At last, it's here: Mark Twain's long-awaited short story "A Murder, a Mystery and a Marriage" is on newsstands everywhere -- 125 years after it was written.
The story is featured in the July/August issue of the Atlantic Monthly, which hit newsstands this week with a cover illustration depicting Twain, cigar and pen in hand, facing a cluster of microphones and autograph seekers.
"Mark Twain Returns!" proclaims the cover of the magazine.
Publication rights to the story were sold to the Atlantic earlier this year by the Buffalo & Erie County Public Library for an undisclosed sum. The Atlantic is where Twain had originally intended to publish the story back in 1876.
"We are sorry it took 125 years, but we are delighted to have Mark Twain back in our pages," said Michael Kelly, editor of the magazine. "We are grateful to the Buffalo & Erie County Public Library for making it possible."
At the library, officials said Wednesday that the publication is an exciting cap to an international writing contest in which Twain fans were challenged to come up with an ending to the short story -- half of which was released on the library's Web site, www.buffalolib.org.
At least 560 entries have flowed in since the contest began four months ago, said library spokeswoman Ami Savigny. The Web site has received more than 19,000 hits, she said.
The deadline for the contest was Monday, and entries postmarked on that date are still coming in, Savigny said.
"People have been getting pretty creative," said Savigny, noting that entries have included poetry and illustrated manuscripts. "We're getting about 50 entries a day. They had to be postmarked by Monday, so they'll probably be coming in until the end of the week."
Entries have arrived from as far as England, Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, Japan, the Philippines and South Africa, Savigny said. In addition, entries have come from 38 states in the United States and every province in Canada, she said.
Now that Twain's complete story is available in the Atlantic, "it will be interesting to see how people react to Twain's ending to the story," Savigny said.
Besides the Atlantic version, Twain's story will be published this fall as a hardcover book by W.W. Norton & Co. and as an electronic book by LiveReads, featuring the voice of Garrison Keillor.
The library plans to announce the winners of the writing contest at a gala celebration at the Central Library in October.
A panel of well-known literary figures -- including Joyce Carol Oates, Lauren Belfer and Leslie Fiedler -- will judge the top entries in the contest.