Tag Archive for: Golden Donut Short Story Contest winners

Each year the Writers’ Police Academy hosts the Golden Donut Short Story Contest. It’s a fun contest with two major but simple rules—the focus of the story must be based on the photo we provide, and the story must contain EXACTLY 200 words. No more, no less.

*Writers were permitted to submit multiple entries.

To ensure fairness entries were judged blindly, meaning judges saw only the stories and titles without mention of the authors’ names.

We were extremely fortunate to have stellar, top-level judges for the 2022 and 2023 Golden Donut Contests. The panel of judges consisted of associate, and commissioning editors of the fabulous UK publishing company, Bookouture. Yes, those of you who submitted stories had their work read by top editors in the industry!

About Bookouture:

We are a dynamic digital publisher of bestselling commercial fiction and a division of Hachette UK.

We also publish commercial non-fiction under our Thread imprint.

Our unique publishing model and transformative campaigns have created unrivalled international author brands.

We connect stories, authors and readers globally, publishing books that reflect the diversity of the societies we live in.

Our submissions are always open as we believe that everyone should have the opportunity to share their story.

Over 60 million copies sold worldwide.

*Bookouture is a sponsor of the 2023 Writers’ Police Academy.

Now, without further ado, the Golden Donut contest winners and runners-up (the judges provided the comments on the winning stories).

For 2022:

The photo prompt.

The winning story is:



Trish Zaabel 


Sea sprayed over the deck. Nibble fingers swept her heavy skirts away. Mary smoothed over an invisible frown. She had bloomed into a woman in the fifteen years since she saw Jack. Would he look the same?

Bracing for the jolt when docking, Mary crashed into another passenger. His hands grabbed her waist. “Easy Sister, “he muttered.

Fighting the urge to swear, she nodded her gratitude then exited. Negotiating the lonely hallways, Mary shivered. She requested of the man guarding a thick wall, “Jack Pearson, please.”

Eyeing her suspiciously, he opened a door. “Room three.”

This dark passage was filled with catcalls. “Hey Sista, come to save my soul?”

Spotting her desired room, she rushed through the door. He stood near a window. Jack asked, “Who are you?”

She laughed. “You have aged.”

“Like a fine whiskey.” Jack smirked then gestured. “A nun, really?’

Smiling, she lifted her black skirt, revealing the dagger. “Did you think I’d forgotten?”

Jack yelled. “Guard, come quick.”

The guard barreled in, tackling her.

She stammered. “Jack, I don’t understand.”

Jack stepped over the prone woman. “My dear, I’m to be released today. It’s your turn to be a prisoner.”

Judges’ comments about the winning story – We loved the unusual take on this one, which centred on an intense domestic set-up and finished with an interesting and satisfying twist. It left us with questions about what had happened in the past while also feeling like a fully rounded story, which is hard with only 200 words to play with! The visual detail included was great, and the pacing worked well for the final reveal. A clear winner.

2022 Runners-up:

2: “The Big One”


Michael Rigg


For eighty days in a row, Eduardo had sailed his skiff to the same spot just inside the Golden Gate, cast a baited hook, and waited. His weather-beaten face, half-frozen by an icy March-wind, belied the fire within.

“That fool in the boat,” they called him. “The fish migrated south,” they said. “And so should you.” But his prey remained. He felt it. He would prove them wrong.

Even guards on the “Warden Blackwell”—a ferryboat transferring small groups of inmates from the soon-to-be-shuttered Alcatraz—ignored him. He had observed each trip over the past weeks unchallenged—seemingly invisible. Men-in-chains shuffled onto the wharf, labored up two dozen concrete steps, and clambered aboard busses for transport elsewhere.

Today’s cargo represented the last set of prisoners—twenty-seven in all. He nodded in recognition when a white-haired man stepped onto the pier. Eduardo removed a rifle from under a pile of blankets, raised it into firing position, and placed Inmate One-Five-Seven-Nine in the crosshairs.

After twenty years, justice for Eduardo’s murdered wife and daughter was at hand. He grinned. Not all the fish had gone south.

3: “Roll Call”


Michael Rigg


No more alarm bells jolting him awake at six-fifteen for Roll Call. No more maggot-infested gruel for breakfast. No more Screws dictating his every move from Wake-Up to Lights-Out. Charles Weatherman rowed toward shore, imagining life away from The Rock. A Ribeye at Alfred’s. Cigars and brandy at Top of the Mark. Lili St. Cyr at the Music Box. Everything was within reach. Just a few more pulls on the oars.

Escaping had been easier than he thought. Using broken saw blades to loosen the grating over an air vent. Fashioning a fake head so the guards would believe he was sleeping. Paying a few dozen cigarettes for a small boat to be hidden in a grotto out of sight of the guard towers. Finally, implementing everything by slipping through the vent and inching his way along an unguarded utility corridor, across the roof, and over the fence.

Crimson-and-gold rays from sunrise topping the Santa Cruz Mountains greeted him as he stepped onto land, undetected, near Fisherman’s Wharf. Freedom—his dream—attained.

Brrrring! Brrrring! “Roll Call in five minutes,” blared over the loudspeaker. Charles opened his eyes and cursed. His nightmare, renewed.

And for 2023:

The photo prompt.


The winning story is:



Sally Milliken


“Kent’s already on set,” Associate Producer Lia called as her head appeared in the makeup room doorway.

“Is Martin nearly ready for his closeup? We’re losing our light.”

“Hang on, he just needs a touch up of powder. His cheeks are shiny, that’s all,” I answered.

“Great.” She nodded. “I’ll send an intern to walk him to set.”

As soon as Martin was out of the chair, I followed, stopping next to Kathy. As a hair stylist, she was ready with brush in hand.

“I’m sorry the hat is covering the style work you did on Martin.”

“Thanks. Comes with the territory, though.” She shrugged. “You know how it is.”

“Mmmhmm. I’m using tricks I never even imagined.”

“Me too. After his hair flew off during the chase scene yesterday, I thought that would be the end.”

“Not that I’m complaining about steady work,” I began, “but how long are we gonna milk this thing?”

“As long as we bring in the money, the brass wants us to keep going.”

“Martin’s been dead for eight years.”

“Damn, nobody move, his tooth fell out again.”

“That’s a wrap for today, everyone.”

Judges’ comments about the winning story – We really enjoyed reading this submission and it stood out because it was so different to any of the other stories. There was almost a sense of dark comedy about it and we thought the twist at the end was super. The visual detail gave a great sense of setting and we thought the plot built well towards the final line. It also worked well with the photo. Well done!

2023 Runners-up:

2: Law and Molder


Marcia Adair


“Yeah, right,” the dispatcher said. “A psychic reports a body at Stoneview cemetery…” Click.

If she’d believed me, the cold case squad would be there, closing the decades-old murder of Officer Max Wilgus. I was just a kid when he was ambushed in that very boneyard, but I never forgot. How could I? Tabloids published countless photos of a man wearing a ghoulish mask and goggles speeding away after the shooting.

When I saw the identical mask and goggles at an antique store recently, I grabbed them. “Where’d you get these?” I asked innocently. “Maybe they have something else I could use for a project.” Amazingly, the clerk gave me the man’s name and address.

Next day, I slipped a flyer under the killer’s door: “Feeling guilty? Visit Sarah the Psychic.”

I knew he’d come. He did. When “the spirits” slid a doctored photo in front of him — half cop, half skeleton mask — he blanched and bolted.

I followed him to the cemetery.

Rushing to the ambushed officer’s grave, he tripped hard on its stone coping and smashed headlong into the tombstone.

I smiled. “Case closed, punk.

“Grampa Max, you finally got him.”

3: Cemetery Justice


Pat Remick


My favorite walk is through the town cemetery. It’s peaceful until my final stop, the grave of K-9 Officer Brett Thomas. Sometimes I think I see my ex-partner near the Thomas family plot, in his uniform and signature dark shades, grinning, and taunting me and the world to take him on. Brett was a tough SOB, but no match for a hail of bullets. They hit me, too, but I limped into forced retirement. I still can’t fathom how a routine check of a vandalism report in Pineview Cemetery exploded into an unsolved murder. Lately, I’ve noticed a man loitering near Brett’s grave. Even from a distance, I see him shudder when he glances at the headstone, as if startled by something. Maybe Brett’s ghost. Usually, the man crosses himself and disappears before we reach him. Today was different. He smiled and nodded at my companion, who has moved in with Brett’s widow and me. I understand now. Growling and barking won’t change things. However, I’m trained to kill so I attack repeatedly, mortally wounding both. But not before the loiterer gets off a shot, reuniting me with Brett forever.

“Congratulations to all the writers, and to the winners!” ~ Bookouture judges and Writers’ Police Academy

*The contest winners will receive the Golden Donut Award via shipping. Runners-up to receive certificates by U.S. mail.


2024 Killer Con registration opens in January 2024.

Be ready to sign up because this is a KILLER event that’s not to be missed!

Visit a homicide scene and solve the case using tactics, tools, and techniques learned throughout the event.

2024 Killer Con Guest of Honor is internationally bestselling author Charlaine Harris.

Click the link below to visit the Killer Con (Writers’ Police Academy) website to view the schedule of events, classes, instructors, and special guest presenters.

2024 Killer Con

The contest rules were simple, write a complete story about the photo pictured above. The twist? Each story must be written using exactly 200 words. No more, no less. “Don’t” is two words. “OMG” is three words. “Smith-Jones” is two words. And so on.

In the contest judge’s chambers, after the dust settled and with words counted, over and over again, the stack of well-written tales parted to allow the top four stories to rise to the top of the pile.

And now, without further ado …

Congratulations to the following talented writers! We’ll contact you shortly.

First Place, Winner of the 2021 Golden Donut Award is ….


Fortune Coveted


Tiffany Seitz


“Laddy! Are ya home, mate?”

Blinker stepped close to the open door, rapping on the flimsy wood. He had to observe the niceties, even in Tent City. This wasn’t a tent. It was a shed, but many considered it a palace and had painted Laddy’s House on the side in big blue letters.

“Go away!”

“The shelter has an opening for ya.”

“Nope. Not leavin’.”

“Aw, come on, Lad.” Blinker stepped across the threshold into the trash-strewn shack. “Don’t be like that.”

“I ain’t going!” The old man sat on a bucket, eating cold beans out of a can.

“That looks good, mate.” Blinker glanced around. Laddy had more stuff than anyone else because he didn’t have to lug everything around on his back or in a shopping cart. A bit of twine lay among the debris. He picked it up.

“Leave my things alone!”

“Shouldn’t leave it lying around.” He ambled behind the bucket, taking his time.

Thirty minutes later, the old man’s body lay behind the shed, beside the other Laddys, and Blinker sat on the bucket.

“Hey, Laddy! You home?”

“Go away!” Blinker growled, taking a bite of beans.

Second Place 


The Homecoming


Nana Herron


“Go find Laddy’s House.”

It had been a year since mom passed, but her dying words still haunted me.

She was all the family I had. Now I was alone in the world.

I never knew my dad. Mom said he ran off when I was just a baby, but I heard the whispers. I saw the looks.

We moved often, mom and me. From city to city, coast to coast. We never stayed in one place long enough to call it home.

I often wondered why. Why were we running, mom? Why did dad leave?

I found it by chance back in our hometown. Off the beaten path, the homeless camp was hidden well.

The stench of rot and decay made me gag, but the newspaper clippings scattered across the floor of Laddy’s House drew me in.

Dozens of articles covering three decades told the tale, but the largest headline said it all: “Search Continues for Baby Allegedly Abducted by Mother.”

As I read on, a shadow darkened the room.

Slowly I turned and was greeted by an older version of myself. “Dad?” I whispered.

The old man nodded and held out his arms. “Son, welcome home.”

Third Place 


The Writ


Michael Rigg


Wynn Daugherty paced alongside the weather-beaten shed. He should have moved them when he received the Condemnation Order. But despite dozens of moonless nights, conditions were never optimal. Adding to his angst, Charles Johnson Construction’s bulldozer belched diesel-laden, headache-inducing exhaust.

He turned to the company’s owner. “Chuck, how about shutting that thing down?”

“Sorry, Wynn. Want to be ready right when we get word.”

“What, got a hot date?”

“Listen, your so-called building will be splinters in minutes. Got another job scheduled. Time’s money.”

“But the Writ—”

Chuck rolled his eyes. “You really expect Judge Myrick will stop the demolition?”

Wynn’s temples throbbed. God help him if the Judge didn’t.

“What the hell is Laddy’s House anyway?” Chuck asked.

“My lawyer says it’s a protected historical site. Connected to Prohibition and bootlegging.”

Their phones buzzed.

Chuck read the message, made a chopping motion across his neck, and the bulldozer sputtered, then fell silent.

Wynn concentrated on four words in the Court’s missive: “Temporary Restraining Order Granted.” His headache evaporated. Ninety days—over twelve weeks—before the next hearing. What a relief. One body every two weeks, with time to spare. Excellent.

Honorable Mention




Bobbi Blake


Stepmother graffiti.

What I call the lettering splashed across my childhood refuge.

Most see only black bags of fetid trash, fragments of shattered boards, a dismembered mattress.
I see my first sanctuary.

Luella Beaufort blew in like a Category Five cyclone when I was twelve. She swooped in on Daddy and Avondale Farms right after Mama passed. A petite bundle of faux Southern charm. Sugar in her voice, greed in her heart. Together they proved the adage: Marry in haste, repent at leisure.

So the farm’s old equipment shed became my retreat. First came the Sealy. Then a lantern. Extra batteries. Lastly, the books, my true escape from their frequent battles. I ventured to Sweetwater High with the Wakefield twins. To Hogwarts with Harry Potter and Hermione. To Maycomb, Alabama, with Scout and Jeb.

Pure heaven until Luella decided to paint my hideout. Decorate it, she exclaimed, with Daddy’s pet name for me: Little Lady.

A bulldozer rumbles to life behind me, drawing me back to the present. The shack is minutes away from coming down. Farewell, old friend.

It’s taken twenty years but I can finally laugh at the turquoise wording: Laddy’s House.

Bitch never could spell.

2022 Golden Donut 200-Word Short Story Contest


The 2022 Golden Donut Short Story Contest is OPEN!

The rules are simple. Write a story about the above photograph using exactly 200 words — including the title. Each story needs an original title, and the image must be the main subject of the story. No clues as to the subject matter of the image or where it was taken. You decide. Let your imagination run wild. Remember though, what you see in the image absolutely must be the main subject of your tale.

Click the link below for full details.


Golden Donut 200-Word Short Story Contest

The rules were simple—write a story about the photograph above using exactly 200 words, including the title, and the image must be the main subject of the story.

Shortly after the contest was announced stories then began arriving from all around the globe. Then, when the contest closed and the dust finally began to settle, we were left with a mound of twisted tales written by many talented writers.

We congratulate everyone who submitted stories, with a special congratulations to the winner and the others who placed in the top ten.

I understanding that judging was a tough assignment, as always, due to the large number of wonderfully-told tales. We also thank each of you for your support. The contest proceeds help the WPA continue to deliver top programs year after year.

The contest winner will receive the coveted Golden Donut Award, a handsome trophy, as well as free registration to a 2021 WPA event, either an in-person event or virtual (COVID restrictions may dictate which).

So, without further ado, the 2020 winning story, followed by the rest of the top ten, is – drum roll, please ………………………..

And I Must Play

by Nicolas Morales


This … is the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, the greatest place on Earth. From the tasty food to the super fun rides and games, it has everything a boy like me could dream of. I like coming here so much, it feels like I live here. Whenever I go to one of the restaurants called the Surf City Grill, I eat like a king. But I think I order too much food sometimes because people like to stare at me when I eat. After that, I usually go play some laser tag, and I must be really good at it because nobody can hit me. I also like to go to the Cannonball Arcade, where my favorite games are Pac-Man and The Real Ghostbusters. The only weird part is that there is a big picture of me hanging on the wall outside. And every once in a while, a lady brings some flowers and lights a candle in front of it. Then she starts crying for a few minutes before she leaves. She looks familiar but thinking about it too hard makes the hole in my head hurt. Whoever she is, I hope she feels better.

Pinball Wizards

Ry Brooks


As break-ins go, the Boardwalk Arcade yielded slim pickings, but Nate and Joel needed cash, and quarters were better than nothing. The desperados plundered the coins from almost all the games before Joel noticed a strange looking pinball machine placarded “CAUTION – DO NOT PLAY!”

“Hurry,” Nate scolded. “We got no time to lallygag.”

“Hold on.” Joel dropped a coin into the slot and heard the unmistakable clatter of a full coin box.

The machine began to light up and made grinding sounds.

“Leave dat thing alone! Wanna get us caught?”

“Come ‘ere, help me get dis open. Dere must be a fortune in it.”

The pair worked on the box with pry bars, but it was unyielding. Suddenly, a hinged section of floor where they stood dropped away, and the two burglars disappeared before it snapped shut again.

It was the smell that eventually led to their discovery, but by then of course it was too late. Their desiccated remains each clutched a sack of quarters, and to this very day, in the depth of night when all is quiet, you just might hear the faint sounds of them scratching at the trap door to get out.

Game Over

by Lori Martin


Melanie tapped out another text.

You still coming, Theo? I’m outside Arcade Entrance C

Be there soon!

OK but hurry. You already missed the sunrise.

Thirty minutes later, she texted again. WHERE ARE YOU? R U MESSIN WITH ME?

I’m here.

C’mon! Are you going to meet me or not?

I am right here, Beautiful.

She smiled. Where? There’s no one here but some third shift arcade workers waiting for rides home.


A shiver wormed its way down Melanie’s spine. Why was the sweet guy she’d been chatting with online for a year being so weird? What r u talking about?

You know how your husband died in that car crash last month?

Of course. I miss Danny like crazy.

Yeah. Well, I have another surprise.

Melanie started texting “Another?” but dropped the phone as an armed woman emerged from between some of the pillars that guarded the arcade’s entrance. Melanie’s eyes widened as memories from over twenty years ago triggered recognition.

“Surprise, Homewrecker! Theo is ME.” A chuckle rumbled from the woman’s smirking lips as she raised the gun. “Say ‘hello’ to Danny for me!”

4th Place



Pamela Raymond


Under the brilliance of the midday sun, Mr. Brooks hobbled down the concrete promenade on his quest for a vacant bench and a cool breeze. Joints flexing cruelly, he quietly settled into a seat nestled between a row of plum painted pillars.

Mr. Brooks rubbed the silver tuft on his head. Perspiration glazed his weathered, dark skin as his once spirited eyes scanned the storefronts with puzzled curiosity. Not at all how I remembered it, he thought.

Four decades and a handful of years earlier, before gentrification took root, it was a modest Greyhound bus terminal. Back when the fight for dignity collided with the back of a billy club. When the law of the land whittled a man’s worth down to the circumstances of his birth.

That summer the buses rolled in beckoning a young Mr. Brooks to join the fed up and the cast down. He did.

Mr. Brooks eyed the plaque that posthumously sanitized his sacrifice. He shifted on the bench, a wince curling his bottom lip. He remembered the stiff baton his hip, and his dignity, once endured and wondered would the defiance ignited that summer ever shine brighter than the lights on the boardwalk.

5th Place

Amusement Park Legacy

Laurie Newberry

Looking over what I have created, I stare down mostly empty isles. In just a few minutes my dreams will be realized. My amusement park is done, full of lights, music and delightful family fun.

I cannot begin to express all the excitement I feel. Themed shops are about to open, thrilling rides are ready for boarding. I can smell corn dogs and cotton candy.
This is my legacy.

I stride through the gateway to fun.

In front of Cannonball Arcade, I hear a muffled pop, clutch at a pain in my chest, and stumble against the door frame. No one turns my way. My hand comes away bloody.

This cannot be happening. NOT now!

The door opens, and I am dragged inside. Past the flashing lights to a storage room. Fresh cement nearly fills a pit.

“Thank you for the park. It is going to make me very rich” Unemotional words stab deep.
I struggle to stand.

“Why?” I gasp.

“Because, I want it all.”

The gun appears.

The silenced muzzle flashes and another bullet tears into my chest.

I fall backwards into the cold concrete quicksand.

Sinking slowly, I hear her voice.

“Goodbye…, Dad.”

6th Place

The Dauphin

John St. Clair

Fragrances of tepid ocean air, kettle corn, and cotton candy should have worked their magic inside my nostrils as I followed the boy under a lengthy covered breezeway. But I smelled nothing.

Nestled between an old style nickelodeon and a two star buffet named for the God of the Sea, his destination that day promised a surfeit of fun and games.

I watched as he surveyed the colorful notice affixed to the door, oblivious to my presence.
Annual Cannonball Arcade ‘Melee Sur La Promenade’ Video Game Tournament, Today!

Upon this hallowed ground, thirty years ago, I recalled hulking black cabinets with luminous marquees, standing shoulder to shoulder like silent sentries. Inside this darkened pleasure palace, upon a virtual field, furious pitched battles would crown a champion for the hit arcade title Melee Maniacs 2. My competitors were a much older motley crew. Some of them even attended high school! Endless practice, skill and fortitude, married with destiny had premeditated my victory, and my coronation became the stuff of local legend.

“I wish you could see me now, Dad.” The boy sighed.

“Son, I will be with you in spirit.” I smiled.

He opened the door and went inside.

7th Place

Beware the Calliope Monster

Tammie Fickas

“Beware the calliope monster,” the leaves whispered as they skittered around Adam’s boots. He stomped his feet to crush their murmurings. His gaze roamed the arcade, the tall columns now bright purple, not like the old days, but the carousel still spun out its tinny music.

Her Love’s Baby Soft perfume stung his nostrils as she appeared before him, purplish marks marred her beautiful neck.

“Hey, you. It’s been so long.” Adam reached to touch her arm, but she backed away “Let’s ride the carousel horses, you loved doing that.

Her words mingled with calliope music as a contorted grimace replaced her smile. “I hated the carousel. That was your thing.”

Tears seeped from the corners of Adam’s eyes. “No, you were my thing. My everything.”
“Adam, you strangled me.”

“I loved you.” His whisper scratched the cold air and with nothing to hold it up, plummeted to the stairs he stood on.

“You wanted to control me and now you do. Are you happy, Adam?” Sepia tinted air swept in, erasing her like he did that night on the carousel.

In death, he had her all to himself. Beware the calliope monster, indeed.

8th Place

At the Amusement Park

Janice Utz

Exuberant squeals. Infectious laughter, and sweet, childish giggles. The clanging of bells. The cheerful tune of a calliope. Raucous applause. Corn popping. The welcoming call of a barker. The snap of a banner in the breeze. The click, click, click, click of a rollercoaster rising, followed by the whoosh of its descent.

Bang! Bang! Bang! A moment of stunned silence. Screams of terror. Bang! Bang! Bang! The pounding of a human stampede.

Sirens blaring. The thunder of heavy vehicles. Bang! Bang! Bang! Radios squawking. Orders snapped. The coordinated march of men on the move. Bang! Bang! Bang! The staccato response. Bang! Bang! Bang! Breaths held. Silent stalking. Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Squeaking gurneys. The now fading wails of ambulances full of critical cargo.

The scratch of a match. The crackle of a candle flame. Murmured prayers. Quiet weeping. A sorrowful song rising to the heavens.

The rumble of a garbage bin being pushed over the pavement. The chuff of a broom. A spray of water. The squeak of a gate, the snick of a padlock, and the metallic clink of a chain against the iron fence.

The mournful cry of a pigeon. Dead silence.

9th Place


Deborah Maxey

Scraggly head down, the tattered hem of his disheveled kakis dragging the concrete, Ivar hobbled to the arcade doors unlocking them and flipping a switch causing the dark room to come alive with colorful dancing lights.

Jax and friends, leaving their perch on the picnic table outside, pushed past the elderly man.

“Move, Sling Blade.” Jax barked.

“He stinks,” Randy said.

“Disgusting,” Leo added.

But their daily vitriol was greatly diminished without Hunter, their leader.

“Over here first, Sling Blade,” Jax yelled.

Ivar hobbled to the pinball machine where his three tormentors waited, his key starting the loud music, dings, bells, and clacks.

“Where is Hunter?” Randy whined.

Leo shrugged. “Beats me.”

Ivar limped through the building unlocking foosball, air hockey, and video games. Returning to the boys he placed a Claw Game token on top of the pinball machine, mumbling, “Somebody dropped this,” then turned and shuffled back through the arcade and exited the building.

Leo grabbed the token, “Dibs,” and hurried to the tall glass box crammed with multicolored stuffed animals. Seconds later his blood curdling screams summoned Randy and Jax. The three stood, transfixed in horror. The Claw’s shiny hooks were positioned over Hunter’s severed head.

10th Place

No Hoax

Lex Tinsley

Sam led Fred to an arcade machine, a glassed-in box with the half torso of a full sized Indian in a turban sitting there.

“You place your hands on these two pads, and he reads your palm. “

Sam placed his palms on the pads.

The Indian raised his head, blinked, moved his right hand across the cards before him. Then in a quiet voice, said, “You will soon come into money. Guess the correct number between one and ten, you will get a card for a free sex lesson.”


The Indian frowned. “The number is Three.”

Fred smiled, “Wow. Give me a token.”

He inserted the token and placed his hands on the pads. The Indian went through the motions. “Tomorrow will be a very good day for you. Guess the correct number between one and ten, you will get a card for a free sex lesson.”


The Indian frowned. “The number is Three.”

As they walked back to the food court, scattering the pigeons, Fred shook his head, “That’s a hoax. You can’t win a free sex lesson.”

Sam shook his head, “Oh, no. My girl tried and she won twice.”

The Contest Judge

The 2020 Golden Donut Short Story Contest judge is THE ultimate virtuoso of the short story, Linda Landrigan, editor-in-chief of “Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine.”

Assuming the mantle of editor-in-chief in 2002, Linda Landrigan has also edited the commemorative anthology Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine Presents Fifty Years of Crime and Suspense (2006) and the digital anthology Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine Presents Thirteen Tales of New American Gothic (2012), and has found time to be active on the board of the New York City Chapter of the Women’s National Book Association. In 2008, Linda and her “partner in crime,” Janet Hutchings – editor of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine – were presented with the Poirot Award from Malice Domestic for their contributions to the mystery genre.

We will soon contact each the top ten authors. Please watch for an email message from lofland32@msn.com. The subject line will read “Golden Donut Contest.” Again, congratulations to all!

*The photograph used as the basis for the 2020 stories is of the boardwalk in Santa Cruz, Ca. Denene (my wife) took the shot on Christmas Day several years ago.

It is our annual tradition to visit a beach each Christmas Day, where we walk on the sand and listen the calming ocean sounds.

The rules were simple. Write a story about the above photograph, using exactly 200 words, including the title. Not 201 or 199. Exactly 200 words.

Each story needed an original title and it was mandatory that the image be the main subject of the story. We offered no clues as to the subject matter of the photo or where it was taken. That, we left to the imaginations of the authors.

Stories then began to pour into our mailbox, were screened (words counted, etc.), and the top 14 tales were delivered to bestselling author Heather Graham for final judging. Here are her top picks, starting with the the winning story penned by Ry Brooks.


First-Place Winner


By Ry Brooks


Nothing of the warehouse remained but its spindly scorched bones. To Sullivan, determining the cause seemed impossible. Flammable chemicals, stored in plastic barrels, had fueled the flames to unimaginable temperatures more like cremation than ordinary fire.

Arson? But the building was underinsured, and the owners had no motive. As he probed among the detritus, he heard a muted wailing. Sully moved in the direction of the sound, which came from under a scalded sheet of metal roofing. Gently lifting the obstruction, he discovered a small brown puppy among some old rags, singed but alive. He bent to wrap it in his scarf, and at that very moment, one of the charred uprights crashed down, right where he had stood moments before.

Startled, he squatted down to gather his wits and that is when he noticed the rags also covered a body. Apparently it was a homeless person, who perhaps had made a campfire for warmth. When the flames got out of control, his instinct had been to shield the little dog with his own body, sacrificing himself for another.

The dog squirmed, and Sullivan hugged the puppy close, whose life had been spared and had then saved his own.


Second-Place Winner


By Chelle Martin

It had been a beautiful day full of warmth and sunshine. Family and friends were jumping about, unaware of any danger. But the world as we knew it came crashing down in an instant when a cold, dark mist fell upon us with a powerfully pungent, yet sweet odor.

Tranquility warped into pandemonium as families scrambled for higher ground or desperately burrowed for shelter.

The cloud seemed to last forever. Once it had lifted, our surroundings appeared black and white from the dust that had settled. My comrades who had been directly hit, lie dead and dying around me. I coughed and staggered onward, searching for other survivors.

One, two, we gathered together and moved on to a drier place. Would we survive? Sadly, the youngest and oldest were most affected by the onslaught. The chemicals were just too strong for their systems to ward off.

The ground shook violently beneath our feet, but we clung to the uprights around us for balance.

A large creature approached and spoke in a strange language as flood waters slowly began to rise. “Hold still and be a good boy, Rex. This flea and tick bath will finish off any survivors.”


Third-Place Winner


By Teela Davis

What an awful, boring, insufferable first date. Why did she still do these?

The movie was tolerable, but now a walk?  She huffed, and not just a walk, a walk to the ‘haunted factory’. Did the creepy romantic thing ever really work out for guys? In all honestly, she just wanted dessert, and sleep!

“So, you know the legends here?”

“What, vengeful ghosts?” She barked a laugh, already rolling her eyes.

“Hah, not ghosts,” he grinned, dropping her hand once inside the crumbling monolith.

Relieved, she wiped her palm on her skirt, why was he so sweaty?

“Actually, there is a long list of unsolved murders here.” His cold tone made her take a step back, almost causing her to trip on debris.

“Oh?” Her hesitation made him nod. A knife flashed in his hand and she met his gaze as he advanced closer. Ugh, how typical…

“Yup, and I want to add to it.”

“Oh,” she chuckled darkly, done playing, “don’t worry, you will.” He stepped closer but paused, clearly confused.

“Wait, wha-” The sentence died in his throat just as she launched herself at him, teeth tearing into his flesh.

Finally, she laughed, dessert!

The following finalists are in no particular order …



By A.R. Kennedy

They walked up to the destroyed building in silence. Each wondered how they would find the missing woman’s pendant in the wreckage.

The tip had come in that the killer had marked the woman’s gravesite with her four leaf clover pendant. She had worn it everyday since her fifteenth birthday. For luck, she told people who asked.

In silence, they traversed the site in search of that pendant. Lisa fell, tripping over one of the many obstacles in her path. She slowly got up.

“You alright, Lisa?” her partner asked.

She put her hands in her pockets and shrugged. “Could be worse.”

Her partner, Joel, knew she was right.

Twenty minutes later, they finished their inspection.

“Well, we didn’t find it. Did you think we would?” Lisa asked.

Joel paused, wanting to answer honestly. “I didn’t think I would find it.”

“I guess this is it, Joel,” Lisa said as she headed to their car.

Joel nodded because he knew it was. He pulled his gun and motioned for her to take her hands out of her pockets.

The tarnished four leaf clover hung from her fingers.

“You’re right,” Joel said. “This is it.”



By Cassy Muronaka

“Oh, getting coffee? Me too, Jeannie?” asked Bob, junior salesman, giving his ceramic mug and winning smile to Jean, senior saleswoman.

Taking it, she immediately was flagged over by her boss, Jerry, who announced she was not getting her anticipated promotion, despite being number one in sales.

“Politics, you know. New owner, Porter, canned it.”

Then Jerry asked her to work late again.

At noon, Jean wrote on the company’s internal message group, “Girls: time to meet at the picnic tables. Surprise baby shower, Brenda!  No boys allowed!”

The tables were a fair distance from the building, enough for the women to comfortably inhale plenty of champagne with the potluck lunch. Jean wasn’t the only woman who needed relaxation.

When Brenda opened the baby gifts, she said, “You are all so generous.” She hugged Jean. “I know you’re responsible for organizing all of this. Thank you so much.”

It was then that the building exploded and caught fire. As Jean watched the brand-new sign reading “Porter Industrial and Mining Explosives” fly off the building and into the parking lot, she smiled at Brenda and said, “Yes, I’ve been planning it for a long time.”



By Pamela Raymond

“Aunt Lydia has a melancholy side. I’ll give her that. But this?” My sister held a black and white photo of a charred lot, encased in an ornately fashioned wrought iron frame.

“Why would Aunt Lydia give a 10 year old this grisly photo?” My sister was not amused.

“Mommy. Hang it over there!” The little girl crawled on to her bed and motioned above the headboard. “The picture will like it here.”

“Pictures don’t care where they hang,” Katherine muttered.

My phone rang two weeks later. Jumbled, shaken, Katherine spoke so quickly, I could barely understand her. “My daughter. She keeps. The picture. CLOSE THE DOOR!” The line went dead.

By the time I got to the house, a smoking pile of embers existed where a home used to be. I found Katherine sitting in an ambulance. She mumbled over and over, “That picture.”

In the chaos, the little girl wandered to me.

She pulled the picture from her soot smeared robe. “Mommy wanted me to close the door and leave the picture in the fire. Mommy should have been nicer to the picture.”

The look in her eyes chilled me to the bone.



By Phoef Sutton

There is no crime in Utopia anymore.

Officer Mingus drives the streets of this small California town like she has a hundred times before. Her police dog Vlad rides shotgun. Vlad is trained to sniff out meth and heroine and other illegal drugs. But there are no drugs now.

Utopia is peaceful.

Officer Mingus misses the turn onto Grevelia Street since there are no road signs. No landmarks. Only the occasional blackened chimney. The wildfire that ripped through town two weeks ago had wiped it from the face of the earth, leaving nearly ninety dead and hundreds more still missing.

Turning into a driveway, Mingus stops the patrol car and gets out. Vlad goes rooting around, reveling in the smells of destruction and incineration, while Mingus searches through the ruins of her own house. She had been there with her husband when the fire alarm first sounded. She had rushed out.

Brian had stayed behind.

She finds her bedroom and digs through the debris, until she uncovers Brian’s skull. Shaking it, a small caliber bullet falls out. She tosses it away and crushes the skull with the butt of her gun.

She is free now. Fire cleanses everything.



By Ferd Crotte

My old knees shake as I pick my way through the loose rubble, struggling for balance and understanding. I find an unsteady purchase and pause to curse the utter devastation before me.

I repeat the calculation — seventy-four years since the bridge last stood. Seventy-four years since I felt my father’s hand, holding mine as we walked the bridge’s long expanse. Seventy-four years since the bomb.

The crumbled city was dead to radiation, and access was forbidden. Now it’s open, though no less dead. A primal scream explodes from me, but no one hears. The ruins are silent. The rage is my own.

An unwelcome wind scatters a flume of ashes by my feet. Was that my father? The ashes dissipate, and again he leaves me.

I’m told the bridge was beautiful, and my father helped build it with his own hands. I’m told he was a peaceful man. Am I my father’s son?

I take a wary step into the rubble, then another. It’s why I came — to cross this broken bridge of time. I try to remember the feeling of his gentle hand. I need to find my father’s peace.



By Lynn Long

“Willie Nickels died today in the gas chamber…” Click.

Gordon Chandler twisted the radio knob in his Plymouth, sucked the life from his Chesterfield and tossed the butt.

“I hope the bastard’s lungs burned just like that poor girl’s did,” Gordo exclaimed to the roadrunner perched on the warehouse ruins. The carbonized columns stood like trees in a charred forest. Uninterested, the bird vamoosed. He rolled his window shut.

Gordo knew every detail. He cast the tire prints. He found the dented, orange gas can. He interviewed neighbors who recognized the can. He discovered the blackened remains in the ashes. The detective had done everything but strap Nickels down and drop the pill.

Nickels deserved to drown in a cyanide bath. The onetime pimp ran the city. Nothing happened without his permission. Graves were full of people who didn’t get the message. No one could touch him. Few tried.

Gordo tried. He poured the plaster in Nickels’ driveway. He planted the gas can. He flicked his Chesterfield into the gasoline spread around the abandoned warehouse, not knowing a runaway had sought refuge there.

Exhaust fumes whispered through a garden hose, poisoning the air. His eyelids fluttered.

“If only…”



By Elizabeth Haines

Despite the hospital slippers, my feet are freezing.  I wait for the nurse, a thin cotton shroud, the blue and white print bleached and faded, tied behind my neck.  After a moment, I realize the music playing faintly in the background is a Beatles’ song, twisted into a requiem.  I used to dance to this song, barefoot in a forest that no longer exists.

If we’d heeded the warnings, we would have been deep underground when the bombs came, but the woodland flowers were blooming and the alarms had always been false before now.  We were surprised when the high whistling sound surrounded us, coming from everywhere and nowhere.  We survived, if we can call it that, because we weren’t anywhere near ground zero where the trees were burnt to sticks.  Once we regained consciousness in the hospital, we learned our fate.  The news reported we “woke up dead.”

The nurse, outfitted from head to toe in a disposable covering, comes in to explain my options.  I remember seeing the drone footage of the remaining trees.  They looked like black obelisks in a graveyard.  My feet are still freezing.  I tell her I want to be cremated.



By Lynette Eason

Moonlight touched the steel post at the edge of the bombed ruins. This was his playground and he’d lured Karly here, incensed by her televised scorn.

“Come alone,” he’d texted. “Or she dies.”

She spotted a dark stain at the base of the post. And the next—a matching blemish. Each one the same. Representing every victim he’d suspended before using the blade’s edge to spill their life-blood.

Nausea churned. Neck hairs spiked.

From somewhere, he watched.

Her weapon offered minuscule comfort.

A footstep behind her.

She spun. “You?” Her sister’s fiancé? “Why?”

“I followed my calling.” The knife gleamed its intent. “I released their evil.”

She lifted the gun. He froze. “Shoot me and you’ll never see your sister again.”

“She’s alive?”

“Yes. I’ll show you.” He started towards her, fingers flexing on the handle.

Karly fired. Once. Twice. Again.

He fell, choking, gasping.

She stepped closer. Very little blood stained his shirt. Good. His evil would go with him. “You lick your lips when you lie.”

She turned to go.

A hand clamped around her ankle.

Terror surged. Realization hit.

Very little blood.

Because he’d worn a vest.



By Lisa Wheelan

Leonard helped the old woman across the pile of rubble.

“Are you sure this is the place Mrs. G?”

“Yes Leonard”

“But it’s just a busted-up building.”

She pointed to a far corner with her crooked finger “over there.”

Dementiaville, here we come, Leonard thought, time for a new job.

They made their way over crumbled concrete and broken steel. He found a spot where she could sit, laid his uniform jacked over it and eased her down.

“What are we looking for Mrs. G?”

“You’ll know when you find it. Please begin.” She gestured.

Leonard began moving chunks of concrete to the side.

“How long have you worked for me Leonard?”

“Almost ten years.

“We’ve been through a lot haven’t we”

“Yes, Mrs. G.”

“You know a lot of my secrets, don’t you?”

“I keep my mouth shut.”

“I’m sure you will.” said Mrs. G.

“How much more do” …. Leonard stopped.

“You find something?”

“It’s a jacket…like mine. I think it’s a body.”

“That would be John, he left my employment ten years ago.”

Leonard’s last thought…such a big gun for such a feeble old wom.…



By Tammie Fickas

Dirt and concrete dust puffed as Edward Maximillian, Max to his friends, not that he had ever had any, shuffled through the ruins. Years had lumbered on since the night a raging inferno raced through the Emsdon Home for Boys, destroying the building. The hateful place was anything but home. That night played in his mind like an old movie. The thrill of the employee’s fear filled him, excited him. It always had.

Paper caught in the rubble, fluttered with the breeze. Max’s own face stared back from the poster.

Escaped prisoner.

Armed and dangerous.

You will never amount to anything, Edward Maximillian.

Max leaned against a rough, charred wall stud. Death lingered here like the spirit of the headmaster who never made it out of the building alive. Max could almost smell it. A misshapen sneer stretched his lips. Oh, how he hated that man who made his life miserable. Satisfaction danced in his heart as he relished his revenge.

Who will never amount to anything?

Not far off, police sirens wailed through the night. Max took a long, last look, then loped toward the thick forest, once again disappearing like a dream at morning’s first light.



By K.P. Gresham

She said the bastard was buried beneath the support beam. But which one?

Then I remembered.

That first night. Laughing, he’d ripped away our virginity and put his hands places we didn’t even know we possessed.

With adulthood, payback time arrived. As always, I took the lead. We worked fast. Her job was to get the account passwords. My job was to kill him. I torched the warehouse while she buried him.

We both came through. After he was dead, her codes and keys got us into the house, the study, and the wall-mounted lockbox.

Then we saw the little opening beneath the safe’s keypad. It required a hand print.

So, here I am, back at the burned out warehouse—his favorite hunting ground.  Shovel and saw in hand, I walk over fallen trusses and crumbled cement blocks to where the dumpsters had once stood—the first hiding place where we’d been cornered. That horrible first night.

Sweat pours over me as I unearth the body. His face is finally as ugly as his soul. I uproot his arms and begin to saw below the elbow.

“Time to put your hands to good use, Daddy.”

2019 Golden Donut Contest image – Mare Island Naval Shipyard – Vallejo, California.

The Mare Island shipyard was the first U.S. Navy base established on the Pacific Coast. The base was purchased by the Navy in 1853 and remained open until it officially closed all operations in 1996. It is now a National Historic Landmark.