Contest #139 shortlist ⭐️

69 comments

Fiction Funny

Roy took a deep breath and drummed his fingers rhythmlessly on the donation counter. It used to be all white but there was a big smear right in the middle where the paint had long worn off – a sign of the overbearing generosity of the patrons. Which meant this was a very important counter to be manning.

He looked down at his nametag and then caught his manager, Bill, out of the corner of his eye. Bill’s face was solemn – he was on duty after all – but he gave Roy the thumbs up. Roy nodded and took another deep breath. His heart was galloping, and why not? This was his first shift at his first job. Everything depended on this.

Suddenly he froze when he spotted a woman approaching. She wore a voluminous purple coat, an extravagant violet hat with lace and a flower cocked to one side, and she carried a sizeable cardboard box done up rudely with masking tape. Her heels clacked as she made her way to the counter and her giant pearl earrings swayed like tiny wrecking balls, but when she spotted him and smiled a toothy smile he felt a wave of relief.

Bill had told him donations was mission critical, but it was also turnkey. People loved being generous, all you had to do was respect them for it and take their stuff. Easy peasy.

“Hello!” she said, warbling it. She set the box down on the counter and leaned toward his nametag. Her breath smelled of something sweet masking something not. “…Roy. Good afternoon, Roy.” Up close she was spindly tall, standing nearly a head above him.

“Good afternoon, Ma’am,” he said.

She placed a delicate hand, bony fingers trembling under heavy rings, onto the top flaps of the box. “I have a tiny bit of a donation to make today. I do so wish it were more, but alas it’s all we had.”

“Oh, that’s okay,” Roy said. Then he cleared his throat. “I mean, every little bit helps, Ma’am! We really appreciate it. We wouldn’t be here without generous people like you.”

She gave a throaty laugh, and her assorted pearl necklaces clicked against each other. “Well. I have some baby clothes to drop off. We simply shan’t be needing them anymore, you see, and there’s no reason they should go to waste.”

She slid the box over to him with some gruntful effort and something inside it thumped. Perhaps there were toys in there as well?

“That’s very kind of you, Ma’am.” Roy lifted the flaps. “You’re right, of course, there’s lots of people who – holy what the crap!

“Yes?” she said, smiling her toothy grin, her head constantly bobbing up and down. “Is something amiss?”

“There’s a baby in here!” It was a jolly, pudgy little thing in a blue onesie.

The lady raised her brows. “Yes, baby clothes. I believe that’s what I said. Is the issue that they’re the wrong colour?”

“No, I mean there’s a real live baby in here!” Roy gestured to the box and then ran his hand through his hair. The baby looked up at him and smiled, giggling once or twice. Roy looked around but couldn’t see Bill anywhere. The employee handbook never covered any of this.

The lady, still grinning and nodding at him, approached the box and peered into it. She slid one hand into it and poked at the contents with her long, chipped nails.

“No,” she said, drawing it out, “I don’t think so…” The baby giggled again as her prodding nails tickled it.

“It’s right there!” Roy said. “You’re touching it!”

She took a step back. “Well now, Roy, there’s hardly any call for shouting. I daresay, youths used to be a mite more respectful in my day.”

Roy’s mouth moved up and down but he couldn’t make a sound. Couldn’t think of what to say. Then a short, spherical man waddled up to the counter. He wore a tweed three-piece suit and a brown bowler, and had an umbrella in the crook of his arm. His mole face was perpetually scrunched up as he squinted at everything through his pince-nez, and his mouth never quite closed since he seemed to breathe through it exclusively. A kind of scraggly beard ran from one ear, through the nostrils, and into the other ear, never quite touching the chin.

“I say, love, whatever is the hold up?” he said. With his free hand he adjusted his pince-nez. “I’d dearly love to make it to the château in time for the matinée.”

“Yes, love,” she said, still grinning and either shaking her head or nodding it. “Well, to be honest with you, I’m not entirely sure what the issue is. Is the box the wrong colour?”

“No, of course not! The problem is there’s a baby in the box!” Roy said.

She looked at her husband and shrugged.

Roy made an exasperated sound.

“The wrong colour?” the man said. He snorted. “Well, that’s preposterous, I think.” He turned to Roy and cleared his throat, and it rumbled deep with the promise of phlegm. “Excuse me, ah…” and he leaned in and squinted twice as hard.

“Roy,” Roy said.

Benjamin,” the man said, triumphantly. “Now, Benjamin, I’ll have you know, we have our pick of donation counters in this city, and we continue to choose this one out of the fond, sentimental memories we have of donations past. But I must say, the level of service has been starkly lacking of late – declining, in fact – and I’m not at all convinced we’ll continue our patronage.”

Roy felt a wave of panic. The employee handbook was very clear about how important donator retention was. “I’m so sorry, sir,” he rattled off, “I assure you we appreciate and value your continued donations, and I promise to address all your concerns to restore your faith in our establishment.”

“Well, that’s what I like to hear,” the man said. “So now, tell me, what exactly is the hold up? We’d like to donate these baby clothes and move on with our day.”

Roy licked his lips, drummed the counter. The man continued squinting at him and the woman continued her bobbing grin. Roy took a sharp breath.

“Well, sir, the issue is that there’s a baby in this box of baby clothes.”

“A what?” he said, and then he looked at his wife dubiously. She shook her head and frowned – but just for a moment. Then the toothy grin was back.

“A baby, sir. A tiny human.”

The woman and man both leaned over the box, and then leaned into it. They examined it for what felt like hours before surfacing again, and the man’s breathing became loud and wet, the well of phlegm gurgling deep within him. They finally rose and once more looked at each other. He shook his head uncomprehendingly, she shrugged again, and they whispered something back and forth in their married shorthand.

Finally the man turned to Roy again. “Are you certain?”

“Yes,” Roy said, teeth clenched. He stuck his hand into the box and pointed to the baby. “See this? This thing right here? This is a baby.”

“Hmm,” the man said, his furry brow furrowed.

“Did you hear that?” Roy said. “The giggling? That was the baby, just now. You can see its mouth move. See – oh, look at that, the baby just grabbed my finger. And now it’s laughing.”

Husband and wife shared one more dubious look and then examined the box again.

“Oh,” the man said, and then rising, “Oh! I think I understand what the issue is now.”

Roy let out a breath he didn’t even know he was holding and smiled. “Yes, finally!”

“So,” the woman said, “is it that the baby is the wrong colour?”

What!?” Roy said, his voice cracking. He grabbed his hair with both hands, and husband and wife took a step back. “No, the problem is that this is a box of baby clothes with a baby in the baby clothes!

The man harrumphed. “Well, of course there’s a baby in the baby clothes. I’ll have you know, these are very fine baby clothes.”

“We only donate the best things,” the woman said.

“That’s right,” the man said. “It’s perfectly natural for a baby to want the best clothes. It must have seen our donation and wanted to purchase it for its own wardrobe.”

Roy strangled a howl of frustration, turning red in the face. He suspected he was about to say something regrettable, something fireable, but just at that moment Bill arrived with a beaming smile.

“Hello!” Bill said in sing-song, addressing the donators. “I trust all your needs are being met today.”

“Well, as a matter of fact, not especially,” said the man.

Still smiling, Bill grabbed Roy by the arm – hard. Then through clenched teeth, he said, “Whatever is the issue, Roy? We don’t want to keep our donators waiting.”

Roy pulled himself free and gestured wildly to the box. “There’s a baby in the box! They’re trying to donate a baby!”

Bill motioned behind Roy and Roy followed his gaze. The wall behind the donations counter was plastered with a giant The Customer’s Are “Always” Right sign, just like in the employee handbook. Then Bill hissed under his breath, “I put you on donations as a favour. Don’t make me regret it.”

Bill turned to the husband and wife, took the box from them, and apologized. Then he stamped their frequent donator cards, and they exchanged some final pleasantries before going on their way.

As soon as they were out of sight, Bill’s smile vanished. He thrust the box into Roy’s arms.

“Don’t argue with donators,” he said. “Now, go and shelve this stuff.”

“But there’s a baby in here!” Roy hissed.

Bill looked into the box. “Okay? Just put it with the others I guess.”

What!? We don’t sell babies here!” Then a chill went down Roy’s spine. “Wait, do we sell babies here?”

Bill was already walking away, another customer flagging him down. He turned for some parting words. “Roy, figure it out, all right? You said you didn’t need supervision in your interview. I’m going to have to dock you hours if you continue goofing around.”

Roy just stood there, holding the box, for what felt like an eternity. When he looked down he saw the tiny baby waving its hands and feet playfully, and it smiled up at him.

* * *

“But I couldn’t just leave you there,” Roy said, “for some stranger to buy, so I brought you home. I probably spent a week trying to convince Mom and Dad to keep you – I mean, my Mom and Dad, of course, they’re not your parents – and in the end they finally agreed.”

Jill, his baby sister, bloodless white with saucer eyes, stared up at him unblinking.

“But they said, She’s your responsibility. One strike and she’s out!

Her jaw hung slack, trembling just the slightest. Her teddy dropped from her listless hand.

“Now, I want to keep you, but Mom and Dad’s word is the law. So, if I ever catch you in my room again then that’s it. We’ll have to take you back to the store.”

Roy grinned at her, tousled her hair, and returned to his room without even slamming the door. Jill remained motionless in the hall, her eyes watering.

March 30, 2022 21:53

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69 comments

Zack Powell
17:28 Apr 02, 2022

I really have to ask: Are you an editor, or at least working in the writing field job-wise? There's a polished, publishable quality to your writing that really comes through in every story I've read from you, and it makes me think you spend a LOT of time around the written word. As for the story: Wild ride! And I loved every second of it. The moment something thumped in the box, my mouth dropped and I was like "No, he's not gonna..." and then yes, you did! You put a baby in that box, and it was hilarious. Love, love, love the idea of this f...

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Michał Przywara
16:05 Apr 03, 2022

Thank you for reading, and especially for your thoughtful comments! I'm very happy it was an enjoyable story. I'm a software developer by trade, and while you can definitely creatively write code, it doesn't quite transfer to prose. I do spend a lot of free time around the written word though. I like reading, and there's never enough time to get to all the great writings out there. And for my own work... Well, frankly I don't really like editing or re-writing it, which is exactly why I do those things. I'm trying to befriend these things,...

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Zack Powell
15:13 Apr 08, 2022

Coming back to say congrats on the shortlist! This story definitely deserved the recognition.

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Michał Przywara
21:36 Apr 08, 2022

Thanks! It's exciting.

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Tommy Goround
22:27 Aug 05, 2022

Clapping. This is like a Michel response. Why hasn't anyone mentioned this is the most playful abortion story, ever.

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Jon Blackstock
12:55 May 16, 2022

I know I'm late to the party, but this is a brilliant story! You not only included the surprise but carried that through to the end without resting on the one idea.

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Michał Przywara
20:52 May 16, 2022

Thank you! I appreciate the read :)

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Cindy Strube
21:16 Apr 05, 2022

Absurd, bizarre, quirky, offbeat - made me chuckle! I KNEW there was going to be a baby in the box, just before there was… (Just realized that, despite being musically rhythmic, I like my humor offbeat!) Definitely Dahl-esque. One of my favorite lines is, “Her breath smelled of something sweet masking something not.” Oh my.

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Michał Przywara
22:30 Apr 05, 2022

Ha, thanks! Always glad for a chuckle. I'm glad you foresaw the box baby. I like a good twist, but there's also a lot of fun to be had for things the reader sees coming, even if the characters don't. It's something I'm working on getting better at.

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Cindy Strube
06:39 Apr 09, 2022

Congratulations on the shortlist! Happy to see that.

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Michał Przywara
15:28 Apr 09, 2022

Thanks!

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Tommy Goround
05:51 May 26, 2022

I saw more Dahl than Kafka. Well said.

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Tommy Goround
07:13 Aug 05, 2022

This one is my favorite.

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Michał Przywara
20:55 Aug 05, 2022

Thanks! It was a fun one to write :)

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Tommy Goround
05:56 May 26, 2022

Clapping. 64 comments. "We only donate the best things".

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Michał Przywara
21:26 May 26, 2022

Thanks :D

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Mike Panasitti
00:15 May 17, 2022

Remarkable writing for someone who writes code...for a living a presume? Keep composing like this and I foresee that a future as a bread and butter writer is not far off. I couldn't quite predict whether or not Roy was hallucinating or the baby was real. Maybe the former scenario would have led to a more plausible conclusion, since Jill seems more doll-like than real. Deservedly short-listed.

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Michał Przywara
02:39 May 17, 2022

Thanks! I appreciate the feedback :) Yes, for a living. Not a lot of overlap with creative writing. But also not no overlap. When I started this one I also didn't know how much of it was real. Either way, I don't know if I'd trust Roy.

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Graham Kinross
00:47 Apr 26, 2022

I like how important the clothing donation is to the story and yet it’s not the issue. The baby donation is odd and played in a very calm way. It reminds me of news stories of children abandoned because of the one child policy in China or left outside hospitals by young mothers. It’s a loaded subject but in this it seems a casual thing, is this an alternate world?

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Michał Przywara
05:18 Apr 26, 2022

Oh, for sure, the actual abandonment of children is a horrible thing. I had a kind of Kafkaesque mindset when writing this, the idea being a character witnessed something outrageous (a very casual donation of a baby in this case) and nobody else seeming to care or even understand. Small-minded bureaucratic things like employee handbooks trumping common sense, that kind of thing. I think in the end though, Roy had just been lying to his sister as a petty manipulation. He was irritated with her invading his space and wanted to rattle her. No...

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Debra Brown
23:37 Apr 15, 2022

Great job. Great ending. I loved every word. kudos on being on the shortlist. Deb

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Michał Przywara
05:13 May 05, 2022

Thank you very much! :)

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18:47 Apr 11, 2022

I thoroughly enjoyed this fun, cleverly-written story. I loved your memorable characters, especially the couple donating the baby clothes and the baby. The description of them was hilarious: her ridiculous hat and jewelry, her "spherical" husband with phlegmy voice. The ludicrous lines and dialogue, the absurdity of the situation. My favorite line is "... is it that the baby is the wrong color?" That had me laughing out loud. A brilliant read, from the first to the last sentence. And the ending was endearing and unexpected as well. Fabul...

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Michał Przywara
21:19 Apr 11, 2022

Thank you! I appreciate the feedback, and I'm happy it was funny. The characters were definitely fun to play around with. I normally keep my character descriptions pretty Spartan -- maybe overcompensating for way back when, when I rambled -- but these two felt like they needed to stand out.

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Wendy La Rocque
16:33 Apr 11, 2022

Hello from the critique circle! Fun story, great descriptors! I know I am in the minority here, but I felt like the story told to Jill was a little mature to be told as an "adoption alternative" story by a kid. Or maybe that the timing was a bit off (i.e if Roy was old enough to have his first job when Jill was a baby, should he be out of the house by now that she is old enough to understand this story? the story says baby sister, but an 18 year old telling this to a two-year-old seem strange). I expected the whole thing to be a prank play...

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Michał Przywara
21:15 Apr 11, 2022

Thanks for reading, and thanks for the critique! Yeah, the ages don't quite line up, do they? I was picturing ~16 and ~6, and that doesn't quite work for finding a newborn at your first job. I suppose Roy could be older, and he stayed at home while attending university or something -- and that gets a little contrived, though not unbelievable. On the other hand, maybe he told her this on the spur of the moment, and when she gets over the emotional impact Jill will realize things don't quite add up, and that Roy was bs-ing her. The idea tha...

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J.C. Lovero
02:58 Apr 10, 2022

What a fun story to read. It was like watching an absurd 90's sitcom after school, and I was LIVING for it. The couple was everything ridiculous. Well-written, indeed. Congrats on being shortlisted!

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Michał Przywara
23:34 Apr 12, 2022

Thanks! I'm glad you enjoyed it. I was that age where 90s sitcoms after school were a thing, so they could well have been rattling around the brain :)

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J.C. Lovero
23:48 Apr 12, 2022

Yup yup: Full House, Saved By the Bell, Everybody Loves Raymond, Home Improvement, Martin, Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and Friends come to memory!

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Kevin Broccoli
16:02 Apr 08, 2022

I love the twists and turns of this. The bigger risks, the better the story. Well done.

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Michał Przywara
22:08 Apr 08, 2022

Thanks! That's a great observation.

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Kate Winchester
03:03 Apr 08, 2022

This is great! It was funny and very creative. There were a lot of great lines but the mini wrecking balls had me laughing. It conjured up the image of Miley Cyrus swinging on her earrings. I felt bad for poor Jill at the end there, but i feel like it’s typical sibling rivalry. Lol

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Michał Przywara
21:22 Apr 08, 2022

Ha, thanks! Yeah, you're probably right about the sibling rivalry -- I'm sure she'll get back at her brother. Thanks for reading!

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Kate Winchester
22:07 Apr 08, 2022

Hahaha, yes. 😊

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Jules Davis
23:00 Apr 06, 2022

Hello from the critique corner! I love the absurdism of this story, it was wonderfully executed. Specifically the language use by the husband and wife. Reading them was like reading caricatures. It was hilarious when Bill came in and pointed to the sign that “the customer is always right” in regards to taking the baby. The ending was perfect, the absurdism paid off excellently. I really enjoyed this story, thank you for sharing it!

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Michał Przywara
21:00 Apr 07, 2022

Thanks! I'm always thrilled when an ending works out, especially when there's a shift like in this story. Appreciate the feedback, and I'm glad you enjoyed it!

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Lavonne H.
17:57 Apr 06, 2022

Ok, I have had many sibling fights of my own (eldest of eight.) But this one takes the cake!! Holy cow, what a brother Roy is to tell his sister that horrible story and then threaten her with being taken 'back'. I cannot stop laughing! Very well written and timing is everything. Where you introduced more crazy behaviour (wife, husband and boss) and then the sucker punch. (I actually expected this would be fantasy or sci-fi at some point.) Thanks for sharing your humour with this story. Yours in writing, Lavonne

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Michał Przywara
21:06 Apr 06, 2022

Thanks Lavonne! I'm glad you enjoyed it, and I appreciate the feedback. Yeah, the whole "you're not *really* part of the family" is a low blow, but perhaps Roy will regret it one day :)

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Lavonne H.
21:22 Apr 06, 2022

Wait until his little sister starts dating! ;) Some fireworks for sure....

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Suma Jayachandar
06:58 Apr 06, 2022

This piece is hilarious, ludicrous (in a positive way), and has every shade in the spectrum between them. And the twist towards the end... completely knocks the wind out of your lungs! What an enjoyable ride it was!! Thanks for sharing this. P.S - I second Zack. Your prose is so polished and publish-worthy.

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Michał Przywara
21:00 Apr 06, 2022

Thank you very much! More than anything else, "enjoyable ride" is what I was hoping for, so feedback like this means a lot :)

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Suma Jayachandar
03:04 Apr 09, 2022

Congratulations on being shortlisted!🎉

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Michał Przywara
04:39 Apr 09, 2022

Thanks!

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Kelsey H
18:46 Apr 05, 2022

This is great, so well written - him trying to reason with the couple was so funny and you could feel his frustration. I loved the descriptions of them. And the twist at the end was perfect!

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Michał Przywara
01:54 Apr 06, 2022

Thanks for reading! I'm glad his frustrations came across. I think failures in communication are great for generating friction.

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L.M. Lydon
22:24 Apr 04, 2022

What a twist on the prompt! Absolutely wild! That couple was unbelievable.

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Michał Przywara
01:53 Apr 06, 2022

Heh, I'm glad you liked it.

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Aeris Walker
18:26 Apr 04, 2022

“Married shorthand”— clever description!

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Michał Przywara
01:52 Apr 06, 2022

Thanks :)

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Karen Mc Dermott
10:01 Apr 03, 2022

Incredible story! The line "A baby, sir. A tiny human.” really had me chortling

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Michał Przywara
15:35 Apr 03, 2022

Ha! I'm glad you liked it. It's definitely a little absurd having to define what a baby might be :) Thanks for reading!

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