In some cases, the piece will also be a special commission, prompted by a particular buyer. Readers can still custom order their own quick short-short stories: details here.
They remembered each other as they were, and so to see the updated versions was, to say the least, disconcerting. For Milo and Ross, it was like someone had cut out their faces from when they were kids and sewed them onto these older men, their heads bigger, like a grotesque mask stretched across a pumpkin. Or pinheads. Circus freak pinheads. Their skulls had grown disproportionate to their visage.
Ellison looked at photos of himself from when they knew each other, and he didn’t recognize that kid in the pictures. That skinny teen with the patchy skin and the big grin. Life and adulthood had played different tricks on him, it seemed. He was more squat now, his features drawn more harshly. His cheeks sank, pushed down by the bags under his eyes. In just about every image, he was laughing. Did he laugh anymore? What was the last thing he found funny?
“Do you remember that first semester of junior year,” Ross asked, “when we all dated the same girl?”
“Cindy DeBrowski,” Milo affirmed.
“Yeah, Cindy. We all got so mad at each other. What was it? Every time one of us got his driver’s license, she’d move to that guy. Like she owed you something for being able to legally drive.”
“I wish girls were like that now,” Milo added. “You know, grown women. I wish they were that aggressive.”
Ellison spoke softly. “If you recall, she was my girlfriend first. I got my license just before Labor Day. I hooked up with her at that barbeque.”
“Really aggressive,” Milo said. “It’s not like she gave us a choice. I mean, we were 16. When a girl gets in your car and climbs on top of you...Hoo, boy. I wish that happened now, like I said. I’d kill to have that one gal from the office lay it on me like that.”
“You always have a choice, Milo,” Ellison said. His tone said was annoyed. Both guys probably remembered the sound from school. “For instance, you could say ‘no,’ or you could say ‘yes.’ Like, you could say ‘yes’ to yourself and go talk to that woman, and then she could say ‘no’ or ‘yes’ to you.”
Milo snorted. “Right. It’s that easy.”
“It ain’t that hard,” Ellison replied.
“Yeah! That’s his problem!” Ross’ own joke made him howl with laughter. Ellison supposed that noise was what was meant by the term “guffaw.”
This was starting to seem like a mistake. Ellison felt he had been tossed down amongst the junkyard hyenas, back into a pit he’d spent the last two decades climbing out of. “You can’t go home again” was a lie. The truth was, home was the place you could never escape.
“Listen, guys, can we focus? As much as I love walking down memory lane--”
Ross interrupted. “No, you don’t.”
“Don’t treat us like we’re stupid, Ellison. You always treat us like we’re stupid. We know you don’t want to reminisce with us.”
“Not about you guys passing around my girlfriend, no.”
“Like we handed her off,” Milo said.
“That’s my point! She walked from one to the other. No one had to hand her.”
Ellison groaned. “It doesn’t matter. We’re here for other things.”
He stuck his shovel into the ground. The hole was only a foot or so deep at that point. It wasn’t going to dig itself.
“He’s right,” Ross said, himself starting to work his spade. “Put your back into it, Milo. Show us that office job ain’t made you soft.”
Milo whistled through his nose. It was a nervous tic he’d had all his life. He did as told.
Three shovels worked in tandem. Milo dipped in and emptied as Ross dipped in and emptied as Ellison dipped in and so on.
Only the three of them would know to dig there. Only the three of them would know what to find. Ellison had tried to forget since he’d moved away, but he never could. Between the groping trees--three gnarled oaks just like them, all growing toward one another, like they were leaning in and clasping hands and forming a cover over this secret. Ellison had always had a fantasy about coming back on his own, undercover, and exhuming what lay there and moving it, hiding it, making it disappear. He never did. It occurred to him now that the other two could have had that fantasy, too. If one of them had, if the space under where the branches met was empty, Ellison would know it wasn’t him that did it...but how easy would it be for the guy who did do it to deflect suspicion. Only one of the three would really know what had happened.
Or two of the three. Perhaps they had moved it together. Both Ross and Milo were eyeing him. Was it because they were waiting for him to find out, or because they just found him as distasteful as he now found them?
Suspicion passed when his was the first shovel to hit it. It was a loud clank, both metallic and more solid. Tool meeting treasure.
And so here we found a downside of this kind of writing. I hadn't planned for these guys to be digging for anything. I only started writing from listening to the Monkees song "Shades of Gray," which is where the opening quote is from. I thought of several things they could be digging for, but I didn't like any of them (the most gruesome one was a baby's corpse)...and so that's where the story stopped. Maybe I can pick it up again. Feel free to leave suggestions in the comments.
Current Soundtrack: Jack White, Blunderbuss
All text (c) 2012 Jamie S. Rich