Originally, this was the final in-class writing assignment for my Creative Writing class: Write one scene using the following words: Money, ocean, planet, aggravate, grease, paddle, rooster, leer, gift, pillow, avocado, shoulder, wedge, planet, fortify. The first draft took about twenty minutes, and I polished this version with another twenty or so after I got home. Finally, I recently needed a story for a theater class I’m taking, so I revisited this one and added a little more polish to it. I think I actually kind of like this one. Tell me what you think in the comments!
Six Twenty Seven
“Six twenty seven.” Don thumbed through his wallet, counting what little money remained for food after buying his final bus ticket, the one that brought him here, to California from Kansas. This was the last leg of a three year journey that had taken him across continents in a quest to surf the waves of every ocean, on every coast it touched. He had exactly five dollars to his name, a pillow strapped to his back with a leather belt that had been a gift from his mother, and a simple digital camera, which hung from a strap on his left shoulder. From the corner of one eye he glanced toward the corner of the small building before him, where his surfboard leaned, its waxed and polished surface glinting in the evening sunlight as it rested comfortably on the warm, golden sand of the California coast.
“Six twenty seven. Please.” the cashier behind the counter of Mac and Dan’s Hamburger Stand said again, this time more insistently. Don counted the bills in his wallet once more, but they’d stubbornly refused to multiply since the previous count. He considered his options.
“What if we take off the avocado?” he asked, hoping that minor adjustment might lower the cost of the meal into his price range. He looked past the cashier, at the cook behind him. His gaze seemed lost in the bubbling grease of the meat-covered griddle while his hands, unwatched, lazily dismembered a wilted wedge of lettuce. The cashier sighed, cleared the transaction and started again. Don noticed a logo on the cashier’s shirt, a simple illustration of a rooster and one of those strange sets of toy wind-up teeth that automatically bite and vibrate along the floor. He smiled and considered that in all the states and countries he’d visited all across this little blue planet called Earth, he had never seen such a logo.
“What’s your shirt mean?” he asked, “I’ve never seen a rooster teeth logo before.” The cashier rolled his eyes and looked at Don—though it seemed more like a leer, Don thought—and half barked his reply.
“It’s not rooster teeth, it’s cock biter. They make machinima movies. Noob.” Apparently losing his place in the calculation of the pre-avocado cost of Don’s meal, the cashier banged his hand on the cash register and started over once more. Don smiled, hoping a little kindness might go a long way.
“Listen, I apologize. I’m new here, I didn’t mean to aggravate you, my friend. I’m just hoping to meet some new buds, fortify my stomach, paddle out a bit and catch a wave before calling it a night under the stars. I’m Don, if you’re interested.”
“Yeah, yeah, that’s nice, buddy, but I don’t give a flyin’ fuck. That’ll be four ninety nine.” The cashier put out his hand and glared. Don’s heart sank, then lifted; at least he’d have a meal. Without another word he paid the cashier and collected the small paper bag that contained his burger and fries. He stepped toward the corner where his surfboard stood, and glanced at his watch: Six twenty seven. He chuckled and breathed the crisp, salty air of the Pacific Ocean. He admired the gleaming body of his surfboard and smiled even wider, happiness swelling in his heart one last time before the long dormant aneurism in his brain burst, and he fell dead on the golden sand of the California coast.
This is a very, very, short story I wrote as an exercise in writing a scene specifically intended to capture a mood. That scene was assigned in my Screenwriting class last week and I actually wrote it in about 15 minutes the hour before it was due in class. To my surprise, the teacher was very impressed with it, and said he really liked it because “It’s a complete story. Excellent work!” Suffice to say, I was shocked, and read it again. Sure enough…it is a complete story. Somehow. I’ll let you be the judge of whether it’s actually any good at capturing a mood or not!
The faint buzz of TV static permeated the small, tobacco-stinking room, punctuated only by the slow swing of a wall clock’s rusty pendulum. Two small children huddled under a blanket in one corner of the room, snuggled up for warmth, yet shivering as if their small bodies couldn’t generate quite enough heat. A paper Christmas tree, carefully colored by the hands of children, hung from the wall by a single piece of duct tape, and under its illustrated branches rested two candy bars, each with a half-flattened bow on top. The dim hum of a microwave oven, its timer counting down from 2:17, draped the room in an electric glow, its sole source of hope. An empty carton rested atop the microwave, the promise of shaped and formed turkey with mashed potatoes reflecting light at the dismal shape of a woman; her face carried far too many worry lines for her years, and her chest heaved in half-controlled sobs as silent tears dripped down her face.
Outside, a man with a dirty Santa hat and ragged shoes knelt against the railing, his frame racked with unreleased sobs. His cheeks were dry, but his eyes glistened like pools on the verge of overflowing. Slowly he rocked, forward and back, his stomach growling and his fists clenched as he listened to the faint hum of the microwave through the slightly open door. He counted the seconds, each one a breath from his solid frame, and as he rocked forward for the last time, the faint ding of the microwave signalled his time was finally over.
James Brewman’s wife was a beautiful woman full of life and charm and intelligence. She had a smile that could make any man and most women swoon, and Jim felt a swell of pride in his chest that of all the choices she could have made, she’d chosen him to be her friend, her love, her husband. He was, in his own estimation, a simple man without much fanfare. Average in looks and talent, he was the simple steward of a computer network for a small aircraft manufacturing firm. Like his wife, Eliana, he was an intelligent soul, but what he lacked in charisma and style, she made up for with her overabundance of both, and so much more.
My world had changed. I struggled to understand the voice that whispered in me…this might be pretty nice. I was halfway from Los Angeles to Sacramento when I realized I’d passed the last gas station for fifty miles. The thin orange needle teetered over the white “E” at the bottom of the fuel gauge. It was just after midnight and my old pickup truck began to cough and sputter as its insatiable thirst for gasoline was no longer quenched.
Death’s hand seemed custard on my skin, like blackened pudding.