I participated in Round 8 of NPR's Three-Minute Fiction contest. If you follow the link, you'll notice I did not win. A shameful day for House Freeman.
If you're unfamiliar with the contest... <nutshell> they give you a sentence, and this sentence must be the first sentence of your story, and the story must be under 600 words. </nutshell>
It would have been against the rules of the contest for me to share my story before it was over, but now that a winner has been chosen, I don't think there's any harm in posting my story here. I hope you enjoy it.
"She closed the book, placed it on the table, and finally decided to walk through the door."
The sentence hung in the air, as the silence that followed made Dave increasingly uncomfortable – his hands still poised at the end of the “picture it” gesture he used as he rattled it off. The Committee members looked at one another uncomfortably, with darting glances to the Chairman trying to gauge his reaction. Dave, feeling the increasing weight of the silence, felt his smile and expression begin to creep from one of proud self-confidence, to more of a tense anxiety.
The Chairman briefly tilted his hands up on the table and asked, “Is that it?”
Dave lowered his hands, shifting his weight from foot to foot awkwardly. He tried to smile and sound enthusiastic again, despite the tone in the Chairman’s voice creating a sea of doubt in his mind, “Well, yeah. See, it’s totally open – both the front and the end are a mystery: Who is this woman? What is she reading? Why is her movement through the door described as ‘finally?’ Writers can take this in just about any direction!”
More silence, save a single uncomfortable cough from somewhere in the room.
“Uh huh.” The Chairman picked up his tablet and started typing; his expression a mixture of annoyed and uncaring.
Dave looked to the other members of the Committee for some kind of reassurance and support, but found only active attempts to avoid his gaze. After a few moments of this, Dave clears his throat with some trepidation, and attempts to state his case again, “Mr. Chairman, sir, if you would…”
But he is cut off. The Chairman puts his tablet down with enough force for the sound of it hitting the table to stop Dave mid sentence.
“No, Mr. Francis, I will not. This committee prides itself on the fostering of literacy in general, and creative writing in particular. This year’s contest was to be something special – to help celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Reestablishment of Order.” He pauses for emphases. The rest of the committee begins to shrink in their chairs. “All you, and your team, had to do was develop a seed sentence that the populace could then use as the start of their submissions, and you have the audacity to walk into this room and hand me this piece of CRAP,” his fist meets the table with sufficient force to launch the closest water classes an inch into the air, “and expect me to put my stamp of approval on it.”
Dave has taken the pallor of a ghost. Would he but take on the ethereal qualities of one as well, he would have sunk through the floor at that very moment.
The Chairman makes a quick motion with his arm, and barks at the poor man standing at the opposite end of the table, “Get out.”
A last plea; a final attempt at redemption, “But sir…”
“Y… Yes sir.” Dave leaves the room, the heavy weight of embarrassment and shame pressing down on his shoulders. As masked officers of the Order Guard take step beside him, leading him to what very well may be his final moments of life, David Francis hears the echoed voice of the Chairman addressing the rest of the committee.
“Okay, so now what. Does anyone have any GOOD ideas for this year’s National Pride Revitalization contest?”