Saturday, June 2, 2012

The Least-Watched Bee in the Northeast

Here's a piece of flash fiction inspired by the highlights of the national Scripps competition that have been in the news the past few days...


By Joe Nazare

Having many wrinkles or creases; ridged or wrinkled.

Her brow embodying the definition just recited to her, Contestant #135 rifles through her no-doubt-extensive mental glossary.  The young Asian girl--whose own birth name would have stumped 99% of the original entrants, Ludlow figures--swallows audibly before offering:

"R, U, E."  A cautious pause.  "G, O, S, E.  Ruegose," she concludes, but even as she pronounces the word her bespectacled eyes betray the concern that she has made a terrible error.

Her wariness is justified a heartbeat later.  The Bee Leader does not voice a solemn That is incorrect, does not provide the proper spelling; he passes judgment with merely a slow shake of his head.

Landslide-quick, the girl's brown face sags.  Her eyelids drape down, the corners of her mouth turn toward her quivering chin.

Contestant #135 knows she is toeing the edge of the abyss.  All that's left now is for Ludlow--the other remaining competitor--to give the final push.

One more word and p-r-e-c-i-o-u-s--precious--victory will be his.  A single correct answer and he will have a restored a measure of glory to his formerly renowned Rhode Island family.  While none of his relatives could be here in attendance tonight, Ludlow can imagine their revelry upon receiving report of his astounding accomplishment.

Ludlow sucks a deep breath into his ten-year-old lungs, steels himself against the mounting pressure.  He licks his suddenly desiccated lips, then nods his readiness.

The Bee Leader hunches over the massive volume split open before him.  A gnarled index finger traces the length of the page, stops abruptly and taps that spot.  The fateful word has been chosen.

Whatever confidence in his spelling abilities Ludlow possesses evaporates when he hears the Bee Leader speak.  The presented term is utterly alien to him, sounds like a weird mix of a choking cough and a sneeze.  Hearing it makes Ludlow wish he had delved deeper into the family library and studied harder.

In the prior round, Ludlow was already positive he had the right sequencing of letters when he asked for a synonym for acolyte.  Now, though, uncertainty and a vague but burgeoning sense of dread hinder his delivery as he requests, "C-could you, um, use that in a sentence.  Please."

Ludlow is shamed by the pleading tone of his last word, but the Bee Leader's reaction suggests that the man has been secretly hoping for just such a petition.  In fact, not only the arbiter but the entire row of black-robed figures flanking him on the dais furnish a response.  It comes in the form of an exalted chant that resounds in the cavernous, candlelit chamber:

In his house at R'lyeh dead Cthulhu waits dreaming.

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