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Fall, 2009
24-Hour Short Story Contest
2nd Place Winner!

TOPIC OF THIS CONTEST WAS:

Weeks of obsessive tending and gentle turning ensured a blue ribbon for his biggest pumpkin next weekend. His chest puffed with impending pride as he fantasized about the envious stares of the other town folk, especially that pretty, stuck-up woman next door, who always looked through him, not at him.

The cold wind started again and he shivered, watching the sky darken too quickly. As bright, painted leaves rained on his crop, he instinctively turned his head toward an infant's cry. At the top of the hill, under the old Maple, his stuck-up neighbor was shielding a bundle from the wind, fumbling with her blouse...

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


Being Neighborly
by Alvena Stanfield, Dayton, KY

"Folks around here think I'm crazy, a-rollin' and talkin' to my pumpkins. Ugly Floyd beat me out last year by a half pound. That ain't happening again," I told my dog, Ace, when we headed for our daily trip to check on my pumpkins.

I pulled on my jacket and tied my hood on tight. I was rolling my biggest pumpkin when I heard a baby wail. Miss Stuck Up from next door was standing under her maple tree, holding a screaming baby rolled up in a towel. She was fumbling with her blouse, trying to pull it and her windbreaker over the baby. The wind was blowing hard and the sky looked like bad weather'd be here soon.

If she'd ever been the least bit neighborly, I'd have asked her what she was doing out here in bad weather with a baby. Instead, I went back to turning and talking to my pumpkin--the one that'll get me recognized next weekend as the best ever pumpkin grower around here. Folks'll say, "He's set the record. He'll be tough to beat next year!"

"Sir, oh sir, can you help me?"

I looked up. Miss Stuck Up was standing at the edge of my garden. She shaped up pretty good when her blouse and windbreaker pressed against her middle from the wind blowing so hard. She turned a little. The wind parted her hair and it stood away from her head. She was still trying to cover the baby with her clothes so I got me a little peek under that blouse.

She had that look--that I-know-you've-got-money-in-your-pocket-and-I'm-gonna-get-it look women had sent my way when I was younger.

I should have said, "Sorry. I gotta get done before it rains--or sleets." Or "I got work to do." Or "Sorry. Good-bye." You'd think I'd have learned by now. But noooooo.

My traitorous mouth said, "What's wrong, Ma'am?" My brain said, "Run! Run now!"

"My car won't start. The baby's not keeping anything down. He throws up as soon as I feed him. Can you take us to the hospital?"

"Can I call 911 instead?"

Folks could've heard her on the other side of the county when she yelled, "NO! He's got to go NOW!"

"I'll get my truck. Be right back." I'm no marathon runner but I was sure hustling toward home. Ace thought we were playing--tripped me at the door. He wanted to ride along. Nope. I revved the truck and zoomed down the driveway. She was waiting at the edge of the road. She'd moved the baby upright and I could see his little head jerking back as the wind gusted, taking his breath. That wind is a fella's buddy. Nothin' was hiding on her body--that wind was better than a wet T-shirt contest.

She climbed in and laid the baby between us, then strapped him in with the middle seatbelt. "Ooh, turn on the heater. I'm frozen."

Just like I thought. She's going to take over, boss me around. Next, she'll hit me in the wallet. She turned on the heater.

Trying to be neighborly, I blundered, "Can I call your husband--or go get him for you?"

She glared at me. "You must be the last man in the county who doesn't know my husband's in prison."

"Sorry Ma'am. I guess I'm the last man. I didn't know."

"And this isn't MY baby."

"You must be a fine lady to take on...."

"My step daughter had him last week. Not me."

"Can I call her, then?"

"Not likely. She's in jail. They were going to put him into foster care and...."

"Like I said, you must be a fine lady to take over for her."

"Can't you drive faster?" She shrugged her shoulders and looked out the window.

We squealed up to the Emergency Room entrance. She grabbed the baby and disappeared inside.

Now the truck smelled like vanilla and baby powder. I sat in the parking lot for maybe an hour. I saw a police car pull up. Didn't think anything about it. As it got dark, I started getting chilled so I went inside. Nobody was in the waiting room. I sat down, thumbed through the books on the little table and start reading last year's March issue of "Gone Fishing" magazine.

A policeman walked up alongside and said, "Sir, come with me."

"Why?"

"We have a few questions about you and the baby."

"The baby? I don't know anything about the baby. That woman's a neighbor. I drove them here because her car wouldn't start. I don't even know her name--or the baby's."

"Come with me, now." He sounded like he was getting mad.

"Okay. But I don't know anything. What do you...."

Miss Stuck Up sat, head down, hands crossed with what looked like silver bracelets holding her wrists together.

"What the...." I tried to ask.

The policeman put his hand on my shoulder, pushed me into a chair. "Where were you last Saturday afternoon?"

"Huh? Home. Why?"

"I'll ask the questions. Anyone with you? Can anyone verify that?"

"No. I live alone. What's this about?"

"The baby's DNA matches Susan Kingston's."

"Who? Is that my neighbor's niece?"

He ignored me. "What do you know about the murder?"

I started to stand up. "Nothing! I don't know a thing! Who was murdered?" The policeman shoved me back into the chair.

"The baby's mother. Susan Kingston. Your girlfriend over there said you did the killing."

"No. No. No. No. She's just a neighbor. She needed a ride. I don't know anything about...."

"Well she sure knows you. She told us you wanted a son and...."

"No way. I...."

A policewoman arrived, pulled the neighbor up and walked her toward the door. Miss Stuck Up looked back at me and said, "I told you not to kill her!"


What Alvena won:

$250 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)

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