Contest #196 shortlist ⭐️

36 comments

Creative Nonfiction Crime Speculative

PART 1: PRETTY LOOKIN’ PEOPLE


Bonnie stood staring into her closet. She was still wearing the worn slip she’d slept in.  Since she’d broken her arm a few days earlier, dressing herself had become a challenge. She was quickly running out of garments she could fit over the plaster cast and washing her clothes was almost impossible with one functioning arm. Elsie, a nearby friend who lived alone, had offered to pick her up and have her come and stay for a spell, until Bonnie could manage to do more on her own.


Bonnie’s mind drifted as she scanned the meager collection of faded cotton hanging there. She found herself teleported to a secret place, her favorite escape.   


“Miss Parker, is that you? I’m so thrilled to make your acquaintance. I’ve recently had the pleasure of reading your latest book of poetry and I positively swooned.”


“Congratulations, Miss Parker, looks like you’ve got yourself another bestseller.”


“Who’s your agent, Miss Parker? Betcha I kin do ya one better. You name your price and I can get it.”


“More champagne, Miss Parker? You have so much to celebrate.”


“Miss Parker, is it true you took all the photographs for your books yourself? Mighty impressive.”


“Where do you see yourself in five years, Miss Parker, having seen so much success already in your young life?”


“Well, I . . .”


“Bonnie, I was callin’ you! Where’d you get off to, girl? Sandman takin’ you on a daydream?”


“Hey, Elsie. I guess I lost my way tryin’ to decide what glad rags I should try squeezin’ into today wi’ my dang swelled arm.”


“Well, you hava seat, honey. Let’s have a look in here.”


Bonnie sat in the corner rocker and let Elsie take over. She was tired but not due to a broken limb. She was sick to death of dull, dusty, dead-end Cement City, Texas. She’d had no daddy since she was four, same as having none at all.  She adored her momma but a lifetime of hard work and want had taken its toll and she was already an old woman at 38.   


“Say, Else?”


Elsie emerged from Bonnie’s closet holding two dresses on hangers.


“Pick one.”


“That one. Else, let’s get out of here.”


“Not again. Honey, you know I can’t go nowhere. I got a job here and momma and daddy ain’t doin’ so well.”


“I’d be leavin’ my momma.”


“And you’d hate yourself later, Bonnie, you know it.”


“I hate here, Else, I jus’ hate bein’ here.”


“Don’t be so blue, Bonnie. Come on, let’s get you dressed and feelin’ pretty. Then we’ll go have some fun at my place.”


* * *


Driving to Elsie’s house in her old roadster, Bonnie could see the effects of the ongoing drought that threatened to devastate the farming communities all around if rain didn’t come soon.  The land was a dried husk slowly dying.


The only sounds of life were the drone of cicadas and the sputtering of Elsie’s Buick.


Bonnie felt as barren and colorless as the landscape, yet deep inside she harbored the spark of youth and, with it, a stubborn certainty that something special would come her way and spare her from spending a moment longer in the depressed dust bowl that was her life. 


* * *


“I got somethin’ to show you.”


“What is it? Come on, spill.”


“Hold your horses, it’s a surprise.”


“Level with me, Else, it’s not another feller, is it?”


“This is a whole lot better than any feller. It’s entertainin’ and reliable.”


“Wait a minute. You mean?”


“Looky right there.”


“Elsie, how’d you get your hands on a radio?” 


“Daddy. He worked on some fancy man’s car last week. This is how he paid him. Daddy said he had no use for it but I begged and I begged. And, well, there it is.”


“You’re right, absolutely, it’s better than any feller.”


“What’s the matter, honey? Why you so blue all of a sudden?”


“I cain’t just listen anymore to anythin’. I bin listenin’, waitin’ and wantin’ all my life for somethin’. I don’t know what but I know I’m meant to do more, to be more than this here.”


“You’re jus’ in a mood, honey. Bet that arm’s got you down. Why don’t you make us some chocolate. I got the kind you like up in the cupboard. Let’s see if I kin get some music on this thing. Reception’s not worth a damn but let’s see what I kin find.”


Bonnie nodded. Well, ain’t nothin’ to do ‘bout nothin’ at the moment. She picked herself up and headed to the kitchen.


* * *


As she waited for the water to heat, Bonnie stared out the window that overlooked the back yard. Elsie’s yard was small but neat. There was a seating area with wicker chairs and a wrought iron table that at one time had been painted yellow, but years of neglect and oppressive Southern heat had bleached and almost stripped it bare. 


The sight suited Bonnie’s mood exactly. She saw the furniture as her youth, her vibrancy, slowly peeling away in the baking sun, with no way to get it back.


Something caught her eye and she watched as a fly skittered across the glass pane directly in front of her. She could hear the water on the stove behind her was nearly ready. As she turned to look, she heard a muffled thud at the window.


She saw the tiniest gray fluff of a feather on the glass and surmised what had happened.  She reached and turned off the stove, moving the pan off the burner.


Going out the back door, Bonnie saw what she expected; a small wren was on the ground. 


She slowly went to it and checked for signs of life. She could see its beak was moving as if trying to get air and its chest was heaving.


She suddenly felt she was being watched. Out of the corner of her eye she met the intense gaze of an orange calico. The cat was obviously a stray, rangy and matted, and as interested in the fallen wren as Bonnie.


“Scram,” threatened Bonnie, and took a step toward the feline.


When the cat didn’t budge, Bonnie quickly stepped to the bird and knelt between it and the predator. She took a handkerchief from her dress pocket and quickly laid it out, scooped up the bird as gently as she could with one good hand and gathered it into her arms.


She took the bundle around to the front of the house and saw Clarence’s car out front. Clarence was friends with Elsie so she assumed he was visiting.


Bonnie continued into the shed off to the side of the property and set the bird down on a wooden bench. It still appeared to be panting. She looked around for something to put it in to keep it safe until it recovered.


As she gathered materials to make the bird comfortable, she heard the front door of the house open.  The shed had a filthy window but she could just make out two male figures leaving. 


I wonder who’s that with Clarence?   


As she watched the men, her eyes fixed on the stranger. She moved to the window as if drawn by a force she had no will to control. 


She’d never seen him before but she felt an inexplicable attachment, as if the sky had opened and sent beams of light to shine on them both. It was unlike anything she’d ever felt before and she lost herself in it until . . .


What’s that fluttering? Sounds like angel wings.  


The wren had managed to make a complete recovery and was now flying around the small shed desperately looking for a way out.


Bonnie panicked, thinking she’d saved the creature only to have it crash and die in the shed.  


She opened wide the shed door and tried waving her arms to get the bird to fly in the right direction. Once Bonnie stopped waving, the bird saw the light and zipped away.


Bonnie stepped outside. Clarence’s car was gone.


“There you are! You just missed Clarence.”


“I saw him. Who was that with him?”


“That one’s nothing but trouble. You were lucky not to meet him.”


“What sorta trouble?”


“The law."


"What for?"


"Stealin'. He’s already spent time in the pen’.”


“He looked all right.”


“Looks ain’t everythin’, honey.” 


“They ain’t nothin’”


“Believe me, you’ll bless the day you never met Clyde Barrow.”


* * *


PART 2: THE DEVIL’S CHILDREN


Well, ain’t nothin’ to do 'bout nothin’ at the moment.


She picked herself up and headed to the kitchen.


As she waited for the water to heat, Bonnie stared out the window that overlooked the back yard. Elsie’s yard was small but neat. There was a seating area with wicker chairs and a wrought iron table that had at one time been painted yellow, but years of neglect and oppressive Southern heat had bleached and almost stripped it bare.


The sight suited Bonnie’s mood exactly.


When the water on the stove began to boil, Bonnie took the pan off the burner and prepared two cups of chocolate.


She thought she might have heard a muffled thud at the kitchen window but, just then, there came a knock at the front door. She could hear Clarence’s voice, a friend of Elsie’s, along with a new voice, that of a stranger.


Clarence came into the kitchen and saw Bonnie.


“Hi, Bonnie. Elsie said you were here. I have someone I want you to meet. Don’t go nowhere.”


Bonnie was temporarily distracted by the sight of a mangy orange cat running from the back yard into the neighbor’s yard with something in its mouth. The tabby glanced back once, and then disappeared.


Bonnie suddenly felt unsettled.


“Bonnie, this is Clyde Barrow. Clyde, this is Bonnie Parker.”


“Ma’am, at your service.”


“Hi yourself, Mr. Barrow.”


“How come I ain’t never run into you before, Miss Parker? I feel like I’ve been missing somethin’.”


“If you’re from around here, you’re definitely missin’ somethin’, lots of somethin’. You from here, Mr. Barrow?”


“Not far, Miss Bonnie. Now, what do I have to do to get you to call me Clyde?”


Clarence cut in.  “I’ll let you two get acquainted but, Clyde, remember, we can’t stay long.”


“All right, mother.”


When Clarence left, Bonnie pointed to the steaming cups.


“I was making chocolate; you want some?”


“No, I think I’ve got all the sweetness I need right here.”


“Where’s a big timer like you been all my life, Mr. Clyde Barrow?”


“You lookin’ for a big timer, Miss Bonnie Parker?”


“Well, I been lookin’ for somethin’.”


“What you think about somebody just takes what he wants?”


“Well now, that would depend what he’d be wantin’ then.”


“You’re one sharp little bunny, Bonnie Parker, you know that?”


“Well, I know one thing.”


“What’s that?”


“I’m gonna’ bless the day that I met Clyde Barrow.”


*  *  *


The Brownsville Herald

January 14, 1934


“Outlaw Raids Prison, Frees Five.


Prison Manager Tells Story of Barrow’s Raid.


Escape was prearranged, probe shows. Air full of bullets when five break for freedom.”


* * *


The Brownsville Herald

April 6, 1934


“Barrow Mows Down 2 More Officers. Makes Getaway.


Machine Gun Fire Kills Constable, Wings Companion.”


* * *


The Indianapolis Times. 

May 17, 1934.


“WANTED


Clyde Champion Barrow, aliases Clyde Barrow, Elvin Williams.


Description:


Age: 24


Height: 5 feet, 7 inches


Complexion: Light


Hair: Dark Brown, probably dyed black at present


Eyes: Hazel


Tattoo Marks: Shield and anchor with USN on right outer forearm; girl’s bust, left inner forearm”


* * *


The Frontier

(O’Neill City, Nebraska) 

May 18, 1934.


“Charm and Dignity


This photo, reproduced from one of six negatives found in a rendezvous of gunmen at Joplin, Mo, is believed to be a picture of Bonnie Parker, who apparently is proud of being a gunman’s ‘moll.’ She is sought in connection with a gun battle, in which two officers were killed when two men and two women shot their way out of a police trap.”


* * *


The Shamrock Texan

(Wheeler County, Texas)

May 23, 1934


“Clyde Barrow is Killed


Bandit Pair Riddled With Bullets As Car Runs Police Gauntlet”


* * *


The Indianapolis Times

May 23, 1934


“Clyde Barrow, Texas Killer, and Sweetheart Are Slain By Posse


Notorious Southwestern Outlaw And Bonnie Parker Ride Into Trap Laid In Louisiana.


Credit Goes to Young Sheriff


Bloody Career of Young Desperado Comes to End As Peace Officers Track Him Down and Open Fire.”


*  *  *


The Evening Star

(Washington DC) 

May 23, 1934.


“Outlaw Barrow and Woman Slain as Speeding Auto Runs into Ambush.


Rangers’ guns riddle pair as they reach for arms in vehicle, traveling at 85-mile rate.


Lead poured into pair after crash stops car.


Bonnie Parker Dies with machine gun in lap while the West’s No. 1 desperado clutches revolver. A dozen killings attributed to Barrow in two years. 


Careers Ended.”


* * *


Brownsville Herald

(Brownsville, Texas) 

May 25, 1934


“Taken Before Death


Inseparable in their wild career of murder and banditry, Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker posed for this picture before the law had chased them to their last hideout.”


* * *


Bonnie Parker

The Ballad of Bonnie and Clyde


“Someday they’ll go down together

They’ll bury them side by side

To few it’ll be grief

To the law a relief

But it’s death for Bonnie and Clyde.”


May 04, 2023 00:56

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36 comments

Louise Rose
00:47 May 13, 2023

Cleverly Crafted! There's truth within it. Deff should of got high rankings! Keep up the great work. Thanks!

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Viga Boland
17:52 May 12, 2023

Well aren’t you a clever one! Bravo and congrats on yet another shortlist Susan. This is delightfu! Another stop on your track to the top, lady. Susan for the win! 👏👏

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Susan Catucci
18:37 May 12, 2023

Viga, you are a stitch! Thanks for saying such lovely, encouraging things. What a difference you make to my day and just me in general. You're wonderfully supportive and I'm grateful. :)

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Viga Boland
21:04 May 12, 2023

Well since it seems my stories aren’t making the judges go WOW, the least I can do is support those who support me 😂. Seeing how many new people are being shortlisted these last two weeks on their first or second submissions, time I read the writing on the wall and enjoy my new role as Mrs. Congeniality LOL.

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Susan Catucci
22:12 May 12, 2023

I have another suggestion. Keep plugging. I didn't get shortlisted right away, not by a longshot. Don't judge yourself by any standards other than your own. I still remember a story you wrote that continues to haunt me (in the best way). So, it's up to you and your keyboard. :D

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Viga Boland
23:50 May 12, 2023

Thanks for the encouragement Susan. I’ve never had much confidence in anything I do…thanks to my father…and that includes writing. It doesn’t take much, obviously, to slide back under again. 🥹

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Susan Catucci
12:31 May 13, 2023

That is so not uncommon - few double negatives there. Anytime you have doubts, Viga, reach out and I'll set you straight. If you feel yourself start to slide, just remember how much I like your stuff and there is no such thing as bad art. Period.

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Suma Jayachandar
15:52 May 12, 2023

Congratulations! This story was so immersive and masterfully told. I'm happy it got the recognition it deserved.

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Susan Catucci
16:30 May 12, 2023

Hi Suma, Thank you so much, my friend. Coming from you makes this very special and meaningful. It's a nice (understatement) feeling!

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15:18 May 12, 2023

Congratulations, Susan!

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Susan Catucci
15:34 May 12, 2023

Thanks, Deidra. I have to admit it feels good. Feels even better that Del won - makes for a great day. :)

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18:33 May 13, 2023

Are you doing Writing Battle? I'm a latecomer to that contest -- but it's fantastic.

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Susan Catucci
20:08 May 13, 2023

I did see that others were talking about it and it made me curious. I'll definitely look into it now. Thanks!

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Michelle Oliver
22:44 May 07, 2023

This was fantastic Susan. Every word selected with care to paint the picture. Masterful! The image of her youth fading away, the feeling of wanting to grasp onto something, to be more than the sum of your parts for just a moment. It’s easy to see how such a person could be swayed by a smooth talking Clyde. Your two halves of the story are brilliant what could have been and what was. The cat and bird metaphor is perfect. In the first situation she saves the bird to continue its simple existence, the second she ignores the bird and a game of c...

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Susan Catucci
01:13 May 08, 2023

Bless you, Michelle, for those wonderful words. This is a legend of lore that's always fascinated me, how it came to be what it was. I'm thrilled you appreciated it for a look into a story we all think we know - but, honestly, how can any of us say. There's the telling and then there's the truth (loose term). Always a question mark somewhere. Thank you so much for the fantastic feedback, as always. :)

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Delbert Griffith
22:58 May 05, 2023

You already know that I like this tale of yours, but there are some key things that stand out, that make this a truly masterful story, my friend. Hawthorne was very good at physical setting becoming a big part of his tales. This is something that you've done here that you haven't necessarily done before. The time period, the bleakness, the feelings of nothing happening, accompanied by the bleakness of the landscape. It all played a big part in the story. I've been working a little on having more of a physical setting in my tales, but I don'...

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Susan Catucci
16:02 May 06, 2023

Thanks, Del, so much. I'm happy with how it turned out and attribute the smooth flow to your two cents - two gold bars, in my opinion - of suggestions and sound advice. You'll never have to wonder if you've had positive impact, Del - I'm living proof of that! I've yet to produce three first class stories in a single week, like I watched you do, but I'm thrilled to see any hint of improvement. It was great to witness your skills on fire this week - that's got to feel great. And I have to say seeing the name Hawthorne in the same paragr...

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Lily Finch
21:03 May 05, 2023

Susan, great take on the prompt and an interesting view of Bonnie and Clyde. I thought about that as soon as I saw the names and the being in the pen remark was made. Her nursing of the bird and chasing the mangy cat away is akin to what she should have done with regard to Clyde Barrow. It makes us see how she is easily swayed by Clyde's influence and take on life. Funny how one person mixing with another and feeling a spark can influence another into breaking the law for a little excitement in her life. Bonnie dreaming of something bigger...

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Susan Catucci
13:11 May 06, 2023

Thanks for the great feedback, Lily - gratifying coming from a talent such as yours. I've always been fascinated by the Bonnie and Clyde saga. Clyde seemed to be Bonnie's "perfect storm" and she sure got a lot more than she bargained for. Interesting question: what would it take for someone, anyone, to embrace a life of crime, just what sort of desperation would there have to be. Bonnie had the Great Depression (great name for what it was) and a whole lotta nothing until Clyde came along. All that's left of them now are headlines, Bon...

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Michał Przywara
20:34 May 04, 2023

Hah, great twist! And the kicker is, as soon as I saw a dissatisfied "Bonnie" in the South, I thought "Bonnie and Clyde" - and then promptly put it out of mind because it was Bonnie and Elsie. So it was still a nice surprise :) I like the subtle difference in attitude between the two alternate histories. The second is of course notorious for carnage and death. But the first? She intends to nurse an injured bird to its health, and even rescues it from a cat. Life vs death, for the two roads. Other than that, I think the voices came across...

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Susan Catucci
23:07 May 04, 2023

Thanks, Michal! It was interesting taking a glimpse into that time and place. I had a friend who's a travel agent who used to say it's important to do your homework because you can wind up just one street away from the time of your life. But what if it's real life and there are no real homework assignments? You can still wind up one street away from the time of your life - or, in Bonnie's case, the opposite. These prompts were fun! It's time for me to read and stop writing for a bit. Thanks again, Michal!

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Michał Przywara
20:44 May 12, 2023

Congratulations on the shortlist!

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Mary Bendickson
05:30 May 04, 2023

And the sliding door slides the other way. So happy you won another one. Well done. If I had been brave enough I would have predicted this when I read it. Sometimes when I try I am right on, other times I am way off wondering what the judges wanted. Anyway, 👍 great job.

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Susan Catucci
12:25 May 04, 2023

:)

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Amanda Lieser
14:18 May 26, 2023

Hi Susan, What a well-deserved shortlist! You did an amazing job of capturing, southern culture in your dialogue. I love the way that each of these words seem to so very quintessentially, southern. Even before I realized the story that you were telling, I knew we were in the deep south. I really like that you began the story with a bit of a red herring. It didn’t overtly start out as Bonnie and Clyde’s love story, and I think that’s what made this piece so unique and wonderfully written. Congrats again!!

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Susan Catucci
15:48 May 26, 2023

How lovely - thank you, Amanda. Your comments made my day.

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Jennifer Smith
01:34 May 20, 2023

Well done! This is a story that will I think of often. Thank you.

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Philip Ebuluofor
06:28 May 15, 2023

Congrats.

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Helen A Smith
20:45 May 14, 2023

Hi Susan I really enjoyed this story. You brought the characters and oppressive landscape to life so well. I particularly liked the way you portrayed Bonnie. It felt like she was imprisoned, forced to watch her life like sands slipping away in an hourglass. an hourglass. She was destined to make a change even if it ended badly. I was surprised when it turned into your tale of Bonnie and Clyde. Well told.

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Susan Catucci
01:14 May 15, 2023

Thank you so much for reading and commenting, Helen - I'm pleased you enjoyed it. It's one of those legendary tales that sometimes is remembered only as a wisp of a rumor - until you really look at the time, place and people involved and you find a timeless tragedy with a backstory. I really enjoyed writing it so I'm thrilled when anyone else likes reading it! :)

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Helen A Smith
19:25 May 15, 2023

In a way, the backstory is the most interesting part.

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18:07 May 13, 2023

Very nice. The subtlety of the difference- seeing and understanding the meaning of a feather—was so well done. And the way you said that she surmised what happened and also left the reader to surmise was perfect. I also loved that the sound of the bird’s wings leaves us wondering if it is a guardian Angel trying to intervene. Very satisfying story. Congratulations

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Susan Catucci
20:25 May 13, 2023

Thanks so much, Anne - I love that you thought of a guardian Angel in the shed! That's wonderful. I'm very happy you wrote - and many thanks for your thanks. :)

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Mike Panasitti
15:32 May 13, 2023

Although the switch didn't turn on for me until I read the newspaper headlines, this is an ethereally-crafted story about the legendary anti-heroic gunslinging couple. I'm not sure whether or not Bonnie actually fantasized about being a poet and photographer, but the inclusion of the daydream sequence at the beginning added poignancy to her all-too-familiar fate. Congrats on the shortlist.

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Susan Catucci
20:30 May 13, 2023

Thanks, Mike. It's true, they said that newspapers were really the making of Bonnie and Clyde and that's easy to see. The pictures taken of them was with her camera; she loved photography. And she wrote several Poems - one called "Suicide Sal" which she wrote while she was in jail and The Ballad of Bonnie and Clyde and others. I guess you can tell I'm intrigued by these characters. Thanks so much, for commenting, and thanks for the congrats. :)

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