Three-Minute Fiction: Sneak Peek

We're one step closer to choosing a winner for this round of our Three-Minute Fiction contest. The students at the Iowa Writer's Workshop have read more than 5,000 stories. Now it's up to our judge Michael Cunningham to make the final decision. Until then, host Guy Raz continues to present a few of the standout stories.

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(Soundbite of clock ticking)

GUY RAZ, host:

In Round Five of Three Minute Fiction, our contest, where we ask you to submit an original short story that can be read in under three minutes, each story had to begin like this:

ELIZABETH BLAIR: Some people swore that the house was haunted.

Mr. MICHAEL CUNNINGHAM: Some people swore that the house was haunted.

BOB MONDELLO: Some people swore that the house was haunted.

LYNN NEARY: Some people swore that the house was haunted.

RAZ: Some people swore that the house was haunted. More than 5,000 stories came in this round. Now, our judge, author Michael Cunningham, is still busy reading the top stories chosen by our readers at the Iowa Writers Workshop. The problem? There are so many good ones.

Mr. CUNNINGHAM: I'd hoped we'd have a winner on Halloween, but I have to say, I think I may need a little more time.

RAZ: So forgive us. We'll need just a little more time. But for now, here are some excerpts from three stories that caught our eye.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. CUNNINGHAM: That night, I saw the owl on a branch outside of my window. It was pale white and almost completely see-through like milk in an owl shaped glass. It shifted from leg to leg and kept looking over its shoulder. I couldn't see what it was looking for. It was cloudy, and the woods were dark.

The next one was a falcon of some kind. Shelby pulled an old bird book from the shelf, and we all watched as he turned the pages until we found it. Peregrine, he said softly and looked up. Bill looked closer. That bird shouldn't be around here.

We buried it and said grace, and that night it was on the branch outside my window. The owl shifted, and the falcon ruffled its feathers.

(Soundbite of music)

BLAIR: The man beat his fists on doors, shutters and walls. He ran around the house frantically looking for a way out. It was impossible. Not only being trapped but with the house in such disrepair, how could it be so strong as to hold him in?

The house was content. Even though the man yelled and screamed, beat her, kicked her and was tearing apart her insides, she had a human again. He made her feel alive.

(Soundbite of music)

MONDELLO: (Reading) As it turns out, the attic room is perfect for an office. Moving into this house had been like sinking into a warm bath. I closed my eyes and leaned back in my plush office chair. When I opened them, the auburn-haired woman sat on my desk, her long hair fell down her back and pooled slightly on the desk.

Trying to torture me?

NEARY: No. Presenting myself in a form pleasing to you.

MONDELLO: Don't ghosts usually keep their own form? There was that light giggle again.

NEARY: I'm not so simple as a ghost. This house has a long history and a spirit of its own.

MONDELLO: I walked around the desk and raised my hand as if to touch her. Are you real?

NEARY: Yes.

MONDELLO: I laid my hand on her shoulder, which was solid. I ran my hand down her arm and to her hand. You look just like her.

NEARY: I know.

MONDELLO: She dragged me in to her warm, soft lips. This, too, was like drowning. And for the second time in my life, nothing was ever the same again after that.

RAZ: Some excerpts from three of the more than 5,000 short stories submitted for Round Five of Three Minute Fiction. We heard "Roosts" by Zach Brockhouse of Cullowhee, North Carolina; "Last Hope" by Christy Cook of Oglesby, Illinois; and "Victorian Architecture" by Kimber Kenobi of Louisville, Kentucky.

Thanks to our Elizabeth Blair, Bob Mondello, Lynn Neary and our judge Michael Cunningham for reading them. You can find full versions of these stories and more at our website, npr.org/threeminutefiction.

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