I wrote this short story for the NYC Midnight Writing contest. Sadly, it did not win. But, hopefully, you will enjoy it despite it’s humble beginnings.
* * * * *
Nate was just backing out of the parking space in the crowded Quick-N-Save lot when the text hit his phone. He braked, hesitating. He almost ignored it. He’d gotten everything his pregnant wife had asked for in message after message throughout the day—no matter how ridiculous or hard-to-find. He’d gotten in and out of the store without once blowing up at people who weren’t wearing their masks properly—or at all. He could just drive home and pretend he hadn’t heard the message come in. But he couldn’t NOT hear “Who Let the Dogs Out” performed by barking dogs—his wife’s idea of a joke–whenever a text came in. He swore he heard them barking in his sleep. Besides, with the storm front expected to dump ten inches in the next couple of hours, he’d rather get it now than go out again when the roads were even worse.
A horn honked, startling Nate from his internal debate. After glancing in the mirror, he ignored the driver in the older model silver car and instead scrolled his phone for Andrea’s most-recent addition to the list:
“Please get baby dill pickles, Honey!” She’d added an a kissy-face emoji next to it.
He could ignore it, but he wouldn’t. He quickly texted back: “Got it!” And, while he felt ridiculous doing it, added his own string of sloppy sentimental hearts and kisses before hitting SEND! He’d never hear the end of it if he didn’t. You do not mess with a hormonal woman who watches as many crime shows as his wife did. She always reminded him she knew enough forensic tricks that they’d never find his body or be able to trace it back to her. He knew she was joking, but didn’t plan on testing her resolve either.
Nate pulled the car forward once more and parked, shutting off the engine. The driver who’d been waiting for the space laid on the car’s horn with incessant, blaring hostility. Nate stepped out of his car and waved his phone at the driver—who was an indistinct blog hunched behind the wheel. Probably an old fart who couldn’t see for a damn. Nate gave his best ‘apologetic’ shrug and stepped toward the store.
The driver threw the car into gear and stomped on the gas. The vehicle wrenched forward, tires throwing up slush in a wide arc. In fact, the driver peeled out so fast, the car must have jerked in the poor traction because he—or she—very nearly hit Nate as they drove off. Nate jumped back saving himself from an ignominious fate of death by old fogey.
“What the hell, dude!?” Nate slapped at the wet muck spattered along his lower legs. Icy slush was sneaking down into his shoes. “Great. Just great.”
Squelching as he walked, Nate kept an eye out for the lunatic who’d just nearly killed him for a stupid parking space. Nate slipped on the N-95 mask before going back in the store. He stalked the crowded lanes looking for wherever the hell they kept the pickles. He knew the layout of the store where they shopped on the weekends, but this was a place he passed on his way home from work. It was usually easier to get in and out of when you just needed to pick up a few items. Easier, that is, when the city wasn’t expecting a “Storm of the century” or “Snow-mageddon” as the area weather casters delighted in calling it. As a result, people were hoarding supplies as if the world was ending. Which, considering the state of things, might actually be true.
Nate passed shoppers dragging overfull carts up narrow aisles. He did his best to dodge and weave his way through without getting too close to anyone. He wasn’t paranoid, but he couldn’t bring home even a cold with a pregnant wife on bedrest. She’d kill him if she got sick mere weeks before their planned delivery date.
He reached the aisle where he thoughts the pickles might be—since it was the last section he’d checked it had better be. Why they had pickles next to the pasta and spaghetti sauce was anybody’s guess. There was only one person cruising the row. Blocking it actually—bundled to within an inch in enough winter gear that it was hard to tell there was a person underneath all the layers. More blob than a human, really.
The Blob’s head rotated back and forth searching for something. Nate was pleased to see that they were at least wearing their face mask appropriately! But then he saw where the shopper was heading.
There it was—the pickle section. Or where they should have been. It looked as though pickles were this week’s “Must Have” item. On the empty racks bracketed by olives on one side and condiments on the other—there was one lone jar.
The Blob in front of Nate hurried over—target sighted. One chubby arm stretched up, up… reaching for what looked to be the last jar of pickles in the store. But the holy grail was tucked way back, out of reach for the much shorter shopper.
Nate wasn’t proud of what he did next, but desperate times call for desperate measures.
“Excuse me.” He muttered, and reached up and snatched the glass jar with the face of a stork grinning back at him. “I need these.”
“Hey!” The Blob emitted in muffled, piercing protest.
Nate was certain now—The Blob was female. Sure, some men had high-pitched voices, but it was the colorful, homemade mask with cutesy cartoon characters that clinched it. Nate grimaced at the thought of facing down an angry woman. Men were much more practical about these things. Finders keepers, losers weepers worked from the playground to the boardroom in most cases.
So, yeah, The Blob was probably a woman. The next words out of her mouth though held the insensate rage of someone dosing on testosterone boosters. “Give the pickles back, asshole. They’re mine!”
On another day, in another place, Nate probably would have handed them over. But not tonight. He held the pickles up, saying, “I’m sorry, but they’re not. I’m holding them, therefore, clearly the pickles are mine. Get some olives—there are plenty of those left.”
Nate turned to make his way back to the counter but was stopped when something solid hit him in the back of the head.
“Ow!” Nate held tight to the jar in one hand, reaching up gingerly with the other to touch his head checking for blood. He wheeled around just in time to dodge a second can of black olives—pitted, whole—coming at him. The Blob had turned into a virago with a cannon for an arm.
“I don’t want fucking olives. I’m making shuba. The dish requires pickles. You can’t make it with olives! That would make it a tapenade! Give me the god damned pickles!”
With the unerring talent that the Cubs could sorely use on their pitching team, the enraged woman hurtled several more cans of black, green, and assorted olives at Nate. He did his best to block the blows while keeping his glass jar protectively curled in the crook of his arm for safety.
“Jeezus, dude…er…lady? Whoever you are! It’s clear you have some kind of issue that could probably be resolved—ow–with many years of counselling. But I’ve got a pregnant wife at home and I’m not giving up my pickles.”
“Is there a problem here?” A timid voice broke the sudden silence as the last can rolled to a halt at the feet of a teenage boy inching forward awkwardly—his gawky angles swamped by a red smock with the store’s giant Quick-n-Save logo on a heraldic shield.
Oh perfect, thought Nate, here comes a pimply Knight to the rescue…or maybe he was a Knight’s trainee? What were they called? Pages? Distracted by his errant thoughts—he must have been hit harder than he realized—Nate missed his opening.
Instead, The Blob struck first, one stubby arm stabbing an accusing finger toward Nate.
“That man has my pickles. He’s trying to steal them—see, see they are tucked inside his coat!”
“I was protecting them from you! You psycho! You were throwing cans at me.” To the clerk, he said, “She hit me. That’s assault.”
To the Blob, who appeared to be considering grabbing another can and hurtling it at him, Nate said, “I could have you arrested.” Nate was pointing his own finger now, but he felt ridiculous holding his arm out like that so he dropped it and waited for the clerk to show his mediation muscles.
“Um, I can’t arrest anybody. But I can ask you both to leave.” The young man did not look at all convinced that he could back up his words though.
“I’m not leaving without my pickles.” Nate said, clutching his jar which probably looked ridiculous but he wouldn’t put it past The Blob to snatch them, given a chance.
“They’re my pickles. Mine!” The Blob wailed. “I have everything else. I just need the pickles. If I don’t present the dish as it is described, I’ll lose points. This is a contest being held at the Posh Emporium Eatery. There’s a judge from The Cooking Network and a food critic from the Tribune. I have three hours to buy the ingredients, make the dish, and present it or I’m disqualified. There were no pickles at the last store I went to. I have got to have those!”
“If this is supposed to be for The Cooking Network…where are the cameras?” This question came from the clerk who apparently was in this conversation for reasons other than to resolve their problem.
“It’s a pilot! The camera crew followed me at the first store, but they had to get back to the restaurant in time for the afternoon shoot. This could be my big break. The competition comes with a check for ten thousand dollars and an appearance on The Explosive Gourmet. Your wife can eat anything else her heart desires, but not those pickles!”
Nate could hear the desperation in The Blob’s muffled argument. But it was just a stupid cooking contest—she could enter one of those any time she liked. He spelled it out for the nitwit.
“Look, you may be facing a food critic, but I’m facing a hormonal woman nearly at the end of a risky pregnancy. She can’t get up without help. She has hysterics any time she can’t feel the baby move. We are trying to push the due date so the baby doesn’t come any earlier than our doctor’s recommended bedrest deadline. If pickles will help her do that, I’m bringing home pickles! My wife is a hell-of-a-lot scarier than you are, ma’am. You are just going to have to get lucky at the next store. Third time’s the charm, as they say.”
As his speech came to an end, Nate made his move toward the check-out lanes, dodging the flailing arms of The Blob and ducking past the clerk. He hoped the enraged woman wouldn’t dare throw cans with a store employee looking on.
Nate made his way to check out, and groaned as he saw the lines of people with full carts in the two cashier lanes that were open.
And this store was behind the times and did not have self-check-out options.
“Fan-fucking-tastic.” Nate muttered.
An agonizing twenty minutes later, he was hauling his single item out of the store and through the snow that was piling up.
Nate navigated to his car with a single-minded focus. His feet were freezing again. He’d left his gloves in the car—so his hands were getting numb as well. He fumbled in his pocket for his keys all the while he held his objective in his mind: “Get in the car, get out, get home.”
He walked to where his Mazda was parked between the handicapped only spots and a cart corral. He picked up his pace, but as he approached the driver’s side, Nate stopped.
Scratched into the side panel of the car was the word “ASSHOLE.” Walking around, he found other colorful sentiments, ending with a giant F.U.! scratched out on the hood.
Nate got out his cell phone and took some pictures. He considered calling the police, but he knew that would just drag this misery on for hours. He’d just call his insurance company in the morning.
It was as he came around the front of the car the second time that he noticed the paper stuck under the windshield wiper.
“Fuck, what now?” Nate grabbed the paper and unfolded it. He read it, shook his head, and the reached to unlock his car.
Nate never saw it coming. He felt it though. The blade cut through his winter coat and his spine as if it were nothing. A whisper of metal cutting down a life—slowly. He couldn’t move, so he lay there, bleeding and freezing to death in stages.
The sound of the jar smashing and his cries for help were swallowed by the howling winds.
His body wasn’t discovered until the next day amid the shards of broken glass and dill pickles. The note was recovered when the body was rolled over.
YOU THINK YOU’VE WON
BUT YOU’RE WRONG.
CHEATERS NEVER WIN.
CHEATERS GET WHAT’S
COMING TO THEM.
THEIR JUST DESSERTS!