Snow in Tunisia

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,1LInk might show for patrons only? Either way, know it was a tie. 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.

If you wish to support me on Patreon and get access to bonus content like exclusive blog posts, podcasts, and me signing pictures that aren’t of me, you can do so here.


Beep.

$1.49.

Beep.

$16.25. Credit: thirty-six cents.

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.

Your total is sixty-four dollars and eighty-one cents. Please select your payment method.

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.

“Yes.”

“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.”

“TUNISIA!”

“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.

“Yeah?”

“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 –”

“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.”

Vita in Morte Sumus

This post is a response to August 2018’s mid-month short story challenge. Click on the link in the previous sentence to read the prompt, share your story, and read those written by others. Oddly enough, the inspiration for this story comes both from my song of choice, as well as a comment made by John Green on a recent episode of “Dear Hank and John“. My choice of the three songs listed in the post was “Creature Comfort” by Arcade Fire2I had originally written a story based on “Atlanta” by Stone Temple Pilots that dealt with the current climate towards legal and illegal immigration in parts of the USA. Upon re-reading the story, as well as a day spent with family members whose views on those topics are diametrically opposed to mine, I decided that my story needed more research prior to publishing. It’s a topic I feel strongly about, as well as one I feel like I presented from the correct point of view. That said, after seeing the venom and hatred that some people feel towards those who are different from them (not to mention how certain people think that splitting up families is a joke), I want to be certain that there are no factual inaccuracies in my story. Not because the people I was around deserve it — but because the people living through the hell that is being an immigrant in the USA today deserve my story to be as accurate of a representation as possible..


“Wake up! It’s finally here! Today is here!”

Maddie rolled over and placed her pillow atop of her head, cuddling her skull into the mattress beneath her. For a few seconds, the silence around her gave her hope that sleep was coming. But that hope was quickly shattered by her roommate, Cruz, shouting at Maddie again in her melodic, soprano voice.

“Maaaadieeeeee,” she sang. “It’s your special day!”

“Then why are you waking me up?” Maddie mumbled back from under her pillow.

“Because it’s your last chance to do anything you want!” replied Cruz. “You don’t want to miss out on that.”

Maddie sat up in bed, then threw her pillow at Cruz with a swift-moving left-handed toss. The pillow missed wide, bouncing off the wall and landing harmlessly at the foot of the bed.

“What if all I want to do all day is sleep?” asked Maddie. “I’m dying today. I should get to do whatever I want. And maybe I just want to curl up in bed and dream about sleeping while I’m sleeping.”

“But…” Cruz stammered. “What about spending time with your best friend?”

“My cat’s dead,” Maddie deadpanned.

Cruz picked up the pillow off the floor and playfully tossed it at Maddie’s head. Her throw flew truer than Maddie’s, striking Maddie’s hands just as she got them up in front of her face.

“Bitch,” said Cruz.

Maddie climbed out of bed and walked toward her dresser. She pulled out a pair of baby blue leggings, pulling them onto her legs and over her hips.

“I’m really sorry, Cruz,” stated Maddie as she dug through another drawer looking for a shirt to replace her sleeping shirt with. “What would you like to do today?”

“It’s not my day, Maddie. It’s yours. Whatever you want.”

“But I don’t know what I want. All I know is that I’m not spending this day wearing a bra. Fuck that noise.”

“Then let’s go get some coffee and figure it out from there.”

Maddie and Cruz left their apartment and walked to the nearby coffee shop they had frequented numerous times over the three years they’d lived together. Upon entering, they were greeted by Cline, a burly middle-aged man with a graying beard and a blue bandana covering his balding head.

“Good morning, ladies,” Cline bellowed out from behind the counter. “The usual?”

“That’s fine for me,” replied Cruz. “But we need to make something special for Maddie. It’s her day.”

“Oh, yay!” Cline exclaimed. “Happy birthday!”

“Not her birthday,” retorted Cruz. “Her day.

“Oh…” said Cline as his voice trailed off. “Um…well, what would you like, Maddie? It’s on me.”

“You don’t need to do that,” replied Maddie.

“Please?”

Maddie sighed. “Fine. A small decaf iced coffee and a toasted sesame seed bagel is butter.”

“Go have a seat. I’ll bring it out to you.”

Maddie and Cruz walked to the far side of the coffee shop, taking a seat near an large window that stared out to the shopping center behind the building. A small emerald green sedan rolled slowly through the lot between the coffee shop and the shopping center. Its back and sides were covered in bumper stickers of all sizes and shapes and colors. One of the largest stickers — a bright yellow sticker with bold, black font — read “EXPIRATION DATES ARE POPULATION CONTROL”.

“I hate seeing people like that out in the wild,” said Maddie.

“Why?” Cruz inquired.

“Everything is a conspiracy theory to them. I get there there are actual conspiracies out there, filled with shady people doing shady things. But most of the time it’s just people upset with something that’s out of their control.”

“Is that a bad thing?”

“Being upset isn’t bad,” replied Maddie. “Shouting as loud as you can about something you know nothing about is. Especially when there’s impressionable morons who will believe anything they hear.”

Cline walked to the table, a drink in each hand and a plate balanced on each arm. Cruz and Maddie reached out to take the plates from him as Cline carefully placed the drinks down on the table.

“Decaf iced coffee and a toasted sesame seed bagel with butter for you,” he began. “And a blueberry coconut Italian soda with a slice of lemon pound cake for you.”

“You’re the best,” Cruz said enthusiastically.

“You’ve been getting that flavor combination for nearly a year now and I still don’t understand it.”

“Have you tried it?” asked Cruz.

“Yep,” replied Cline. “It’s one of the few times in life I’ve regretted something I ate.”

Cruz shrugged. “More for me, I guess.”

The sound of sleigh bells hitting a glass door announced the arrival of new guests at the coffee shop.

“That’s my cue,” said Cline. “Maddie, if there’s anything else you want, just tell me or come help yourself. Okay?”

“I will,” she replied. “Thanks.”

Cline walked back to the front of the store where he began to make drinks for a young couple struggling to corral the three young children that had arrived with them.

“Is there anything you feel like you’re going to be missing out on?” asked Cruz, her mouth half full of pound cake.

“Nothing I’m not over,” Maddie answered. “I mean, I would have liked to have been rich and famous. But it’s hard to get either of those things by the age of twenty-six.”

“It’s not fair though. Not the not getting to be rich and famous. But you’re only twenty-six. Most people get to be around until they’re in their eighties or nineties. You don’t feel anything’s wrong with that?”

“Not really,” said Maddie. “There’s still a lot of people who think a sky spirit pre-ordains when it’s their time to die, even if it’s an untimely death. I don’t see how this is any different.”

Maddie took a drink from her coffee, closing her eyes and savoring the taste of the coffee in her mouth for a moment before swallowing.

“In fact,” Maddie continued, “it’s a better situation. I get to know when I’m dying. I could choose to ignore it, live life on the run, and then die anyway. Or I can have my shit together, say my goodbyes, and live my life the best I can in the finite time that I know I have.”

“But what about the people that’ll miss you?” asked Cruz.

“My adoptive family hasn’t spoken to me in years. My parents gave me up as a baby and I haven’t heard from them since. My group of friends has been dwindling the more people I tell about my expiration date. My cat’s dead. It’s pretty much you and the service workers I interact with that’ll notice I’m gone.”

Cruz clenched her lips together, contorting them to the side as she bit down on them from the inside. She took a deep breath in, then let it out with a long, slow exhale.

“I’ll miss you a lot,” stated Cruz.

“I know,” Maddie replied. “I’m sorry. You can keep as much or as little of my stuff as you want. Whatever helps you.”

“I appreciate it. What time is it?”

“A quarter to eight.”

“You have to be there at nine, right?”

“Yeah.”

“We should get going then.”

Maddie and Cruz took the last few bites of their food, then packed up to leave the coffee shop, their drinks in hand. Cline waved at them from behind the counter, though only Cruz returned a wave, albeit a half-hearted one.

The Expiration Bureau was a large sandstone building on the edge of the downtown area. It has previously been a bank, as well as a hotel before that. But with the formation of local Expiration Bureau offices by the National Board of Human Services and Well-Being, many cities found their largest — and often most well-known — buildings converted into Expiration Bureaus.

Maddie and Cruz entered the building and proceeded to a large reception desk with several employees seated behind it. After a short wait, they stepped up to a middle aged man wearing a cobalt blue suit.

“Your full name and birth date, please?” he asked, not bothering to look up from the screen he was about to enter the information into.

“Madeline Niko Raymond. Born November 1, 2084.”

“One moment,” said the man.

Behind her right shoulder, Maddie heard Cruz begin to sniffle. She reached back and grabbed Cruz’s hand, grasping it tightly in hers.

“It’s okay,” Maddie whispered.

“No it’s not,” Cruz whispered back.

“Do you wish to submit a final will and testament, Ms. Raymond?” asked the man.

“I do,” said Maddie. “I wish for all my possessions, physical, digital, and financial, to be turned over to Cruz Selena Reyes Ortega.”

“Is that who’s here with you today?” inquired the man.

“It is,” replied Maddie.

“Ms. Ortega,” continued the man, “please state your name and date of birth so that the system can locate you and complete the final will and testament process.”

“Cruz Selena Reyes Ortega,” stated Cruz. “Born January 11, 2086.”

The man waited for the voice verification system to process Cruz’s information. He scrolled through the prompts that followed, tapping various boxes and radio buttons as he did so.

“Would you like any final pictures taken prior to processing?” the man asked.

“No, thank you,” replied Maddie.

“Any pets, children, or non-emancipated robotic beings where custody would need to be transferred to a family member, domestic partner, or other willing and financially responsible entity?”

“No.”

“Do you wish to opt out of the national organ donation program?”

“I do not.”

“Do you have a preferred method of processing?”

“Can you make me famous?” asked Maddie.

“I cannot, Ms. Raymond.”

“Then just make it painless.”

The man tapped at more options on the screen, his eyes glancing back and forth as he read through the various prompts on the screen.

“Do you need more than legally required hour and a half of visitation to say goodbye to friends, family, or business associates?”

Maddie looked back at Cruz. As Cruz stared at the floor in front of her, she shook her head slightly from side to side.

“No,” Maddie murmured. “I do not.”

The man motioned for Maddie to place her hand in a translucent blue box in front of her. The box felt warm around Maddie’s hand. After a few moments, she felt a gelatinous fluid filling the box around her fingers. The fluid filled the box nearly completely, though just as Maddie started to feel pressure from the fluid building on her hand, the box began to buzz and the fluid began to recede. The fluid completed its escape, the box stopped buzzing, and Maddie’s hand was freed from the box. She pulled it away, her hand covered in a pale white powdery film.

“Go down the door on the far end of the lobby,” said the man as he gestured toward the door with two fingers. “Place your hand under the scanner and wait for the door to open. Follow the purple line to the visitation area if you so desire. After your visitation ends, you’ll follow the white line back to your room. Do you understand, Ms. Raymond?”

“I do,” said Maddie.

“Ms. Ortega,” continued the man. “Once visitation ends, advise one of the attendants that you’re Ms. Raymond’s primary heir. You’ll be taken to handle any and all final arrangements for Ms. Raymond, as well as to process her will. Do you understand, Ms. Ortega?”

Cruz nodded.

“Ms. Ortega, I need verbal confirmation,” the man stated.

“I understand,” replied Cruz between sobs.

“Thank you both. You’re free to go. Welcome home, Ms. Raymond.”

Earth: A Study in Simulated Planet Behavior

This post is a response to June 2018’s mid-month short story challenge. Click on the link in the previous sentence to read the prompt, share your story, and read those written by others.


DR. XZENEEBIA SARUTUNE: They really are peculiar creatures, the Homo sapiens. Despite the individualities each of them try to express, there’s so much that ties them together. Take for instance the behavior of defecation and compare it to a species they find themselves superior to — felis silvestris catus.

[Camera cuts to a COMMON HOUSE CAT in a litter pan]

DR. SARUTUNE: When domesticated, felis silvestris catus will commonly use a small container filled with clay pellets or sand as a disposal location for its waste. While the location of the act does differ depending on the animal’s environment, even the young of the common house cat will make the same motions. After completion of excretion, the front paws will kick back whatever substance fills the container, covering the fecal matter.

[Camera cuts back to DR. SARUTUNE in her office at The Grand University of Nebulon VI. DR. SARUTUNE is a large, blue, oval, blob-like creature with five eyes running down her right side. Her mouth runs perpendicular to the third and fourth eye, with purple-red lips.]

DR. SARUTUNE: We’ve theorized based on observation of non-domesticated cats that this behavior is retained from a time where the majority of cats lived in the wild and that covering the smell would deter the attraction of predators. Why this behavior has stayed into the modern day, particularly when so many cats are cared for by a creature such as the homo sapien which is not predator towards them is something that warrants further research.

[Camera cuts to B-roll video of Earth spinning in space before zooming in on the east coast of the United States, presumably near Boston, Massachusetts]

NARRATOR: Dr. Sarutune’s studies embedded her within a small tribe of humans on the North American continent of the planet Earth. Though the primitive technology of the planet did not allow her to make direct contact with any lifeforms on the planet, she was able to observe them in their most private moments.

[Camera cuts back to DR. SARUTUNE]

DR. SARUTUNE: In my studies, humans were not quantifiably different when it comes to waste excretion behaviors than cats in most situations. While the literal locations were varied purely due to the size of the creatures involved, most mammals, at least for our purposes of study, have similar rituals.

[Camera cuts to INTERIOR, HUMAN BATHROOM. Camera focuses on an empty toilet paper roll hanging from a dispenser on the wall]

DR. SARUTUNE: There is, of course, an exception to this phenomenon.

[Chryon along the bottom of the screen reads “DRAMATIZATION”]

DR. SARUTUNE: Many of the Homo sapiens choose to utilize a cleansing wipe once they have completed their defecation. Whether this wipe is wet or dry is largely up to personal preference, however the lack of access to that wipe creates a critical moment for Homo sapiens that choose to use it. If the human has planned well, it’s merely a matter of accessing a nearby stockpile of additional wipes and moving on about their sol.

[Camera cuts to a HUMAN MALE, white, in his mid to late 40s. We see him from the middle of his chest up. He is wearing a white t-shirt covered by a buttoned blue dress shirt with the top button undone. His hair is greying.]

DR. SARUTUNE: For the unfortunate individuals who did not plan ahead, a terror spreads over there face once the realization that they lack their toilet tissue hits. The exact methods from which the specific tribe of Homo sapiens I was embedded within leave their porcelain repository varied, however there was usually a slow, shuffling waddle to wherever the wipes were stored.

[Camera cuts back to HUMAN MALE, this time viewed from the back. We see his pants around his ankles, with the tail of the dress shirt covering his posterior]

DR. SARUTUNE: Once the tissue is retrieved, the more intelligent or diligent planning humans will procure extra tissues so that their serene moment isn’t interrupted in the future. Some Homo sapiens, however, never learn from their mistakes. Instead of identifying the stimulus of their situation, the cycle repeats in the future. Waddle after waddle, shuffle after shuffle, the impetus of cleaning fecal matter from their anus drives them to walk in foolish ways, hunched or clenching in uncomfortable ways. With a bit of planning this problem could be solved, though as is the case with any creature, the intelligent and strong adapt and survive. The weak are relegated accordingly.

[Camera cuts away to B-roll of humans milling in the streets of New York City. Show’s bumper music plays.]

NARRATOR: When we return to Earth: A Study in Simulated Planet Behavior, Dr. Ahweiey Jizsbalzsah discusses the sociological phenomena that are Terran restaurants. From food carts to high-end establishments, the homo sapien have taken the necessary delivery of nutrients and turned it into a cultural experience. Can we learn from them?

[Camera cuts to B-roll of Napoleon Bonaparte prior to the battle of Waterloo]

NARRATOR: And later, what the fuck was this guy thinking? All to come on Earth: A Study in Simulated Planet Behavior.

Mid-Month Short Story Challenge #11

We’re semi-permanently in double digits for these prompts. That’s exciting. If you’re into numbers and that sort of thing. Not that I would ever have a thing for numbers.

I actually wrote this prompt before prompt #9 came out, but I rearranged some of the prompts for various reasons, meaning this one fell out of the first ten. That said, it’s a prompt I’m excited about. This will become clear for reasons you’ll (hopefully) see below.

Your prompt is for this month below. Your story should be posted on July 1, 2018. Be sure to link back to this post so I can see your story and share.

  • Suggested number of words: 1000-2000 words
  • Seven words to work into your story: Waddle, impetus, serene, porcelain, terror, young, positions
  • Genre: Documentary/research paper style. Exactly how you achieve this is up to you.
  • Rating/Content/Perspective Limitation: No limitations
  • Topic: Mundane first-world problems explained to an alien

Carroll and Carroll

This post is a response to May 2018’s mid-month short story challenge. Click on the link in the previous sentence to read the prompt, share your story, and read those written by others.


“There should be a reservation for two under Carroll down for 7pm,” said Troy.

The maitre d’ scanned through the book at the host’s stand, his eyes darting back and forth across the scribbles on the page.

“Ah yes,” the maitre d’ said, “I see it right here. Good evening Monsieur Carroll.”

“Good evening,” replied Troy. “Is Gustav around? He usually waits on me whenever I have dinner here.”

“I’m so sorry. Gustav won’t be in for a few weeks.”

“Is everything alright?”

“He’s fine. I believe he’s home taking care of family. His daughter got hurt by an escaped kangaroo at the zoo last week.”

“I didn’t realize that was here!” Troy exclaimed. “If you talk with him, please let him know that I’m happy to help him out however we can. My firm has some fantastic injury attorneys if he’s in need of one.”

“I’ll be sure to do so, Monsieur Carroll,” replied the maitre d’. “Please, let me take you to your seat.”

Troy followed the well-dressed host to a white linen cloth-covered table about two-thirds of the way back in the restaurant’s main room. The maitre d’ pulled out a chair, offering Troy to sit down.

“Thank you,” said Troy. “My other party should be here soon. If you could bring them back when they arrive, I’d greatly appreciate it.”

“But of course.”

Troy had been coming to this restaurant for years. His father had helped him to make reservations here for a pre-prom dinner with friends back in high school. Since graduating college and joining his uncle’s law firm, Troy had brought countless clients and dates here. Most of the client dinners were successful — he wouldn’t have worked his way up to being a partner without at least some positive meals. That said, the dates were hit and miss.

He was hopeful for tonight though. It was a blind date, yes, but Troy trusted the instincts of his assistant, Monique. If Monique said someone was a good person, they nearly always were. Her faith in this date gave Troy confidence. He needed it. It had been months since he’d had anyone to cuddle up with, let alone have a serious relationship with.

After a few minutes, the host led a tall man in a dark grey suit back to the table.

“Monsieur Carroll,” the maitre d’ said, “your guest has arrived.”

“Thank you very much,” replied Troy as he stuck out his hand to shake. “Troy Carroll. It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

“Asher Wetzel,” the man in the dark grey suit mumbled back in a gravelly voice.

Troy and Asher sat down at the table and began looking at their menus. A waiter came by and began filling their water glasses.

“If you’re looking for something off menu,” said the waiter, “the chef’s appetizer for the night is honeydew chunks with a sweet and spicy lime drizzle. The soup of the day is chicken and escarole. The entrée of the is our Friday standard, Matzetti’s famous prime rib with glazed carrots, grilled asparagus, and a potato puree. And, if the mind or the body desires dessert, we have freshly made carrot cake or tiramisu. Might I bring you two some wine?”

“I’m fine with water,” Asher quickly responded.

“Are you sure?” asked Troy. “It’s on me.”

“I’m sure,” he replied.

“Just leave us water for now,” continued Troy. “Perhaps we’ll decide on some wine once we’ve decided on food.”

“Very good, sir,” replied the freckled waiter as he turned on his heels and walked away.

Asher picked up his menu and held it closer to his eyes. Troy gave him a few moments to review the menu before breaking the silence.

“Monique has told me that you’re quite the exciting person.”

“She said that, did she?” retorted Asher.

“Indeed,” Troy replied. “She said you’re the regional vice president of sales for your co…”

“Vice president,” Asher interjected. “No regional. It can’t be regional when your region is the entire world. Why have the extra words at that point?”

“I…I guess that would make sense. That’s pretty exciting.”

Asher flashed a small smile towards Troy and went back to looking at his menu. In his suit pocket, Troy felt his phone buzz. Likely Monique checking in on how the date was going, Troy figured.

“So,” continued Troy, “what do you do for fun?”

Asher looked up from his menu, his face covered in a perplexed and frustrated look.

“Do you run all of your business meetings like this?”

“Excuse me?”

“There’s a reputation to the firm name Carroll, Carroll, Holmes, and Trumbull,” said Asher. “If you need a shrewd, hard-ass lawyer to protect you or your company from an untimely downfall, that’s how you contact. It doesn’t matter why, they’ll take care of you. That’s what everyone told me. Yet here you are cozying up to me like two teens at a slumber party.”

“I…”

“I’m going to step away and use the restroom. Either have your shit together when I get back or I’ll become someone else’s client.”

Asher got up from the table and walked across the dining hall toward the corridor that housed the restrooms. Once he was out of sight, Troy grabbed his phone from out of his pocket and peeked at the screen. Sure enough, Monique had sent a simple ‘good luck’ just a few moments prior. Troy quickly unlocked his phone and dialed his assistant.

“Hey!” Monique shouted excitedly on the other end of the line. “Aren’t you on your date?”

“I am,” replied Troy.

“Then why are you calling me?”

“Because he doesn’t seem to think this is a date.”

“What?”

“Asher. He thinks this is a client mee…”

“Ohhhhhhhh fuck.”

“What?”

“Oh fuck,” repeated Monique. “Oh fuck. Oh fuck. Oh fuck.”

“Got it. There’s a lot of fuckery going on,” Troy stated. “Care to let me in on it?”

“You and your uncle both had things at 7pm tonight. Your date is supposed to be with a guy named Paul.”

“And I’m going to guess Asher is my uncle’s business meeting?”

“Yeah.”

“Okay, this is easy enough to fix,” said Troy. “Is Uncle Rick here?”

“He should be,” answered Monique. “Do you see him?”

Troy stood up from his chair and scanned the room. He knew his uncle’s face anywhere, what with having seen it on a near-daily basis for the past forty years. Yet picking out one bald white guy in a suit in a sea of bald white guys in suits wasn’t nearly as easy as he expected it to be. Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed Asher making his way back from the restroom.

“I’m not seeing him,” Troy said, his rate of speech growing faster as he began to panic. “What’s Paul look like.”

“Taller guy.”

“Everyone’s sitting, Monique.”

“Right. Latino, I think? Curly black hair. Probably the only non-staff member there under 40.”

Troy scanned the room and quickly noticed Paul, as well as his uncle.

“Found them.”

“Good!” Monique replied. “Now just go over and explain the mi…”

“And now they’re kissing.”

“Wait what?”

“They’re kissing.”

“I…I’m sorry. I’ll sort this out.”

“What should I do about Asher?” asked Troy.

“Tell him there was a mix up and that he was supposed to meet with your uncle? Offer to comp his dinner and tell him that we’ll sort it out on Monday.”

“And how do I get the image of my uncle making out with someone thirty years his junior out of my head?”

“I’ll send you some kangaroo mating films,” deadpanned Monique.

“I’m not sure that’s an improvement. I need to go.”

“Okay bye.”

Troy hung up his call and watched as Asher sat down at the table across from him.

“Are we ready to talk business?” asked Asher.

“Yes,” replied Troy. “Well, no. I’m very sorry, there’s been a mistake.”

“How so?” asked Asher as he raised his water glass to his lips, the small ice cubes floating within it clanging against the walls of the vessel.

“I’m one of the Carrolls of Carroll, Carroll, Holmes, and Trumbull. I’m Troy Carroll. I just called my assistant and it sounds like you were supposed to meet with my uncle, Richard Carroll.”

“That would make a lot more sense. So where is he?”

“He wasn’t able to make it,” replied Troy.

“So they sent you in his stead?”

“No. I was here waiting on my date. A blind date. That I wasn’t given a name for.”

Asher sat his glass down and began to chuckle to himself. After a few moments, his light chortle grew to a hearty, full-bellied laughed that nearly brought Asher to tears. He did his best to regain his composure and talk.

“Oh, that’s so good,” Asher said between breaths. “My daughter is prophetic about these kinds of things.”

“I’m sorry,” replied Troy. “I don’t follow.”

“Every time she sees me in a suit, she asks me if I’m bringing her home a new mommy or daddy.”

“Did something happen to your wife?”

“No, my wife’s usually in the room when she says it. I just have a snarky grad student for a daughter.”

Asher lifted the water glass to his lips and downed the remainder of the drink before setting the glass back on the table.

“Listen,” said Asher, “I’m sorry to interrupt your date. Have your uncle give me a call on Monday.”

“Would you like some dinner?” replied Troy. “I’m terribly sorry for the confusion. It’s the least I can do.”

“I’m going to get a greasy hamburger on the way home. It sounds better than chicken and escargot or whatever the soup was. Good luck on your date.”

“Thanks.”

Asher shook Troy hand, then walked toward the exit of the restaurant. Troy reached into his pocket and grabbed his phone, hoping to tell Monique that everything was alright. As he did so, he felt a hand touch him on the shoulder. He turned to see the curly haired man who had been sitting with his uncle a few minutes prior standing next to him.

“Hi,” he said, “I’m Paul. If you’re half as fun as Monique has said you are, this will be a great evening.”