Every year, we like to challenge Chattanooga writers to come up with their best story in 500 words or less. This year, we had a record number of entries, and a daunting task at hand for our judges to determine the best of the best. And without further ado, here are the top three and two honorable mentions for your enjoyment.
By Ever Flanigan
It was hot. It was ‘work until noon and then go home so you don’t die’ hot. The most miserable summer on record had decided to rear its head while I was trying to meet one of the most demanding deadlines of my career. Strong challenges came with the territory, but the summer weather Montgomery County was dishing out had become a thorn in my side.
Burying telephone cable through a well-established neighborhood offered its own set of problems. The homeowners were unhappy with the inconvenience. They all want progress they just don’t want to be bothered by it.
It was a little either side of ten on a Thursday morning and our machinery was overheating and automatically shutting down. Frustration had spilled throughout the crew and tempers were, well, elevated. I found a spot under a nearby tree and sat down.
Across the street a pair of industrious girls were busy. I guessed them to be about nine years old each and it didn’t take them long to assemble an open-air shop at the end of their driveway. A folding card table had become their sales floor. It was a dark brown square with metal legs and a permanent swag in the middle. There were two upturned plastic buckets for chairs. With a jug of pale yellow liquid, a small cooler of ice and an ambitious stack of Dixie cups, Capitalism had established itself inside our construction zone.
Slowly abandoning my sacred shade, I eased across the street.
“You young ladies plan on selling some of that lemonade?” I lightheartedly asked.
“This is our lemonade stand. Twenty-five cents a cup.” I couldn’t tell if they were sisters, but they could have been. I looked at the size of the cups and reached in my pocket for some quarters.
“Well, I’ll have to try some” I said, laying the coin on the table. One of the girls reached for the money while the other promptly began filling my order. It seemed like a thimbleful and went down fast.
“How much are refills?” I asked.
“Twenty-five cents.” I handed one of them my cup and the other another quarter.
I turned to see my crew across the street, still waiting for the equipment to cool down.
“You guys come over and splurge on some ice cold lemonade,” I suggested. All but one joined me.
Jeff, 18 years old and from a small Alabama town, had just gotten a raise and was earning more money than he knew what to do with. He was also fiscally tight as a drum.
“Get over here and spend some of that money you’re sitting on,” I teased. He reluctantly stood up and ambled sheepishly toward us.
“Well how much is it,” Jeff asked.
“Twenty-five cents.” He dug in his pocket and produced the coin. One of the girls had already poured the drink and handed it to him. He looked at it and tried to hand it back.
“It’s not full,” he complained. The other girl reached into the cooler and grabbed two more cubes of ice. She dropped it in the cup, still in Jeff’s outreached hand.
Without even a grin she declared, “It’s full now!”
An Evening in Paris
by Diane M. Moore
Looking at Paris in this light was a whole new experience. Sure, we’d been to Paris before, but somehow tonight the soft evening light exposed a whole new city.
“When we say our vows again, let’s do it right here,” my husband said.
“Right here? It might be difficult to get food and tables up to this particular spot. I hope our parents will be up for the trip.”
“So what? We can say our vows here and then eat anywhere. Everywhere. A food hike.”
I laughed at him, but I was charmed by his enthusiasm and glad he still wanted to celebrate our years together instead of chasing after mid-life crisis cars and girls.
“You are pretty cute, you know,” I said.
This always makes my tough husband blush and I would never say it around other guys, tough or not.
“What if we do it by the Eiffel Tower?” he said.
“Sure, whatever you like as long as there’s food nearby,” I said.
We made our way down the trail and sat on a bench. I got out my tablet and went to the city website to look for information and found exactly what I wanted – the perfect spot for our vows. Our own April in Paris. We would say our vows right by the tower and then walk with our guests to the World’s Biggest Fish Fry, held the last week of April every year since 1953 in Paris, Tennessee.
By Nathan Anderson
The subject line read “Are you sitting down?” At the time I was building a new trail bridge deep in the woods so I was surprised I was even able to get a signal. But instead of reading the actual email I simply responded “No, let me get out of here and in front of a bottle of Bourbon. Give me about 3 hours.” As his best friend for forty years, my gut told me I was going to need the Bourbon. So I worked for another hour in the cold, rolled up the job site, and humped my frozen ass out of there.
I stopped by the liquor store and picked up a bottle of Single Barrel and headed home. Let the dog out of the truck, stripped off my mud caked boots and clothes out on the front porch, and walked in the house. I filled up the dog bowl with dry dog food advertised for fat, lazy fuckers, poured myself three fingers of Bourbon, swallowed most of it, filled it up again, and made the call.
We’re both pushing sixty so death is no stranger. Our dads, his brother, my mom, his first wife, and several friends, all lost to cancer, crashes, drugs, and just plain stupidity. He answers on the second ring, another ominous sign. I knew he was waiting for my call. We exchange our typical brief pleasantries, then get down to the brass tacks: stage four esophageal cancer. Three months, tops. Dead air follows.
The Bourbon is almost tasteless as I down the full shot. Burning my throat with the irony of knowing he will never swallow again as he tells me the feeding tube will stick out of his side, a direct pipeline to his stomach. The cancer is everywhere; throat, lymph nodes, lining, liver.
The only warning he ever got was that a couple of weeks ago he was having some difficulty swallowing. We talk briefly about treatment options, the pros and cons. Knowing the odds, knowing the doom that lies just ahead. Neither one of shed a tear. There will plenty of time for that soon enough. He just needs to hear me say how much I love him and that I will be there for him when he goes back to the oncologist in a few days. I say goodnight, telling him to give my love to his wife and daughter.
I hang up the phone and stare at nothing. The dog wants out. I throw on a robe and some old shoes, refill my glass and follow him out into the night. Forty damn years trailing behind me. Death defying, balls to the wall, non-stop living. What a pair we were. Stuck on the side of a Kansas highway waiting for the engine to cool on a primer gray ‘53 Chevy pickup so we can patch a hose. Making coffee, rolling a joint, gawking at the universe. A full moon lighting up an ocean of summer wheat.
By Pembroke Williams
Mariachi music floated across the river to greet the dawn. “Funny morning tunes,” I thought, but then I hadn't heard English in a few blocks. I considered waking Deanna as it was her watch, but chivalry won out and I left her to it. When she woke we packed up and left the bridge that had sheltered against the rain that had not come. A few miles on foot brought us back to the city where we sat down next to a church and watched kids hunt for eggs. Afterwards we had our own hunt and wound up with hard boiled breakfast. Depositing our packs in Greyhound lockers we went sightseeing. The Alamo was both closed and smaller than I thought, but at least I got to see it. We switched our sights to the river walk and spent the day checking out gondolas and Tex-Mex art stores. Some hustler tried to recruit me for a scam stealing cameras, but he had me pegged wrong and moved on. Dinner was in a nice restaurant. I don't remember what it was called, or what we had, just that it was nice. After that we followed the flow of the current to river's end. Not the end really, just the end of the walk. First the stores disappeared and then the walk ended where the river itself became a canal of concrete and steel. There was no place to go but back, so back we went enjoying the moonlight reflecting off the water. On the way I gave a twenty to a blind homeless guy. I wondered later, and I still wonder now, whether he had a system to figure out denominations or did he get ripped off later thinking he only had a dollar. We went upstream this time, past all the closed shops and bars, past the city lights, finally settling down in a pine grove for the night. We slept without shelter, snuggled up and watching the moon. Tomorrow would begin our journey south to old Mexico. It was a good Easter.
Log #168: Kanigumo
By Gavin Gaither
I have encountered many mysterious creatures, or kaiju, during my travels throughout Japan, but none were as intriguing as the crab spider.
Dubbed “kanigumo” by the locals of Yaizu, a small city swarming with bikers and rice fields, the crab spider is a rare, yet unwelcomed sight because of its tendency to attack—and often kill—anyone who comes near, injecting its victims with lethal toxins.
I learned to avoid this beast the hard way.
It was evening—the skies were masked in dark gray. I had returned from an all-day field study; I smiled as I entered my hotel room. A small, wooden chamber with a moth-ravaged cot, the fan made life here bearable. Sweat slithered down my cheeks, my legs were steel bars. I trudged towards my bed, eyelids slowly descending. I was ready to explore Dreamland, but when I heard the hissing, my eyes shot open and my heart whimpered.
I turned and saw a large, tomcat-sized crab covered in black hair. Perched upon the window’s top right corner, the creature’s sixteen eyes glared bright red, its mandibles flailed like wiggling fingers. It seemed prepared to pounce if I came near, hissing like an enraged cobra.
I couldn’t move. My legs had doubled in weight, now like two elephants. I didn’t tremble, but I certainly wanted to. Sure, I study kaiju for a living, so close encounters were commonplace. However, its stare screamed leaving it alive was a bad idea.
I peered right and saw an old umbrella. The moths had snacked on it as well, leaving it polka dotted with holes, but it could work. The spider bent its legs and I did the same. It would be a race—life was the grand prize and whoever moved first would be the winner.
My fists clenched and the elephants scrapped their feet against the ground. I’m not sure what told me to go, but I shot off just before the spider jumped. I rolled, grabbing my weapon, and then leapt forward. As the spider charged towards me, ready to kill, I swung my sword. I was a samurai slicing at my target, until the kanigumo disappeared.
My eyes widened and I fell on my face—quite ungraceful for a samurai. I groaned and sat up, my head turned left and right. My breathing was heavy, but I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t think. I could only wonder, what kind of kaiju was the kanigumo?
I never did find the creature. Even now, as I type this log, I continue to search, hoping it doesn’t kill me in my sleep. Perhaps it fled away from the room, or maybe it’s still lurking. I can’t even imagine where it might be, especially with this tickling on my neck.
This is Dr. Erica Ned, signing off.