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Winter, 2008
24-Hour Short Story Contest
1st Place Winner!

TOPIC OF THIS CONTEST WAS:
She always kept the object safe and close to her. Mama made her repeat the promise over and over again during those last days. "I will never show it to a living soul. I will never show it to a living soul."

She cried about Mama less now, not as much as she had before. She was missing Mama now as she did each night when she removed her scuffed shoes. She then carefully peeled the gray sock off her foot, and waited for the familiar object to fall out. Nothing happened. Panicked, she quickly turned her sock inside-out. It was gone.

Entries must touch on the topic in some way to qualify.



Hector Doesn't Know Jack

By Jeff Segal, Lincolnshire, IL

Jacinda Hatcher talks to herself in the car on the way home from the hotel, ticking off the reasons to stop seeing Hector. Her husband, her family, her house, her career ... she can't just jettison them like last week's recyclables. Cutting them loose will be agonizing, a hundred unsedated amputations. Her stepkids are nine and six.

But Hector is bliss.

She never really understood the word before. But since the day Hector walked past her in the office lobby, sleek and sweaty in his tight bike clothes, she's been in the grip of a craving unlike anything she's ever known. And now that she's held him, tasted him ... how can she live without bliss?

She drives the rest of the way in silence. The house is dark and quiet, the kids asleep. Sam barely looks up from his basketball game when she kisses his bald spot and tells him goodnight. In the bedroom she steps out of her shoes, sits on the edge of her bed to peel off her hose. She shakes the left foot, waiting for the familiar object to drop, and when it doesn't she pulls the hose inside out. First the left foot, then the right. A slash of panic. She looks inside each shoe.

It's gone.

Jack made her promise. Keep it with you. Keep it safe. Never show another living soul.

Why hadn't she destroyed it? All this time, knowing it could ruin her, heeding the words of a man gone twenty years. Now she's lost it. And nothing matters more than getting it back.

She doesn't bother inventing a story for Sam, just tells him she has to go back out. If she fails, Sam will be the least of her worries.

Jacinda races through empty streets back to the hotel. She recalls the tingle she felt a few hours ago, seeing Hector's blue Pontiac there before her. Paying cash, so no one could identify the marketing executive in love with the bike messenger.

She pleads with the desk clerk, attempts to interrogate the maid in a language she doesn't speak. Finally, allowed to search the room, she gropes under the bedspread, then strips the bed down to the mattress. She imagines she can smell Hector in the linens, the clean hot soapy smell she wanted to drown in. She recalls the ridges of his thumbnail on her tongue. She checks every corner of the room. The drapes. The nightstands. The Bible.

Nothing.

She tears Hector's address from the room's phone book; a part of town she avoids. She leaves the room in shambles. Driving west on the freeway, talking aloud to herself again: If he has it, he might not even know it's mine. But if I call him, he'll know it's important. Better to surprise.

The gleaming skyline looms and passes in the dark. Jacinda recalls her first years in the city, unknown and unencumbered. She spent her earnings on clothes and accessories; spoke up in meetings and refused to exit the elevator first. She managed accounts, then clients, and then became a client herself.

She finds Hector's apartment, on the second floor of a brick building that smells of rust and cigars. He answers the door in boxers and an open robe, silver chain twisted against his brown chest. She extends a long finger to touch his collarbone, but he pulls back. More a flinch than a recoil, but it's enough. She knows he knows.

She walks past him into the dark apartment. He shuts the door, switches on a light. "Hector," she says, "I left something behind earlier. Maybe you found it? It's nothing, really, but it has great sentimental value."

He says, "I found it after you left."

"Thank goodness." She clenches a fist to her chest. "It was my brother's."

Hector shakes his head. "No, it was yours. Why didn't you tell me?"

"I wanted to. I would have ..." she says. But she knows it's too late.

Hector says, "This changes everything."

"It doesn't have to," she pleads. "It was a long time ago. I love you."

He cringes, shakes his head again. "I can't."

She feels weak, gropes for the kitchen counter, turns and leans against it. "Okay, but please. Give it back."

He folds his arms over his chest. "You a freak, make me a freak, too. You owe me."

"No, Hector, I never wanted --"

"I think a lady," he sneers, "a lady who sells expensive clothes to little rich girls, maybe she pays good money to get something like this back."

Jacinda feels an icy rush below her sternum, the whoosh of her short-lived bliss being vacuumed from her heart. An hour ago she was ready to sacrifice everything for Hector. But lose it all, and Hector too? She says, "I'll pay. Just let me see it."

Hector nods and reaches for a box atop the refrigerator. As soon as his eyes leave her, Jacinda grabs a paring knife from a rack next to the sink, waits for him to turn back. She sees the card in his hand and strikes, not letting him react but stabbing again and again: his hard stomach and thin ribs; his arms and hands as he tries to block the knife; his neck and face when he falls to his knees.

When he is motionless at her feet, she looks for the card, plucks it from the floor. Oblivious to the blood soaking her dress and skin, she steps over Hector and turns on the faucet, rinsing the blood from the card's laminated surface.

The card has gone pliable and soft over the years, but she can still see its contects perfectly. An expired driver's license from a faraway state. Her picture -- darker, with shorter hair, a heavier jaw and a wispy, barely visible mustache. Her birthdate. And her name, the one she never left behind despite all the years and operations.

"Jack Hatcher," she says. "Welcome back, man."


What Jeff 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)

ENTER THE NEXT 24-HOUR SHORT STORY CONTEST HERE!
Contest guidelines are HERE.


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