Monday, October 11, 2010

The story NPR would never read on the radio

So I was listening to the NPR one day, as is my wont. Fantasizing about Kai Ryssdal, most likely. And then! What was this? They were having a short story contest! The story must be very short - it would take only a minute to read aloud - and begin with the phrase "They said the house was haunted." It should end, naturally, with "and things were never the same again."

I began to write feverishly, terrible idea after terrible idea blossoming on the page. Yes, it would be about a Japanese tentacle monster. But it would be a retired tentacle monster! There would be no schoolgirl molestation in this story, no sir. "I should check the rules," I thought. "To make sure there's nothing to disqualify me from this contest other than my own inclination to write things that can never be broadcast in public." I googled. I googled again. This contest was nowhere on the internets. Not NPR, not PRI, not KQED, not KQED's elderly disfigured cousin, KALW. Alas, the contest appeared to have disappeared. And yet, my story remained, dripping slightly. And so I present to you:

The Story NPR Would Never Read on the Radio Even If I Could Find Their Contest, Which I Cannot

They said the house was haunted. And it was. But it was also leased. It’s not like he was staying there illegally. Being on the right side of the law was very important to the tentacle monster. Rather, the retired tentacle monster. To clarify, he hadn’t retired his tentacles–there’s no way to rid yourself of your own ungainly, seeping limbs without taking yet more ungainly, seeping measures–but he was certainly finished lurking in deep-sea caves, crushing the hulls of schooners, and doing whatever he did at his last job, of which he rarely spoke.

“I was summering in Japan,” he’d say. He’d cough.
“Look, I thought we were making an art film. We all had tea after. The girls were very friendly. I still get Christmas cards.”
I picked at a scab on my wrist, avoiding several of his eyes.
“I didn’t plan on becoming the symbol for everything that’s weird about Japan,” he mumbled, curling a long semi-transparent tentacle around a die and tossing it in a perfect spinning arc. “Yahtzee.”

He never had visitors. I found him only after hearing a strange scratching emanating from the basement apartment. It came at odd hours, an unearthly echo. One night when the lights flickered out from a heavy rainstorm and the scratching filled my ears, I grabbed a dim flashlight and slowly walked down the steps. The door to the basement slid open, creaking, spilling out the dark within. I turned on my flashlight and there he was, a pile of overcooked pasta. The monster turned. “I was making an etching,” he said, showing me an exposed copper pipe. “It’s a schooner.” And nothing was ever the same again.