After almost two months of reading through more than 5,000 of your short stories, we have a winner in Round Five of our Three-Minute Fiction contest.
That's our regular contest where we ask you to submit an original short story that can be read in less than three minutes.
For Round Five, we asked you to send us original works of fiction that began with the line, "Some people swore that the house was haunted," and ended with the line, "Nothing was ever the same again after that."
Those rules came from our judge for this round, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Michael Cunningham. Students at the Iowa Writers' Workshop helped us read every one of the entries we received.
And the story that topped them all? "The one that most thoroughly knocked me out as I read it — over and over and over again — is a beautiful and very unorthodox story called 'Roosts' by Zach Brockhouse."
"It was the only one that involved a haunted birdhouse, for one thing," Cunningham tells Weekend All Things Considered host Guy Raz. "But that, of course, is the least of its beauties. It is so marvelously written, so evocative, so vivid. And I love the mysteriousness of it."
Brockhouse, of Portland, Maine, is a copywriter at an advertising agency, but he's never published any fiction before.
"In advertising, it's very tight and controlled, and there's a lot of revision," he tells Raz. "Fiction writing, for me, is the exact opposite of that — sort of like jumping off of a dock."
Brockhouse's story sees a parade of birds arrive at a particular birdhouse — to die. He says the story reaches back into his childhood.
"I grew up outside Charleston, S.C., and we had a lot of cats — and as a result, a lot of wounded animals," he says. "Mostly birds. And I'd take it upon myself, every one I found I would try and rescue. I kept them all in this little rabbit hutch I had in the backyard."
"It never really ended well," he admits. "I sort of came to realize that maybe they were on their own path. And no matter what I did, I couldn't change it. So this story, in a way, is sort of me stepping back and letting all those birds go. In the same way that maybe each of these characters is sort of stepping back and learning to let go of something."
As our Round Five winner, Brockhouse will receive signed copies of Cunningham's books The Hours and By Nightfall.
Our next round of Three-Minute Fiction starts in December, when we launch a new round with a new judge, fiction writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.