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Winter, 2002
24-Hour Short Story Contest
3rd Place Winner!

TOPIC OF THIS CONTEST WAS:
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.



The Teacher's Lesson
By Bryan Osborn, Spokane, WA

The month-long search for Jordan Moore ended on a Monday at a shallow grave off a remote logging road in St. Marieís County. It all went back to that one stupid mistake I made while at Long View High School. One stupid mistake! I would give anything to live that day again!

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, I found myself sitting behind my desk, teaching my 5th period class, sophomore biology. Not a day goes by that I donít repeat the whole scene in my mind.

***

Things had always been tight trying to live on a teacherís salary, but it was especially bad after Traci was laid off. In the seven years of our marriage, we had depended on two incomes, so, if I didnít want to lose the house, I had to take a weekend job as a security officer at the Crescent department store. I resented the time away from my family, especially since it was Christmas time. I did my job to the best of my ability, but I wasnít happy to be there.

Our store was on the ground floor of the Grifford and Jameson building, one of the many buildings that graced the skyline of our city. Street people frequently wandered into our store at this time of the year. It gets pretty cold in December, so usually I let them stay a couple of minutes and let them warm their faces a bit, then I show them the other side of the door. Canít have them bothering the paying customers. That would be . . . well, rude. No one wants to be bothered by that sort of thing while youíre rushing about doing your Christmas shopping.

Somehow though, this kid was different. He was dirty enough that I could see his smudged little raccoon face from the eagle eye, security monitor. What a brash little devil. Darting in and out of the paying customers, he headed straight for the electronics department. While there were throngs of people in the store, I hadnít had much trouble all day long. Some excitement could do me good, so I decided to put on my own winter coat and go "undercover."

Once down on the floor, I quickly spotted the little bugger messing with the portable CD players. He would pick up a Sony look at it a while, push some buttons, then he put it askew on another shelf. Or he would take a Panasonic and squeeze it in somewhere else.

I watched him in this process for about five minutes while pretending to be interested in the latest Harry Potter merchandise, when one of the clerks wandered over.

"The little boy in the gray sweatshirt?" she asked, pretending to help me make a selection.

"Yeah, thatís the one. Heís good too. Harder to tell if anythingís missing, if your shelves are all messed up."

The little thief had moved on to the Palm Pilot display. He picked up a Palm VII from the display and slipped around the corner of the aisle. Seconds later, I spotted him heading for the door, so I made my move.

"Come along, son." I said, grabbing him by his thin dirty sweatshirt.

"Hey man! What are you, a cop?"

"Store security, now move."

"Ah, man. I didnít take anything."

"Weíll soon see. In the office."

In the security office, I gave him a quick pat down and realized that he was telling the truth. There wasnít a thing on him but his dirty old sweatshirt, a ripped pair of jeans and shoes with no socks.

"Whatís your name, son?"

"Jordan . . . you canít touch me. I didnít steal nothin."

"Weíll see."

Something seemed familiar about this boy, but I couldnít quite put my finger on it. I left him in the office and went to check Electronics. Everything seemed to be in its place, even the Palm Pilot, so I returned to the office.

I found Jordan, just as I had left him, hunched over in his chair. Then it hit me. "Are you Jordan Moore?"

"Yes sir . . . "

He was in my sophomore biology class, but I hadnít seen him in over a month. But now, his face was noticeably thinner and quite gray.

"Mr. Overbeck?"

I nodded at him, with a wrinkled brow and pursed lips.

"Whereís your mom and dad?"

He just shrugged his shoulders and scuffed the carpet with his dirty shoe. In truth, I didnít know anything about his family. All I knew was that he was a quiet loner. No friends at school that I could tell.

"Jordan, do you want me to call you parents?"

"Mom, wonít come. Havenít seen her for three days."

"Do you have a place to stay?"

"I get by," he said.

In the days since then, I keep telling myself that I couldnít hold him. Store policy says you have to catch them in the act in order for the charges to stick, so I had to let him go. But, I should have gotten him a pair of gloves from the lost-and found, maybe a warmer coat. I should have taken him to the store restaurant . . . should have made him come home with me. He would have been safe for at least one night. Maybe then he wouldnít have been out on the street that night.

The newspaper said he had some sort of ligament wrapped around his neck. They said he might have been raped. Truth was, they didnít know why or who disposed of Jordan on that remote logging road. I just wish that on that day back in December I hadnít made the mistake of letting him out of my sight; the mistake of not caring what happened to a boy from sophomore biology who struggled to answer my questions.


What Bryan 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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