The following post is a short story where those who support me on Patreon were able to vote and choose what this short story would be about and/or have as a theme. Since their poll ended in a tie,1 I’ll be writing both short stories over the next couple months. This short story’s theme is to write a short story with a hidden pattern. See if you can find the pattern(s) in the piece.
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Nikki scanned her groceries at the self-checkout, growing increasingly aware of the expanding line of people waiting for registers behind her. It was a moment of social awkwardness she dreaded. There she was, a cart full of food, though one that was easily within the self-checkout’s arbitrary limit, doing her best to scan and bag all of the items by herself as people waited for their turn behind her. Granted, she wasn’t the only one using a register. There was an elderly man arguing with a store attendant over the fact that the self-checkout wouldn’t take a check at one register, while the final register was in use by a middle-aged woman whose cart was so full it looked like she could prepare seven square meals a day and still not be back to the store for a month. Never mind the fact that there were at least four registers with human cashiers at them that people in line could go to. That didn’t stop Nikki from feeling like the holdup was her fault.
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Nikki paid for her groceries, loaded her bags of food into her cart, and walked towards the parking lot, hearing the man who had been behind her in line start scanning his flowers as she left. She loaded her groceries into the saddlebags of her motorcycle, returned the cart to its corral, then turned right onto Marlborough Road to begin her trek home. Nearly immediately, Nikki was greeted with a red light at the intersection of Elena Park Avenue. She turned her head to the right and stared at the large hill in the center of Elena Park, its slope covered in lush green grass and sighed heavily. One January in her youth, Nikki had gone sledding with some friends when she built up a little too much speed, barrelling past the end of the park over the sidewalk, and into the busy street. She narrowly avoided getting struck by a bus, though her best friend, Cassie Lowe, wasn’t so lucky. Cassie had chased after Nikki, and though the bus avoided them both, a car driving in the next lane struck Cassie at full speed, killing her instantly.
It was a cruel joke that Nikki had to move back here. Her parents pulled her out of school for two weeks following Cassie’s death. Then her father got a job in Tampa, letting them leave this godforsaken hellhole and never look back. But then Nikki graduated from college and got a job for a telecommunications company handling their social media marketing. When it was announced her company’s office was closing, her choices were to lose her job or to take relocation to an office that just so happened to be mere miles from where her childhood best friend died.
Nikki floored the throttle as the light turned green, speeding off into the distance. She refused to be that asshole on a motorcycle who is a danger to themselves and everyone around them because they drive recklessly, weaving in and out of traffic with dangerous spacing just because their bike will fit. But she couldn’t help but speed away from the intersection of Marlborough Road and Elena Park Avenue every time she came to it.
After a few minutes, she arrived home at 100 Newton Lane, apartment 121. She had promised herself these living arrangments would only be temporary — that she could (and would) find something better than living with a random roommate she found on Craigslist. She traded out of a random roommate for one she liked living with, Keith. For a guy, Keith wasn’t too bad. She wouldn’t have gotten engaged to him if he were terrible. But the apartment was a world suck she never seemed to free herself from, no matter her best intentions. Keith didn’t see any harm in staying as it was.
She carried the groceries inside, stepping quietly so as not to wake Keith from his slumber. Keith would typically sleep through the day, as he worked overnight as a security guard, though this particular day he was awake much earlier than expected.
“Hey,” he said as Nikki entered through the front door, lugging the groceries to the kitchen.
“You’re up early,” replied Nikki as she dug through her bags, looking for perishable items first.
“Some guy came by while you were gone wanting to know if I had accepted Jesus into my heart as my lord and savior. I told him if he didn’t leave I’d help him meet Jesus in person.”
“Don’t be a dick, Keith.”
“There’s no need to be proselytizing in the middle of the afternoon on a Wednesday!” Keith exclaimed. “Besides, if I wanted to know more about religion, I’d go to a church myself.”
“How will you know which one is the right one to go to unless someone tells you about how their god is better than someone else’s god?” Nikki retorted sarcastically.
“A great question that I’m sure no one has ever considered.”
Keith walked into the kitchen and wrapped his arms around Nikki’s waist, kissing her neck as he pulled her in close.
“Did you bring me anything?” he cooed into her ear.
Nikki grabbed a bottle of bourbon from one of the bags and handed it to Keith, who eyed the label carefully.
“A hundred and forty-four proof? How drunk are you trying to get me?” he asked.
“I mean, it wasn’t what I had in mind, but I’ll take it.”
“Keep it in your pants for one more day, cowboy,” Nikki said. “You work tonight, then you’re off for two weeks.”
“It’s just a shame you couldn’t be off the whole time.”
“What can I say? Everyone wants me.”
Nightfall came, and with it Keith left for work, leaving Nikki to sip at her own glass of booze as she watched Jeopardy! on television.
“Next we move on to Jeff. You were in second place — what did you come up with? You said Libya, no, I’m sorry. That’s wrong.”
“It’s Tunisia, you twats!” Nikki shouted at the television.
“And you wagered — $169. It’s enough to keep you out of last, but you likely won’t catch our reigning champion. That is, unless Elsie is wrong. Elsie what did you come up with? Morocco. No, I’m sorry.”
“The city of Carthage was located in the modern day country of Tunisia. You wagered — nothing. With your winnings today, you now have a total of $196,225.”
Nikki turned off the TV, scoffing as she pushed the button.
“I could beat her,” she mumbled to herself as she got up from the couch and made her way to the bedroom. Nikki pulled a suitcase out from the closet and tossed in on the bed, unzipping all the pockets and readying it for her trip with Keith. While their trip was only for the weekend and the rest of the vacation would be spent at home, packing a suitcase and going anywhere was still a big step.
Nikki was reminded of just how big when she unzipped a compartment on the front of the suitcase to find the remnants of a luggage tag stuffed inside. It was a reminder of the second scariest day of her life. The plane she was aboard, Delta flight 256, skidded off the runway in Amsterdam and came to a crashing halt against a barrier. Fortunately, no one was hurt seriously. A few passengers were shaken up, an elderly man broke his hand, and there were a few bruises for nearly everyone aboard. Still, had it not been for that crash, she never would have met Keith, who was stuck in Amsterdam Airport Schiphol because of the crash she had been involved in. Four hours in an airport bar meant that Nikki missed her ride into town, but she met her future fiancee in all the chaos.
She stuffed the fading sticker back down in the bag, then slowly packed three days worth of clothing inside for both her and Keith. Maybe she could change his mind on this trip, or even on his vacation in general. Maybe she could convince him to move away from everything she hated, all the bad memories, the constant reminders of her best friend dying at the intersection of Marlborough and Elana Park. Maybe he’d listen to going somewhere that wasn’t a plot of land adjacent to his parents’ family farm on route 289 in upstate New York. Maybe it would stop snowing in the apartment.
It was snowing in the apartment. Again.
It didn’t matter that it was summer. This was the sign that it was all about to end. It began with the snow violently leaving the ground, leaving the streets around Nikki their natural color. She’d live her life each day as that day would go, only for the snow falling around her — regardless of if she was indoors or out — to signal that the end was coming. It had always been this way.
—– —– —– —– —–
“Hey hun?” Ricky Lowe shouted.
“Can you come hold the ladder steady? I’m trying to get stuff out of the rafters of the garage.”
Mina Lowe entered the garage and braced the legs of the ladder while her husband climbed to the second highest step. As he moved the items above the exposed rafters, a fine, white dust fluttered down to the ground below.
“Jesus,” Mina said, “how much dust is up there?”
“You’d think it had snowed up here,” replied Ricky. “It’s pretty thick.”
“What’s up there? Do I need to have Hannah come out and help?”
“Nothing much. Some old two-by-fours, a few sheets of plywood, Christmas lights that probably don’t work, a broken rake, a couple sleds –”
“Yeah. Hannah’s and Cassie’s from when they were little.”
Ricky pulled down a pair of plastic sleds, one bright green, one baby blue, both covered in a covering of the dust.
“Remember how they named them?” Ricky said. “Who names a sled?”
“Yeah,” Mina replied. “Keith and Nikki, I think.”
“After some TV show, right?”
“Yeah, something they watched.”
“Do we really need them anymore? Hannah’s about to leave for college and Cassie –”
Mina cut him off.
“Throw them out,” she said.
“But Cassie’s getting married soon,” replied Ricky. “Maybe she’ll want it for her future kids.”
“Then we’ll buy her a new one. I don’t want to give her the sled she was on when she got hit by a car.”
Ricky examined the sled carefully, noticing its cracks and chips.
“You’re probably right,” he replied. “Is that the garbage truck?”
“It’s two houses down,” said Mina.
“Hold tight. I’ll take these out to the guy myself.”