Three-Minute Fiction: 'Speechless,' 'Harding'

Oct 28, 2012
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You know what the ticking means. It's time for Three-Minute Fiction, our contest where we ask you for original stories that can be read in about three minutes. Our judge in this round, the thriller writer Brad Meltzer, the challenge: to write a story that revolves around a U.S. president who could be fictional or real. And, of course, the story had to be 600 words or less. We received nearly 4,000 entries, and here are two that stood out.


LYNN NEARY, BYLINE: (Reading) It was to be her fifth State of the Union address. Under other circumstances, her history of past oratorical success would have calmed her nerves. The speech was well written, quite possibly her best ever. But her delivery would cross a new frontier. How well her painstakingly rehearsed performance of meaningful looks and gestures would hold up during 52 minutes of voice-synthesized soundtrack, that was the question.

President Conway took her place at the rostrum, beaming and nodding as the applause finally died down and the assembled members of government took their seats. As previously rehearsed, she cued the speech by glancing down, then looking up at her audience. Passing seconds pooled into one attenuated moment of expectation, then drained into disbelief. Something had gone wrong with the computerized playback.


BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: (Reading) Two years after faking his death, Warren Gamaliel Harding moved into a little bordello off the Boulevard du Montparnasse in Paris. He figured it was the last place on Earth that anyone would look for a former president of the United States, even if they discovered the coffin in the Ohio tomb was full of ballast.

His room was quiet in the morning so he could write. The parties in the evening kept him from becoming bored. He had nothing to worry about financially, thanks to some well-timed investments, and his leonine profile and quick wit granted him a certain standing among this new crowd.

You are clearly a man of stature, Monsieur, Madame M. had told him during their first meeting after he offered her the card with his fake name. Why would you choose to live with us? It's better than Washington, he said.

LYDEN: That was NPR's Bob Mondello reading the from the story "Harding on the Boulevard du Montparnasse" by Nick Kolakowski of Brooklyn, New York, and also NPR's Lynn Neary with an excerpt from "Speechless" by Steve Bismarck of Medford, Oregon. To read these stories in full, go to, all spelled out, no spaces or to our Three-Minute Fiction Facebook page. And don't forget we'll be back next week with Brad Meltzer and the winner of Round 9 of Three-Minute Fiction.

(SOUNDBITE OF CLOCK TICKING) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.