Winter, 2002
24-Hour Short Story Contest
1st Place Winner!

It all went back to that one stupid mistake he made in high school. One stupid mistake! 'I would give anything to live that day again!' he vowed.

There was a shimmer in the air and a subtle movement, as if the world just shifted to a lower gear. It seemed to get dark and, when light returned, he found himself sitting in a desk, his sophomore biology teacher asking him a question.


BY Jennifer Doloski, Seneca, IL

"C'mon, Will," Eddie Nelson tugged the leash. The mutt raised himself and, after a long stretch, obliged his master and padded out of the apartment. Glancing at his companion, a dog that was obviously part Black Lab and part the result of his mother spending too many nights wandering alleys, Eddie wondered when Willy's muzzle had changed from black to salt-and-pepper.

"Want a ride, boy?" At one time, this question elicited a response of jumps and barks that could only be characterized as pure joy. Willy now chose a polite wag to convey his agreement.

"Not that one, boy. Here." Eddie compensated for Willy's dimmed sight, leading the dog toward a vehicle he had once been able to pick out of a full parking lot.

Willy paused beside the Jeep. He wouldn't attempt the usual jump that would land him in the passenger seat.

"Up you go." Eddie braced himself to heft eighty pounds of dog and was thrown off balance when his load was considerably lighter. Cradling the dog, Eddie realized the toll that a week of not eating had taken on his friend, and he gently deposited him on the seat and latched the door.

Eddie paused. He simply couldn't do this. But the dog wasn't eating. He could barely stagger outside to do his business, bumping into furniture and walls along the way. And even that exhausted him. Twelve was old for any dog, the vet had said, especially a big dog like Willy.

Eddie drove. He wanted to get in and out of the animal hospital with Willy. In with Willy. Out without him. Fighting the rising lump in his throat, Eddie wished he had never brought the mutt home. If he had known, twelve years prior that a dare from a teacher would put him in this position, a grown man fighting tears in Saturday morning traffic, he would have kept his mouth shut. One stupid mistake! Facing now the task that lay before him, he would give anything to live that day again.

At a traffic light, Eddie found himself staring into a butcher shop. Inspired, he eased the Jeep into a parking spot.

"Be right back, boy."

A round man wearing a blood-spattered apron greeted Eddie.

"I help you?"

"Uh, yeah, I. . ." Eddie scanned the meat case. "I'd like a T-bone, no, a slab of prime rib for my dog."

"Your dog. He wanna bone, right? I gotta bones inna back. I get you a nice-a bone."

"No! The prime rib. And cut it up, could you please?"

The man cut and wrapped the meat, saying something in Italian to his wife. She took Eddie's money, shaking her head. "Such-a good meat for a dog?"

"Yeah, thanks," Eddie dashed back to the Jeep. Driving past the vet's office, he headed to the park.

"C'mon, boy," Eddie eased Willy out of the Jeep. Grabbing the bag of meat, Eddie guided the dog toward the lake. Willy ignored other dogs romping with their owners. Eddie stopped at a bench near the lake; Willy sat at his feet.

"Want to swim, boy?" Eddie's offer sounded more like a plea. He unhooked Willy's leash, setting it on the bench beside him. The dog leaned against Eddie's leg.

"Here, boy." At first, Willy only licked the morsel Eddie offered, but he eventually took the meat and swallowed it. Piece by piece, Eddie hand-fed Willy almost a pound of prime rib before the dog curled up at his feet with a sigh. Eddie was heartened, but knew he was only fooling himself, letting himself enjoy the thought that Willy would be fine. He stared at the lake, his eyes filling with tears.

There was a shimmer in the air and a subtle movement, as if the world just shifted to a lower gear. It seemed to get dark and, when light returned, he found himself sitting in a desk, his sophomore biology teacher asking him a question.

"You think you can handle the mutt, Nelson? You can't handle yourself!" Mr. Reynolds was right. Eddie's grades were lousy, his discipline file was inches thick, and his friends were the losers he met in detention. But when Mr. Reynolds had told the class of the rambunctious puppy that had eaten two pair of glasses, an antique rocker, and Mrs. Reynolds' tulip bed, Eddie couldn't help himself. He muttered, loud enough for Mr. Reynolds to hear, that any idiot could handle a dog.

And now Mr. Reynolds was daring him to take Willy.

Eddie wanted his 15-year-old self to refuse, but before he could, the light shimmered again. He was standing over a penitent-looking Willy, wondering where he would sleep now that the dog had eaten his mattress. He was in obedience school and realized, for the first time, that he had received as much training as had the dog. He was fishing with Willy the day Leslie Evans dumped him for the basketball team's star forward. He was running mile after mile through the park, Willy at his side, as he tried to escape the pain of his parents' sudden deaths when he was eighteen. He was graduating from college, after four years of living in an off-campus apartment that allowed pets. Without the dog, life could have been hard for Eddie Nelson, but something about having Willy had made everything easier to bear.

With a shake of his head, Eddie jerked back to reality to realize he was still sitting on the park bench, tears streaming down his face. He wiped his face against his sleeve and looked at the dog sleeping at his feet. It was his turn to make things easier for Willy. He would hold his friend as they said good-bye. He owed the dog that much.

"C'mon, boy." Eddie snapped the leash onto Willy's collar, but the dog didn't stir. Eddie placed his hand against the dog's flank. It was still.

One last time, Willy had made it easier for Eddie to bear.

What Jennifer won:

$300 Cash Prize
Publication of winning story on the WritersWeekly.com website
1 - Freelance Income Kit Includes:
-- 1-year subscription to the Write Markets Report
-- How to Write, Publish and $ell Ebooks
-- How to Publish a Profitable Emag
-- How to Be a Syndicated Newspaper Columnist Special (includes the book; database of 6000+ newspapers; and database of 100+ syndicates)

Contest guidelines are HERE.


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