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JACKI LYDEN, HOST:

Write a story in the form of a voice mail message. That was our prompt for this round of our Three-Minute Fiction writing contest. Not an easy task, but 4,000 of you took on the challenge. We're about to read excerpts from some of the topnotch entries that our wonderful graduate students helped us to pick out, and our readers come from more than a dozen schools, including NYU, University of Wisconsin and University of Minnesota.

Every story will be read. The best ones will be passed on to our judge for this round, the novelist Mona Simpson. Here's one that caught our eye. It's called "After the Tone."

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TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: (Reading) This guy comes out of a building across the street. He's walking his dog. But the guy just keeps his normal pace. He doesn't adjust his pace to the dog's. It's like he's silently saying: Chill out. We will only ever go as fast as I want us to go. I feel like I'm that dog, and you're my companion, walking me only as fast as you want to go.

So here I am, telling you over a voice mail that I think we're incompatible. I don't even have the decency to do this over email. Wait, that came out wrong. I'm not trying to break up with you. God, I can't believe I almost left a breakup message when that is, like, the last thing this message is about. I'm having a hard time getting to my point. So anyway, I'm pregnant. Call me?

LYDEN: That was Tamara Keith reading an excerpt from the story "After the Tone," written by Jaqui Higgins-Dailey of Phoenix, Arizona. Next, a story that's light years away from that one. It's called "Space-Time Capsule."

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BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: Hey, sweets. It's me. Found your note in the crisper. So sneaky. Made me feel like you're still here. But not. Your earthly ghost. Wish I could've hidden notes for you on Mars or on the ship. Probably that's a breach of security, though. What I meant to say was we should have a place, somewhere we can go to in our minds when we get scared or a year feels too long, you know?

I was thinking about that perfect time on Sunday mornings just after we've finished eating waffles or soft-boiled eggs on toast where there's still enough day, we're not anxious for the week yet. You've got your tea and your Harper's. I've got my coffee and my book of the day. Maybe Nina Simone is singing about sugar bowls.

I'm thinking of that quiet moment when we look at each other, when we're not alone. That's all I really wanted to say. Forget the other stuff. Remember, I love you.

LYDEN: That was NPR's Bob Mondello reading an excerpt from the story "Space-Time Capsule" by Jill Schepmann of San Francisco. And you can read the rest of both of these stories on our website, npr.org/threeminutefiction. That's Three-Minute Fiction all spelled out, no spaces. Be sure to tune in next week to hear more voice mail excerpts from Three-Minute Fiction Round 10.

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