Final Judge: Louis Jenkins
Louis Jenkins has had poems published in a number of literary magazines and anthologies, including The Best American Poetry 1999 (Scribner, 1999) and Great American Prose Poems (Scribner, 2003). His books of poetry include An Almost Human Gesture (1987), All Tangled Up With the Living (1991), Nice Fish: New and Selected Prose Poems (1995), winner of the Minnesota Book Award, Just Above Water (1997), The Winter Road (2000) and Sea Smoke (2004). His most recent books are North of the Cities (2007), European Shoes (2008) and Before You Know It: Prose Poems 1970–2005 (2009) all published by Will o’ the Wisp Books. Mr. Jenkins was awarded two Bush Foundation Fellowships for poetry, a Loft-McKnight fellowship, and was the 2000 George Morrison Award winner. He has read his poetry on A Prairie Home Companion and was a featured poet at the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival in 1996 and at the Aldeburgh Poetry Festival, Aldeburgh, England in 2007.
We received 21 Youth entries and 64 Adult entries for the 2013 OddContest.
Read the winning entries below.
2013 YOUTH WINNERS
“Counting Sheep” by Alysa Banks (13), San Leandro, CA
“Toilet Paper” by Devi Acharya (17),
University City, MO
“Living with You-Know-Who” by Kayla Hay (12),
“Bright Night” by Rose Condon, Durham, NC
“Crisis” by Isabella Penola, Zionsville, IN
“Dark” by James McKenzie, Holladay UT
“The Fairy” by Laura E. Stacey, Bowden, AB, Canada
“The Final Message” by Siri Fondrie, Appleton, WI
“Hide and Seek” by Danielle Rifkin, River Vale, NJ
“Speakers” by Amanda McKinsey, Pullman, WA
“Identity” by Satvir Kalsi, Brookfield WI
2013 ADULT WINNERS
“Kan Din Svävare Vara Full av Ålar (May your Hovercraft be Full of Eels)” by Miranda Raine,
“The Domestic Travails of the Pulp Hero” by Scott E. Johnson, Northbrook, IL
“The First Time” by John Philipp,
“@1stcontact1” by Sue Fondrie, Appleton, WI
“All Too Human” by Anjulia Vasquez, Fort Wainwright, AK
“The Ambassador's Daughter” by Megan Arkenberg, Germantown, WI
“Blossoming” by Laura Dunlap, Marina Del Rey, CA
“Cassie” by Yelena Kart, Wheeling, IL
“The City on the Hill by Jeanie Tomasko, Madison, WI
“Coin is the Price of Heaven” by Jeff Soesbe, Sacramento, CA
“The Dream” by Melanie Decelles, Chicago, IL
“Frontier” by Mike Simon, Saint John, NB, Canada
“Harvest” by Julie Fitzpatrick, Madison, WI
“Homemade Singularity” by Therese Arkenberg, Germantown, WI
“The Librarians” by Delphine Berenger, Paris, France
“Pencil Jockey” by Tory Hoke, Los Angeles, CA
“Pine Leaf, Oregon, Town Hall Speeches” by Ted Prodromou, Mountain View, CA
“The Reaper” by Kit McAllister, Toronto, ON, Canada
“Reset” by Daniel Morgado, Gloucester, MA
“River, Dreaming” by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Vancouver, BC, Canada
“Sentry-Drone above the Sea of Lights” by Pieter Lars, Sacramento, CA
“Touching Scenes” by Miranda Raine, Madison, WI
“What They Left Behind” by Megan Arkenberg, Germantown, WI
“When Last We Left” by Andrew Kozma, Houston, TX
2013 Adult First Prize
Kan Din Svävare Vara Full av Ålar
(May your Hovercraft be Full of Eels)
NAME: Melinda Foursquare
DATE: 4/23/2036 (12:36 PM)
ORDER NO: 188559665-216549-21564897498541-121547522
WHICH SELECTION MOST CLOSELY DESCRIBES THE ISSUE YOU ARE EXPERIENCING?
Lost, broken, or missing parts
PLEASE FURTHER DESCRIBE YOUR ISSUE HERE:
I recently purchased the “Build-it-Yourself Personal Hovercraft” from your Specialty Aircraft catalog. According to the advertisement, one needs only a “soldering iron, Allen wrench, and sonic screwdriver” for assembly. You neglected, however, to mention “advanced degree in Nano-Engineering” and “patience of a saint.” And while we, the customer, are expected to have esoteric knowledge of plasma-induction intake-tube theory, the cretins responsible for packaging your products are clearly in need of remedial math tutoring. According to the inventory, there are supposed to be 11,191 pieces included in the Personal Hovercraft package, but after repeated countings, I can confidently state there are only 11,190. Piece number 1776 is nowhere to be found, and piece number 1775 fails to correspond to any of the enclosed schematics. I am very interested to hear how a customer is supposed to “affix parts 1775 and 1776 to slots 4219 and 4220 respectively, with catalytic studs B” when part 1775 could not possibly fit into slot 4219, and part 1776 is apparently a figment of the demented instruction-writer’s imagination. (And while we’re on the subject, I am quite certain that that the person responsible for penning this travesty of an instruction manual, this random “word salad” of numbers and parts, has a closet full of black leather body suits, and attends Marquis de Sade reenactment conventions in his/her spare time.)
I am so utterly incensed that, were it not for the fact this product inexplicably no longer fits in its original packaging, I would return it immediately for a full refund, as my satisfaction, which was “guaranteed,” is conspicuously absent. As it is, I suggest you send me replacements for parts 1775 and 1776 with all due haste, and if you do not wish to lose a customer, additional considerations would be both advisable and appropriate.
P.S. – I’m counting the moments (accurately, I might add) until a representative responds in an effort to assuage my righteous indignation.
DEAR MS. FOURSQUARE,
WE ARE VERY SORRY TO HEAR YOU ARE HAVING A NEGATIVE EXPERIENCE WITH THE “BUILD-IT-YOURSELF PERSONAL HOVERCRAFT™”. PLEASE NOTE PAGE 47, PARAGRAPH 9, GIF 14.28C, DEMONSTRATES THAT PIECE 1775 IS SCORED AT THE CENTER, AND SEPARATES INTO MIRROR IMAGE PIECES 1775 AND 1776 WHEN EXPOSED TO SONIC SCREWDRIVER SETTING Q. IN AN EFFORT TO MAKE YOUR ASSEMBLY EXPERIENCES LESS FRUSTRATING, HOWEVER, WE ARE SHIPPING PRE-SEPARATED PIECES 1775/1776 TO YOU VIA PNEUMATIC TRANSPORT. THEY SHOULD ARRIVE AT YOUR DOOR IN THE NEXT 18 MINUTES. WE HOPE YOU WILL FIND SOMEPLACE APPROPRIATE TO PUT THEM.
IN ADDITION, WE ARE ENCLOSING A COUPON FOR 10% OFF YOUR NEXT PURCHASE, AND A FREE TRAY OF CINNAMON ROLLS. WE APPRECIATE YOUR BUSINESS, AND LOOK FORWARD TO YOU PATRONIZING US IN THE FUTURE.
SPECIALTY AIRCRAFT DIVISION
Judge’s Comment: I chose this story for it clarity and wit and for its amusing plot, a constant in our consumer culture, man’s frustration with the mechanical and the corporate.
2013 Adult Second Prize
The Domestic Travails of the Pulp Hero
When Lance opened the door to the washing machine, he discovered his mistake: several items—including brassieres and panties—all stained a dull pink, all overlooked when he’d tossed in his soiled red cape and started the wash cycle.
“Oh, no,” he thought. “No no no no no!”
He fought the urge to panic. As he wondered if he could rouse Winterbourne, his trusted manservant, and have him replace the underthings before Margaret woke, he heard footsteps in the adjoining kitchen.
“Okay, mister, what gives?”
He feigned innocence. “What do you mean? I’m just—”
“You’re never home this early in the evening” she said, “and you know the laundry room is off limits. You’re up to something!”
He rolled his eyes and said, in what he hoped was a convincing tone, “Don’t be ridiculous.”
“Out with it.” She brightened. “Is it something for my birthday? Did you just sneak out tonight to get me something, and you’re trying to hide it in there?”
“No,” he said. “Really, I just—”
She ducked past him and into the laundry room. “You wonderful sneak! Where is it?”
He stood, frozen, as she scanned the shelves, looked behind the drying rack and, finally, opened the washing machine.
“Oh. My. God.”
He blurted, “I can explain.”
“The dealers didn’t show—someone must have tipped them off. I came back here and really I was just going to meditate quietly but I somehow got mud on my cape and you know I wear it every night so I thought I’d wash it and—”
She scowled. “What’s the rule, Lance?”
“—it was an accident, I should have looked inside before—”
“The rule, Lance? Remember, when I first moved in, and we had to ‘adjust?’ We made some rules, and one—really, an important one, for a playboy who’s never had to take care of himself in any meaningful way—one of those rules was…?”
He winced and whispered, “Let Winterbourne do the laundry.”
“LET WINTERBOURNE DO THE LAUNDRY! And why?” She reached into the washing machine and yanked out a handful of soaking pink delicates. “THIS is why! You wash a dryclean-only cowl! You mix your black tights with your white tunics! You shrink my blouses and you do THIS!” She squeezed the clothes, drenching the floor.
He tried to meet her eyes. “I love you?”
“Oh, just stop,” she said, dropping the stained garments and pushing past him. “Don’t try to fix this—just let Winterbourne take care of it in the morning.”
Desperate, he raised his right arm and extended his index finger. “Margaret,” he said, his natural baritone echoing with supernatural resonance. “This is only a dream, Margaret—”
She wheeled around. “And DON’T try to hypnotize your way out of this, either. You can just sleep by yourself tonight.”
He watched her go; considered making one more attempt to smooth things over; thought better of it, and slunk away to his study.
Judge’s Comment: I like ordinary everyday problems of a mere mortal, even though in this case they are the problems of a super hero. I also like the name of the manservant “Winterbourne.”
2013 Adult Third Prize
The First Time
Is it true? This will be the first time?
Yes. You'll be famous, in an infamous sort of way.
One more question. Will it hurt?
Given the nature of the operation I would not expect much pain. You will have some disorientation.
Ouch, whadda you doing? That’s not my brain.
It’s only a sedative.
You said I’d be awake.
You will. This will just calm you.
What’s that noise?
The electric drill.
Sorry, I meant inter-cranial auger.
Isn't auger another word for drill?
This isn't really a drill as you think of a drill. This just makes a little hole in your skull so we can insert the Personality Trait Worm. We discussed all this last week.
Oh, right. How much will the drill hurt?
Not much. There are no pain cells in the brain.
What about on the way to the brain?
Uh … you'll feel a little pressure.
That's what the dentist says.
The dentist? … hmmmm, yes, something like that.
The dentist is a liar.
Oh … I … Are you ready now?
You didn't answer my question.
Sorry, which question was that?
Will it hurt?
I said not much.
Wrong answer. The right answer is, "No. It won't hurt at all." Anything less means it will hurt a lot.
What are you doing to my head? I can feel you doing something to my head.
I’m pacing off the proper location with my fingers.
Isn't that, uh, unscientific.
No, no, it’s very scientific. I know the exact length of my finger stride. I've done this hundreds of times.
What happened to the first guy?
That was experimental.
Hundreds of times? I thought you said this was the first.
It is the first personality transplant, but brain surgery has been around since the Mayans.
Did they pace off with their fingers too?
You know that's really annoying.
When you go "Hmmmm.” It makes me think there's something you're not telling me.
Maybe there is.
I said “maybe” there is.
Why would you say that?
Why do you think I'd say that?
Because you want me to laugh and relax?
That's one possibility.
What's the other possibility?
Why do there have to be two? Maybe there are three possibilities.
Stop playing with my head.
There. I have.
That's a nice tie.
It certainly is compared to that fugitive from the Bad Taste Emporium you're wearing.
Mrs. Welles. Doctor Thornton here. Yes, it went quite well. It's a little early yet, but I think you'll be pleased. He actually insulted my tie a few minutes ago. No, I'm not kidding.
Not for a few weeks. I think it's best he be with people he doesn't know to let the new behavior patterns strengthen. If he sees family too soon, he might be nice, out of habit.
Oh no. Once the anger has settled in, it will always be there. His days of being bullied are over.
Judge’s Comment: I thought this piece had an interesting take on personality modification, creating a more aggressive nature rather the usual conversion to a more passive one.
2013 Youth First Prize
I peer inside the seventh window and see her, asleep. Instantly I kneel down on the sidewalk and dump out the contents of my pack, umbrella propped up against the wall to shield my work from the rain.
Once everything’s out, I reach up to my head and tip the front of my hat. The five robotic Sheep scamper out, around my neck, then down my jumpsuit onto the ground. I steady their hooves—the rain excites them. Then I align them numerically in front of me and tent my fingers.
Gently I reach over and slide open the panel on Sheep One. The inside is hollow and ceramic. I sort through the pile of miscellaneous objects and find the tiny jars, each filled with a shade of orange fingerpaint, and spill them all into Sheep One. Then I slide the panel back into place.
She likes orange.
I wipe my wet fingers on the sidewalk, and begin shuffling through the pile again. This time I take the music-card. I feed it delicately into the mouth of Sheep Two, and it swallows.
Then I take the wooden canteen from the pile, and pop off the cork. I open the lid of Sheep Three, pour in the tea, and close it again. Billows blow out of its nostrils, warming my face.
Now I take the paper matchbox. In this air, it takes four tries to get the flame alive on the wick of Four. But once it does, it doesn’t go out. I pat the waxy Sheep’s head, thankful for its proper functionality, and reach over to begin work on Sheep Five.
Upon my touch, the robot cries and flings itself through the window.
I cover my ears as the glass shatters onto the sidewalk, and then quickly climb through the window and down to her bed. She turns, but doesn’t awaken.
I look around frantically until I spot the Sheep, in the corner, scratching at a floorboard. I crawl over and rub its head. “Shh.”
Always trustful of my inventions, I lift up the floorboard.
Inside are stacks of cutouts of myself from Christmas cards, old monthbooks… she must’ve taken some herself.
The Sheep rolls onto its back, laughing. I unscrew the lid on its belly and pour in photos until it’s full.
I am incredulous.
Once this is done, all the Sheep are ready. The other four tumble in through the window and nestle themselves in her arms together.
She begins to murmur, “OneTwoThreeFourFive...”
An aurora of orange surrounds the room, flickering and intertwining with the soft pipe lullaby and minty aroma that is now her dreams.
I begin to climb out the window, only to be pulled back into her bed. I look over to see Sheep Five tugging on my boot. I shrug, and smile, resting my head on her pillow. Eyes closed, I listen to her counting Sheep softly.
“Happy birthday, darling,” I whisper, and then let the Sheep take me too.
Judge’s Comment: The playful take on the old phrase “counting sheep” attracted me to this story. I very much enjoyed the imaginative description of the robotic sheep.
2013 Youth Second Prize
Edna leaned back on the toilet seat, feeling the cold metal through her blouse. Her eyes darted to the timer on the stall door, noting that she had just over a minute left. Although the brief respite in the stall was lovely, Edna knew that the stall door would swing open when the timer reached zero whether she was finished or not. She swiped her ID card in the slot by the toilet bowl, making the LED console give a familiar chirrup.
Welcome Edna, the small screen read. You have 38 squares available. How many would you like?
Of all things, Edna mused, this was certainly the worst part of government rationing. She quickly did the math, to find that taking two squares now would leave plenty for her, her husband, and her son, in the week left until the start of the new month. She pressed the plus arrow twice. Two small squares of toilet paper were ejected from the machine. The stuff was powdery and threatened to fall apart at the slightest touch, but Edna was used to such government supplies. She quickly concluded her business and exited the stall.
Edna brusquely applied the hand sanitizer, glancing at the watch built into her wrist. It told her she had two minutes before she had to return to her desk, and afterwards flashed an advertisement for war bonds. Edna moved to exit, when a panicked voice issued from the other stall.
“Excuse me, ma’am, but do you have a minute?”
“I’ve two.” Edna did not usually talk to strangers in stalls, but speaker’s urgency startled her into speech.
“Thank providence you’re here. I was just doing my business when I realized I was all out of toilet paper. You wouldn’t mind terribly if I borrowed your card just this once, would you?”
Edna stepped forward, trepidation causing her to linger. Though she knew better than to wantonly give away her card, this stranger was clearly in a dire situation. After a pause, Edna slipped the ID under the stall door. She wanted to command the stranger to not use more than a couple of squares, but quickly scolded herself, contemplating the discourtesy of that action.
And so she stood there, listening, as the stranger keyed in the amount of squares. One… two… three… The beeps from the panel began to blur together. Edna waited, anxiety slowly ebbing to a fiery rage at this woman who was now stealing all that she had meticulously conserved.
“I always have to use a lot of this stuff,” bantered the woman. “It barely does its job at all.”
The door swung open to reveal a tall blonde woman in a slim suit. She returned Edna’s ID card with one manicured hand.
“Thanks for the borrow.” She pursed her lips. “I saved one square on there, just in case.”
Edna did not watch the woman strut out of the bathroom. Instead she let out a cry, snapping the ID card in half.
Judge’s Comment: One of the underrated dilemmas presented by the brave new world. Also it’s a glimpse into human nature.
2013 Youth Third Prize
Living with You-Know-Who
Our perfect little house is in a tremor. Up, down. Up, down. My head crashes into the ceiling, then the floor, then the fan, then the headboard. It doesn’t hurt. You need a hard head in my house.
My dad shoots into my room, and crashes into the mirror. My mirror is strong, though—no broom needed. “What a beautiful morning, don’t you think?” Reaching over, he pulls my curtains back. Hail the size of basketballs pound at my windows.
“Sure… Do you notice something?”
“What, the weather? Come on, it’s only a 7.2. You should be glad it’s not like last night. I’d say that was at least an 8.0. Go have a hail fight with your brother while it lasts. Go on.”
“Don’t be silly, dad. We have to wait until you-know-who leaves.”
“We’ve stopped shaking. He’s gone.”
Sure enough, our house has stopped moving. We’re safe to do what we please.
I glance around my room. Nothing is out of place. Our perfect little home is still perfect.
My blankets are still in their place. My chair is still attached to my rug.
That’s one thing I love about living in a snow globe—you never have to clean up!
Judge’s Comment: I liked the idea of living inside a snow globe, a world which is constantly shaken up, turned upside down but there are injuries, and everything falls back into place.