The Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest Winners for 2019

Where *WWW* means Wretched Writers Welcome…

My Comments: And I do feel welcome though have never had what it takes to call myself wretched and will probably never achieve that exalted status despite the hours I fill, as the pandemic continues and I’m forced to stay at home because I want to, and despite the urge to stop social distancing and the need to fill the grocery cart, for without that, life’s not worth living, except when snortling over these efforts to be wretched by others, something I’ve been doing for many years now, and reduced to sharing with you in a feeble effort to enlighten your day, as you fill your hours ad nauseam.

It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents — except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.  –  Edward Bulwer-Lytton

Since 1982 the English Department at San Jose State University has sponsored the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, a whimsical literary competition that challenges entrants to compose opening sentences to the worst of all possible novels.

The contest (hereafter referred to as the BLFC) was the misbegotten brainchild of Professor Scott Rice, whose graduate school excavations unearthed what he took to be the source of the line “It was a dark and stormy night.” Sentenced to write a seminar paper on a minor Victorian novelist, he chose the man with the funny hyphenated name, Edward George Bulwer-Lytton. Best known for The Last Days of Pompeii, his novel Paul Clifford began with the famous opener that has been plagiarized repeatedly by the cartoon beagle, Snoopy.

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2019 Grand Prize

Space Fleet Commander Brad Brad sat in silence, surrounded by a slowly dissipating cloud of smoke, maintaining the same forlorn frown that had been fixed upon his face since he’d accidentally destroyed the phenomenon known as time, thirteen inches ago.

Maxwell Archer, Mt Pleasant, Ontario, Canada

Grand Panjandrum’s Special Award

Emile Zola wandered the dank and soggy streets of a gloomy Parisian night, the injustice of the Dreyfus affair weighing on him like a thousand baguettes, dreaming of some massage or therapy to relieve the tension and pain in his aching shoulders and back, and then suddenly he thought of his Italian friends and their newly invented warm water bath with air jets and he rapturously exclaimed that oft misquoted declaration — “Jacuzzi!”

Robert R Moore, North Falmouth, MA

Adventure Winner

Dropping his now-empty Remington .30-06 and tearing across the tundra after two weeks of hunting in the Alaskan wilderness in the company of none other than three-time Olympic sprinter Usain Bolt—the rustic outing being the spoils of his winning bid at the Sun Valley Country Day School live-auction fundraiser—Bart Michaelman realized with dismay that, in this particular instance, he did in fact have to outrun the bear.

Andrew Lundberg, Los Angeles, CA

Dishonorable Mentions

As they sprinted together down the echoing, looping ramp of the deserted Guggenheim Museum, closely pursued by three swarthy members of the resolutely vicious Cannelloni gang, square-jawed British Royal Marine art historian/world’s deadliest sniper John Savage and his voluptuous young modern art critic/Navajo linguist Samantha Silver cursed architect/interior designer/writer/educator Frank Lloyd Wright for designing such a circuitous route out of the building.

Gwyneth Kozma, Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany

Three days without food or water, archeologist Phil Thompson with his leg hopelessly trapped in a wilderness rock-fall, and with hungry buzzards circling overhead, saw his entire life pass before him and he once again experienced, as a child, his mother’s comforting words and tender touch, as she gently awakened him from his recurring nightmare of being eaten by birds.

Ron Pizarie, Bath, PA

Anthropologist Roland Weatherby stumbled upon the detritus of the cannibal camp, including the smoldering remains of his faithful guide Davey, and raged in disbelief at the thought that, even in this digital information age, primitive tribes feasted on the red meat of human flesh paired with a subpar 2016 Chardonnay.

Doug Purdy, Roseville, CA

Children’s Literature Winner

Old man Buckman had been murdering and dismembering teenagers in our town for years, and getting away with it, and it’s important to emphasize this right up front, because young readers like you have painfully short attention spans, and unless a story grabs you right off the bat, you’ll be back on your video games or phones or skateboards in the blink of an eye.

John Hardi, Falls Church, VA

Dishonorable Mentions

There were two goats, drooling over the scrumptious olive-colored grass, but eternally separated from it by paralyzing fear of the gargantuan goat-munching ogre under the bridge, and there was Tom, the socially awkward ogre who bit his fingernails so noisily that the sound resembled the crunching of bones.

Olivia Burkett, Springboro, OH

If I wanted to fulfill my lifelong dream of being a dystopian YA’s protagonist, I needed several things: missing or deceased parents (check), a complicated romantic life involving multiple partners and predictable behavior (check), a tough exterior that protected my sensitive inner workings (check), and finally, a life of danger, uncertainty, and constant struggle to survive (check); it turns out, turtles are well-equipped to star in YA adventures!

Bridget Parmenter, Norman, OK

Crime/Detective Winner

Realising that his symptoms indicated a virtually undetectable, fast acting neurotoxin, CIA coroner Quinn Abner frantically wrote up the details, lay on the floor and, as a professional courtesy, did his best to draw a chalk outline of himself.

Jeremy Das, Loughborough, England

Dishonorable Mentions

Olivia followed her breasts into my office where I was studying the dead flies on the window sill and dropped a large brown envelope on my desk, which rearranged the dust as it came to rest next to my right elbow, causing me to lose interest in the flies as I watched her walk away, watched carefully while wondering if the motion of her hips could bring a dead man back to life, which led to wondering what she could do to a man who was still alive.

Will Dennehy, Cambridge, MD

As he pounded on the door, Billy ‘Four-Toes’ Capalone, wondered, not for the first time, if he wouldn’t have been better off in the joint, or even taking a concrete nap, but instead, he straightened his tie and gripped his bible, determined not to blow his cover in the Jehovah’s Witness Protection Program.

Arlen Feldman, Colorado Springs, CO

Eyes bleary from yet another night of fruitlessly staking out the Ritz Motel in West Hollywood’s seedier quarter, hoping to get some usable dirt on Mrs. Hennigan’s wayward hubby Bill, Niles Cranworth, P.I., pushed the start button, cranked the wheel over, and pointed his well-traveled Chrysler 300 southward on La Cienega Boulevard (“La Cienega,” he noted with irony, being Spanish for “the cienega”).

Andrew Lundberg, Los Angeles, CA

Detective Wilhelm Schmidt’s raspy voice poured through the telephone receiver like a dump truck of gravel unburdening its load—much like the trucks that worked around the clock at Rohrer’s Quarry off of 1-81, transporting payloads of lime, sandstone, crushed rock, and gypsum—though with Detective Schmidt’s heavy German accent, excavation on its own would not suffice, and a second, albeit entirely different industry would need to be invoked to really paint a crystal clear picture of his voice.

Cody Hanna, Lancaster, PA 

Prisoner #4420991 selected two large snow cones for his pre-execution last meal, much to everyone’s surprise, but #4420991 knew that death by lethal injection would come as sweet relief when balanced against the snow cone headache he expected to have.

Greg Homer, Diamond Springs, CA

“I remember the moon had a face like Hannibal Lecter and that the wind blowing through the trees reminded me of the music from Psycho,” stated Effie Laudermilk as she sat in the courtroom stand on trial for the murder (which she vehemently denied) of her boyfriend whose partially eaten body was found in his car at the bottom of a pond.

Randy Blanton, Murfreesboro, TN

Dark & Stormy Winner

It was a dark and stormy night, and since this was Miami in July and everyone had left their convertible tops down, the rain fell in Cadillacs.

Andrew Lundberg, Los Angeles, CA

Dishonorable Mentions

It was a Dark & Stormy Night; the rain fell in torrents outside the Breast Western—the country-themed strip club where the exotic dance duo of Stormy and Dark rattled the house (for it was a Tuesday), and fiercely agitated the lustful flames of the patrons who struggled in the darkness to rearrange their Wranglers.

Coby J. Scott, Hollywood, CA

It was a dark and stormy night; the suburb was devoid of most life and color, and all you could see was the dull gaslights, dark clouds, and deep indigo sky; but to Jade, it was almost the same, because, you know, according to modern studies, dogs can see only blue, yellow, and grey.

Saraswathy Ashok, Trivandrum, India

He was a dark and stormy knight; his blows fell in torrents — except at occasional intervals, when they were checked by a violent gust of wind to which he fiercely agitated a scanty flame in his struggle to light it, for there was jesting in his jousting.

John Change, Crafers, Australia

It was a bright and shiny day, the sun scorched the pavement—except under a spreading chestnut tree, where it flattened the shadows and starkly enhanced the contrasts (for it is in Hollywood that the script begins), illuminating the story line, and manifestly motivating the florid actors who fussed and fumed about their lines.

Kevin Anderson, Kiel, Germany

Fantasy & Horror Winner

Driven from the sea by pollution, Aglaope the Siren found an economy apartment in New York City with the hope of luring the big city buses to their doom, but to her dismay she found that her song was drowned out by police cars, fire trucks and jackhammers, except for one joyous day when she was fairly sure that she caused a skateboarder to crash into a light pole.

Arlen Feldman, Colorado Springs, CO

Dishonorable Mentions

The High Gondonderil gazed on with horror as the Elgaborian legions marched at a single, pitiless pace into the once peaceful streets of Sar-Andrada, the capital city of the kingdom of Xanthil, located in a fantasy universe which might seem extremely confusing at present but which will doubtless make perfect sense to you, dear reader, once you realize that, like most fantasy universes, it’s basically just Tolkien’s Middle-earth with different names for things.

Harrison Glaze, Acworth, GA

Archt’vi Lor’d’nn of the clan Elbr’sh, president of the Elvish Grammatical Counc’l, knew that Midrì’ll D’rung’ír was doomed to failure; she would be presenting an (entirely preposterous, in his opinion) case for reducing the number of arbitrary apostrophes in Elvish words.

Bridget Parmenter, Norman, OK

Thunder crashed and the wind howled in a driving rain as the ancient witch raised her hands toward the moon and with increasing desperation chanted the words of a spell that her recently unearthed Book of Charms had assured her would restore her to youth and beauty but so far was just riling up the weather and getting her wet.

Bill White, Allentown, PA

So you’re probably wondering how I got here, in this dimly lit green room, tied up like a hog, covered in a strange phlegm that smells like the innards of a wild griffin, and blood caked on my body . . . well I’d have to ask you before you ask me: have you ever tried to kill a dragon and have it capture you and turn you into a slave for its pleasure.

Robert Fields, Richmond, KY

Historical Fiction Winner

Contrary to popular opinion, Jehoshaphat—the 9th-century (BCE) king of Judah who reigned for twenty-five mostly peaceful years yet is best known for his defeat of the Moabites at Elin Gedi in 849 BCE—rarely jumped.

Dave Beck, El Cerrito, CA

Dishonorable Mentions

Stephen Douglas, that’s the “Little Giant” to you, had tried everything he could think of to stop Mr. Lincoln from arriving at their senatorial debates: giving him the wrong time and place, sleeping pills disguised as Republican muffins, kidnapping, and even some light arson but the man always turned up, like a bad penny.

Rob Greer, Queen Creek, AZ

Dr. Gachet, who had arrived in Fall River only two years after being a supportive, albeit ultimately unsuccessful, ear for his patient Vincent, was now sitting at his desk recording his first impressions of his new patient—“Lizzie exhibits a nervous hacking cough whenever she is asked about her parents.”

Amy Torchinsky, Chapel Hill, NC

Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States of America, sat down at the theatre with his wife, the first lady of the United States of America, turned and asked her, ¨Do you think the fella behind us can see over my hat?¨

Olivia Burkett, Springboro, OH

Purple Prose Winner

When the tall dark, handsome, buff, and wealthy cowboy moseyed into my “Blazin’ Six-guns” novelty shop, I felt a wave of heat flood through me, as if I had accidentally swallowed my sub-lingual nicotinic acid lozenge, causing the niacin to be released instantaneously, rather than in a more controlled, extended, low-potency dose, for which means the prescription had been written.

Randall Card, Bellingham, WA

Dishonorable Mentions

The Eyelash Palm Viper of Central America, only about the size of a bungee cord—the kind of bungee cord you use to secure your bike on the back of the car or to keep your patio furniture chairs together or to make sure that raccoons are unable to remove your plastic trash can lids—was both deadly and beautiful.

Greg Homer, Diamond Springs, CA 

The snow scattered like fair parmesan from God’s own shaker, drifting down lightly to cling to our squirming spaghetti skin beneath robes of tomato puree, making no distinction between the whole wheat and white or tagliatelle and bucatini among us.

Tzipporah Harker, Baltimore, MD

Curly Endive was at the ranch dressing feeling cool as a cucumber when he caught his friend Buck Wheat ogling his favorite tomato and told him he would need a beefsteak if he didn’t knock it off lest he kick him in the garbanzos.

Shawn Evans, Auburn, CA

Despite being a German, vegan book-cataloger from rural and upscale Connecticut, Marion was quite ignorant and overly opinionated about almost everything, except for Atlas Shrugged and atheism, which made her the embodiment of an Arian, vegetarian, ultracrepidarian-contrarian, non-sectarian, libertarian, librarian agrarian from Darien.

Eric Mellinger, New York, NY

Today is Friday, and Ernest was hemmed in a way, back in a clean and well lighted place, a tolling bell sounded and the old man could see the through snows as he killed a man, Jaro, himself, now a participant of the natural study of the dead, as strains of God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman echoed from the street to the killer’s ears and thoughts of the fifty grand he’d just earned made his brain dance like ten Indians, and after the storm my old man made a simple inquiry to the mother of the queen and left for the Big Two-Hearted river, undefeated.

Jeff Phelps, Waterford, MI

Romance Winner

The villa in Tuscany is abandoned now, and nature, in the form of invasive vegetation, is reclaiming the small vineyard where Rodolfo and Susannah made love each afternoon, beginning with the creeping Coccinia virginiana, followed by the woody Polemonium gloriosa, and ending, of course, with the drooping Glandularia vulgaris.

John Hardi, Falls Church, VA

Dishonorable Mentions

Rosemary was crushed, and no amount of time or sage advice could assuage her agony or, at the very least, reduce the swelling.

Bob Pellicone, Lincroft, NJ

He loved the sound of her name—Sandrine—as it reminded him of two of his favorite things in life: sandwiches and tambourines.

Kelley Farmer, Dripping Springs, TX

She had a captivating smile and eyes the color of a poisonous frog he’d seen on a trip to Costa Rica.

Carol Hobart, Edina, MN

I knew that my husband was cheating on me, because I tasted his breath on the new maid’s lips.

Andrew Kim, San Jose, CA

“God, would you please get your tentacles off of my stomach,” I uttered as Forrest groaned and slithered away from my bed; I swear, if anyone ever finds out I am dating an octopus, it will be social suicide.

Riley Kwortnik, Ithaca, NY

Gregory was falling in love with the doe-eyed Nora, not knowing that she could be an infuriating, complicated woman at times, like one of those self-service checkout machines at the grocery store where you can never figure out where to insert the money or get your change, plus the scanner never recognizes your jar of Vlasic sweet pickles so you have to call the attendant.

Steve Lynch, Tucson, AZ

Science Fiction Winner

The frequent and robust bouts of coupling that young Liam shared with his robot girlfriend Esther-4.0, while satisfying, often reminded him of eating chocolate covered cherries without removing the foil wrapper.

Greg Homer, Diamond Springs, CA

Dishonorable Mentions

Zajaxian Planetary Law required that war, if it must be fought, be fought not with bombs, bullets and blood, as on our own primitive Earth, but with serried banks of immensely powerful mainframe computers, even though they were bulky to carry and unwieldy to throw.

Jeremy Das, Loughborough, England

As Capt. Kirk and his away team materialized on the planet’s surface and began to walk through town, their sudden, uncontrollable twitching and out-of-control hands, feet, and hips immediately led Kirk to suspect that the king of the Holodeck Disco, Mr. Spock, had intentionally transported them to Funkytown.

Kevin Kinzer, Spokane, WA

A blast from the cosmic storm front on the frontier of interstellar space, the Oort Meteor Storm sleeted silently through the eternal night, slicing invisible self-healing lacerations through the dark void as it bore down on Sedna Station where shortly it would slice through the intrepid Planetary Survey Team, lacerations neither invisible nor self-healing that would reduce them to vacuum-desiccated strawberry preserves floating in a titanium colander.

Stephen Dourson, Preble County, OH

Sven wondered, staring into Opal’s trusting eyes, if he could truly marry her knowing that, in just three weeks, the stock market would crash, her father would jump out of a 10th story window, and he, the intrepid adventurer and time traveler, would return to the 21st century with millions of dollars worth of her old man’s Coca Cola stock.

Robert K Walters, Asheville, NC

Vile Puns Winner

After purchasing an oval Chinese frying pan at the diminutive British aristocrat’s yard sale, Nigel realized that he’d just taken a long wok off a short Peer.

Bart King, Portland, OR

Dishonorable Mentions

Fed up with Parisian hipsters using fancy foreign words to describe French food, Pierre decided un oeuf was un oeuf.

Dave Beck, El Cerrito, CA

As Freddie donned his mercurial black waistcoat, trimmed his mustache, and helped his younger brother tie his ascot in preparation for the 22nd annual Ravencon he could not help but reflect how happy he was to be a Poe boy from a Poe family.

Josh Wright, Piedmont, OK

After almost twenty years of baldness, Harry finally decided to splurge on an expensive, human-hair wig – after all, four hundred dollars to look twenty years younger was a small price toupée.

Julian Calvin, Bellbrook, OH

Being a man of perspicacity, Alexander Graham Bell was able to treat his own stomach-ache (caused by eating three dozen raw oysters and a warm crock of sauerkraut on a bet) without the aid of his assistant, and when asked how he became ill, he would say only “Alimentary dare, Watson.”

David Franks, Fayetteville, AR

Now that the former emperor, Napoleon, was dead, his doctors, the guards, and all the other soldiers hanging around decided to go out for a short bier.

Evaonne F. Hendricks, Arcata, CA

Winky the flounder, lying flat on the ocean floor, looked about in horror as he took in the shreds of fish flesh that rained down on him from the massacre visited upon his family by the barracuda gang, and realized: “I’m the sole survivor.”

Brent Guernsey, Springfield, VA

Western Winner

“Yeehaw, boys, and so long,” called Eugene ‘Bullettooth Dynamite’ Jones as he rode off into the torrential downpour on his 32-inch-tall miniature horse, Kevin, hiding a frown because he knew deep down in his heart he had yeed his last haw.

Stephanie Karnosh, Springboro OH

Dishonorable Mention

No-one served up a steak quite as juicy as they did in Mother McDougal’s, so when the check arrived, Luke Mahan, the meanest gunslinger in the state, peeled off three greenbacks from his wad, threw in a dime tip, and told the elderly waitress it was “Three ten to you, ma.”

David Hynes, Bromma, Sweden

Miscellaneous Dishonorable Mentions

As I stood next to the deathbed I could hear a whisper full of desperate urgency: “I have to confess something to you! I am not your sister! I am your mother!!” to which I just nodded and said, “Of course, grandpa.”

Jose Beltrán Escavy, The Hague

They were tough men with tough jobs who frequented tough bars with rough, tough atmospheres, and the way they gripped their drinks, cigars, and cigarettes in a manly fashion never failed to impress the tough, hard-faced women who also frequented those same bars, and often ended up having their babies.

Adam Johnson, Longmont, CO

The aroma of the madeleines stimulated Marcel’s intense memory of a woman from his past, coincidentally not named Madeleine but Gladys, who smelled like the Dickens so he decided to order the gruel instead.

Lee Grossman, Oakland, CA 

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times – though any decent statistician might net those two factors together and conclude that things were fairly average all round.

David Meech, Auckland, New Zealand

The price was cheap, thought P.I. George Brown, but renting an office out the back of Farmer Frizzle’s poultry barn didn’t make the best of impressions, what with the spread-eagled cassowary mounted on the wall, the eggshells his clients had to walk on to get to his desk, and the barn’s P.A. system, which continuously blared Radio 2020 CHICKEN FM (bock-bock-bock).

Sarah Totton, Guelph, Ontario

It was going to be one of those nights, maybe not dark and stormy, but nebulous and heavy, nevertheless; the kind of night you would endure rather than survive, the kind of night you would fear but could not anticipate, the kind of night I would weather as I had a thousand nights before with the steadfast companions who would once again escort me to dawn: Patsy, Roy, and Jack — that is, Cline, Orbison, and Daniels.

Tom Venturino, Encinitas, CA

He sat on the tailgate of his truck, an old Ford Ranger as blue as the summer sky (although it was now winter), sucking on the ass end of his cigarette, taking puffs to the beat of his speakers as they blared an old Beetles tune, you know the one.

Samuel Gallentine, Battle Ground, WA

Retired professional school dance chaperone, Ted Wilkerson, wandered the day room, prying couples apart with his chipped wooden cane, sneering and insisting, “Leave room for Jesus, you’ll be meeting him soon enough,” and “Let’s keep these crusty arrhythmic shamblings G-rated, folks.”

Grant Gordon, North Sutton, NH

It was a dark and shiny tube that Nurse Johnson slowly intubated into the patient’s left nostril when suddenly Dr. Barbarino bent over to old man Kotter’s ear and shouted, “Up your nose with a rubber hose!” whereupon old man Kotter tried to snort laugh but choked and died because he had a tube up his nose.

Jim Jones, Massillon, OH

His hot, fetid breath on the back of her neck pulled her from her sleep and she felt fear grip her as she recognized his presence and scrambled quickly to untangle herself from the sheets and exit the bed before Felix could hack up the forthcoming hairball.

Krista Epton, Edmonton, Canada

Puzzles, as Naomi was beginning to realize, after moving past beginner 500-piece illustrations into 2000-piece close-ups of nature, were the easy part of the competition—going head-to-head with a grandmother from Limerick on a 2,500-piece of cherry blossom needed finesse and technique along the lines of a tiny slingshot aimed at the bitch’s corner pieces.

Cass Lennox, Switzerland

Standing at the altar, dressed in white, Lucy could not help but think of the suitors she had turned down—Jock, Dick, and Willy—all lovely men, but not as lovely as her ultimate choice, now standing proudly at her side, to whom the vicar turned and questioned, “Do you, John Thomas, take Lucy . . . ?”

David Hynes, Bromma, Sweden

All I can say is that I have never been so insulted (even by the likes of my moronic sister (who seems to delight in making me uncomfortable (and she is so good at it, knowing just how to push my buttons (which I think is a skill that all siblings possess to some extent (which I believe proves some sort of genetic link (despite the fact that I really enjoyed genetics in school (relating on so many levels to Gregor Mendel and his peas (but of course peas make me gag, since my throat swells when I eat them)))))))) as I was by someone suggesting that I have ADD.

Eric Anderson, Bend, OR

She took a deep lungful of honeysuckle-scented air, though it didn’t smell like honeysuckle because she lived in Colombia and that plant was not endemic to where she lived (but it is endemic to the author’s home, so in this story the air smells sweet like whatever’s similar in Colombia, and our story takes place there) and she wondered idly what that sweet smell in the air was.

Everett Roberts, Washington, DC

As he left the cemetery after his grandmother’s funeral, Victor wondered if Hollywood screen legend Robert Taylor had been interred under his real name, Spangler Arlington Brugh, and if so, how had they managed to fit all the letters onto his gravestone—an inappropriate thought on this sad family occasion, particularly so because his grandma’s favourite movie actor had been Spencer Tracy.

David Silver, Greater Manchester, England

Accidentally dropping her phone, eyelids, and fake Ottawa Valley accent was not what Sarah Hemsworthington did best, or most often, or with the most confidence in her family of nine rather nasty siblings, and step-siblings, and half-to-one-quarter siblings—but it sure came close!

Marty Williams, Guelph, Ontario, Canada

It seemed a cruel irony to Nigel when he realized, only in hindsight, how mistaken he had been to abandon his youthful ambition to become a technical writer and bend to his parents’ wishes that he go into proctology.

Scott Wilson, Corvallis, OR

The fun had seemed innocent at first—simple handstands and easy dismounts, but as the hours passed the routines became more intricate and aggressive with cartwheels and round-offs, competitive and risky with back walkovers and flipping twists, until the twins’ mother ordered them to stop the nonsense and return Grandpa’s walker so he finally could get to the dinner table.

Scott G. Witmer, Allentown, PA