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We’ve just wrapped up our first annual Short Story Awards Contest, and we’re so excited to finally announce the winner for 2021!

We decided to host this inaugural short story awards contest as a way to support and empower writers everywhere, regardless of their experience or background, so we set out to make this contest as accessible as possible by making it international and maintaining a low entry fee. The result was an overwhelmingly talented pool of writers and outstanding stories to choose from.

How the Winner Was Chosen

We received 340 submissions across 11 genres. Editor and blog manager Kaelyn Barron read each submission and selected the top story for each genre.

Together as a team, we then voted on those 11 genre finalists to select the overall winner. The final vote was close and came down to a single vote! While it was challenging to choose just one winner, we couldn’t be happier with the excellent submissions we received.

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2021 Short Story Awards Grand Prize Winner

We’re pleased to announce that the Grand Prize winner of the 2021 TCK Publishing Short Story Awards Contest is…

“Nothing Is Forever” by Amy Zambetti

You can read her inspiring short story at the end of this post.

Short Story Category Winners

We also want to congratulate the category winners, who were the finalists from which we chose the grand prize winner:

Creative Nonfiction or Memoir

“Whatever Happened to Bunny?” by Nico Lundborg-Griffith

General Fiction

“Nothing Is Forever” by Amy Zambetti

Thriller

“Changed Places” by Paul T. Sayers

Mystery

“Girl on a Grill” by Daniel W. Brown

Science Fiction

“Vera Dimple” by Mary Tourangeau Angell

Fantasy

“Until Midnight” by Lorin Petrazilka

Historical Fiction

“21” by Aïda Reid

Romance

“Mountain Roads” by Erin Canady-Denham

Religious

“Allegory for the Church” by Caylee Dugger

Young Adult or Middle Grade

“A Shoebox Full of Rocks” by C.R. Serajeddini

Children’s

“Little Bird Told Me…” by Daniel M. Warloch

Read the Winning Short Story

Read the complete winning short story below:

“Nothing Is Forever” by Amy Zambetti

A client once joked to me that my waiting room smelled like regret. I prefer
to think it smells like second chances. People like to spill their guts to me.
I guess I have one of those faces. One of those faces people trust. I used to
go to a personal trainer who was like that. I told him all my problems while he
kicked my ass all over the gym. It was therapy, with a side of squats, burpees,
and sweat. Pain is like that though. It can crack you open, make you talk about
things you didn’t think you could ever say out loud.

It’s a privilege, honestly. To get a glimpse into a complete stranger’s
life. They tell me about their first loves, heartbreaks, imploded marriages,
parents who let them down, jobs they didn’t get, time spent paying their dues.
But it’s not always so serious. We have some laughs. Sometimes it’s a drunken
shenanigan or a misadventure from some slap-dash vacation. I’ve heard it all.

I present my clients with possible solutions, different options. My methods
are a little unorthodox. I like to get right into the thick of things, dig into
the meat of the problem, not just work around the edges. They may not notice
results right away but when they do, they will feel like a weight has been
lifted. But I’m always honest with them, I tell them it’s going to take time
and it’s going to hurt. Some people feel the pain more than others.

And they are still going to be left with the memories. I mean I’m not a
magician. I just remove tattoos.

I remember being about 5 and my dad tucking me in at night. He’d sit down on
the side of my little bed, my rainbow comforter wrinkling beneath him, looking
large and out-of-place in such a girly room. I never actually saw him drink or
smoke, but he smelled faintly of shaving cream, layered with bourbon and
cigarettes.

Cuddling up with me and my legion of stuffed animals, he’d read me my
favorite book – “Caps for Sale.” I’d watch him turn the pages and mime the
monkeys in the story saying “tsz! tsz! tsz!” His arms, covered in tattoos,
mesmerized me.

“Daddy, did it hurt?” I’d ask in my tiny voice, interrupting the story to
trace my finger along one of his tattoos, reading the dark letters out loud:
“S.N.I.P.E.R.”

“Yeah baby. It hurt a lot.” He’d say. Even though the only light in the room
was my tiny purple desk lamp, I knew there was a storm brewing in his brown
eyes.

It was the fourth-grade father-daughter dance. My dad, uncharacteristically
dressed-up in a crisply ironed, short-sleeved button-down shirt, handed me a
shiny plastic box. I peered inside to see a corsage of bright pink roses, tiny
water droplets clinging to the petals. My dad helped me put it on my wrist. The
color contrasted perfectly against my black dress. Hand in hand, we walked into
the dance. I felt so grown up and loved seeing my friends and their dads all
dressed up. The music was loud, girls and dads were milling about, drinking punch,
and eating snacks. My dad was usually so serious and distant so seeing him let
loose and have fun was
exhilarating.

Halfway through the dance I went to the bathroom. Just as I closed a stall
door, two girls from my class came in together. It was Morgan and Tara, already
well-established as the class bullies at age 10. They were cackling away, as
mean girls do, about someone’s dress, while they washed their hands and traded
lip gloss. Terrified of a confrontation, I pulled up my feet and stayed frozen
in a stall, listening to them:

“Eeew, did you see Emma’s dress? I bet her mom made it from old scraps, or
she got it from the Salvation Army bin, or someplace nasty like that!”

“Ugh, she’s such a loser. And WHAT was her dad wearing? I would NEVER let my
dad leave the house in those pants.”

They both screeched like baby vultures.

“Totally! Speaking of dads, did you see Jessie’s dad? He’s so gross and
scary. My dad says that his tattoos mean he was a baby killer in a war! Can you
believe that? I NEVER want to go to her house. There’s probably dead baby
trophies all over the place!”

“Tara, EEEW! But yeah you’re probably right! He’s so creepy. I guess that’s
why Jessie is so weird.”

I sat frozen in place until I heard their heels clicking away on the tile
floor and the swinging door slam shut behind them. Then I sobbed. What did they
mean? How could my dad be a baby killer? I felt sick to my stomach, like
something I didn’t even know I had was suddenly being ripped away from me. When
I finally left the bathroom, I pushed through the crowd to find my dad chatting
by the snack table with another dad. I told him I felt sick and I wanted to go
home.

“What happened in there?” He asked me, eyeing Morgan and Tara suspiciously
from across the room as they whispered and giggled in our direction. “What did
those girls do?”

“Nothing, dad! I just want to go. I don’t want to be here anymore!”

I was too ashamed to tell him what they said. Too ashamed to tell him that I
worried there might be some truth to it. Maybe that’s why my dad was so sad all
the time?

At 16, I got my first and only tattoo. My best friend Kristen and I procured
some shady fake IDs from her older sister’s dirtbag boyfriend, Craig. We
borrowed her mom’s car and drove to the Eagle’s Nest Tattoo Shop two towns
over, at Craig’s suggestion. He said he knew a guy there and they wouldn’t look
too hard at our IDs.

Careless with giddy teenage excitement, Kristen jumped a wheelblock in the
parking lot and gouged the bumper of her mom’s car. The parking lot incident
gave Kristen a case of the nerves. She backed out of getting the tattoo and
settled on a belly button piercing that she reasoned would be easier to hide
from her mother.

While Kristen got pierced, I stood under the red glow of the neon Eagle’s
Nest sign and studied the wall of the tattoo parlor, covered from floor to
ceiling in laminated cards of tattoo designs. The possibilities seemed endless
and scattershot. Animals, angels, devils, cars, busty women, sports teams,
flags, hundreds of different types of lettering. All those options and I didn’t
see any like the kind my dad had.

When it was my turn, I chose a blue dolphin. Dolphins held no significance
for me. I just thought it was pretty.

The tattoo artist, Nolan, introduced himself and looked at the design I had
chosen. I studied his slicked back hair and admired his tattoos while he
prepared his instruments. On one arm, a complicated pattern of waves and the
scales of a tropical fish. On the other arm, climbing green vines, red flowers,
and the name “Ariana.”

I wondered who Ariana was, and with teenage naivete, conjured an image of a
beautiful woman that he had dedicated his life to forever. It never occurred to
me that Ariana could have already broken his heart or left him. Adrenaline
rushed though me as Nolan hunched over my ankle and went to work. It didn’t
hurt nearly as much as I had anticipated. The needle buzzed loudly, and a faint
medicinal smell permeated my nose. I suddenly understood why people say that
tattoos are addictive. I realized I had been holding my breath, and exhaled
deeply as I watched the ink permeate my pale skin. “This is what forever feels
like,” I thought.

I was not prepared for the wrath of my dad when he saw my tattoo.

“Jessie! Who did this to you? Tell me who did this to a goddamn child!” He
grabbed my shoulders so hard I shook.

“Dad! It’s just a little tattoo! You’re covered in them! What’s the big
deal? It’s MY body!” I said, my voice dripping with teenage disdain. I wrenched
myself away from him and stumbled to the other side of the room.

My dad had never hurt me before, but I was scared. I’d never seen him this
angry. His brown eyes were unfocused with rage, droplets of sweat visible on
his brow.

“Jessie! I didn’t want any of these! Each one is a reminder of shit I did in
Afghanistan. I hate them! My own skin gives me nightmares! Promise me you won’t
do this to yourself again! I’m stuck with this on me forever.”

But nothing is forever. My dad disappeared later that year. First, he
disappeared mentally. Sleep eluded him for weeks at a time. He tried therapy, medication,
meditation. He got a therapy dog. He tried to have his tattoos removed or
covered up, but it was too expensive. Then he disappeared physically. First,
for a few days at a time. Then a few weeks. Then he disappeared completely. He
was found dead a month after my 18th birthday.

I still think tattoos can be beautiful. Our bodies are a canvas, an
ever-changing work of art, and they are beautiful with or without tattoos. We
grow, we expand, we shrink, we change. We pick up bumps, scars, and scratches
along the way. Some people keep their art on the inside and some choose to wear
it on the outside. I think of all the tattoos I’ll never remove because people
love them so much. They talk about them, they show them off, they love to tell
their stories. They can’t wait to get their next one. I wonder if Nolan is
still dedicated to Ariana or if all of that beautifully artistic ink turned
into an ugly regret.

My dolphin represented nothing more than a fleeting moment of teenage
rebellion. I gave about as much thought to choosing it as I did to removing it.
I was my own first customer while receiving my laser certification. I just
wanted it gone. It hurt more to remove it than it did to get it. Like being
flicked with a rubber band in the same spot thousands of times. I was so
relieved to have that thing off my body. I wish I could have helped my dad,
given him a clean slate. We could have had some good talks while I removed
those painful reminders from his skin. Maybe the pain would have cracked him
open too. Like I said, I have one of those faces that people like to spill
their guts to.

I didn’t notice it when I first came in here, but I guess you have that kind
of face too. Not surprising though, you’re the best in the business. And even
though it’s just a simple, three-letter job, I wanted the best.

“All done.” You say to me. You hold up a black-framed mirror so I can see
your work.

In simple black block letters. On my inner left arm, closest to my heart.

DAD

What’s Next

This was our first annual Short Story Awards, and we’re so grateful to all the writers who participated.

Even if your story wasn’t selected this year, we encourage everyone to enter next year’s short story contest, or one of the many other contests we’re running throughout the year.

Here are our other upcoming writing contests that you can enter now:

If you’re interested in more posts about writing contests, then you might also like: