by Thad Tichenor and Ethan Johnson
Travis McCracken wasn’t good at sports. He wasn’t known for schoolwork either. But he did have a talent. He was a fantastic snorer, and he just happened to live in a town that celebrated its snorers.
Each summer, on a warm evening when the crickets chirped and the sky was clear, Whisper, Wyoming, held a Snore-Off. Snorers from as far away as Bogginsville, Hoboken, and Crosser Creek came to compete. And each year Travis sat right up front, wishing that he could be part of the action. Unfortunately for Travis, the official rulebook stated in big black letters that the contest was only for adults.
So year after year, Travis watched and waited. But after his ninth birthday, he’d run out of patience. That does it, he thought. I’m entering the Snore-Off this year, no matter what. If they want an adult, I’ll give them an adult. And that’s just what he did.
On the day of the contest, Travis gave one of his sister’s dolls a haircut and glued its locks under his nose with a piece of bubble gum. Then he put on some faded overalls, tattooed his arm with shoe polish, and tied a pair of coffee cans to his feet for height. When he pulled a straw hat down over his eyes, he hardly recognized himself. The face in the mirror looked like a grown-up.
That afternoon, when the mayor closed down Main Street and the townspeople unfolded rows and rows of cots, Travis didn’t take a seat in the grandstands. No, sir. He walked right up to the judges’ booth and said: “Hello, judges. My name’s Victor. Victor Skunkweed.”
The judges examined his pillow and blanket and asked what else he had brought. Each contestant was allowed one thing to help them doze off—like a nightlight, a bedtime story, or a teddy bear. Travis handed over his dad’s current issue of Modern Dairyman. That magazine put him out every time. The judges looked it over and said: “All right, Skunkweed, you’re in cot 79.” And just like that, he was in the contest.
Travis laid his blanket, pillow, and magazine on the cot and surveyed the competition. It didn’t take long to find the three who would be the hardest to beat.
Last year’s champ, Harold “Howler Monkey” Hansen, strutted up to his cot wearing tiger-striped pajamas. He waved to the crowd and tucked himself under a blanket of imitation zebra skin. Old Harold had a real talent for making animal sounds with that snout of his. He could trumpet like an elephant one minute and snort like a pig the next. Quite a competitor, that Harold was.
Not far from him, “Wide Load” Wanda Wharton greeted the crowd. She fluffed her pillow and laid herself down, making that tiny little cot of hers all but disappear. There wasn’t anything dainty about “Wide Load.” A trucker by trade, she could muster up the noisiest nocturnal ruckus. Why, you’d think you were on the interstate with the sounds of motorcycles, dump trucks, and eighteen-wheelers thundering from her jowls.
And then there was “Choo-Choo” Charlie Washenfelder clad in his choo-choo-train pajamas and conductor’s cap.
“Choo-choo,” he yelled and waved his cap in the air. Living by the train tracks had made an impression on him, all right. His snores chugga-chugged just like a freight train coming round the bend. And when his nose got stuffy, it tooted like a train whistle.
The crowd loved him.
Travis smiled. He knew it was going to be a tough competition, but he could hardly wait for the snoring to begin.
And just like that, the pink-purple sky dimmed to black. The contestants settled in, and a hush fell over the crowd. Good thing, too, because nothing ruins a Snore-Off like a bunch of rowdy people hooting, hollering, and carrying on.
Now crickets were the only ones making a clatter. Moonlight and a few lanterns near the cots cast a yellow glow on the competitors. And with its light turned out for the event, the clock tower slept standing up.
The mayor stepped forward, holding a lantern. “Snorers, on your marks…get set… snore!” he said and blew out his lantern. The contest was under way.
All at once, the competitors sprang into action, trying their best to fall asleep. Milo the barber listened to his mother read a bedtime story. Francine Higgins, who ran Higgins Diner, downed a mug of warm milk and sent her husband off to fetch another cup. Travis heard lullabies and smelled aromatherapy candles. He even watched a man from Hoboken eat an entire Thanksgiving dinner—and nobody can stay awake after eating turkey, stuffing, yams, and mashed potatoes. Nobody.
Amidst the commotion, Travis was anything but sleepy and his cot was far from comfortable. But unless he wanted to be disqualified, he had to fall asleep, and fast. Time was running out.
Travis picked up the August issue of Modern Dairyman and read about the latest in milking technology. That did the trick. He was out like a light in no time flat.
Moments later, he was unaware of the judges who put him through a cheating test. As a spectator he had loved to watch them wiggle feathers on contestants’ noses and tell them jokes. Pretenders always laughed before the feather touched their faces, and a real sleeper never chuckled at a punch line.
Now, as the feather flicked across Travis’s nose, he swatted at it in his sleep and didn’t grin a bit, so the judges moved on.
About a half hour passed before the spectators heard the first snore of the competition. It wasn’t anything spectacular, just an open-mouthed rumble, but it was enough to put the fans on the edges of their seats. That snore was soon met by another, and another, and another—until Main Street echoed like a bog full of frogs.
The judges swooped in and rated each snore’s pitch, duration, volume, and rhythm. At first, no snorer stood out until “Wide Load” Wanda surprised everyone with a noisy rattle that could have been mistaken for a backfiring jalopy. Her giant jowls shuddered like a car in need of a tune-up. The crowd waved flags and road signs in appreciation, knowing that rooting for her in any other way would hinder instead of help.
Not to be outdone, Harold “Howler Monkey” Hansen roared into life. His snore sounded like a grizzly bear with a bad toothache. You can be sure that the judges gave him high marks for that one.
The night was young, however, and soon “Choo-Choo” Charlie’s train left the station with the toot of a whistle and a chugga-chugga-chugga snore that grew louder as it went. The crowd got real worked up over it, too, and the judges took note.
By 4 A.M. only a dozen contestants remained. Travis managed to make the cut thanks to an unexpected case of the hiccups. His loud squawks had some folks wondering if they’d heard the prehistoric mating call of a giant pterodactyl. For the moment, he was the crowd favorite.
The judges culled the contestants down to “Wide Load” Wanda, Harold “Howler Monkey” Hansen, “Choo-Choo” Charlie, and Travis. When his hiccups subsided, however, the judges approached Travis and nodded at each other. It was time for him to go. But as a judge reached down to tap Travis’s shoulder, something amazing happened.
A moth fluttered into Main Street and headed straight for Travis’s open mouth. As luck would have it, Travis drew in a breath just as that moth approached, and, by golly, he vacuumed it right up. It was the darnedest thing. That moth lodged in his throat like a crispy tortilla chip.
Travis’s eyes crossed and his complexion went from peach to raspberry to blueberry. His chest puffed up like a balloon, and his lungs became a volcano ready to erupt. Then, all of a sudden, they did.
A blast of air shot out of Travis’s mouth, bending his vocal cords like trees in a hurricane. The moth fired from his mouth, and the noise echoed across four counties.
Shingles flew off roofs. Windows shattered. The town’s stoplight spun loop-de-loops. In the grandstand, Gerty Wilson’s wig blew off. Old Man Wendell swallowed his false teeth. And Mayor Schmolly dropped his ice cream cone on the police chief’s head.
When the noise finally stopped, the town was a wreck. The crowd and judges stared in disbelief as the only remaining sleeper in the competition smacked his lips and rolled over in his cot.
For a moment, all was quiet, then suddenly the crowd burst into thunderous applause, throwing their hats and flags into the air and shouting, “Skunkweed! Skunkweed! Skunkweed!”
There was no doubt about it. Whisper, Wyoming, had a new champion.
Of course, the town later discovered that Victor Skunkweed was really Travis, but no one seemed to mind. The judges even changed the Snore-Off rulebook, making it possible for anyone to enter, regardless of age.
So if you ever find yourself in Whisper, Wyoming, be sure to sign up. And while you’re in town, stop by Main Street, between Gunderson’s Hardware and Milo’s Barber Shop, where you’ll find a bronze statue honoring the best snorer Whisper has ever known, Travis “Thunder-Schnoz” McCracken.