But writing the story is only half of their twisted contest. The other half is recording an audio version of the story, editing it, and sending it along to them.
Actually, that's way more than half. You see, even with a story as pathetically small as my first year's entry, the recorded version invariably goes way longer than they allow, so I have to start cutting the story down. Of the four I've written, this was the one that had to lose the most, even though I didn't feel the story had that much to it. It only had two characters, one location, and a straightforward plot with very little meat or backstory . . . and yet, it was still almost four times longer than the contest allows.
A smarter man than me (like that Anklevich guy at least claims to be) would have simply said, "Whoops. Guess I won't enter the contest, then." And a better man than both of us would say, "Whoops. Guess I should write a whole new story for this contest, but one that's way shorter." But I'm neither, so I spent hours (HOOOOOUUUUURS) cutting the story down, removing details, combining sentences and paragraphs, finding shorter way of saying the same thing, simplifying dialogue and description, and finally re-recording sections at a quicker pace.
The cutoff for the contest was ten minutes, and the initial recording (this is the pared-down version of the text, remember) was twenty-six minutes long. It was an excruciating process to get it shorter and shorter, and often rewriting and re-recording would end up saving me six or seven seconds at a go. That Anklevich guy would remind me that I could have written four whole stories (four new stories, mind you) in the time it took me to get the tale down to twelve minutes, but I did it. Ahhhh.
Except that the allotted time was ten minutes, not twelve. Mother of Satan, there was no easy way to fix this. So, I tried to cheat. I increased the speed of the recording once, twice, five times, shaving off a few seconds each time, and producing something that sounds like it was recorded--all in one breath--by Rish Outfield from 1987. I realize that, recognize that, and regret that, but as the deadline loomed, and I removed any humor, character development, suspense, or depth from the story, I simply couldn't care anymore. The final product sounds like Alvin telling a scary story starring Simon and Theodore, but it is now exactly ten minutes long, and submitted.
I doubt I'll win, but really, whoever wins, we lose.
“In a minute, Mom,” Brekkyn said, and pulled Tanissa with her. They walked across the living room to the main bedroom, which had a big handmade BREKKYN sign, drawn in cartoon fish and bubbles. The setup was the same as her dad’s apartment, except Brekkyn apparently had the big room and her mother had the guest room.
The girl’s bedroom was an overload on the eyes, with pink and purple and red and green on the walls and ceiling, and myriad shelves holding My Little Pony dolls, Bratz, Monster Highs, and Callico Critters. Cutouts from magazines or internet printouts of Disney celebrities and teen heartthrobs covered an entire wall. In a frame was a photograph of a much younger Brekkyn being embraced by Justin Bieber. Hanging from the ceiling were dozens of Bubble Guppies figurines, flying around like fairies on strings.
“Wow,” Tanissa heard herself say.
“Isn’t it great?” Brekkyn beamed. “I painted and did the decorating myself.” Tanissa could tell, as the paint was sloppy and uneven, and there were several dried spots on the carpet.
Brekkyn had her own television in here, as well as several video game consoles, a computer tablet, a robot Zoomer dog, and speakers for her iPod.
“What do you want to do?” Brekkyn asked. “You like Mario Kart?”
“I . . .” Tanissa felt overwhelmed. The amount of entertainment possibilities in this room made her feel, somehow, guilty, as though it was ill-gotten gains. She pointed back at the door, which Tanissa was disturbed to see had a deadbolt on it. “That sign you made of your name. Could you show me how to do that?”
“Of course!” the girl exclaimed, and was thrilled to show her. She had an easel and two different art kits and they spent a few minutes working on a sign that said TANISSA, with basketballs and books and rabbits and a soccer goal and the sun on it. Brekkyn drew a little fish inside the second ‘A,’ but Tanissa didn’t mind. It was nice to create.
Of course, they then spent an hour playing something called Titanfall, which was a violent robot fighting game only boys would like. Tanissa’s cellphone vibrated, and her dad was asking how she was doing.
“That’s your phone?” Brekkyn asked, actually laughing.
“Yeah, it kinda sucks, but ah well.” She was only twelve.
"Do you wanna go to the mall and get a new one?”
Tanissa did, of course, but she was a bit more pragmatic than that. One day, she’d get a new phone, but all she could do was take care of the one she currently had as best she could. She had looked around, seen the things in Brekkyn’s room, and money was apparently not an issue for her family.
“That’s okay,” she said at last.
“Let me at least show you the mall—the clothes stores,the fun little shops. We don’t have to buy anything.”
It sounded like she just wanted to go out, be with her new friend, and she could understand that.
“Maybe later. I didn’t have time to take a shower this morning, and I’d like to at least be able to—”
“You smell fine to me,” Brekkyn said, actually sniffing her.
It was a compliment, but Tanissa didn’t quite feel the need to thank her for it.
"We could go out just for fun, you know? Get some chili fries. You wouldn't have to pay." There was a hint of desperation in the girl's voice, and Tanissa gave in.