6_illustration_lo_resTo my subscribers, I just send the December short story. The files should be waiting in your inbox. So, where did November go? Fear not. There's a reason why the Short Story of the Month Club promises "10 short stories in 12 months." I knew I would need to factor in some "off months" for the occasional delay. November was such a month. It happens. I hope you enjoy this story. "Six Seconds Left" includes some fantasy, some time travel, and some basketball. In case you were curious, Dale Howard is loosely based on Dallas Mavericks point guard Derek Harper and this moment in the NBA playoffs (note the first 30 seconds of the highlight video).

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"Six Seconds Left" by David Hopkins

On May 30, 1988, on a Sunday afternoon, Dale Howard dribbled out the clock. The entire arena groaned. Coach raised his hands to pantomime, “What the hell are you doing?” Dale was confused. He looked at the scoreboard.

They were tied.

In the fog of the final minute, he thought they were ahead by one point. Didn’t Joe make both free throws in the last possession? For a moment, Dale was mad at Joe. If only Joe had made both the free throws—but no, this was Dale’s fault. Dale Howard did nothing with the ball, and looked like an idiot. He could’ve penetrated for a mid-range jumper. He could’ve passed the ball to Mark, their best shooter, who was wide open. Instead, Dale Howard dribbled out the clock, forcing his team into overtime where they lost the game four and the playoff series.

He didn’t know it at the time, but that season was their best chance for the championship. The next season, key players would be traded. Their promising rookie would be banned from the Association for drug use. The management would set a precedent for bad draft picks and poor planning, tanking the team for the next decade. Dale would leave the Association without having won a championship. He would be known as one of the greatest players to never make the all-star team, and he would always be remembered as the player who dribbled the ball with six seconds left on the clock when he could’ve taken the shot.

In the following years, the press loved asking him about that last possession. It was the only thing they were interested in. Dale, always patient, would explain he made a mistake. He’d tilt his head and shrug his shoulders in an exaggerated fashion to indicate the comical severity of his error. He thought his team was up by one point. He thought Joe had made both free throws. The game had been so close, with so many lead changes. Sometimes players get into a zone, experience tunnel vision, and their mind plays tricks on them.

Fans were a little kinder. They would ask for his autograph or to pose in a photo, then after a minute of conversation they would inevitably venture to those final six seconds. They inquired with such sincerity as if they were the first person to get the real story.

The story never changed. On May 30, 1988, Dale Howard had a chance to win the game, and he didn’t.

Would you like to read the rest? You should subscribe. I’ll send you this short story (available in pdf, epub, and mobi formats), the stories from June, July, August, September, and October, plus a new story every month for the next four months. All artwork by April Hopkins.