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O. Henry wrote, and wrote, and wrote, and wrote; however, he wasn’t a hack, as controversial as that statement may be in certain literary circles. It is believed he hardly corrected his material. They also say writing short stories gave him a purpose and brought him breath in an otherwise stuffy reality.

That’s what I’ve read in an introduction to one of O. Henry’s collections. No one knows why he chose O. Henry for a name. Also, for some of the time on this earth, no one knew of his location. Somehow, however, the penman of that introduction was certain O. Henry was continually escaping his past and secrets within his stories, because he was a convicted criminal.

I mention my interest in the author, because I am he – O. Henry.

I’ve since shrunken my style, for previously accepted syntax and style have changed over the years, and I with them. Being an old, old man in a new, new world, I’ve managed to grow despite my natural withering.

If you’re unaware, I was born in 1862, which makes me over 150 years old now (according to the date this was written).

Who was buried at my plot? How have I overcome problems with my swampy liver from so much drinking?

Years of practice.

I jest – a shameless effort to leap over doubt. Because offering medicines and technological advancements of which many don’t know would not suffice.

And I’m sure you’ve noticed the joke for longevity doesn’t answer who’s playing substitute in my grave.

The name of the deceased replacement is Fredrick Hampshire. The knitting of my life quilt threads in and out with him – his face and name at the point of the needle. Currently, the warm blanket in which I wrap my loins and tale exists because of him. My head may poke out the top of the cloth burrito, but I’m cloaked by Fredrick Durant and his deed.

During what would be the most pivotal point in his life, Fredrick said to me, “I’ll kill you.”

Perhaps it’s my age, forgetfulness, slower processing, or all three, but I wasn’t sure what he meant. I understand death. I understand anger. I understand what can result from a violent action. However, I was curious if Fredrick fully comprehended the breadth of the words he uttered and, furthermore, if he was capable of such an act – to truly end my life. Was that possible?

“I don’t understand,” I said. “How?”

“What do you mean How?”

“I don’t know what other word I could use to express my confusion and the remedy I seek – that is clarity – other than stating, ‘How?’ as I did just then. In fact, I’d have to answer the question of how in order to answer you.”

“I’ll murder you.”

“Isn’t that the same as killing? I suppose not. If you were to attack me, I could die during the struggle. I’d be killed by your hand. However, if you were to kill me while I wasn’t looking, that’d be murder. Premeditated? Is what I’m pondering the deliberate calculation of another’s demise? Is that what I’m seeking out?”

“I’ll end your life.”

“Quite right. I’ll be dead, either way. I’m sorry for mincing it all up.”

“I’m going to do it right now. Death is in the air.”

“I’ll be getting an answer, then, won’t I?”

With that, Fredrick Dunleavy picked up a rock and threw it at my head. A connection was made. From afar, I’m sure it looked no more dangerous than a playful throw of a sponge. Had it struck my eye, I may have had doubled over either in pain or as if seeking a magical fix from the ground beneath my feet. That’s never made sense to me. What instinctive purpose is there in bending forward, at the waist, when the eye was clearly the victim of foul play? An injury to the lips or nose, on the other hand, may get one to arch backwards toward the sky. At least, in that circumstance, we’re leaning our torsos in the right direction, back and out of harm’s way.

After the bounce off my skull, Fredrick ran. He’d witnessed the reaction of a ghost, I imagine. I should’ve fallen over, shaken with injury, or perished. For a moment, I thought of taking the stage, to find if I could pull off such a performance.

“You’re not normal!” he shouted over his shoulder, reaching ten yards from our encounter as quick as a floating apparition himself. “You’re evil!”

Now, I couldn’t have that. I had my reputation to uphold. As it was, the reputation of a criminal, for thieving, had been pressed beneath the floorboards for some time. It was my duty to pace over those rotting strips of wood and keep guard. Forever, if need be. Yes, exhausting, but I’d managed thus far.

An evildoer I’ve never been and is a title of which I have never been accused.

“I’m not!” I shouted, picking up my feet but not yet the knees. “I’ve never murdered. I’ve never taken someone’s will to live. I’ve never trampled the intrinsic rights of another!”

“Stay away!” he bellowed as he hurried farther, deciding, from now on, my view was only worthy of the back of his head. “You’re beyond the living!”

I could have accepted this as praise, but I wasn’t in the frame of mind for compliments of the immortalizing kind. “Listen here, Fredrick …”

“How do you know my name?”

“Because … well, I must have written it down at some point.”

Continuing the chase, we spoke from entirely different ends of an argument. He in the defensive realm, elicited by deep fear. I in the needy, explanatory end. My ego was very much alive between us as the chase gap thinned. An odd thought: opposing, combative speeches from two separate bodies – one pursuing, the other running away.

“I never told you,” he shouted from the throat, as if suddenly morphed into a boy in pain. “I never told you my name!”

 “As I said,” I said, “I may be planning to write it down. In the future. For a story. I’d like to get your name correct.”

“How would you know it now?!”



Into a calf-high ditch of North Carolina sludge water, we went.

“Here, Fredrick, you know my name!”

“I don’t.”

“I told you it!”

I was glad our eminent discussion was able to continue as we shouted over the toe-heal diving and splashing. There was time to retrieve meaning to the escapade.

“But that’s not your name! I know your real name!”

“You don’t know anything about me, sir,” I said, gaining.

“Stay away from me!”

“I’m getting close to understand.”


“Oh, Fredrick!”

At this point, the man trudged too hard, I’d say. His heavy footing caused his upper-half to bend forward, as if searching below for the large mossy-skinned morsel on which he’d slipped. From there, at that speed and that height, he rocked his head on a protruding fragment. Blood added to the pool.

“Are you all right?”

He did not answer, for he was not all right nor able to speak again. No more than two hours later, he was pronounced dead.

I didn’t kill Fredrick Proctor. You must know that. He’s unable to spread word about my continued existence, but there was no premeditation nor motive. My secrets are buried with him, yet, that is all that is down there. Fredrick Macintyre’s name will always be the same, honored and remembered, below the headstone that reads: “O. Henry lies here.”


Dan Jones

Author Dan Jones

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