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FIRST PLACE: "What Have I Done to You That You Beat Me These Three Times?" 

A donkey turns out to be a real smart ass

Page 4 of 4

The professor's determination and focus sharpened, even as the influence of his companion receded farther into the background. It was clear by now that the man was no longer a helper, adviser, confidant to the doctor, but rather, someone who had given him a crucial bit of assistance at a significant moment in his life, and whom he had formally surpassed over the course of his sudden, meteoric rise to fame. Sometimes they would go days, weeks without seeing each other. Still, even in his more sympathetic moments, Dr. Hawthorne couldn't let himself feel guilty for the distance between them. He was close, very close, to solving the Haygood Theorem, which would demonstrate for once and for all the mathematical reasoning behind the relative goodness of hay, and simultaneously assure his promotion to tenured professor. He was so close he could taste it.

After teaching back-to-back seminars in Donklidean geometry, Dr. Hawthorne dismissed with the flick of an ear the coterie of adoring graduate students who hung on his every stomp, and hurried back to the abandoned potting shed near the mathematics building, which served as his office. Just another few nights, and he would finally arrive at the solution. Heck, it could be tonight, if he got a good rhythm going.

He just had to keep pushing, keep plodding forward.

It reminded him of all those years spent pulling the plow on that tiny plot of Georgia soil. How far he had come since that difficult time, when he was forced to rely entirely on his body as a means of interacting with the world around him. How different his lot appeared, free as he now was to conjure entire civilizations of numbers, and then beat them with his hoof into being.

The light burned brightly in the potting shed where Dr. Hawthorne worked and slept. Naturally, he would still be up, prepping the next day's lessons, grading exams, conducting his own scholarly work. The man could hear the grunting and tapping of an animal galloping in place toward the future.

"Are you stayin' up much later?" the man suddenly spoke, breaking the meditative silence into which the professor had fallen. His breath was shaky and uneven, a dead giveaway of trouble, had Dr. Hawthorne been paying attention to the subtle visual cues which had gotten them both into this position in the first place.

"Ain't you even gonna look at me?"

Dr. Hawthorne could smell the liquor hanging on the man's lips, and so shook his head dismissively and returned to his work, a habit which the professor had recently acquired, and which infuriated his former friend. The man slowly lifted the shovel from its place against the shed wall and, concealing it behind his back like an offering, approached the good professor, already regretting each step as he took it and yet knowing there could only be one solution to this particular problem. He raised the blunt instrument high into the air, and began to count.

1 ... 2 ... 3 ...

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