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Fiction

At 1:25 a.m. Walter boarded the huffing and puffing train. He threw his lone duffel bag overhead and collapsed onto the seat, swearing under his breath to never return to Moniville ever again. As the train lazily gathered speed, Moniville and its six-thousand houses disappeared from his view, but the memory would remain for many years. 


He felt so stupid; a snort of disbelief escaped him while the other unsuspecting passengers slept on.


You might not find what happened to him so enraging or humiliating, but Walter’s soul was left diminished after the events of the last two years. Was life on this earth nothing but a filthy game?


When Walter was around the age of fourteen, it became clear to everyone that he wasn’t cut out for school. Most of his friends had already dropped out anyway, but he tried to stay in school for as long as he could because he wanted to neither farm the frigid fields nor claw for cold coal.


His saving grace came in the shape of Mr. Honeyweather. On the first day of the summer holidays, the town gathered around a mysterious middle-aged man in a three-piece suit, who seemed to appear out of nowhere, opening the doors to what used to be an old barn and calling everybody to try his groceries. 


Until then, the townsfolk had had to travel a few times a year to the city to stock up on canned goods, matches and toiletries, but soon after Honeyweather Grocery opened, the townsfolk started going to the city less and less frequently until they stopped because Mr. Honeyweather kept a record of all the things they requested, and a week later, it was available in his ever-growing shop.


“My son Walter here would be a great help to you, Mr. Honeyweather,” Walter’s father said, almost shoving him in Mr. Honeyweather’s face. 


The bear-like man lifted the wooden countertop and walked out slowly to take a closer look at Walter.


“How old are you, Walter?” his voice boomed in the big barn.


Walter’s fingers tightened around his hat as he opened his mouth to answer, but his father was faster, “He’s fourteen, soon to be fifteen. Kid is built like an ox!”


Mr. Honeyweather looked from Walter to his father, a muscular man with a big mustache and dirty fingernails.


“Will you give it all it takes, Walter?” Mr. Honeyweather asked, “It’s a demanding job, and it would be just you and me in here. At least for now.”


Walter’s father attempted to make a promise on his son’s behalf, but Mr. Honeyweather put a finger up in the air between them to announce it was time for him to stop talking. He looked intently at Walter.


Walter cleared his throat and said, “I’ll give it all it takes, Sir.”


“Can I trust you?”


Walter’s eyes lit up at the mention of the one thing he could promise, “Absolutely, Sir!”


Mr. Honeyweather smiled and patted his back with a big, warm hand, “I have a feeling I can!”


And so it was that Walter stopped going to school and started working at the grocery store. Business kept growing and apprentices came and went, but Walter felt like he was indispensable. He was proud of himself for being hardworking; he always started sweeping floors and polishing goods before Mr. Honeyweather even left his room in Mrs. Harrison’s pension.


“Tell your boss to lower his prices,” Walter’s mother chided one morning as she handed him his starched shirt– Mr. Honeyweather demanded professional attire.


“Ma, do you think he has a choice?” Walter was sick of people telling him his boss’ prices were exorbitant. Mr. Honeyweather was obviously struggling to keep the business afloat. Mr. Honeyweather was a genuinely good man. He wasn’t doing it just for the money..


“All I’m saying is that we never spent so much money on coffee or even beans!” she sighed.


“Have you been reading the news lately?” he asked, sensing the defensiveness in his own voice.


“Don’t start with the inflation horseshit, son!” his father chimed in from the bathroom.


“But…!” Walter was getting angry at his parents’ unfair attacks on his place of work.


“Oh, don’t you but me!” his father yelled, still unseen, “He’s just using the fact that he has no competition ‘round here!”


“Then, go back to lugging the cart and horse to the city, why don’t you!” As soon as he said it and saw the look on his mother’s face and heard the silence from the bathroom, he realized he’d gone too far, so he bolted.


That morning, an old lady buying colorful yarn whispered the same complaint to him. She reluctantly paid Mr. Honeyweather at the counter and left.


Walter waited for the midday lull to approach him. Mr. Honeyweather was counting money and settling the ledger with his neat handwriting. Walter cleared his throat and shuffled from one foot to the other.


“What is it, Walter Boy?” Mr. Honeyweather said without looking up.


Walter didn’t let anyone call him that; he was seventeen now, but he didn’t know how to tell his boss to call him anything else.


“It’s just that I thought I should tell you that the people around here are…”


“Complaining about my prices?” His steely gray eyes looked up at him over his metal-rimmed spectacles. 


Walter always admired his boss’ sharpness, “How did you know?” 


“I’m not deaf.”


“But, Sir, I’m worried they might start to go back to the city for shopping!”


 “Don’t worry, kid. We’re fine!” Mr. Honeyweather’s reassuring voice echoed around the store. 


—-------------------------------------------


One month later, Moniville woke up to a new spectacle. The space had once been the old dance hall for harvest parties and such, but for the past three weeks, it had been shrouded in mystery. There were white sheets covering the entrance. Big windows were carved out and big, dust-and-paint-covered workers that nobody recognized worked tirelessly all day and night.


The townspeople waited with bated breaths to see what it would be. A theater? Nah, Moniville was too small of a town to have its own theater. A school? What a stupid idea! Why would a small town of miners and farmers need another school? 


On the first day of that summer, a large sign read: Moniville Marvel Market. 


On his way to work, a crowd of people in the main square caught Walter’s eye. He went closer to see what was happening and saw some women, young and old, admiring small cloth bags with the initials M. M. M..


“There were gifts in them!” he panted, telling Mr. Honeyweather as soon as he skidded into the store.


“Gifts. Huh!” Mr. Honeyweather shook his head.


“I swear!” he gesticulated, “Lipstick, hand lotion samples, candy!”


“What cheap tactics!” Mr. Honeyweather snorted.


“I’m sure it cost them a lot of money!” Walter countered.


“I know!” Mr. Honeyweather kept his calm, “But do you think people will be fooled by these baits? You know this is only to lure them in, right?”


“Em, yeah! But isn’t that the point?” Walter was confused.


“It’s all good, Walter Boy,” Mr. Honeyweather said as he went back to his pen and ledger.


Walter couldn’t sleep that night. He worried that no one would set foot in their store anymore. He was more worried for his boss. He was a kindly man with an unwavering smile; he didn’t deserve this.


“Have you asked your boss for the raise we discussed last month?” Walter’s mother asked him as she placed the egg and bacon on his plate.


“Mother! This is the worst time to ask him that! Don’t you see how dangerous this new shop is for our shop? A lot of our customers are going to them.”


Our shop, our customers, he says!” his father scoffed as he sipped his coffee, “Wake up, Boy!”


Walter’s face turned red with rage, “PLEASE, don’t call me that!”


His father looked at him quizzically at first, then burst out laughing.


“Walter, look here,” his mother wasn’t done, “Joseph, our neighbor, got a job at the new place. He’s being paid more than you and he’s just started! Don’t you deserve at least that?”


“Joseph?” That did seem unfair to Walter, “Well, I bet he won’t get the Christmas bonuses I get!”


“Oh my God, Walter!” one of his little sisters said in exasperation as she packed her schoolbag, "I, for one, am glad there's someone to compete with your Mr. Honeyweather. Perhaps this will make his stationery a little cheaper."


That day, Walter thought of new tactics to get some of their customers back.


“What if we got bags that had our initials on them as well?” He told his boss excitedly, “What if we asked our suppliers to get us new candy that the stupid Market doesn’t have?”


“Hmmm, I’m not sure copying the other place would give us our customers back.”


“Alright, what if we installed a phone here and people could make phone calls for a fee? They don’t have that!” Walter was particularly proud of this idea. His father had told him that the neighboring village had a telephone.


Mr. Honeyweather looked up at him; he was clearly impressed, “Let me investigate. You know, how much money and hassle it would cost to install it here and all that. Nice thinking, Walter.”


For the rest of the day, Walter walked around town like a peacock. His chest was puffed out and he wore a smug smile on his face. He was going to help his traditional boss’ store compete with the new, flashy shop. He told his family about his breakthrough over dinner and his mother praised his innovative thinking.


A week passed and Mr. Honeyweather didn’t mention the telephone again. Had he forgotten? Did he not like the idea? Walter was getting nervous, so he asked him one evening before closing.


“Ah, about that,” Mr. Honeyweather shook his head ruefully, “It’s too expensive!”


“But…but Mr. Honeyweather, what if they grab the idea first?” Walter was now nervous that he’d told everyone he knew and the idea was now available to the young man running M. M. M..


“He won’t!”


“But, Sir,” Walter’s heartbeat was quickening, “How do…”


“I just do!” And with that, he turned away to do some shelving.


The next day, a modest selection of candy and chocolate bars arrived. That same evening, a large order of plain paper bags was delivered. It came with an ink pad and a large stamp that spelt: 


Honeyweather

LOYALTY TO YOUR SATISFACTION


“Walter Boy, leave stacking the candy to the apprentice and focus on stamping the bags,” Mr. Honeyweather instructed with his hands on his belt, “I can only trust you with a task that requires this much focus and precision.”


Walter swelled with pride. He didn’t understand why his boss had suddenly accepted the idea of the customized grocery bags, but he set to work without asking. He was frequently interrupted by some loyal customers who kept asking for his assistance and by the useless apprentice who either put things in the wrong spots or constantly asked for confirmation on where to put things.


After having spent most of the day hunched over the endless paper bags, he decided to spend some of his wages on some new candy for his little sisters.


“Oh, look!” his youngest sister clapped her hands in delight, “This is the same chocolate bunny we got yesterday from that new place!”


“What? What chocolate bunny from which place?” Walter was trying not to be offended.


His mother came in and inspected the chocolate, “Oh yes! It’s the same but with green foil instead of blue!”


“What are you talking about? From where?” Walter wasn’t sure if he felt more foolish or betrayed.


“From that M.M. M.!” his mother wasn’t getting the point quickly enough.


“We’re allowed to get things from the other shop, you know!” His oldest sister chimed in from the kitchen.


“Alright then,” he got up and put all the things he had brought into the stamped paper bag and stormed to his room followed by his sister’s raging tantrum.


How could that be? He thought to himself while he devoured the sweets in frustration. How could the two competing shops end up selling the same stuff? Was there only one supplier in the city? He must tell Mr. Honeyweather. Mr. Honeyweather would hate to learn about that unfortunate coincidence. He was firmly against copying others. They had their own loyal customers who denounced flashiness and useless gimmicks and they had the responsibility of giving them something unique and at competitive prices even.


The next morning, he went to Moniville Marvel Market to see what was going on. He hoped no one would tell his boss. Walter would never spend a penny in that place anyway; it was just market research.


The place was light and well-aired. Gleaming surfaces and polished wood, but he found the bright-colored bins and containers to lack class. It looked very different from their shop. Even the customers were completely different. This place was full of young people on their way to school, young mothers pushing baby carriages, a lot of the people his father referred to as “new money” with a sneer.


He was reassured not to see any of their regulars here, though there were a few people he had served once or twice in the past. 


He was about to leave when a can of kidney beans caught his eye. He went closer to take a better look, and was puzzled to see it was the exact same brand they carried at Honeyweather’s. It was one penny cheaper, too. He looked to his right at the magazines and they were exactly one penny more expensive than they sold them for at Honeyweather’s. 


He looked around in a frenzy at the other goods. There was almost nothing they didn’t have at Honeyweather’s. Some goods had different labels but most didn’t. His head started spinning, but he steadied himself by staring at the goods some more. 


A well-dressed man in his late twenties approached him.


“Are you alright, Sir?” said the man with sleek hair and thin mustache.


“I’m quite alright, thanks!” Walter heard himself snap.


“Okey-dokey!” The man flashed him a slimy, white smile, “Just let us know if you need anything. We’re at your service.”


Walter left the shop, his head spinning. What was the point of opening a new shop if you were going to do the exact same thing as your competitor. Was this another cheap tactic he didn't understand? Or just sheer laziness?


Back when the men went to the city to stock up on groceries, they brought back very different things depending on which part of the city they went to. There was enough variety out there.


He got to Honeyweather’s still lost in thought, when Mr. Honeyweather received him at the door.


“Walter! Where were you? You’re late and those bags won’t stamp themselves!”


Walter was taken aback. Mr. Honeyweather had never talked to him like that before. But then again, Walter was always there before him and worked with almost no breaks. Maybe Mr. Honeyweather was having a bad day. Maybe what plagued Walter also plagued him.


“Sorry, Mr. Honeyweather, I was just …”


“Walter Boy, we have a shipment coming in at noon, we will need all hands on deck to prepare for that.”


“Yes, Sir.”


The rest of the day passed quickly with the morning customers, arrival of the large shipment and cleaning up after.


“Walter Boy, go home,” Mr. Honeyweather clapped Walter’s back, “it’s been a long day.”


“Alright, I’ll just go grab my hat and coat.”


Mr. Honeyweather went behind the counter to count the money and settle the ledger.


When Walter went to the back room to get his things, he saw all the bags that still needed stamping. After a moment’s hesitation, and despite his protesting muscles, he sat down and quietly set to work, not noticing the passage of time; almost hypnotized by the repetitive motions.


He suddenly heard the shopkeeper’s bell chime, and he was jolted out of his trance. When he craned his neck to see who would come into the store long after closing, he thought his eyes were playing tricks on him.


It was the sleek-haired man he had talked to that morning at M. M. M.. 


Walter's blood rushed to his face and his ears turned red. What on earth was this man doing here? Why would the man who had set out to steal their customers be coming into their shop at such a late hour? He felt his fists clenching, ready to pounce at any sign of distress from his boss.


The cocky man strode in revealing his big, white teeth. He grabbed a chair and sat down, crossing his legs idly.


“Good evening, father.”


“Good evening, David. How goes the work?”


“It’s just swell.”


April 06, 2023 12:05

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18 comments

Galen Gower
02:16 Jul 06, 2023

Just dropping this here in case me asking for more stories from you is all it takes...

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R. S. Writes
18:14 Jul 06, 2023

Ah, Galen! How lovely is this? When you think you don't matter, somebody remembers you! I'm sorry I didn't see your earlier comment because Reedsy rarely notifies me of comments unless I check! Today it did tell me I had a visitor:-) I obviously love writing, but I must admit I'm very discouraged at the moment! I have another Reedsy account with lots of other stories, but I've stopped trying on that one too... I hope you're faring better!

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Galen Gower
18:26 Jul 06, 2023

Meh, I've been cranking out stories, but who knows if they're worthwhile?! And yes, there is such a large volume of work on here that I tend to go through and follow people whose writing I enjoy and then pester them for more. Why are you discouraged, if that's not too personal a question?

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Rama Shaar
04:53 Jul 07, 2023

Well, there are so many people trying to make it as writers. I get compliments on my talent and good ideas, but I don't see myself progressing. I used to write all the time, but what's the point? Maybe that's the pessimist in me or maybe I'm just tired.

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Galen Gower
14:24 Jul 07, 2023

So, what you've said here has had a large impact on my morning. I tend to be a bit of a downer with my interior voice, which it sounds like we might have in common. If you can't ignore the doubts and frustration, there's not much anyone can say to convince you to, but... I've made a list of various things. I'm trying to avoid telling you 'Well, this works for me, so you should try it!' but there's bound to be some of that. What are your parameters for success? If it's winning the contest here, all my research indicates that the judging syst...

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R. S. Writes
05:00 Jul 08, 2023

Wow, this was a very detailed and insightful comment! It's really inspired me to go back to doing that thing that made me feel good about myself. You're absolutely right about the judging system. Just look at the first comment on this story and how the judge completely misunderstood it and therefore must've dumped it and deemed it unworthy. I really, really appreciate what you said about our stories being a driver for change no matter how small! I will see how I feel about "picking up the pen" again. I miss those early mornings. Anyway,...

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Galen Gower
22:59 May 07, 2023

Just looking through my list and looking for more stories by you...

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Reyna Bowden
02:04 Apr 15, 2023

I think you do an amazing job with your descriptions. From your first sentence, I was immediately transported to boarding a late-night train with Walter. Plus, I wondered what made him so frustrated to leave. Poor guy, all he wanted was what was best for his employer’s store. Especially since trust was such a big deal to Mr. Honeyweather from the get go, and in the end, he was the untrustworthy one. Great story!

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R. S. Writes
08:16 Apr 15, 2023

Thank you so much for your lovely feedback. It has made my day ❤️

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Galen Gower
15:57 Apr 13, 2023

Your story was included on my critique circle email, but feel free to ignore my feedback as all critique is subjective and you may not value my input. Before any feedback, though, it's clear you understand structure and theme. You delivered a fresh take on the prompt that didn't start with something like 'Carl felt trapped in an endless cycle.' I don't mean to denigrate others' attempts, but there are differing levels of skill on display. The fundamental story is told very clearly in your writing. Below are some examples of where I feel yo...

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R. S. Writes
21:47 Apr 13, 2023

Galen, thank you very much for your critique. It all makes sense and I will be taking it into consideration next time!

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Michał Przywara
20:41 Apr 12, 2023

Ah yes, the lovely illusion of choice. Don't like shopping at my store? Then you're free to shop at my other store :) On top of that, we get a good look at how Walter gets exploited. I got a bad vibe right from the beginning, with the question "Can I trust you?" It sets Walter up for loyalty, but it's clearly not a trust that goes both ways. Then you throw in the old tricks, like underpaying him when even new hires make more, and it paints a bleak picture. He gets out in the end thankfully, and is hopefully wiser for it.

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R. S. Writes
21:49 Apr 13, 2023

I'm really glad to see that you got exactly what I was trying to convey. Thank you for your comment.

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Michelle Oliver
12:19 Apr 12, 2023

No wonder Mr Honeyweather was not upset about he competition! Poor Walter, I wonder where he is taking off to, and if he will find the same kind business practices where ever he goes? I had an inkling of where this was going when Mr H was so confident that the competition would not install a phone. He was so unreasonably smug in his knowledge. Thanks for sharing!

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R. S. Writes
20:13 Apr 12, 2023

Thanks so much for reading and commenting. I wondered too where Walter would go from here. He would either become a ruthless businessman or a poor man who shuns business and money altogether... didn't get to that part!

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S N
01:33 Apr 12, 2023

Poor kid, had no idea how his boss and the new competing markets manager were related, and yet he so bravely defended his boss. Seeing as his son started a business of his own, makes since that Mr. Honeyweather would value loyalty above all else.

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R. S. Writes
02:25 Apr 12, 2023

Thank you for reading and commenting! I tried to show a phenomenon in the business world where "competing" businesses actually belong to the same people...

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