Monday, May 21, 2012

My Three-Minute Fiction submission

They have finally announced the winner of NPR's Three-Minute Fiction contest and it is not me.  I really like this contest because it's such an interesting challenge to write a compelling story in 600 words or less, especially when you are required to begin it with a very particular sentence, as provided by the contest.  I highly recommend checking out the winning entry by Carrie MacKillop, it's really fantastic.  Another feature of this contest that I like is that it's free :) which makes it wonderfully accessible.  Of course they don't track how many folks entering the contest really think of themselves as writers, but I'd bet that quite a few people enter this contest that would never submit a short story to any other kind of opportunity for publication.

I took inspiration for my story from the San Francisco DMV, a place where every resident dreads having to go.  Here it is:

Pending Approval


She closed the book, placed it on the table, and finally, decided to walk through the door.  Security required seven more procedures before she’d be inside, but the book was the most important.  It scanned your energy to get an exact lock on your temperament so you’d be queued into the appropriate line when you finally got inside.  Helen had heard stories about the scan linking you to the worst possible outcome and believed them.  So she’d had four cups of boiling anger with breakfast and sneered when she signed in.  If they paired her with an aggressor she’d get through more quickly.
            After the fifth level of security, the body cavity excavation, she’d cleared her mind of anything but getting through.  If she didn’t, she’d have to come back twenty times next month, just like she had the previous three.  The only good thing about getting inside, other than the possibility of never coming again, was that the sulfur didn’t scorch your nose hairs quite as much.  It was the only government compensation offered here: semi-adequate ventilation.
            The gargoyle behind the glass at the final security station didn’t even look up.  He grunted at her logbook that she offered him, stamped it Pending and gestured with a clawed hand to lane seven.  Helen counted forty-two people in front of her.  There was nothing else to look at: the walls were grey, the floor was grey, even the ceiling was a dark fog.  The only decoration in the place was the “Talking Forbidden” sign, which was grey with black lettering. 
            She played mental tricks to keep from screaming.  Screaming got you thrown out.  She’d learned that accidentally on her fifteenth visit.  She made up stories in her head about those in line in front of her: that woman murdered animals; that guy over there was clearly a politician who hated women; and that young man was a child star, ruined before he had a chance to choose his own life.  As for her, she knew exactly why she was in here.  They hand you a logbook when you arrive, your crime printed boldly in red ink in the upper right hand corner.  “Wasted talent” hers read.  It had been a shock at the time of course, but so was everything else.  
            After six hours, she arrived at the front of the line.
            “Logbook,” the lizard commanded.  Helen handed it over and steeled herself for what would come next.  The lizard flipped through page after page of Failed stamps.  “Luisa,” she said to her neighbor behind the desk.  “How much longer till our smoke break?”  The administrator in line six, a beetle, coughed back: “Five minutes.”  The lizard placed her webbed hand on the Pending stamp from today.  She clicked her nails across the stamp and sighed.   With a quick look up and over at the line that snaked up to her desk, the lizard grabbed a stamp, pressed it sharply on the page.
            Passed.
            “I can’t wait that long,” the lizard hissed, and shoved the logbook back into Helen’s hands.  Sliding her purse strap over her shoulder she turned and said in a hoarse voice: “Congratulations.  You may now proceed up to the sixth circle,” and slammed a “Back in 45 minutes” sign on her desk.  The line behind Helen groaned.  They knew that the DMV in hell was like this, but couldn’t help themselves from hoping it’d be different this time.   She took a deep breath of the ventilated air and got in line for the escalator. 


If you also entered the Three-Minute Fiction contest and are willing to post your story in the comments, I'd love to read it!

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