Short stories consists of about 1000 to 8000 words. All of the following are by Kim-Lee Patterson (Anna Lee) and subject to copyright. Do not copy, reproduce, or recreate without permission from the author, which can be obtained by emailing her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sweat dripped off my chin as I swallowed the last donut. I looked around my seat for a drink, but all the bottles were empty. Well, except the kerosene I needed for work. Really shouldn’t have gulped down all my water the day before. Now this greasy frosting was stuck to the sides of my throat. I used to think I knew what being pissed off was like. You know, bills piling up. Jobs getting harder to find. The fridge breaking down and having to hire a guy on credit to get it working. Things like that. Those things would make you mad, right?
Try shaking dust out of your hair and shoes three days after burning out your engine and running out of gas on some deserted freeway, with 5% left on your phone and a dead car battery.
No one really drives through these parts. I seen all of two drivers in the past 72 hours. Maybe three. Word is out that killers roam these areas and near the next town, so no one even looked at me, much less stopped.
Can’t blame ‘em. Nothing says creepy like a dusty dude sitting by the roadside in a beat-up pickup.
I was headed to work, actually. Had an important cleaning job that would help me settle quite a few of my liabilities, but no telling if I’d missed the opportunity by now. The suit-and-tie kind of folk paid the best and were my favorite kind of client, so being stuck out here really sucked rocks.
I had enough juice to make one phone call, but I didn’t know any numbers except 911. And, well, my daddy’s a cop. He’d know about it if I called. Have you seen a farmer’s pig at Christmastime? They can smell when you’re ‘bout to kill ‘em. They hear the thud of the butcher’s knife on the shop counter long before you ever make the slow, somber march to their pen.
Now, I’m no Christmas pig, but I too can smell when I’m ‘bout to be roasted. Hence why I was on that road to nowhere, breathing dust and eating donuts with nothing to wash them down. Pops hated me; he had the whole precinct out to cram me in some shoebox and toss the key in the sewers. I guess I was supposed to follow the family tradition, but where’s the fun in that? I picked another line of work.
Is that so bad?
Stupid question. I’m out here, aren’t I?
Maybe I could call for roadside assistance. I glanced down at my phone. Two bars. Even if my battery could have lasted long enough to summon Siri… or whoever… I wouldn’t get on the web ‘til next Tuesday.
Time for a new plan. The sun was getting low and I didn’t have the patience to sit out another 24 hours, waiting for everyone and no one to stop. I got up and shook a day’s worth of dust from my clothes. There was a sizeable ditch behind me. If no one would stop for a breakdown, maybe they’d want to play hero in an accident.
Pushing a ‘93 Toyota pickup off the road was twice as hard as I thought it’d be. And I was hungry again. I needed to get off this road and find other work. Electricity bill was coming due and fixing the fridge had already cost me two arms and a leg. Thankfully my tires were already turned to the right. It was just a matter of getting the whole damn thing to roll.
I pushed, but it wouldn’t budge.
With the sky turning a million shades of pink and purple, I needed to get this whole situation over with. Now I was really pissed off. I could use that. I threw my entire body weight behind the truck and growled. I felt it shift and roll forward. Nice. Gathering all the rage I could, I threw myself behind the truck again, this time using up all the energy I had left. I fell to the ground, panting, but luckily, that was all the push the ole’ girl needed. I watched as she crept forward and rolled right into the ditch, tilting a little on her side.
Picking myself up, I stumbled down into the ditch and climbed into the driver’s seat, fastening my seatbelt. Someone would come along to investigate soon enough, I was sure. They’d think I had whiplash or internal bleeding. Something.
I just needed another human being to stop.
My foot brushed against something crinkly. Scared me a little. I reached down and realized it was a candy bar. I guess my sloppiness had its upside. I wondered how many other snacks were scattered and hidden throughout the cab. Well, better for me. I ripped into the packaging and chomped down into the gooey chocolate.
I felt my energy come back, just a little. Maybe I could actually fall asleep. That would be even better.
By then, the sky was a royal shade of blue. Reminded me a little too much of the uniform I’d worn at boarding school. I hated looking like everyone else in my bleak little world back then. It was like everyone was out to make me over into their frightening image of who I was supposed to be. It was stifling. Suffocating, at times. I searched for a way to stand out. To be seen. Heard. It worked, too. I became a legend at that school.
Countless boys became a part of my army, never daring to question my motives or talk back when I spoke.
“Strong. Fearless. Unstoppable,” I smiled, my eyes shut to the outside world.
I sputtered. Jeez. Let my guard down for two seconds and had to be spitting out flies. There was a bandanna hanging out of the glove compartment. Thought about tying it around my mouth and nose, but then, that wouldn’t help my case. I was not trying to look threatening to anyone who might come to help me. I wiped my mouth and closed my eyes again. A deep sense of calm washed over me. Like a warm, dark blanket. Somehow, I felt different now. A lot better. Like everything was going to be just fine.
No sooner had I drifted to sleep than I was woken by a light shining in my eyes.
“Sir! Are you alright?”
It took me a minute to gather my bearings, so I moved rather slowly. That worked in my favor–the aim was to look injured anyway. After a minute, I found my voice.
“Not really,” I lied. “Had engine trouble and rolled off the road into this here ditch. Hit my head on the steering wheel and blacked out.”
“Yeah, you look like you been here a while,” the other guy said. “Well, look. I’m trained in First Aid and with your permission I’d like to have a look to see if you’re alright. I already called the ambulance, but,” he glanced around. “…it may take a while for them to get here. No one come out this way much.”
My heart fell into my gut. I wasn’t concerned about the ambulance. It was the police I needed to avoid. I wasn’t about to deal with my daddy. No sir. I needed another plan.
I looked up at the guy’s face, then down to his shirt. I glanced over my shoulder at his ride. He seemed respectable enough. Well off, even. I guess I could trust him. Maybe even convince him that I was fine and to drop me off in the town and call off the ambulances.
Or maybe …
A faint smile crept across my face.
“Thank you, sir, I’d appreciate that.” I sat still as he opened the door and unlatched my seat belt. He felt around my neck and jaw line. Looking for what? I hardly knew. Really didn’t care. Usually I went out looking for work, but this time, the job had come to me.
Oh, the convenience.
“You seem alright to me, but maybe I should just take you to the town to be sure. Like I said, emergency services are probably not gonna arrive for a while. It’s up to you though. I get you may not want to trust a stranger, what with the recent killins’ and all.”
“That’d be great,” I agreed. “Pretty sure if fate was ready to kill me now, it wouldn’t take its sweet time like this. I’m not that interesting.”
“I hear that,” he laughed.
I threw up a little in my mouth. Anyone who could find my corny jokes funny didn’t deserve to live. Honestly. Resting my weight on my wrists, I shifted to the edge of the seat. He put his arms around me and helped me out of the car.
“Do you feel any pain?”
“No,” I said. “What does that feel like?”
He paused for a moment. “What? You’ve never felt pain?”
I’ll never forget the look on his face. It was like mine had been the day I found out that Santa Claus and his flying gazelle were a nothing but a sack of bovine feces. If I wasn’t so intent on getting this job done before the cops arrived, I would probably have laughed, but there was no time for that.
“Never,” I repeated, reaching into the pickup bed. “I don’t feel much of anything period,” I admitted. “That’s exactly what’s wrong with people like you. You feel too much and get hurt all the time. I can help you with that, if you like.”
He never got a chance to respond, though sometimes I wonder what he would have said if he could have. Chopping wood instead of buying it pre-cut in town seemed to have more than just a cost benefit to me, judging from the size of the gash in his head. Luckily, he wasn’t that big of a fellow, so after grabbing his keys and wallet, I was able to drag him into the ditch and carve my logo into his forehead with my pocket knife. There was no time to wrap him up and take him back to the fridge, so I snapped a photo with my Nikon camera and hopped into his SUV. I grabbed all the documents and ran back out to my pickup to fetch mine as well, taking care of both with a match and a drop of kerosene. Gloves and a couple wipes took care of the prints on both steering wheels and door handles.
Not the cleanest job, but like I said–no time.
The moon was out now. It cast a fair bit of light and I could see a cloud of dust forming in the distance. Probably a good 5 miles away. Time to go. I started up the engine and pulled off, laughing at my good fortune.
I never had to worry about ‘the killins’.”
They were all me.
The Quiet One
She was a quiet child, hardly ever making a sound.
At recess, she watched the others play, but her feet never ran with them, her little voice never joined theirs. She sat on the sidelines, wishing she could run and play, but held back by a force she could not understand. Her tears of frustration fell in the dust, but no one noticed. Her lips trembled with loneliness, but no one saw. In her large, brown eyes there was a bright spark of intelligence but it was too often clouded over by a haze of sadness. Teachers ignored her, student mocked her.
But she never said a word.
Through each painful day she stepped, one step at a time. When tripped, she would only pick up her books and walk away. If ridiculed, she would stand still, as one both deaf and dumb. The little boys would never cease to pull the ribbons from her hair, the apples from her lunch kit, or from stepping on her toes, for she never said a word or raised her hand in sweet revenge. The little girls whom she longed to have as friends, close companions, were not interested in her company—far too quiet and plain, they thought. Day after day, she trudged to and from the schoolhouse, never seen with a companion, never seen with a single friend.
The years went by and she grew into a fine teenager. Still just as quiet, just as sad and befriended by no others. But something did begin to change, though no one suspected it. A few began to wonder about the quiet mystery girl, and a sense of shameful regret came over those who most had wronged her. Every day she walked to school and minded no one but the teachers. Every day she walked away—to whom and where? No one cared.
No one, except one.
One who had stuck his foot in her path, sending girl and books flying into the mud. One who had not only pulled her ribbons, but tied them to the back of her chair. One who had sprayed paint all over her locker and stuffed gum into her gloves; glued the pages of her books tightly together and secretly exchanged her apple for his rotten plum. She walked alone to—oh, who knew where.
And no one cared, except one.
One who followed her past the schoolhouse, past the store and pharmacy; down the walk by judge and lawyer, out the grimy, back alley. Through the slum, he kept pace with her footsteps, never turning his eyes from the tall silhouette, ‘til she reached a shack on the corner where a number of children twitched and sat. At her appearance they rose and shouted and with glee, and that’s when—yes! for the first time—he saw it on her face: a smile. With mouth gaping wide he watched her disappeared inside, returning in the garb of a worker and with an old man by her side. An old man? No, not so. He was no more than forty-five, by a stretch. But it seemed that terrible sickness had brought him closer to his death. The girl put her arms around him and pointed up to the sky. He looked up and smiled at the sight so bright, so nice compared to the misery around. Back inside went father and daughter, and the observing boy turned to leave.
A glance over his shoulder made him change his mind—she was back outside and about to go somewhere else. He followed her back through the slum and alley, past the judge and the lawyer and pharmacy door. She entered the store and through the glassy window he saw that she drew an apron—for she worked at that store. A claw seemed to clutch at his heart, intent to tear it in two, and he fled from the scene in horror and shame. Past the store he flew, past the schoolhouse and church, over the meadow that separated the opulent from the despondent. Through a white-painted gate in a clean, quiet community and into a house, large and lacking in nothing—nothing but love. He looked around at the things he had, the things being wasted and left to grow old. In disgust, he escaped to his room and collapsed at his desk. Several pencils lie broken where he had, in frustration, left them. His homework from the last several weeks also lie there—unfinished. As he looked at the textbook, a determined jut formed to his jaw. He picked up a brand new pencil and began to work, hard. An hour passed, then two. Before long he was called to supper. He got up from his desk, reviewed his work and saw that he had finished two weeks’ worth in three hours. A smile spread over his face as he pondered the thought in his mind.
Three years passed and graduation day came. As the gathering of seventeen and eighteen year olds grew, expectations ran high. But no one thought about the mystery girl’s grades.
No one, except one.
One who had changed from a rowdy, mean bully with the worst grades in the class to a refined, intelligent young man with a smile and a kind heart. He had turned around completely and climbed the ladder of academic success. But he wasn’t finished yet. He hadn’t reached his ultimate goal, his overwhelming desire. But first, he needed to know where she stood, how she had fared academically. The lights went low and the stage lights flared. One by one, successful students were called. But he didn’t hear her name. A lump began to form in his throat when he heard his name. He went up for his diploma in a daze and returned. The name call continued, but hers did not come up. His heart began to pound as his thoughts swirled. Had she passed? Would she graduate? She had to—she must! Or else—no, he dared not think about it. His one dream must come true; it must not die. Glancing over at her, he wondered what she was thinking. Her face looked the way it usually did—still and inexpressive, like a man in a poker game. He couldn’t tell whether she was worried or not. She just had that sad, gentle look.
The name call came to the end and the announcer stepped down. The young man could not bring himself to believe it. After all these years, had she failed to graduate from highschool? Again he looked at her face. It was blank—completely devoid of expression. Shaking his head, he looked down at his toes, and then was startled by a familiar voice. The principle stood at the podium now, and … that name … that name! A glimmer of hope shone in his eyes. The principle had called her name. And … yes! There she was … walking down the aisle to receive … a full scholarship to medical school?
Shocked, the boy stared open-mouthed as the blank look disappeared from her face and was replaced with a … smile. It was like a bolt of lightning through the hall as one by one, her classmates remembered the days gone by …the days when they excluded her from their games …the days when they laughed at her sad little face and made her sad life even harder to bear. They looked down at their hands, some holding diplomas, earned by the skin of their teeth, and some holding nothing, after wasting the years on play. Slowly, they realized why the mysterious, quiet girl had never sought revenge for their cruel, childish actions. Oh no, she was above that sort of thing. She was an intelligent girl, even from that time. She knew what she wanted, and she kept her eyes on that goal. Revenge? Yes, they thought so. This was the worst sort of revenge, they reasoned. A revenge that took her twelve years to take, but revenge nonetheless. The whole student body felt it, all except one.
The one who smiled broadly as he rose from his seat, and weaved his way to the door that led to the backstage. He waited with baited breath as the footsteps came nearer and nearer. Finally, the door opened and he exhaled. “Anna,” he whispered. “Want to join me for some lemonade?” A broad smile spread over her face, a smile that no one had ever seen. before. “Why, yes!” she exclaimed. “I’d like that very much.” As they held hands, the two met each others gaze. Suddenly, they smiled. They were meant to be. It was plain, so plain.