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Spring, 2005
24-Hour Short Story Contest

3rd 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...


Helmut and Marigold
By Chris Haraway, Las Vegas, Nevada

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 a crude, square area had been cut out of the pages. Hidden inside was a black and white photograph of a beautiful, blonde-haired woman. Her eyes were dull and used-up like two black casino chips.

Kyle noticed there was also a letter. From the brown tint, he could tell she’d written it long ago. It read:

Dear Helmut,

I trust you will receive this message in due time. After writing it, I will drink a bottle of poison that will kill me within ten hours. I look forward to having you rescue me, the way you always do. You know where to find me.

Sincerely,
Marigold

Journey to the End of the Night wasn’t the most popular book, but from the dust it looked as though no one had checked it out in years. He shelved the rest of the books on his cart and then checked out the previous patron’s information on the computer. Sure enough, Marigold Peters. It listed her address, but no phone number. He jotted it down and slipped the paper in his pocket.

Since he had no lover, no family, and no friends in the strange city of Las Vegas, he had time for a little adventure after work. After finishing his duties for the day, he sat in his car debating whether or not to check this out. Perhaps it was better to hand it over to the police, or to just throw it away and forget he’d ever seen it. He thought of his quiet, uneventful apartment. He thought of the painful silence, and started his engine.

He arrived at a nondescript building in one of the seedier areas of town where the casinos had no names and the men’s faces were demonic. Being from Detroit originally, he was not afraid.

He ascended the stairs and stood before apartment 909. But, why was he here? Did it matter whether or not this woman had killed herself? He looked at the picture again. It had to have been from the WWII era, or shortly thereafter. If Marigold was still alive, she would most likely be a prune with a cane.

He had nothing better to do, so he knocked. Through the door, he heard two feet treading lightly across the carpet. The occupant unlocked the door and pulled it open just a few inches. It was Marigold, unchanged from the beautiful form in the photo. She was not unnerved by his inquisitive stare. Her eyes flashed to the book in his hand. “A fan of Louis Ferdinand Celine?”

The tone of his voice came out all wrong. He sounded eighteen instead of the manly twenty-one. “I… uh… work at the library.”

“This isn’t about me cutting the book up, is it?”

She opened the door a little more. She was alone in her small apartment, wearing nothing but a thin, light-blue kimono and black slippers with green palm trees printed on them.

“No, it’s about this letter,” he said. He unfolded it and handed it to her. “Forgive me for my intrusion, I was just afraid that you were…”

She reached out and covered his mouth. He’d been in Vegas six months now and had yet to touch anyone, especially a woman. The sensation of her flesh against his sent shivers from his spine to his gut. While she read the letter, he studied her body. She looked to be thirty. Why was such a beautiful woman alone, in this part of town?

“I remember this one,” she said as she crumbled the paper up. She pulled her hand away from his lips. He missed her touch already. “I will make a long story short. I have a thing for boys who work in the library. This is sort of a game I play. I leave the note and hope a smart boy like yourself is resourceful enough to look me up in the computer and venture to my home. If I wanted to keep this a secret, would I have checked it out under my own name?”

“Suppose not,” he said shyly. He didn’t like how she called him a “boy,” but he did like where this was going.

“There have been only three smarties like you. Twice, they sent the police. Once, I discovered a female worker snooping around with her camera.”

“But the letter and the…”

“It’s easy,” she said, “hold the page over a flame and you can brown it. The photo is just black and white film. I have a darkroom in my apartment where I can tweak pictures and make them look old-fashioned.”

He stood there wondering what to say next, what to do. “My name is…”

She covered his mouth and smiled. “Your name is Helmut, and you have come to rescue me,” she said.

He nodded and entered.


What Chris 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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