The judges, as usual, fell for all the entries and had a terrible time deciding amongst them, all from friends, former students and fellow inmates. (This makes judging NC contests an extremely debilitating sport.) It’s a sad thing to force distinctions when everyone has entered the fray with such zeal and enthusiasm. All entries did what they were meant to do: tell a story in terse, stern prose. They all had élan. Many played with the idea of being in or outside a box (or a bottle, or a literal box). Jonah wrote his as an acrostic, an ancient form much used in the Bible, a different sort of box. There was a huge battle over Anna Maria’s actual box entry. But it was decided to include it here as a sixth finalist simply because making art out of the conventions (rules) of art is a legitimate artistic form. It wouldn’t be fair just to give her the prize for best Off The Page entry (though the judges are doing that, too).
The judges admired Vivian Dorsel’s entry for its use of literary allusion (the fairy tale) and for putting the heroine in the box. They admired Rich Farrell’s entry for its loopy adventure and romance, for the word “cavitate” and for that ending (the whole thing reminded the judges of their favourite movie Joe vs. the Volcano). Julie and Christopher put their novel in a bottle with, well, Noel Coward and wrote a pseudo-Edwardian romp with redemption at the end. Shelagh put her character in a metaphorical box and made him think of poetry. And Jonah wrote the acrostic. All this is wonderful.
Of those left behind, the judges want to mention Court Merrigan, who entered twice and wrote a lovely little thing about plague and love, and Cheryl Wilder for the old man in the closet asking for the toilet paper and her surprise ending.
But the competition was exceedingly fierce and the judges love you all.
Maid in a Box: A Shorter-than-Usual Fiction
By Vivian Dorsel
Once upon a time there was a fair young maid (the
fairest of the land) whose wicked stepmother kept her
in a box. During chapter one, her seven wicked step-
sisters amused themselves by taunting her and poking
her with sticks through the spaces between the boards.
One day, at the beginning of chapter two, a handsome
prince arrived at the fair young maid’s house looking
for the fairest of the land. The stepmother trotted out
her seven hideous daughters, but of course the prince
was unimpressed, and left to continue his search.
The handsome prince spent the better part of chapter
three visiting every house in his kingdom without
finding the fairest of the land, so he decided to give an
elaborate and sumptuous ball to see if a fair young
maid might attend whom he had missed in his search.
Meanwhile, back in the box, the fair maid was feeling a
little cramped. After all, she had been living in this box
since long before chapter one, and she was getting too
big for it. She complained, to no avail, so near the end
of chapter four she tried to figure out a way to escape.
By chapter five the fair young maid had decided that
she needed a fairy godmother. She consulted the mice
that usually run around the cellars of once-upon-a-
time houses, but they didn’t understand what she was
talking about, so she kept pondering till chapter six.
When she woke up early in chapter six, the fair young
maid saw a white cat outside the box, thinking. “Fairy
godmother?” she said. “Meow,” replied the cat, trans-
forming immediately into a beautiful white-gowned
woman in a shiny tiara, a sparkling wand in her hand.
“It’s already chapter seven, and I’m not even dressed!”
cried the fair young maid. “I don’t have a pumpkin,”
said the fairy godmother. “Never mind that,” said the
maid, “I can walk. Just get me a party dress and some
sturdy shoes. Not those glass things you people like.”
The fairy godmother waved her wand, just in time for
the young maid to make a dramatic chapter-eight
entrance to the castle ball. The handsome prince,
instantly recognizing her as the fairest of the land,
dropped to his knees and proposed. “OK,” she said.
When he heard her story. the prince was awed. “How
did you manage all that in such a short time?” he
asked. “Easy,” she said. “It only took a white cat who
could think outside the box.” And they lived happily
ever after, or at least till the end of chapter nine.
Wondering Where the Lions Are
By Rich Farrell
Adam arrives on the shoreline while robed and naked swimmers mill about, shuffling between stations, signing legal documents, waivers. Green’s Island looms on the horizon. The starter loads a gun. “Eve,” a beautiful woman says to Adam, holding out her hand. He smiles when he says his name. But he hates her, too.
The swim to Green’s Island will consume many and Adam worries. Only those filled with desire and stamina survive. Does he measure up? No one talks of doubt. An incantatory speech is delivered. “Hale…glory….victory.” The swimmers cheer. Eve drops out of her clothes and stands naked next to him, her nipples erect.
The starter raises the pistol above his head. The gun cracks. Swimmers crash into the waves, flailing through the frigid surf. Adam lags behind. He chokes on turbulent bubbles cavitating from kicking feet. Eve struggles with her goggles in the frothy sea, but he swims past her. The race leaves no time for mercy.
An hour into the swim, Adam considers how all his life he has dreamed of Green’s Island. It’s closer than ever, but still miles away. Many have already fallen out, plucked by the rescue boat and taken back to shore. Others cling to buoys or float on their backs, waiting for the boat’s return. Turtleback Mountain bobs up and down between swells.
At noon, the first sharks are sighted. People scream. Eve swims near Adam again. “Did you see it?” she asks. He flaps her away with his hand. “Dick,” she yells as he swims away. The shark snaps a swimmer and pulls him under. Gunshots fire from the rescue boat. The swimmer climbs over the gunwale. A stump stains white planks red and Adam vomits into the sea.
The strongest swimmers reach the shore before the sun drops below Turtleback. They jump and dance on the beach. Fireworks explode in the purple sky. Adam’s shoulders cramp. Eve appears again, her eyes nearly closed. She has discarded her goggles and Adam takes her hand. Her naked breasts bob above the water’s surface.
The shark’s dorsal fin scrapes his leg. Eve screams out. They are only yards from shore, but still outside the reef. They swim faster. The shark circles as a breaker lifts Adam’s body. Palm trees and glowing tiki torches litter the shoreline. They splash ashore, nearly on top of each other. Eve kisses him and Adam’s heart fills with unspeakable joy!
Late into the evening there is a roasted boar, palm wine, Green’s Island drum music. Adam makes love to Eve. He dreams of his children, his wife, while Eve snores lightly beside him. At dawn, another meeting convenes. “The Journey has just begun,” an old man tells them. Angry faces search each other for answers, but no one speaks.
The next day, Adam climbs into a row boat. Boxed rations line the stern. “West,” says Eve. She waves goodbye and Adam paddles through the surf until the island recedes, Eve shrinking on the beach. He paddles beyond the reef, beyond the azure water until, in all directions, the horizon is an empty, blue line.
By Anna Maria Johnson
Novel in a bottle
by Julie Marden and Christopher Willard
The sea remained cracked. Fiona kissed the porthole glass and crawled over the three women sharing her upper berth. She still hadn’t spoken to them (nor they to her). She wanted Mr. Kinglet. One of the women cocked open an eye and appraised Fiona’s dirty-nailed fingertips as they slipped from the ladder’s top rung. The old woman snored, relaxed her girth.
Mrs. D from County Cork tore out pages and tossed them overboard. Gerdy the steward caught one. “Messages of condolence and sympathy are being hourly received from all continents.” He recalled Fiona’s tenderness and turned to the stack of tin plates holding the cocktail franks. “Starve. Choke. What’s the difference?” he muttered, searching the pantry for paint.
At the evening party, thongs were the costume party of choice, at least among the men. Captain Flegg jumped overboard (again). “Grab his leg!” Women screamed. Professor Zeugma, his teeth rotten as his desires, drove Fiona against the bulwark. “When the cork comes we’re all goners.” He stumbled off. Fiona flushed, not noticing Mr. Kinglet slip behind a mast. The air reeked glue.
The doldrums sang a morose litany
Day by day, little by little,
A number sank off the coast of Brittany,
Gerdy gave up, began to whittle.
Mr. Kinglet offered Mrs. D a low lounge chair. A clavicle man, this was an opportunity. “You c-c-c can call me M-M-Miss if you wish,” stuttered Mrs. D. Her nose bounced through the air as she sniffed his Score cologne. Kinglet turned away. “I believe I’ve mistaken you for Fiona’s bunk mate.” he said. “You ef-f-ffeminate f-f-f-fop,” returned Mrs. D.
Most of the rooms are empty. I should know, I slept in them all. So read the last page of the diary of Eunice Brawl, dead at age twenty four and four tenths of an hour. Fingers shaking, Gerdy displayed the entry to Fiona. “Strychnine,” he said. “And strangulation with a paisley ascot.” Empty rooms, Fiona thought. Where? Alone, Gerdy painted Eunice’s words on another sail.
Fiona accosted her bunkmate. “All my life I was told you were dead.” The woman handed Fiona a tiny lady-slipper shell. “It was your grandmama’s,” she said, using the French pronunciation. Lonely, pale, Mr. Kinglet walked in. Fiona presented the shell, which he evaluated. He put his hand under Fiona’s blouse.
Everything incarnadine: clothes pulled up, off, furrowed around ankles, necks. On deck, below deck. Amidst shattered glass and shagged bodies, Gerdy found the shell filled with Fiona’s tears and pressed it to his palm. He clambered to the prow, leaped, and swam through the opening, twisting past crumbled cork, holding his breath until both sea and sky unclasped their hands to greet him.
By Shelagh Shapiro
Buried in snow. Hand in place—good, smart—punching
at the snow, packing it. Black cave around my face. Keep
poking half-inch jabs: more space, more air, more time.
How many minutes, if I do this right? Fifteen? Thirty? Dark.
Can’t move. Don’t panic, Mitchell. Breathe slow. Don’t waste it.
Never heard an avalanche before, but I knew. Slab of snow
cracking, breaking, pouring over me. Skied for the trees, but not
fast enough. No pole in the air. Damn. Maybe one’s poking up.
Maybe one got thrown to the top. Or a ski. Enough to help them
find me, maybe. If they dig in the right spot. If up is up.
Tyler was in the trees. Saw it, maybe. Dig! Slow it down. Tight on
air. Should have worn a beacon. Tyler said, “We don’t need it.”
Pothead, waste of air. Failing 3 classes. Emily was farther down.
Wish we hadn’t fought this morning. She called me an asshole. Stupid
Yesterday on the lift, she talked about the trees, how they’re covered in
snow and it weighs on the branches, sparkling. Like poetry, the branches
under the snow, so dark the green looks black. Two nights ago, walking
outside the condo, we stopped at a lamp post and looked up. Above the
circle of light, nothing, but inside that circle, snow coming at us like infinity.
How much time? Slow it down. Stay calm. Snow like water and I’m
drowning. It’s granite, squeezing me. Knees at my chest—how’d that
happen? Can’t feel my feet. Can’t tell if my skis released. If they released,
they might poke through. Then Tyler could find me. If Tyler digs me
out, I’ll buy him weed for a year. Dig, man. Find me. I’m right here.
I can hear music. My ear buds, somewhere near my face. The Fray.
Her favorite. If I die, she’ll feel terrible. Not that it’s love. But it’s been
okay. She called it temporary. “Just for now.” Sometimes it felt like it
could be more, though.
Maybe they’ll hear the music. Where’s my iPod anyway? Good. Think about
where things are. Something real. Don’t panic. Keys, inside right pocket. Burt’s
Bees lip balm—outside right pocket. Cell phone and iPod together. Inside left,
I think. And the Dentyne, outside left, because I’m trying to quit smoking.
Which now seems unbelievably pointless! Agony, to think of the last month.
“You asshole,” she said this morning. “Why do you always have to be right?”
Last time I saw her, we both shoved off the quad and went in different
directions. Last time I saw her. Don’t think about that. How much time?
Where are they? I’m dying here.
Don’t think about dying. Don’t think about being buried in snow, in granite.
Don’t think about being buried at all. Don’t think about suffocating—how
long that takes. Don’t think about the dark. About drowning. Don’t think
about the color of air, gray and fading. Think about light, right there, above me.
Think about seeing it: light on snow on branches. Poetry. Think about poetry.
By Jonah Glover
“Just announced the new contest!” Jonah’s dad said. “Great!” said Jonah, and so he sat down at his computer, and immediately got up again.
Orange juice spilled out of Jonah’s cup as he ran to his room. He was ready to write a novel in a box to win the novel-in-a-box contest. His fingers starting clacking fiercely on his keyboard, only taking a break to sip of his delicious fruit beverage and read back a title that would forever change lives “Jonah Glover: a Novel.” He then stared blankly at his computer screen for the rest of the night.
Nasty screams emanated from his throat as Jonah threw his backpack on the floor. “Who does he think he is?” Full of hormonal rage and teen angst, he searched for a creative outlet. The novel in a box contest! Surely this will quell the sorrows that burdened his heart. He tapped out a title that was sure to be an award winner. He then noticed a hot girl had sent him a Facebook message–
After a night of deep sleep, Jonah woke Saturday morning unsure how to spend the day. He surfed the internet until he remembered his father’s novel in a box contest. He got a pen and pencil to start writing down an organizational chart of his winning work, and then spent the rest of the afternoon drawing images of a certain beloved cartoon mouse in fights with other cartoon characters.
Had he not chosen to watch every movie on his computer that day, Jonah surely would have written the absolute best possible arrangement of nouns and verbs ( and a few other things) for Douglas Glover’s novel in a box contest, and won it for sure.
(We regret to inform you reader, that the computer wasn’t even turned on today. Sorry.)
I twyd 2 rit abok tody but I gut nto mi dads licker cabnet.
Nothing could stop him now. “A visionary on a quest” the people would say. Jonah smiled as he imagined the spoils he’d received for his victory. He knew what he wanted to write, and how he would write it. But then, CRASH! BOOM! A power line went down, and Jonah’s computer turned of…
Slowly Jonah typed out his entry to the famous novel in a box writing contest. He knew for sure he’d at least place. How many other people could have hidden the name of the obvious winner in the first letter of the first word of every chapter (hint, hint)?
“DG was thinking the prize this time would be, maybe, a ride in his minivan from the Saratoga Springs bus depot to his house, a tour of the palatial DG mansion, possibly a dip in the pool (well, you could run through the lawn sprinkler). Some cheese and crackers and a shot of Old Grandad.”
If I were to win, I’d call the judges’ bluff and actually show up—and I wouldn’t even require a ride from the bus station. (That should be enough to disqualify me; besides, Hobbes has probably drained the liquor cabinet by now.)
I heard the prize was Talisker, which I provide, so perhaps I’ll get to drink of my own cup, so to speak. I better get two bottles.