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3-Minute Fiction 26 September 2010

Posted by magicdufflepud in Fiction.
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Something a little different today. NPR just closed the fifth round of its three-minute fiction contest, and I managed to slip this in right before the 11:59 p.m. eastern deadline. The rules: The story must start with the sentence “Some people swore that the house was haunted” and end with the sentence, “Nothing was ever the same again after that” without going over 600 words. I won’t win, but here it is just the same.

Birch Street

Some people swore that the house was haunted. Or at least cursed. Twelve years ago, the city replaced 322’s lamppost after an errant Dodge Dart had mown it down. Bernie Spitz, who’d lived there for as long as anyone could remember, planted a garden around the new pole, ivy mostly, and a six-pack of snapdragons he’d bought leaving the grocery store. The power company uprooted the whole thing last week to do some maintenance work. Nothing good ever came to this neighborhood.

Next door, Gary Mueller sat on the front porch drinking a Rolling Rock and watching the fireflies. Tom would be by any time now. Always was late, always would be. Not a problem, though, for Gary. Lot of time to do nothing since Karen had left. Probably got held up at the gas station buying some cigarettes. How much was a pack these days, anyway? Gary hadn’t smoked since college. Even then, it was just something you did when you got drunk. Everybody smokes when he’s drunk.

11:20 p.m. Tom’s Volkswagen bounced over the curb and into the driveway. The fireflies had retired.

“Godammit, Gary. You just wouldn’t believe it,” said Tom, shutting the door. “Whole goddamn truckload of chickens down on 68. Overturned in a ditch, that’s what. Just a shitload of chickens and feathers in a ditch, and this trucker, this trucker, he doesn’t know what the hell’s just happened. Not even pissed. Just standing there. Sure thing they probably weren’t his, way he was acting.”

“Hurt maybe?”

“Who the hell knows? Of course, I mean, it’s – hell, somebody had to do something about all those chickens. So, you know, I mean, I’m late. Nobody else around to take care of that goddamn mess. Who’re you gonna see come by that time of night, anyway?”

Gary shrugged.

“Goddamn empty country roads, Gary. You got a beer?”

Gary handed him a Rolling Rock and opened another for himself. Heat lightning silhouetted the maple across the street. Bernie’s dog barked at shadows, ghosts?

“What’s an hour after five years?” asked Tom.

Gary shrugged. This was the first time he’d seen him since college, when they’d spent stoned weekends together on the rise overlooking New Basel. In January, snow fell and the wind piled it into drifts and the leaves no longer whispered overhead. They’d never met in February when it snowed on Wednesday and rained on Friday and the Minnetowish River swirled in gelid grayness below.

Once over a bottle of Cutty Sark and a pile of beer cans, he’d told Tom he’d knocked up the waitress from Chris’s, the sandwich place just off campus. Tom had never met Karen but had heard she didn’t wear bras. Then Gary went back to school on Monday, and Tom headed home to La Crosse. He didn’t talk about his job at UPS. Gary never asked.

That night Gary drank Seven and Sevens until the bartender stopped serving him. Then he drove his car into the river. He was never sure if he’d meant to do that. He’d seen the guardrail under the street lamp at the intersection of 4th and US 41 and maybe he’d turned a little bit. Maybe he hadn’t.

They fished his Pontiac out the next morning. No one had seen the accident, but Gary remembered dragging himself across the ice while the snow filled up his tire tracks.

Tom looked into his beer. “Shit. Chickens.” Lightning arced through the clouds.

Gary’s fingers still went numb on cool days. Nothing was ever the same again after that.

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