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Spring, 2007
24-Hour Short Story Contest
3rd Place Winner!

TOPIC OF THIS CONTEST WAS:
She could hear the buoy bell ringing in the distance but it was too dark to see anything beyond the receding foamy water. She shivered as the wind picked up, knowing a late-season Nor'easter would hit in the next few hours, and knowing this was her last chance. She raised her arm and threw the glass bottle into the darkness...

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


Spin the Bottle
By Eric Wallace, Boise, ID

Janie, who throws bottles with a vengeance, thinks this:

What doesn't belong in a bottle is love. Roll up your scribbled parchment with teary optimism, slip it into the tight little opening and seal it caressingly. Where's it gonna go? Bobbing off into trash-strewn waters. Oceanfill, that's what it becomes.

In the extremely-remote chance your bottled-up emotions make it into someone else's hands, what will he do with it besides snicker, maybe have a good laugh with the boys? That's if the lucky beachcomber can even read the sucker.

So float your note of hope off to sea and kiss your dreams goodbye.

Now, here's the proper recipe: fill your bottle with professional malice (87 octane is terrific stuff), cram in a harsh-smelling wad, light it, and toss the bottle with a great, wicked arc at--well, the targets are too numerous to name. This country's filled with them. Churches, synagogues, clinics, schools. Lessons to be taught. Retribution to be made.

After, if you're in fine shape and the location is right for it, you rocket off on foot. But hot wheels and a firebrand driver are even better. Enjoy the blaze in your rearview mirror. Then tune in the news on the truck radio. Hot damn!

Janie's specialty is abortion clinics. "I've got one passion. Who needs more'n that?" she tells the groups she works with. "Have bottles--will travel," she drawls, a cigarette dangling from her twisted mouth, mastered after studying Bogart growl at Bacall. Janie loves her movie classics.

No health plans or paid vacations. Beyond the fierce satisfaction of doing essential work, travel is the only fringe benefit. This week Cleveland. Next month some podunk town down south. Janie likes to arrive, unknown, in a new spot, reconnoiter, check escape routes, ponder timetables, plan. Old spy films are right up her alley.

Bypassing utilitarian glass, she hunts out curious and distinctive bottles for her purpose. She especially likes finding deep colors--knows a certain purple, for instance, is close to the Lord

"I never killed anyone. Least I don't think so," she tells a cell in Philadelphia. "I mean, giving them a strong warning, shutting them down is the trick, isn't it? To me, the eye for an eye bit seems weird. But if that's what some folk gotta do, let them go ahead. Just not me. My thing is a message in a bottle, if you get my drift. So where's this idiot doctor's place?"

Years ago, Janie was a star pitcher in a girls' softball league. Had the build, the arm, the guts to hurl the horsehide at the enemy with unusual ferocity. Could brush back batters with rare accuracy and hit 'em in the right body part when the need arose. Was known for strong language, enough to make a seasoned umpire blush.

But Janie was knocked out of the box when her sister Sheilaóthat slutógot knocked up by a lowlife sweet-talking boyfriend. Just plain stupid.

Then, even as Janie was gearing herself up to play the loving aunt, Sheila sneaked off and had an abortion. That was bad enough, but some bastard botched it bigtimeóthe boyfriend was too cheap to go to the right doctoróand a raging infection took Sheila to heaven. Or maybe to hell. Janie puzzled over it mightily, but in either case she knew it was God's will. Thou shalt not kill the unborn. One of the commandments. Plain and simple.

Soon Janie knew God's will was showing her the right path. Trying out for a new league, she bumped into Greta, an intense, bitter trainer who heard Janie mouthing off about abortion. No Garbo, this Greta. Nothing subtle about her questions, riding on breathy puffs of garlic. After Janie admitted to jolts of righteousness when she read about abortion clinic protestsóand even to tingling over some sorts of violenceóGreta asked if she would like to help in a cause. "Forget the silly game, make a big difference in the world."

The clincher came when Greta whispered about the seductive power of Molotov cocktails. Janie had to laugh. "My father was a glassmaker, and he often brought odd bottles home. I liked the sound of smashing them. Graduated to target practice with a 22. Glass bottles and I were made for each other." She chuckled. "Smooth. Hard. Hiding interesting things."

So Janie again became a star pitcher, now without cheering crowds or fretting coaches. Anonymous, virtuous, throwing deadly strikes of destruction in the name of justice.

Then she broke a long-held rule. Went with an OK kind of guy from a Manhattan cell to weep over 'Casablanca.' Afterwards, in his tiny apartment, feeling sentimental, gave in to long-repressed tensions, roared round the bases with no regrets. Until weeks later when she learned she'd blown the play.

Janie keeps at her work until she begins to look like an overpadded home plate umpire. She thinks her condition makes great camouflage. But soon she realizes she can no longer get the right loft or make a speedy escape.

Naturally, there is no thought of alternatives. "Not me," she smiles. "No way. God's will."

Well, sometimes God's will seems trumped by plain old fate.

Temporarily retired after a last fiery fling in Cincinnati, Janie chooses an unfamiliar health clinic for an overdue checkup. In the still-crowded lobby, she scans a magazine, then, restless, stands at the window, peering out at the street.

Suddenly she realizes what she's seeing in the early dusk: dark pickup crawling to a stop, arm flexing out the passenger window, light flaring, an immaculate, game-winning toss spiraling angry brightness towards her.

She is bemused by a fleeting thought: it's a reverse angle shot from my usual vantage point.

All is slow motion. The bottle tumbles, an irresistible comet. Janie raises an arm, mutely opens her mouth, remembers Ingrid Bergman perfect as Joan of Arc in the inquisitor's pyre, eyes upward, flames taking her to heaven.


What Eric won:

$200 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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