I wrote my first short story last month. It wasn’t something I ever gave much though to, but when simultaneous strategy guide projects colluded to prevent me from making any headway on my novel, I decided to try my hand at shorter fiction. Brevity and wit, as they say. Today I share my entry to a recent Writer’s Digest contest. There were two rules: 1) The story had to be 700 words or fewer, and 2) The story must begin with the sentence, “You don’t have enough points, sir.” I wasn’t one of the 5 finalists, hence this post, but I’m happy with how it came out. I look forward to writing more of them. Enjoy.
“You don’t have enough points, sir.”
Rudy smoothed the wrinkles of the brown paper bag against the display case and explained the math scrawled on the side. “See? I only needed a thousand more points and I just won twelve hundred playing skeeball.”
The man in the red vest clicked his gums and shook his head. “You need a lot more than that. Prices went up this summer.”
“What? You can’t do that. It’s not fair.”
“Blame it on Sandy; everything on the boardwalk is more expensive this year.”
It never occurred to Rudy that things would cost more after the hurricane. He had memorized the prices in the arcade last summer but a quick glance showed the man was right. The plastic spider rings that used to cost five points now cost ten; the candy necklaces went up to two hundred; and the salt water taffy now cost three thousand points. Rudy’s eyes bulged when he spotted the price tag on an Xbox. “I’ll never have enough,” he mumbled as he swept his rubber-banded bundles of tickets back into the sack.
Clutching the bag with both hands, Rudy trudged a familiar path to a cabinet in the rear of the arcade. The oak trim had buckled, mold grew along the base and a glass pane was cracked, but it survived the storm. More importantly, so did the items inside. A card tented in front of a pastel figurine showed the price: 350,000 points. Why did adults have to be so greedy?
A hand clapped his shoulder. “Is that the one you’ve been saving up for? Most kids your age want an iPad or a toy helicopter.”
“Well, look on the bright side. It’s only June, you’ve got all summer,” the man said before leaving to make change for another customer.
If only. Summers spent at the family beach house were history. He overheard his mother telling a friend that she was renting it out for the summer. She couldn’t afford not to anymore, not since Rudy’s dad died. Of course, she never told Rudy any of this; she never told him much of anything. A silent drive back to Philadelphia awaited him once she was done prepping it for the tenants.
Rudy sighed, pulled the remaining quarters from the pocket of his swim trunks, and retreated to the skeeball machines. The balls felt heavy in his hand and his aim was off. Three games later, he turned to leave.
The man in the red vest stopped him on his way out. He held the figurine of a little boy on bended knee, proposing to a little girl. “I can get in trouble for this, but listen. We don’t count the tickets anymore, it takes too much time. We just weigh them.”
Rudy stared at the man, puzzled.
“And…” he said, raising his eyebrows, “sometimes tickets get wet—”
“And then they weigh more,” Rudy whispered, suddenly understanding.
The attendant winked. “Just don’t make it obvious.”
Rudy ran to the bathroom, unfolded his accordions of tickets and ran the inner rows under the faucet. He repeated the task for each bundle with the finesse of a master forger, ensuring the outer tickets stayed dry. Back at the prize counter, Rudy bounced anxiously while clutching the display case as the tickets were weighed. He had enough! Two summers worth of allowance had finally paid off.
Rudy sprinted down the boardwalk, burst through the screen door, and found his mother sitting alone at the kitchen table. She greeted him with a cold glare of disgust. “What?” she sneered.
He pulled the Precious Moments figure from the bag and slid it gently onto the table.
Her face slowly ballooned with life. She blinked rapidly and reached for the ceramic. “It’s, it’s…” she stammered, “but how?”
“I used my skeeball points.”
She sat the figure down and took Rudy’s face in her hands. “I didn’t know if I’d ever forgive you.”
“Is it the right one?”
Rudy’s mom nodded enthusiastically as her eyes moistened. “It is, it is. It’s just like the one your dad had given me.”
“I’m really sorry I broke it, mom. Let’s not fight anymore.”
You can read the five finalists in the short story contest here. Registration is required to vote.
Post Image by Brian M, used under Creative Commons.