O Me of Little Faith

To all of you who submitted an entry in yesterday’s Five-Sentence Story Contest: Well done. We received a great collection of entries, almost all of which followed the rules (which included setting a suspenseful tone, containing the phrase “torpedo with gills,” and referencing Cleolinda’s father).

Also, the submission had to contain exactly five sentences and use this photo as inspiration:

About the photo: That’s a picture of the Headington Shark, a 25-foot fiberglass sculpture by artist John Buckley on the roof of a house in Headington, Oxford, England. It was installed in 1986, on the 41st anniversary of the bombing of Nagasaki. Awesome. (Not the bombing of Nagasaki, of course. That was far from awesome. But a shark sculpture on your roof? Legen–wait for it–dary.)

Now, for the submissions. First I’d like to recognize some honorable mentions:

David, for overall cleverness, including use of the phrase “shark catapult,” the word selachimorpha, and for Horace’s perfectly unexplained hatred of Gladys. (Also, for recognizing the sculpture via his reference of Oxford.)

Cleolinda’s father, Horace Ograce, had finally perfected his distressed cider siphon and shark catapult. “Surely there is no more dangerous or delicious weapon,” he announced to the three people standing hear him. “It’s like a torpedo with gills.” Lowering his silver goggles and adorning his flowered vest, Horace prepared his “pushing finger” hyper extended over the yellow flashing button. “Eat Shark Meat Gladys,” he shouted as a non existent crowd watched an airborne selachimorpha sail gracefully across an Oxford sky.


Claygirlsings, for stretching the five-sentence limit to three full, well-composed paragraphs, all of which expertly established a “dark and stormy” tone. Nice.

It was dark and stormy the night Cleolinda’s father unearthed the aging photo album buried under a box of yearbooks and dusty stuffed animals from Cleolinda’s childhood. As he cradled the album in his arms, wondering if he had the strength to face what lay inside the worn leather cover, he was transported back to the days he spent on the Atlantic, catching fresh fish to bring home to his wife and daughter.

He remembered the plague-like afflictions that hit their New England town, the screams of neighbors who couldn’t escape in time, the dark cylinder-shaped bodies of those strange fish – like a torpedo with gills, and shuddered as a quiver of fear shot through him. Even today, 40 years later, he couldn’t escape the feeling of horror, but the time had come to dredge up the past and find some way to keep Cleolinda safe for the future.

Taking a slow deep breath to steady himself, the wizened fisherman reached with his gnarled hands to gently, oh so carefully, open the book, when a boom of thunder, vibrating through the house and rattling the attic window, briefly deafened him while the lights dimmed, flickered and then went completely out.


Lauree because the “drip, drip, drip” at the beginning is so classically creepy, and because her five-sentence structure was refreshingly Hemingway-like after Claygirlsings’ novel.

The drip, drip, drip is what woke her up. Why did her room suddenly smell like a fishmonger’s dumpster?

She saw the teeth first. The shark had pierced her ceiling like a torpedo with gills.

Later she would hear Cleolinda’s father yelling for James to get out of the bathroom and the sound of a siren wailing in the distance.


Steve Hallford, for writing possibly the only limerick in history to use the phrase “leviathan-dreamer.”

A leviathan-dreamer by the name of O’Kother.
Happens to be my wife Cleolinda’s father.
Shark & sea monster dreams chase him to the hills!
Last night’s nightmare was like a torpedo with gills!!
The next day his therapist could only say, “Oh bother…”


Adam, for explaining, in quite reasonable terms, exactly what might lead to the “fit of rage” required to fishtorpedo a quiet suburban home.

Cleolinda’s father stared at the button he had just pressed in a fit of rage. Moments earlier, as the reality of all he’d lost finally came crashing down on him, he remembered the shark in the torpedo bay. He watched with nervous anticipation as vengeance sailed through the sky like a torpedo with gills. The residents of apartment 33-B would now understand, with crystal clarity, what happens when you cheat at Monopoly.


Chris Miller, for a surprising and economic explanation of the photograph, from the shark’s perspective. And for making Cleolinda the shark. And for a brilliant twist on a familiar (and appropriate) idiom.

Cleolinda’s father always told her: “People jump sharks; sharks don’t jump people.” Her father drilled it into her every day of her life. She was as sick of hearing that line as she was of her father. Cleolinda had enough and was going to do the most rebellious thing she could think of. Like a torpedo with gills, she was going to jump the people.


That was a great one, Chris, and would have won the contest if not for the detailed hilarity of the winner. In five (lengthy) sentences, this submission told a fascinating and funny story, complete with the kind of out-of-nowhere descriptions that I always love. Bonus points for connecting it to the season, for the always-suspenseful use of witchcraft, for the highly original deployment of a bedpan, for dipping into obscure Hawaiian mythology with the Aumakua reference, and for ending the submission by using the required “torpedo” phrase like a literary hammer.

Congrats, Amory Blaine. You win.

On October the thirtieth, in the preface of Halloween treats and trickery and when man’s tolerance for cable TV ghouls expands, Cleolinda, best known as “Miss Cleo,” psychic of the pay-per-call, drove her father David back to his retirement home. Cleolinda’s father, also a shaman, hit an old age and could only incant black magic in slurs the gods only sort of understood – but mostly couldn’t. That night, after Cleolinda drove home
to her million dollar condo in Fort Lauderdale, shaman David dug out his warlock’s pot (a bed pan, by mistake), magic book (make that a large-print crossword puzzle) and all the ingredients to a good brew (a rubber band, denture paste and dryer sheets), and placed them on his bedside table. Whether he was trying to impress all the single ladies in the retirement home or the gods themselves, in a voice as loud as his wizened old self could bear, he shouted his incantation (or what he thought to be his incantation), “IN THIS NITE OF OCTOBER THIRTIETH, PRITHEE GODS COME DOWN AND TARRY IN THY PRESENCE AND BRING THY SERVANT GREAT RICHES ABOUND!” But what the gods heard and how the gods responded was quite different; for in a moment faster than it took David to walk from his bed to his bathroom – which invariably took longer than five minutes – the gods sent a shark, perhaps Aumakua, the shark god himself, swimming through the air and drilling into David’s retirement home: like a torpedo with gills.


Amory, email me with your mailing address and Pocket Guide of choice (Sainthood, Afterlife, or Bible). I’ll sign it and send it your way, with or without shark accompaniment.


Didn’t win here? Then head over to Nicole Wick’s blog for a review of the Pocket Guides, an interview with me, and a book giveaway. To qualify for the giveaway, just leave a comment for Nicole and you can win one of the books.

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