Thursday, October 14, 2010

Three Minute Ficton

NPR has been running "three-minute ficton" contests. Entries cannot exceed 600 words and this particular contest required the stories to begin with "Some people swore that the house was haunted" and end with "Nothing was ever the same again after that." I STRUGGLED with the word limit. I decided to write the story and then whittle it down. When I finished, I was just certain I was only a tad over the limit. Nope. I had over 900 words. I'm not happy with the story since I had to cut so much, but considering I wrote it while I was a completely sleep-deprived new mother, I don't think it's too awful.   

Some people swore that the house was haunted. During the summer of ’91, my friends and I were consumed by our quest to sneak in and witness one of the fabled apparitions. Determined to start sixth grade with stories of the supernatural, we spent countless hours plotting how the three of us might escape the nighttime confines of our homes and the watchful eyes of overprotective parents.
It was an oppressively hot Tuesday toward the end of June when Clay decided it was time for the three of us to “grow a pair” and just blatantly sneak out. No grand plan necessary.

At 10:20, I threw on a pair of black jeans and a Bears t-shirt, gathering courage to slide my bedroom window open. I was halfway across the lawn when the flood lights illuminated me in all my rebellious glory. I turned toward the house, defeated.
Minutes later I was sitting in our breakfast nook, explaining to my father why he must let me go. He didn’t even begin to understand our fascination with the haunted house; in fact, he was more displeased with my destination than with my actual sneaking out.

“Going inside that house is breaking and entering, Jake. You could be arrested. And ghosts? Spirits? It’s not even Biblical, son. You and I both know what happens when we die. Haven’t I taught you better?”

He reached toward the counter and picked up his worn copy of the New King James, thumbing through it as I continued my appeal. I begged him to understand how much a venture inside of the house would elevate my status among my peers. Wearily, he closed the Bible, his finger still marking whatever New Testament book he’d been browsing. I lapsed into defeated silence, preparing to accept my punishment. He met my eyes across the table and sighed.

“If it’s that important to you, then you can go. But I go, too.”

I considered how many cool points I’d lose if dad chaperoned our late night outing and reasoned that I’d rather be marginally cool than not at all.

Clay and Whit glared at me as dad and I arrived at the rendezvous point. I mumbled an apology, explaining what had happened. Clay rolled his eyes but started walking toward the haunted house.

While walking around to the back door, I glanced at dad, suddenly realizing that he was about the break the law. For me. He caught my eye and the corner of his mouth turned up slightly.

Once inside, Whit turned on his flashlight. The floor was littered with empty cans, the walls tagged with anarchy symbols and a giant orange “666.”

“Okay boys, you’ve got half an hour to find your ghost. Don’t make me come find you.”

Twenty minutes later, we were thoroughly bored and completely disappointed, having seen nothing scarier than a dressmaker’s dummy on the third floor that creeped Whit out.

Dad was waiting for us outside the back door.

On the way home, he was quiet and spared us a lecture. He never even said “I told you so.”

It was after midnight when I went to the kitchen to sneak a soda. At the table sat my father, his Bible open, hands clenched in prayer. His body shook slightly as he quietly wept. Between sobs, I heard him mumble broken pieces of Psalm 23.


He jumped, hitting the light above the table and knocking his chair over.

He turned toward me, his eyes wild with terror, his face locked in a silent scream.

Nothing was ever the same again after that.

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