2015 Grand Prize
The winner of the 33rd edition of the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest is Joel Phillips of West Trenton, New Jersey. An Alabama native, Joel teaches music theory and composition at Westminster Choir College in Princeton, New Jersey. He lives in West Trenton with his wife and their three cats, gardens with gusto, and enjoys listening to his rock-star bassist son's original songs. He can tell you when René Magritte painted “The Castle of the Pyrenees” but not when someone is off sides in soccer. Phillips is the person who purposefully viewed the film “Ishtar” more than once.
We can’t let the dastards win,” said Piper Bogdonovich to her fellow gardener, Mr. Sidney Beckworth Hammerstein, as she clenched her gloved hands into gnarly, fuzzed fists, “because if I have to endure another year after which my Royal Puffin buttercups come in second place to Marsha Engelstrom’s Fainting Dove Tear Drop peonies, I will find a machine gun and leave my humanity card in the Volvo.”
Grey Harlowe, Salem, OR
After his seventh shot of Jack Daniels, Billy reflected that only a certain kind of man, a Roman Catholic priest, born under the sign of Gemini, whose loved one had been run down by a bus full of inebriated Lazio supporters on a glorious Sunday morning in early April outside a provincial church whose bells were ringing Bach’s Tocatta and Fugue in B minor, would truly be able to understand the abyss of despair in which he was drowning.
Neil T Godden, Nouméa, New Caledonia
After weeks at sea, Captain Fetherstonhaugh and his hardy crew had at last crossed the halfway point, and he mused that the closest dry land now lay in the Americas, assuming of course that it was not raining there.
David Laatsch, Baton Rouge, LA
Certainly most people in Morris’ place would have had certain misgivings about being stranded aboard a life raft, facing the unrelenting hunger and the possibility of having to eat the weaker members of the crew just to eke out the chance of survival for a few more days, but as Morris was an Asiatic black bear he had absolutely no qualms about it whatsoever.
Charlie Hill, Auckland, New Zealand
A thousand miles from the coast a cheer went up from the burned, ragged survivors of the Cortez party as they descended upon the hapless prairie dog devouring skin, fur, blood, everything in their ravenous quest for sustenance since their expulsion, two months previously, from the Reno Holiday Inn without the concomitant expulsion from the safe of their wallets and passports
Dave Hurt, Leicester, UK
If old Elijah’s warning about the North Korean cruise ship of Liberian registry, crewed by Thai slaves wasn’t enough, dinner at the Somali Captain’s table in a lifeboat near confirmed it.
Paul Ross, Santa Fe, NM
Walking through the northernmost souk of Marrakech, that storied and cosmopolitan city so beloved of voyagers wishing to shake the desert dust off their feet, Peter bought a French-language newspaper and realized, with dizzying dismay, that “Camille” can be a man’s name.
Myriam Nys, Mechelen, Belgium
The doctors all agreed the inside of Charlie’s intestinal tract looked like some dark, dank subway system in a decaying inner city, blackened polyps hanging from every corner like tiny ticking terrorist time bombs, waiting to burst forth in cancerous activity; however, to Timmy the Tapeworm this was home.
E. David Moulton, Summerville, SC
Shortly after that interfering do-gooder Snow White had introduced Sneezy to non-drowsy antihistamines, he had to change his name to Brian, where he then left the mines with Ray (formerly Sleepy) who was now a caffeine addict and Bob (formerly Grumpy) who was on 100 milligrams of Prozac a day, and Doc whom Snow pointed out had never actually graduated from medical school and was being sued for malpractice--oh how he despised that high and mighty ho.
Hwei Oh, Sydney, Australia
The three little pandas followed Nanny Wei Wong down the grassy path towards the lotus pool, bathing suits, rubber duckies, and favorite bamboo sandwiches safely in their panda packs -- how they loved their school break -- but they had no idea what was waiting for them this summer, just over the Big Bear Bridge!
Linda Gorman, Albuquerque, NM
As Granny sewed the bloody wolf pelt onto the stained red cape, Little Red downed another shot, reminding herself that even alcohol has a better taste than the gastric acid of a wolf.
Rahul Kak, Ann Arbor, MI
Jacob and Elisa had been warned by their parents on numerous occasions never to venture into the Amber Woods after dark or risk some vague and unspoken fate once within the trees, so they didn’t and just played in their front yards instead.
Eric Lorenz, Phoenix, AZ
And it came to pass that, in those days when the young and powerful Alexander, called The Great, boldly ventured forth on his mighty steed Bucephalus, leading a vast army to conquer, claim, and generally visit the more tourist-y areas outside his empire, there remained at home his lesser-known brother Demetrius the Mediocre, who kept the fires burning and, to everyone's surprise, produced a pretty decent BBQ.
Marsha Engelbrecht, Lafayette, LA
With his lamp giving off a dull yellow glow General Washington sat up late into the night contemplating his problems: Not enough food, not enough clothing, not enough men, and that idiot Private Doodle who kept putting feathers in his cap and calling it macaroni.
Dan Leyde, Shoreline, WA
Attila sat alone on the crest of a hill overlooking the bucolic village he would next pillage, envying the simple lives of its denizens, but comforting himself with the knowledge that they would soon all be murdered.
Steve Lerner, Northridge, CA
The year was 1792, and the French Royal family was like a well-watered topiary: lush, widespread, and in need of a good pruning.
Arch Robison, Champaign, IL
The three Black Forest Elves, Twinklemann, Sparklemann, and Von Dazzleberg, were sitting at their merry campfire, frying their wursts and hamhocks, slathering their rich black bread with the grease, drinking the icy magical Rhine-water, and one of them at least puffing away on a pudgy little elven-pipe, when who should show up but the OTHER famous elves Oberon, Titania, Galadriel, Elrond, Tinkerbell, the Munchkin lollipop dude, and that thing on the airplane wing in “Twilight Zone.”
David S Nelson, Falls Church, VA
That was magic alright, though she belatedly realized that she should have known because everybody else was wearing robes while holding staffs with knobs on one end and screaming nonsense like "Merlin's beard!" when she unceremoniously dropped in their midst and it really shouldn't have taken her being changed into a creature of the amphibian persuasion to comprehend that.
Yap Tee Giut, Ipoh, Perak, Malaysia
“My name is Vangir," the stout dwarf announced, "son of Valdir, son of Tolfdir, son of Torsson, heir to the dwarf kingdom of Darag-Vur, King of the Under-Folk, ring-giver, dragon-slayer, M.D., DDS.
Austin Stollhaus, Louisville, KY
An evil darkness strode across the forsaken lands of Marmon, casting a shadow like a superhero whose cape’s special power is to turn day into night, that was how the darkness strode (not like the superhero who was otherwise a very nice man).
Terence Mulholland, Santa Monica, CA
In the forest of Thrangul, Dobo Snabeley stared at his quest companions, Bolto Dwaven, Eagle Thepnis, Night Hunter, and Lythan Elva, looking to a map of Husker-Du, Dobo knew they would traverse this entire world to burn the Wand of Shazna in the firepit of Mound Hapla, so Dobo chucked it in the camp fire instead, and went home.
Nad Razvi, Essex, UK
If Vicky Walters had known that ordering an extra shot of espresso in her grande non-fat sugar free one pump raspberry syrup two pumps vanilla syrup soy latte that Wednesday would lead to her death and subsequent rebirth as a vampire, she probably would have at least gotten whipped cream.
Margo Coffman, Corinth, MS
Duane made a very unfortunate zombie; the coroner had removed his dentures and all of his clothes before he reanimated--thus he was destined to stagger naked through the woods, attempting to gum small animals to death
Stephanie Leanne Myers, Baton Rouge, LA
Carlos stared in lust and amazement as she walked away, her spandex-covered body giving the impression of two well-oiled sumo wrestlers on stilts furiously going for the win.
Marlin Back, Columbus, IN
It was the age of the expected, it was the age of surprises, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the fall of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us--in short, the period was so different from past periods that some of us didn't know what else to do but go to Las Vegas and drink smoothies.
Ron Johnstone, Burlingame, CA
Long overdue for a tune-up, the ancient and dilapidated 1956 Oldsmobile -- with PowerGlide transmission and power steering -- wheezed slowly into the gas station, the long, blue plumes of exhaust looking like a crop duster full of illegal DDT spraying a field of asphalt.
Ed Buhrer, Louisa, VA
He typed like a ninja with no arms, and the text flowed like a drop of blood down a katana blade sharpened with one of those automatic kitchen things you can buy on late-night television when you're drunk but not too drunk to read off your 16-digit credit card number and security code.
Alex Dering, Brooklyn, NY
The night was dark; which is a bit redundant, since night is by definition dark, unless it's a stormy night when lightning causes moments of brilliant light, or except in places like Norway or Alaska where summer nights can be pretty light, but still, most of the time when you say “night,” people are going to think “dark.”
Joseph E. Fountain, Fredericksburg, VA
Portly, abrupt Bart Simeon plodded through the citadel with a bearing of tension and anger that was like a tinderbox lying by a roadside waiting for a careless motorist to toss his or her cigarette butt out the window, most likely the passenger if the container lay on the right side of the road, or perhaps the driver with a brusque flick to the left, unless of course if they were in England, in which case it would be the opposite.
Anthony Hahn, Astoria, OR
She looked like a great pizza, you know the kind that relies more on the quality of the sauce than the amount of cheese, standing there powdering her nose, which was a bit large for her face, reminding him of a slice of pizza whose point curled up after a night in the refrigerator.
Howard Vogl, San Luis Obispo, CA
I never did see the last thing I saw, the truck and the red light, the last thing I saw was a plus-size girl in a petite ensemble, giving her the appearance of a marshmallow tightly wrapped in dental floss.
Ted Wise, Hanover, PA
The gravitational pull up here on Mars is much less than it is back at home base, of course, so your tongue sticks to the roof of our mouth and everyone sounds like Eleanor Roosevelt.
John Holmes, St. Petersburg, FL
Entering the Forbidden Zone on Planet Q38 Minor meant death, either quickly by mushroom poisoning or terribly by The Shiny Golden Hook; but Captain Zirek didn't care, he was in love with three-legged Zora, and that's where she was stabled.
David S Nelson, Falls Church, VA
Turk strained at the controls of the Pulsar-Phased Adenoid Five Galactic Cruiser, trying desperately to pull up from an uncontrolled dive, until he suddenly remembered he was in space, and there is no up or down.
Joseph E. Fountain, Fredericksburg, VA
The mighty roar of the awesome atomic engines (louder than a thousand MGM lions, more powerful than lust on a warm summer’s day) erotically thrust the metallic monster into the heavens like some demonic angel escaping from Hell and made the intrepid astronaut swallow his gum.
James Luce, Los Altos, CA
The Phylognites made love by intertwining their eyeball stalks, a most erotic sensation except occasionally when, due to inexperience or excessive ardor, their stalks became inextricably bound in what (unbeknownst to them) a species of obnoxious, quarrelsome little bipeds on an obscure planet circling a small star in the Milky Way might call a "bird's nest."
Wayne Carmichael, Tyler, TX
Claire had more daddy issues than Boy’s Life magazine published in the late 1970s, but she was a perfect match for Donald, whose personality was vaguely sticky, like the outside of a squeezable honey container or anything handled by a three-year-old.
James Pokines, Boston, MA
She was a mermaid equally at home on land and water because of her dual-membrane lungs, and she had everything I needed tucked under one beautiful big scale, and her glistening, wriggling, flopping body and melodious Siren's voice had me in love from day one when I hauled her up along with 600 pounds of Point Judith #3 calamari.
David S Nelson, Falls Church, VA
Wilbur's passionate kisses sent a warm shiver down Eugenia's tender spine and made the coarse hair on her knuckles erect.
David Pepper, Torrance, CA
As he caressed her hair, cheek, forehead, chin, collarbone, shoulder, upper arm, and stomach, she knew that her decision to take Octoman as a lover was the correct one.
Lynda Clark, Nottingham, England
Caitlin was a Pop Tart kind of girl, but Kyle always ate four Aunt Jemima pancakes with Land o' Lakes unsalted butter and Mrs. Butterworth's maple syrup, so they knew they would never marry because of their differences, but they could still fool around.
Kathy Minicozzi, New York, NY
This is a story about love, but not just any kind of love like how you love the feeling of trading in a pair of soggy, old socks for fresh ones, or the taste of salty French fries dipped in a chocolate milkshake, I’m talking about the other kind of love.
Anna Sagstetter, Fort Wayne, IN
Their love had come upon her completely by surprise, thought Amelia -- like when you’re looking into your rearview and side mirrors to decide whether it’s feasible to switch into the passing lane and you think you’re in the clear, but then you find yourself utterly sideswiped.
Allison Sloto, Pottstown, PA
It was debatable what Felicity enjoyed most about the night – the delicious dinner, the marvelous movie, or the satisfying sex – but one thing was clear and that was that she hoped she wouldn’t be doing it alone again next time.
Randy Blanton, Murfreesboro, TN
Well . . ." began the mother as she attempted to answer her daughter's question, amid fuzzy memories of a balmy night in Cuba, several empty bottles of pineapple rum lying around the bed she had shared with the Captain accompanied by the worst headache she could remember, "I wouldn't use the word ‘accident.’"
Alex Main, Springboro, OH
Camilla was a strong, confident woman who ran a Fortune 500 company and made her own yogurt, but what she really longed for was a control-freak guy who would tap her phone, lock her in her room, and force her to listen to Gilbert Gottfried singing the national anthem.
Laura Ruth Loomis, Pittsburg, CA
Locals know it as Pinocchio Rock, because it's shaped like a proboscis, and lies at the edge of the cliff.
John Holmes, St. Petersburg, FL
Having eaten her fill of the town’s fils et filles, the French witch inspected her candy-encrusted house and decided she needed a grander lure to attract grander prey--perhaps she should build a homme depot.
Scott Britton, Boston, MA
As James King, detective in the Queens branch of the NYPD stared at the rooks pecking at the disheveled corpse of Bishop Robert Knight in the alley behind the pawn shop, he checked for his mates.
Mark McGivern, Albert Lea, MN
Old Man Dracula forgot to put his teeth in one night, and so had to come home hungry, with a sort of “nothing dentured, nothing veined” look on his face.
Matthew Pfeifer, Beaman, IA
Sherlock Holmes brusquely dismissed his companion’s theory that the victim had died from an allergic reaction to either seasoning or seafood, saying “Watson, although the problem is alimentary, it is neither the Thyme nor the Plaice.”
Owen Roberts, Edina, MN
Spurs a-jangling, Black Bert sauntered to the bar and cried "this town ain't big enough!"—then gulped a whisky, fingered his six-shooter, and belched—"so I say we annex Dry Gulch, thus increasing our tax base while simultaneously reducing fixed costs through economies of scale."
Joel Phillips, West Trenton, NJ
"Pecos Mac" McCarthy index-fingered back the brim of his battered Stetson, squatted at the edge of the waterhole, cupped a handful of brackish water, squinted out over the shimmering alkali flats of the Badlands, and decided then and there that he had prit' near had it with overwrought, hackneyed western imagery.