My friend Anders recently did a project where he wrote one short story a week. The point isn’t that you will write 52 great short stories, but it is really hard to write 52 bad short stories. Any way, I should I would try the project myself. Hopefully I’m not the first person to do this and write 52 bad short stories.
A short story
Christopher D. Bennett
Donna had just finished hastily packing the station wagon up for what she was hoping would be a one way trip back to her nothing hometown of Boone, Iowa. She wasn’t looking forward to going home. It isn’t as if her dream of living on the west coast had been a complete failure. It wasn’t as if she thought that the townies would look down on her.
“Look, its Donna! She thought she could make it in the big city and she failed. Came back with her tale tucked between her legs. Probably still thinks she is better than us…”
She knew many of her old high school friends might look at her that way. She knew that many looked at her constant “look-at-me-on-the-beach” social media posts as her way of making it look like she had accomplished more with her life. She had gotten out. She had made it halfway across the country.
Truth is that she just loved the beach and that meant maybe she did overshare the glossy-shiny part of her life.
Just because she had 6th period English with somebody in 11th grade didn’t mean that they needed to know that when she wasn’t on the beach, she was often cowering in a corner, bleeding from the mouth, because her husband Alex had turned the psychological beatings he took at work into physical beatings for her at home.
People don’t Snapchat their miseries. Do they?
So she had put the best face on her existence for her social media acquaintances. Lots of beach pictures. Lot of pictures of her three children.
Marie, who at 16 was a heartbreaker. Which at that age meant she was in the ballpark of lean and her skin wasn’t too bad. Marie was the person who had given her the strength, with just a look, to finally leave Alex. Even if it was in the middle of the night when he was still at the bar, or wherever it was he spent his long weekends when he didn’t come home.
Dennis, who was 15. Troubled and shy. His conception coming in an alcohol induced haze shortly after the birth of Marie. She wouldn’t give Dennis up for anything, but she also knew that if he wouldn’t have been born she would have left Alex years ago.
A single mom with one kid seem doable. Two kids seemed too much. Maybe it made her weak, but like a sucker, Alex’s sometimes charming ways always made her put her chips back on the table for another losing round.
Then there was the baby Jeff. He had been born several years after Marie and Dennis. He was hopelessly attached to her, but at the same time seemed to be completely oblivious to the hell that had been her every day existence.
When she got the offer from her aunt to go back to central Iowa and throw the reboot switch on her life, it was only Jeff’s reaction that concerned her. Marie, for her youth, was so much stronger and independent than she had ever been. Dennis sometimes was an alternate target of abuse from Alex. He was so backwards and socially awkward with his “dolls” and “comics”. Where Alex, at least he considered himself, was the essence of cool. It embarrassed him to have his friends see one of his kids was anything but. He even secretly wished that Donna had cheated on him. That Dennis wasn’t his blood. But in his rare honest moments, he knew that if she had, he would’ve killed her in one of his rages.
Jeff, in his youth and naiveté, was the only person in the city of San Diego, or probably the whole of the United States, or the North American continent, and heck the planet earth that thought Alex was in the ballpark of cool as Alex himself thought. Or at least did think when he was young and before Dennis’ dennisness had zapped some of that ego from him.
Fortunately for Donna, Jeff saw the whole thing as an adventure. He didn’t seem to wholly understand that they were travelling halfway across the country in an attempt to never see his father again. She realized that and felt the slightest twinge of guilt that Jeff was going on this trip under what was essentially a misunderstanding.
Whatever it took to get there, she told herself. She could straighten out Jeff when they were safely out of the shadows of the Rocky Mountains.
Donna tugged on the straps that held down everything that they would take with them one more time. In her earnest thoughts she knew that she didn’t actually know if the straps were tight or even on correctly. They seemed good enough to her.
Securing things with straps had always been an Alex job. It was one of the few of his manly duties that he had been good at. A skill Donna knew could be easily replaced.
Donna looked in the car. Jeff was already napping in the backseat. His head resting against Dennis. His face glowing in the light of his phone.
Marie came out of the house with one last bag of things that “couldn’t be left behind”.
Donna put her arm around Marie and they both looked at the house.
“Well. This will be the last time we ever see this place.” Donna said, trying to sound like she wouldn’t miss watching sunsets on the deck even through violently induced puffy eyes.
Marie was less emotional. She held up her right hand and then extended her middle finger.
Donna was slightly shocked. This was not a gesture for ladies. At least not what her hopelessly old school mom would’ve considered a gesture for ladies. Then it dawned on her that in this moment, this was the right gesture. She let go of Marie and followed suit.
After holding the pose for a few seconds they looked at each other. Smiled. Marie wiped a solitary solemn tear from the corner of Donna’s right eye. Then they got in the old family station wagon and left the house that had never been a home basking in the glow of their tail lights.
2 Days Later – 1,771 Miles to the East
Fluffy was hiking in his woods. Fluffy. What a stupid name! But he had to face the facts that his stupid name wasn’t the cruelest trick that fate had played on him. But he also had to face the fact that he was never going to get to punch fate square in the face. No matter how badly he knew and everybody he knew, knew it had it coming.
He took off his favorite hiking hat. A trucker hat with a boxing chicken embroidered across the front, which was fashionable when he had purchased it, but probably looked kind of stupid to most people these days. Not that he cared. He gave up caring what humanity thought about him years ago. But even if he was into fashion, he would never give up this hat. It had taken him a long time to get the holes cut in it so it perfectly allowed his giant ears to pass through.
Fluffy reached his paw up and scratched his left ear. Strange how no matter how angry he was with his lot in life that a good ear scratching put his head right again.
He suddenly couldn’t even remember why he was so angry. The forest always calmed his nerves and reminded him how his life was actually excellent in numerous way. He didn’t know anybody else that owned their own forest. And such a unique forest. In fact, it was the only forest made out of raspberry trees on the planet. Despite everything else in his world that was going against him, he was not without means. Not only did he have his own forest, he was able to construct (he assumed because many of his earliest memories were a haze at best) an abode that could only be described as a castle.
He had even given it the name Carrot Castle. It wasn’t without regret that his favorite homestead had a name that was so on the nose that it got into a fellow’s whiskers. But it was in his youth that he had given the brick building its moniker. As he matured he had become quite a bit better at naming things. At this point though, the name had stuck and hiring a PR firm to re-launch his house under a different name seemed the height of ludicrous. Especially when he didn’t like people being around that much any way.
It was all a moot point anyway. The thick thorns of the raspberry trees kept anything that wasn’t covered in fur away from his second home. You could double down on the mootness since nobody outside of a few of Fluffy’s woodland friends even knew of the existence of Carrot Castle.
While he was deep in his thoughts of occasional self-pity Fluffy had wandered close to the edge of the Raspberry Forest. Near a poorly maintained county road that lead into the south end of Boone.
Fluffy, even if he didn’t have superb hearing, couldn’t have missed that sound. He ran over and stuck his head out between two raspberry trees. Sitting in the middle of the county road were several suitcases. Speeding north was a station wagon with California plates. Its occupants seemingly ignorant to their loss.
If Fluffy were a cliché tortured literary character this is where he would have dropped his still burning cigarette to the ground and crushed the butt with his heel. He wasn’t though. Furthermore, he had never been bit by the nicotine bug. Never even understood it. Even if he had, he had no clue how he would have been able to suck on a cig, without his giant front teeth getting in the way.
Without the cigarette as a prop to show his frustration, the best that Fluffy could do was let out a barely audible sigh.
Fluffy had, what some might describe, as superpowers. He didn’t like to be showy with them because they had yet to give him a semblance of the shadow of joy. Once anybody found out about them they tried to shove their own agenda down his throat.
His right wing friends would argue that he should use his powers for stomping out illegal immigration. His left wing friends pushed him to try and end gun violence. Neither one were practical or helpful suggestions.
In fiction it was easy to imagine a scenario where a being with superpowers could use them as a force for good. But in the real world, where Fluffy spent his waking hours, fighting crime wasn’t really practical.
For starters, it is next to impossible to predict when crime is going to go down. Then how many crimes actually end with a chase where a bad guy needs to be apprehended? Next to none. In Fluffy’s world, crimes are committed. Then somebody has to investigate that crime and then the person is arrested. Goes on trial. Goes to prison. There is not much room in any of this process for a being that can fly or run really fast. At least not in a way that expedites the process.
Yeah, there are criminal activities that certainly fall through the gaping cracks of what is laughingly referred to as the justice system. Fluffy couldn’t deny that on more than one occasion he would have liked to have dealt out his own brand of street justice to pedophiles, rapists, child abusers, white collar board room scum, and racists cops that hid behind their badge to murder private citizens.
But it sure was easier to daydream about that than to actually take a couple of frat boys and their rohypnol stash out. After all, he wasn’t a sworn deputy of any law enforcement organization. If he did what he wanted to do the people he felt needed to be punished in the way he felt they needed to be punished, he would be a criminal as well. If not ethically, definitely legally.
Seeing how technically he wasn’t even a citizen of the United States or any other nation on earth, if he got caught giving a pedophile a onceover he probably wouldn’t even be given the benefit of a trial before he was put down.
Even with the immensity of his skillset, he felt impotent.
“I can’t do great things.”
He didn’t know where this thought had come from, but it made him angry. Then he looked at the baggage strewn across the county road.
Another involuntary thought crossed his mind.
“If you cannot do great things, do small things in a great way.”
He cursed quietly under his breath.
His thoughts had been invaded by a stupid self-help meme that one of his buddies had posted on Instagram. A quote by Napoleon Hill superimposed over a sunset.
When he saw it in his feed that day, he had vomited in his mouth a little bit. He had placed a mental strike against his friend. Two more of these and he would be unfollowing @nightofthelepuslover with extreme prejudice.
But he also knew that fate conspired against him. Placing him at this spot on the planet. At this coordinate of time. Somebody with his skills. Seeing somebody that needed help. Not in a great way. In a small way. That he could help them greatly. A reminder from a meme.
“Fate. I’m going to punch you square in the face someday”, the words more falling out of his mouth than shooting out of his mouth.
Fluffy took a couple of ginger steps out from behind the raspberry trees. He sniffed the air. Took a couple of looks around. Sniffed the air again.
Then with a speed that was both sudden and shocking. He bent down and picked up the baggage that had been left behind by the speeding station wagon. Even with his superior strength he could tell that there was some heft to these bags. He shouldered them. Stopped for a second to see if he could talk himself out of what he was about to do.
Then with breakneck speed he shot like a bullet north after the station wagon.
With his superior speed. He was able to catch up to the station wagon in a matter of seconds, but then he realized he had no clue how to stop the speeding car. Furthermore, how would the driver react to seeing a being that looked like.. well… looked like he looked.
There was no point stopping now. It was a stupid idea, but he had jumped in with both feet.
Fluffy ran up alongside the station wagon and knocked on the driver’s side window.
The driver was a woman that was clearly in her own world of thoughts. At first it didn’t seem to dawn on her how profoundly weird it was to having somebody or something knocking on the window of her car that was speeding along at 60 miles per hour.
She slowly turned her head. Then she saw a six foot tall rabbit. Running alongside her car. Carrying all of the family’s baggage. Wearing human clothing. Knocking on her window.
She did what was possibly the most natural thing for her to do at the time. She slammed on the brakes and screamed.
Her three children in the car woke up immediately. Confused about what was going on. They were a menagerie of unhelpful inquiries.
Donna did the best explanation she could. She pointed at the six foot rabbit that was now standing in front of their car. Marie screamed. Dennis’ mouth just hung open loosely. Jeff mouthed the word, “Cool”.
Fluffy thought that all things considered, this could have went better. Things could have went much, much worse though.
Donna told everybody to stay in the car. She made a visual survey of the car to make sure that all the windows were up and all the doors were locked.
Fluffy could smell the fear in the air, so he tried to calm the waters.
“Your luggage fell off your car. A few miles back… I’m just returning your luggage.” He spoke loudly, since the windows in the car were still rolled up and the idle sound of the station wagon’s engine wasn’t anybody’s definition of quiet.
Fluffy put down the luggage in front of the car and slowly took 2 steps back. He felt like a criminal somehow. He decided to just slink back into the woods and delete his Instagram account. Maybe add @nightofthelepuslover to his list of beings that were getting punched in the face.
Then Donna slowly rolled down her window. Just a crack. The sound was barely audible over the engine.
“Thank you!” She called out. She extended a five dollar bill through the crack.
She knew they actually probably needed that five dollars. She had drained what there was in her joint checking account, but to describe that amount as little was flattering the word little.
Fluffy saw the money. What an insult! Humans!
He snorted. Took a couple steps towards the window and did his best to growl “Keep your money!” Then turned and started to walk away.
Donna silently thanked God that he hadn’t taken the money.
She rolled down her window a little bit more and called out, “Wait. What is your name?”
Fluffy stopped. Looked back at her.
He wasn’t sure where that came from, but before he could think about it he ran back into the woods.
Back in the car Donna and her family finally exhaled. Then the car became agog with noise and observations. Finally Donna quieted the car. Everybody got out and they put the luggage back on the roof. Then they drove towards a place that everybody now considered to be a lot more interesting.
In the woods Fluffy watched from a distance as the station wagon pulled away. Even though he would deny it if anybody asked, he couldn’t wipe the smile off his furry face.
However, there wasn’t time for patting himself on the back. He needed to get back to his other home and his other life. His life as a three pound pet rabbit to a ten year old boy. In a hutch. In a back yard. In the middle of Boone.