Spring, 2002
24-Hour Short Story Contest
2nd Place Winner!

The cryptic message had enough personal information about her that she knew she had to take it seriously. The last part said, "Be at the corner of Third and Main at 10:30 with the recipe and the child or you will be sorry."

She looked at her watch. It was already 10:00!

The Final Chapter
by Jim Driesen, Maple Valley, WA

The kid had brought nothing but torment into my life. I guess that's why I loved him. I met him when he was four. Our platoon had been doing some mop-up operations in a village out in the boonies, destroying weapons caches, burning hooches, the usual stuff. The stench of napalm and death filling our noses, Broski and I gingerly poked a loose board in the floor of one hooch with the tip of our M-16 barrels and there he was. Big brown eyes peering up at us, face smeared with muck, a tattered New York Yankee hat on his head. He was probably the last living person left in this village.

I couldn't just leave him behind. Two months later, with a piece of shrapnel in my shoulder and a purple heart in my hand, I headed back to the world, broken physically, mentally, and emotionally from a war that made no sense. I brought him with me. It was the only thing that did make sense.

That was eight years ago. I still have those dreams, nightmares, really. The grenade that left the souvenir in my shoulder had taken off Broski's head ? I kept seeing that over and over, waking up in a cold sweat, the vision of the blood pumping out of a headless neck burned into my mind. I never did see where his head went. Ho, as we called him, made it easier to take.

The dreams aren't as often as they used to be. It could be the booze that's helped, or maybe the dope, but I think it's Ho. Together we've rebuilt the lives the war tried to take away. I went back to school and got my degree and went out looking for work. Discovered there weren't many employers looking for a vet with a bum shoulder, a degree in philosophy, and a young child in tow. I started writing.

I think it was the day Nixon resigned that I finished my first book. I'm not sure which was funnier, Nixon waving goodbye from the chopper, or Gerald Ford trying to be president, but a lot of guys had died needlessly thanks to that man. I felt it was a good omen. Maybe the system worked after all.

I met Octavia shortly after that; She worked in the office of the publisher that finally bought my book. She was assigned as my editor. She fell in love with Ho at first sight, with me it took a little longer. He'd grown a lot in the four years since we'd come back. Life was beginning to look okay again, except for the dreams.

Octavia and I got married in Vegas. Ho was best man. A guy that looked like Elvis performed the service. We'd flown down to celebrate my book making the Times top-ten list. Number ten briefly, then vanished, but sales were good and money, for the first time in my life, rolled in regularly. If the next one did as well, I might be able to quit the construction job. We celebrated the night by taking in the Sinatra show at the Sands. The real Elvis had died the year before. Or had he. Who knows?

When we got back I plunged back into my writing. I pecked away at the keyboard. This one came out fast and furious, the words rolling onto the screen. I knew I was onto something, it just wasn't what I was expecting.

Sometimes you write straight from the heart, bypassing the brain. Later, when you read it, if feels like you're reading someone else's work. That's what this felt like. I finally had it done except for the last chapter. Octavia took the unfinished manuscript and headed down to the local coffeehouse to give it a read. She came back pale, shaking, holding a piece of paper in one hand.

"What's the matter?" I asked, but she just handed the paper to me. It was a note, a demand, really. "Be at the corner of third and Main", it said, "at 10:30, and bring the recipe and the child or you'll be sorry." I looked at her, the blood draining from my face.

"Where did you get this?" I asked.

"It was in my coat pocket when I left the coffeehouse. Someone must have put it there," she said. "What does it mean? My God, it's 10:00 now, what are we going to do?"

I told her to relax, my mind racing. Ho heard the commotion and came out of his room where he was playing with his toy soldiers.

"Get your coat, Ho," I said. "Stay here," I said to Octavia. I'd wondered when this was going to happen. I took the manuscript from her and grabbed Ho by the hand.

We drove up to Main, parked on Sixth, and then started walking toward Third. There wasn't much traffic this time of night, even on a Friday. Neon glistened off wet pavement. It was 10:25 when we reached Third. No one was around. Ho was exploring the toy store window when he found the second note. "Turn down the next alley", it said, "Meet me at the dumpster."

We entered the alley, approaching the dumpster in the dim light. A lone, short figure stood by it, holding something in his arms. Ho's scream deafened me as we both recognized what it was: Broski. Cradling his head in his arms, he extended his hand out, reaching for the manuscript. I blacked out, the dreams becoming my reality.

I awoke in restraints, staring up at a bank of fluorescent tubes. A nurse was pacing nearby, holding only the title page to my manuscript, 'A Recipe for Madness.' Ho was gone. Broski had gotten what he wanted: Revenge and silence. My book would never be published, the story never told. I should have known; I'd never left that village. Not after what we'd done there. Not after killing that child. This was my final chapter.

What Jim 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)

Contest guidelines are HERE.


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