Camels in Misty Virginia

Submitted into Contest #158 in response to: Start your story with a couple sharing a cigarette in a parking lot.... view prompt


Contemporary Sad Fiction

This story contains sensitive content

{CW: Substance Use, Language, Suicide}

Chuck touched the box through his pant pocket as the door closed automatically behind him. Popping it out past his belt, he looked at the graphic on the front. He couldn't unsee the man in the camel ever since someone at the bar pointed it out a few days ago. Either that guy was high as a kite or some clever corporate graphic designer had left their indelible mark on the world.

After packing them against his wrist for five seconds, he flipped the lid open and reacted with a sniff. Pulling the tan foil away exposed a neat row of filters, standing in the way of pure Turkish gold. Tapping the open box on his other hand, the speckled tubes inched out. Pulling one free, he rolled it between his fingertips and looked at the business end. The tobacco was packed a bit down from the end of the paper. Perfect. Jabbing his hand in the other pocket, he fished for the trusty Bic lighter, whose childproof latch he had peeled off with the clip point blade on his folding knife. As he reached his thumb up to the grooved wheel to fire off the flint, the ritual was interrupted.

“Ladies first. You gonna give me a light?” Her voice startled him. It was husky and firm. He looked over. His after dinner ritual had almost made him forget he was on a date. She was leaning on one foot strapped in a chunky heel. Her flared capris hid slim taunt stems. His eyes passed the oversized buckle on her belt and moved slowly over a tank top with a decorative bra poking out here and there playfully. An elbow was parked on her hip with a dainty slim 100 cigarette between the polished nails on her pointer and middle finger. Large designer shades hid eyes that earlier in the night he had marveled were pale blue with flecks of green the color and shape of flower petals.

Leaning in slightly, not close, he pulled the wheel on his fire starter, the chirp coincided with her inhale as the reflection of the flame danced in the dark lenses of her sunglasses. Rearranging the tube in his mouth he fired off the cherry on his Camel cigarette and pulled in a draw, the smoke marinating in the aftertaste of the Portobello Ravioli Alfredo from a half hour ago.

Cars whizzed by in the mellow evening, the orange sun hanging stubbornly over the city skyline. Charles, as his mom had always called him, searched his brain for words. He was always horrible at this part.

“This is a nice restaurant,” She broke the ice again, looking around at perfectly manicured boxwood shrubs ringing the darkened windows of the lobby.

“Did you like your Chicken Parmesan?” He found the bare minimum how was dinner line.

“It was good. I really liked the fresh baked bread, drizzled in extra virgin olive oil, perfecto,” She tapped an ash, measuring him with her eyes over the shades.

Charles fought for words. His parlaying skills were like chimps with sign language, “Do you need a ride home?” He looked over at his pitiful Volkswagen, the rust eating away at the fenders, like the creditors on his bank account.

“I'll Uber my way back to the West Side,” She sucked on the cigarette, huffing the smoke out her nose in mild frustration.

“I thought maybe we could get a bottle of Cabernet Shiraz on the way back to your apartment and share a few drinks after dinner,” The sound of his voice echoing through his nose reminded him of a pimple faced kid on a drive up speaker. He cringed in anticipation of her answer.

“I've got wine. A vintage dry red if you have to know. Don't text me. If I want to talk, I'll call you,” She wrinkled her nose and stabbed the butt in the sand on top of the garbage can. Pulling out her sparkly cell phone she waved an arm as a late model Audi pulled up and stopped.

He waved to the back of her head as a driver with bushy eyebrows flicked two fingers from his forehead with a quizzical smirk as they pulled away. Chuck realized he was hot boxing the filter on his cig, the taste as unpleasant as her departure.

The walk to his embarrassing vehicle, sandwiched like baloney in between foreign sport cars, was punctuated by the scuff of his best pair of leather shoes. His reflection in the side glass reminded him he was well dressed, collars, wingtips, designer leather belt. He smiled at his effort.

The four cylinder gas engine loped and shimmied, the hole in the muffler puffing about his middle lower income to the whole city. He spun through the drive up.

“I need a fifth of your cheapest American bourbon please.”

“That'll be $18.47 please.”

“Thanks,” He tossed the plastic bottle in the paper bag to the torn leather of the passenger seat, promising himself he wouldn't finish the bottle tonight. The drive home reminded him what side of the city he resided. Restaurants were replaced by gas stations peddling cheap liquor and smokes. Joggers and bicyclists were supplanted by street walkers and old women pushing stolen shopping carts full of scavenged junk.

The porch light flickered sporadically. He handed the homeless guy, Lemon his only five dollar bill and gave his dirty fist a bump. Lemon smiled at him, gap toothed as he turned, probably going to the dealer. It wasn't Chuck's problem. It was his way of absolving himself of the guilt he felt for having a roof that didn't leak and a comfortable bed.

He pushed the door closed. It popped open. He leaned on it pulling up on the handle, heaving his shoulder. It clicked and he flicked the deadbolt, turning and sliding the chain as well. Chuck carefully removed his leather dress shoes, holding them gingerly. Walking into his bedroom, he slid them into their reverend spot on the shelf in his closet. They were a relic of better times, when he could afford to be well dressed everyday. He folded his slacks sideways to preserve the proper crease in the front and back. He sprayed the pits on his button up shirt. He couldn't afford for sweat stains to ruin it. He folded the collar together and placed it in the hamper like he was putting a baby in a crib.

Pulling on a cotton t-shirt and boxers, he slid his feet into house shoes and looked for the remote. The thoughts of what awful tropes and outright lies and deception would pour from the screen made him instead look over at the dog eared copy of Michener's 'Poland' sitting under an empty ashtray.

Throwing the empty brown bag at the trashcan, Charles cracked the plastic cap on the bottle of Evan Williams whiskey and poured a few shots into the tumbler on his end table. He flicked the empty bottle from last night towards the trash. It bounced and skidded, spinning to rest on the cheap vinyl floor in the kitchenette.

He was now at the crossroads, dare he light up a cigarette to compliment his drink, then turn on the television; or, accept the disappointment up front, hit the ON button then look for a moment of frustration to fire up a Camel filter to share with his bourbon. Such were the conundrums of single bachelor life in the rust belt of a country past its prime, yet not aged well enough for foreigners to want to visit for the culture.

The flat screen squawked like a phoenix burning down convention all the while re-birthing commercialism and consumer frenzy. The media insisted you have everything insured, even your pet rodent. An almost violent assault of beautiful people and impossibly wealthy socialites pushed overpriced lines of cosmetics, guaranteed to make you beautiful like them; well them with gobs of makeup, endless plastic surgeries, perfect lighting and camera lens filters.

It took Chuck fifteen minutes before his nerves and insecurities pushed him to pacify his anxiety. The box was seductive, twenty chances to poke the monkey. The traffic earlier caused him to smoke one. He had eighteen tubes and the mind of a seventeen year old at the age of twenty five.

Firing up a rig he tempered it with a sip of warm whiskey. He shot a few smoke rings at the TV, where he barely noticed five grown men on bicycles riding backwards sitting on the handle bars while juggling running chainsaws between them. He wondered why they waited till prime time to bore him with this shit.

“And why the hell do we need celebrities reacting and giving their opinions, just so they can get paid by the aforementioned commercials!” Yelling at the TV had become its own form of sad personal entertainment.

After ten acrobats, a comedian that made people laugh without talking and some stupid little dogs, he looked at the bottle. Half empty. Cigarette butts were piling up and the brain fog was making him wonder if he had to work tomorrow. Did he still have a job? Good grief he forgot that he walked out today. What did he say... was it 'Fuck You!' or 'I don't give a Fuck!' His manager was cool, he might still have a job. Nobody wanted to do his shitty job anyway. Who in the hell wants to wash dishes for a living?

Chuck looked at the end table under the lamp. A piece of notebook paper was folded up with a giant question mark on the outside. He forgot he was working on some lyrics last night. He was curious what mindless garbage he might have wrote and unfolded it and read.

All the words have been read

Everything has been said

The Worlds have been lost

My sanity its cost

A blood red candle you send

Its tallow and wicks at both ends

Burning and melting we meet

Flames collide dreams in heat

All that's left is ash and char

A blotch of wax on a bar

He laughed a bit. It sounded like a cheesy dirge metal anthem from the 90's. All he needed was a band to go with the song and a taste for cheap drugs.

He delved into his memories, drinking always made him nostalgic. She was never far from his thoughts. Her memories dangled in his mind like corpses hanging from dead trees covered in ravens. Their empty sad eye sockets mocked him and the love he killed. Her tears baptized him in retrospect, not all the ones he dried, just the ones he caused.

Chuck didn't know what he lost until he was clutching a comforter on an empty bed, noticing that unlike a human the blanket just collapsed. It never pushed back or felt warm. It was dead like his love, a deflated, crumpled wad of fabric that mirrored his soul. He wanted to cry, but he was too drunk now, too disconnected from suppressed emotions and latent narcissism.

The ethereal darkness weaved in from the cracks in the floor boards, an invisible smoke of poison. Wafting into his nostrils it smelled of saffron. He poured another full tumbler, the bottle mostly gone now. Sipping it, a cold grin turned up the edges of his lips. He was remembering the other ritual. Digging down past the edge of the cushion, under the pillow he felt its cold steel frame. Pulling it out he placed it next to him on the scratchy plaid fabric and smiled. A tear crawled out of the edge of his eye, unattached to an emotion.

He turned on the smart feature on his TV and searched for the saddest song he knew on YouTube. Watching it he wondered why sad people always had dark hair. Surely there were depressed blonde people somewhere in Scotland. Chuck marveled at how emotions could make one feel physical pain. He wondered why every time he saw her after she left he could have said anything and instead he clammed up. Spoken words were always hard for him. He wrote her letters. She threw them all away without reading them. He wished she hadn't told him that so he could hold on to some kind of hope that their flame had not died.

Death. He reached over without looking. The diamond checker on the handle felt alive on his finger tips. He had wiped it down again. The tube felt large, like it could do the job. The cylinder was smooth and yet had a machined sharpness to its edges that told you it was serious. People that hated these things couldn't fathom the beauty and finality of their design. They were made to do one thing. Kill.

Killing was demonized yet necessary. If one was forced by violence their very instincts would engage and they would kill to save their life or the life of another. Philosophy aside this battle inside Charles was personal. He gripped the handle like he had dozens of times.

Reaching up for the grooves on the cocking handle, he was reminded of the motion to fire his lighter. With his other hand he pulled a Camel cigarette from the box and stuck it to his bottom lip. The red Bic lighter fired off reliably as he drew in the potent heady scent. He smoked for a bit without his hands, blowing the smoke from his nostrils and letting the ashes fall to his lap.

The revolver laid in his lap. He cocked it again. Four pounds of pressure on the trigger would allow the firing pin to slip past the sear. Four pounds separated him from death. The smoke drifted into his eyes, causing them to water. He reached up with his free hand and pinched the filter between his forefinger and thumb, pulling the cigarette away from his face. He looked over at the bottle. Two shots rested at the bottom of the cheap plastic vessel. He parked the smoke in the crook of his fingers and reached over for it.

He didn't bother pouring it in the glass, he was beyond pleasantries. He gulped the 80 proof whiskey down in a few slugs and hurled the bottle at the wall. The plastic bounced off with a thud and came to rest next to the other trash scattered around the floor. He took the last few drags of tobacco and stabbed the butt next to its dead brothers and sisters.

An eternally sad face serenaded him from the flat screen. Sad, yes; poor and sad and lonely no. He felt tricked, like they were selling him sadness and cashing in with commercial success. He looked past the TV. He had paid $50.00 to frame a twenty dollar poster of Edvard Munch's 'The Scream' and hung it next to the mindless visual lie machine that connected to the internet superhighway of everything exaggerated and unattainable. He secretly hoped all the impossibly pretty creatures occasionally had to walk among us and cringe at what actual humanity looked like.

Chuck looked down at the cylinder on the revolver. He could see the circular casings of the bullets mated to the machining on the face of the wheel. A few days ago he tapped the bullets out and locked the gun back in its box, unloaded. He placed the unfired cartridges back in the paper box and stashed them in his night stand.

The next night someone beat on the door at two in the morning. He looked out the side window and saw men in hoods, shifting around nervously. Lemon had warned him there were robbers casing his neighborhood. By the time he had reloaded they left.

He looked over at the quiet cell phone that had yet to ring or vibrate. The time stamp on his screen said it was only 9:30.

Goddamn, he had downed a fifth of bourbon and smoked most of his cigarettes and it wasn't even bed time. He couldn't remember her name. They had dinner. Was it Misty? Mindy? Seemed like it started with an M. If that was her name. No telling with people these days, a woman that well put together could have stalkers. Maybe that's why she said she would call him. He had a little hope.

Chuck thought about shooting the flat screen. He could barely afford to replace groceries, much less his TV. Misplaced anger festered in his drunken mind. The negative thoughts were building. He was a loser, washing dishes for a washed up diner on its last legs. Minimum wage barely kept him drunk every night. The price of cigarettes kept him from affording a decent car. Him and his Volkswagen, what a pair, they both smoked.

He uncocked the pistol, then cocked it again. So drunk, he couldn't remember if you were supposed to put the barrel on your temple, on the roof of your mouth or under your chin. He talked about suicide to a cop one time and the botched attempts he had seen. He was contemplating the Jackson Pollock painting his blood and brain matter would leave on the wall when his cell phone went off.

'You have a call from Misty.'

Hoping he wouldn't say anything too drunk stupid, he uncocked the gun, laid it down, picked up the screen and swiped right.

August 08, 2022 01:46

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.


Tommy Goround
21:36 Aug 08, 2022

How did you get me to complete, read and enjoy a long monologue that has suicide in the middle? You rock. Seriously, I wouldn't even comment if I didn't find this engaging. There is nothing as a reader to make me suggest that this involves a rewrite. There were no editorials that hit my eyeballs and caused me to stop reading. The piece speaks for itself. For those that cannot figure out the theme: the romance of men is beyond sexual flings. An identity. The protagonist has the need for other people to validate that his life does not suck...


Kevin Marlow
22:24 Aug 08, 2022

Thanks for the thoughtful commentary. I'll take four stars any day. I was trying to sneak the suicidal ideation in slowly like simmering a lobster. By the time the reader realizes what's being suggested, it's too late.


Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Kendall Defoe
03:26 Aug 21, 2022

Damn you for this one... Absolutely brilliant and very moving. You really understood the mind of a character who felt there was nothing left for them. Impressive...


Kevin Marlow
04:16 Aug 21, 2022

I am honored to be damned by you, Kendall. I hoped to nudge a person, who had never been, to the edge.


Kendall Defoe
15:22 Aug 21, 2022

I have been to the edge. That's why I never jumped.


Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Graham Kinross
16:23 Aug 08, 2022

“I've got wine. A vintage dry red if you have to know. Don't text me. If I want to talk, I'll call you,” Ouch, that’s worse than ‘I’m washing my hair.’ “So drunk, he couldn't remember if you were supposed to put the barrel on your temple, on the roof of your mouth or under your chin.” Yeah and you only get one shot at it. Have you ever seen Preacher? There’s a character called Arseface because of how he looked after trying to kill himself with a shotgun, very harsh. That whole show was brutal, a bit like this. And they both show that all yo...


Tommy Goround
21:42 Aug 08, 2022

Clapping. Nice analysis.


Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Theresa Tiller
23:39 Aug 17, 2022

The suicidal ideation is nicely handled — present but not the sole focus. I liked the ritualistic feel of it — the idea that he has done the same thing, had the same internal dialogue about suicide, over and over again. I caught one small thing — you have a line about him putting his good leather shoes in their “reverend” spot — did you mean “revered” or “reverent”? I ask because I haven’t seen the word reverend used in this context before. Other than that, this was a well-written and compelling piece.


Kevin Marlow
00:29 Aug 18, 2022

Thanks for the analysis. I've lost so many friends and relatives to suicide, I keep trying to put the reader in that place so they can empathize instead of judge. Good editorial catch, I remember wondering if I should google reverend, revered would have been the perfect word. Reverend can be used as an adjective, but it's usually in reference to clergy.


Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Mike Panasitti
00:27 Aug 09, 2022

Despite the somber atmospherics, I couldn't keep from scrolling down the text. The prose reads like poetry, the voice is brilliantly executed, the metaphors and similes, crisp. Memorable line: "a country past its prime, yet not aged well enough for foreigners to want to visit for the culture." A little harsh, but given his POV, Chuck's assessment is forgivable. I'm glad he gets the call from Misty. Sometimes that's all one needs when one is way down in the hole. I was also relieved not to see a creative non-fiction tag. Overall, a su...


Kevin Marlow
00:39 Aug 09, 2022

Thank you for the encouragement. I'm not always confident in my ability to wield dramatic elements and dialogue.


Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply