Welcome to Issue 124 and a new year of Fiction. From Fantasy to Fabulous to Final good-byes, fiction grabs our soul and turns it inside out. Kick up your feet and let Adrienne Bard, Christina Cole, and Brian Tucker renew your soul with their words.
Confessions of a Narcoleptic
I don’t know when it started. For as long as I can remember I have been falling asleep almost constantly. I start to have a conversation, and I drift off within moments. I go off to work and I’m usually passed out on the lawn before I hear the first, “hi ho”. It’s terribly inconvenient when I sit down at night to eat dinner and I can only get in a few bites before I’m facedown in my spaghetti. I promise I’m not just lazy.
Grumpy hates it and tells everyone that I am faking to get out of going to work. He says when I sleep at night I snore and keep everyone else up. He thinks I have sleep apnea and he’s constantly yelling at me. I feel bad, but I can’t help my snoring. It’s been getting worse. Doc noticed there was a problem when Happy stopped smiling and when Bashful confronted me, saying that it was my fault the birds stopped singing in the morning. It wouldn’t be as bad if I were only sleeping at night. Lately it seems like I’m sleeping more than I’m awake.
Apparently it’s not bad enough that I’m legally a dwarf (and for the record, that term is not politically correct), I’m balding and I live in a house with six other guys, I have to have a sleeping disorder too. It’s quite life threatening, especially when I’m in the mines. As if the conditions there weren’t dangerous enough, try collapsing randomly while the other six dwarfs are swinging sharp tools around!
Snow White always took care of me. She gave me my meds and made sure there was a pillow nearby. I don’t understand why she had to leave us. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad she found true love and all that, but it was really nice having someone to take care of us. I guess we didn’t appreciate her completely, but we didn’t know she was dissatisfied living her life with us. She brought out the best in everyone and she made the best pies. Dopey has been dreadfully sad since she left and Sneezy has run out of tissues.
I think, selfishly, that I miss her the most. She was the only one who didn’t make fun of my uncontrollable napping. I honestly don’t remember everything that happened around the time Snow White left. I remember some very fresh produce and the next thing I knew, the deer and bunnies were crying and we were building a comfortable tomb (I didn’t think glass was the best choice, I didn’t want to be able to see a decomposing princess, but Doc never listened to me…). The dwarfs never clued me in to what happened. They unanimously decided that what I miss when I’m sleeping is never important enough to be retold later. So all I remember is Snow White was dead one minute, a strange man came out of the woods, kissed her on the mouth, and all the color returned to her cheeks. She batted her eyelashes, kissed us all on our bald heads, got on a white horse, and rode away.
You’d think she would come back to visit every once in a while. We get a Christmas card from her every year and an occasional postcard. Just last month we got a “Wish you were here” from Barbados, but do you really think she wishes we were there? We never thought she would fall in love and abandon us, but I guess lovers are selfish. All I have left is the six other dwarfs who never learned to take care of themselves and a very worn out bed. I guess it’s not so bad that I’m asleep eighty-six percent of the time. It’s easier to forget Snow White.
Adrienne writes from Boston, where she’s an undergraduate writing student at the great arts school Emerson College.
Cynthia May Adams awoke on the mattress in her bedroom. She expected to see her younger sisters’ bunk beds rumpled as usual, but instead, they were completely gone. What happened? Did somebody move their beds in the middle of the night? Cindy noticed bloodstains on her nightgown and mattress. She desperately had to go to the bathroom, and when she did, wiped away the blood of many more than one night’s worth of period. Her face in the mirror looked groggy. Startlingly, her hair had grown past her waist.
That’s strange, Cindy thought. How on earth could my hair grow that fast overnight? Otherwise, her appearance had not changed. Cindy washed her face in Ivory soap and tried to comb her matted blonde hair. Then she headed downstairs, hoping to see Cecelia, Christine, and their youngest brother Henry watching cartoons, as they usually did on Saturday mornings. Instead, the room stood silent, a sleek new TV in the place of the old one, the furniture rearranged. Cindy felt faint: she thought it was due to shock at how much had changed overnight, but then realized that she was extremely hungry. She searched the pantry for her box of Ice Cream Cones cereal, but it was not there. No one appeared to be in the house either.
Where is everyone? she wondered. Cindy walked over to the refrigerator on which was once posted her siblings’ artwork but now held nothing but a calendar. Cindy gasped. March 2010!? What happened to 1988? She could not believe it. Maybe she just needed some air. Cindy went outside and ran all the way to the fence at the edge of the property. She gripped the fence and stared at the passing cars, finally comprehending that one could be driven by her baby brother.
Christina writes from Maryland, where she works in arts administration and nibbles on the words of Sylvia Plath for literary nutrition.
The Morning Shift
Her raspy voice made him shiver a little bit. He admitted it was silly, but women with strong baritone voices had always startled him. The cigarettes had done it, he knew, but Shaun Jones still remained cold towards the sound. Hearing her engine revved in impatience, he answered, “Eighty four cents, ma’am,” placing emphasis on the final word.
The work clock read 6:45A.M., and seeing the lady pull up to his window, he could tell that the hour had not helped her looks any. He averted his eyes from her to her Jeep Cherokee steering wheel and said, “Eighty four cents, please.”
She mumbled something that sounded like “So much for good morning,” and Shaun glanced back at her face. She had scars all up and down her cheeks. Her blue eyes were bloodshot red. The lady’s hair had the look that came from a household of smokers. He couldn’t picture what had gotten hold of her. She handed him one coin at a time with heavy breathing. The total combination she offered was two quarters, three dimes, and four pennies. Shaun waited for her to pry the final four bronze coins from her Jeep’s cup holder and could feel a sticky residue when dropping them into his register.
Slamming the register closed, he added his usual “Thanks for stopping by,” and “Enjoy your Saturday morning.”
Instead of taking her receipt, she paused to take a closer look at Shaun, his outstretched hand holding her receipt. She moved her marked face back and forth and asked “Whose boy are you? You look like a Jones. Got the lighter skin and freckles.”
Not wanting to reveal his identity, Shaun fibbed, “No ma’am. I’m, uh…an Upchurch. Shaun Upchurch.”
“An Upchurch? I would’ve never guessed that. You got all the traits of a Jones. You ever been told that?” She asked as she popped a pill from an unmarked bottle.
“All the time.”
“Probably got the ladies after you, too,” she snickered and added, “I’m Shirley Roberts. “
“It’s nice to meet you Ms. Roberts. Listen, I really need to get back to work,” Shaun said hoping to hear his headset beep.
“Used to date a Jones before marriage. He looked just like you,” Shirley said, twisting the lid back onto the bottle.
“There are a lot of us,” Shaun said interrupting, “but, I ought to get back to work.”
“Thank you. I know you’re busy, Shaun Upchurch,” she said in her masculine voice.
“Saturdays always are,” he sighed.
Just then, the long awaited beep came and Shirley Roberts followed Shaun’s eyes, and she joked, “Well, I’ll tell my husband I met an Upchurch that looked like a Jones. He’ll get a kick out of that, won’t he?”
“I guess he will. Tell him I said ‘Hello!’”
Shirley didn’t notice his irritated tone, as she was busy coughing up mucus, but she did manage to say, “I will. He got out of the pen today. Good meeting you,” and she wheezed as she pulled to the second window leaving Shaun to wonder what Mr. Roberts could’ve been in prison for. His mind jumped to a thousand things and then fell back on the scars that Shirley wore.
In Cobank, Kentucky, the police chief sat in his squad car with lights flickering. People had taken cover inside the Big Lots storefront window waiting for him to arrive. A man was laying face down on the sidewalk, unmoving, with a box of chocolates beside him. The crowd gawked at the body and yelled through the glass-plated window “Cover him up, officer!”
The chief held up a finger expressing his need for silence in order to write it all down. A man inside shouted “He was the best man I ever knew. What’d he do to deserve this?”
The crowd prayed and raised their hands to the Big Lots ceiling. The chief wrote in his police log: Forty two year old white male murdered in Big Lots parking lot. Body identified as Bonnie Jones. Husband to Cheryl and father to Shaun. Witnesses spotted armed suspect heading north towards Somerset. Motive unknown. Use extreme caution.
The beep went off, and Shaun ran to the back hole. The clock read 2:05 P.M., and it would be his last customer of the day. He started, “Good afternoon…,” but was cut off by an engine. The driver throttled the pedal over and over. Shaun sat on his cold metal cart and waited.
The truck came to a solid idle, and Shaun pushed the button and said, “Welcome to Smitty’s! May I take your order please?”
There was no immediate answer, and Shaun prayed that it wasn’t an odd ball. He just wanted to get in his Chevy Nova and leave. Growing restless from the silence Shaun asked again, “Hello? How may I help you?” He looked for movement inside the brown Ford F-150 pickup, as its occupant—a scraggly bearded man—pulled around to his window. Shaun pushed the switch, the drive-thru window opened up, and he greeted the uncouth, swollen-faced man that was holding an unfiltered cigarette.
The man smiled and said in his best southern drawl, “What’d be good to eat on a day like this?”
“I’m not sure,” Shaun said relieved that the driver had asked politely.
“Welp, it’s quite simple. Would you eat something heavy or light?” The man’s puffy face asked.
“I guess something light.”
“Good. That’s what I’d like. Something light. What do you got that’s light?”
“We have chicken. The number 5 is our crispy chicken combo. Would that be good?”
“You’re asking me? I thought you worked here?”
“How about some pumpkin turnovers? They’re two for a dollar,” Shaun added.
He noticed that the man kept staring at him. Shaun didn’t like the look, but he didn’t focus too much on this, as the man was the only thing keeping him from his Saturday night plans at Cumberland River. “Will there be anything else?”
“Anything else? I hain’t ordered yet. What kind of piss poor customer service is that now?”
Shaun started shaking, as the man’s shift from calm to irate behavior caught him off guard. “I need to be getting back to work, sir. If you know what you’d like to order-”
“Back to work? There’s no one in line. I don’t appreciate you trying to push me off like that there. Now, wait just a minute.”
Shaun tried to control himself, but the man’s tone made it worse.
“Now look up here, boy,” he growled.
Not seeing any other option, Shaun let his eyes move from his cash register up to the bearded man. He saw bloodshot eyes, dirty skin, and nicotine stained fingers gripping the wheel. Waiting for the man to say something, Shaun tried to keep his eyes from blinking.
The man pulled a blue-steeled .357 magnum out of his seat and said, “I hope I’m making myself clear now.”
The man leveled his magnum on Shaun’s forehead by reaching across the truck’s cab window and holding the heavy weapon with poise. Shaun saw a thumb on the hammer. The man opened his mouth to let a new grin spread across his face. Shaun looked up at the cold steel and thought about his father. He pictured his dad telling him to be strong. Past the gun barrel to the man’s eyes, Shaun saw their intent. The man intended to kill him, and Shaun didn’t even know why. Not knowing what else to do, he reached his hands outward at the man and said, “Please.”
“Don’t move, boy! I got a gun here with one in the chamber. I know who you are, and I aim to use it on you.”
“Wait!” Shaun yelled.
“Wait for what?”
“What’d I do to you?”
The man stared at him and neither spoke. Shaun saw the man’s other hand light a cigarette. When the hand came back down on the steering wheel the man said, “Well, you’re his ain’t you?”
“Who’s your daddy, boy?”
“Jones. Bonnie Jones.”
“That’s what I thought,” the man said with giddiness in his throat.
The man smiled, both of his eyes boring holes into Shaun’s forehead. He held his aim at the boy’s sweaty forehead. Shaun didn’t move; he heard the hammer being pulled back.
“Jones, do you have any idea what your daddy did to me?”
“Something he probably didn’t mean to.”
“Didn’t mean to do? You call sleeping with my fiancée an accident, boy? I’ll shoot your damn eyes out one at a time!”
“I don’t know anything about it, sir. Please. My dad is a good man.”
The man breathed a deep breath and added, “Well, he did. He screwed her lights out when I was driving in the Dakotas. Does the name Shirley Roberts sound familiar? Does it?”
“I don’t want to explain myself. I just want to shoot you. Just like I shot your dad a minute ago.”
“You heard me.”
Shaun remembered talking with the scarred lady from earlier. He remembered the name Shirley Roberts. He thought about her scaly voice and her story about an old flame of hers. Could his dad really do it? Was his dad dead? His mind reeled with the worry of a loaded gun, the woman’s scars, and his pa. As the seconds passed in slow motion, the man laughed at him. When Shaun didn’t think he could handle any more, the headset beeped. As the armed man followed Shaun’s line of sight to the intercom, Shaun hid below the drive-thru window and tapped the buzzer button on his headset microphone.
His boss yelled into his ear, “What Shaun?!”
“Nell, I need you to call the cops.”
“You better stop messing with the headset!”
“I’m not. There’s a man back here-”
“Okay. Okay. I’ll call them, but you better not be pulling my leg.”
“I’m trying to tell you,” he shouted at his mouthpiece, but it was too late, Nell was no longer responding. He prayed she was on the phone already.
The man fired off two shots at the wall. The bullets traveled through the tile and into the metal deep fryers making a high-pitched noise like the clashing of cymbals. The sound caused Nell to duck down behind the fryers, joining the commotion. Shaun held up his hand indicating she should halt. Nell looked at Shaun and frowned as if to say “I’m sorry.” Shaun held a finger up to his lips as grease traveled between the floor tiles past where he and Nell sat.
“You better come out if you’re still alive. You hear me?”
Shaun kept his mouth shut and thought about what he could do to stop the lunatic. He prayed that the person at the intercom would pull up. Maybe they’d see that no one was taking orders and they’d pull around just in time. Shaun imagined all of this, and the man’s clanking pistol against the metal windowsill brought him back.
There was silence followed by two more shots at the wall that Shaun now rested behind. He made a mental note of five shots fired, and he looked at Nell. She was white like a handkerchief and had propped herself up on an elbow behind the deep fryer to Shaun’s right.
“What can we do?” Shaun pleaded.
Nell offered no advice; Shaun scanned the aisle for something, anything. He saw metal tongs, tartar sauce guns, and waxy sandwich wrappers. The thought of brandishing the tartar gun made him wince. Shaun’s stomach ached, and he grabbed his right side. The gunfire outside had fallen silent. Peering around the wall, Shaun saw the brown F-150 and no one at the window. He counted to ten before inching on elbows toward the wall’s edge. Wadding up a wax wrapper, Shaun tossed the paper ball out the open window, hitting the truck door, and ricocheting to the ground with a soft thud. Immediately, the man reemerged at the sill and took quick aim with the hand gun. Shaun slipped behind the wall again.
“I ain’t got time for games,” the man said.
Shaun looked to Nell and said through the wall, “You just said my dad was dead. Why would you say that? ”
“Because he is!” The man fired his magnum into the back hole and then had to reload. Shaun could hear the revolver being pushed open, and he knew he had a few seconds. He scanned the stainless steel fryers one last time and found something he hadn’t considered before. A fryer basket full of crispy chicken fillets sizzled. The grease was bubbling like a hot tub full of jets. He saw this as his chance; he nodded to Nell and grabbed the fiery basket. Shaun spun into the open space and the open window ready to throw the blazing hot grease, but the man was gone.
Shaun’s confusion was short lived, as he heard screaming from the restaurant’s front lobby. He and Nell sidled up to the edge of the grill area’s chicken nugget bin, and they saw the red-faced killer fire three shots into the storefront ceiling. One customer ran startled head first into the glass door. Another jumped behind a cardboard cut-out of the mayor of Cobank. A woman closest to the killer ran right into his grasp. Shaun was frustrated that the man now had a hostage. His mind reeled for a weapon. The relentless lunatic said, “I’ll kill her, if you don’t come out from there Jones!”
Shaun stepped out and yelled, “Okay. You got me. Let her go!”
The man turned his fat face into an eager smirk and replied, “Yep, I sure do,” as he fired two shots into Shaun’s abdomen and ribcage. Shaun went down without hesitation and lay exposed. The killer pointed his .357 at Shaun’s limp frame one final time, but Nell was too quick in wielding a razor sharp box cutter that sliced his jugular. The murderer dropped to the tiles, as the blood flowed easily from his throat.
Nell kicked the man squarely in the chest and muttered, “Rest in peace.”
Brian writes from Kentucky, where he’s pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing and writes fiction about the ever-changing South.