Spring, 2004
24-Hour Short Story Contest

3rd Place Winner!


She tipped the deliveryman, closed the door, and excitedly pulled the glittering ribbon from the gold box. Inside, she was puzzled to find four fortune cookies nestled in gold satin. She picked one up, cracked it open, and pulled out the white slip of paper. "What goes around comes around." She frowned and opened another one. "As you sow, so shall you reap." She started to tremble as she read the third. "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." A bead of sweat trickled past her temple as she reached for the fourth...

By Ken Preuss, Oviedo, Florida

The first thing that Nadia noticed when she opened her mailbox was that no one had remembered her birthday. The second thing she noticed was The Pattern.

It began in the form of magazines: separate subscriptions, arriving simultaneously, rolled up and waiting in the box.

Reader's Digest. TV Guide. Entertainment Weekly.

Nadia glanced at the covers, fanning them in her fingers like a deck of cards, and was drawn instantly to the titles. They sat side by side, connected by coincidence, each one beginning with the letter that had ended the last.

Though she noted the pattern, she gave it little significance, focusing instead on the fact that she now had something to do. The magazines were an unexpected gift, the first she had gotten all day, something to distract from the sadness of spending her 35th birthday alone.

She entered the stairwell and began the short climb to her apartment. As her body moved up, her mind drifted back, recalling birthdays of years past and the men with whom she had shared them.

Jacob at her sweet sixteen. Benjamin during her freshman year of college. Nick just after graduation..

Jacob, Benjamin, Nick,

It was there again. The Pattern. A litany of loves, connected by letters, each one leading directly into the next.

She laughed out loud, wondering what that said about her choices. She continued with the names.

Kurt. Thomas. Steve.

She reached the end of the list just as she reached the end of the stairs. She and Steve had recently reached the end of their relationship. It had taken a month, but she was over him. Finally. Nadia stepped into the hall where she was suddenly distracted by a gold box which sat at the base of her door.

The box had surprisingly little effect on her. She brought the package inside, crashed on the couch, and sighed.

The packages had been arriving every Friday for three weeks. The contents were always the same: four fortune cookies nestled in a gold napkin. According to the box, they came from a take-out place across town. According to a meddlesome neighbor, they were delivered by a man, as handsome as he was generous.

Nadia had been flattered by the attention at first. She had broken open cookies with great anticipation, envisioning a series of specially-composed messages. What she got were simple fortunes, random and routine, with no discernable pattern.

Although she still appreciated receiving the gesture, she found herself enjoying the cookies far more for their snack-value than for the revelations they contained within.

She set the package aside on the ground and turned on the television. As was her daily routine, she switched to the TiVo menu to view the list of programs she had recorded to watch.

She surveyed the titles then sat up with a start.

Will and Grace. Everybody Loves Raymond. Days of our Lives.

The pattern was there again.

Nadia moved to her bookcase and located a collection of classics, unread since college. They had sat unmoved, and apparently undusted, since she'd unloaded them from a box five years ago. She began reading titles.

Death in Venice. Emma. All Quiet on the Western Front. To Kill a Mockingbird.

She dropped two shelves to her video collection.

Casablanca. Annie Hall. Laura. Amelie.

She turned to her CD tower, reading the stack from top to bottom.

Rumors. Songs In the Key of Life. Exile On Main Street. Tapestry.

She moved to the fridge to get a drink, pausing as she placed her hand on the door. Would the pattern play out with food? She pulled open the door, calling out the names of the items on the top shelf.

"Milk. Ketchup. Pasta Sauce. Eggs."

She checked a compartment on the side.

"Kiwi. Icing. Gogurt."

Nadia slammed the door and backed out of the kitchen. She was searching her mind for an explanation when she stumbled over the box. She took it into her hands, telling herself she was hungry, secretly hoping for some kind of sign.

She pulled the ribbon from the gold box and found the cookies arranged as they always were. She picked one up, cracked it open, and pulled out the white slip of paper.

"You reap what you sow."

It meant nothing. As usual.

She frowned and opened another one.

"What goes around comes around."

Similar theme, but what had it to do with The Pattern?

She started to tremble as she read the third.

"Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."

She let out a sigh. It was useless. The fortunes were random as usual. Almost cliché. She grabbed the papers from off of the floor and was about to toss them back into the box when the messages caught her eye.

"You reap what you sow."

"What goes around comes around."

"Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."

They didn't explain the pattern. They were a part of it. connected like all the other things in her life, one leading directly into the other.

Perhaps she'd written her mysterious admirer off a little too quickly. If he had made a move too soon, she still may have been hung up on Steve. With a little time, perhaps he'd get up the nerve to ask her out.

A bead of water trickled down her check as she read the fourth cookie.

"Upstairs. On the roof. Dinner for two. Tonight?"

It was signed, Ethan.

What Ken 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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