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Random Roadside

Delta Queen

Fiction By September 17, 2017 Tags:

I started working at the Delta Queen with the idea of one day buying it from Mr. Oates. I thought I could make some kind of life out of that. Not exactly a dream come true, but not exactly bad for an ex-con, either. And then she came along and made me feel like my dreams were very, very small.

Charlene was the most beautiful girl in the world. She was also one of the richest girls in Campbell, CA. The beautiful part I could tell at first sight, but I didn’t find out about the rich part until a few weeks later. Her parents wanted her to try out some “real work,” I guess, in the summer between high school and college.

I didn’t speak a word to her for the first week, so she had to take the lead.

“Hey, Gil! You like to swim?”

After I got over the shock of being addressed by a genuine angel, I responded that I liked swimming okay. She threw a bucket of soapy water right in my face.

“Swim in this!”

If she had been a man, I would have punched her square in the jaw. But the sudsy t-shirt clinging to her made it very obvious that she was no man. Instead, I just stood there like a man in a trance. That was Charlene all over. Mischievous and going right over the line. No one dared call her on it because of who she was–or who her parents were, rather. A few minutes later I asked her to go aloft and find the turn signal fluid. By the time she figured out she was on a snipe hunt, she was in love with me.

Her folks may have wanted her to spend some time doing “real work,” but they weren’t too keen on their little girl slumming it up with an ex-con who worked at a carwash. They probably expected her to grow out of it when she went to college. Maybe she tried. I’m sure she dated a few boys at school, but I made damn sure she found a man when she came home for breaks. I also made sure I was more successful each time she saw me.

Mr. Oates sold me the Delta Queen, and I opened another location within a year. By the time Charlene graduated, I owned five carwashes outright and was working with her father’s lawyer to franchise the whole concept up-and-down the West Coast.

She said she was happy for me, but I could tell something was wrong. There was some part of her she was holding back. Going into business with her old man changed me forever in her eyes. I wasn’t the man she thought I was. I guess she was right. She kept finding reasons to get out of town, until one day, she slipped away for good.

I keep busy these days. Busy is good. Keeps me from thinking too much. I keep feeling like she’s going to sneak up behind me one of these days with a bucket of suds.

But that’s never going to happen. She’s up San Francisco these days, still looking for the turn signal fluid.


Genre: romance
Random Nouns: failure, swim


This is the fourth story in my Random Roadside series. In this series, I pick a random image from John Margolies’ Roadside America photography collection at the Library of Congress and use it as the setting for a story. I allow a computer program to randomly select the genre I will write in and two nouns, which I must work into the story.

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Life Guard Station

Fiction By September 1, 2017 Tags:

In her two and a half years at Florida State, she had changed majors five times and boyfriends six times. Then she dropped out, just as her mother predicted on the day she got her acceptance letter. She was young enough and beautiful enough that her flakiness still charmed most people, but she had too many female professors for that to work long-term.

When she moved back home to Ft. Lauderdale, her mother insisted she find work. “If you’re going to live in my hive, you’re going out to gather nectar.”

She put in two weeks cleaning offices. Another week and some change as a babysitter. An ex-boyfriend from high school talked her into trying to sell cars with him at Fletcher Ford, but she quit on her first day after Mr. Fletcher pawed her in the salesman’s lounge.

And now, here she was. Back on the beach. Back under the red umbrella. She had always been a strong swimmer, despite dropping out of swim team after a few months. Being a lifeguard suited her just fine. Better than fine, really. She had no trouble watching the ocean. She loved the ocean. It was always moving, always changing.

She and the ocean had an understanding. It knew how to keep secrets. It didn’t judge. Yes, this would be just fine for now.


Genre: literary fiction
Random Nouns: hive, umbrella


This is the third story in my Random Roadside series. In this series, I pick a random image from John Margolies’ Roadside America photography collection at the Library of Congress and use it as the setting for a story. I allow a computer program to randomly select the genre I will write in and two nouns, which I must work into the story.

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Trout Haven

Fiction By August 31, 2017 Tags:

You a fisherman? Thought so. Got that look about ya.

There’s a crick near here I wanna tell ya ’bout. Look on the map and it’ll say Big Pine Creek, but the locals call it Trout Haven. Trout Haven is a better name ’cause no one ever caught a pine in that crick, but, boy oh boy, have they caught trout! They’re so thick in there you could scoop ’em out with a spoon! Good eatin’ ones, too.

Don’t sound like much of a challenge, does it? Well, it ain’t for the most part. It’s like going to the fish market. Just drop a line and make your selection.

But there is one bugger in there that’ll test ya. Some call ‘im Iron Jack. Others call him Two Ton Tommy. Ain’t no one ever called him dinner, though. Not yet.

I ain’t braggin’, but I had ‘im on the line once myself. The first thing I know, I feel this tug–felt like ten lumberjacks pullin’ on the other end of the line. Now most fishermen lose their head and let go of the rod. I held on, though, and Tommy pulled my arm right out of the socket. Oh, don’t worry, it popped back in after a few days. Right down to this day, though, I can feel rain comin’ in that arm. I can feel the Jehovah’s Witnesses comin’ to my door, too.

I switched the pole over to my lef’ arm right away and ol’ Tommy pulled even harder. I held on, but he pulled me right off the bank into the crick. For about two mile, Tommy pulled me so hard I skidded right across the top of the water like I was on waterskis.

At some point, I hit my head on branch that was hangin’ over the water and got knocked clean out. I still held onto that pole, though. When I woke up, I looked around and realized I was in some kind of lodge with spiky walls. Tommy had built himself a little hut, right there in the water, made up entirely of fishing poles he’d yanked out of fishermens’ hands.

Well, I swam outta there as fast as I could and never went back to Trout Haven.

Good luck to you, though, sir. If you catch Tommy, let me know. I got three cord a’ firewood at my place and we could build us a bonfire and grill ‘im up nice.


Genre: tall tale
Random Nouns: selection, spoon


This is the second story in my Random Roadside series. In this series, I pick a random image from John Margolies’ Roadside America photography collection at the Library of Congress and use it as the setting for a story. I allow a computer program to randomly select the genre I will write in and two nouns, which I must work into the story.

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The Barrel

Fiction By August 25, 2017 Tags:

1.

The problem with The Barrel was, the menu was too damn complex. Burgers and fries and ice cream, just like you’d expect, right? But also pizza, fried chicken, and six kinds of popcorn! The greasy kids working there could barely operate the cash register, so you could just about bet that your order was getting screwed up. I went there one night and ordered a slice of pepperoni and a Coke. What I got was a half-cooked corndog and a soggy hamburger bun. They might have just been messing with me because I was drunk at the time. They probably were, too.

2.

Nick Overton owned the place, but he didn’t like to show up unless it was absolutely necessary. He’d stop by now and then to make sure the place wasn’t on fire, but that’s about it. The upright citizens of the community were upset about the lack of supervision, but they still let their kids work there every summer. They shouldn’t have.

3.

The customers were mostly locals, but every so often a passer-through would grab some food for the road. The Slow Man was a passer-through.

4.

I call him the Slow Man because that’s what the kids called him afterwards. They said he talked like a record on the wrong speed. Slow and deep and distorted. He tried to order something, but they couldn’t make out what he was saying. They started laughing at him. They shouldn’t have.

5.

They said he went back to his car and came back with something that looked like a skeleton’s hand holding a candle. As soon as they saw it, they fell asleep, right on the spot. When they woke up, they noticed that Bill McAllister was missing. Whoosh. Gone.

6.

They looked all over for him. No luck. They went outside and looked around. Still nothing. Then Jenny Wyler noticed that something was coming out of the downspout, which was all wrong because there was a drought. She got closer and saw that it was red.

7.

Joey Smith boosted Deputy Mark Green up to the roof of the place and when he saw Bill up there, gutted like a deer, his blood draining into the gutters, he threw up all over himself, which is saying something considering how many car wrecks that guy has seen.

8.

No one ever found the Slow Man. I don’t know who he is, but I know what he’s got in that car. And if I ever run into him, I intend to take it for myself.


Genre: horror
Random Nouns: community, complex


This is the first story in my Random Roadside series. In this series, I pick a random image from John Margolies’ Roadside America photography collection at the Library of Congress and use it as the setting for a story. I allow a computer program to randomly select the genre I will write in and two nouns, which I must work into the story.

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