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Spring, 2005
24-Hour Short Story Contest

2nd Place Winner!

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24-HOUR SHORT STORY CONTEST HERE!

TOPIC OF THIS CONTEST WAS:

When he bent down, he discovered a large book with gold lettering lying on its side behind the others. He pulled it from its hiding place, dislodging other books as he did so. When he opened the cover, he discovered that a crude, square area had been cut out of the pages...


Fair Game
By Molly Wright, Columbia, Missouri

I held her hand, carefully rubbing the translucent skin, massaging the knobby finger joints. She opened her eyes.

“I need to tell you something.” She said with difficulty.

“Not now, rest. Tell me later.”

“But before the vultures come.” She whispered and squeezed my hand tightly.

“Sure. Don’t worry.” I said, smiling.

“And find the book.” She added just before she fell back asleep. She didn’t wake again.

I didn’t readily perceive the undercurrent in the looks that passed between the two families as we ate together in the quiet parish hall. I was the outsider, the one who had left. What did I know of small town details? Why include me? I stayed out of everything, but occasionally, I heard remarks.

“Can’t find any will.”

“Really?”

“We need to get in there.”

“Before they do.”

But it wasn’t until the folding chairs were back on the trolley and the tables stacked away that I realized I was in the midst of warring relatives.

That’s when Aunt Greta’s vulture remark hit home. As I looked around the room they were stretching their wings, salivating over what they would find and take. And when we crossed my aunt’s threshold for perhaps the last time they descended upon her possessions like the opportunistic birds they resembled. It made me sick.

Knowing I had little time, I left the room and walked to the back of the house. No one would follow. There was nothing of value where I was going. I pulled down the attic stairs and climbed the creaking wooden slats, stepping off the last one to fumble for the switch on the wall. As the lone bulb came to life I immediately felt more relaxed as I saw all my friends: Monopoly, Scrabble, Dominoes and Clue; even card decks of Crazy Eights and Go Fish. They welcomed me just as they did the summer of my 11th year, when my parents, part of the group I left fighting below, split up and then 75-year-old Aunt Greta took me in.

“Now listen.” She had said that first day, shuffling a deck of cards, ignoring my tears. “I won’t let you win. You’ve got to earn it. These aren’t just games, they’re life lessons.”

But I was a tough. I never played games and I didn’t like rules. And yet, this woman of few words waited me out. Day after day she got out the games and religiously sat before me, coaching me, giving me advice. Over time I learned, rules had to be followed if you wanted to play, play fair if you want others to respect you and use your wits and skills to make something of yourself. The first time I beat her at Monopoly she reached across the board and handed me my money. “Congratulations. You win. You learned.”

“What?”

“To keep trying. Take your money.”

“It’s not real.” I said in reply.

Now across the attic I also saw the books. Even from here I could see Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn, The Hardy Boys, and The Boxcar Children. There must have been 30 or 40 others stacked against the wall. I walked towards them and immediately knelt down to read the other titles, but in my excitement and haste I tipped the stack and several books toppled to the floor. Admonishing myself for being so clumsy I bent over to straighten them, but as I did I spotted a book hidden behind the Hardy Boys series. It was enormously thick, at least 5 inches between the covers, bound in dark blue with gold lettering. Curious, I slid the others aside to examine it more closely. The title was in German, something else she had taught me. I smiled and translated it with ease.

“The Beautiful Villages of Deutschland.”

Intrigued, I cracked it open and began to thumb through the slideshow of German towns. When I came to the chapter on her village I turned the page expecting pictures of the homeland she had talked about so often. But to my amazement the book suddenly flattened out, the binding broken and torn. And before me, the expected picture was mutilated with a crude square torn from its middle. The ritual had been repeated in each successive page and all the pages glued together tightly. The result was a narrow one-inch tunnel that led to the back of the book. I instantly recalled her words I had so readily dismissed earlier. “Find the book,” she had said.

I held it up and tipped it to the side. Abruptly, something fell, just missing my eye, hitting the floor with a tinny sound. Immediately, I bent over and scooped it up, disappointed to find it was nothing more than a miniature toy car. And yet, as it warmed in my palm I began to think.

Suddenly, I set the book down and hurried back across the room. Carefully I slid the Monopoly game from the pile and placed it on the floor next to me. Hadn’t she said, “These aren’t just games?” With a child’s expectation, I pulled off the lid and squinted into the box, the dim light hindering my search. Everything but the car token seemed to be accounted for: the cards, the dice, the money…, wait a minute. I inhaled suddenly and felt several pieces to make sure. There had to be over $15,000 before me… in real currency! I leaned back gripping the car tightly and shook my head. This was bizarre, some kind of game? Yes. I got it.

I reached back in the box and stirred things around. Almost immediately I discovered the Boardwalk mortgage title with a plastic hotel piece taped to it but, afraid I was running out of time, I set it aside and resumed my rummaging. I picked up the folded game instructions. I recognized her writing at once. “Tommy.” It said. “Congratulations. You win.” I unfolded the paper and another dropped out. I read it twice.

They were still at it when I came downstairs. Nobody paid any attention to me and I didn’t say a word. I merely tucked her will securely in my pocket and thought about the money and the house I now owned. I also thought about Aunt Greta and her games and life lessons. I thanked her silently for everything. But as I shut the door I said out loud, “No, Aunt Greta, you won.”


What Molly 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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Contest guidelines are HERE.


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