Last night for the first time I submitted a story to a contest. I didn’t know about the contest until a few weeks ago, so I couldn’t find time to create something new, but since Writer’s Digest excludes personal blogs as a “published” source, I was able to submit a story I previously posted. Made it just under the wire–the contest closes tonight.
I chose Harold’s Sneeze as my story. I needed to shorten it to under 1500 words per the requirements, and then my wife did some major editing. Hopefully what I sent is good enough for a win.
So, here’s the revised version of Harold’s Sneeze (formatting used for submission removed).
Little did Harold know that his sneeze would bring about the end of humanity and the world as he knew it.
He stared up at Jake. The human reached for a tin can and put it in the can opener. Harold was dying of anticipation–his two humans took forever to get him breakfast.
The smell of coffee wafted into Harold’s nose. Why was coffee made already? What made those humans think coffee was more important than his breakfast? “MEOW,” he whined, staring at Jake.
Finally, after many long seconds, the human put the food dish onto the floor for him. The dirty floor. The dusty kitchen floor that hadn’t been swept in at least a week. Harold was not happy. Why was his food not put on the clean table like his humans’?
But Harold was hungry, so he ate his food. He tasted delicious fish. He momentarily forgot his disdain for the humans, as he quietly and blissfully ate his yummy breakfast.
Then a small amount of dust entered Harold’s nose. The human must have kicked it up from the floor when he put down the food dish. The tiny particle tickled Harold’s nostril until he couldn’t take it anymore. In mid-chew, with a mouthful of food, he turned his head away from his food bowl. AH-CHOO!
He ended up spitting out some of his food along with the fish oil it came with. No matter–a human will clean that up. He licked his nose and muzzle, turned back to his food and resumed eating.
As the humans walked by him with their own breakfasts, Jake’s foot stepped into Harold’s mess at the perfect angle. His foot-hold to Earth vanished as he slipped. Harold saw this out of the corner of his eye, and ran for his lives. He looked back just in time to see Jake slam down onto the floor, head and back first, followed by the rest of his body. His coffee spilled all over his face, before the cup itself landed squarely on his forehead.
Harold looked back in shock at the scene–his breakfast was now under the human.
The other human, Tracey, also reacted in shock. “Jake!” she screamed, as she dropped everything and bounded to Jake’s side. Jake didn’t answer. He just laid there on Harold’s food. “Oh my God!” she cried, pulling out her phone and calling someone.
She started talking in a frantic voice, tears streaming down from her eyes. Harold didn’t pay much attention to what she was saying. Whatever it was, it didn’t involve his breakfast. “Meow,” he said, to remind her he was still hungry and hadn’t finished his fish. Tracey didn’t look at him. He walked over to Jake and sniffed at his face, wondering why he wasn’t getting up and uncovering the delicious fish. He gave Jake a few head bumps, but Jake didn’t respond. This was serious… he might have to abandon the rest of his breakfast.
Tracey dropped her phone and knelt beside Jake. With tears in her eyes, she stroked his head, as she murmured reassuring words like “you’ll be alright,” “please don’t leave me,” and “my poor, poor Jake”.
Poor Jake? Poorer Harold, his breakfast was ruined.
Harold heard a knock on the door. He had never seen Tracey run to the door so fast, so he ran with her. Opening the door, a pair of black-suited humans with shades and a curled wire running behind their ears stood before her.
“Good morning,” one of them said. “We’re here to see Jake.”
“He’s hurt,” Tracey said. “Unconscious on the kitchen floor. The ambulance is on its way”. Tracey was choking back tears.
The men walked to the kitchen, and looked at the human on the floor. They looked at each other before hauling him up.
“Careful!” Tracey yelled.
“Relax, he’s only knocked out. We need to take him.”
“What’s this about?”
“Your husband is the country’s best negotiator, yes?”
“But we need him. Now.”
“Take me with you. I need to know he’s alright.”
Tracey sounded desperate. So too was Harold–looking at the dirty floor where the human had been, his food was splattered everywhere. Why hadn’t a human opened another can yet? “Meeooow.”
“I’m sorry, ma’am, this is a high-profile–”
“Look,” Tracey said, “I might be the country’s second best negotiator after the training Jake’s given me. I know how he thinks, and the words he uses. I know all the tricks he knows. Maybe I can help.”
Still holding the unconscious human in their arms, they looked at each other, back at her, then nodded.
Tracey started following them.
Harold was getting impatient. “Mreoowr,” he said, still wanting his breakfast. He felt a couple of hands lift him high up off the floor. Tracey carried him with her out the door.
They passed the ambulance as they drove to their destination. One of the humans pressed a few buttons on a laptop. Seconds later, the ambulance turned off their siren and lights, then turned around to return to base.
The van they were in was large enough for the two men to work on Jake, while a driver kept the vehicle moving. The two humans put a series of drugs into Jake, but he didn’t stir. One of them got on his phone, and said they needed a backup immediately. He looked worried.
Harold was uncomfortable, and started squirming. Tracey held him tighter. “MEOOOOW.”
“Shhh,” Tracey whispered. “We’ll be there soon.”
Not soon enough–Harold wanted his breakfast NOW.
The van stopped in front of an unmarked building. The two humans carried Jake, who still hadn’t woken up. A human from the building brought out a gurney to put him on. Everyone went inside, Harold still in Tracey’s arms.
They entered a room that looked like a command centre, complete with computer screens all over the walls. Harold didn’t understand any of it, but nothing looked like a can opener.
Several other humans sat at computers, their eyes on one human standing in the centre of the room. He was staring at a screen, on which the image of a masked human looked back. The human on the screen was yelling. The human in the room responded in a more calm voice.
“No,” Tracey said. “That’s wrong. This isn’t what Jake would say. He’s going to screw it up. What’s this about anyway?”
“A group of terrorists planted a series of bombs throughout the world that will release a terrible plague. That man is our only hope of saving the world. Jake would be able to diffuse the situation, or at least delay it until our guys could crack the code to the remote detonators. But this guy could help. He’s the next best we could find.”
“So this guy is going to save the world? No, let me in there. I can do it better.”
But the human held her back. “We can’t disturb them. It’s volatile in there: any wrong move, and it’s game over. We all die. Our guys are about to crack the code, but we need more time.”
They listened for another minute. Harold let out another protesting wail. He could feel his stomach grumbling, his mouth salivating.
Tracey didn’t answer. Her eyes were fixed on the human doing the negotiating. “No!” she exclaimed. “Oh my God, no! That was a wrong move. I can’t believe he said that. Let me in there.”
Seconds later, ‘NO!’ reverberated around the room. The human on the screen yelled, “No more talk! I release the plague! Good-bye world!” The image showed the masked human holding up a device, then pressing a button on it. The screen went blank.
The room went silent. Harold saw all humans in the room slowly rise and stand like statues.
One human talked into his phone. “Did you get it?” He paused, then lowered the phone from his ear. He looked around, and quietly announced, “No.” The room remained silent. No one moved.
Tracey walked to the door, gently holding Harold. Tears were streaming down from her eyes. She looked at the humans who had brought her from home.
“There’s nothing you could have done,” one of the humans said, “He had already messed it up.” A tear trickled from under his shades.
Tracey walked to another room and found Jake on a table. He was still unconscious. She stroked his head, and kissed him. Then she sat down on a chair, letting Harold settle more comfortably on her lap. He looked around. He wondered if any of the doors in the cabinets would reveal a can of breakfast.
But Harold felt the atmosphere in the room, and the building. Somehow he knew that in a few weeks all humans would be dead. The world as he knew it would be gone. He would never again get breakfast from his humans. If only he hadn’t sneezed.