Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Big Bad

It's writing challenge time, brought to you by Indie Ink. New contestants: Twisted; New feedback and comments: Terrific; Not meeting deadlines: Terrible. For everything else, there's me.

Welcome to Week 16.


Week 16.
My Challenger: Head Ant
My Challenge: You can't remember the last 48 hours of your life and all you have in your possession are a plastic bear, a thimble, and a rubber chicken.
Who I am Challenging: Bewildered Bug
What I Challenged Them With: "May as well ask the chamber pot!"



Big Bad


I scarf down the food as if I'd never had any before. I realize this, shrug, and continue to devour them. I feel something being draped across my shoulders.

"Honey...? Sweetie?" I look up toward the voice mostly out of curiosity only to realize it's being directed at me.

"What are these?" I ask, crumbs spewing forth from between my lips. Without waiting for an answer, I stare at the bag. I know I should be able to make out what these symbols mean--but nothing comes. I shrug again, reach my hand into the bag and began once more to shove the deliciousness down my throat.

"Those--" she starts, and I can see her hesitantly trying to figure out how to take the bag from me without upsetting me--"are 'Sour Cream and Onion Potato Chips.' Chips? Potato..." She trails off, apparently realizing I wasn't about to give them up.

"Chips," I say, and more crumbs tumble out. I lift my hand to my chin to catch what I can and shove them back in.

She stares at me balefully. Through the haze of yellow-and-green-flecked food fest, I notice her come to a conclusion in her mind. Squaring her shoulders, she reaches over, tugs the fabric on my shoulders more tightly around my body, and smiles encouragingly. "Can you tell me your name?"

"Jack!" I squeal, and then am amazed myself when I realize that, yes, Jack is my name. Jack Sprat. I also remembered that I could eat no fat. "Do these 'chips' have fat in them?"

"Fat? Honey, that's the least of your worries. Go on and eat." She reaches into her pocket and pulls out a cell phone, stares at the tiny screen. "Still no reception, dammit," she half-mutters. When she realizes I've been watching her, she puts the phone back into her pants pocket and smiles wider than Texas. "Go on, sweetie. Eat up. The world ain't ending today--at least, I hope not..."

"Do these have fat in them?" I ask again, having not touched them since this thought crossed my mind. "I can't eat fat."

"So you remember some things?"

"I'm Jack Sprat. I can eat no fat. Hey, are you my wife?"

Her eyebrows shot up. "Excuse me?"

"Are you my wife?"

"Err... No, no, I'm not your wife."

"Shame. You're pretty. But I can't eat these." I place the bag of chips on the ground between my feet. I shrug the blanket off my body as I reach around behind me.

"What you got there, sugar?" my non-wife asked.

"My friends." I arrange them on the ground in a semi-circle around the half-eaten bag of chips. "They can have fat. So I'm going to share it with them."

She glanced at the menagerie. "Do... Do they have names, honey?"

"This," I said, lifting up one of them, "is Fuzzy Wuzzy. He's a bear. He has no hair." I place him back down and lift up my next buddy. "This is Chicken Who Crossed the Road. As you can see," I demonstrate by wildly flopping him back and forth with vigor, "he didn't quite make it across unscathed, but he's okay. He just can't walk anymore." I lay him down across Fuzzy's lap, and then pluck my last pal up from the dust. "And this," I say with pride, "is Thimbalina. She's my only daughter." I sigh wistfully.

"'Dis boy is cuckoo," I hear her say under her breath.

It's nothing I haven't heard before, mind you, but being as I wasn't in any position to argue--nakedness notwithstanding--I shrugged, placed my little girl on one of Fuzzy's non-fluffy toes, and then handed each of them a chip. "Share!" I commanded them. Then I stood.

"Oh, sweetie, no, uh-uh, no," she fussed, shoving me back onto the tree stump. She ripped the blanket back up from the ground, shoved it back down around my shoulders with a stern "Stay there!" Satisfied I wouldn't be disobeying her, she lowered herself back down onto her own tree stump. "Tell me what you do remember, okay? Can you do that for me... Er, Jack?"

"Yes, ma'am!" I practically shouted. I loved getting to talk, especially with other humans like they claimed I was, and since I so rarely had visitors...

I couldn't remember the last time I had a visitor.

But there was lots of other stuff I remembered! "I remember Tom and Jerry, but that we weren't allowed to watch them. That was Monday, I think. Steve said, 'It's too violent!' and Joe said it was only make-believe anyway, so it didn't matter. But I liked Tom and Jerry so I waited until Steve left and then I went back in and watched it anyway. They were in outer space, on a space ship of some kind--"

"Honey, honey, no, no, no. I mean..." She paused, stared around at no one, at the fallen trees, the destroyed houses, the dark clouds still receding from sight to the west. Downed power lines crisscrossed over cars and trucks, odd bits of appliance hung in precariously pristine places, and the odd rumble of thunder still managed to make her jump higher than I'd ever seen Jiminy Cricket hop. Her gaze refocused on me. "Do you remember which house was yours? Who or where your parents are? Your real name?" Hope filled her eyes as she sensed she was possibly asking all the right questions, jogging all the right memories.

I hated it when I had to disappoint the people who asked me questions. It made me sad. Once I was so sad, I ripped all of Fuzzy's hair off, which is when he actually became Fuzzy Wuzzy. Before that day, his name had been "Winnie" something or other. Not that it mattered. Before never seemed to matter to me, only to the people. I sighed, figuring silence would be better than giving her answers she wouldn't like. I rearranged Thimbalina, who was trying to walk off of Fuzzy's toes, then tucked Chicken Who Crossed the Road around Fuzzy's neck like a boa. That way they could keep each other warm. I smiled as they snuggled together, and handed them each another chip for behaving so well here in front of our company.

"Someone's gotta come sooner or later, right?" I looked up and realized she was muttering to herself. "I mean, it can't just be us two that made it. Me and cuckoo, oh lordy, what are you testin' me with now? Someone's gotta come, someone's gotta be on the line gettin' help out here." She turned back to me. "Sugar? I'm just gonna go for a small walk--I ain't going far, so don't worry. I just wanna, you know, see if any one else is about, see if anyone esle needs a helpin' hand, okay? You stay right here with your friends, keep that blanket on you nice and tight so you don't catch cold, and I'll be back in, like, ten minutes. Okay, Suagr? Okay?"

I nodded, since it seemed the only logical course of action when people went all crazy in the eyes like she was. Desperation, I think is what Doolittle had called it. Or was that Seuss? They always looked the same, with their white coats and black glasses, it was so hard for me to tell them apart.

"Sugar?"

I nodded at her again, looking her in the eye like I was supposed to do. Once I did that, she seemed reassured, and started walking away, slowly, as if she were afraid I would bolt, as if it weren't she that was looking for an escape of some kind.

"Jack, we need a fire," said Fuzzy.

"We aren't supposed to move," I admonished him.

"Fuck you, Jack, I'm cold. I getting wood for a fire." Fuzzy ripped Chicken off his neck, plopped Thimbalina off his toes, and wobbled off.

"Fuzzy!"

"Squack!" cried Chicken. "Squack! Squack!"

"Quiet," I said. I stayed on my stump as ordered, but kept craning my neck to keep Fuzzy in sight.

"Daddy, I need a finger!" Thimbalina cried.

I lifted her gently from the dirt, brushed her off, and placed her lovingly on my pinkie. "There, there, princess."

Soon Fuzzy was back with a few pieces of shattered wood and some pieces that looked like they had come from a shed's roof. "Some of that won't burn," I said as I picked up and sorted through the pieces.

"Everything burns," Fuzzy retorted. "We need matches."

"Sugar?" I looked up to see the lady standing about 30 feet away, partially behind an up-side-down Prius. "Sugar, who you talking to?"

I pointed a finger at Fuzzy. She nodded slowly, then turned and walked off out of sight.

"Squack!"

"No, Chicken, we're not allowed to play with fire. Wait till the nice lady comes back."

"Squack!"

"No, she's not your new mommy."

"Stupid chicken," snorted Fuzzy. "I'll find matches." He lumbered off once more.

"Are you warmer now, Thimbalina?" I asked.

"Yes, Daddy, thank you." She squeezed my finger with her tiny metal sides. "Warm."

I smiled and stroked her sides. All too soon, Fuzzy returned with a lighter.

"I thought you said you would find matches?"

"This lights fire, too. I've seen Seuss and Doolittle outside the windows using them to make it. Without thumbs, though..." Fuzzy looked up at me expectantly.

"I'm not allowed to play with fire." I tucked my legs up under my arms on the stump. Fuzzy and I continued staring one another down for what seemed like hours until the lady returned.

"Still no reception. Hey, is that a lighter? Starting a fire's a great idea, Jack. At least it'll keep us warm till help arrives--or until we find you some clothes." She busied herself arranging not only what Fuzzy had gathered, but some other stray pieces of litter as well. "Sun's goin' down, gettin' dark, not another soul around for miles. You'd think when a tornado whips through people would be high tailin' it to see if anyone lived, you know?" She didn't wait for me to reply. "That's what they do on the news, least ways. Sirens, fire fighters, police and ambulances, all fillin' up the streets, goin' house to house lookin' for people and diggin' 'em out. Not here, though, not this time. You and me, Jack, we's gotta hold on until someone else shows up, right?"

She smiled her big, bright smile. After a few minutes, she had a nice small fire going. "Least ways someone might see this and know someone out here needs help, am I right? Now, Sugar, you hungry?"

"She talks too much," muttered Fuzzy.

"That's rude!" I admonished him.

"What's that, Sweetie?"

"Fuzzy was being rude," I apologized. "He doesn't get out much, you'll have to excuse him."

She eyed me up. "Uh-huh. Listen, I'm just gonna make this fire a bit bigger, okay?"

"Squack! Squack-squack-squack!"

"You say somethin', Sugar?"

"No, ma'am, that was just Chicken. You can understand why he doesn't like fire once you know he comes from a family of cannibals," I explained.

"Are you supposed to be on medicine of some kind, honey?"

"Well, the doctors used to give me blue pills and pink pills at night, and a yellow one in the morning. But they never told me what it was. I think they were those Flintstones."

"Yeah. Flintstones. Got it." She piled more wood on the fire. "It's gonna be a long night. Least ways I won't be lonely, that ain't no lie. Got any of those chips left?"

I reached down, picked up the bag and tossed it to her.

"Those were mine!" Fuzzy growled.

"We have to share," I said. "It's rude not to share."

He stuck his tongue out at her while she stared at me, eyes wide. "Everything okay?" she asked.

"Don't mind him, he's just a stink pot."

"Who, him?" she asked, pointing at Chicken.

"No!" I laughed at her silliness. "Not Chicken. Fuzzy. He's always a tad grouchy when new people are around." I picked up a stick and poked at the fire, now very bright against the ever darkening sky.

"Squack!"

"I'm just poking."

"Hot, Daddy!"

"Oh, sorry!" I cried, and pulled Thimbalina from my finger. When the lady looked at me, I explained, "I had her too close to the fire. She's metal, she gets hot easy."

The lady just placed a chip gently on her tongue, and continued to stare at me. "Honey, you better than anything cable got. Don't mind me now, you helpin' me an awful lot to be grateful."

I thought that was a compliment so I smiled at her. She shrank back a bit, so I wiped the smile from my face and went back to poking the fire with a stick.

***


Mission Woods, Kansas. Policemen and firefighters arrived yesterday morning in the small town of Rock Village to find the town in shambles. It is suspected that an F5 tornado ripped through the small town late yesterday during a freak storm, effectively erasing the small town from the map. Rescue workers are still digging through the rubble hoping to find survivors, and authorities are compiling a list of residents who not only called the quaint town home, but of those who were in the care of the Rainbow Mental Health Facility.

"I've never seen destruction like this in all my years of living here," one of the rescue worker, Mike Kelley, said. "I'm not sure we'll find a living soul, but I'm here hoping against hope that we will."

Sheriff's deputies had cordoned off the tiny parking lot in front of where the town's only store, Al's Feed and Supply, had once stood. The body of Lucinda Jamison was found there early this morning, dead, by a small campfire it looks like she had built herself. Authorities speculate that she, as the only known survivor thus far of the tornado, may have perished from wounds sustained during the storm, as well as shock.

"We'll know more once we get a coroner's report," Sheriff Hamilton said when questioned. "We're not ruling anything out at this point."

On condition of anonymity, one source tells that the body was found with a rubber chicken wrapped around her neck and a thimble shoved down her throat. When asked if there could be foul play involved, our source said, "I wouldn't be surprised. Tornado's don't throttle you to death with a child's toy and shove craft items down your windpipe once the storm has ended. Probably one of those nuts from that there hospital."

A candlelight vigil will be held at the Mission Woods Presbyterian Chapel at 7 p.m. tonight. Any and all donations will be welcome to help if any survivors are found in the aftermath of yesterday's devastation.





Previous Challenges I have answered:

11 comments:

Cedar said...

So if Fuzzy Killed her, what happened to Jack? Would he leave the other two behind?

LOL - very good with a difficult challenge!

Jason Hughes said...

Well, I'll be honest--I had written two other endings for this, but they both seemed so contrived I decided to let it end with the newspaper article so people could draw their own conclusions... :)

And thanks, Cedar! It's great having you in this contest!

Random Girl said...

Woah, it's a strange, oddly engaging set of circumstances you set out here. Good job with a difficult set of challenge items to work with!

Tara R. said...

The news article at the end was a great touch. I like that you left the ending to the reader's imagination.

Kelly Garriott Waite said...

I loved this. I loved the humor and the bizarre situation and I really enjoyed the dialogue between the characters - I've never seen anyone make a thimble speak. Well done!

Head Ant said...

This was excellent! I'm kind of scared that Jack is still out there...

Karla said...

I heart Jason! :) Your pieces always stay with me for many days after. You are SUCH a gifted storyteller and I simply love reading your work. Another awesome challenge met!

Jason Hughes said...

Thanks so much, my fellow Indie Inkers!! Every time I hit "Publish," I'm like, "I hope this doesn't totally suck!" You guys warm my heart!! <3 <3 <3

I'll be checking out all your challenges this weekend!

Aleta said...

Oh my gosh, I loved it!

Katsidhe said...

This was completely mental! I enjoyed the hell out of this, Jason. The writing was tight while still blowing my mind.~

Kat said...

One of the most intriguing pieces I've read. My mind is still spinning - Love that!