Friday, December 29, 2006

A Keeper

This is for the current Wordsmiths challenge. The introduction and picture were provided by wordsmith Tiff (thanks a lot, I went through a lot of virtual paper on this). My ending to the story is below the photo. I value your comments, please tell me what you think! And, I want to read YOUR story so get writing. All the stories entered will be linked at Wordsmiths soon - go! Read! ======================================= A loud rapping at the door awoke me from a deep dreamy sleep. It was early, too early to be awake, and certainly too early to be out in the streets pounding on doors. I thought that there must be some emergency in town and ran to the door to find out whatever news there was from whoever was there. Much to my surprise, there was no-one at the door ready to identify themselves and their message, and yet a package with my name on it had been left at the door. It was a most curious circumstance, and yet I saw no real harm in it, because secret gift giving was the hallmark of the holiday season. I myself had delivered many a gift in that manner over the years. The package was heavier than it should have been from its size, and once I had it indoors I eagerly opened it to find out what it was and who had sent it. Alas, there was no identification of the giver, and more's the pity because what was inside was a most remarkable carved wood box, worked with figures of animals and dragons all over, in a magnificent shade of red. Whoever sent it to me must have been a prankster, though, because I could see no way into the box, no clasp or lock announced itself, no hinge or platen presented itself as a means to the inside. I was locked out, and most frustrated by this unfortunate turn of events.

I found this note with the box, kept in a steamer trunk in my grandmother’s attic for generations. A faraway look crossed her face when I asked her about it. She smiled, blinked back a tear, and folded my hands over it. “I’ve had a long and happy life, I want you to have it.” That’s all she would say. Months after she died, I brought the box downtown to my friend, Charlie. He owned a crowded little pawn shop, which held far more than should have been possible in a tiny storefront. He was a five-foot man with a ten-foot personality; he could easily throttle an entire gang using a yardstick and golf ball. We had lunch together several times over the years, and he spoke perfect English. Whenever he was in his store, however, he adopted a hilarious accent, spouting Confucius’ teachings whenever asked the price of an item. He said it was good for business. He peered through round spectacles at the intricate scrollwork. “Ohhhh, this bling you good ruck!” he burbled. “This velly good thing to have around,” as he pressed it into my hands. I turned it over, smiling. “But, what is it? It doesn’t open and has been in a trunk for decades. Is it worth anything?” His expression hardened. He solemnly hefted the trinket. “Yes, it is worth something. What is it worth to YOU, is the question.” “Uh, I dunno,” I stammered. “Maybe a collector would get more out of it than I would. Make an offer, if, if you want it.” “Two thousand dollars,” he said with uncharacteristic shortness as the till slammed open. He grabbed a stack of twenties and waved me out. I thanked him, but he shook his head sadly, not taking his eyes off the box. The doorbells tinkled as I turned down the street, happy to have the money but uneasy about Charlie’s behavior. I walked along the deserted road, oblivious to the chill in the air and the thick silence afforded by a blanket of snow in this sleepy season. Glancing up, I locked eyes with the panicking driver, a young girl in a white knit hat. Her frantic steering did nothing to change her course. I sidestepped as her car jumped the curb, crossed the sidewalk, and slammed into a coffee shop. Heavy icicles fell from the canopy. I watched the wagon swing around to pin me against the wall. Vertebrae and bricks ground together, fanbelts snapped, steam escaped with a teakettle whistle, echoing, cascading, drowning in the thrushing of blood in my eardrums. The car shifted, dropping me to the fluid-soaked sidewalk. It was a long way to fall. The contents of my pockets fluttered into doorways, over festooned lampposts, down storm drains. Cold concrete pressed against my cheek and warm blood met my lips. Charlie stood over me, hot tears stinging my forehead. He covered me with his old cardigan. I faded, hearing him sob, “You should have kept box, my friend.”


the only daughter said...

Yikes! Re-thinking Cash in the Attic...

Good, gory images.

Good read.

Kingfisher said...

This misfired: The abrupt transition from "crowded" pawnshop "downtown" to "deserted" road. I got whiplash from the instantaneous transportation. Also, the ending, while really intriguing, needs a little tightening up.

This worked: Holy crap - your characterization. This is one of the hardest tasks of a writer, and you fleshed out each one perfectly in VERY few words. I bow to your skill in this regard.

Thanks for joining us!

This Girl I Used to Know said...

VERY Interesting use of the box.

After I got to the end, I went back to the beginning and fugured out what Grandma meant. Nice foreshadowing.

Some things that didn't quite work for me... The description of Charlie was more than I felt the story really needed. The yardstick and golf ball thing - I'm not sure we needed to know that. I understand that you had to work in the reason for the accent, though.

Also it bothered me that Charlie was supposed to be his friend, but bought the box anyway. Charlie could have told him to keep it. Not such a good friend, after all?

The entire transaction was very well written. I could really see how Charlie was reacting to the purchase. Great description.

I loved that the money fluttered away from him at the end. The ultimate "you can't take it with you"!

Good stuff!

Biff Spiffy said...

Thank you for your comments! I'll be responding soon, and if you think of something else to say, please do!

Unfortunately, I'm too much of a n00b to make HaloScan work with a linked post like this one. So, I'm pasting previous comments left in HaloScan below. If anyone knows how to repair this glitch, please help!

Biff Spiffy said...

HaloScan Comments:
I so didn't see that coming.. GREAT story Biff! Awesome details - 'icicles falling from the canopy' and the 'contents of your pockets' -
Great Visuals.

Yeah, Tif calls me sweetie or somethin' and I just go 'Okay , I'll do it'..and off I go.

However, I am totally crushing on you because of your high praise (apparently I'm a pushover).

Whee! Thanks for the early morning entertainment.
JC 12.29.06 - 8:10 am
Biff - the imagery in this is amazingly good. I particularly liked how "it was a long way to fall" for him after the car hit.

It took me a mo to "get" the beginning, expecting it to be a continuation of the story. I wonder if there's a way to address that?

In 500 words you've introduced a whole cast of characters, painted them vividly, and killed one off. Not bad. Not bad at all!
tiff 12.29.06 - 8:36 am
You get a button if you come to NC.
Come have beer and burgers for lunch with Tiff and I - it's the best part of anything I do on any given day.
JC 12.29.06 - 7:17 pm
Yikes! Musta been a bitch writing this in traction.
Rick 12.29.06 - 7:27 pm
Ooooh, I like that! Makes me be sure to avoid cinnabar boxes in the future!

P.S. Thanks for the visit and omments. Michele (one "L" only!) is found at and you should check it out. Everyday is a little different. Let me know what you think.
kenju 12.29.06 - 9:43 pm
======================== about a surprise! I totally didn't see that coming either.

Love your style Spiffy!
marisol 01.01.07 - 10:24 am
Hey - waitaminnit! I never said anything about NOT giving out pretty buttons to all the good girls and boys!

Just e-mail me and I'll send you one and help you install it.
tiff 01.01.07 - 11:07 am

Sea Hag said...

I had to read the beginning a few times to get it, and I thought the description of Charlie was a little cumbersome, but other than that I enjoyed it.

I liked the idea of the narrator wanting the quick cash instead of pondering what the box was all about, I think many of us would have done the exact same thing.

Rosie said...

I loved your use of the grotesque in this from the fake Chinese dialect to the sideways and backwards O. Henry ending. I am a bit biased though since Southern Grotesque is my primary influence. If you really wanted to tune it up to fit the genre, you'd need to make your protagonist a bit less likeable. More greedy and ne'er do well, perhaps?

I agree with Kingfisher that there is a wee bit of re-writing needed on the ending. I'm still confused about "the wagon".

The content is fabulous though and I really enjoyed it. I was completely suckered in.