The following is not a submission to the contest. For one thing, it breaks the rule about publication anywhere else. Then there's the only-one-submission bit. But the theme stuck with me, and this also popped out.
"Some people swore the house was haunted." Mr. Miller pointed at the words on the board. "Write this down, verbatim. It's your first sentence for your story. Not only is this going to be your final for this course, it's an actual contest. Any stories getting a "B" or better will be submitted." Pointing again, he continued, "This is the website with all the rules. Read them this weekend, and follow them exactly. Failure to do so affects your grade. And don't forget the writing rules we've been learning."
He looked around at his class. Some he actually had hopes for, beyond getting their high school diplomas. Others, well, he told himself every year they just needed more teaching. Sometimes they surprised you.
"Bring your first draft in Monday night. Then we'll go through each one, making them better stories. Don't worry if you go over 600 words on your first try. We can deal with that next week. By Friday night, the best ones will be submitted, just before contest deadline. Class dismissed."
Monday's class produced the expected results. Most had starting ideas, and could develop into reasonable stories with tough editing. But when Joey finished reading his aloud, it was hopeless. Not that he hadn't tried.
"What did you do, sleep with a thesaurus under your pillow?"
The class, having been impressed by the story’s sheer vocabulary, was startled. Someone laughed, quickly silenced.
"I give you points for trying to be creative. But what you have is word salad. There's no plot, no theme, and obviously no interest in the subject matter. 'Boy meets ghosts, ooooh, scary-in-87-adjectives' does not a story make. You don't even believe in ghosts, do you? This is straight from 20 episodes of bad TV. There's absolutely nothing of you here. Remember the first rule of writing: write what you know. If all that you know is cooking, make this into a cooking story. Now start over, and bring it tomorrow. Give it a plot this time!"
Joey thought it over. Mr. Miller was right about his not believing in ghosts. He'd seen too many dead people, and not once did one ever come back. But cooking? What kind of crap was that? Write what you know? There were few things Joey knew well. "How do I turn that into a story?" he wondered. Hmmm....
Some people swore the house was haunted. "Huh! Some idiots will believe anything," Jesse thought as he surveyed the trashed interior. He'd let himself in past the same broken lock that numerous vandals, junkies, and couples too poor or too cheap for a hotel had used. Perfect, just perfect, he observed in satisfaction. He had a juicy, ripe mark lined up, ready for the plucking, and this was just the location for his scam....
Joey smiled as he wrote, smiled at the class reaction, and smiled as he clicked "submit". And nothing was ever the same again.