The Passing of a Prairie Dog.

By Jay St John Knight


All that’s left to show for my old pa is this piece of junk car. It can barely outrun a coyote on the straight and I’m sure it wouldn’t hit the state line without falling apart. Piece o’ shit same as him.

My stomach won’t stop rumbling. Haven’t eaten in two days and it’s too hot out to go hunting on the prairie. Ain’t had a nickel for food since I was dropped from the farm and no one wants to hire a nobody who ain’t ever been to school. So I gotta do what I gotta do. If that means sticking up gas stations and shops for a few bucks then so be it.

There’s one now. A little shop in the middle of nowhere, probably run by an old-timer too. He won’t kick up a fuss. Easy pickings. Got me a shooter too. Swapped it for my ma’s gold ring after she passed. Used to use to it keep the coyotes away from the chickens back when we used to have the old house. Back before pa gambled it away. Don’t work no-more, seized up a while back, but they don’t know that.

It’s too hot. I hate this bit. Walk in, case the place, see what’s what and then grab the money and run. Fills me up with nerves. Exciting too mind, like pluckin’ up the courage to kiss a girl. It goes one way or another. Yes or no. No in-between bit, no medium.

He is an old-timer. I can’t see anyone else in this shop save the boys stacking potatoes on the other side. They’ll be easy to handle. Just stroll on up, pull the shooter, ask for the money and go. That’s the plan. Easy. Here goes…

*

It was a hot day. Outside, the road stretched in both directions towards the horizon where it dissolved away into a rippling mirage, occasionally disturbed by dirt covered pick-up trucks that pulled over every now and then to pick up groceries before going on their way. It was a small shop, right in the middle of the road that went from Louville to Cairn’s Creek, but it was his shop. He’d married into it, the shop originally being owned by his wife’s father and then passed on down to them when he became too old to run it anymore.

It was a slow day today. That was the heat; people kept to the shade on days like these. Old man Lester was shuffling about picking up his milk and other bits and pieces and a couple of the boys from the Shenningham’s farm were dropping off potatoes and other vegetables.

“You got any eggs left, Harry?”

“Should be over there by the chiller, Lester, unless we don’t got none left.”

Lester shuffled off in the direction of the chiller, mumbling as he went. Outside, Harry heard another truck pull across the loose gravel and stop. He chewed a few times, hacked, and spat a brown sludge into a bucket he had behind the counter, before putting another pinch of tobacco in his mouth.

The clang of the door opening shook through the quietness of the shop and Harry looked up from his paper. A man stood in the doorway, quickly scanning the shop. He was sweaty, more so than he should be on a day like today and scruffy looking, his jeans caked in dirt and grime and his hair a thick matted mess of brown. Harry watched carefully from behind the counter as he walked up towards him.

“Afternoon, old-timer. If you could just reach on into that there till and hand over all your money I won’t have to shoot you up and make a mess of this here shop.”

Harry met his gaze. He looked desperate, unhinged. “’Fraid I can’t do that, mister.”

“Well look here…” The man reached into his trousers and quickly pulled out a rusting revolver. “…I don’t want to have to kill you, friend. Just needs your money is all.”

Harry smiled wryly. “Alright, buck. Cool your boots.”

Just then Lester had emerged from an aisle, dropping his eggs the second he clapped eyes on the gun. The robber span at the noise and, as he turned, Harry reached under the counter with lightning speed. A low boom silenced the little shop and the robber dropped to the floor with a quiet thud. Harry stood there, a smoking sawn-off pointing at the lifeless body, and hacked again before spitting into the bucket with a resounding twang.

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The 771: Manchester and the North – Part Four.

By Jay St John Knight.

The final part in a series of posts from my third year creative writing portfolio produced for my dissertation. This portfolio was comprised of a series of short stories from a variety of narrative points of view leading up to, and surrounding, a fixed event to provide a puzzle-like fragmented narrative on an ill-fated coach journey upcountry.


The Man on the Bridge – 3

…The flyover was a two minute walk from the car park; he’d driven passed it on the way. When he got there he remembered being six, stood on the bridge at Clearbrooke with his father throwing sticks into the river and racing to the other side to see which one emerged first. He smiled and dropped his phone over the edge, half expecting it to be swept away in the urban river below and not smashed to pieces under relentless tyres of the cars flowing beneath…

Theo Harley.

Theo grabbed his ticket out of his wallet and made sure he had picked up all his bags. His mum’s voiced echoed in his head, telling him to make sure he had everything with him and to keep his coach ticket safe. She was always a nag, and an annoying one at that, but it was only because she was always right. That’s the annoying thing about mums thought Theo, they’re always right at the end of the day. He stepped onto the coach and climbed the steps to the driver. He was an old man in comparison to Theo’s measly seventeen years, at least in his fifties, and he had a horribly disgruntled look about him. His eyes had that slight glaze that you see when people are either sick, drunk or worried about something and his complexion seemed to shift from being pallid to flushed. Theo thrust out his ticket to the driver who took it from him bluntly and stamped it, before thanking him and strolling down the aisle to find a seat. He was on his way to Manchester to see his dad for the weekend. He hadn’t seen his dad for the best part of a month now and he was surprised at how much he actually missed him, ever since his parents had split he still harboured a bitter resentment towards his dad for abandoning him and his mum but even that was starting to fade. Theo put it down to growing up, maturing; he was seventeen now and pretty much a man he thought. He couldn’t bear grudges for that long and the clichéd line ‘You can pick your friends but you can’t pick your family’ seemed to revolve around inside his head like some sort of catchy advert jingle for happy domestic families.

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The 771: Manchester and the North – Part Three.

By Jay St John Knight.

Part three in a series of posts from my third year creative writing portfolio produced for my dissertation. This portfolio was comprised of a series of short stories from a variety of narrative points of view leading up to, and surrounding, a fixed event to provide a puzzle-like fragmented narrative on an ill-fated coach journey upcountry.


Henry Blackner.

The sweet and alluring smell of honeysuckle wafted down the short garden path as Henry locked the car and picked up his work bag. It was so powerful that he paused for a moment, closing his eyes and taking a deep breath before walking up the garden towards his house. Jangling keys rang out across the street like the shuffle of shackled feet as Henry tried to pick out his front door key in the dark, eventually finding it and ramming it into the lock. Before he pushed the door open, he silently prayed for a peaceful night, one free of arguments and snide digs. His marriage, after thirty seven years, was finally on shaky grounds. It wasn’t even a painful thought anymore; they weren’t the same people that walked down the aisle just days after his twentieth birthday. They used to be devoted to each other, symbiotic; living in a cushioned bubble only big enough for the two of them. Now they were two very different people, strangers that happened to live in the same house and their cosy bubble had burst, letting a grim void grow between them.

He breezed in and began taking off the trappings of his day. Henry was a coach driver; his job involved long hours of monotonous motorways and stopping off at service stations and depots to swap passengers. Years ago he used to be a bar manager at a reasonably swanky inner city hotel, before the drink got out of control and cost him his job. The drink had cost him a lot in the past: friends, family, job prospects, and his self-respect had all fallen victim to his past inability to put down the bottle. But all that had changed; he’d turned it around and had been clinging desperately onto sobriety like a stranded sailor on a piece of flotsam for the last seven years. He had his slip ups on the way, rare relapses that served to remind him why sobriety was so important.

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