The contest is over; I didn't win. But in a way, I did.
I am an avid contestant. I fill out forms, I complete tasks, and I enjoy the game.
However, the "typical" me is shy and critical when it comes to actually submitting something to be "judged". See? Isn't that a harsh word?
But this time, I accepted the challenge, whole-heartedly. And I didn't win.
However, I'm totally okay with it. In fact, I loved it. It had rules I could follow and presented a challenge I enjoyed.
The story requirements were that it was a mere-600 words or less and began with "Some people swore that the house was haunted..." and end with "...nothing was ever the same again after that." Curious?
Here is my entry from the most recent NPR Three-Minute Fiction contest:
A Snowballs Chance...
Some people swore that the house was haunted. My wife, for one, felt that it was Snowball’s spirit that scratched at the door each night. My daughter swore that the dirt piled near the flowerbed could only be the “Ghost of Snowball” returning to her old habits. Even the neighbors, who hadn’t heard the news, called to complain about the mess left in their yard.
But after Snowball’s mysterious disappearance, I was the only one who had tended to our Bichon Frise’s remains, who had trudged, heavy-hearted, to Foster Road, who had gently nudged the small dog’s white, life-less body into the empty box and then, the one who had dug the hole deep enough to ensure that no intruders would disturb her endless slumber. Yet days after the event, some people still wouldn’t let go.
“Daddy, you can’t take away Snowball’s house now,” my daughter pleaded, her eyes welling with tears. “Where will he go to sleep after his busy nights?”
How do you explain to a five-year-old that death is forever? How do I tell her that all dogs chase squirrels in trees during the wee-hours of the morning and bark at the full moon in the middle of the night? Who but a furry friend could offer the same sense of security from all things that go bump in the night? I, too, was at a loss.
So, as with most issues in our house, it was unanimous. My wife and daughter agreed. The dog house would stay. At least, until Snowball’s spirit found rest.
During the first week following the dog’s death, I was mowing the yard and found one of Snowball’s favorite toys, a squeaky frog. I had almost missed it hiding in the tall grass. Then, the memories snuck in. I recalled that first day. My girls had returned from an “adventure” with a “surprise”. Snowball had been so small, barely any larger than the toy itself. I remembered how I laughed as I watched my toddler chase after the little fluff of a creature. But Snowball was more than that.
I brushed a tear from my eye. “Dang allergies,” I muttered to myself.
Despite the small expanse of enclosed space, I found more of Snowball’s “favorites”; a worn-out tennis ball, a rubberize fire-hydrant, and oddly, a bone. I picked each up, tossed them onto the porch and then promptly forgot about them.
The next morning as I left for work, I remembered the pile of toys. The bone was gone. At that moment, unlike the rest of my family, I knew that what was haunting us was not the spirit of Snowball, but more likely, a bothersome stray.
I spent the rest of my day planning my ghost hunting strategy. I would buy a motion-detecting light with a camera attachment, a no-kill trap, and an easy-to-apply muzzle. I could sense the “Ghost of Snowball” business nearing its end.
The clerk at the hardware store noticed the excitement, perhaps over-excitement, in my purchases.
“Got raccoons?” she asked, smiling.
“Nope, I’m conducting a paranormal investigation.” I smiled back and winked. Problem solved. I scooped up the bag and grabbed the cage. I had walked not two feet when I was stopped.
The orange wall in front of me was marred by a single stand-out image.
I set down the cage and moved closer.
Staring out at me, beady eyes and all, was a Bichon Frise. “MISSING! LAST SEEN A WEEK AGO RUNNING DOWN FOSTER ROAD….” I scanned the flyer, “…Casper”.
I had already buried the ghost.
Nothing was ever the same again after that.