I’m happy to announce that I was awarded first place in the 2022 Pennwriters Short Story contest for my story “The Oblivion Seed”.

Here is an excerpt:


by Ned Balzer

Eric’s denim-clad butt hovers above me, and the cloudless sky above that, framed by horizontal steel. We’re almost too old to play on these monkey bars, but once in a while when we’ve spent too much time together, or have run out of things to say, we come here and climb up to different levels of the structure, putting some little distance between us. Where he is, at the very top, you get the best view of the park: the bandstand, the sticky picnic tables. The school building across the street, with an ancient sign hanging askew by one remaining rivet, a black circle with yellow triangles and the words “Fallout Shelter” that no one, not even any adult I’ve ever asked, can explain to me. Below us rests the tamped down dirt, what remains of a soft bed of sand, most of it blown or scuffed away long ago.

Eric clambers down and I hurry to follow him, but the back of my shirt catches on something.

“C’mon Ji-Won,” Eric yells, but I can’t move. I twist my body in an attempt to see what’s snagged me, and I hear a ripping noise and feel a sharp scrape on my back from whatever it is.


“You wuss. Let’s go.”

“Just a sec, geez.”

My shirt gives way with another tearing sound, and I scramble down to earth, rubbing my back. My fingers discover a hole in the cotton, and as I explore the spot where the pain crouches, I feel a gouge in my skin and wetness on the tip of my index finger. There’s a smear of blood that smells of steel and rust. Something cold rolls around in the folds of my shirt and slips, and comes to rest between my tailbone and the belt of my jeans. I pull my shirttail loose and the cold thing falls into my fingers.

It’s a bolt, about five centimeters long, with a glistening spot of blood on the threads. It looks like one of the seeds we have in the tackle box in our dining room, only a lot bigger. It was probably already loose, which is why it stuck out and caught my shirt. I consider keeping it, but I have no need for such things, so I drop it on the dusty ground where it lands, half buried.