The Iron Writer Challenge #120
The Beth Casey Challenge
500 Words, 5 Days, 4 Elements
Mary Fletcher, ChristopherA. Liccardi, Eden Millard, Vance Rowe
A rundown business
The Old West
The showdown. The climax. The rising actions have built to this moment, every trope meticulously in its place. The Twitching Fingers, the Rapidly Beating Hearts, the Tense Air–it was all there. It was… it was…
A sharp crash tore me away from my notebook, startled yet irritated at the same time. Still, I stood up to help the waitress with the now shattered plate on the floor and the poor dismantled sandwich with it–one that was probably meant to be mine.
It had been a mistake to come here. Find somewhere authentic to write, they said. It would help the words flow, they said. And in the beginning, the idea had been a clever pitch, especially when I found a supposedly quaint little restaurant amidst the valley’s more rural parts. With a deadline fastly approaching along with a multitude of ideas swirling in my head, I took a chance and took the first bus out of the city.
It had been a poor idea from the start and that poorness made its presence known the minute I stepped off the bus at my destination. The cafe was not rustic, but rundown to its core. With even its coffee overpriced, one could assume that they would be able to clean off the collective rust on every inch metal, or fix the wood shambles that were practically splintered beneath my feet. Every staff member had managed to work for thirty plus years–miraculously–with rudeness as their only skill. Coupling that rudeness was the unbelievably slow service of one who desperately needed retirement. But with my bus not due back until the end of the day, I had no choice but to make the best out of the situation, regardless of how quickly my cheeks grew exasperated from the straining fake grin that was laced across my face.
As I passed the last remaining shards of glass to the waitress, I became acutely aware of just how much all of the pressure of it all was starting to build. Keyed up, all it took was one more misstep as I returned to my seat for the fragile twig that had become my psyche to split. When my elbow made its awkward just across the table, I felt my spirit endure such a shock that it momentarily retreated from my body, as if for the sake of sheer self-preservation. I watched the coffee make contact with my elbow and topple upon my manuscript in one swift and cruel motion.
The clumsy move only seemed to further my sudden attack. It was almost poetic; here I was with twitching fingers, a heart beating so fast it threatened to pop from my chest, and the sudden tense hotness I felt in my face because I could feel everyone’s eyes on me. No this wasn’t happening, this wasn’t happening…
“Will?” I was so caught up in my own little ruined world that I quite literally jumped as the waitress tapped my shoulder. How the hell had she known my name? Oh yeah, wait, the ID I had flashed for the beer…
I wanted to say I was fine, but I wasn’t fine.
It had to work this time, he thought. It just had to.
In October his grandfather had passed, leaving the store to Sam. The old neon outside now read
‘S.IT. .N. MO.. PE..’ instead of ‘SMITH AND MONK PETS’. From the state of the shop, the new wording was fitting.
Smith was George Smith, his father’s father. Monk was George’s best friend Silas Monk. They had bought the space when the building was new, about sixty years ago. Although Sam didn’t know the whole story, Silas had vanished some ten years ago.
Now there were no pets for sale, save a couple of aging goldfish. Dust and cobwebs covered what little inventory was left on the shelves.
Sam had been the sole owner since November. That was when the will had been read. The bequest had been worded oddly, everyone thought, saying that Sam and only Sam was to ever go in the room marked ‘Utility Closet’. Sam later found that it was actually the futility closet, thanks to a big F in George’s ornate script.
On his first visit to the old shop Sam had to take an extra pill for his anxiety. He had no idea why the old man had picked him to carry on in the store where his grandfather had spent most of his time. That made him even more nervous than usual, and usual was a lot.
Nothing could prepare him for the shock he felt at the state of the store. It seemed that his grandfather hadn’t sold anything in years. Why bother to keep it?
And, now, here it was January and he knew the secret that the closet held. Grandpa was right to leave it to Sam. Sam was a bit of a genius where computers are concerned.
What the futility closet held, safely hidden from the world outside, was a time portal.
According to his grandfather’s meticulous notes there had been a power surge that had fried some of the components. He was sure that Sam could get it to work again. And so was Sam.
And now Sam had repaired all he could find to repair. A couple of previous tests had failed but the failures had led him to what needed fixing.
He had it set to the time and date his grandfather had recommended in his writings. Just a few more keystrokes and…
Sam took one of his anxiety pills as a shimmery portal grew just to the left of the water heater.
It was working!
Within a few seconds he could tell that he was looking into a parlor. He swallowed hard and stepped through the haze.
Then Silas Monk was shaking his hand and giving him a hug.
“My dear boy! Dear Sam!” Silas exclaimed. “Welcome to the old west! Welcome to the America of 1885!
Where There’s a Will…
“Anxiety killed him, sure enough,” the doc said to Checotah, “the hailstorm we got last month killed his whole wheat crop and he was worried about meeting the mortgage payments. That wheat was his money crop and it was gone, in just one day. Very little of it was salvageable. Certainly not enough to make the mortgage payment.”
There wasn’t a lot of medicine available in the early 1870’s in the Old West. The most readily available medicine was laudanum, and the main ingredients are a mixture of opium and formaldehyde and was very habit forming. The laudanum may have helped his anxiety a little bit but it wasn’t the long run answer. The farmer left behind a wife and two children.
“Thank you, Doc. I am going to take a ride out to their farm and talk with the wife.” Checotah said.
He rode out to the farm and the farmer’s wife came to the door with a scatter gun.
“Who are you?” she asked nervously.
“It’s me Misses Anderson, Marshal Checotah Wood. I was friends with your husband during the war.”
She remembered her husband talking about him and she invited him in.
Checotah accepted a cup of coffee from the woman and they talked about her husband. Soon, Checotah got up from the table and leaned against the stone fireplace. “Misses Andrews, I would like to give you two months payment for the mortgage and maybe that will help you out for now until we can figure something else out.” When he moved, he knocked a stone loose. Curious, he removed it and found a small metal box inside the cavity.
Checotah opened it and found a will in there. The will left the farmer a business in town. Checotah showed her the will and asked, “Did you know about this?”
“No, I have no idea what it is.”
“Come on, let’s go into town and check this out.” Checotah told her.
When they arrived in town, they found the rundown building that was listed in the will. They carefully went inside and looked around. Checotah looked at the letter that accompanied the will and he read aloud, “Take a walk around and look behind yourself.”
“What does that mean?” she asked curiously.
“I’m not sure.” Checotah said as he looked around. He walked around for a bit until he walked in front of a full length mirror. He stared at it for a few minutes. It’s been along time since he has seen himself in a large mirror like this.
“You admiring yourself, Checotah?”
Suddenly, the word” yourself” hit him hard.
He tore the mirror off of the wall and there is a hole behind it. He saw a small sack in the hole and pulled it out. When he opened it, he sighed and tossed it to the farmer’s wife.
She cried when she what was in it. There was about ten thousand dollars in cash in the sack. It was enough to pay off the mortgage and a lot left over to live on for a long time.
Christopher A. Liccardi
Mathew entered the storefront and hung the key on the tooth of the snarling dog. The statue had been on that table since his childhood and time had seen fit to leave it. His hate for this place flared in each muscle seconds after entering the building but it was a strangely pleasant feeling. The old room looked deliberately ramshackle, but it added to the mystique; broken, “shabby chic”, people called it; rundown he called it, but it was his business now.
He knew his father had been into some really terrible things, but he never stuck around long enough to take part in the “family business”. At eighteen he’d left, never looking back. He tried to forget all of it, then the letter arrived in the mail last month addressed to the proprietor of “The Old West Wax Works”. The woman who delivered it was attractive and left her number and the scent of her perfume on the delivery receipt along with the will. They had seen each other almost every night since then. She had asked about “The Old West” a few weeks into this new romance but he never explained and she never pushed.
When he told her he needed to take care of some family business down south, she hadn’t asked to be included which was good. Maybe she was ‘the one’ and his impending bad mood was unattractive. They talked about weekend plans and she had mentioned heading down the shore for a surprise but he wasn’t listening; he’d been preoccupied with the will. The tasks he needed to complete weren’t complicated, but they were going to be messy and time consuming.
Mathew spent that first day cleaning counters and getting rid of the old dust cloths and boxes and something shifted.
The place didn’t need to be spotless, but it did need to be presentable when his first guest arrived. He felt the cold fingers of anxiety grabbing hold and he fought them off. This place was in his blood and always had been. He saw that now and felt – proud.
He thought about the delivery woman, Claire, as he toiled about the place, wondering if she would like it here? He genuinely liked her and hoped she would. He was looking forward to seeing her again as soon as he could.
The bell over the door jangled its discordant tune. Mathew caught the scent of a woman’s perfume. It was familiar to him.
“Cmon in, we’re open for business.” Mathew said.
He hesitated. He fought the urge to be like them, to turn into those monsters. He smiled when he saw her, then he stepped on the button that opened the trap door. The fight was over.
The sound of the heavy door slamming shut cut off the screams below. He knew she had broken both legs and cracked ribs when she fell but that was all fixable. His father’s tools were already sharpened, ready for use after so many years sitting neglected in the storage boxes.
He liked the delivery woman, Claire. He hoped she liked it here, too.