Open the laptop, sharpen those pencils, polish your prose:

It is time again for The Buffalo News Short Story Contest.

All local writers are invited to take part. ?The top stories will appear in The News' Spotlight section Dec. 23.

Stories can be up to a maximum of 1,750 words (including the opening paragraphs). They must be typewritten and double-spaced if not sent electronically via email.

Email your story to bookclub@buff? or mail it to Melinda Miller, ?Features Editor; The Buffalo News, 1 News ?Plaza, Buffalo, NY 14240. Please include your ?name, address and daytime telephone ?number. Entries must be received by ?Dec. 3.

Stories can be funny or scary, loving or sad.

We have started the story for you: Each ?submission must begin with the following ?paragraphs. Where it goes from there is up ?to you:

"At least the table looks good."

It did – everything was shiny and perfect. ?The other preparations were coming along, too, though there was much still to do. With luck, they would have it all ready in time.

And then: "Grrrrrr -GRRRRR!," loud ?and louder!

What on earth was upsetting the dog?

"Here's a biscuit .... What's the matter? You don't want it?"

The growling continued. The hair on the dog's back stood on end as she glared at, but did not approach, the door. ........