Grudge Match #12
Monday, October 20, 2014
Rules: 1 element from each writer, 1 story from each team, 250 words from each writer with discussion and collaboration within the teams. No popular vote. If there is a tiebreaker, ‘Duel’: Dani vs Steven – 3 elements, 300 words.
A red Lionel electric train.
All characters are inside a cardboard box.
Story must be dystopian
One of the characters is learning to speak ‘duck’
Christmas morning here in our trailer park has always been the same. Dingy snow sticks to the burned out husks of cars, drunks stagger around the impact craters bellowing carols. In our trailer, broken ornaments adorn a dust-covered plastic palm tree. My father would be passed out in his urine and sweat-soaked chair by noon. One year, my only gift was a half-empty case of Busch. Another year I got a squashed pack of Marlboro Milds.
“Enjoy, Johnny,” my father grunted, “Christmas only comes once a year!”
This morning was different. As I rounded the corner a package under the tree caught my attention. This one was long and slim, wrapped in smiling Santas. The wrapping went flying as I revealed to my most memorable gift of them all; my very own red Lionel electric train, a limited edition, candy-apple red, complete with a whole village of characters all in a cardboard box.
So this was the reason my mother had worked all those extra hours at the diner. I looked up to see the glee spill from her eyes onto her cheeks.
“I love you, Duck” she said. It was her special nickname for me ever since I took my first waddling steps.
“Love you too, Mama.”
A week later, Mama’s body had been taken to the incinerator, and I was carrying the box to the first of what would be many foster homes. I wouldn’t talk at any of them, couldn’t. Every time I did I would see Mama’s broken body rise up before me and steal the words from my throat. So, I quacked. One for yes, two for no. I was trying to learn more, but it was hard, with Mama’s blackened eyes staring at me.
The only relief came from playing with the train set. I wouldn’t take it out of the box, I was afraid I would lose something, but I would slide one finger down the side, carefully, feeling my way down the seam until I could push down the guard rail with one finger and suddenly I was there, standing next to the now-huge train.
“We have to get him, Lionel.” I would say.
“We will, we will” he would puff back.
And then we were off. One day, Lionel took me to Aokigahara, where I walked among the dead until Mama no longer scared me. Then to Ancient Greece, where I learned not to fear pain. Finally, he stood me before the mayor, a stuffy once-wooden lard in a too-tight suit.
“Kill him,” Lionel commanded.
At first I couldn’t, and quacked disconsolently for three days before the train would come back to life.
The second time I couldn’t either. It was a week that he left me, then.
Today, though, today the fat man’s blood flowed. Lionel tooted his horn so loudly I thought my ears would burst, and took my on a victory ride faster than we’d ever been before.
“Is it time, yet?” I asked, remembering the blood, picturing my father’s beer-swollen gun.
“Soon,” Lionel chuffed. “Soon-soon, Soon-soon, soon-soon….”
“As stated under Regulation 16”
“As stated under Regulation 16 By-law 22 Section 2 Point 4.1 Appendix 3 Paragraph 42 of the Manifesto Issued by Those Within The Box, as of now, it is my turn with the red Lionel toy train.”
Watson grabbed the treasured object and tugged. John held it closer to his chest. The damp, mouldy cardboard box shook with their wrestling and wrangling, straining the rips in the corners.
“It’s mine!” John snarled.
“Guys, please, mind The Box!” warned Bernard, fed up with their confined, disease-ridden dystopian world.
“Quack,” Howard agreed.
“Oh, shut up.” John let go, and Watson retreated in triumph to his corner.
“Why bother learning, Howard? When was the last time we had a duck in here?” John sighed.
“You never know…QUACK.”
The misery, the oppression, the overcrowding…Bernard couldn’t take it anymore, the insanity was torturing.
“Don’t you wish you were free?” he asked, struggling to his feet, his head jammed against the top of The Box.
“No,” a voice from another corner muttered.
“Squalor is next to ugliness,” Watson commented, train in hand. He giggled, “My precioussssssssssssss……”
“Oh, miserable old box…I so love having rags for clothes,” grumbled John.
“Is it just me, then?” Bernard demanded as ants nested under his moist patch of fear. “The dirt, the smell, the insecurity of it all? Doesn’t it bother you?”
“Go if you want. We can do without you,” Watson snapped, annoyed at the interruption to his play. John tried to swipe the toy train back and missed.
“Look at you! You don’t even know what’s out there!” Bernard jabbed a finger in the air. “Don’t you care? We’re Schrodinger’s cats as far as anyone or anything out there is concerned!”
“I hate cats,” murmered John.
“I like quacks,” Howard interjected, “How about we all be Schrodinger’s ducks instead?”
“My preciousssssss,” Watson hissed.
“Are we…are we alive or dead?” whined Bernard.
“Dunno. If we’re Schrodinger’s ducks, then we’ll only know if someone opens The Box.”
Bernard looked around at his companions and saw the miserable, pathetic life they had, never once wondering what it was like outside. Surely there was more than this…
“I’m leaving,” he said.
“Good riddance, you and your ‘oppression’,” mumbled Watson.
Bernard shook his head, and looked up at the sagging roof inches from his nose. He sucked in, and punched upwards into the unknown. Whether or not the others were watching he did not know or care; his fist sank through the rotting cardboard like a clenched hand through thick, wet paper. Light shined through, and madness seized him. He reached, grabbed, and pulled himself out.
A flap closed on the hole in the top of The Box, and the light dimmed once more.
John leaped forward, “My turn! MY TURN WITH THE TRAIN!”
“Quack,” Howard said, shifting aside as they rolled past him.
Soft tapping on the side of The Box cut through their yells and made them pause.
“Can I come back in, please? It’s cold out here.”