Little Black Book Challenge Winners
After 12,000+ submissions read, Vocal and Moleskine® are excited to announce the winners of the Little Black Book Challenge.
We celebrated the first anniversary of Vocal Challenges with our biggest partnership, and our biggest prize yet. Together with our partners at Moleskine, we asked our entire community to get inspired and create short fiction stories involving a small black book, in which someone who unexpectedly comes into $20,000—for the chance to win $20,000 themselves.
And now, seven weeks and over 12,000 entries later, our sponsor and our judges have spoken. You've all kept the entire Vocal team—along with our incredible judges Daniela Riccardi, CEO of Moleskine, and Erica Wagner, writer, editor, lecturer and former Man Booker Prize judge—busy for weeks reviewing your amazing stories, and after much deliberation, here are the winners of the Little Black Book Challenge.
Grand Prize: $20,000
"The Delicate Art of Counting to Three" by Jess Sambuco
Moleskine CEO Daniela Riccardi was particularly touched by this original take on the Little Black Book prompt. Riccardi commented, "As a provider of physical spaces where creativity, ingenuity and self-expression nestle, Moleskine [shares] Vocal's mission to be a platform for talent and connect a worldwide community of passionate creators. Moleskine believes in empowering creativity and knowledge around the world,” and Jess's winning story embodies these values.
I do everything in threes, too. As I walk, I count my steps one, two, three, one two three. Three times I wash my hands before I eat, three times I make sure my door is locked, my stove is off, my fridge is closed. I take deep breaths to the count of three, stir my coffee, sip my tea. People have said there is a problem with this OCD, my obsession with the number three, but I don’t see it as a burden. It takes up a lot of time, yes, but it could be worse. I could have to count to 27 or 93.
Second Place: $5,000
"Dog Hill Wood" by Joshua Studebaker
Cider was our currency and apples our windfall. It was autumn, and I came in from the orchards into the streets of Laddebury with the leaves starting to hue. The sunlight was strong, and the breeze was brisk. Rosy lived on the floor above her uncle’s tavern – The Saxefras Blossom. I would see her tonight. My hands were in my pockets. She waved at me from her balcony. Her clothes would smell of tobacco. They always did. Yet she was bubbly and golden and glowing. And she hadn’t a mind beyond this market-town dale.
Third Place: $1,000
"For The Things You Want to Remember" by Laura Jeffrey
I am alone now with my jacket potato and salad. I’m staring at it, and I’m starting to cry. I’ve never liked salad but I’ve never cried over it before. Why does my chest ache over rocket leaves and spinach?
The woman has come back in and is telling me that everything is alright. She’s saying that tomorrow is another day and that we can try again with the assisted living people.
I’ve thrown my plate, and bean juice is seeping into the carpet.
Aggie, I don’t understand.
10 Runner-Up Winners
All runners up receive a one year free subscription to Vocal+, along with prizes from Moleskine.
"Wet Wood Burns Black" by Lacey Doddrow
In the old times, everything would burn.
Now, it’s harder. You don’t find much that’ll burn, and if you do, it’s too damp to be good for anything. Wet wood burns black, Zebi always says. You need something dry to start a fire, but if you want to dry something out, you need a fire for that too.
It’s not easy these days, finding something to burn.
"When Among the Living" by Canan Devorak
Beyond the border of the harbor town, Alcie grips her hands into fists and walks through the threshold. She greets her wife and apologizes before sitting next to an unlit fireplace. From her bag, Alcie removes a small black notebook, in which she records all her tales, and reads out loud the most recent and final entries.
Her voice echoes unanswered through the blackened remains of the house’s foundations.
"The Importance of Equanimity" by Daisy Kelly
I turned the photo over in my hands to find a worn black script in the corner.
"A moment can be spent but not earnt. A second can be lost but never won. Here nothing passes, so everything must stay."
The air hung unmoving, and the lake sat still as poured glass on the horizon. All around lay the hush of summer as the sun held fixed to the sky.
"For My Louisa" by Boshmi
Outside, the stars shine down, more numerous than they had ever been in the city, and I lean against the cabin’s side, watching those distant specks of light. In the distance the crickets chirp, the coyotes howl, and another truck rumbles along. I glance down to see a snake, my snake, slither out from under the cabin and dart into the undergrowth. I imagine that it is heading for the highway, maybe even all the way back to town, and maybe even back to them, to try and make things right.
In the morning, I will follow.
"An Interstitial" by J. W. Kells
Mom was long dead when Her Journals were burned. It had been more than eight years since the woman Herself had been burned in a crematorium oven. Those who loved Her had raised their arms to the waves of heat and smoke pouring from the stacks. I think She would have liked the look of the Journals as they went. Their black covers cracked, and their inked pages glowed. She would have loved it, all that energy being released. I thought it was all too ordinary and disappointing. A person’s stories should burst with colors and shapes as they go spiraling away. Mom’s stories should have ignited the sky.
"Ennui Go, The World Goes On" by Mimi
When he wasn't pickling cucumbers, Dr Portendorfer studied insects with the most assiduous attention and created vast bodies of work from meticulous investigation, in which he seemed so especially to delight. His writings exhibited a depth of research which have rarely been excelled, and which abundantly evince the time and talent he devoted to these creatures.
"Madame Mirage's Game of Terror or Treasure" by Fiona Teddy-Jimoh
"Space with many rooms, you may use me for play or for doom. What am I?"
You carefully scan the room again hoping that it would inspire your answer. Your eyes widen as you notice:
The bowl of red mushrooms (go to challenge two).
The antique dolls’ house (go to challenge four).
"Rent Seeking at Ragnarokk" by Theis Orion
Before my eyes, the design revealed itself--emerging from some secret realm. It was a yew tree, gnarled, thick-trunked, and ancient. "Bridge between life and death," I mused. My life might as well have been paved in its wood.
"We Girls Have To Stick Together" by DeEtta Miller
As her beautiful baby boy lays sleeping next to his new grandma, we eagerly plan the future. I’m a single woman again. Only this time, I am a wealthy single woman. She had a good eye for picking a rich pigeon, so I’ll let her pick the name from the little black book, that I push across the table.
"Vague Shapes" by Lucy McKeon
I know he’s out there, living somewhere with others who feel the same way we do. I’ve heard the elders whispering. I am my father’s daughter—and I will find them.
I turn right, toward school. In one month, I should be seeing clearly. In two, I will have memorized the route. In three months, I will be sixteen and I’ll have seen the sea.
Thank you to everyone who entered for your participation and creativity. Keep an eye out for more Vocal+ short fiction Challenges in the near future.