As part of this year’s Adult Summer Reading program, we challenged writers to tell a story of 250 words or less containing the word “night” somewhere in the opening line. We received tales of worlds without sunlight, romantic encounters, heartfelt loss and–of course–zombies (eek!). Thank you to everyone who entered. Our overall winners are Stacey Bybee from Boone County and Tiffany Brock from Callaway County. Honorable mentions go to Roger Caffrey and Jacob Wegman.
We are pleased to share with you the winning stories. We have also compiled a booklet of the more than 35 entries (PDF), which you can download.
Night Smoke by Stacey Bybee
First Place, Boone County
At night, the alley echoed music from the high bricks and surrounding bars and bands. One metal door shut softly on plastic silverware intended to stymie the lock, and two servers stepped into the warm alley night from the noise of the restaurant. From crumby apron corners appeared cigarettes, a lighter, and then the alley glowed a second with the little flame. The two leaned back on filthy walls and their tensions from the chaos inside melted away with the smoke, the heat, the soft music and solitude of the alley.
Alley listened and embraced the two as they chatted—about the guest list, the dress, the flowers, the cathedral on the square, the gauze—with flattened grey butts at their feet and drunken laughter bouncing in from somewhere. One flicked a cigarette away into the night alley. One crushed hers on the bricks, pulled the plasticware from the crack and heaved open the door, wondering over the restaurant noise and glare whether table nine had left a tip.
World Without Shadow by Tiffany Brock
First Place, Callaway County
In the small home of Tess Avery, night never fell. She covered the windows with thick fabric and there were no inner walls. In each of her four corners, she kept two spotlights pointing along the walls and one pointing down and toward the center of the room, where she slept on a mattress. The rest of her furniture she pressed against the walls and peppered with smaller lights to disperse any shadows; these stayed on both day and night. In the event of a power outage, she kept a large generator in the backyard. Tess rarely left the safety of her brilliantly lit world.
Tess assumed that the touch of night would consume her if she remained in it for too long. Without the light to see them by, monsters were in everything. She subjected her entire worldview to this childlike notion of dark and light. So intense was her fear that she embraced a whole other sort of blindness.
One summer day, Tess heard what could have been a shout for help from her neighbor’s yard. She opened the side door and, blinking furiously in the dimmer natural light, she spied nothing other than the dense shadow cast by her house. Passing it off as some neighborhood children playing, she returned to the stronger light she preferred.
And in the shadow of Tess Avery’s brilliantly lit world–where a sickly neighbor boy had collapsed and lost consciousness–quiet breaths slowed to silence.
Let Live & Live by Roger Caffrey
The night jungle echoed sounds of searching Vietcong soldiers; nickname “Charlie.” Lieutenant Polk, Chief Warrant Officer Brady’s Copilot, was killed by Vietcong machine gun fire before the Army Cobra Gunship crashed. Now, escape and evade.
Brady figured his best chance of rescue was to take advantage of the moonlight to get above the valley where he could be better spotted by helicopters come daylight. The Vietnam jungle made progress slow but he had to keep moving or be captured or possibly killed.
A twig snapped. Brady sank into the foliage as Charlie rounded the path 20 feet away. With a casual survey of the area Charlie leaned his AK 47 rifle against a rock outcropping and squatted to rest. Brady cocked his 38 pistol. Charlie’s eyes shot toward the origin of the click. Brady stepped out…they studied each other.
Charlie glanced at his AK 47, it was out of reach. If Brady fired his pistol his location would be given away to other Vietcong. A further delay increased the odds that other Vietcong would happen along.
Brady raised his left forefinger to his lips while his right hand lowered the pistol into its holster. Slowly Brady extended the palm of his now empty right hand and briefly dipped his head slightly forward. After a moment Charlie smiled, nodded, and extended his open palm.
The jungle flooded around Brady as he backed into the foliage. Charlie did not move or shout-out. Brady kept climbing.
Penelope by Jacob Wegman
“It was a stormy night,” I say.
My daughter grabs the other pillow off her bed and drops it on her head. This is how Penelope says, “I am too old for bedtime stories.” This is her putting those drama classes to use.
“I think it was dark, too,” I say.
I gently remove the pillow. With light spilling in from the hallway, I can see the redness of cheeks rubbed dry and wads of toilet paper used in place of tissues. Our family goes through tissues pretty fast.
Tonight’s calamity is a boy named Chadwick, whom my wife claims is not a good match on account of there being too many syllables when you say, “Penelope and Chadwick.”
When Penelope is in pain, my wife and I play rock-paper-scissors. Tonight, my wife’s not feeling great, so I picked paper and let her slice me in half.
“Suddenly, a ship appeared on the horizon,” I say. “I think it was a commercial fisherman.”
“No,” Penelope says.
“It must’ve been a German U-boat on the run.”
“It was a pirate ship. It’s always a pirate ship.”
She rolls over and says, “It’s not going to work, Dad.”
Her tone is softer, though, and I know it already has.
I return to the master bedroom. My wife breathes the sounds of sleep. Penelope will be out in a few minutes. Then, only then, will I dream of thunderstorms and buried treasure.