Writing Photo Prompt and Contest – March 2015
Read the Entries - Click the Story Bars Below
Wilbur worked at a dirty chicken shack off I-65. Except he didn’t. His name wasn’t Wilbur, that’s just what his nametag said, and “The Chicken Coop” didn’t serve fried chicken, that’s just what the sign advertised.
He was only ‘Wilbur’ the first time I met him, but, for me, it stuck. The next time, he was ‘Dave’. The time after, ‘John’. It was odd, but he could fry up a mean batch of Jo Jo taters- thick cut, seasoned magnificently, and crisped to perfection – so I ignored it.
He cooked customer favorites behind the counter while Joyce and Sharon, two elderly waitresses, shuffled around the little hole-in-the-wall scrubbing tables and mopping floors, their arthritic knees creaking.
It couldn’t have been a profitable business. It was rumored Wilbur’s brother financed it to keep him occupied, and I believed it.
Wilbur liked to talk, and over batches of potatoes I learned about my strange friend. In July, that he’d never been in love. In October, that he hated Halloween. In January, that he was ready for a new start. In April, that he’d murdered his brother the previous week.
I listened to his matter-of-fact reasoning while I ate my last three taters, then I wiped my mouth with a napkin and settled my bill. My hand on the doorknob, I paused and asked Wilbur a question, which seemed to surprise him. To my disappointment, he wasn’t able to answer.
I was a good mile down the road when I dialed 911.
Nametags filled the bowl, in danger of breaching the brim and falling to the fake wood surface underneath. Here and there, a pin had come loose, ready to impale anyone who was not careful.
The excitement of the conference filled the air and the muffled noise of shy introductions and happy reunions grew as the minutes to opening counted down on the huge clock overhead. Conferences, he thought. Such a great way to meet people.
Names upon names upon names. Each ready to identify its owner. He scanned the crowd, trying to imagine who belonged to the names in the bowl.
Joyce. Surely a short, stocky woman with dark hair. Older with a braying laugh.
Wilbur. A meek man with thinning hair and glasses. The nervous type who always wore a tie and blazer.
Sharon. A thin blonde with carefully curled hair and even more carefully applied makeup to hide the growing wrinkles.
So many names, so many people.
It’s time, he thought and, without looking, he thrust his hand into the bowl, fishing for The One. It was important not to look. He didn’t know why, but it was a rule he couldn’t break. Pin pricks stabbed his fingers and scratched the back of his hand, bringing blood. As if they were protecting the people they represented. Tiny guards.
His searching fingers closed around one and he knew. He sighed as he pulled it from the bowl, opening his eyes to read the name. Perfect.
“Gotta meet someone,” said Dallas. Emma held his shirt, still reeking of fryer grease.
“Sure… it’s fifty.”
Dallas pushed a finger between the motel room curtains, peering, then tossed the cash. “Bye, Monique.”
He paused in the doorway. Behind the building, the warning whoop of a patrol cruiser parted the night air. He bolted into overgrowth across the old highway. Seconds later, a twentyish kid rounded the corner and skidded into her end room. No bullets chasing him… nice. He flipped off the wall switch.
The kid exhaled, then muttered “My car…”
He turned. “Help me? …twenty bucks?”
“I can get it. Take my car up the highway so they can’t run my plates. Come back, we’ll go to the ATM.”
He held out the keys. “Green Cutlass.”
The old car was backed into a nearby space. The cruiser’s tires rolled slowly, crunching litter.
“Hey, Monique!” A grin through the open window.
“Hey, Deputy Wilbur.”
“Get a car?”
“See a guy running?”
“Try that field.”
In the car, the girl named Emma opened her ratty shoulder pack. In it was a jumble of plastic and metal and names: Pete, Royce, Wilbur and others, all of them johns. “Gotta piece a me, gotta piece of you. Sonsabitches.” She smiled. Probably got docked pay to replace them.
She pulled the new name tag from a dress pocket: “Oggy,” not “Dallas.”
The car turned over smoothly — a car that would never, ever be reported stolen. She grinned. Good deal.
Erica ran hard. His footsteps pounded behind her. She turned another corner, ducked into a short hallway.
She pressed her back to a wall. Listened. Sidestepped towards a door. It wasn’t an exit, not in the middle of the hotel service tunnel. But it would buy her time.
Except he had her phone. When he dropped it into his pocket, she knew. No matter how public a meeting place, a blind date was a crapshoot.
She pushed down on the door handle. Leapt into the room, slammed the door shut.
She planted herself against it, knees bent. He pounded from the other side.
“Open up, bitch.” He shoved. Her feet started to slide. Her left thigh cramped. She glanced around the room, storage for room-service menus and complimentary amenities.
He shoved harder.
She contorted herself trying to reach something, anything, still planted against the door. She managed one finger on a small box.
“C’mon.” She eased it to the edge of a shelf. Another inch . . .
The box fell, spewing lapel pins. She grabbed the nearest one. And knew how to make a roux? She turned it over and read Andy, Chef.
She lifted Rosaria’s pin. Vinegar left mirrors spotless. Frantic, she swept through nametags while he pushed harder, her mind flying through whiskeys, reservation spiels and elevator maintenance.
Erica pinned the tag to her blouse and backed away from the door.
She took him down with a single ax kick.
Sweat gathered on Wilbur’s upper lip as he removed the tags and threw them into the container beside the door. After each person’s tag was removed, a guard forced them into the chamber. When the last person was inside Wilbur firmly shut and locked the door.
“Ready for go in chamber one,” he said, stepping away from the door.
As he waited, Wilbur thought about how his life had changed in the last 15 years. This war, the first on American soil since the 1800s, had nearly destroyed the country. Fighting still continued but Wilbur had come through the war relatively unscathed. He rationalized his actions by telling himself that morality and conscience had no place in his life if he wanted to survive.
After 30 minutes had passed he ventilated the chamber to dissipate the gas. He donned his mask and went in to dispose of the bodies.
As he leaned down to grab the first pair of feet, he heard a loud commotion. Moments later armed freedom fighters entered the building. Wilbur threw up his hands. “I just work here. I’m not a threat.”
The woman pulled the scarf from her face as Wilbur stared with horror. “Sure you are Wilbur. You helped kill my brother.” She reached out, yanked the name tag off his chest and dropped it on top of the others in the glass container. With the tip of her rifle she nudged him into the chamber and closed the door, silencing his screams.
His mother’s name was Charlotte. Her favorite book was Charlotte’s Web. Naturally, she named him Wilbur. Each time she packed his school lunch, she wrote a note on orange paper (his favorite color). The notes pronounced him, “Remarkable”, “Terrific”, and “Radiant”. Somehow, Wilbur believed these affirmations, even when his classmates indicated otherwise.
Teachers called Wilbur, “Different.” He was intelligent, literate, and good at math. But he didn’t have any friends. Wilbur’s classmates labeled him as creepy. When Wilbur greeted them by reciting their birthdates, addresses, and phone numbers, they called him a freak and walked away.
Doctors called Wilbur, “Autistic.” She should keep him in school while she maintained her job at the flower shop, but once Wilbur was an adult, she needed to put him, “in a home.” They said he would never have a job. Charlotte didn’t like the sound of this. Her son already had a home. Surely she wasn’t the only one who recognized his competence.
Charlotte didn’t care what the teachers and doctors told her. She just continued sending Wilbur to school with confirmations of her admiration tucked inside his lunch box. Eventually, the notes traveled to the library with Wilbur, where his love of birthdates translated well into a job using the Dewey Decimal System. Following his mother’s death, Wilbur rode the bus home every day. He’d remove his nametag and place it inside of a box filled with orange notes. Slips of paper that helped Wilbur see himself through Charlotte’s eyes.
Maria hated the idea.
“You’ve got to be kidding. No one in Dubai has even heard of Mr. Ed. This is just a cheap excuse to wear that horse costume again. They’ll never get Stephen’s part of the costume. I grew up watching, and I don’t even know what Wilbur looks like!”
This would be our third gala event in the United Arab Emirates, Stephen’s first. We’d been arguing about three person group costumes for half the week. So far, Maria refused to budge, but I could tell the battle was starting to bore her. She’d give soon.
“No problem,” I counter, “We can just pick up a name-tag somewhere for Stephen. The Emirati will eat it up. Plus, it can double as that other thing.”
She perks up. “Maybe.”
Six days later, and we’re taking the transatlantic flight. First class. You get some decent perks with our gig. My favorite is the exotic food. I got two portions of luqaimat before we even left the airport. They taste a little like beignets, only better.
Our host serves the sweet dumplings again at the party. Maria makes a comment about this being the sole reason I claimed the front portion of the horse. She’s always complaining about how much I eat. She stops complaining after Stephen’s admirable performance. He even gets the target to prick his own finger on the name-tag before crossing the party to reach us.
I make a joke, “Welcome to the family business, Willllllllburrrrr!”
Every issue of Killer Nashville Magazine will have a Photo Prompt Contest. The rules:
1. Use the inspiration of visual content to draft a short story (250 word maximum).
2. Submit your short story by the end of the month.
3. Killer Nashville will post all submitted stories (in alphabetical order by author’s last name).
4. We will provide an online poll. Vote for the best story.
5. By submitting a story, the entrant attests the story is original and that Killer Nashville has the irrevocable non-exclusive right to use it in any media format with credit given to you.
6. The writer who collects the most votes by the end of the month will be our winner and their story will be published in the next month’s magazine. Good luck!