Three-Minute Fiction: Great Men, Real White House

Three-Minute Fiction is drawing to a close as graduate students from across the country pass along their favorite submissions to judge Brad Meltzer, author of "Book of Lies." NPR's Bob Mondello and Lynn Neary read excerpts from The Real White House by Valerie Wright of Portland, Maine, and Great Men by Sarah Healy of Williston, Vt. Read the full stories below and find other Three-Minute Fiction submissions at npr.org/threeminutefiction.

Copyright © 2012 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

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JACKI LYDEN, HOST:

Only one more week before we announce the winner of our Three-Minute Fiction contest, our contest where listeners send in original stories of under 600 words. Our judge, the novelist Brad Meltzer, asked for stories that revolve around a U.S. president who could be fictional or real. Brad will join us next weekend to reveal the winner of Round 9 of Three-Minute Fiction. Until then, take a listen to some excerpts of our favorite stories so far.

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BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: (Reading) The aide Seymour rushed in, a drape of yellow silk fluttering from his hands. Mr. President, I'm sorry, but you need to change your tie. The viewers picked this one for you to wear today. The viewers had chosen Seymour three months earlier, and for the most part, he was working out OK. Casting had been given strict parameters this time after the intended three-episode story arc last season involving another aide Becca had to be cut to one and a half episodes when Becca was caught trying to steal a Murano glass figurine the president had received as a gift from the Italian prime minister.

The viewers liked Becca and getting rid of her so abruptly generated a minor backlash on Twitter. But when the president's chief of staff chewed out the Secret Service agents on the air for a good 15 minutes - about eight minutes of which had to be bleeped - the viewers settled down.

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LYNN NEARY, BYLINE: (Reading) He had hoped that getting close to it would steady his heart. It had been rolling like a drum all day, a relentless build with no release. Padding blindly forward, the density of the thick turf caused him to stumble slightly, but he caught himself and kept going, as if it hadn't happened. He could see it now as it glowed, elegant against the navy sweep of sky. The house of the man carved in stone usually soothed him. But tonight, he couldn't escape the air, which was thick and fingered, reaching down the collar of his shirt, making him feel cold and hot and wet all at once.

As he moved through the Mall, he didn't look back at them, though he knew they were there, waiting through the dark like lions in waist-high swaths of African grass.

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LYDEN: That was Bob Mondello and Lynn Neary reading excerpts from "The Real White House" by Valerie Wright of Portland, Maine, and "Great Men" by Sarah Healy of Williston, Vermont. To read these stories in full along with other Three-Minute Fiction submissions, visit npr.org/threeminutefiction. That's Three-Minute Fiction all spelled out, no spaces. And don't forget to join the ongoing conversation on our Three-Minute Fiction Facebook page.

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Great Men

For Round 9 of our Three-Minute Fiction contest, we asked you to send us original works of fiction that revolve around a U.S. president, who can be real or fictional. Our winner was "The Dauphin."

Lincoln i i
iStockphoto.com
Lincoln
iStockphoto.com

He had hoped that getting close to it would steady his heart. It had been rolling like a drum all day, a relentless build with no release. Padding blindly forward, the density of the thick turf caused him to stumble slightly, but he caught himself and kept going. As if it hadn't happened.

He could see it now as it glowed, elegant and elegiac against the navy sweep of sky. The house of the man carved in stone usually soothed him, but tonight he couldn't escape the air, which was thick and fingered, reaching down the collar of his shirt, making him feel cold and hot and wet all at once.

As he moved through the Mall, he didn't look back at them, though knew they were there, wading through the dark in their black suits like lions in waist-high swaths of African grass.

The Reflecting Pool was now to his left. He felt the urge to run into it, to disrupt its pristine surface, letting it become chaos and violence and all the things that would be a more accurate mirror to the world. He wanted to submerge himself in the water, wanted to let it find its way down his mouth, into his ears, up his nose, pushing out air and sound and thoughts. But he kept walking, knowing his purpose.

And then he was there, in front of it. He climbed the stairs as quickly as he could, watching the shiny black tips of his shoes charge competently up the stone. He had played baseball in college. They used to run up the stadium steps in training and the heat in his muscles felt good; the burning sensation of the physical.

When he saw the man, he stopped, his chest still rising and falling with labored breath, undignified in its volume. Then he straightened up, as you do in the presence of someone who was called great. That's why they built it, the Lincoln Memorial. That's why they carved the man in stone. But he knew that Lincoln was as pragmatic and compromised as the rest of them. He had to be. Because ideals were as mythical as Great Men.

Without warning, he felt his face tighten and a need grow in his chest, but he kept his hands planted firmly on his hips. When he submitted to it, a breath screeched down his throat and then rushed back out again. A single sob. He felt the men move in, wondering if they should act and how quickly.

He stepped closer to Lincoln, over the chain barrier to stand below the statue's enormous right foot, which jutted out past the platform. He always thought that was a nice touch, a humanizing one.

Turning, he saw that the men were in a line now, their muscles tensed like springs. He stood above them and the vantage point brought him some comfort but his damn heart still wouldn't slow. He saw the one in the middle tentatively lift his leg to cross the chain.

He swallowed. "Just give me a minute," he said, then he raised his eyes to look out at the monument, and the capital building behind it. As he stared at their immaculate glory he was reminded of those conspiracists who thought the lunar landing was a hoax. That what millions believed to be the moon was actually an elaborate set. He laughed silently to himself, then took a breath and swallowed again.

Finally, one of the men spoke. "Mr. President," he said. "You can't stay here."

The Real White House

For Round 9 of our Three-Minute Fiction contest, we asked you to send us original works of fiction that revolve around a U.S. president, who can be real or fictional. Our winner was "The Dauphin."

camera i i
iStockphoto.com
camera
iStockphoto.com

The president ducked sharply to avoid being smacked in the face by the microphone boom. The Oval Office was not designed for the president, his aides and advisers to do business alongside a camera crew, and space was tight. Today was especially tricky because four scenes had to be filmed before lunch, in between a national security update and the president's weekly chiropractic adjustment.

The aide, Seymour, rushed in, a drape of yellow silk fluttering from his hands. "Mr. President, I'm sorry but you need to change your tie — the viewers picked this one for you to wear today." The viewers had chosen Seymour three months earlier, and for the most part, he was working out OK.

Casting had been given strict parameters this time, after the intended three-episode story arc last season involving another aide, Becca, had to be cut to one-and-a-half episodes when Becca was caught trying to steal a Murano glass figurine the president had received as a gift from the Italian prime minister.

The viewers liked Becca, and getting rid of her so abruptly generated a minor backlash on Twitter, but when the president's chief of staff chewed out the Secret Service agents on the air for a good 15 minutes — about eight minutes of which had to be bleeped — the viewers settled down.

As the president tied the yellow tie, the show's assistant director scuttled over, her head wrapped in a helix of earphones and microphones, her hands clutching the daily schedule and three different colored pens. She looked like she had drunk too much coffee.

"Mr. President," she said, her words rattling like pebbles in a can, "the first scene is with you, Secretary Hoffman and his aide, and the chief, and we would like Seymour to sit in too. Could you make sure you ask Seymour something during the meeting? The viewers really want Seymour to take a more active role here."

The chief of staff entered the room and greeted the crew. The president knew the chief of staff was popular with the viewers, and he was a little envious. But if the viewers liked the chief of staff and wanted to see more of him, that could only help the president in the next election.

At that moment, Secretary Hoffman's figure appeared in the doorway. The effect on the room was startling. The network crew scurried around frantically, their headset antennas bouncing. One of them yelled, "Places!" which the president understood to mean he should sit behind the desk so he could get up to greet Secretary Hoffman.

As he walked to his chair, he tried to ignore the throng outside the curved bank of windows. The crowd could obviously tell that filming was about to start, because they started waving their signs with renewed vigor.

The president could not help but notice a girl holding a yellow handmade sign that read, "I'M 16 TODAY!! WISH ME HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MR. PRESIDENT!" The president pointed to her, mouthed the words, "HAPPY BIRTHDAY," and pointed to his yellow tie, thinking the connection between the color of his tie and her sign might be meaningful to her. The girl dropped her sign, jumped up and down and clapped.

The president turned, sat down behind his desk, and waited patiently for the director to call, "Action!"

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