A Bad Day for Business

Submitted into Contest #135 in response to: Set your story in a town full of cowards.... view prompt

6 comments

Fiction

Little Benny Rambler, all out of breath, crashed through the tree line of the old Anderson lot. They still called it that, even though old Anderson was ten years dead. Benny doubled over, braced himself against his knees, and tried to catch his breath. He caught sight of his family’s farmhouse, squat and wide and so small from this distance. And he heard voices, not too far. There were three adults crossing the field – his family’s field – and they all had guns. And one had a cowboy hat, so that was probably Sheriff Laner.

“Hey!” Benny called out. He waved both his arms, signaling the airplane to land. “Over here! Sheriff! Sheriff Laner!” He liked the sheriff, but his dad didn’t. Kept saying he only got his job from nepotism, which was an adult word for cheating.

The adults stopped, perked up. Looked around. The sheriff spotted him first. “Hey Benny!” They made their way to him, using the barely-there footpath.

Betsy was one of the other adults. Benny didn’t remember her last name but he knew she did Animal Control, which sounded like a cool job only his dad made fun of her for it and told him to pay attention in school. But she smiled Benny which was nice, and she had a cool rifle over her shoulder, unlike the shotguns the men carried.

The last adult was Mayor Gaines, or as Benny’s dad called him, “The Gee-dee Mayor.” That always made Benny giggle. “The Gee-dee Mayor’s been mayor since forever. Since the dinosaurs. The Gee-dee Mayor has the whole Gee-dee town council in his Gee-dee pocket.”

“Aw, jeez,” said the mayor, eyeing the tree line. “We going in there?”

“I guess so,” said Betsy. She adjusted the strap of her rifle. “Mud. And ticks. Yay.”

“Well, let’s get on with it,” said the mayor. “I can think of better things to do on a Sunday afternoon.”

“C’mon!” Benny said. He rushed back into the bush and then turned around again when he saw the adults picking their way slowly. They winced every time a branch came anywhere near their faces, and they stepped gingerly around the bigger mud puddles, which was silly since everything was mud anyway. Benny swung his arm around, waving them forward.

It took him a while to corral them, but finally Benny brought them to the giant old oak tree. His dad and Mrs. Garcia were already there. It looked like they were having a nice chat, but Benny knew his dad didn’t like her. “Calls herself a journalist, but the Dewdrop Tribune is a pee-oh-ess for hippies and idiots.”

“Dad!” Benny ran towards his father. “Dad! I found them!”

“You hush up now, boy!” Benny stopped short of being swatted by his father’s giant hand. He was using that serious voice, the one he used when things were going badly at the farm. And he wasn’t even looking at Benny.

“Afternoon, Charlie,” said the mayor. None too loud. It seemed like all the adults… well, they weren’t quite whispering, but it was next door to.

“Mr. Mayor,” Benny’s dad said. He nodded, shifted his shotgun to his other arm so that they could shake hands. Then he shook hands with the sheriff, and then everyone greeted everyone, still talking at just over a whisper.

“Dad?”

“I swear, you better stayed hushed boy, or I’ll whoop you. The adults are talking now.”

The mayor cleared his throat. “Right, Charlie, so what’s this all about? Sunday’s a bad day for business, and it looks like you’ve roused the whole county.” They all chuckled. Benny smiled along, but he didn’t really get it.

“Right, so the thing is, there’s some dangerous wild beast prowling around,” said Benny’s dad. “See, crack of dawn I heard a commotion outside. Something had spooked my animals pretty bad.”

“Just spooked, or…?” said the sheriff.

“Yup,” said Benny’s dad. “Got lucky, thank the lord. Nothing got through the fence this time. But I saw it. I mean… I think I saw it. In the distance. See, I came out and checked the fence and all that and I caught a flash of something moving, something pretty big, right by the Anderson tree line. These woods, right? When I checked it out I found this here tree,” he pointed, “and then this here burrow.”

This time he pointed with his shotgun, to a large overgrown hole at the base of the tree. Everyone else leaned forward, practically on tip-toe. For a moment it seemed like they weren’t even breathing.

“Dad?” Benny whispered.

Charlie Rambler’s lip curled up in a snarl and he raised his free hand in the air. Benny knew what that meant and he scrambled away, hiding behind a nearby tree and watching the adults from a safe distance.

The sheriff whistled. “That’s pretty big.”

“Yup,” said Benny’s dad.

“What do you suppose is in there?” said Mrs. Garcia. “It looks big enough for a bear.”

“Oh,” said Betsy. “This isn’t bear country.”

“I bet it’s a cougar,” said the sheriff. “Or a wolf.”

“I don’t think those make burrows,” said the mayor. “Or do they?” He pulled out his phone and started searching.

“They don’t,” Betsy said.

“But they might!” said Mrs. Garcia. “I’ve read about cases of rabid cougars that did, down in Arizona. A rabid animal could do anything, it’s wilder than wild.”

“You know, it probably is a bear,” said the sheriff.

“Jeez,” said Benny’s dad. “You think it might be rabid?” He gripped his gun with both hands.

“We can’t say for sure,” said Betsy, “but I seriously doubt a rabid cougar dug that hole.”

“Well then, Little Miss Animals, what do you think it is?” said Mrs. Garcia.

“What? Um… I don’t know. Maybe a wolverine? Or a family of them or something?”

Then they all started talking at once, each of them positing wise hypotheses, debating in the woodland forum, and doing their own cellphone research to back up their theories. And then they started getting a little viscious, arguing, but at least they weren’t whispering anymore. Benny thrilled when he caught the odd bad word.

Finally Charlie Rambler raised his hand. “Hey hey hey! Friends! Please!” It took them a moment but the others all quieted down. “It doesn’t so much matter what it is, as what you’re going to do about it, Mayor Gaines.”

“Me? What I’m going to do about it?”

“That’s right. I fear for my animals. And my family. Lord knows we can’t lose any more stock this year.”

“Well, Charlie,” said the mayor, drawing it out, “I feel for you, I really do. We all know the troubles you’ve had this year. But the bare facts are that this isn’t a municipal matter. It’s an animal, and it’s out of control. So it’s an animal control matter.”

They all turned to Betsy, who startled. “What? Are you serious? I scrape dead raccoons off the highway and that’s about it. I definitely don’t get paid enough to wrestle… friggin' rabid cougars or whatever. There’s barely enough in the budget for gas, let alone a real gun. All I get is this stupid dart thing. No, I think this is a job for the sheriff.”

Sheriff Laner took a step back. “Um.” He glanced at his phone with immense sudden interest, swiping around on it. “Oh, shoot. Sorry all, I just got an important message from Kirk. Looks like there’s a police emergency down at, um…”

“Oh for crying out loud,” the mayor said.

“And anyway,” the sheriff said, “it’s not really my jurisdiction, is it? You don’t want the government coming on your land dictating things, do you? Way I see it is Charlie over here’s got a fine gun of his own. Aren’t you man enough to keep you and yours safe?”

Charlie Rambler’s face immediately grew red, his cheeks puffing out. Benny’s eyes widened and he clamped his hand over his own mouth. He really wanted his dad’s attention, but knew that right now would be risking life and limb so he stayed hidden.

“Now that’s just not nice,” said Mrs. Garcia. She rounded on the mayor. “Mr. Mayor, aren’t you the least bit ashamed? What happened to taking pride in helping out a constituent?”

“Well,” said the mayor, “technically Rambler lands are outside of town. And anyway, a real reporter would be first in line to find out what’s down there.”

Then everyone started talking again, talking all over each other. Only the talking quickly turned to shouting and accusing. Fingers wagged, tongues flashed, spittle flew.

They argued, for a while.

The animal, the burrow, it didn’t seem to fit anyone’s portfolio, wasn’t quite anyone’s responsibility. Sure, they all wanted to help, but they didn’t want to step on anyone else’s toes. Their hands were tied, and they were prisoners of the comfortable grooves they had carved for themselves in the community.

After a while they grew quiet, having said all they meant to say and much they hadn’t.

“Friends,” said the mayor, a little hoarse. He licked his lips. “Friends, this is… this has gotten a little heated. It’s a stressful situation and it’s wearing on us. I propose… I propose we take a break, take some time to ponder this, really think it over. Reconvene later. How about after the game? Or, tomorrow even. Let’s reconvene tomorrow.”

Slowly they all came around and agreed, all except for Charlie Rambler. But he kept his peace because he was alone, and he was already planning a monstrous rant about these people for his family’s ears. They all departed the woods and the old tree and the burrow. The mayor, Betsy, the sheriff, and Mrs. Garcia all went back to their trucks, either on the Rambler property or on the side of the highway, and Charlie Rambler stormed home and pondered that indeed, maybe the game wasn’t a bad idea. It always took his mind off things.

Only Benny remained. He kicked a pinecone, looked into the woods where his father had vanished and left him. Then he looked at the burrow.

He fished his flashlight out of his back pocket and turned it on, and approached the burrow. It was big enough for him. It probably was big enough for a bear.

He went inside, crawled to the very back where he had set up a blanket. He opened a pilfered bag of chips and sulked. Wondered if he was in trouble, even though he tried to fess up. Didn’t seem fair. Then he propped the flashlight up between his cheek and shoulder and flipped through his comics, which always took his mind off things.

March 04, 2022 22:25

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6 comments

02:11 Mar 11, 2022

Hi Michal! I liked your take on this prompt. It was a cute story, and I enjoyed your stylistic choices in the narration and the dialogue. It imparted a lot of information about these characters concisely and made me feel like I could hear their distinct voices. Ordinarily, I try to include a bit of constructive feedback, but nothing really stands out to me as distracting or problematic, so I'll just say well done! And thanks for sharing it :)

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Michał Przywara
22:36 Mar 11, 2022

Thank you for reading it! I'm very glad the characters came out distinct.

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Scott Skinner
22:38 Mar 08, 2022

I liked the twist at the end and I thought your dialogue was strong. I particularly liked Betsy. There were some errors I picked up while reading: Incomplete sentences - Kept saying he only got his job from nepotism, which was an adult word for cheating. None too loud. It seemed like all the adults… well, they weren’t quite whispering, but it was next door to. Benny thrilled when he caught the odd bad word. Missing a preposition - But she smiled Benny which was nice

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Michał Przywara
21:53 Mar 09, 2022

Thanks for reading! I'm glad you enjoyed the twist. I appreciate you pointing out those issues. Couple of them were stylistic decisions, guess they didn't pan out. Others are just plain missing words that slipped by though.

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John Walsh
22:55 Mar 06, 2022

Interesting small town story. (I think you'll agree that the Quivertonians have them beat for cowardice.)

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Michał Przywara
00:05 Mar 07, 2022

No contest :) Thanks for reading!

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