short prose contest 2016 winner
Eric Van Hoose
Carrie and her mother have gone to bed, but Richard cannot sleep. He’s reclining, browsing news on the family’s laptop, and has clicked the largest headline. The suicide bombers were part of a militant terrorist group. That’s what the first sentence of the article says. Forty-eight people were killed in the blasts. Richard is settling in. He’s ready to read the rest. He doesn’t want to think about work or the Visa bill or the EOBs from Anthem. He doesn’t want to think about how Carrie might not be able to finish high school and the things she won’t be able to have. He wants time alone. He has started to read the next sentence of the article, which begins with the word “After,” when screams blurt from the computer’s speakers. Richard doesn’t know that the screams are part of an advertisement that is built into the article about the terrorist attacks, somewhere near the middle, and which has begun playing automatically. The advertisement, which Richard would be able to see if he scrolled down, features a mannequin with a pink square candy head and orange square candies for hands who is terrified and screaming. The mannequin coasts, on ice skates, inside an empty, darkened indoor ice rink. Its screams become panicked words: Where are my hands? The mannequin bites at its bright candy hands with its candy face while drifting across the ice, then falls on its side. Richard has no way of knowing that this advertisement, which he never sees, only hears, took thirty hours to film and will, later that year, win a prize. The problem for Richard is that the laptop’s volume has been set to the maximum by Carrie; she used the computer after dinner to listen to “Baby You’ve Got to Touch Me,” her favorite song. The house is small. Carrie and Carrie’s mother are woken from sleep, simultaneously, by the screams. Richard spends six slow seconds trying to stop the noise, but there are so many windows on the screen, so many buttons on the keyboard. He cannot find a way. He is startled dumb, in a panic, because the cries have cracked the silence without hesitation. Richard shuts the laptop and is afraid to re-open it. He is not yet ready for sleep. He does not know what to do. And now Carrie’s mother, his wife, is awake, is calling his name.
Eric Van Hoose’s fiction has appeared in Tweed’s, Pithead Chapel, Fiddleblack, and elsewhere. His essays have appeared in Salon, The Black Scholar, and Full Stop, where he’s a regular contributor. He is pursuing a PhD in fiction at the University of Cincinnati.