One Story written at the Brooklyn Book Festival

Elliott Holt explains One Story’s exquisite corpse to NY1

At the One Story booth at the Brooklyn Book Festival today, we asked visitors to help us write one story on a giant pad. Writers young and old, published and unpublished, each contributed a sentence to this exquisite corpse. It may not make a lot of sense, but it’s a fun read (a digressive mystery featuring a turtle, an illiterate detective, Vanna White and many shifts in point-of-view) and you can see the list of authors at the end. Thanks to everyone who came to see us in the blazing heat (including NY1 news!) Here’s the one story we wrote today:

Noah Montague had been missing since February. His family is very worried about the 15 year old, last seen playing with his dog, Bandit. Many were puzzled by his disappearance, but how far could he have gone? The police theorized that the dog was kidnapped and the child was collateral damage. But that was not the case.

Cereal Slone, private investigator, wondered aloud why the family had waited two months to report that Noah was missing. Could it be that Noah was autistic and the family was in denial? But of course, this was a question without an answer. Cereal Slone tried to resolve this quandary through thorough consultation with the DSM IV handbook. “Now, if only I knew how to read,” he sighed.

It was a good thing that Slone’s sidekick was the wonderful Vanna White; she knew her letters.

Slone sat down with Vanna and mused aloud about the facts he had so far. “A: there’s an autistic child involved,” he said.

Vanna turned over an “A” from her deck of index cards. “Now let’s see about the rest of the alphabet,” she said, “the other twenty-three letters.”

A fly landed on Slone’s nose. He imagined he could feel its individual sticky feet, lifting and landing, R-S-T-U-V.

Life was never the same for Charlie and Ro after they saw the opera “The Fly.” Ro had a craving for sugar and nails. She wanted to feel the crunch of sugar between her teeth and coating her tongue, to turn the nails between her fingers like a magician with a gold coin. (Editors’ note: this excellent non-linear narrative thread was contributed by our friend Gary Winter, who is one of the playwrights in the Obie-winning 13P.)

The letters, Slone remembered, I must return to the letters. “Oh, Vanna,” he said, “where am I?”

He ran to the station hoping he could catch the man who had stolen the formula–what would happen if he were not there in time? When Cereal got to the station, he found Bandit, the dog, with a toy turtle. Cereal bent down and, gently tugging the turtle away from Bandit, noted that the colored swirls along the edge of the turtle’s carapace looked like writing. He peered closely at the writing, wishing he had brought with him his all-language dictionary so that he could decipher the beautiful but unfamiliar words.

Cereal was feeling hungry. He looked at the turtle and thought about cooking up some turtle soup. “Mmmm…” He smacked his lips in anticipation.Cereal shook his head, forcing himself to remember the task at hand. If only Bandit could talk, perhaps he’d find some answers to Noah’s whereabouts. It turned out that the turtle had a recipe for turtle soup on its back, asking for assisted suicide.

Sauntering down the black gum raindropped pavement, he ran across open-toe sandals. His eyes ventured up to psychodelic hoops. It was Tanya! Immediately, she asked “Where is Cathy?” Cathy was, in fact, near by.

Detective Cereal asked Cathy if she had seen Noah, but she had not. So he took Bandit (and the turtle) and said, “Find Noah!”

The turtle closed his eyes and pulled his head inside his shell. A moment later, he popped his head out and looked at Captain Cereal. Cereal followed the train of carrot chips left by Bandit. He was hungry and although he was supposed to hold on to the evidence, he ate every crumb.

The path was leading to Brooklyn! (Editors’ note: metafiction alert.) Brooklyn on a Sunday! Brooklyn filled with books and a funny writing activity.

“My God, it’s hot,” said Turtle, who retired to the shade of an old oak on the City Hall lawn. “I’ll wait here a while.”

He lay down on a hard, shady bench next to an ice-cream stand. Then a little boy kicked him away. The boy kicked him so hard, he skipped several times across the grass, finally landing on the pavement next to the statue of Henry Ward Beecher. And the crowd cheered. As he basked in the applause, Turtle realized how far he had strayed from his original assignment. He was looking for the books in Brooklyn, when a dog came by and sniffed him.

“Killer, get back here,” Cereal called. “We need to find Noah.”

For this was the story of a woman…a woman tossed in the tides of fate…a woman blown by the winds of circumstance…a woman buried in the sands of time. (Editors’ note: new protagonist.)

Or maybe not, she thought to herself as the last train passed her, in an unassuming, vaguely serious manner. I wonder….how does she get her dress to stay on? Does she use a lot of doubled-sided tape? Or perhaps cosmetic glue? Whatever it is, I must get some. I wonder if getting surgically-imprinted Velcro would hurt? But it could have its uses. Imagine body surfing with no fear of certain pieces being whipped away by a rip tide and the sun beats down. That’s when she decided to follow her dream and start making plans to visit Hawaii.

Bandit sniffed high and low to find his owner. He finally ended up on Smith and Livingston where a kind woman noticed him. And she too had a dress that stayed on by seemingly mystical means. Sequins. Glue sticks. Building blocks. Secret passageways.

But what I noticed about her the most was her hat. It was a skimmer or boater hat of straw. She carried a plastic container with a little turtle. She patted the dog and said, “I’d like you to meet my young friend, Noah.”

And when she said his name, it was as if a trap door opened in her face, as if her sly smile opened into another, brighter place. “Noah,” she said, like she was letting Detective Cereal in on a secret. She licked her lips. It tasted salty. “Noah,” she said. “I can’t hide the truth anymore. I know what happened at the drive-in movies.”

Noah said, “What happened? I fell asleep.” (Editors’ note: Noah has apparently been found.)

“What was your dream about?”

“People throwing candy at me, and me riding on a pony. But people were happy.”

“No,” she said. “Nothing like that. I saw you with a woman who wasn’t your girlfriend.”

“Actually, that was Bandit, doing his human transvestite thing–the legs are so realistic, but I hate the way he crossed them and propped those feet on the dash, spilling popcorn everywhere, like even inside my brain, kernels sticking with buttery goo.”

“Buttery goo? That’s not even real butter, just butter-flavored. Like ‘I Can’t Believe it’s Not Butter.’ The fat-free kind.”

“Makes you think how marvelous it is to live in America. You can consume things that aren’t really even food and have dogs that try to act human.”

This story was written by Lisa Reyes, Najaya Royal, Tim Sheard, Susan Marinoff, Diana Winters, Lauren Russell, Timothy Browne, Kelly Spoer, Tracey Simon, Gary Winter, Gena Radcliffe, Jane Axelrod, Juliette, Susy Nowak, Lisa Pacenza, Levi Rubeck, Mike, Shanon, Jaren Kozar, Rachel Boyadjis, Allison Dilyard, John Dilyard, Donna Session, Peter William Naas IV, Mario Quinoves, Thomas Grattan, Anne Ray, Mohan Sikka, John King, Helen Georgas, Robert Feinstein and others who chose to remain anonymous. I apologize if I misspelled your name; some handwriting was very hard to read. Do let us know if we need to correct any spelling.

3 thoughts on “One Story written at the Brooklyn Book Festival

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