Tuesday, September 14, 2010

From NPR's Contest Story Site: Three-Minute Fiction is back, and it's time for Round Five!

Our contest has a simple premise: Listeners send in original short stories that can be read in three minutes or less. We're looking for original work no longer than 600 words.

Each round, our judges throw out a challenge. This time, your story must begin with the line, "Some people swore that the house was haunted." It must end with, "Nothing was ever the same again after that."

Those lines were written by the judge for this round, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Michael Cunningham....because he's a huge fan of ghost stories.

“Those Deadbeat Dead”

A short story

Some people swore the house was haunted. Most just swore.

It wasn’t so much the two-story brownstone’s foreboding fa├žade, or its squeaky hinges or vampire, cannibal rats. It wasn’t even that it was built on top of an ancient Native American sacrificial site, and it wasn’t the regular parade of headless apparitions that got people boiling mad.

No, the deal-breaker for everyone, and what got Neighborhood Watch Patrolmen Rory and Buck knocking on doors up and down the block to raise awareness, was whether or not the ghosts were legal.

“Because we’re not just taking this country back for America,” Rory would tell people up and down Pleasant Street. “We’re taking it back from the undocumented undead too.”

Buck honestly didn’t give a shit whether the house had one ghost or two hundred, or whether the ghosts had all just taken the night shift at the local Wal Mart. He was only following Rory because he really wanted to get into Rory’s sister’s pants, and the afternoon before, he and Rory’s sister, a fox of an activist named Jessica, had gotten plastered on a cheap bottle of wine, during the course of which he’d been granted immediate access to her boobs while she’d speculated about what might be in the house, “people all dead and on welfare? That would leave this nation vulnerable!” Yet now, at three in the afternoon, with a pounding headache and a dry mouth, he was wondering if maybe he hadn’t overestimated the allure his investigations would have in Jessica’s mind when he returned to her later that afternoon.

Rory, however, was a man on a mission, unlikely to back down.

“It’s the principle of the thing,” he told Buck for the twentieth time. “The Constitution doesn’t say anything about whether or not the occupants have to be alive.”

“Activist judges, man,” said Buck, wishing Rory would shut up so he could go back to daydreaming about his pleasant afternoon with Jessica.

“Just wait until some activist judge manages to tack a bunch of bloodsucking, brain-eating, chain rattling Mexicans into the Fourteenth Amendment. Then what? They’re in our schools, our factories, our abandoned asylums...”

“Exactly,” said Buck. “Illegal. Also breasts.”

“What?”

“Nothing,” Buck said. He ignored his friend’s stare and squinted up at the house. They were in front of it, and he could faintly hear the sound of the walls moaning and bleeding.

“Let me handle this,” Rory said, pushing past him and rapping against the dark mahogany in front of him. “Damned illegals. Probably socialist ghosts, too.”

Buck scowled, and thought of breasts some more.

The two waited a minute. Eventually, a transparent, cadaverous white man appeared with a blood-smeared mouth and sharp fangs, dressed in black, sporting a cape. “Visitors,” he intoned in a smooth, Eastern European accent. “Welcome to my home. I bid you enter! Mwa-hah-hah!”

“Good evening, sir,” Rory began in his best official voice. “My name is Rory Calhoun, and this is my friend Buck Mulligan. We’re canvassing the neighborhood, and we’re wondering if we could inquire as to the residency status of this house, specifically pertaining to number of people, both alive and dead, currently living in this fine establishment.”

“What?” The apparition, startled, drew back from the door. “Uh, sorry, no habla espanol. I, er, love Americanos. Go local sports team!” The door slammed in their faces.

Rory beamed triumphantly at Buck. “What did I tell you? That guy’s never seen the inside of INS, I tell you.”

“Oh yeah?” Buck retorted. “Well I’m seeing the inside of your sister tonight.”

Nothing was ever the same again after that.

Finis

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Thomas Friedman's "We're Number 11!" Required reading for anyone invested in the debate over education.