Monday, July 30, 2018

Weekly Story #4: "Citrus is in Season"

This week, it's a little story about underaged drinking. The prompt went like this:

  • McDonald's - Babysitter/Child - Shock Top


I am a freaking doormat. All little Kyden has to do is raise his eight-year-old voice a little, and I'll do whatever he says just to avoid a full-on tantrum. This time, even though he already had dinner before his parents went out to the movie, he demanded we go to McDonald's for a Happy Meal. I didn't even know they still made those.
So I grabbed my purse, strapped him into the backseat of the Passat my parents got me for my Sweet Sixteen, and drove five minutes through night-time traffic to the nearest Golden Arches. I drove up to the line for the drive-thru, when Kyden piped up, "I wanna eat in!"
I rolled my eyes and complied. My hope had been to get him home as soon as possible. Hopefully that movie was a long one.
I put the car into park and Kyden was out of the car before I'd even unbuckled my seat belt. I followed him to the door. Somehow my purse felt a little heavier than usual, but the important thing was to get this kid fed and out of here as soon as possible.
I wasn't too hungry, so I ordered a side salad with some unsweetened tea. Kyden, of course, wanted the Happy Meal with McNuggets, apple slices, and juice. A girl my age who looked like she'd also rather be anywhere else took my card. While we waited for them to fill up our tray, I gathered up some napkins with one hand and kept Kyden tethered with my other.
He peeked in and drew the purse open. "Whatcha got in here?"
"Hey!" I yanked it away from him. "Hands outta there."
"There's something in there." He reached in again, and raised up an elongated aluminum can. It took me a moment to notice the smiling orange slice with a mohawk wearing sunglasses.
I shoved it back in. "No!" I'd totally forgotten! It was a can of Shock Top I'd swiped from my brother's mini-fridge to save for later. Margot and I were planning to meet up whenever I was done looking after Kyden. The can still had some of its chill left. "Leave that alone."
"What is it?"
"Nothing! Just forget about it."
"But what is it?"
"It's not for you."
I heard my number and took our food. We sat at one of the two-person booths along the window. Kyden sat where he could see the TV, but it was on CNN, and he definitely isn't the kind of eight-year-old who thinks that's interesting. He took out the food from the Happy Meal box, but more so he could get the toy inside. "Yes! Rocket Raccoon!" He took the figurine out of the wrapper and propped it up before he started eating. I squeezed the dressing out of the packet onto my salad.
This wasn't necessarily all bad. I got paid either way, and even after what I spent for this meal, I'd still make a profit. For a sixteen-year-old with a driver's license, that counts for a lot. At least he insisted on McDonald's and not something pricier, like an Applebee's. Tonight was a Friday, so no school for a few days. I still had hanging out with Margot to look forward to. I'd had all night to complain about this brat and his parents and school and the fact that none of the guys at school were interested in us. As long as Mommy and Daddy didn't find out I'd treated little Kyden to all this, everything would be fine.
So I got my phone out and got lost in Instagram as I forked the salad into my mouth, while Kyden dipped his McNuggets into his sauce and happily munched on them.
Hopefully that Shock Top wouldn't get too warm later, because I could have used a sip or two already. It was actually Margot herself who gave me my first beer after I got my license. How did anyone expect us to wait until we were 21 to start drinking? Between school, part-time work, and guys' wandering eyes, the occasionally tallboy was the least I could ask for. At least we weren't butt-chugging like frat boys or taking meth.
I noticed movement in the corner of my eye, and came out of my trance to find Kyden lifting the Shock Top out of my purse.
"Get out of there!" I snatched the purse and laid it on the seat between my leg and the wall.
"Wheat ale? Brewing?" Kyden tilted his eyebrow at me. "Is that a beer?"
"No. It's just... just an orange drink."
"Can I have some?"
"No! It's... uh... just for grown-ups."
"So it is a beer. But wait... you're not a grown-up, either. Aren't you still a teenager?"
A little bit of lettuce fell off my fork. "I'm grown up enough."
"But don't you have to be twenty-one? That's what the commercials say."
"I—" My brain locked up. That time, I didn't have an answer. My whole life I'd seen those exact same ads. Outsmarted by a third-grader!
Kyden started singing, "You're an al-coho-lic, you're an al-coho-lic!"
"Quiet!" Heads were starting to turn at the other tables. "I am not. It's just the occasional drink here and there. That's not gonna hurt anybody."
"But what if your parents find out?" Kyden's eyes lit up, and he stroked his chin. "What if my parents find out?"
"You wouldn't dare." If he blabbed, I could kiss my $15 an hour, my car, my phone, my social life good-bye. "Please. You can't tell anybody."
"You really wanna keep it a secret?" He tilted his head to and fro to make it look like he was thinking really hard. "Okay. But first I want a sip of it."
"Absolutely not! I could get in serious trouble!"
"Please? You're the best babysitter I ever had."
"Trust me, you do not want this. It'll taste terrible."
"So why do you like it?"
"I just do, okay?" But I knew I'd still have to buy his silence somehow...
He pouted. "So why shouldn't I tell?"
I forced a smile across my face. "Because I'm the best babysitter you ever had?"
"But you drink beer," Kyden said. "Dad wouldn't like me having a babysitter who drank beer."
Kyden propped his chin in his hands and his elbows on the table. I felt like he had his tiny fingers wrapped around my throat.
I saw dark things from this kid in the future. His parents were a lawyer and a real estate agent, and they made a lot of money, and he knew it. Their whole lives were built on bargaining. Naturally that would have bled off onto their boy. Just tonight, he'd shown me the Pokémon cards he'd negotiated from other kids at school. If he wasn't careful, he could be a politician someday.
Maybe it wouldn't be too bad. I remembered when I was little, about four or five, and convinced my mom to let me have a sip of beer. And I'd spat it right out. It put me off of trying alcohol again for over a decade. Maybe it would have the same effect on him.
No, not even a drop. His parents would surely discover it somehow, and I'd have to figure out what to do with an open beer can anyway.
But I still needed something.
I am a doormat, especially with kids. I know that. But if I'm going to be a doormat, I can at least try to be a firm one. "No beer," I said. "How about ice cream?"
That slapped a grin on his face. "Ooh, I want Cold Stone."
"They have ice cream here."
"But Cold Stone's so much better. And they mix all that stuff in. And it's right down the road."
And it would probably set me back a few more dollars. Still... my money, or my life? "Fine. I'll get you whatever you want at Cold Stone, and you stay quiet about the beer. Deal?"
I shook his hand.
That didn't stop me from being tense as hell when his mom and dad got home. He liked the movie, but she kept falling asleep. While they told me more about it, I kept wondering when they'd smell the chocolate syrup on Kyden, or notice I made him change shirts because he dripped his ice cream on it. Kyden was still sugared up enough that he could blurt anything out. But so far, nothing.
"Well, enough about us," his father said as he took out his wallet. "How was your night?"
"It was fine," I told him.
"We had a great time," Kyden said. "She took me to McDonald's, and got me a Happy Meal, and I got a Rocket Raccoon toy." He showed them the figurine he got.
His parents' eyes hit me like boiling oil. His dad's hand froze just inside the fold of his wallet. Of course I'd forget to make "keep our little outing secret" part of our "keep my beer secret" deal, wouldn't I?
"Uh... s-s-sorry," I said. "I know he already had dinner, but he just wouldn't take no for an answer."
His mom sighed. "Of course not." She tapped her husband's shoulder. "Give her a little extra."
His dad counted out fifty dollars—five more than I was due—and told Kyden to run up and brush his teeth.
"Thank you so much," I said as Kyden stomped up the stairs. "Let me know when you need me again."
"Sure thing. Just don't be afraid to put your foot down sometimes."
"Kyden can certainly be a handful," his mom said. "But you can always work something out with him."
"Ha, yeah." I stuffed the cash into my purse, next to the Shock Top can. "I certainly managed to do that tonight."

When I got into my car, I sent Margot a text message. I couldn't make it tonight. After all that, I just wanted to go home and rest, drink or no drink. We could meet up tomorrow instead.

Monday, July 23, 2018

Weekly Story #3: The Conductor Took the Wrong Train

Skipping ahead this time. The one I was going to put up this week turned out to be one I'd actually like to get published professionally. I've sent "The Indigo Fender of Spectra Q" out, and we'll see how that goes. Instead, here's third story from the first wave, a shorter one that draws a little inspiration from the manga Nodame Cantabile.

The prompt: Subway Car - Conductor/1st Violin - Worried

Helen felt like she had an entire percussion section playing in her chest. She clutched her case close to her. Everything else had gone wrong today, and the last thing she needed was to drop or lose it. She'd already almost left it at Mom's. Hopefully this train could get her to the auditorium with enough time to tune up before everything started. Hopefully.
Her phone rang. It was Mom. "Hey, Mom. I'm almost there."
"Good, good," Mom said. "I got your dress back from the cleaners. I've already taken care of the bill."
"Thank you so much. I'll pay you back tonight."
"Don't worry about it. Not like you threw up."
Sometimes Helen felt like she needed to be more independent, but today her mom had come through tremendously. "How's Dale? Is he doing better?"
"Still pukey, but he's watching cartoons, so he doesn't care. Sorry we can't come to the concert."
"It's probably going to bomb anyway." Helen had stayed up all night practicing the concerto. Maestro Limmherst had practically demanded it—that slavedriver.
"Well, good luck. You'll do fine."
Helen put her phone back in her purse. Brahms had always been a challenge for her, and the rhythm changes in this concerto had given her more trouble than anything since she first performed Stravinsky in college. It certainly would have been helpful if Limmherst didn't hiss his instructions like some kind of reptile or stamp his foot on the floor so loudly whenever you messed up. He'd made a flutist cry and one of the trumpeters threaten to quit. Helen could only imagine the fury he'd unleash on her when she cut it so close.
He wouldn't care that she'd overslept from practicing all night. He wouldn't care that she'd nearly forgotten to get her dress back from the cleaners. He wouldn't care that her three-year-old had vomited all over it, so she had to take him to Mom and borrow one of her dresses, which was a size too big and looked frumpy and wrinkly on her. He wouldn't care about the traffic she had to drive through just to get back to where she could board a subway. He had his way of doing things, and if she had life get in her way, it wasn't his problem.
She could already hear him telling her this meant she didn't take music seriously enough. She wished she weren't so anxious, so she could tell him what she really thought. He didn't care about music, he just cared about control, and fame—whatever meager fame you could get as a classical conductor. Musicians like her weren't people to him, they were machines. He had no interest in the passions and struggles they put into their performances. He could never compare to their old conductor. She hoped Maestro Peter's shows in Pittsburgh were sold out, just to spite Limmherst.
The train came to a stop. Helen checked the clock on her phone. She still had seven minutes before the show was scheduled to start. Still barely enough time. Limmherst could say whatever he wanted. She was going to rip his expectations to shreds, and then tell him what she thought.
The door opened, and the next wave of commuters and pedestrians filed in.
Among them, Helen saw the unmistakable balding head and stubbled chin of Wolfgang Limmherst, dressed in his tuxedo, his neck bent with what looked like exhaustion.
He turned his eyes, and saw her. They stared at each other for a moment, each one drinking in the same reality. All the fear within her went silent, as well as all the anger. He turned and went to the next car.
When they reached the concert hall, neither one had anything to say to the other.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Weekly Story #2: Farmer Hal and Merle Go Shopping

The first story of Wave 2. The prompt for this one went as follows:
  • Relationship: Farmer/scarecrow
  • Location: change room in a store
Let this serve as proof I'm not exactly going for respectable littrachurr.


Farmer Hal left a trail of straw through the Goodwill. With Merle in his other hand, he leafed through the shirts for something that would look good—not for him, but for Merle. The dang birds had pecked holes all over his shirt, and it was time to get him a new one.
Let's see... He'd gotten a flannel shirt last time, and that seemed to suit Merle better. He held a red shirt in front of Merle's chest. Merle's coat-button eyes stared out from his face, which had once been part of a burlap sack.
More straw fell from Merle's body as Farmer Hal browsed. He didn't want just any clothes for his scarecrow.
A plump middle-aged woman with a name tag walked up to Farmer Hal. "Um, can I help you?" Her tag said LILY.
"No, ma'am," Farmer Hal said. "I reckon I can find what I need." He held up a handful of flannel button-down shirts of different colors. "I'll just be taking these to try on."
"Um." Lily couldn't get another word out before Farmer Hal turned his back on her and headed for the changing room. She had only gotten this job a few months ago after getting laid off from the insurance office. She beckoned for Scooby, the college student with the half-shaved head who'd trained her.
Scooby came up holding her price gun. "What's up?"
"There's a man in here buying clothes for a—well—" Lily gestured to her feet, surrounded by straw.
"Oh, Farmer Hal," Scooby said. "Don't mind him. He's an oddball, but he's a sweetheart. Comes by every Spring to shop for his scarecrow, every summer to shop for his wife, and every fall to shop for himself."
Lily crooked her eyebrow. "That man's married?"
Scooby shrugged. "He says he is. He just takes that scarecrow seriously, is all."
"I just never run into anybody like that."
Inside the changing room, Farmer Hal was buttoning the red flannel shirt onto Merle. It looked good, but it was a little loose on the shoulders. He'd look like some poor kid waiting to grow into his new clothes. The blue flannel shirt was too tight, and if Farmer Hal weren't careful, he'd have torn the seams over Merle's wooden arms. The green one had a hole under the pocket. Only the purple one was a good fit and in good condition. Farmer Hal didn't especially like purple—he didn't want Merle to look like that singer with the frilly sleeves. But if Merle liked it, that was what matters.
Farmer Hal put the shirts back on their hanger and carried them back outside. He left the rejects on the rack and took the purple shirt to the checkout counter. Lily took his payment.
"That really is a nice scarecrow," Lily said.
"Scarecrow?" Farmer Hal said. "What scarecrow? This is my son."
Lily's face went chalk white.
Farmer Hal started snickering, then that grew into a bigger laugh. "Oh man, I had you for a moment there."
Scooby was chuckling, too. Farmer Hal had tried the same thing with her the first time she rang him up. The Goodwill workers considered it a rite of passage. Lily relaxed and handed him his receipt.
"It's just we work real hard on these fellas, the wife and I," Farmer Hal said. "We figure, might as well make sure they look their best."
"I see." Lily glanced down at the trail of straw he'd left behind him. "Now about that..."
"What about what?"
Scooby shook her head and made a throat-cutting gesture. But Lily didn't tolerate it from her boys at home and she wasn't going to tolerate it from this gentleman, either. "You've left a mess all over our store. You think perhaps you should help us out?"
Farmer Hal ran his gaze over the straw, then turned toward Lily and pointed at the broom and dustpan behind her. "Ain't this what that's for?"
"Excuse me?" Lily said.
Scooby made a face at Lily that said I will friggin' murder you for this.
"Some of your customers track dust," Farmer Hal said, "and some of 'em track mud. I gotta have Merle here with me to shop for him, so you're gonna get some straw. Ain't cleaning up in your job description?"
Lily's mouth hung open in abject shock. Of all the ignorant, self-entitled— "I'm a mom, so I thought I heard it all. But you, sir, you son of a—"
"WHOA WHOA WHOA!" Scooby ran up to the checkout counter. "Sorry, sir, she's new. We will clean it up. It just... just seems like a little more than usual."
Farmer Hal gave her a half-grin. "When'd they make you manager?"
"About the twelfth of Never, Sir."
"You any closer to graduating?"
"Got about a year left." Scooby crossed her fingers.
Farmer Hal took one last look at the straw. "Right. Sorry about all that. Here's a little extra." Farmer Hal left three dollars on the checkout counter. "Guess I'll have to tighten him up on the bottom there."
Lily folded the shirt and slid it into a bag and handed it to Farmer Hal. He nodded to her, then waved to Scooby, then carried the bag and the scarecrow out to his Chevy pick-up.
Lily took the broom and dustpan out and started sweeping up the straw.
Meanwhile, Farmer Hal drove down the highway back to his farm. He waved to his wife, posted Merle back in his original place in the wheat field, pulled off his ratty denim shirt, and put on the purple flannel shirt in its place.
It didn't look half bad, actually. But somehow it seemed a little incomplete.
Farmer Hal tore the sleeves off the old shirt and tied it around Merle's neck as a kind of scarf or kerchief.

Merle still looked like that singer, but for now, it worked out.

Monday, July 09, 2018

Weekly Story #1: Sergeant Fillibrandt's Baseball

Today I'm starting an experiment, or rather resuming an old one. I'm trying to see if I can write a short story a week for a year. I'd started at New Year's 2018, but only made it through February. Now I've started again, though I'll need to catch up with what I've already written. I originally wrote the following story in January, and involved a ton of researchat least, whatever I could do from my desk at workwhich still exists as comments in my Google Document. 
The stories in this series will, by and large, be published with minimal editingmostly for clarityand without beta readers. I used, which is primarily for improv comedians, to generate a prompt. This time, the prompt was:
  • Location: WWI Trench
  • Relationship: Pitcher/Catcher
  • Thing: the Titanic