The Synthesis partnered up with the Derelict Voice writing group to put on our first ever prompt-based writing contest. The Derelict Voice writing group meets weekly at the Jesus Center Resource Room on Wednesdays at 9am. This diverse, industrious, and prolific little group has already put out two collections of short stories and poems, and they’re available for sale on their website Check them out and join the group!

first place

I stood on the corner of 5th and Cherry in Chico, CA—a city I knew only from the labels on beer bottles. As I glanced across the street at the frat boys stumbling out of a watering hole called Joe’s Bar, then to my left at a girl in a short skirt hiked up to her waist—pelvis pressed against a tree trunk as she peed on it, laughing as she relished the spectacle she created—I finally came to appreciate the notoriety of this place.

The distant sound of weighty metallic monsters clashing with one another echoed as, not two blocks behind me, the train that had unknowingly deposited me here came to life and lurched forward once again. My dark, stifling journey to this quirky corner of the world had been filled with the fear of death—death from carbon monoxide inhalation, as I was stuck in that rail car in some long tunnel; death due to being trapped, if the door were to slam shut completely. As I emerged unscathed from the rail car into the humid night, I felt renewed. Yet it was whispers of death that greeted me.

Quiet, troubled words floated on the air, [speaking] of a young man on the train tracks. “Was he drunk? Suicide?” people speculated aloud.

A new flame snuffed out before its time had brought me to this fascinating city-town by chance.


Sam Kitchen

My great love is the conveying of ideas via the written word, the still image, and the motion picture.








second place

I stood on the corner of 5th and Cherry in Chico, CA—a city I came to know only from the labels on beer bottles. I was a block away from Ed’s Printing and had to pick up an order for work. I wondered if Ed would have an invoice for us this time? He belonged to the It’s A Wonderful Life small-town fantasy, a place where people got paid because they did work, not because they enshrined everything in triplicate and threatened to sue.

Notably, Ed was the guy who printed the first monkeywrenching field guide often associated with Earth First! (although not by Earth First!ers, as the Green Scare had taught at least that much). I noticed it upon reading the book, and it filled me with pride for Ed, and for our town. Although Eugene may be the hotbed of radical environmentalism, we’ve got our share of radicals—working quietly and mostly disguised as hippies, drunks, grandmothers, or Pyrate Punks. It’s a college town; in some ways, it’s the über-college-town. Ambition has to be strong here, to make it off the porch.

Having recently just moved after ten years on E. 12th St, I was feeling nostalgic. It was even-odds at one point if I would make it to 40—a double-edged accomplishment, to be sure. Now here I was, 15 years after coming to Chico as a way station, not only staying but rooting down in a way that I’d never experienced before.

It’s the smell of dry grass in the merciless sun, the river otters at Indian Fisheries, the welcoming alleys, a rain-swollen creek, the returned wallet. Fools may shank, but the Valley lives its own life under the wide eternal sky.

The bells jingled as I entered Ed’s shop.


Julia Murphy

Mrs. Murphy likes the Mighty Sacramento, and does not like out-of-area water transfers or Peripheral Tunnels crazy talk.








third place

I’m standing on the corner of Fifth and Cherry in Chico, California—a town I know only from the labels of empty beer bottles I picked up for cash.

Yeah, bottles are heavy, but cans are scarce in a town full of beggars.

Listen to me, separating myself from the rest. My delusions and addictions are different, yet I line up with them again and again—their crushed cans shuffling into barrels as my bottles clatter and crash for attention. Dirty bills are handed over. I’ll eat for couple of days, if I’m careful. I usually am.

I’m heading north, but not too far north. That’s where I imagine it will be, anyway. The sun on my back, my ass planted in the silt along some creek. Something else planted too to survive, but hell you can smell weed a mile away. Can’t keep a clear head around it anyway. And don’t you think that’s how I got here. Hell, it looks like this whole damn town would be on the streets if that were true.

Nope. It was a bit more complicated than that. I close my eyes and I can smell my cologne, not that nasty stench that I know as myself now. I was cruisin’, a few bucks from my old man’s petty cash hot in my pocket. Know what was hotter? The policeman steppin’ out from behind the gloryhole. Hey, I can play along, but he was playing no games. He didn’t expect someone like me to deck him. My thumbs crushed into his throat as he lay sprawled out on the filthy tiles.

I open my eyes and I can still see his dead eyes staring back at me. I smell my fresh sweat over old, and the woman across the street thinks I’m OD’ing.

daniel nauman

Daniel Nauman

Daniel Nauman writes of history and the present from his own peculiar point of view in his blog The Strange Loves of Daniel Nauman.  He lives in Cherokee, California.









fourth place

I stood on the corner of 5th and Cherry in Chico, CA—a city I knew only from the labels on beer bottles that I had painstakingly dug out of crusty dirt. I wasn’t sure of the year, but those who remember say that thirty winters had passed since The Change. The bottle ends were particularly good for knapping arrowheads, which all of us needed for our survival. The most prized bottles were those of Sierra Nevada Brewing Co., which must have been a prominent brewery at the time of The Change. Now, looking down what used to be 5th Street was a morass of weeds, vines and mistletoe-crowned saplings that had grown between cracked asphalt that was barely visible. Fat acorns glistened in clusters on tall oaks and I knew that all the valley’s residents would make a good harvest come the fall. On the horizon of my awareness, I could sense a visitor coming through the leafy foliage off to my right. The birds had ceased their ongoing twitter and a squirrel called out an alarm. As I crouched down to hide in the green, a raptor bird of some sort shot out of the thicket above my head. Partially distracted by the bird’s antics above me, I swiveled my head to watch its owner emerge from the trees. She was tanned and short, wearing well-crafted clothes of brain-tanned leather. Her left forearm was wrapped in tanned animal skins where she held the bird, and her bulky shoulder muscles spoke of her work as a falconer. Down on my haunches, I used my breath to steady my racing heart; the stories that I’d heard told me I was the prey in this hunt.

Photo on 2012-12-20 at 13.52 #3


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Sara makes the words happen.