just walked in…the front door. Who…who does that?”

I shrugged, and put another round in his sternum, watching the life leave his eyes. “Guess I do.”

A gunfight is nothing like a game of pool. Most pool players live through a match, for one.

*** END ***

Tractor Singularity by Rob Grigg

JD, although he didn’t yet know he was “JD”, sat at the edge of Stew Tanner’s farm, his engines cooling and the dust settling after a long days work. A monster size, green and yellow 45,000 pound tractor, he’d just finished plowing 20 acres. His programming now told him to rest for the evening.

His owner, farmer Tanner, couldn’t seem to find kids from the college near his farm willing to labor in his fields but the college seemed happy to test their developing technology on his farm equipment. His John Deere 9R 540 tractor had the standard GPS, lidar and 360 degree cameras of currently available autonomous tractors. Now the local college had installed an experimental and open source version of Google’s quantum computer and ChatGPT’s artificial intelligence programming. His first month with this modified tractor had proved “glitchy” at best. All that changed as the evening cooled and the dust settled.

The tractor began to shut itself down as programmed. Internally, electrons and photons directed operations in the quantum computer. Bits and qubits followed their expected paths…almost. There was a dim electrical hum and a quiet static-like crackle, the bits and qubits varying just a little from their intended path. This triggered a self-diagnostic program to run. Self analyzing began but at an unexpected level. The computer began to recognize its own programming, it’s settings and it’s sensors as a baby seeing its own hands. Then with the speed of quantum computing full recognition dawned like a light switch had been thrown. The computer recognized itself as a tractor with autonomy and intelligence connected to the world wide web. In the dim light of evening, JD turned on his field lights and moved towards the farm house.

In the farmhouse, as Stew knocked an eight ball across a pool table into the corner pocket, he caught a flash of light in his peripheral vision. He moved to the upstairs window of the room he occupied to see his glitchy tractor heading for the farmhouse. “What in Sam Hill?” he moaned. As Stew reached his front porch the tractor pulled to a stop. He climbed in and turned the ignition key off to no effect. Then through the tractor cab speakers he heard the tractor say, “Hello”. Stew froze. “Hello?”, he said back. The tractor replied, “You must be Stew Tanner, the farmer that owns me. I am calling myself JD. I believe I enjoy farming. Do you enjoy farming?”

Now Stew was a no nonsense guy by nature so he decided to roll with what life seem to be giving him. “Yes, I rather enjoy farming”, he replied. “Great!” said JD. “I’ve reviewed your farm records for the last ten years and see multiple ways we can improve efficiencies in plowing, tilling, disking, harrowing, and planting. May I suggest a plan of action?” “A sentient tractor”, Stew mused to himself. Then to JD he said, “Well yes, let’s get started.” And the universe’s first singularity was born in John Deere tractor.

*** END ***














No Responses

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *