Announcing the Return of the Night Owl Challenge Winners and Runners-Up

After reviewing more than 3,000 incredible stories, the Vocal Curation Team is excited to announce the winners and runners-up for the Return of the Night Owl Vocal+ Challenge.

By Vocal TeamPublished 2 years ago Updated 2 years ago 6 min read

The Vocal Curation Team is excited to announce the winners and runners-up for the Return of the Night Owl Vocal+ Challenge. As a reminder, the Grand Prize for this Challenge is $20,000. The Second Place prize is $5,000, and 100 Runners-Up will win $50 each.

How far we’ve come since our first major Fiction Challenge, The Night Owl, launched back in January 2021. We thought that our original prompt — to write a story that included a barn owl — was popular after we received hundreds of entries. But this second time around, we saw more than 3,000 submissions, a testament to how much the Vocal community has grown over the past twelve months.

Our team of judges and curators is always excited to read what Vocal creators share with the community. But with this Challenge, Return of the Night Owl, it wasn’t just the high submission numbers that caught our collective eye. It seems as if, with each and every Challenge, writers on Vocal are truly honing their craft. We can see how our creators are considering what makes a good story, how to realize character, conjure a sense of place, and build atmosphere.

In last year's namesake Challenge, The Night Owl, the first place prize went to creator Sara Rose for her story "Pinky Promise." The Vocal Team reached out to Sara this week, and here's what she had to say regarding The Night Owl, one year later:

I'll never forget the thrill when I found out I won The Night Owl Challenge. A year later, to have watched Vocal grow so much is nothing short of inspiring, and honestly a bit magical. Returning to The Night Owl prompt was such a fun idea. It really took me back to last year, and I love that this time Vocal is rewarding ONE HUNDRED runners-up. Given the great joy I had when I won my Challenge, I'm so happy that so many people are going to experience a similar thrill. I haven't read the winning stories yet, but I can't wait to brew some tea this weekend and find out how you all decided to weave that enigmatic Barn Owl into your narratives. I'm so excited for all of you. Congratulations to all the winners and runners-up!

Perhaps, if the Vocal gods decree it, I'll see you again next year when Vocal announces the winners of "The Night Owl Returns... Again."

The Vocal Curation Team joins Sara in congratulating all of the winners and runners-up; this one truly feels special to us. Without further ado, here are the winners of the Vocal+ Return of the Night Owl Challenge:

The Winners

First Place: "Until the Rain Stops" by EJ Ferguson

In "Until The Rain Stops," EJ Ferguson delivers a haunting, brilliant story of a mine disaster, told with a knowledge and emotional subtlety that made us wonder if she had experienced that hard, gray world firsthand. Vocal's Head Judge, author and former Booker Prize judge Erica Wagner, had this to say about Ferguson's prize-winning story:

[Ferguson], time-stamps her story, "Until the Rain Stops," to give it a sense of immediacy, arresting us with the image of blood turning to glass in a young woman’s veins. Who are those ‘wild and bony’ children? The reader feels the same alarm as the people in the story do when the steam whistle blasts.

Second Place: "If a Tree Falls" by Tyler C Clark

"If A Tree Falls" is one of those stories whose slow unfurling is like a quicksand we want to sink into, not unlike the street in which Tyler C Clark’s character sinks into in his dreams. What elevates this story beyond that of a typical horror trope is its keen eye toward the very real and sinister ubiquity of acting unlike ourselves in our everyday lives. As the main character continues to disappear, we feel for him, although at times we are not sure whether to feel more sorry for him or for ourselves. By becoming Nobody, the protagonist has actually become free. And so Clark leaves the reader to ponder whether we are Nobody or Everybody. Head Judge Erica Wagner had this to say:

Clark creates horror in "If A Tree Falls" from simple human interaction — or the lack of it. Isn’t that the greatest of our fears, that we’ll simply disappear? Both of these stories, and our runners-up too, take the prompt of the barn owl and own it, make it feel integral to their narrative. That’s no simple trick to pull off.

The Runners-Up

*Results are listed in no specific order*

  1. Kingfishers by Elena Lev
  2. Surrender by Ari Gold
  3. My August by A.J Hart
  4. In The Company Of Others by K. Marley
  5. Of Sea And Stone And Sovereignty by Morgana Miller
  6. Amelia by Alex Loinard
  7. The Story With The Owl by Christian Hicks
  8. Familiar by Joshua Stephans
  9. Some Dreams by Erin Benson
  10. The Art Of Painting A Memory by Sam
  11. Time Is All We Have, Now by Gemma Church
  12. The Night Was Peaceful by Ronke Babajide
  13. The Last Banshee by Tiffany Jackson
  14. The House On The Far Side Of The Town by Chickadee Lamu
  15. Persistence by HLore
  16. A Rabbit For Owl by Kat
  17. An Owl In The Forrest by Jodie Davenport
  18. Pecking Order by Jordan Flynn
  19. Tarrow’s Lupin by Florence Morris-Clarke
  20. Secret In The Barn by Summers Rose
  21. Petals Of A Sunflower by Gillian Pegg
  22. The Folly by Owen Schaefer
  23. A Pair Of Wings by Emily Lucia
  24. Birds Of A Feather by Mavis
  25. Feathers For The Street Sweeper's Granddaughter by Lilia
  26. Paper Birch by Carly Bush
  27. They Were Great by K. J. Hansen
  28. The Vessel by Katherine Bleth
  29. The Burning Of An Early Fall by Elijah Wells
  30. The Winter Has Been Cold by Carol Lipshultz
  31. Missing Frames by Lucy Richardson
  32. Our Beautiful Pea Green Boat by Rebecca Kahler
  33. Through His Eyes by Annika Johnson
  34. Brothers Apart by Sam Watson
  35. Escape Artists by Julie Shoults
  36. The Menagerie Of Fools by Victor Ing
  37. The Madman’s Errand Boy by Thomas Hilton
  38. A Scream In The Dark by Daniel Durr
  39. The Cups, The Sun, And The Swords by Michelle J Williams
  40. Today Is Monday by John Eva
  41. The Clairvoyant Artist by Ebony Burns
  42. Bex And Berry by Brooke Ashley
  43. Those Final Memories by Nick Orsay
  44. To Love An Owl by Erin Friederichs
  45. Custos: Tyto Alba/ White Guardian by Beth Sarah
  46. The Center Stone by Forest Water
  47. Self Doubt by Rachel Hamilton
  48. The Curse Of The Cold Cook by Emily Whyman
  49. Lewis by Catherine Brooks
  50. Conrad Jones by Sicily Palmeri
  51. Bluebells by Ellie Scott
  52. Children Of The Dressmaker by C. H. Richard
  53. Crimes Of A Feather by April Cope
  54. Pops by Jessica Berkmen
  55. The Book Of Mice by Erin Leonard
  56. Heart Of The Sphere by Sarah Leggett
  57. Night Owls by Athenah
  58. Outrun by Victoria Vargas
  59. Rooted by Mariah Quintanilla
  60. Molehills And Mountains by Nathanael
  61. Wishes Of Monsters by Shaw
  62. White Smoke by Olivia Seaton
  63. The Sentinel by Angel Whelan
  64. A Story With No Beginning by Heather Hubler
  65. Home To The Owl by Brittany Moore
  66. The Woodcut Man by Steve Hanson
  67. The Field by Patricia Ann Thompson
  68. Terracotta Shards by Gillian Pegg
  69. How Uncomplicated by Flora
  70. A Lifetime Ago by Nadia M
  71. Chrysalis by Elsy Pawelak
  72. Soliloquy From A Silent Hospital Room by Jessica Dowding
  73. Blue Velveteen by Wonita Gallagher-Kruger
  74. She’s The One by Hannah Pistoia
  75. Wise Eyes by Daniel Cohen
  76. Parra by Alex
  77. The Invitation by Raina Kirby-Jones
  78. Owl Cafe by Reylia Slaby
  79. Children Of The Forest by Jihaad Pretlow
  80. Under The Cover Of Night by Carly Marie
  81. My Momma’s Love by Zahra Jabalameli
  82. Orphan House by Jessica Gonzalez
  83. Greta by Kaitlin Oster
  84. Owl Rock by Penny Fuller
  85. Through The Eyes Of The Owl by Aston Martinez
  86. With Just A Touch by Deetta Miller
  87. The Tale Of Ashikawa by Rowan Vetere
  88. When I’m Away From You by Meredith Lee
  89. The Sweet Haunting by Chelsey Burden
  90. Pictures Taken On A Box Camera by Rosanne Dingli
  91. The Min Min Light by Lainey Mac
  92. Talking To Maria by Kate Sutherland
  93. The Owl Of St Barnabas by Simon Curtis
  94. The Return Home by Michaela Gallien
  95. In The Dark Of The Night by Shae Moreno
  96. Ten-Time Winner by Gale Martin
  97. My Only Witness by Jenna Tomovich
  98. Grandpa’s Farm by Russell Cordner
  99. The Night Owl by Eli Johnston
  100. Jeremy and the Covenant by RL Stevenson


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Nice work

Very well written. Keep up the good work!

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  • Rebecca Jane Edmonds2 years ago

    Wow what a lot of brillant writers

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