Contest #221 shortlist ⭐️

37 comments

Fiction Drama Inspirational

Jake called the Windy City Ice hotline. His grandfather’s voice answered. “If your Windy City Ice machine is currently malfunctioning, leave your name and contact number after the beep. Our licensed service technician will contact you shortly. Windy City Ice is a family-owned company, and we care about our customers.”


Jake hung up and returned to writing The Siren Under Highway D. Writing was an escape from his father. After grandfather's passing, the company's accountant made it clear that Windy City was heading toward bankruptcy, and Dad was imploding under the pressure. 


The darkness was so thick that one could slice it with a butter knife. He found himself cowering beneath the Highway D bridge, where the concrete behemoth towered above him like a giant ogre. The catchment gully below was swelling from the incessant rain, threatening to wash him away like a mere speck of dust. Suddenly, a bolt of lightning struck with a deafening crack! And there she was: a coyote with the face of a bewitching damsel…


Jake had just printed out a hard-copy to check for errors when his father walked into the basement den. Dad grabbed the page off the printer and scanned the lines.


“This is, without a doubt, the worst story I’ve ever read.” He crumpled the paper into a ball.


"What did you do that for?" Jake uttered, knowing he was powerless to stop his father.


Dad threw the crumpled page into a trash can. “When you write something decent, I’ll introduce you to your grandfather’s ghostwriter. Otherwise, focus on your work for Windy City.”


“You never listen to my ideas at work, Dad. And Grandpa is dead.”


“Grandpa’s ghostwriter is very much alive.”


The book was on the shelf. Grandpa's memoir was a fairly dull read about an immigrant Midwestern businessman growing a business, whilst always making the right decisions. Jake wondered what was left out. They say every large company began with an act of crime. Jake was not sure what crime his grandfather committed, but Windy City Ice held a monopoly on the Midwest ice machine business. A monopoly that seemed to be rapidly melting. Grandfather was the fixer, and now that he was gone, unresolved problems were piling up. Traffic accidents, thefts, lawsuits, defective parts.


“Come back Grandpa. We need you.” Jake kneeled in front of Jake Jensen Senior's tombstone the next morning. He closed his eyes and imagined everything he could about grandpa. His voice, his mannerisms, his way of speaking. It gave him strength. When Jake Senior was sitting at his desk at Windy City, no problem had seemed too large.


An hour later, Jake was at the corporate office typing an endless stack of invoices into their accounting system. He brushed off junior salespeople. They acted as if they still hoped Jake would put in a good word to the old man. The ghost of Jake Senior haunted the halls of Windy City Ice.


After work, he spent two hours writing. He was working in a new genre, one that his dad didn't have much to say about.


Jake pleaded for an introduction, and a month later he presented the first draft of a children’s book to his grandfather’s ghostwriter, Cathy. She studied the first page:


This is a tale of two kittens. Lord Fuzzypants walked across the desolate desert landscape when he spotted something. That’s not supposed to be there! It was Professor Fuzzypaws’s…


“This has real potential,” she said, taking her eyes up from the page to peer into Jakes. “I’ll have my best development editor give it a read and get you some feedback soon.”


A month later, he hadn't heard anything back. He returned with a new work to Cathy’s office.


Myself and the stoical old man walked across the empty industrial lot, and then down the pathway we knew so well. Dry autumn leaves whisked about the pavement like guppies in a fish tank. When we at last reached our destination, the old man vanished in a puff of smoke…


“This reminds me of a Keane song,” Cathy said. “Are you an INFP?”


“Yes,” Jake said. “And no. I thought of it myself.”


“I felt traces of your grandfather in this,” Cathy said. She chuckled, as if a new insight had struck her. “People say write what you know! How about you write something about your grandfather next?”


"Why would I do that?"


Cathy's eyes narrowed at the new author in front of her rejecting her advice. "And how are things at Windy City these days?" she asked.


Jake's sat back in his chair and silently studied the steely eyes of his inquisitor. Dark pupils that didn't show a flicker of interest. A sudden feeling of clarity that he might never make it as a writer overcame him.


That night, he found writing about a family member an odd idea for an aspiring novelist, but Jake subdued his showy literary flair, and channeled his grandfather's brusque way of speaking. It was a voice he knew well from the stories he told at the dinner table countless times.


Diary of Jake Jensen Senior

When the idiot driver came into my office, furious about the injustice of being put on the early morning shift, I listened very carefully for what he was actually angry about. I dug into it like a journalist digging out the buried turd of a story. I told the driver I was on his side. I was a working man too after all. And then I threatened to destroy him and his family, and eliminate any chance he gets a job in Chicago again. He quickly agreed on a compromise. We became friends and he came to my daughter’s wedding the next year.


Jake’s father grabbed the page off Jake’s desk. “What is this?” He studied the paper. “This isn’t your writing.” 


Hearing the accusation in his voice, Jake instinctively agreed with his father, as he always did. “I retyped something I found in one of grandpa’s old journals.”


“Interesting,” Jake’s father read the page carefully. “This is good.” Jake overheard Dad calling his secretary and asking her to set up an appointment with one of his drivers.


As the problems at Windy City kept rolling like waves on the Lake Michigan shoreline, Jake kept writing. He took the anecdotes of dozens of business management books he read, and melded them with the voice of Grandfather. A voice he could still hear whispering in his ear at every quiet moment.


Diary of Jake Jensen Senior

When the assholes at Bayside Metalworking started putting our work behind everyone else’s, and our machines came back late, we had angry customers calling. I realized shouting at Slippery Stan, my salesperson at Bayside, wasn’t going to work anymore. I had been shouting at him for years. I called up one of Bayside’s competitors in Chicago. Then, I calmly explained to Stan that George at Island Drive Industrial was happy to put our work on top priority, and that they had a dozen welders on payroll. His decision. Slippery Stan folded, almost started crying on the phone, and our work was never late again.


Jake’s father grabbed the page off Jake's desk.


“You found another one?” he asked.


“Grandfather left mountains of correspondence.” His father wasn’t a literary sort of man and had never looked at grandfather’s stacks of journals. With the countless fragments of names and details contained within them, Jake possessed a literary license to rewrite the past.


A plot twist arrived the next afternoon in the Waukegan offices of Windy City Ice. Jake looked up from the day's invoices and saw father looming over his desk.


“Jake, there's a female customer in my office, and I can't understand what she's yelling at me about.”


Jake normally wasn't called into business meetings.


“Well, get up,” his dad said.


In dad's office, there was a woman dressed head to toe in Lululemon stretching on the Persian carpet. She stood up, and ignoring Jake after a cursory glance, turned her attention back to Dad.


"My problem with your company," she said. “Is that at Yoga Utopia, we can't be serving clients $10 cucumber waters with ice cubes that look like they are from a Motel 6. I've put in a call to Empire Ice, and they said they could ship us their new model machine from New Jersey."


"Empire doesn't have any maintenance staff in the Chicago area," Dad said.


Her eyes narrowed. "We need the ice cubes to be heart shaped."


"I've never heard of heart shaped ice cubes."


From her bag, she pulled out a rubber ice cube tray. Her fingers pointed at the heart shaped indentions.


"My employees have to squeeze hundreds of hearts out of these a day. Can you change your machine?"


“Impossible.” Dad said.


Jake leaned over and look at her gadget. "I've seen those at the Ikea in Schaumburg. We'll look into it.” His mind was already moving, thinking of ways to install a new tray into their mainstay machine.


"Thank you, young man.” She handed business cards to both Jake and his Dad before leaving.


“How many yoga studios can there be in Chicago?" Dad asked, in a dismissive tone.


Jake stayed quiet with his opinion about the vast number of yoga studios there might be in Chicago, Milwaukee, and the greater Midwest region.


After dad started on his nightly glass of Jonnie Walker (with rocks from a glacier in Greenland), Jake went downstairs and opened Grandpa's journals. He quickly found a prompt for a new story.


Diary of Jake Jensen Senior

Business has been booming in 1993. I know we're not supposed to swear in print, but it was fucking unbelievable. After the introduction of Zima the demand for new ice machines went through the roof. A girly drink. Who would have thought? I've been pondering our future. The numbers show women control two thirds of ice-linked spending. Who knows what new trends could pop up. The technology doesn't allow it now, but someday in the future, I can see us selling ice in all shapes, sizes and colors.


The next morning-Jake intentionally left the story in the printer-Dad picked it up, and Jake hovered.


"I didn't know Dad could see so far into the future," Dad said, looking at the page.


"Granpda was amazing, wasn't he?"


Dad's eyes continued to scan the page, his face deep in thought.


"Keep up the good work, Son."


That week, Dad immersed himself in meetings with the engineering staff. They developed a new plan for specialist ice machines for the health, beauty, and fitness markets. It was an immediate success and Windy City began a nationwide expansion. By the end of the year, it was clear that the ghost of Jake Jensen Senior, as channelled by Jake, was the guiding force of Windy City Ice.


October 22, 2023 06:09

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

37 comments

Philip Ebuluofor
13:46 Nov 01, 2023

Fine work. It's ghost week and summoning family dead for help is allowed.

Reply

00:39 Nov 02, 2023

Thanks, halloween season!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Danie Holland
13:33 Oct 27, 2023

Great take on the prompt Scott! What I love here is the character development. First we start out with our boy thinking things like “powerless to stop his father.” But then as the story progresses he uses his knowledge of his fathers behavior to manipulate him into more or less changing his mind in the direction our MC wants it to go. Clever trick! Thus showing he isn’t so powerless after all, is he? Thanks for the story!

Reply

04:02 Nov 01, 2023

Thx! Had heard something about 'save the cat' and thought he needed to have a bit of a victory at the end.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Mary Bendickson
02:57 Oct 25, 2023

Ghost writer believes in better business believers. Great shortlist pick. Congrats!

Reply

03:37 Oct 25, 2023

I don't know how to write a ghost story, so wrote a ghostwriter story !

Reply

Show 0 replies
02:47 Nov 04, 2023

Thanks! so happy to be getting back on the shortlist after a 6 month dry run! My slightly riduculous "I" characters seem to get a few laughs;)

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 2 replies
Andrea Corwin
18:25 Feb 06, 2024

I loved this story! Original, detailed descriptions putting the reader there. Good one!

Reply

03:47 Feb 07, 2024

Thanks so much for looking at one of my earlier stories;)

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Audrey Knox
19:40 Nov 03, 2023

I love the way you creatively approached the prompt of "raising the dead" here. This was a fun, witty read.

Reply

02:48 Nov 04, 2023

Thx Audrey. This was def a story for writers, happy you enjoyed it!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
AnneMarie Miles
17:39 Nov 03, 2023

Congratulations Scott! Hope you are celebrating 🎉🎉 🎉

Reply

02:48 Nov 04, 2023

Yeah, so happy to have made the shortlist this week!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Helen A Smith
08:25 Oct 31, 2023

A great story Scott. It was so vivid , at points I was laughing aloud as I read it. The way you wrote Jake’s introductions for his stories was artful. The character of the grandfather shines through and I loved the idea of the ghostwriter. Interesting the way you turn Jake’s situation into something more rewarding. He may not have the success he longs for as a writer, but his life is not doomed. An enjoyable read.

Reply

04:04 Nov 01, 2023

Happy to hear you enjoyed it. So happy to hear you got a few laughs out of it, sometimes I try to make things as ridiculous as possible to give readers something to chuckle about.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Myranda Marie
17:16 Oct 29, 2023

Wonderful story! It spoke to me personally as my grandfather was a sign painter and one of my many passions is painting. Each time I letter a quote or sentiment over a wooden canvas, I feel as though my hands are being guided. Jake and I might just be kindred spirits...haha.

Reply

01:15 Oct 30, 2023

Thx for reading! Thats nice to hear you still feel such a strong connection to your grandfather. Painting is such a good hobby, I wish i had a talent for it. Thx again for your nice comment

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Shirley Medhurst
09:04 Oct 26, 2023

Enjoyed reading this, Scott. Great take on the prompt AND a novel new meaning of a ‘ghostwriter’ 😁

Reply

04:01 Nov 01, 2023

Thx for reading and commenting! 'ghostwriter' was the first thing I thougth of for a ghost prompt haha.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Michał Przywara
21:26 Oct 25, 2023

A fun take on the prompt! A ghost(writer) story. Lots going on too - a business drama on the shoulders of a family drama, a young guy struggling to find his place in the world, some metastory with some recognizable recent prompts. Jake realizes reality isn't working out like his dreams, but he does concede to listen to Cathy's wisdom. He doesn't become an award winning novelist, but he does find great success in turning his family's business around and in strengthening his relationship with his father. Curiously, he doesn't seem disappoint...

Reply

01:14 Oct 26, 2023

Thanks for reading Michal. I hated to dash Jake's dream of being an award winning novelist, but I had just watched Jessica Brody's Save the Cat! youtube video (v useful viewing), and realized Jake needed an 'all is lost' point, before he pivoted into a new mission. There were a few paragraphs about Jake going to business school, where he was mostly dreaming about being a novelist, that I had cut out. In a longer story that would probably be useful foreshadowing.

Reply

Michał Przywara
20:40 Oct 26, 2023

Makes sense - we resist change if we're too comfortable. I'll have to give that a watch, thanks for the recommendation!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Michał Przywara
20:51 Nov 03, 2023

Woo! Congrats on the shortlist :)

Reply

02:47 Nov 04, 2023

Thanks! so happy to be getting back on the shortlist after the 6 month dry spell!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 2 replies
Show 1 reply
Tom Skye
16:16 Oct 25, 2023

Really nice twist on the prompt Scott. The sometimes mean-spirited dialogue between the main characters was brilliantly done. Enjoyed this a lot. Thanks for sharing. Typo on unbelieavable in the italics towards the end

Reply

01:16 Oct 26, 2023

Thanks for reading Tom. Yeah I used to write dialogue with people agreeing with each other, but another writer here pointed out that in every movie like the Avengers,etc, if you pay attention, even the good guys on the same side are constantly arguing with each other.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
13:35 Oct 22, 2023

This is a novel use of the prompt and Indeed a way to bring back the dead. I feel for the mc and his tolerance of a hundrum life with little encouragement from his father. Critique wise, I'm not great at this but I was a little confused by the line about the professor putting him down too. I didn't see evidence of that? The ill show them slips into first person pov for one line, maybe italicise that to show it as thought? I found the second half when he starts bringing stories to Cathy to be faster paced than the first half and would have l...

Reply

14:00 Oct 22, 2023

Thanks, that's really good to know! I'll trim a few sentences in the first half to speed things up. Rereading it all now, I think i dropped this in a bit early;)

Reply

15:02 Oct 22, 2023

No worries Scott!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Story Time
17:59 Nov 08, 2023

Great job as always, Scott. I thought this was just a great take on the prompt. The arc is terrific as well.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Kevin Logue
08:29 Oct 22, 2023

This was fun, meta, and a solid story of generational businessmen. As always you found a unique take on the prompt and executed it very well. Particularly enjoyed the little segments of his writing and the nods toward some of the prompts. In regards to suggestions, maybe show something go wrong as opposed to telling. Like have a customer land to the business and tear the father a new one, the son overhears and thinks this would never happen if grandfather was still here. You do have this sprinkled throughout with the problems but because th...

Reply

08:53 Oct 22, 2023

Thx, that makes sense, keep things real and immediate with showing. I often tell ppl that😅 will think of some fun trouble makers to drop into this this week. Had fun adapting my half finished comedy from last week today into something new so put it out early

Reply

Kevin Logue
09:10 Oct 22, 2023

My head immediately went to a really irate Karen who runs a spa and she says she is losing business because people are complaining online that their cucumber water is barely cold with few cubes and people would be better off going to Derek's Detox Dance studio down the road. Ha.

Reply

09:14 Oct 22, 2023

Haha brilliant. Such a weird contrast to this story im def go to add something like that

Reply

Show 0 replies
14:15 Oct 22, 2023

I manged to combine a Karen who needs heart shaped ice in her customers cucumber water with the story of Zima in 1993. think there might be quite a few new subplots to Jake's ice story before Friday. thx for the push!

Reply

Kevin Logue
16:00 Oct 22, 2023

I like it! Nicely done Scott.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 2 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
06:20 Oct 22, 2023

So happy to have made the shortlist! This story was partly inspired by having a laugh reading the best worst opening sentences in the "It was a dark and storm night..." competition: https://www.bulwer-lytton.com/2023

Reply

Show 0 replies