Contest Entry; Show; Don't Tell; Suspense, Mystery
|Word Count 1368
“Half Past Midnight”
Ruby took a two-pack of Excedrin off the shelf, tossed the tablets to the back of her throat and swallowed hard. She made a fresh pot of coffee—extra strong, and poured herself a cup--two sugars.
“You think it’d be okay if I leave early tonight?”
“Gary, you haven’t worked a full shift since you’ve been here.”
“Well, no need to take an attitude ‘bout it. I got a life outside of Seven-Eleven.”
Ruby dropped her head in her hands. The pain was excruciating. “Go fill the cigarette
“Don’t know why we put them things out. Cause cancer and artery disease and other bad stuff. I aim to quit myself someday but it seems to me….”
Ruby went to the washroom, took a wet cloth to the back of her neck, leaned against the sink and closed her eyes. If only I could go home and lay down.
“I should go to Mason’s for a real job. They got benefits, ya know. My Granny always
said, ‘Go where you’re ‘preciated.’ She’d be tellin’ me that right now, if she’d be living. She’d say, ‘Gary, you go on now and find a job where you’re ‘preciated.”
“Gary, will you please shut up!”
“Well I’m just saying, it ain’t like there’s a crowd in here or nothing.”
Ruby checked her watch. Eleven o’clock. Gary was right. Only two customers in the last hour.
“Oh go ahead. Go home.”
“Are you sure? I mean, cause I ain’t one to leave a lady all alone so late in the night. My Granny would whoop my ass if I’d ever put a lady in danger in a time of need...."
“Okay, if you’re sure. Mighty nice of you maam. Soon as I take a leak.”
Gary disappeared into the men’s room. She smiled, thinking to herself, Granny’s
probably ‘preciating’ his manly stream this very minute from her throne on high. She shook the thought from her head with a shudder and groaned, "I need to get a life."
He reappeared around the ice-bin as she swept the floors. “Night, maam. See you on Sunday.”
“Good night Gary.”
She listened to the roar of his pickup and the waning of its sputtering tailpipe. Quiet at last.
As she stacked packs of Marlboro’s on the shelf, a vehicle pull into the parking lot. Big & Rich were belting Save a Horse; Ride a Cowboy in full base. Before the vehicle came to a complete stop a youth staggered out of a Mercades Suv and vomited all over the front of himself.
“Sheee-it,” he said looking down on himself. “My fly’s open!”
There was a roar of laughter from three other youths who also stumbled into the
night. They swaggered into the store.
"Whooo-eee!” The taller one said putting his arm around Ruby. “Looky here boys. We got us a Ka-donk-a-donk!”
Ruby pushed him away and moved behind the counter.
He flashed his pearly-whites at her. “What’s your name, gorgeous? What’s the matter? Cat got your tongue?”
She glanced at the clock. Twelve-ten. Where's Shirley? I never should have sent Gary home.
The tall youth turned from Ruby and yelled, “Come on boys; beer’s on me.”
“You got some ID 'cause we don’t sell to minors.”
“Did ya hear that, fellas? She don’t sell to minors. Yes, I do indeed. I do have an ID.”
While he fumbled around in his leather wallet, she knew full well the ID would be fake, the youth with vomit down the front of him met her glance. The pain in her head moved to her eyes. The space between her ears thickened with an audible message, "I'm going to slash that pretty little throat of yours." The other boys were gathering candy bars and bags of chips from the shelves. An argument broke out between two of them over beer preferences.
The tall one pushed his wallet forward. “Hey, you want my ID or not?”
The youth with the strange eyes leaned on the counter with a Snickers and bag of Cheetos. His eyes were green--no not green, blue with a touch of gray--very expressive. He looked but did not speak.
“Well what’cha waiting for? Ring him up,” the tall one growled.
The boy held a crisp fifty-dollar bill in one hand. He placed his other hand on his crotch he thrust his hips at her. .
She cringed. Another flash of light burned an image into her mind, that of a woman laying face down in an alley, throat cut, gushes of blood running into a storm drain. The woman's head pivoted 190 degrees and looked at Ruby with bloody eyes. Ruby gasped. My god, that's me!
The youth finally spoke. "Well?You gonna take my money or not." His voice cracked. Still a kid, disarmingly young and innocent.He can't be more than thirteen.
“On the house,” she stammered, preferring to pay for the minor’s candy rather
than touch anything he touched.
He rocked back on his heels, unsteady, and tipped his hat. "Much abliged."
“Come on,” his buddies called, “let’s go.”
The youth wobbled out with his friends.
Shirley walked in just as the boys pulled out of the parking lot. “Man, are those guys drunk."
“Sorry I’m late. Say, you don’t look so good, honey. Did them punks give you a rough
“I’m just tired.”
“You got another migrain?"
Ruby added the price of the two Excedrin, the youth's purchase and a package of beef jerky on the cash register. "Yeah, I'll be okay. Good night, Shirley, see you Monday."
“Take care of yourself, Ruby.”
The best part of her job was the walk home. She’d gotten used to the fetid
smells, the occasional rat scampering across gutters, the echo of footsteps on damp streets. It was fifteen minutes of aloneness, a chance to disengage from responsible Ruby and dwell in her dreams, a nice home in Montreal, on a street named desire, vacations in France, a man to love, a good man, prince charming.
The jerky made her jaws ache and her head throb. She slowed her pace. She could go to school, get a degree, save the world. Maybe the world could save her.
A mangy stray she named “Jake” came up behind her.
“Hey, Jake ol boy, where ya been? Haven’t seen you in a while.”
She gave him a friendly rub behind the ears feeling the scabs left by ticks, fleas and old wounds. Fifteen minutes of aloneness. Maybe she could find an apartment on East 5th, take the dog with her. Walk for hours.
He perked his ears. Fringes of hair stood out from their tips then drooped over like tired noodles. He swallowed a piece of her jerky whole.
“If you’d learn to chew your food, you might enjoy it more.”
Jake pressed his wet nose into the palm of her hand.
A vehicle with blaring music turned onto the street. It was a black SUV, the Mercedes from the store. Jake took off running down the middle of the street. The vehicle accelerated, headlights on high, aimed at Jake.
“Bastards!” she yelled.
She picked up a battered trashcan and threw it at the vehicle. It landed short and rolled directly in line with its headlight, crashing into it hard. The driver slammed on the breaks but before the vehicle came to a complete stop the young man with the vomit and the flashy eyes was already out and raging toward her. “I should have cut your throat when I had the chance.”
She dropped to her knees, pressing the palms of her hands firmly against the temples of her head. A flash of light penetrated the pain with another vision. She saw herself being strangled by a man with tattooed arms. The pain in her head turned fluid, filling the spaces of her vision with heat.
“You little bitch,” he snarled, towering over her. “Look what you did to my dad’s car.”
The heat traveled to her face, her nose, cheekbones.
Her pupils constricted into tiny pinpoints filled with beams of laser light. "I"ve got news for your daddy. He's going to need more than a new headlight."