Three-Minute Fiction

I recently submitted the following to NPR’s short fiction contest. The challenge was to write no more than 600 words, using the opening and closing sentence provided. It turned out to be a fun little exercise, though a bit difficult to whittle down to the word limit. Any thoughts or impressions are welcome and appreciated…

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“Apnea”

Some people swore that the house was haunted.

As I drive by the decaying structure it’s a classic fall day, the leaves crisp and pumpkins dotting driveways and porches. Passing the abandoned textile plant and the now rusted water tower that looks like a giant flashlight, a faint picture of the man who died there surfaces in my memory.

Before the perfect storm of circumstances gathered in his life, Lance had been calm, his demeanor quite agreeable and gracious. He escorted patrons to the stacks, giving them a tip on the Dewey system and how to narrow a search. He even relished stamping the due dates on stiff hardbacks, and made small talk with parents and children alike. But one evening the thing that was seething, underlying, percolating in Lance the Librarian made itself known in a frisson that left us locals in disbelief.

We remained close through high school, but after Lance decided to attend Loyola I lost contact with him. Imagine my shock to learn the news at our class reunion.

The story that was circulating was that Lance had lapsed into a deep depression after returning to his hometown and landing the job at the reference desk at Blythe Shoals Public Library. Ever the quiet, thoughtful young man, some patrons had noticed Lance looking very tired, given to inappropriate verbal outbursts and his clothes increasingly disheveled. After falling asleep at a traffic light on the way to work one day, narrowly avoiding a fender bender, his coworkers finally urged him to see the doctor. The career path of bibliographies and lexicons had meant a sedentary life for Lance, and from years of eating TV dinners and danishes came added weight and — unknown to him — many times during fitful slumber when he would literally stop breathing.

Thanks to some new treatment options, Lance was fitted with a CPAP machine, a complex contraption of mask and tubing which kept his airway open when he lay down to sleep. He began to feel like Frankenstein when he strapped the Velcro straps around his chin, and set the pressure dial to the prescribed setting. One night he even dreamed he was a super-hero, with the ability to leap the water-tower and fly through the stacks of the adult fiction section, scanning bar codes with laser vision and maintaining his secret identity thanks to the breathing mask he wore. In his vision it was blazing orange and he sported biceps and a rock-hard abdomen that made the ladies swoon.

Most importantly, Lance had found a new lease on life. He wasn’t crazy.

One night in late October Lance left the library, finding the smoky air so invigorating he decided to walk the few blocks from his workplace to his little house. He cradled the new Jonathan Franzen novel in his arm, which he had just processed and took the liberty of checking out before the general public could have a turn. Arriving at his side door, he fumbled for his key and thought about what pizza toppings he would call in directly.

As he flicked on the light in the hallway, a figure moved into his view. In probably no more than five seconds, the intruder knocked Lance to the floor, sending the freshly shrink-wrapped novel shuttling across the floor. The librarian felt the blade puncture his chest, just below the liver. The local newspaper included the term “home invasion” for the first time. Lance had left no survivors, only regrets that he had not pursued his real dream of becoming a syndicated cartoonist.

Nothing was ever the same again after that.

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2 Replies to “Three-Minute Fiction”

  1. how are you!This was a really impressive Topics!
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  2. Dramatic ending aside, I still think you should be trying to find time to write fiction. You do a much better job at description than I could ever do, the artist in you, I suppose. Thus, I hope you’ll find some time to get a story or two out (and finished).

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