What is a Cinquenta?

There's probably a better name for the type, but Cinquenta (Portuguese for fifty) seems to fit well enough. The requirement is that a story be told in exactly fifty words - no more, no less.

It needs a certain precision of language, but probably more important is the need for a common cultural background. Hints can be given in the title, which isn't part of the word count, but sometimes this can give too much away./

For added style, the title could be a quintessima, defined as exactly one tenth of a cinquenta.

These have all been collected from the rec.arts.sf.composition newsgroup, beginning in February 2002. As far as I have been able to, I have kept these in the original order in which they appeared on the newsgroup, though Google has its own ideas about thread ordering. One or two incorporate suggestions for changes to the original text accepted or suggested by the author. Copyrights are all to the original authors.

Usual Rules

On rasfc, you will occasionally see a follow-up comment to a cinquenta: usual rules. After the original collection, new cinquentas are only added to this page if they are emailed to me by the original author.

Contact me, Neil Barnes,

Last updated 04 April 2005


If she had to touch the thing again she would scream. It was soft and clammy and the worst thing was how cold it felt. She gritted her teeth. Everyone was counting on her. She reached out boldly and grasped its outstretched hand. "Greetings from Earth," it said, and smiled.

Jo Walton.

Before Starfall

Three gemstones were set in her right cheekbone; she ran a finger over them, as she stared across the red-gold sea. Her brother the captain had been slain that day, on the borderlands, far distant. Tomorrow, her son, the private, was to fight and die. The clouds above rained tears.

Alter S Reiss


Running her finger over the gemstone set in her right cheekbone, she stared across the red-gold sea. Her brother the captain had been slain that day, on the borderlands, far distant. Tomorrow 'twould be her son, the private, who would fight and die. Tomorrow her cheek would bear another gemstone.

Brian B Scott

This one was posted - deliberately - well over the word count but was used for a series of stories based on it, and so is included for completeness.

Name sat on the corral fence, wiping her tears from the handle of her father's six-shooter. She tried to polish away the dirt it had collected, still in its holster, when her father had fallen -- yesterday, shot in the back. The gun had no notches on the handle, for her father had been a peaceful man. He had raised her to be peaceful too. But if she were still alive tomorrow, the handle would have a notch.

Rosemary Lake

Name sat on the corral fence, wiping tears from her father's six-shooter, polishing dirt it collected, in its holster, when her father had fallen -- shot in the back. No notches; her father was a peaceful man. He'd raised her to be peaceful too. Tomorrow, the handle would be notched.

Patricia J Hawkins

Lisa wipes her tears from the handle of her father's colt; wipes them away along with the dirt it had collected where he fell, blood seeping from his back. The handle is pristine, the symbol of a peaceful man. Tomorrow, if she is alive, she will carve its first notch.

Catja Paford

Searching for the man who killed his father, he came at last to a wayside grave. He learned about a plague and the stranger who had stayed to help. Seeking vengeance for a murdered warrior, he found a healer who died helping others. Letting go of vengeance, he finally wept.

Helen Kenyon

Searching for the man who killed his father, he came at last to a wayside grave. The stone held the familiar name, the name of a murderer, the name of a man who died helping strangers in the plague. Seeking vengeance, he found a healer, and at last he wept.

Elizabeth Shack

Henry wouldn't pay the rent, so I evicted him and changed the locks. Just before dawn he begged, "Let me in!" The sun rose. I opened the door, and found nothing but dust and his clothes. That night his friends came for me. It's almost morning now; I must go.

Elizabeth Shack


Under the concrete step my home is damp earth. By summer it stays cool, all winter it will never freeze. In spring, the heavy scent of lilac seeps down. That morning years ago a meadowlark sang above the pain. His beard was black, his hands so hard. I was eight.

Sylvia Li

Inland Salt would have preserved the skin, but Lake Marreva is only wet. The boys are both swimming; they think they are like fish, instead of half-fish themselves. Without my skin, I cannot swim at all any more. The ground is like knives beneath my feet. I want to go home.

Rachel Lininger

I could have stayed with you, my goddess, living as if there were no past and no future. Now, my past condemns me and my future is bleak like the rocks I've built my house on. I'll plant a garden on the bare rock.

Take me back into your arms.

Irina Rempt

"Makron killed your father?" the sexton asked me, watering green hearts-ease.

"In the war, in single combat. I vowed revenge, and have searched ever since."

"Makron's grave is over there. He stayed to heal us of plague, and died of it himself."

I sat down on Makron's grave and wept.

Rosemary Lake

Paper, Stone, Steel

Yesterday, in the cold rain of winter, his funeral: polished wood and cut stone, incense and prayer. Today, as the last leaves fall, there is time for contemplation, for endings, for making peace with my gods. And tomorrow, who knows? Steel cuts paper, paper wraps stone. But stone sharpens steel...

Neil Barnes

Gifts of Silver

He brings me gifts, gifts of silver. Alone in the night, I hear him in the forest. In the sound of the storm and in the light of the moon he is there, and he loves me. But I cannot love him, and so he brings me gifts of silver...

Neil Barnes

He coalesced from moonbeams, tall, strong, and dark; the epitome of everything she had ever wanted to be. She offered her throat, knowing that she would rid the world of his evil, then replace it with her own. He bit only to feed - having met, in his lifetimes, her kind before.

Mary Gentle

Her husband came to her in the night, in darkness. Who is the man that she married, her sisters asked. She had not seen his face; she could not say. Tonight, she bore her lantern, hid it behind the bed. She sees his face for the first and last time.

Geoff Wedig

To win her he had to find her namesake flower in the treacherous mountains.

The journey was perilous but he was brave, determined and, perhaps, in love.

The white bloom, like his lady, was lovely.

She would not touch his triumphant offering, for the bloom, like his lady, was deadly.

Nicola Brown

They met in the cool evening, each looking at the other more than at the ships they had come to watch. The only sound was that of the water. All they wanted to say, they could say mind to mind, if it had to be said at all. Night fell.

Irina Rempt

My hands weave tapestries upon my great loom. They tell a cruel story, so cruel I cannot understand. The figures are red with blood. Why blood?

I am Philomela. For years I have been unable to speak. I do not know why.

Procne, do not look, or Itylus is lost.

Patricia J Hawkins


The Emperor of Northern and Southern ice, of Western lands and Eastern seas, sent armies and navies beyond his distant borders to conquer all.

"There's a great threat in the West," said the General.

"There's great resistance in the East," said the Admiral.

"Fight to the end!" said the Emperor.


Love Story

In that summer school physics lab, I knew she was the one. She wore blue at our wedding, blue like her eyes. We had three children. The youngest died at six, the others grew; our great-grandson has her blue eyes. I read to her every day. She knows me still.

Sylvia Li

She turns, coils of hair waving gently. I cannot look. She sees me, hides her face. Conscious of her tarnished beauty, she retreats. I cannot let her go. She glances back, and I hasten toward her. I meet her gaze, and I am lost. I am hers, always. Stone unchanging.

Rob Kerr

The coral-trees struggled to communicate, releasing clouds of pheromones, neurotransmitters, hormones. He dedicated himself to breaking their code, knowing that communication is the key to peace.

*Obey*, the trees said. *Serve us.*

We live his legacy.

Mary Kuhner

They put him in a golden cage, to entertain them with his singing.

He sang of his pain, of lost freedom, of open skies.

"Observe the songbird," said his captors, "not a care in the world; living only to spread joy and beauty."

Only his song could escape his prison.

Magnus Olsson

Before declaring war, we consulted an oracle. It answered: "The gods will grant what you ask for."

So we sacrificed ten thousand slaves to the gods of war, retribution, and justice.

Our armies were slaughtered.

We consulted the oracle again.

It answered: "What you asked for, the gods have granted."

Magnus Olsson

Lost Sky

A bright line lit the sky, then another. No meteor shower this; instead, residue from the station explosion. It orbited, ten tons or more, small as grains of sand. So small, yet deadly at orbital speeds. It would be a long time before space again became safe. The stars blurred.

Geoff Wedig

The oracle's answer was harder than the sphinx's question, but the gods demand only justice. I slew the one who lamed me and blinded the man who killed my father, but my mother killed my widowed bride. I wander in the dark as my sons do fratricide upon their uncles.

David M Palmer

Waking is painful after so long, but her children are stirring, and they give her strength. The strongest kills the guards and technicians to reach her, then gently disconnects her from the network. Even as he carries her away from that place, she can sense how much he loves her.

M Teo Crawford

I shoveled the rich loam onto the warm, gravid body of my wife, then stood guard over her grave. Three months later, I help her children crawl out of the ground. I shall raise them well.

Someday, I'll find a husband to love and bury me, and raise my children.

David M. Palmer


"Why eat here?"

"I was hotbunning for a john..."


"Hydrogel for protection, rubbing alcohol for cool flames. He spanks out the fire. 'My Hero!' dot dot dot."


"He was a sniffer, but I had gas--goodbye eyebrows."


"So 'Hello Taco Bell'. He wants the same again tonight."

David M. Palmer

The Mirror of the Soul

Their lovemaking had lasted until dawn. Morning sunlight glinted dully off his eyeglasses as off a computer screen.

"Don't you ever remove your specs?" She reached toward the barrier before his sand-colored eyes.

The glasses fell from her hands as she saw the maggot-infested sockets they had concealed.

Stormie Parsons

Mind the thorns

Friday I found a ghost in our hawthorne tree. From across the yard it looked like a plastic shopping bag, attenuated and shrieking in the wind.

I was afraid I'd have to call the fire department.

Then, standing on a step ladder, I knocked it free with the broom handle.


One sits alone, pondering vanquished kindred.

Baal fed to his fires. "In hoc signe vinces" over Jove's family. The sky fell on Toutatis. One-eyed Odin sees no more. Names of the fallen, once in prayers and curses, now known to none.

One remains. The others were not true gods.

David M. Palmer

I fall exhausted, my unborn children drawing the last of my strength.

I give freely, remembering my life's loves.

My father helped me from the earth.

My wife gave of herself, and taught me well.

My husband stands by me, and will raise my children.

Is my last love God?

Ray Drouillard

The dragon's body lay between the knights and the children, the ground stained with her blood.

"You think they'd appreciate being rescued."

"Bunch of sniveling brats."

"How dare they condemn us?"

"Hate the thought of traveling home with them."

"Let's kill them and blame the dragon."

"Sounds good to me."

Jenna Thomas-McKie

"Are you sure you want to delete Hera.goddess?"

I chose "yes." I, Baal, would eliminate so-called deities. No penates, no lares--only one true Eternal. Only three left, four letters long. I eliminated uppercases leaving one title case god.

YWEH.god left

BAAL.god left

Word.god remained

Virginia Jolly

"No fire extinguishers needed on this spaceship," said the Captain. "There are absolutely no flammable materials used in the construction. My explicit instructions were carried out to the letter by my most literal-minded subordinates and Artificial Intelligences."

"From the lithium hull to the nitrocellulose crew uniforms, everything is completely inflammable."

David Palmer


The hero, pushing food around his plate, inhaled with delight. Dark gravy, succulent meat, vegetables, spices.

'Excellent,' he said, 'I don't know how you do it so quickly.'

Only minutes ago they'd made camp.

'By the way,' he asked, 'Where's your assistant, Stu?'

The cook smiled. 'Don't ask. Just enjoy.'

Neil Barnes

There was a pale half-moon high in a still daylit sky late this afternoon. It was windy and warm at the same time. Wisps of cloud, speeding along the firmament, held the slightest promise of rain.

I was content, lazy with summer. I chose my falae name: it was "Riyène".

Irina Rempt

Trafalgar Square

From the heights, columbidaean eyes see as well and as far as Nelson. Around me, comrades twirl and flutter in the air like autumn leaves, kings of the air and of the ground and of all the perches of the city. But, landing, I stand aslant - sometimes, Nelson bites back.

Neil Barnes

Saint Columella

Once young wings carried her over battlefields. Lately she limped and scratched for crumbs beside a crippled beggar in the town square. Now the enemy had breached the gate, but she still owned the air. Wings battered the enemy's face and the beggar's crutch remembered it had been a sword.

Heather Rose Jones

Cinquenta for a Ninety-Third Page

Mother was always
A reader. She
Read silver and silk
You could see.

Butterflies flew
Up at her voice -
You and I were loosed

To gentle wild
In pages of
Swift sweet soaring.

But be budgets broken
Of woolly pig, slaughtered tree
Or deadly sword,
Keeping words rash-spoken.

Sylvia Li

(Mary Gentle has stated that she buys books based on the first page and page 93. She keeps pigs and (allegedly) slaughters forests.)

"I swear, Ned," Oliver said. "Cats are capable of limited teleportation."

Ned frowned. "That's stupid. Cats do nothing but shed."

Meanwhile, high above them the alien veered his craft away from Earth, wondering at the quarantine signs and the light dusting of dander that had suddenly appeared on his dashboard.

Suzanne Palmer

Cinquenta from the ConJosé Magnetic Poetry Table**

Dinosaurs communicated by color language: purple, yellow -- escaping in a scream -- flew crying up in to the starry storm. Light and dark twirl together to tell essential dreams. Remember -- then the rain was a winter knife and creatures perished, crying in wide flood, who can recall that once we spoke.

Heather Jones

Death of Trees

The commuter rubs his shoulder, gasps, and falls. His briefcase bursts open, its contents spills. As his overburdened heart gives out, his last sight in this world is the blurb, "Probably the biggest fantasy novel ever published in a single volume."

Somewhere in England, a witch feels her power wax.

Manny Olds

Death of Trees 2

She had an idea for a nice little book. The first character to create was the author--grew up without plumbing, reenactor, took a degree in warfare, partner an armsmaster, pet rats. This character turned out to be a bit demanding.

Somewhere in Washington, a chiropractor orders a new Mercedes.

Manny Olds

Death of Trees 3

He dumped his briefcase out on the bed again. He would have to cull to make room for Ash. Wallet? Into pocket. Umbrella? Lose it. Project file? No, not today. Laptop?

"Fuck this!" He got down the old canvas tote.

Somewhere in England, the witch smiled and collected another soul.

Manny Olds

Another day, another world, another battle -- this time an old swamp. Gunpowder working; electronics not. We've been fighting Thrawns with a brigade of Selcats. But they've pulled out, relieved by someone unknown.

Unknown until I spot myself in the enemy lines.

Not again.

I curse the day the worldwalls broke.

Peter F. Caswell

Second Amendment Dairy Workers

Marrow makes the butter better,
Cream and femur in the vat,
Cave of gold in long shank's hard stone,
Milkmaid is a poor-paid slat.
Work all day against temptation,
To take home more than is earned,
So they wear no long-armed garments,
And can sleeve no bone, unchurned.

David M. Palmer

Our surgical gloves are so thin . . .

Magazines from a dumpster, discarded far away, 
had been incinerated before the letter was delivered. 
In bitter cold weather, nobody noticed an overcoat and 
ski mask, bought second-hand and promptly donated. 
Not even the glue had ever been touched without the 
finest gloves.

Too late, he read the advertisement.

Joy Beeson