I’m kidding, but he was fast. I can’t blame him, I couldn’t stop reading them myself. There’s some incredibly talented writers who come ’round these here parts.
OK, enough of my prattle. The finalists, in no particular order are:
Here are their entries. Poll’s on the right. Good luck everyone!
“Why are you so upset?” Anne asked with a worried look on her face.
Clara answered by throwing another of her dolls across the room. This one connected with the lamp. The two of them fell to the ground in a very satisfying thump.
“I saw the councilor today,” she replied.
“Yeah,” Anne said again, looking worryingly at her friend’s doll collection, fewer of which were on the bed and were instead collecting on the corner with various other things they had hit on the way there. “So? We see the councilors every month. Its part of the new program to make sure we’re all ready for college. We’re going to be seniors next year, remember?”
“I know,” Clara said, grabbing another doll and taking aim at her iPod, which was sitting in its charging port. “But you didn’t hear what she called me.”
Anne threw her hands up to her mouth. Councilors are calling people names now?
“What?” she asked in a quiet voice.
“She said I was ordinary,” Clara said, throwing the doll and knocking her iPod out of the charger to the floor.
“I mean, seriously?” Clara said. “Me? Ordinary? For God’s sake, the last thing I am is ordinary! I’m a writer!”
The paper flashed out of the factory grade printer, lines upon lines of data upon it. There were names, addresses, telephone numbers, ages, marital statuses: the most simple of information, all provided via the census. It would all go away, all the the things that made a person a person, boiled down into charts and numbers, impersonal, uninteresting. All of it save the information now immortalized on fifty sheets of bleach-white paper.
The hand that took the stack of paper was that of a pudgy, balding man. No one looked at him twice as he waddled back to his cubicle with his copies. Even the sound of scissors, slicing away, failed to bother anyone.
The man cobbled together his new family out of carefully chosen victims, pasting their prized information to the side of his monitor.
When the printer fired up again, all it printed were maps.
Evan straightened, turning expectant eyes on the door. His lover was, after all, the most regulated man he’d ever met. Every day he arrived home at precisely the same time, ate dinner at the same time and retired to bed the moment the hands on the clock hit eleven. So why was he lying here, all alone, at 12:05?
He crept down the stairs, following the low murmuring he could hear coming from the lounge. Now that was anything but ordinary. James never, ever, had the television on after eleven.
As he approached the door, Evan pressed himself more tightly into the shadows, cautiously peeking into the room. He slid further inside when he realized James was nowhere in sight.
The program that was playing was nothing interesting, certainly not the reason his lover was absent from their bed so Even ventured on into the kitchen. He stopped dead in the doorway, biting his cheek to hold in the laughter the sight of his lanky lover clad in an apron and carefully icing the top of a cake.
“Well, this is unexpected,” Evan managed.
“It is your birthday,” James shot back.
“Why else would I be up in the middle of the night baking instead of in bed with you?”
“Why indeed?” Even muttered as he captured his lover’s lips. “Why indeed.”
His son screamed in the backseat of the black SUV as it sped down the highway. The little one’s big toe throbbed, purple and veined and covered in vomit, and his cries drowned out his mother’s consoling voice.
“It’s OK, sweetie. It’s OK. We’ll be there soon enough,” his mother said, her teal pocket t-shirt dotted with her son’s tears and sick. But her son didn’t calm down. His tears grew louder and louder as they drove toward the doctor’s office.
As he cried, all she could think of was how her husband should’ve known that the little boy was there when he moved that giant worn oak table — the one that landed on her son’s tiny toe and sent their afternoon spiraling towards an urgent care clinic when it should’ve been spent lounging at the neighborhood pool.
She didn’t yell or scream at him, though. She knew how heartsick he was at what happened. And she knew that their only priority had to be getting little Scotty to the doctor. She just wished that one day soon — just once — she might have an ordinary Saturday.
The plastic tubes feel delicate in my hand. Inconsequential. I run my fingers along the length of them, watching as they disappear up into the darkness of his nostrils. His breathing’s loud and coarse, like it pains him to do even this, the most simplest of biological functions. I feel my left eye twitching and I touch it instinctively, waiting for it to stop, for my body to relax and fall back into the rhythm it once knew intimately. It doesn’t, so I give up and shuffle to the end of the bed. I pick up the chart and thumb through it, half-paying attention as I listen to a gaggle of nurses pass in the hall, listening to their conversations, just in case. I flip through pages of incoherent scribbles from various doctors, passing time.
“How’d you find me?” he says, his eyes still closed, that grainy voice of his as distinctive now as it was forty years ago.
“Evening, Franklin.” I say setting down the chart, smiling. I walk to his side again, my fingers grazing the shoddy hospital blanket covering him as I pass. I can feel his thin legs beneath the fabric, these little twigs, not the muscular pieces of machinery they once were. “You used one of your previous aliases.”
“Was bound to happen,” he says. “My mind…it’s not as sharp as it once was.”
“Happens to all of us.”
‘Not you,” he says through a succession of dry coughs. Once he settles he opens his eyes slowly, focusing on me. He smiles a bit, that familiar smile of his, just different now. Older and more tired.
“I’m not exempt from the laws of nature, old friend. Just hasn’t caught up to me yet is all.”
“How long’s it been, anyway?”
“Since you’ve seen me, I mean. Since we’ve seen each other.”
“Depends on your definition of seen. I’ve seen you through a lens quite a few times. I believe you’ve seen me in the same way.”
“I meant in the traditional sense. Chatted and the like.”
“Yes,” I say looking around the empty room. The bed next to him is empty, the window is partially open, facing west, and looking out over the visitor parking lot.
“Well, like I said, my mind’s not as sharp these days. I’ll take your word.”
“You should. I wouldn’t lie.”
“Well, I’m not,” I say peeking out into the hall. I see a middle-aged doctor
flirting with a nurse.
“You look good,’ Franklin says. I look down at my wrinkled hands, then to the blue cardigan I’m wearing, the type of thing my own grandfather wore when I was a boy.
“Thanks,” I say.
“You know,” he says struggling to sit up, lowering himself back down once he realizes he doesn’t have the strength. “I thought you had me in Oslo.”
I walk to his side and help him sit up, propping the pillow behind his back. “Yeah? In…Ninety Five?”
“That was a close one,” I say smiling warmly.
“It’s funny,” he says.
“I came in for an ordinary ole checkup with the doc a few weeks ago, just a routine physical, he ends up finding something wrong with my ticker and here we are.”
“Just goes to show you there’s no such thing as ordinary, huh?”
“Suppose not. Not in our line of work, anyway.”
“True enough,” I say pulling out a syringe from my pocket. Franklin eyes it, then me, but doesn’t plead. Not a bit. Instead he leans back, trying to relax, ready for what’s coming.
“By the way,” I say looking for the perfect spot in his withered arm to inject the potassium, meeting his gaze as the needle slowly goes in. “This is for Daisy.”