Three-Minute Fiction: Sneak Peek

Five thousand of our listeners submitted entries in the latest round of our Three Minute Fiction contest. And while our judge, novelist Michael Cunningham, is poring over the best of them, Guy Raz takes a sneak peek at some of our favorite passages so far.

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GUY RAZ, host:

Welcome back to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz.

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RAZ: We're now going through more than 5,000 original stories you submitted for round five of our Three-Minute Fiction contest, the contest where you have to write a story that can be read in under three minutes.

Now, the deadline for this round has passed. And as our judge, the novelist Michael Cunningham, decides on a winner, we'll be posting some standout stories at our website. That's npr.org/threeminutefiction.

In the meantime, here are excerpts from four stories we received. And this round, each story had to begin: Some people swore that the house was haunted.

Ms. KATHRYN KLOVANA (Reading) Some people swore that the house was haunted.

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Mr. KIRK PENBERTHY (Reading): Some people...

Mr. JOHN BADILA (Reading): Some people...

Host SUSAN STAMBERG: Some people swore that the house was haunted.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. PENBERTHY: Some people swore that "The House Was Haunted" was worst punk-rock album ever recorded. The CD now served as a coaster, separating a half-empty bottle of warm beer from the polished wood table in Michael's apartment.

Technically, the apartment wasn't his, being rented by a friend of his. However, in truth, Michael and his friend were one and the same person.

A beam of morning sunlight was sneaking up on the derelict CD, bringing all of the scratches and dirt into sharp relief, and leading Michael to realize how much they had in common...

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. KLOVANA: She liked the sounds of our young children laughing and exploring the summer house's secrets, but she wanted things kept orderly. We thanked her aloud and promised to leave things as she wanted them. The smell of mothballs, salty air and history enveloped us.

On our last night in the house, the children woke first, instinctively finding their way through the darkened hallway to our beds. Awake now, we dared not speak, but each knew what we heard was true: doors opening and closing, furniture rearranged ever so slightly.

Something dropped. Lavinia, longing for her daughter, teaching two young mothers to keep a good house, our grandmother setting things right, trying to make up for lost chances.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. BADILA: Leopold Sahlfeld, born in 1893, was a young veteran of the First World War. He helped manage a tavern for a short time before the noble experiment closed down legal bars and established speakeasies.

During the Prohibition, Leopold left the house every day dressed in business attire, carrying in a suitcase, and drove to Sioux City. Late in the evening, he'd return. No one knew where he worked, but he was spotted occasionally digging in the yard after dark.

Word spread that he was performing abortions, the implements in his suitcase, and burying the fetuses in secret. Neighbors quit socializing.

Ms. STAMBERG: You heard the swing creak. You said my name. Your eyes searched for mine. You cursed at my roses growing over the porch rail, covering in thorns the very thing you needed to grab onto. And you lifted a heavy foot, heavy heart and heavy eyes to the steps you couldn't climb.

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Ms. STAMBERG: For a moment, I wanted you to try harder. I wanted you to fall like a star. I wanted you to blaze up the steps or come down into the ground, burying into the earth next to me. You tried and when you fell, I wished on you without words, but not for you to die.

I wished for you to be okay. You were. I wished for you to quit wincing in pain. You eventually did. And with all my heart, I wished for you to stop feeling haunted. Nothing was ever the same again after that.

RAZ: Those were excerpts from four of the more than 5,000 stories we've received this round of Three-Minute Fiction.

You heard "A Fox Among Hounds," by listener Kenneth Keys of Tucson, Arizona; "Keep a Good House," by Sarah Commerford of Holliston, Massachusetts; also, "The Sahlfeld Place," by R.E. Greene of South Dakota; and Elizabeth Parker Garcia's "Glad You Made It." She's from McAllen, Texas.

And thanks to the folks who read these stories for us: Kirk Penberthy, Kathryn Klovana, John Badila and our own Susan Stamberg. And you can find the full version of these stories and others at npr.org/threeminutefiction, That's threeminutefiction all spelled out, no spaces.

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